117. Swimming lesson

In which friends become more, and then deja vu is experienced.

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Cal

All the time I was friends with Ayesh, I had Dec’s voice going on at me in my mind, from when he talked to me about Chrissie – ‘so if she wanted to hold your hand … or kiss you, you’d push her away?’. And I was pretty sure the answer was yes. I’d push her away, because I loved being friends with Ayesh and I didn’t want it to change. In fact, I did push her away, not physically, but I never let any of the closeness creep in to our friendship that had got in there with me and Chrissie. I hung out with Baggo much more. Ayesh didn’t really get Baggo, and didn’t really like hanging out with him, so I was a bit split, but it made it easier to be with both of them. I wasn’t torn when I was with both of them together as to whether I was being the Cal who was with Baggo or the Cal who was with Ayesh, because I could be myself with both of them.

And it was when rugby was really starting to take off for me. I’d loved playing since I was little, once I realised I loved it best out of all the sports I played, and once Dad realised I was up for it. I joined the juniors and played my way through the age groups, always loving it, never thinking I was going to be doing it for a living, even though most of the important male role models in my life (Dad, Dec, Nico) did it for a living. I guess they never made me feel it was the only thing I could do, and I had Matty to make me see there was more to life than running around a field after a ball. But when I was sixteen, I had to make a decision, whether rugby was going to be a hobby or something I wanted to take seriously.

Dad hadn’t had to have many ‘chats’ with me, he left most of that kind of stuff to Mum, backing it up with ‘yeah, what she said’ kind of noises when directed to, but this was something Mum steered well clear of. If she had her say, she’d ban me from going anywhere near a rugby pitch for the rest of my life, as she worried every time I played, or even trained, that some dire accident was going to happen. So she kept out of all discussions concerning my rugby future in an attempt to, uncharacteristically, let me make my own mind up, and it was left to Dad to broach the subject.

Dad had this ability to be Dad at home and Scotty the Coach at work, whoever he was with. He managed it with Dec and Nico, and most impressively he managed it with me.

When I was in the lower age groups, he was just a distant figure who would come down and watch every so often, but he never behaved any differently to me than he did to any of the other kids. I didn’t get any favours, I didn’t get to be cheeky to him or any of the other coaches and get away with it, and I didn’t get picked because I was Jay Scott’s son even though I was often accused of it.

So it wasn’t surprising that Dad chose to have the ‘chat’ about my rugby future the same way he had it with all the other sixteen-year-olds who were either being told they could make it or they couldn’t and what did they want to do about it. It was a trip to the top floor of the stadium to Jay Scott’s office to find out.

I waited outside the office with most of my team mates. We’d all been given appointments for after that night’s training session, and were waiting nervously, fidgeting and taking the piss out of each other as one by one we were called in to the office. Some came out with wide smiles and bits of paper, having been offered an academy contract, some didn’t meet anyone’s eyes and hurried past with their gaze fixed on the floor, having been told their future wasn’t with Raiders. I was last, and as I waited, trying not to think about what Dad was going to say, I could hear his voice as he told Brendan Hardy that he’d done a great job this season, but they were only keeping so many on the books into the next age group, and he was sorry but …

Of course, I couldn’t hear all that, just Dad’s voice going up and down and the odd syllable from Brendan, but when Brendan came out and didn’t look at me, but instead rushed past wiping his eyes, well it was pretty obvious. I wondered how Dad would feel if he had to say that to me? It wouldn’t stop me wanting to play rugby, but not doing it at Raiders would be hard. And over the past few weeks, I’d been thinking more and more about trying for a career as a rugby player, about how I didn’t really want to do anything else, and the coaches all seemed to think I was good enough, and I’d got my hopes up. But now it was make or break time. I took a deep breath and stood up when Dad’s door opened.

‘Come on in Cal.’

I walked into his office as if I’d never been there before. Dad sat behind his desk and I sat on the chair in front of it, fiddling nervously with the bottom of my t-shirt, my heart pounding. It was as if Dad wasn’t really Dad, like he had this kind of costume on, and was playing the part of Scotty the Coach.

