Sunday, 21 October 2012


“I used to be so fun” I wail to my brother after my 11 year old Daughter announces that I am boring and stalks off in a huff. This was the result of me not allowing her a second Ice Cream after she had only just finished her first, which by the way was preceded by a burger and chips. She has no right to be so darn skinny! He smirks rather unsympathetically which also makes me feel that he is in fact hinting that I was never fun. A lie!
“It’s them!” I insist, “they have turned me into a nagging, boring old fart. I should sue!”
“Having children will do that to a person” he soothes before punching me with “and you are middle aged so you know...” he trails off on noticing my death stare.
“I. Am. 35. Years. Old”.
“Yes” he scoffs, “but how old do you expect to live?” I don’t skip a beat and my eyes don’t leave his as I counter “100 years old. Just like Great Aunt Sue”.
Now we both roar with laughter. Great Aunt Sue was a blue rinsed old soak, who also smoked 10 cigarettes a day (so she claimed but we can all count so knew far better) all of her adult like. Despite all of the obvious health risks to these particular activities she managed to live until three days after her 100th Birthday and was just never ill! Mind you to be fair-what germ stood a chance against the Gin? Great Aunt Sue is a legend in our family. Her name was never even Sue, she was christened Ethel at birth but decided that it was an old woman’s name, so from the age of about 8 refused to answer to any name other than Sue! She also refused to have her name legally changed by deed poll on the grounds that a name should be free-“what will we be charged for next?” she would argue “the very air that we breathe?” No one ever crossed her and won so every legal document she acquired throughout her adult life named her as Sue.

I often regale my children with tales of Great Aunt Sue, all of which I know to be true and none of which they believe! Mike and I giggle and laugh like a couple of school children as we relive some of Great Aunt Sue’s outrageous antics probably for the millionth time. I feel like I am having an abs work out from the laughter, and am crying remembering poor Mum calling me in a panic after the smoking ban was brought in. Aunt Sue kept setting the fire alarm off in the nursing home as she outright refused their requests and then INSISTANCE that she refrain from smoking in her room. They were threatening to throw her out! Poor Mum was charged with the task of mediating between them. Mum was sure that stubborn Sue wouldn’t listen to her pleas for cooperation and was shocked when no more was said about it. It was only after Sue’s death when the nursing home wrote a scathing letter to Mum accusing the family of removing the batteries from the smoke alarm that we realised that Mum had in fact failed her mission! We hadn’t committed the act-or crime as Mum would yell if she heard that. Sue surly couldn’t have, but clearly had managed to persuade someone to. We all of course thought it was comedy gold, Mum didn’t. She was too concerned that the home could have burnt down or she would now be getting a lawsuit from the home to see the funny side.

“Shhhh! Mum! Shhhh! Uncle Mike! People are looking at you!” my Daughter Millie is scolding us in urgent low tones while still outwardly managing to smile. She is rocking ever so slightly in her sparkly converse trainers signalling her discomfort. She reminds me of my Mum who does the same things when she doesn’t want to make a scene. Her beautiful black curly hair is thrown back wildly and she is flushed from running around in the indoor play centre. Her hazel eyes and beautiful mocha skin are glowing. But she looks far from a child who is having fun as the lines of annoyance are etched across her face and her dinky button nose is screwed up in distaste.
“What?” Mike yells playfully purposely causing yet more eyes to focus on us.
“It’s embarrassing” she scolds clearly feeling that no further explanation is needed. I see Mike sit up ready to do battle so I close my mouth and settle back ready to see who comes off the winner. Both are worthy contenders but I suspect Mike has the edge on account of the fact that he has no shame what so ever, where as Millie is deeply ashamed of her whole family!
“What is embarrassing honey?” Mike yells knowing that she will be livid that he called her that after the ‘I am not a Child anymore’ lecture he just sat through in the car on the way to the play centre, “being in here playing with all these kids? Mummy and me laughing and being happy? Or the fact that you have ketchup down your white top from your burger?” he asks fixing his eyes directly on to the offending stain. I am holding my breath from the effort of trying not to laugh. Honestly I don’t know what has come over me-I have turned in to my 11 year old self in the presence of my kid brother. I will be tying my curly blond locks up into bunches next!

Millie swivels round to face me, her hip is thrust out and her hand is placed on it in a stance that for some strange reason makes me think she looks very American. “I hate you. I hate him. I hate everyone” she hisses as she turns to stalk off towards the giant blue slide she has been zooming down since the last time she stomped off, but she makes a slight detour as she spots her Brother Luke meandering in our direction. He has a shaved head so no messy hair for him although everything else seems to have missed that memo. His face and clothes are covered in food which is clearly visible despite his dark blue clothing, his laces are undone and he has un-tucked his shirt which is hanging beneath his jumper which he refused to take off despite the heat in the play centre. His face is glowing from the heat combined with all of the running about he has been doing. He looks confused as his sister stalks over to him, grabs his arm and storms off yelling “don’t bother talking to them Lukie. They are in stupid moods!”
“Hey I want a drink” he yelps indignantly as he is hauled off. I do try to call him back but he is carried off by Hurricane Millie so doesn’t stand a chance poor boy. I half raise from my chair wanting to go and tell Millie off, save Luke and tie his laces all at the same time, but Mike stops me.
“Don’t worry Alex, he’ll be back in a minute if he really is thirsty and it isn’t as if they haven’t had a heap of drinks and food since we arrived. As for Millie, pick your battles”.
I nod my agreement. We have been here for three hours and they have had four Slush Puppies, Burgers, Chips and an Ice Cream each so my handsome little Lukie of the button nose will likely survive the lack of fluid if not the E numbers. Whether or not my sanity survives Millie’s adolescence is another matter if this is how things are already.

“I have missed you Mike” I blurt out of nowhere, suddenly serious. Mike left London three years ago. He moved to Scotland to follow his Girlfriend who got a swish job up there. He sadly had to give up the chance of buying a bar in town in order to follow her, but that is Mike for you, loyal and selfless. Or perhaps a bloody stupid sap depending on what day you ask me! We rarely saw each other, but we called, text messaged and emailed often. Communication all but ended in the last year. I took it to be a bad thing but Mum pointed out that he could just have been busy and having fun. Then abruptly last week Mum called to say that Mike had just shown up with no warning at all, he had his bags in tow, and was asking to move in for a while. Apparently his stupid-wasn’t good enough for him in the first place-girlfriend-who never bothered with his family despite all of the sacrifices he made for her, had walked out on him and moved in with her boss! The tramp! I wasn’t sorry to lose the girlfriend, she was all hair, short skirts and high heels that one. She had a shrill laugh which made me want to slap her every time I heard it. Mum thought that I just hated her as she was the replacement for Jill. Jill being a lovely woman that Mike had been with and who I became firm friends with. I thought she was perfect for Mike, but their relationship fizzled out after around 2 years and then he met the shrill one and that was it. Over and out! Well for Jill and Mike anyway, Jill and I are still firm friends and I am down as her Birthing Partner if I can’t think of a good enough reason to get out of it. Everyone thinks if you have had kids you will be a naturally good Birthing Partner. Wrong- I am terrified! It brings back painful memories for goodness sake. But Jill won’t have it, she wants me there and there is no reasoning with a pregnant woman as I know well! So I am having to go along with it. I only wish he were going to be my nephew, rather than my friend’s baby. But life and people move on and I just have to get with the programme even though I think that this particular show sucks.