Maybe that’s what he did, how he managed it, to be two different people, to be the confident media savvy bloke who did the post-match interviews when Dom Barker was otherwise engaged, who did the half-time team talks, who was the same bloke who was Dad, who stretched semi-comatose on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon, avoiding emptying the dishwasher while Mum chattered on at him. Whatever, he was in full Scotty the Coach mode right now, and it was making me very, very nervous.

‘OK Cal, you know why you’re here. It’s time to think about the next step for you. We’ve had to let a few lads go who weren’t quite right for Raiders.’

Oh God, oh God, he was going to ditch me. I was going to have to go and join some lower league junior team, or play for the school or something. I nodded and looked at my hands, trying to make my face look unconcerned.

‘All the coaches from your age group have had input into this decision, it’s not me who decides who we keep on.’

Shit, they all think I’m crap, then, and Dad’s just the lucky one who gets to tell me. Could this be any more awkward?

‘The jump up to the next level is a hard one, and only the lads we think have what it takes to work hard and improve will be asked to come back next season in the academy.’

Yeah, yeah, I get it, I didn’t make the grade. Just get it over with.

‘So I’m really pleased to tell you that we’re asking you to join the academy. Well done, Cal.’

‘What?’

‘Well done. You just need to sign here. You need one of your parents to sign too – oh, that would be me. Job done.’

‘What?’

‘I’m not sure what you don’t understand. You’re in the academy.’

He finally cracked a grin and let ‘Dad’ shine through Scotty the Coach, and he looked, though I say so myself, bloody proud.

‘Seriously?’

‘Seriously. Why, what did you think I was going to say?’

‘That I wasn’t going to be kept on, that I wasn’t good enough.’

‘Honestly Cal, do you not listen to anything your coaches tell you? I hope you pay a bit more attention next season. Mac and Bob think you’ve got the makings of a first team winger in a few years time, if you work hard.’

‘Really?’

‘Really. Well done, mate.’

‘Thanks, Dad.’

‘That’s Scotty to you.’

‘Sorry Coach.’

So in the end, it wasn’t so much a chat with Dad as a fait accompli, no discussion required. Dad knew I loved playing, and now I knew I was good enough for the next level, so any discussion would have been pointless, and would probably have gone ‘Want to be in the academy?’ ‘Fuck yeah’.

And so my immediate future was set. I was going to eat, sleep and breathe rugby for the next twenty years of my life, and it all started then. I trained hard, I played hard, I did everything they asked me to, and with schoolwork and exams and family and friends, I hardly had a moment to stop and think about anything.

Laura

Josh and Ella grew, walked, talked, went to nursery, went to school, and my days were suddenly empty. I wandered around our silent house while they were all out, and started to think about working again. I’d given up my job in the MS service a few years ago, knowing I wasn’t going to go back, and was thinking about general nursing, maybe some bank work.

Cal

I saw Ayesh and Baggo when I could, they were my life support, keeping my feet on the ground, making sure I got away from rugby at least sometimes, giving me healthy doses of reality.

Ayesh would make me see sense about joining in with some of Baggo’s madder adventures, and Baggo would try to make me see what was happening with me and Ayesh.

‘So have you shagged her yet?’

‘We’re not like that, we’re mates.’

‘You know she wants to, right?’

‘She doesn’t. We’re mates.’

And so I’d ask Ayesh, and it was always the same answer.

‘We’re friends, Cal. You don’t want to spoil that, do you?’

‘Do you think it would spoil it?’

‘Do you?’

‘Maybe. Aren’t we great as we are? Best mates?’

And we’d just carry on as we were. It wasn’t until one Christmas that either of us realised just what we had, and just what we were on the brink of losing.

Christmas was always a great time for our family. When I was little, I loved it because of Santa and all the presents, and there was that one Christmas when Dec came back that seemed more special than the others, and kind of set the tone for the rest after that.

We had some incredible Christmases, mostly due to Mum’s love of party planning; they were always full of food, presents and people, with tons of kids squealing, laughing and inevitably crying. Sometimes it was just family – there were more than enough of us to fill the house on our own – but sometimes she’d invite other random people like the old lady up the road who lived alone, or Baggo and his mum.

I can only remember one year when Christmas wasn’t at our house, well two if you count that year in Stafford, but the other year was when Mum let Amy and Lau do it at their houses. She told everyone she wanted a rest, and maybe that was the truth, maybe she wanted to show Lau and Amy that she could graciously hand over the reins, but she couldn’t leave it alone. She was over there all the time making mince pies, giving suggestions about gravy and shit, and she spent the next day whingeing about how she would have done it differently, so she never let it happen again.

There were a couple of strange Christmases when Dec and his gang were in Australia, and it didn’t feel right, which was weird if you think about it logically, because Dec isn’t even a blood relation, but he’s so part of the family that nothing felt right when he wasn’t around.

But the Christmas before that, it was a full-on Scott family festive fun day, and I was looking forward to it. Not that I was going to get much time to enjoy it – rugby training didn’t stop just because the rest of the country ground to a halt. We got Christmas day off, and then we were up and training the next day, ready for playing at the weekend.

I was pretty wrapped up in myself and my busy life, but even so I was getting definite vibes from Ayesh that all was not going to be well with her that Christmas. Her family were from India, and her dad was going back for a couple of months, and her mum didn’t seem too happy about it, and Ayesh spent a lot of time round at mine to get away from the atmosphere. She got on really well with my mum, so it didn’t matter that much to Ayesh whether I was there or not, and I’d often come in after an evening training session or a gaming session with Baggo and find the two of them wiping their eyes at some girls crap on the TV.

Then Ayesh texted me one day.

Things just got worse. Mum going to India. I’ve got to stay and look after Pav and Indi.

Pav and Indi were Ayesh’s brother and sister, twelve and fifteen, and if Ayesh’s mum was going at the same time as her dad, it would be in a couple of days and they would be gone over Christmas. I couldn’t imagine doing it, looking after Iz for an evening was bad enough.

No! Harsh 😦

Fancy doing something reckless while I’m still free?

Hell yeah, what you fancy?

There was a pause, presumably while she thought of something.

Meet me outside school. Bring a towel.

A towel? School? I was intrigued, and I did as I was told without questions. Ayesh was never reckless, and I found myself thrilled by the possibilities of what she was going to do.

Twenty minutes later, in the fading afternoon light, we were inside the school grounds and Ayesh was breaking into the swimming pool.

‘Er, Ayesh, you do know we’re going to set the alarms off?’

‘No we’re not, I know the code.’

‘You what?’

‘Briony Morgan’s dad’s the caretaker. She knows the code. She gets in all the time.’

‘Fucking hell. Are you sure about this?’

‘Completely sure. You did bring your towel, didn’t you?’

‘Yeah, but I didn’t bring any trunks.’

‘You won’t need them.’

‘I won’t?’

‘Nope.’

She gave me a saucy look over her shoulder as she opened the door and punched the code into the alarm system. As I headed off to the boys’ changing rooms, she caught my arm and pulled me straight to the pool.

‘I said you wouldn’t need trunks. Everything we need is here. It’s going to be cold, though, they don’t heat it in the holidays. And we can’t put the lights on, someone will see.’

‘So we’re going swimming, in the cold, in the dark?’

‘You catch on quickly. Come on.’

She led the way to the far side of the pool and put her towel on a bench. There were no windows in the pool building, and it was nearly dark, so I couldn’t see that well, but it seemed that she started to take her clothes off. She didn’t stop at her underwear. I stared.

‘Come on, Cal. Or are you going swimming in your clothes? You’ll be a bit cold afterwards.’

‘Er … we’re skinny dipping?’

‘Yep.’

‘Bloody hell.’

‘Come on.’

And she turned away and dived into the pool, coming up for air gasping and shrieking.