I was glad to have my brother back home at last but I hated that he looked crushed and miserable, like life had sucked the joy out of him. My pretty boy brother looked at least 10 years older than his 30 years; his normally immaculate appearance was missing underneath a coating of brown stubble (which would have to be called beard in about two days) he was wearing scruffy old clothes, and his brilliant green eyes (which my Lukie had inherited despite being mixed race) were dull and lifeless. He had lost shed loads of weight when he could ill afford to-unlike me who never can lose an ounce. Thank goodness my husband loves a big bottom and full breasts because oh boy do I have em! After seeing my brother on his return I decided that I had to help him have fun and reconnect with his family and friends again. After all we need to surround ourselves with people who make us feel good when life seems to be turning a bit shitty.

“I missed you too” he states. He doesn’t continue and I leave it be-after all this isn’t the time or place for deep and meaningful conversations.
“Sorry Millie was so rude” I scuttle back to the safe topic of my children “we really don’t know what to do with her lately. She is so rude so often! Well mainly to me. Troy on the other hand still gets the sweet Daddy’s girl attitude”. I am very aware that she and I need a little reconnecting too.
“Damn right!” I laugh “but there again even he knows his days are numbered”! We laugh again and it feels good to see his eyes light up once more.
“Now you know how Mum felt when you got to that phase”
“I do” I agree, “but I was older at least. They grow up so fast! Dad keeps warning Troy that his little girl won’t dote on him forever. He is so mean love him!” We all inherited our dad’s mean streak so thankfully my husband doesn’t bat an eyelid, but it does cheer me up that he won’t be hero to my zero forever in Millie’s eyes! Luke on the hand is still the stereotypical, Mummy’s boy-and long may that reign I say. I offer Mike another coffee and he accepts. We only have another 45 minutes left before we have to leave. It will take about 15 minutes to round the kids up but we have time for another quick cuppa before we have to get them together.

I queue for the outrageously over priced, not so nice tasting coffees and plonk back down on to the squishy blue chair I have been buried in since we got here. I am feeling tired from sitting in the warm comfy chair for so long, at home I rarely sit. I usually have a long list of chores with my name on them, and often find myself doing my accounts in the evening so don’t get much time to sit and do nothing. I run a market stall on Deptford High Street on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I sell jewellery that I also make. I am about to launch a little ‘online stall’ as I am calling it so have been pretty busy lately. Business isn’t booming but I am doing o.k. I am tempted to offer Mike some work running the stall for me while I am focussing on the website, but am finding it hard to pluck up the nerve to ask. The thing is that I could use the help, but he won’t think that and might be offended thinking that I am treating him as a charity case. I just need to think about how to phrase it. He helps me.

“You look like you are about to nod off” he comments affectionately. I laugh as I respond, “I might well do! I am shattered from running the stall and setting up the online one. I am going to have to get someone to help me with it all I think”. Of course he knows exactly where this is heading, he is my brother and we are close.
“Ahh. Well let me know how you get on,” he counters, “I actually have something lined up myself so fingers crossed I’ll be really busy next week, and I can’t stay with Mum forever”.
“Have you? What?” I don’t mean to sounds quite so amazed but he hasn’t even been back for a full week yet.
“Just some bar work again sis. You know me; I stick to what I like even though the money isn’t so great. I like the work and the hours suite me” I nod my agreement. He does enjoy what he does. As long as he is happy....... I have a little ball of disappointment sitting in my gut but that will pass. “You look disappointed” he scoffs in amazement.
“Well I am a bit” I confess “I mean, I actually do need the help and it would have been lovely to work with you”.
Shaking his head he responds, “Bless you sis, but really I am chuffed to have this job and I still want to run my own bar, so you know” he shrugs trailing off.
“Do you have any savings left or did legs eleven help you blow them all before she...?” now it’s my turn to trail off. I have no clue how to finish that sentence without hurting Mike.
“No I have quite a bit left. She didn’t touch my money sis. That was all me, and be fair Mandy and I just didn’t work. It was over before she moved in with that twat-Brad. We just screwed it up 50/50”. Ha! Don’t believe it! I don’t. Bloody Mandy! Wasn’t there a song about a tart called Mandy? Or was that Maggie? I don’t know and don’t care. I hate her for hurting my Brother. I love my family and turn savage if anyone dares to cross them! “Anyway” he continues, “I am back and ready to have some fun for a while. I mean generally sis, not with women” he hastily added seeing the look of distaste on my face , “well maybe a woman or two” he adds just before I throw a cushion at him and protest about not needing to know!

We are giggling again when I catch the time and shoot up in a panic, “Oh no!” I exclaim “We have 5 minutes to get the kids and be at the exit or we will be charged for another two hours play time!” Mike grins at my urgency but honestly I’m not paying another fifteen quid for the kids to have another two hours play as we cannot stay here. We are meant to be meeting my husband and going out for pizza, so you know, it is kind of urgent. “Which one do you want to tackle?”Mike asks playfully.
“Uh Luke of course” I scoff detecting a challenge, “he sometimes listens to me at least”. Mike grins, “O.K I will tackle hurricane Millie, but you are going to have to answer to Mum if I don’t make it”. I jokily weigh up my options and agree, “Race ya!” Mike yells as competitively as ever, “the first one to the exit wins and the loser pays for dinner” he adds as he tears off in the direction Millie was last seen storming off in. “No problem” I mutter doodling off past the ball pit in the direction of the climbing wall. What my kid brother doesn’t realise is that I have a secret weapon. You see, Lukie spends 95% of our time here on the climbing wall pretending that he is Spider Man, and I am sure that as soon as he managed to get his sister to release him, that is exactly where he would have headed. At last a race against my brother that I am bound to win.

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Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Ex

It is bucketing down. Actually I don’t know if that is the right phrase for this amount of rain. In fact there are no words. I am hurrying down the deserted high street, battling with my useless, cheap and now damn it, broken stupid umbrella! I throw it in the general direction of the bin I just passed even though I know that it will miss by a mile. I am too angry and frustrated to care about littering right now and my children are not here to witness my hypocrisy so I don’t give a rats tail about it! The electric ran out just as I was trying to get the children ready for school this morning. They ate cold cereal in a huff because of course they both wanted toast seeing that I couldn’t possibly make it and they screamed when they had to wash in cold water (because my GAS boiler WOULD NOT WORK WITHOUT THE ELECTRIC! Why??) They both went to school tearful, which made me feel like the worst Mum in the whole world. So after already being soaked taking them to school, I had no choice but to trek a further 10 minutes in the opposite direction from home to the only shop in my area that tops up gas and electric keys. The rain steadily got harder, the wind picked up and now I am shivering as the freezing cold droplets have penetrated my clothing and I am soaked right down to my tatty greying underwear.

As I cross the small road leading in to a close, a car which by the way was travelling a bit too fast in this small area stops dead in front of me. It is not often cars stop to let me cross a road in any weather so I put my hand up and yell ‘thanks’ before stepping forward. I cannot see the car much through the rain which is streaming down my face. It just looks shiny, expensive and dark. I am actually shuddering and the wind is whipping my hair in to my face, but at least it doesn’t look frizzy now I muse to myself sarcastically. So I put my foot down in to the road and the car starts honking its horn at me. “What?” I scream as I jump back with a fright, turning wildly towards the vehicle. “You were letting me cross” I add bewildered. My heart is pumping and I am more than a little shocked. I stare at the car unseeing until I hear a familiar voice call “It’s me Tracy, get in” the passenger door swings open but I do not move. I am rooted to the spot with my mouth flapping open like an idiot. I can taste the rain. Now a head that I also recognise to be that of my ex, not my ex, THE ex, pokes out of the driver’s window and yells sternly “come on! Get in! You are soaked!” I really, really am. I nod.