‘God it’s freezing. Come and warm me up.’

Feeling decidedly weird, but grateful for the gloom, I took my clothes off and stood with my hands covering my privates. Ayesh laughed.

‘Cal, it’s too dark to see anything, and once you’re in the water I definitely won’t be able to see. Just get over yourself.’

Oh what the hell. I took a run up and jumped, limbs flailing, shouting my head off and landed in the water with a huge splash. It wasn’t as cold as I’d expected … and then it was as cold as I’d expected … and then it was freezing my nuts off fuck Jesus how bloody cold is this … and then Ayesh was wrapping her body round mine, and she felt warm against the chill and I put my arms round her and held her close and oh my God.

Everything I’d denied to myself, for well over a year, was just shoved aside as I felt myself against her, warm skin pressed against me. The cold didn’t matter, I hardly noticed it now. What I noticed, all I noticed was Ayesh, her long black hair fanning out in the water around us, tickling us; Ayesh, her soft body pressed against mine; Ayesh, her breath hitting my chin in quick bursts; Ayesh, her eyes looking into mine; Ayesh, her naked breasts pressed into me, her nipples hard little points digging into my chest. We were both very still. I could hear the ripples from my splash lapping against the side of the pool, and then fade away. I could hear the drip drip drip from somewhere on the ceiling to somewhere down the other end of the pool. I could hear our breathing, which was fast and shallow.

‘Race you.’

With a suddenness that was almost painful, Ayesh pulled away and started swimming for the other end of the pool. I was paralysed for a split second, but soon raced after her and just beat her to the end, turning to her as we stretched our fingers out to touch the side. I could hardly see her face, it was so dark, but she was laughing, and I was grinning. The only light was the glow from the emergency exit lights, and Ayesh’s eyes looked like dark pools, which I could dive into and never surface from. She reached out to my face and stroked a finger down my cheek, and I shivered, but it wasn’t with cold. I caught her fingers in my hand, and held them to my face.

‘Ayesh …’

‘Don’t say anything.’

‘But …’

‘Shh.’

I moved towards her and gathered her up in my arms. We were both getting colder, and it wasn’t very sensible to stay in the water much longer. Without saying anything, I started to move towards the steps at the side of the pool. Just before we got out, I pulled her close into me and bent my head so my mouth touched hers. She lifted her head up so her lips met mine, and we disappeared into a deep, passionate kiss. Her hands were in my hair and my arms were round her, pulling her close. Despite the cold, I felt myself responding to my desire and … ah, see, I promised I wasn’t going to do porn. So I won’t. It wouldn’t be fair on Ayesh, Chrissie or anyone who isn’t a complete perv or under the age of consent who may be reading this.

I think we can all see where this is heading, though. Baggo was, of course, right. Ayesh had a thing for me, and I had a thing for her, and it took her being pissed off with her mum and dad to get things going. We both nearly caught pneumonia by the pool that evening, but I would like to report that Ayesh wasn’t completely reckless. We were safe, if you get my drift, and our clothes and towels were dry. Warming up together later in my room was bloody nice, even if we were constantly being interrupted by Mum with cups of hot chocolate and plates of mince pies, because in the way of Mum, she had sussed out the instant we walked in the front door that things had changed between us, and leaving us alone together in my room might not be the safe bet it used to be.

After that, I got a bolt and borrowed Matty’s drill to fix it to the inside of my door, so I could have some privacy. We were seventeen, it’s not like it was an unusual occurrence, and I did actually talk to Mum about it, believe it or not. As is Mum’s way, she asked me outright what was going on.

‘Are you sleeping with Ayesha, sweetheart?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You are being careful, aren’t you?’

‘Yeah, we never do it near the edge of a cliff or on top of the gas oven.’

‘Don’t be facetious. You know what I mean.’

‘Yeah, Mum. Stop fussing. I’m a big boy now, Dad gave me the chat years ago.’

‘You know you can talk to me, don’t you.’

‘Yeah, Mum. Although I should think Ayesh talks to you more than I do.’