Without thinking, because I cannot allow my brain to register what I am doing for fear of it jumping out of my head and slapping me, I get in to the car. I have not seen Steven for at least 11 years, but of course the first time we do clap eyes on each other it has to be a day when I am soaked, spotty and have blatantly been crying. I turn to thank him, say hi-whatever and immediately register that he is gorgeous, far more so than I remember. His jet black hair which was always cropped quite short is now grown out and spiked on top, and shaven at the back. Even though the rain has flattened it a little it still looks great. His chestnut eyes shine as he smiles at me. I want to say warmly, but honestly, there is a hint of mockery in it. “Do you need a lift” he is offering as he broadens his smile.
“Yes please. I’m going home.”
“Where do you live these days” he asks casually.
“Same place” I answer. Yes the same house we lived in together for three years. The house we decorated together, although I have re-decorated since then. For starters the ‘games room’ we once fitted out full of ‘boys toys’ such as pinball machines and a juke box is now the bedroom that my children share.
“Wow really?” he asks with genuine amazement “that must be crowded with kids!” Well he has kept up with the news then, sort of. I know nothing about his life now I realise as he pulls off, too fast, again. I take a sneaky sideways glance at him as I ponder the fact that I know nothing about his current life what so ever. I know nothing about the last 11 years of his life. He is as handsomely clean cut as always, he has filled out a little, in a good, manly way. He looks as though he is living well. Very well if his designer black jeans and cashmere grey jumper and of course flash motor are anything to go by. I feel like a crumpled heap in my cheapest on the high street clothes, which have seen better days. It is crazy though that this man, who’s body I have kissed every inch of, who I woke up to every morning and kissed sweet dreams to every night for about 5 years, has a whole life that I know not one thing about. The strange thing is that after I got over the initial upset of the failed relationship I rarely thought about him. I met the father of my children, was blissfully happy for a while. We had children; I was still working part-time as an administrator for the family courts. Life was busy and he never crossed my mind. Then life got bad, and suddenly I found memories of Steven and ‘what ifs’ creeping in. Life has been bad for a long time now, so you can imagine what my lonely and lost imagination had built him in to. And now here he is, in the flesh. I can smell him, which I realise is another thing I had forgotten, his delicious musky scent. I feel like an idiot and am battling the urge to either scream or cry! I feel more than a little stupid and don’t understand myself at all.

The short drive to my house is a very silent awkward one. I wish I hadn’t accepted the lift because I feel so out of place in this car and I am very aware that I have soaked the seat. As he pulls up in my driveway I feel compelled to apologise for that fact and he smirks at me in an awkward, blank way, which indicates that he doesn’t get why this bothers me.

“So, um, thanks then” I mutter trying to end this, “um, do you want a coffee” I extend this offer because I am kind and it is a habit, but I cannot tell you the relief I feel when he declines, not least because the house is a mess, but also because I need a hot bath and to put on some dry clothes. My hands are shaking as I try to undo my seatbelt, I would like to say from the cold but actually I am stupidly nervous and that seems to be the overriding factor here. I start panicking thinking that he might try to help, and then our hands might touch but then hear the click that indicates my success and relief washes over me.

Steve still has his hands on the steering wheel even though I notice that he has cut the engine. He is staring at the house so intently that I know he is not seeing what is before him now at this moment; he is seeing the house of before, 11 years ago. He is seeing the memories we share, and his face is set in an expression that indicates they are not the early, happy memories either. His jaw is ridged, his plum lips are turned down and he is frowning. Our relationship ended before we were ready. There was still love between us despite that fact we knew that we were not meant to be, that we couldn’t make it. We were hurting one another, arguing day and night, over anything, everything and of course nothing. The landlord even wrote to us right at the end saying we would be kicked out if we didn’t stop the shouting matches at all hours, and that letter forced me to accept that it had to end. It was me who pulled the plug. I ended it. I simply showed him the letter and pointed out that one of us had to leave, forever. That night sticks in my mind whenever I feel crap, which is often lately. I remember the words we screamed at each other, all of the nasty and cruel things we said. I remember the crying that we both did, and the pleading he did trying to persuade me that we would be o.k and should move, and the pleading I did for him to accept it and let me be. Then I remember him smashing everything he could break, and me shaking, wondering if he would put his hands to me next. He didn’t, ever, but in that moment I would not have placed a bet on it. I saw that he had real violent capabilities in him, and although he never had hit me, I could never say that he never would. I remember offering to leave, and then later, pleading with him to let me leave. But then he just stormed out. I waited all night for him to return, frozen in panic I could not go. He had smashed both of our mobiles and the house phone so I couldn’t call anyone. I sat in that house, in the darkness, surrounded by all of our broken processions and wept for the whole night. Whenever I think of, or read the words lonely, or desolate I picture myself that night. There I was curled up in to a ball behind the sofa, crying, alone and out of reach. Not knowing where he was or what he was doing. I was frightened for him, frightened of him and just plain frightened. All night. I eventually fell asleep and woke up shivering from the cold. Isn’t it odd that the very last time I saw him I was shivering and now here I am, sat in his car doing the same thing again. Life can be very strange.

“Why did you stay here?” he asks without turning to face me. I consider his question. I have never done this before. “I had nowhere else to go” I answer bluntly, truthfully. My Mother had died and I never knew my father. I was an only child as was my Mum, and my Grandparents had died long ago. I wasn’t able to run back to my mother like I presumed he had, that was where I sent the few possessions he had left after his rampage at least. “I just assumed you had left” he continues, “Obviously I knew you were still in the area. But”. He suddenly shakes his head and then is silent. I really don’t know what to say or do now. I really, really want to get out of this car now. The memories, my soaked clothes and his, his....intensity do not make for comfort. I want to run.

“I left London” he accuses, “I am only back to visit my Mum”.
“How is your Mum” I enquire cordially “I see her from time to time but haven’t for ages”. I can see him take this in, the fact that his Mum and I still exchange hellos, but he doesn’t comment he just confirms that she is fine. The whole family are fine. His Brother is married with two children now. I am so happy, John and Louise were a lovely couple even back then and it is heart warming to know that they have made it. Louise and I were very close for a while but we never spoke after Steven and I split up. That friendship was a massive loss to me; still I understand how hard it must have been. I try not to be bitter.

I want to end it here and go. I reach for the door when he suddenly asks me about my children, “So you have two children?” I nod. “How old are they?”
“Jayden is 9 and Sophie is 5, she just started school” I offer.
Steven nods as he takes this in. I know he is realising that I really didn’t let the grass grow after we split up. Little does he know that I met their dad while on a bender trying to forget him! He was meant to be my ‘rebound fling’ but then we fell in love. Moved in together really fast and well, the rest is obvious. We didn’t marry, I kept waiting for him to ask, but he just didn’t.
“What about their father or fathers?” he asks. I feel insulted. I shouldn’t but I just do.

I want to tell him the truth. We have split up because he cheated on me four times! I want to tell him that I threw that lying piece of rubbish out the door and that I only see or speak to him every other Saturday when he takes his kids out for the day. He refuses to have them over night because he doesn’t want me to have a life in case I meet someone else and move on, just like he has. He is a selfish idiot. But I have some pride so I just mutter that he is fine and leave it there. I can feel the bile rise up in my throat as I enquire about his love life even though I don’t want to know, but it only seems polite. Apparently Steve lives with Abbey and another female house mate. They have been together for three years. They live in Wales, she is Welsh. Steve runs his own plumbing company and she works for him. They are happy. I am glad. I am a tiny bit jealous because life worked out well for him, and me? Well, you know, at least I have my kids.

“Do you still work for the family courts?” he asks with genuine interest.
“No”, I inform him and then lie that I was made redundant two years ago. Actually I was sacked two years ago after my relationship broke down. I took weeks off work comforting the children and trying to pick my shattered heart up off of the floor and piece it back together again, and you know generally trying to put our lives back together. My managers were initially very understanding about that, but then the kids took it in turn to catch chicken pox. Then suddenly I was not wanted and was basically driven out of my beloved job of 15 years. I had no energy or will to fight it so I allowed it to happen. I realise that I am not selling myself very well to my ex. I am making no effort to impress him. I don’t mention that I am doing voluntary work at the nursery my children used to attend and neither do I mention that I am applying for a post as a teaching assistant in another school. I don’t understand why not, do I just want him to be relieved to be shot of this looser or what?
It’s no wonder that we fall back in to an awkward silence again. I can’t speak because I am afraid to cry if I open my mouth. Likewise I cannot look at him for the same reasons. So it is left to Steven to break the silence, “sorry to hear you are having a hard time work wise”, he doesn’t sound sorry. Actually he used to quite like it when someone who he either didn’t like or who he’d fallen out with in some way had a shitty time. I am the sort of person who likes to be amicable to people, even if I don’t get on with them. Steve always used to hope that they fell on bad times so I guess he must be very satisfied seeing me today, soaked in the rain, no job, no car and let’s face it my body isn’t the same hot size 8 body that he used to wrap himself around all of those years ago. If only he knew just how awful my life has been these last few years it would make his week. I try really hard to pull myself together and sound light and breezy when I assure him that I will be fine, that life is fine and everything in the whole universe is, just, great! I don’t believe me and I am damn sure that he doesn’t either but honestly I am pretty much past caring. I have humiliated myself and knowing that doesn’t feel good. “Well you look” he hesitates, “Like crap” I fill in the blank for him. He catches my eye and we laugh. It’s one of those fake awkward laughs that are used to hide discomfort.
“No” he lies, “you look great. Just a little damp”.
“Well thanks for lying but we both know I look crap. You wait until you have kids, no sleep and all that. Mind you at least it won’t mess with your figure” I joke. The silence slaps us both again. I hadn’t forgotten, it’s just I moved on. You see, the fighting started after we lost our baby. I was almost four months, and well apparently Mother Nature decided that we hadn’t made the baby right or whatever. It was a horrible, agonising, messy miscarriage in the dead of night. He burnt that bed right out in the back garden. He was so, so angry, at life, at himself and of course at me. It all went quickly downhill after that. Strangely I was able to move on a little from the grief, but his just got worse. Every time we saw my period he would flare up with rage and lash out at everything and everyone. It was awful waiting, hoping and praying for a baby to find its way in to my womb. Not because I even wanted another, just because I wanted him to be happy. To feel pleased with me again. Sex became an every night chore. There was no more ‘love making’, we were on a mission to make a baby. In the end we broke up. I was relieved when we didn’t have to put each other through it anymore, but sadly I don’t think Steven saw it that way. My fear could still smell his anger.

“Sorry” I mutter vaguely as I throw the car door open. I don’t quite know what I am saying sorry for to be honest. I apologised so many, many times for losing the baby. He swore that he didn’t blame me, but treated me exactly as though he did. Friends commented on it, and his own Mother gave him a piece of her mind over it so it was not just in my head.
“You have nothing to apologise for” Steven starts, causing me to turn round and stare at him in shock, but when I meet his eyes I cannot be sure whether he means it or not. His eyes are no longer shiny and chestnut; they are closed off, cold and black.
I find myself nodding as I stumble out of the car back in to the rain which thankfully is slower now, I don’t know why I am nodding though, I just seem to do it. I am really, really trembling now. Partly from the cold and partly from a mixture of emotions which I can’t even place my finger on. I lean in to the car briefly and sincerely wish Steven all of the very best. He thanks me and wishes me well back. I don’t allow myself to care as to how genuine that is. I won’t allow myself to wonder about it. As the door clicks shut he pulls away so fast his tires screech. I hadn’t even realised that he had re-started the engine so silent it is.

I rush in to my house and slam the door hard behind me. I am shacking violently now. So much so that I stagger up the stairs like a drunk after blindly putting the eclectic key in to the meter. I cannot see through the pools in my eyes so I just hope that it has been accepted. I somehow make it in to the bathroom before I fall to the floor. I cry, and cry and cry. Years of hurt, anger, pain and grief pour out of my eyes, nose, lungs and mind. I am wailing. Howling like a wounded animal in fact. I literally sob until I have no more tears to give. Please do not ask me what I am crying for because I have no answer. I hope that crying will act as a release from everything. You see, if asked I would have said that I had moved on from him, the loss of the baby and all of that pain years ago. But there again, perhaps the pain of everything that happened after Steven and I broke up also had a massive part to play in those tears. To be totally honest, I have had this tiny little feeling festering away inside of me ever since the night that he left, it was as though I deserved all of the bad things that happened to me from that day on. Like as if I didn’t deserve to be happy again, like as if I was being punished in some way. I always felt a pang of guilt every time I felt good or happy and every time something great happened I have this little dagger inside me, poking away at me reminding me that I didn’t deserve it. I have to fight the urge to run to the school, gather my children in to my arms and scream with joy that they are here, that they are mine. Nothing and no one can do anything to take those joyful bundles away from me. I thank God for my babies over and over again in my mind while I lie on the cold lino floor.

Once I am calm enough to stand I do so, I put the plug in and start to run a bath. I pour plenty of bubble bath in to the water and watch it foam up without any further thought. Then once I add a little cold water I slowly peel my still sodden clothes off of my body. I am blue from the cold and the dye from my cheap jeans, I have the hugest goose pimples that I have ever seen and am seriously shaking like a leaf. I resign myself to the fact that I am going to get a filthy rotten cold after this. I step in to the bath and the warmth of the water burns my feet even though it is not too hot at all, they are just frozen solid. I love the feeling of sinking in to a warm bath. As the water splashes around your body and your muscles instantly relax it seems to wash all of the bad things away. Well that feeling was amplified 100%. I lay in the water and allowed myself to think about the conversation in the car. Steven seemed very bitter and I felt glad that I wasn’t carrying those feelings around with me every day. That didn’t mean I was glad that he did, just so very glad that I did not. I cried some more, for the past with Steven, for my children and for the pain I felt at their father. I cried because I really missed my Mum. I cried because I wished so hard that she could sweep me up in to her arms and hold me. I cried because of course that could never happen. I felt relieved to let it all out. I didn’t feel stronger, but I did feel a little lighter. That wasn’t such a bad place to start.

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Monday, 8 October 2012

Rage Therapy

I am so angry! So spitting mad-outright angry! I'm swearing, actually swearing. O.K so not out loud, just in my mind because I can hear my Nan standing behind me saying “you’re not too old to go over my knee young lady”. But if it wasn't for my Nan, parents with children would be giving me a wide birth right now!

But I am so very mad. Hurt too, but right now anger is outweighing the hurt. My brain is kind of spinning and sort of lurching around making it hard to think. I feel dizzy and sit down heavily on a bench I had hardly noticed I was standing in front of. Only then do I notice that my legs are shaking, well actually I think that I am just shaking full stop really. I try to steady my breathing and to calm myself down enough to think, but it’s a struggle frankly.