‘I like her very much, I hope she will still talk to me.’

‘Don’t see why she wouldn’t. You can both moan about me now.’

‘That’s true, sweetheart. Maybe I can recruit her in my campaign to get you to put your pants in the linen basket.’

‘Oh no. I’m doomed.’

‘I think it’s lovely, Cal. I just worry.’

‘I know, Mum. You don’t need to.’

‘But I still will.’

‘OK.’

So that Christmas was Ayesh and my first Christmas together. Of course, once Mum found out that Ayesh was going to be on her own with her brother and sister, they were all invited over to ours, three more people weren’t going to be that noticeable amongst the crowd, which was pretty huge that year. While Ayesh kept a sisterly eye on Pav and Indi, I managed to hold her hand nearly all day, except when she was helping Mum with one of the many jobs she volunteered to do.

With Ayesh tied up looking after Pav and Indi, I didn’t get to see as much of her for a while as I wanted to. I had training most nights, and she had to crack the whip over chores and homework, as well as doing her own coursework, and I began to look forward to her parents’ return so we could spend more time together, even if I doubted her parents would be as accepting of the intimacy of our relationship as mine were.

And then, in the most awful deja vu scenario I could have imagined, it all went horribly wrong.

It was the day before Mr and Mrs Chaudhry were due home. I was at Ayesh’s house, helping her tidy up, hoping to win a few brownie points before the shit hit the fan about us. The Chaudhrys were happy to have me as a friend-in-law, but nobody non-Indian was going to be good enough for their daughter. While Ayesh and I were scrubbing the kitchen sink, her phone went. I could only hear one side of the conversation, but seeing the expression that crept over her face as she spoke sent a shiver down my spine. I put the cloth down and put my arm around Ayesh as she was talking.

‘Hey Mum … yeah, we’re just having a last tidy. Cal’s helping out … oh. Well when … what? … no … no you can’t do that … no … no … Mum …’

Ayesh looked at the screen on her phone as if it had just bitten her, which I suppose it had it a way.

‘Ayesh?’

She shook her head, but wouldn’t look at me. With horror, I saw tears start to fall from her eyes.

‘Ayesh! What? What did she say?’

I held her close and stroked her hair, then tried to get her to look up, but she just squeezed me tight and wouldn’t look at me. She started to speak, but so quietly I had to put my ear next to her mouth to hear.

‘They’re staying in India. They want us to go out there to live.’

I stared at her as the implications slammed into me. Not again. I’d found Ayesh, and her parents were moving her away from me and taking her with them.

‘No …’

‘They can’t do it. I won’t go.’

Everything came hurtling back from the past, all the pain and sadness with Chrissie, and the futile plans and ultimately meaningless promises we’d made, and it stopped me dead. I didn’t know what to say or do, I was frozen, arms round Ayesh, not feeling anything, the panic blocking everything.

‘Cal … what are we going to do?’

I shook my head.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Say something.’

‘What do you want me to say? They’re your parents. Do you even have a choice?’

‘What? You think I should just go?’

‘I don’t know. Fucking hell, Ayesh, I can’t deal with this.’

And to my shame, I walked out and left her, my head full of nothing except noise, having been catapulted back two years or more to when this happened before. Even if I’d been able to think clearly, I wouldn’t have been able to see any other outcome, but I wasn’t allowing myself to see any outcome at all.

Eventually, I wandered in a big circle and ended up at home. I opened the front door and stood in the hallway, not able to decide where to go.

‘Cal, is that you? Cal?’

Mum came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a tea towel.

‘I thought I heard you – what’s the matter?’

I shook my head, not even able to say the words.

‘Is it Ayesha?’

I nodded.

‘What? Sweetheart, what’s happened? Is she hurt?’

Shook my head.

‘Leaving.’

‘What? Leaving where?’

‘India.’

‘Oh Cal. Come and sit down, sweetheart. Tell me, please.’