He dumped me! Just like that. He-just-dumped me! He dumped me! He dumped me-he dumped me! Oh my god he dumped me! O.K, even thinking about it makes me want to spit or maybe vomit. How could he? Why would he? After everything I've done for him. After all these years of being happy together, and we have been happy. Haven’t we? How can he be sure that he is doing the right thing? I don’t think he is, not at all. In fact, I think it’s a rubbish idea. I should call him right now and tell him what a massive mistake he is making. We are good together. We gel. All of our friends-well my friends, say that we are a great couple. My best friend Lily says she’s holding out until she meets her Danny as she is sick of dating idiots and putting up with their rubbish, and since she saw how great Danny treated me she decided that she wanted a boyfriend like that. I'm the lucky one. I'm the one who doesn't have to trawl around looking for Mr Right-I've been there, done that and found him! Or I had. I at least thought I had. No! I really had. Danny is exactly my Mr Right and I am his Ms Right, he has just forgotten how good we are together. This cannot be over. It just can’t be.

Oh no! I don’t want to do all that stressful dating again. I can’t deal with all those rubbish clubs, bars, restaurants and general dating palaver. I can’t do the whole what to wear, what to order, how should we split the bill, to kiss or not, sex or not???!!!! I will die a lonely old woman because I simply do not want to do all of that again. It isn't as though I am afraid of being single, and even in the days before Danny and I got together I had never been single for long. But I have done my Bridget days, and I wasn't exactly sad to see the back of them. I watch my friends date. I see the tears, I listen to the ‘should I call him or wait for him to call me?’ dilemmas. I see strong independent women turning in to insecure mush in the harsh dating world and I can’t deal with it all again! I thought I had done with all that. At my age I thought that I had moved on to the next phase in my life and let’s face it, as my Nan is often mentioning, time is ticking. Only last week I laughed at her when she mentioned that women can’t have babies forever-“Goodness Nan” I exclaimed, "if I stop being able to have babies at forty-five then that only leaves me with thirteen years to try”! It doesn't seem very funny now, not when you have to start all over again.

When Danny said ‘we have to talk’ in the pub I thought he wanted to discuss moving things forward. Marriage! Babies! House hunting! I was so confident that I didn't even consider anything else, not for a single second. I hear a sob escape from somewhere deep inside of me as I remember my heart thumping excitedly as he started talking. A thought flashed in my head that I would have rather we have discussed our future at home, or over dinner at a lovely restaurant instead of a hurried discussion in the pub on our lunch breaks. I almost laugh when I remember feeling a bit disappointed that we were in ‘The Windmill’ which is always pretty empty at lunch time apart from a few male OAP’s having their first Ale of the day. Who would cheer for us and toast us with Champaign if he did ask me to marry him? He was never going to get down on one knee, it just wasn't him, but surely a toast wouldn't be too outrageous? I remember a brief thought about planning some sort of celebration just flicking across my mind (cheekily I already knew what dress I would wear-I had started dress hunting about a year ago, and each new season I select another dress just in case. This season it was a beautiful little white and gold gypsy style dress from Zara, I already own a pair of beautiful gold kitten heal sandals to wear with it. I have never worn them before so they would be so perfect). Instead of rushing out buying a beautiful dress however, I got dumped instead, and even though there were only about five people in the pub (if you count the staff) it still felt like a million eyes were on me, mocking me! The plain mousey slightly chubby woman being dumped by the tall, gorgeous guy! I’ll bet that they saw that one coming. I didn't see it coming, even though I was vaguely aware that I was punching a bit above my weight. I thought that our love was so strong that it countered all that out. That I must be a really special person and it made me look more beautiful than I actually was. Of course my friends thought that Dan was the lucky one in the relationship, but of course they would. That’s what friends do.

Something weird happened when he actually said that it was over-yadder-yadder-blah-blah! It isn't you, its me-blah-de-blah! A strange sense of calm took over me. I didn't actually speak. I just listened to the words falling off his tongue, thinking how coldly he was saying his bit. I listened to his pathetic excuses without uttering a word of protest. That was a big mistake I feel now. I didn't fight for him at all, I just called my Boss right at the table, right in front of his face, and told her that I was dealing with a difficult family situation and would she allow me to take the rest of the week off as emergency Annual Leave? I NEVER go off sick. She agreed immediately. Dan looked bemused. I then ordered another drink from the bar; I didn't get Danny another lager, he was drinking the last drink I ever intended to pay for. He left saying that he had to meet the removal men-but not at our place. He’d already packed up and left as soon as I left for work. He was meeting them at his new flat. I don’t know where, he didn't offer me any information about it at all, and I couldn't speak to ask. As he was leaving I found enough courage to point out that he had made love to me the night before and told me that he loved me. It didn't sound like my voice when I spoke, it sounded like I was being strangled. In a way that was how it felt, as though I was having my life chocked out of me. He apologised but didn't specify what he was actually apologising for, because let’s face it he was compiling quite a list of things to apologise about. Then he was gone. He doesn't want to be with me any more! Just like that.

O.K I'm hyperventilating now. I'm scrabbling around in my stupid oversized handbag trying to find my phone and I can’t find it! I can hardly catch my breath and the tears are starting again. I want to tell him that he has made a mistake and that I am ready to fight for him. I want to remind him that only the night before he told me that he loved me! It’s a mistake. I start taking things out of my bag in order to find the phone but I am so blinded by the tears that are annoyingly streaming down my face that I just simply cannot see what I am doing. I wail in frustration. “This cannot be happening to me”!

“Are you o.k. dear?” I don’t hear the question the first time, but the second time the lady catches my attention and I turn to face her. Somewhere through the fog of tears I gauge that she is an elderly lady. I can’t see enough to see her features to know what she actually looked like thanks to the pools in my eyes, but check- grey hair, check-light blue summer jacket and check-large shopping trolley on wheels! I grab a tissue from my trouser pocket and dab away at my eyes. “Have you been attacked?” she persists concerned.

“Does having your heart ripped out and being slapped in the face with it count as an attack?” I mutter almost to myself, but not quietly enough. “Sorry” I weep shamefully, “It’s been an awful day”. She is nodding away now, “Ahh. Affairs of the heart can be like that. Do you want to talk about it dear?” Usually I would run an absolute mile from any invitation to wash my dirty linen in public, especially after years of living with a Mother who told everyone who would stand still long enough about how my dad had run off with her best friend and how awful it was to be betrayed by the two people she cared most about in the whole wide world. She never thought that I would be sad not to be included in that very short list, even though she did care about me and loved me very much; she never really spoke about it. Mind you I should have known then what an unjust world we live in. It was bad enough what my Dad did to my poor Mum, but she was the one who got all the stick from people for daring to be a single parent. Like as if she wanted my Dad to break her heart and leave her alone with a four year old to feed and clothe. If it wasn't for Nan I don’t know how she would have managed to work two jobs and raise me. My friend Karen doesn't even have her Mum, she died. Sometimes I wonder how she manages. I should do more. I've not been a good enough friend to her I realise sadly.

Today though I feel no shame in telling anyone what has just happened to me, nothing can stop the words streaming out of me! “My partner left me” I wail, “after five years together. I thought we were happy. He has made a huge mistake. He has moved out to a new flat God alone only knows where. He’s taken all of his things. The removal men came and took everything while I was at work this morning. Can you believe that? I mean how did he pack so quickly? He is rubbish at packing” I tell her earnestly, “I always do the packing when we go away. He hates it! I didn't fight to keep him. I didn't try to persuade him to stay. I just let him go and now I need to find my phone and call him, tell him that we need to try again. That we can’t just throw it away after all this time, it’s been five years” I weep, “five years and my bag is so full of rubbish that I can’t find the phone". I am waving my large handbag around in frustration. I am aware that people walking past the bench are staring at me. A teenage girl and her friend laugh nervously. They won’t be laughing in a few years time when it’s their turn I seethe.

Crap! I've started crying again. I must be a pathetic sight, but I can’t care about that right now. Now that the shock and anger are fading a little it’s giving room for the hurt to start setting in. The pain is almost physical. I am sobbing now. Huge body shacking sobs, the type that gives you hiccups. The old lady pats me on the knee very gently. She reminds me of my Nan, that’s how she comforts too.
“Why do you think he made a mistake” she asks simply. What? What? I am incredulous! Is she for real? O.K, she’s old. I’ll give her credit because she might have dementia so perhaps she didn't understand what I said to her. I speak very slowly this time. I want to help her to understand. “We were together for five years” I state in very simple terms, “we were happy together”. I don’t tell her that we slept together the night before but I do tell her that he told me that he loves me only the night before. I also tell her how my friends think we are a great couple, about the barbecue we held only two weeks ago. Lily swore that we’d be married in less than a year. She said we were both glowing together. How did we go from that to him leaving in two short weeks? How could I not have known that he was unhappy? But no one did. No one except for him it seems. “Why didn't he talk to me” I demand, “why?”
“He sounds like a bit of a cad” she informs me.

“Sorry?” I ask bewildered, “he isn't” I defend without giving her time to respond. I think she has the wrong end of the stick so I try to explain better, “he has just made a mistake. He just rushed in to a silly mistake. He isn't thinking” I add almost as a plea. She shakes her head ever so gently but fixes me with her steely eyes-the type of look that warns you that you are not going to like what the person is about to say. For a moment though I am so blinded by the blueness of her eyes-I thought you lose the colour a bit with age, but she hasn't. So I am temporarily off guard when she tells me “This is no whim dear. He has been planning this for a while. He found a flat. He booked the removals van. You don’t do that in five minutes. He should have told you though. That makes him a very weak man. Not the type you want to marry”. I am so stunned that I continue to just sit and stare in to her eyes. I missed that. I was so shocked that I didn't even twig that in the pub. Even last night when we made love, he knew. When he kissed me goodnight and told me that he loved me, he knew, and this morning when he kissed me goodbye! Oh my god! I am a fool. How did I not realise? I am crying again now, ever so silently, more out of shame than out of anything else. I must be a very blind fool I concede. I reflect that it’s just as well that I didn't have a chance to register all of this in the pub though or I would be sitting in a police cell right now!

He isn't a cad though. He is a gutless little shit! Sorry Nan. But what a bastard! I wish I could go back in time. I would have punched him right in his face. Then I would have called my boss. The drink I ordered would have been poured over his head. Then I would have walked out. Me-not him!

“You are better off without him” she states simply. I realise sadly that everyone who loves me is going to feel the same way, say the same things. Apart from Lily, she is a real romantic and is going to be as upset as me I suspect. I shake my head furiously trying to shake the words out of my ears. I don’t want to hear that. I am not better off without Danny. I never will be. Not ever. I love him, and he loves me. Or he did, and so surely he can again. “How do you just stop loving someone?” I ask. My voice is trembling and suddenly my throat feels bone dry. I riffle through my bag in search of my bottle of water. Of course the first thing I find is my phone. I look at it ruefully and put it back. I don’t want to call Danny right now after all I realise, I need to get my head together so that I don’t make a total fool out of myself. I try again for the water. I grab the bottle and practically pour it down my throat. The lady waits until she has my full attention before she informs me that “people just do dear”.

There is apparently no rhyme or reason to emotions. You can’t make someone love you, and somehow or another she blames modern living, T.V, the internet and anything else ‘modern’ she knows the name of. On any other day that would make me smile. I could swear she is my Nan in disguise. Today though, I can’t raise a smile it’s just more than my face can manage. I tell her that I don’t know how I can go home, how I can live in a house with so many memories of Danny. I tell her that I will have to move anyway as I can’t afford the rent by myself. I tell her that I might have to move back home for a bit while I sort myself out. I can’t believe it as I hear myself saying all of these things. How somehow I am logically thinking this all through and planning my future when my brain is still reeling with shock! It’s so crazy how quickly I have managed to get my head, if not my heart, around all of these changes so fast! She doesn't speak, just lets me ramble on and on until I stop.

My brain seems to register that I have been sitting on this bench for a very long time. I check my watch. Actually it has been about an hour and a half, but that is a long time really. Not that I'm in any rush. I sit a while longer, as does the old lady. We are silent and I start to feel embarrassed. I cringe when I realise all of the very personal things I have sat here telling her. I feel so embarrassed and ashamed. “I am so sorry for pouring that all out to you” I offer. I don’t continue as she shakes her head and starts patting my knee again. “You don’t need to be sorry” she tells me. The silence sits between us again and so I choose the moment to slowly get to my feet. I'm not sure where I'm going and sort of hop from foot to foot for a nanosecond. It doesn't go unnoticed. “Go and see your Mum dear” she tells me, “you’ll feel better once you see her”. I nod slowly. Perhaps that’s exactly what I need to do. She will make me tea and call him every name she can think of just like she did after every other break-up I have ever had (even when I was the wrong one). She will huff and puff that he is a fool to lose her lovely beautiful Daughter (my Mum is wonderfully biased) and she will demand to know what is wrong with the male species. We will name a comprehensive list that has grown more colourful as I grew in to a woman and she could really let rip (as could I). “You’ll be alright dear” the old lady offers, “a good looking girl like you, with that lovely hair won’t be single for long”. The compliment is such that it makes me smile. She probably needs stronger lenses in her perfectly round sliver frames but I won’t mention it. I thank her for her time warmly and start the very long walk to my Mums. I cannot face the tube and am quite likely to start crying again any time now, so to avoid the stares I decide that I’ll walk. I'm getting really good at thinking fast I decide, perhaps I just haven’t noticed this about me before. I know I’ll get over him and move on I concede, if I have to, which it seems I do. I also know at some point I will have to face him again, and like it or not he will have to answer my question I decide. He owed me that much. I’ll leave it until I'm ready though. At least that can be on my terms I hope.

I know the girls will want to drag me out on endless nights out in order to ‘cheer me up’, and I will go. I think I’ll wear that while gypsy dress on my first ‘girl’s night out’ I decide. It would be a shame for another beautiful dress to pass me by.

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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Dinner Date

Honestly meeting your own sister for dinner is not supposed to be such a nerve wracking event. I love my big sister dearly, but Brad Pitt she is not! Still I find that while I sit alone at the table in one of the best Italian restaurants in the city I keep straightening my clothes and hair. I have been in to the ladies four times, and each time I have re-fixed my immaculate chestnut bob and carefully retouched my already perfect make-up. I had to lay off of the perfume a bit though or she would tell me off. She cannot stand the type of woman who sprays herself head to toe in scent, having decided that only smokers and wag wannabes feel the need to smell that strongly. I am neither. I am a mother.