And so, over the next hour, Mum dragged it out of me monosyllable by monosyllable, as much as I knew. She had all sorts of questions that I had no answers for, and bit by bit, as I started to feel again, I realised that leaving Ayesh to deal with the bombshell on her own was just about the shittiest thing I could have done.

‘I need to go back.’

‘Yes, you do, I’ll take you if you like, you can practise your driving, but before you do, maybe you need a plan.’

‘I can’t think of anything. Nothing worked before with Chrissie.’

‘Yes, well, I’ve been thinking about that. I feel bad about not helping you more when all that was going on. You’re older now, and, well, I’d have to talk to your dad about it, but maybe Ayesha could stay here? We could make the conservatory quite cosy, or –’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Well, we’d have to run it past your dad, but –’

‘Mum, you’re a legend. But what if her parents won’t let her stay?’

‘I don’t think they have a choice. Once she’s over sixteen, she can leave home if she wants to. She’s a British citizen, isn’t she?’

‘Yeah, she was born here, but her parents are Indian.’

‘Then it would be legal. Complicated, but legal.’

My spirits were soaring. Mum had come to the rescue, turned things round. I gave her a big kiss on the cheek and hugged her.

‘Can we go then?’

Mum laughed.

‘Don’t forget I need to talk to your dad.’

‘Yeah, but he’s a pushover. He does whatever you say.’

‘Not always.’

‘Yes always. Name one time you haven’t got your own way.’

There was a telling silence.

‘Thought so. It’s a foregone conclusion. Come on.’

‘Oh Cal, you sounded just like you used to when you wanted us to go out and play football with you.’

I ignored the attempt to make me feel like a six-year-old, as I didn’t have time for all the nostalgia and getting out of photo albums. Instead, I stood up and walked out of the room, picking up the car keys from the hook as I did so.

‘I’ll drive by myself if you don’t hurry up.’

Mum shifted herself, and we drove over. I just had time to send a quick text before we set off.

Sorry. Shouldn’t have walked out. Coming back. Have a plan.

As I pulled up outside the house, Mum and I had a brief discussion about whether she should come in or not. She knew more about the law and stuff than me, but I didn’t want Mum to freak Ayesh out by trying to take over, so in the end she agreed to stay outside in the car in case she was needed.

I rang the doorbell and stood waiting in the cold. After a long time, and two more rings on the bell, the door opened. Ayesha looked terrible. She’d been crying, her eyes were rimmed with red and all her make-up had run. I pulled her to me in a hug and held her tight while she cried again. Once she had sniffled to a halt, we went in and shut the door, heading to the living room.

‘My mum’s got an idea.’

‘It won’t work.’

‘You don’t know what it is.’

‘I haven’t got a choice, like you said.’

‘You have. Just listen.’

I gave her the bare bones of Mum’s plan.

‘I can’t just stay here, they won’t let me.’

‘They can’t stop you. They’re over there. They’d have to come back here to get you, and you still wouldn’t have to go.’

‘But what about Pav and Indi?’

I wanted to say that’s their problem, but it sounded harsh, and not likely to make Ayesh listen to me. I so wanted Ayesh to see my side. I’d just got together with her, I couldn’t lose her, not like I lost Chrissie. It just wasn’t going to happen.

‘Well, maybe you can talk to them about Pav and Indi. Have you got relatives they could stay with?’

‘There’s no way they’d let them stay here. I’ve got to go with them, they can’t fly to India on their own.’

I got the sense that there were more obstacles in the way than just the obvious ones. I wanted Ayesh to stay because I loved her, but she loved her parents and her brother and sister, and I wasn’t quite so self-involved that I didn’t see it wasn’t as easy a choice for her, or one she could make quickly.

‘Ayesh, look, I freaked out earlier when your mum rang. It reminded me of Chrissie, and I couldn’t see another way. I don’t want to lose you, and I think there is a way not to. But it kind of depends on you. There is a way for you to stay, if you want to.’

And then I said the hardest thing I’d ever said, and tried to make it sound like it was nothing.