I check and re-check my reflection in the floor length mirrors to ensure that my children haven’t covered me in too much gunk before I left home, but can’t see anything for a change. My son, Benjamin is a boisterous 5 year old boy. He is forever climbing, sliding on his knees and jumping around and as a result is always filthy. My husband and I often joke about Ben not being able to walk; he sort of hops, skips and rolls on the floor to get around. Millie, my 3 year old is far more prim and proper. She takes tiny, dainty little steps on her tippy toes, but yet still manages to be covered in dirt and food for large parts of every day. Thank goodness for baths and washing machines! I feel so sorry for women who had to raise their children without modern appliances for back up; frankly I would be on my knees!

The restaurant is heaving with young, good looking twenty something’s (who apparently don’t fear carbs unlike the media would have us believe), all out on a Friday night trying to find some fun after a week of hard graft. It’s been a while since I’ve been out and I find it shocking to see so many people crammed in to one space, those of us with tables are lucky as the bar is full of people waiting and even some of those people are having to stand as there are no more seats. I have no idea how my sister managed to secure a booking at such short notice. No one seems to mind standing though, everyone seems to be laughing or smiling as they chat animatedly with their companions. My stomach gives a small growl as yet another plate of delicious looking food wafts past my table, I cannot wait to eat and have already decided what I’m having. Now I just have to resist the temptation to look at the menu yet again and change my mind another ten times. Frankly everything sounds wonderful.

“Sorry Connie, terrible call to deal with at the end of the day” My sister announces her arrival in typical style. I jump slightly, caught off guard by daydreams of food. On seeing her all my careful preparation flies out of the window and I revert to feeling like the world’s scruffiest troll! My sister is stunning! She has the most glorious straight black mane of hair and the most perfect size ten hour-glass figure-toned to perfection in one of the most exclusive gyms in London. It’s so unfair that someone with such a teeny, tiny waist can still manage to have such full breasts and such a cute bottom and the stunning nude trouser suite she is wearing probably cost as much as my entire wardrobe. Add to that the fact that she is well travelled, intelligent and extremely popular; if she wasn’t my sister I would totally hate her. “You look stunning”! I cry enthusiastically, “how is it possible for you to still look so great at the end of the day? I don’t look that good at the start of my day!” She laughs dryly and compliments me on my outfit (a simple plain black wrap around dress). I thank her even though I don’t believe a word of it! After all, as a defence lawyer I suspect that she is paid to stretch the truth somewhat.

My husband is a Detective in the Met, and the family joke is that he arrests the criminals and my sister gets them off. Its funny how sometimes jokes like this can turn a bit sour. As she sits down she asks if I waited long, and I lie and tell her I didn’t. We do this every time we meet even though I am well known for always being early and she for always being late. Although according to our mother it was the other way round at birth. We secretly think she confused the stories of our births because that would have been the first and last time.

The waiter finally arrives with the drinks I ordered more than half an hour ago. Louisa downs the Gin and Tonic I had ordered for her as soon as the waiter places it on to the table, “Can I order another G&T and whatever she’s having?” she asks immediately before telling me that it may be some time before we see him again given how busy it is. “I’ll have the same again please” I request politely and turn my attentions back on to my sister asking her why she’s a regular if the service is that bad. Apparently she dines here with clients from her firm and has become quite friendly with the owner. My hopes are raised that perhaps there might be a little romance bubbling, I ask her about it but she doesn’t acknowledge my question.

“How are you? How are the children and Tony?” she asks, I assure her that everyone is fine and start to try to amuse her with funny stories about things the children have done or said, usually my sister is the most attentive listener to tales about my children, she is such an adoring Aunty. Today however she has a more pressing issue to discuss (the very issue that I wish we could avoid naturally), “Is Tony still mad at me Con”? As I look in to her face I see a hint of desperation, it’s been years since I have seen this expression on her face (perhaps the last time was when she was pleading with me to let her wear my luminous odd socks aged about 12, hers having been stolen in the school changing room after Mum had warned her not to wear them in and she felt she had to be seen wearing them at home to cover her tracks. I conceded but mum wasn’t fooled for a second, she expected us to both produce our socks before dinner. Rather than pass the blame on to me Louisa owned up and took her ‘I told you so’ lecture, my sister was very honourable despite her fun loving nature. I gave her my socks after that anyway. I wasn’t bothered about luminous socks despite my keen interest in fashion. I was always more interested in making other people feel good about themselves, which is quite fitting given that I am a part-time nurse and full-time mother now.

“No” I assert firmly. “Antony never was mad at you personally. He was just so angry that the legal system allowed someone so obviously guilty of such horrendous crimes to walk away scot free on a technical error. It was pretty disgusting”. I realise too late that I am shaking my head disdainfully but offer no apology. The truth might be slightly hurtful but it doesn’t make it any less true after all. Louisa’s mouth opens, no doubt with the intention of jumping to her clients defence, but she catches herself just in time. It was such a difficult situation for Antony and Louisa. Antony has been part of a massive investigation involving someone who had apparently made millions out of trafficking children. He was so over the moon that they had finally nailed this guy and a number of his gang, got them off of the streets and even managed to save a number of victims not to mention scores of potential victims. Then this vermin hires my own sister as his lawyer. It was the first time this had ever happened and it was so stressful because it meant that we couldn’t spend time together and to be honest I think Antony was quite disgusted that she even agreed to defend him. To be fair someone else in her firm should have done so, but she took it on. She perhaps didn’t want to turn down such a high profile case when she was close to a partnership in such a lucrative city law firm. Well the man in question obviously struck gold because my sister is brilliant at her job, she has always been brilliant at everything she has ever done and never even needed to make much effort. She didn’t even have to work hard on this case. It was handed to her on a plate as she was able to get him off because the address on the arrest warrant had been incorrect. Not even a massive mistake, just a typo. Of course the press had been all over this story. They made the police, and therefore my Antony look like blundering idiots. Louisa and he had serious words in the court, neither of them have been willing to tell me exactly what get said as they don’t want me put any further in to the middle of this family dispute but I gather things got very heated and very personal, and they haven’t seen each other since. Worse still other gang members are yet to have their trials and perhaps their cases won’t even get to court after what happened. In a way I am secretly hoping that they won’t just because I cannot stand the thought of Antony and Louisa going head to head again. I know how awful and selfish that sounds. It’s been a very difficult situation, but she is my sister, and I adore her so we will get over it.

“If he isn’t mad at me still then what are we doing here?” she demands. “Actually I just wanted to talk to you myself” I tell her, which is mostly true, although I’m in no rush for those two to be in the same room again. I think the fact that they do genuinely care very much for each other just made this whole situation so much worse. Each feels very let down by the other. You see Louisa and Antony had been friends before he and I started dating. They had mutual friends and we only met when Louisa dragged me off to a party that Antony was attending. Later she told me that she was determined to set her newly dumped sister up with this Mr Nice-Guy who she knew would be at least a fun fling. She was only too happy to then follow me down the aisle two years later.

The waiter approaches us breezily and places our drinks down. “One gin and tonic and one sparkling mineral water” he announces to my annoyance, “Would you care to place an order? Louisa’s eyes never leave mine; I hate it when she does that. I always feel like she is invading my brain and stealing my thoughts when she fixes me with that stare. “I’ll have the green salad to start, followed by the lobster risotto” even though I am frozen to the spot and can barely breathe I manage to order the vegetable soup followed by spaghetti carbonara. “You’re pregnant”!!! My sister practically screams with delight! “You are aren’t you?” I nod my agreement suddenly feeling very coy under what feels like the glare of the whole restaurant. We leap up and hug enthusiastically. Her reaction is exactly what I was hoping for. I know that no matter what happened between her and Antony they will both at least share in the joy of the new baby. She asks all of the right questions, how far gone? – 10 weeks, what we want? – we don’t mind, who have we told yet? - she is the first (I think she gets a kick out of that) and so on.

Time flies and before I know it the waiter is clearing the plates from our starters. I am so relaxed and loving the fact that my sister and I are having the first uninterrupted conversation in a long time. “Can you believe that it will be Christmas in ten weeks?” I ask, “I hope that you will be able to help me fend Mum off from over feeding me and drink the endless Guinness’s Nan tries to make me drink for the iron” I laugh remembering last time I managed to be pregnant over the festive season. “Actually I’m going away for Christmas this year” Louisa replies without skipping a beat. Through my bewilderment I notice that she is looking down at the table cloth. She is fully aware then that this is not a popular decision. “Since when?” I demand, “If this is about Antony” I continue not allowing her to answer (not that she tries as she knows what I’m like) “then I think it’s very childish of you. You are family” I persist “and nothing should come between you, least not work issues”. I stop speaking as I can see that I have lost this discussion. Not that there is a discussion. Her face is set and she will not move an inch. I know her too well to think differently.

The main course arrives but my appetite already left. We haven’t ever spent a single Christmas apart. Not ever. Even when we were at university we always turned down offers of free holidays and travelled home for the festive season. Our mum is known in the family as Mrs Christmas. She hosts celebrations over the main three days and all the family attend at least one day. Trust me you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Our childhood Christmases are the most treasured of my memories. They are snuggled carefully away in my memory bank and brought out whenever I am feeling sad. They always succeed in making me feel loved and special. “It has nothing to do with Tony” she tells me but I remain unconvinced, “I just fancy a change”. I remind her that it’s Mum she really has to face and ask where she intends to go, but she admits that she has nothing booked. That gives me hope. Mum might be able to talk her round.

I hardly eat my food and to be honest Louisa’s food looks so much nicer than mine. She sees me eyeing her plate and sighs as she swaps them over. “Every time you are pregnant you do this” she accuses, “you just instantly go off of your food and start coveting mine. In future I’m just ordering the same meal as you. It’s so annoying” she grumbles but the twinkle in her eye makes me realise that she is as good natured as ever about my weird pregnancy habits! Feeling slightly sheepish I grin my thanks with a mouth full of lovely lobster. Bliss! I feel slightly bad as I know that Louisa hates creamy sauces but decide that her bones will thank me for the calcium.

“I want a baby” my sister whispers it so quietly, so wistfully that I almost don’t hear her. I’m so shocked I can barely move. I know she wants a partnership passionately, and I know she wants to move from her beautiful penthouse flat in to a proper house, and I even know she wants to finally meet Mr Right after splitting with Greg eight months ago after seven years together. But I had never thought she wanted a baby. She laughs at my shocked face but I can see no humour in her eyes. It turns out that my sister is very broody and after Greg made it clear that he would not consider the prospect of children Louisa left him, although she discovered via Facebook that within weeks of splitting with Louisa, Greg got together with a waitress who is now apparently five months gone. I feel sick on hearing all of this, not least because this is the first I have ever heard of it. I always thought my sister was the lucky one. She has no money worries, holidays at least three times a year, she has met all of her goals-always has done, so I thought.

“I know that you and actually most of the family think that my life is so perfect” she confides, “and in many ways it is. But I really do want a family of my own”. She then tells me that she just cannot face another Christmas with various relatives jibing her about career women not having babies and then leaving it too late, or insinuating that she is somehow selfish for not having a child yet. I can’t argue. She always seemed to take it all in such good humour, she says inside she wanted to cry, and of course she had Greg then. She had hope. Now here she is starting all over again aged 37, and suddenly she feels hope is fading. I assure her that she has plenty of time ahead of her for marriage and babies. At least that pig of an ex proves that these things can indeed happen in the blink of an eye in relative terms, and before I can stop myself I find that I am blurting out to her how jealous I am about her life. I tell her how I love her beautiful flat with the perfectly clean white walls. I tell her how on a Friday night when she is out having a wonderful time I am usually tucked up in bed by ten-far too tired to even watch the news. I tell her that while she works out at the gym for two hours four times a week I spend that exact amount of time ironing. I also tell her that I hated that fact that she was so good at Art and P.E at school whilst also getting straight A* grades in every other subject. I wouldn’t have been half as jealous I tell her if she had actually had to study hard for her grades, but she didn’t. She was Little Miss Popular always out with her friends and would just breeze her exams, I had to work night and day to get my B+ grades and was lousy at anything creative. “You aren’t even in a relationship” I yelp “and you totally have sex more often than me”!
“I’m not sure that you could get away with that in court” she informs me pointing to my tummy for evidence, “not even with me defending you”.

We laugh loudly and I know that we will be o.k. no matter what life chucks at us. That’s the thing about my sister and I, we really do love one another. “Honestly I feel so old and so frumpy” I tell her. I’m 35, with my third child on the way. I have no ‘me’ time and my figure has totally gone to pot! “Nonsense” she dismisses, “you look more beautiful than ever. You really do glow even when you aren’t pregnant. I put it down to contentment and happiness” she tells me, and she is right to a point I guess, because mostly I am very happy.

I laugh when I tell her, “the other week my friend Jenny and I took the children to the park, these two girls aged around 16 walked through the park, not shutting the gate that leads right on to a main road” I tut, “and look Jenny and I up and down in disgust”. I fill her in on the fact that not only were they young, slim and pretty but they clearly knew it and were flaunting themselves in tiny vest tops and shorts, “honestly I felt like the oldest, frumpiest, fattest woman in the whole world I tell my sister. She looks dumbfounded as she says that she is surprised I let them get away with that. “Oh I wouldn’t quite say I let them get away with it” I inform her coyly. “What did you do? If you slapped them I will defend you of course” she quips. “Oh no” I tell her, “I dealt with it far more effectively than that” I grin as I continue “You see, Ben and his friend were riding their scooters just next to them at one point so I stood up and yelled ‘Please be careful of the little girls. We don’t want you bumping in to them’. Oh god the outrage at being described even to a couple of five year olds as ‘little girls’” I laugh as does Louisa! I mimic their faces and we are in uproar! People stare at us but we are laughing so hard we just don’t care. “You haven’t lost it” Louisa applauds, “you could always cut a tree with your sharp tongue”. “And you” I tell her seriously “are a wonderful sister, and Aunt, and when you have children you will be a wonderful Mother without a doubt”.
“Thanks sis” she replies sincerely, “for saying when I have children and not if”. I shake my head and to change the subject by informing her that despite the great food I’m not sure if I will be eating here again, it’s far too crowded. “Ahh but you just have to” she counters “I just bought a 45% share in the place as a silent partner!” “You did what?” I stutter totally shocked! “I bought a share in the place” she shrugs like it’s no big deal. “I’ve been saving money for a long while, looking for some type of investment that was a little bit more personal than the stock market, and Paulo was looking for investment...” she trails off. “Are you both looking for a little bit more than a business venture?” I ask bluntly. She laughs but chooses not to furnish me with the answer. I instead she waves cheerfully to a very tall, very handsome forty-something Italian. I can see our mother swooning in my mind’s eye! Paulo approaches the table holding an ice bucket with a large looking bottle of Champaign nestling inside. “Will you join us with a small glass?” Louisa asks, and I do. “Cheers!” she offers her glass and the three of us make a toast to successful new ventures.

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