‘If you want to go to India, you should go. Shit, they’re your parents, I wouldn’t blame you, I don’t know what I’d choose if it was my family. But if you don’t, if you want to stay, I’ll help you. Mum will help you.’

Ayesh just looked at me, tears in her eyes, pain on her face.

‘When do they want you to go?’

‘A week.’

‘Shit.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I love you.’

‘Oh Cal. I love you too. God this is hard.’

I squeezed her hand. What I wanted to say was ‘don’t go, I love you, I’ll die without you’ but I knew it would be too much pressure. What Ayesh needed was time and space and not to feel rushed to make a decision. I wanted to put my case, but if I kept pressing her, she wouldn’t be able to think and she’d choose in anger or frustration or some other emotion that would cause trouble later. I just had to trust I was doing the right thing.

‘Do you want me to go?’

Ayesh nodded. ‘I’ll call you later, though, yeah?’

‘Yeah, or text, whatever. Anytime, you know that.’

‘Thanks, Cal.’

I nodded, gave her a big squeeze, and went back outside to Mum.

‘Well?’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Do you want me to talk to her?’

‘Not right now. She needs time to herself. It’s a pretty big ask, choose me or choose her family.’

Mum looked at me for a long time.

‘Calum Scott, you are growing up. Have grown up, actually. I’m very proud of you.’

I shrugged, started the car and drove off.

I couldn’t concentrate all evening. I was thinking about Ayesh, wondering what she was thinking about, wondering if she had decided, if she was talking to her mum, whether she’d told her brother and sister, what was she going to do. I was swinging wildly from hope to despair – she’d choose me, she’d choose them; stay in England, move to India; boyfriend, family.

I tried my usual X-box distraction techniques, but even blowing up zombies didn’t help, and I got eaten more times than I ever had in my life. Matty would have been mortified, I was nearly as bad as Dec.

As if thinking about him had summoned him, I heard Dec’s voice downstairs. I had no doubt Mum would be filling him in on the latest drama, and expected to hear footsteps coming up the stairs before long. I wasn’t wrong, and paused my game as I heard the tap on the door.

‘Yeah.’

The door opened, and Dec came in carrying two cups of tea.

‘Hey mate, your mum sent me up with these.’

‘And a shit load of advice, I’m sure.’

‘She’s worried, mate.’

‘I know. So am I. She told you about Ayesh, then?’

‘Yeah. Bummer. What do you think she’ll do?’

‘I wish I had a fucking clue. It’s doing my bloody nut, one minute I can’t imagine how she could leave, and the next minute I’m waving her off at the airport.’

‘Does it feel like last time?’

‘With Chrissie? Yeah. That’s the worst thing. It feels just the same, I feel just as powerless.’

‘You’re not gonna go all Cob-on Kid, though, are you?’

‘I bloody hope not. The thought of you camping out in my bedroom spouting shit is enough to put me right off that one.’

‘That’s what I told your mum, but she’s worried about how you’ll be if Ayesha leaves. I said you’re not like that any more’

‘No, I’m not. But I don’t know how I’ll be until it happens. I’d been with Chrissie a year, I’ve only been with Ayesh a few weeks, but it feels … I don’t know what I’d do without her.’

‘Oh mate.’

Dec punched me lightly on the shoulder.

‘You know we’re here for you, me and Ames, anything you need.’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Need any help with the zombies?’

‘Go on then, you can’t do any worse than me tonight. Maybe I could use some help.’

‘Good thinking Batman. Which buttons do I press again?’

And so the great zombie massacre began. I’d been wrong to assume that Dec couldn’t make things any worse, and we were both annihilated more times than I care to remember, but it passed the time before Dec had to go and I had to try and get some sleep.

I was lying in bed, everything still spinning around, Mum having given up trying to make me forget about it with food and drink a few hours before. I wasn’t expecting to hear from Ayesh, and I didn’t want to put pressure on her by contacting her too soon, but I was starting to wonder if I should just send an ‘I love you’ text to let her know I was there for her. Or would that be too much? Maybe I should just leave it until tomorrow. But surely she wouldn’t be asleep, like I wasn’t. I picked my phone up about twenty times to send a text, but put it down again twenty times. I even hallucinated hearing it ring, but when I picked it up, the screen was dark.

I heard Mum’s voice from her room, but didn’t know who she was talking to and couldn’t hear what she was saying. After a while, I heard her bedroom door open, and then there was a knock on my door. I turned my lamp on.

‘Yeah.’

The door opened, and Mum came in, wearing her dressing gown.

‘I didn’t think you’d be asleep, sweetheart. I’ve got some news for you.’

I sat up as Mum sat on the edge of the bed. I hadn’t been asleep, but I wasn’t fully awake either, and I just waited for what she was going to tell me.

‘Gita Chaudhry has just called me.’

‘At four in the morning?’

‘I think it’s later over there. She’s been talking to Ayesha, and wanted to check things out with me, check we’d be OK to have Ayesha staying with us –’

‘What? She’s going to let her stay? Ayesh wants to stay?’

Mum’s smile confirmed it, and as my heart leapt, my phone pinged with a text.

OMG call me A x

‘It’s Ayesh. I’ve got to call her.’

‘Of course. Don’t be chatting too late.’

I rolled my eyes at her.

‘Thanks Mum. You’re awesome.’

‘So I’m told. Night, sweetheart.’

Mum closed the door and I hit the Facetime button on my phone. Ayesh’s face was lit up in my screen.

‘Hey you.’

‘Hey.’

‘So you’re staying then?’

She nodded.

‘Awesome. So we’re gonna be, like, living together, like an old married couple?’

‘Ha, not quite. What did your mum tell you?’

‘Not much, just she spoke to your mum.’

‘Well my mum has made a lot of rules, like we’re not allowed to be in the same room alone, and we’re only allowed to hold hands when other family members are present, and no kissing in the house, and –’

‘Seriously? She’s having a laugh. Once you’re here she won’t know what we’re doing.’

‘Totally, but your mum’s agreed, and she’ll know.’

‘Mum’s a walkover. She can’t stop us either. I bet she just said OK to keep the peace.’

‘Don’t be so sure, Cal. She changed when we got together. She’s not going to be so happy about us sharing a room. We might have to be good for a bit, until everyone gets used to it.’

I huffed, before realising that it was sensible, and also realising that none of that mattered, because Ayesh was going to be here and not half way across the world in another country and lost to me. Happiness filled me up, and I looked at Ayesh in my phone with an idiotic grin on my face.

And so that was how Ayesh became part of the family, another addition to the Scotts. I won’t say it was easy, at least not at first, because she missed her mum and dad and brother and sister, and she was sad about being apart from them, and sometimes she just shut herself in her room, which was the conservatory, and didn’t want to talk to me. But with Mum’s help I gave her time and space, and she felt better eventually, and she had Mum to help her as well, and it just worked out, and felt natural. There were rules we had to follow, some of which made sense, and some of which seemed ridiculous at the time (but make sense now I’ve got my own kids, who aren’t old enough yet, but will be one day), and there were some arguments, but mostly Ayesh just fitted in as if she’d always been there. I mean, not that it wasn’t thrilling to have your girlfriend living in the same house as you, but sometimes she got to see the bad as well as the good, and sometimes she took your Mum’s side against you, and that wasn’t so enjoyable. I guess that was balanced out by her sneaking into my room sometimes for some naked action, and that bolt came in extra handy, especially as Iz was always hanging around either wanting to hero-worship Ayesha, or get me into trouble.

So by the time next Spring came, we were all used to Ayesh being there, and the next drama in the Scott family had nothing to do with me, or my school or my love life.

Author: 00dreams00

Human of several decades experience. Full time employment, part-time enjoyment. Searching for the fountain of youth in the sure knowledge that it will be full of beer cans and dog piss. Plan B is the fountain of age, which will be found next to a comfy chair with the TV remote in easy reach.

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