The chirruping of crickets eventually broke through my sleep and roused me. It was dark in the room, and my sleep fuddled brain couldn’t at first work out what it was. Then the blue light coming from the screen on Matt’s phone made me realise it was a ringtone. Knowing that Matt was unlikely to wake up, I reached over him and picked up his phone. Cal was calling, and it was half past two.
I had a very brief struggle with myself about whether I should answer it, but it would stop ringing before I managed to wake Matt up, so I pressed ‘answer’.
It took forever to answer, and I thought it really was just too late for anyone to wake up. Then the ringing tone stopped and there was a click and a rustle, and I expected to hear an earful of bollocking from Matty, but it wasn’t his voice.
‘Hey Cal. Matt’s asleep.’
I’d woken Lau up, not Matty. I should have known; Matty never woke up when he didn’t want to. He slept the hardest of anyone I’d ever known. I was silent while I tried to figure out if I wanted to do this with Lau. I’d picked Matty because, back in the day, before Lau, before Julia even, he’d done more than his fair share of other people’s girlfriends, and I thought he might have some advice that would help me.
I didn’t hear anything at first, just some vague breathing sounds. I wondered if he’d called by mistake.
‘Yeah. Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you up.’
His voice sounded strange, deeper and ragged.
‘Oh really? Because when you ring someone at half past two in the morning, that’s usually exactly what happens. Unless you ring Matt of course, in which case you wake his wife up.’
I let the silence hang there, part of me feeling grumpy about being woken up, another part of me grumpy about not being the one who Cal had actually wanted to talk to, and the rest of me realising that Cal needed to say what he needed to say when he was ready to say it.
Lau didn’t say anything, as she waited for me to tell her why I was ringing Matty, although it would be pretty obvious after our earlier conversation.
‘Fuck it, Lau. I thought Matty might still be up. I could do with a chat.’
‘Do you want me to wake him up?’
‘Ha ha, no, I don’t think I could cope with listening to you bloody snogging him awake. You’re … you’re not … I don’t suppose I could come in, could I?’
‘What? Where are you?’
I sighed. ‘Outside. In my car.’
‘Oh Cal. I’ll be right down.’
I got out of bed and pulled my dressing gown on, pausing to try to ‘snog Matt awake’, unsuccessfully as it turned out, given that I had to hurry downstairs to let Cal in.
Cal was waiting on the doorstep, hands in the pockets of his hoody, shoulders hunched, avoiding my eyes. He looked pale, and his eyes were suspiciously red and watery, as if he’d been crying. I beckoned him into the kitchen, and put the kettle on.
I couldn’t look Lau in the eyes, but followed her into the kitchen where she put the kettle on. I would have liked something stronger than tea.
‘Don’t suppose you’ve got any beer?’
‘We’ve always got beer, Cal, but one of the middle-of-the-night visiting rules is tea only. And you’re driving.’
I nodded, but didn’t say anything, just sat down at the kitchen table and put my face in my hands. Lau put a mug of tea next to me, and I tried to pull myself together enough to say something that made sense, but it all flooded into me and swirled around, and I started crying. Properly crying, like I hadn’t done in front of anyone since I was a lot younger.
I got up and stood next to him, my arm over his shoulders, murmuring ‘shh’ and ‘it’s OK’ and other nonsense reassurances. I couldn’t recall ever seeing Cal upset; he was usually so cheerful and chilled, taking everything in his stride, taking the drama out of things and making the most of what life threw at him. It unsettled me to see him like this. Eventually his shoulders stopped heaving, and I pulled a chair next to him and sat down, gently prising a hand away from his face. I wasn’t going to be able to talk to him if he wouldn’t look at me.
Lau always liked to be able to look in your eyes when she was talking to you, but I wasn’t sure she’d want to see what was written in mine right then.
Once his hands were moved, I turned his face towards me, shocked by the depth of pain I saw there.
‘Tell me, flower.’
It was hard to begin. Lau had implied that I could tell her anything, but Ayesh was part of the family, everyone loved her, and it was going to be upsetting. I tried to say the words a few times, but they disappeared back into my mouth. Then I decided to check she’d meant what she said.
‘Did you mean what you said about not disapproving?’
Lau nodded. ‘I just want to help you. You look really sad.’
I squeezed my eyes shut, then wiped them and looked at her. I was more than sad, I was lost.
‘I’ve got myself in a fucking situation, I don’t know what the fuck to do.’
‘Well, oh fuck, I really don’t know where to start. Me and Ayesh – a few months ago we thought she was pregnant. Turns out she wasn’t, but it made us think, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad, although we were shit-scared at the time. So we stopped using – you know.’
‘It’s called contraception, Cal, you can say the word, I’m a nurse, I won’t be outraged.’
I took his hand and shook it gently to let him know I was teasing.
Mum and Lau, nurses to the end, never got embarrassed saying shit that other people were rightly mortified to say.
‘OK, we stopped using contraception –‘
I emphasised the word and grimaced to let her know it wasn’t something I felt comfortable talking about with her.
‘– and thought we’d see how it went. Then about two weeks ago, it was after a game, I was in the bar doing the meet and greets, there was this girl, and it was Chrissie. I didn’t know it was her when she –’
‘Yeah, she was my … I went out with her for ages when I was at school, when I was young, she was, like, my first.’
I hadn’t been that communicative about how things were with me and Chrissie back then; I was a bit of a grouchy up myself teenager, and maybe I shouldn’t have expected Lau to remember someone she just thought was my mate from ten years ago.
I vaguely remembered the name, but not much else. Cal hadn’t been particularly forthcoming about the girls in his life when he was younger, had lots of girls who were friends, they came and went. Maybe Chrissie had been more than a friend.
‘Your first love?’
‘My first everything.’
‘Oh. When you were how old? No, never mind, I don’t want to know. Sorry, flower, carry on.’
‘So, it was her. I hadn’t seen her for fucking years. She broke my heart, when she moved away with her parents, then we were going to keep in touch, see each other in the holidays and shit, but she never really … and then she … it just messed me up.’
It suddenly came back to me, bits and pieces – Cal’s friend, they’d even babysat for us a couple of times hadn’t they? Oh, so definitely more than friends. I tried to match the fuzzy image of Cal’s friend with the blonde woman in the coffee shop – yep, they could well be the same person. Oh Cal.
‘Oh I remember now. That was the summer you were really, really grumpy. We all went to Spain, and you wouldn’t come out of your bedroom. I think we called you the Got a Cob On Kid or something.’
‘Yeah. Broken heart, Lau. Have some bloody sympathy. Anyway, there I am, minding my own business, in the bar at Raiders, and she just walks over, touches me on the shoulder and says, all like in my ear and breathy, ‘what’s a girl have to do to get a Fanta round here?’, and I looked up, because I recognised her voice even if I didn’t know it was her, if you know what I mean, and at first I didn’t know who she was, because, obviously she’s older, and looks different, but then I had a good look, and it was her, even though she’s blonder than she was, and she’s filled out a bit in various, er, places, and it was amazing. I just spent the rest of the evening talking to her, catching up, in some ways it was like all those years apart had never existed and we were still teenagers, talking about all kinds of shit, kind of knowing what the other one was thinking, laughing. Fuck, it felt like so long since I’d had a proper laugh. Anyway, this is going to sound so like a bad romcom, but one thing led to another, and I went back to her place, and we slept together.’
I stopped, looking into Lau’s eyes, trying to see if she hated me yet.
He stopped, looking into my eyes, trying to gauge my reaction.
I took his hand again.
‘So what now? I have to say, you looked pretty serious about her in the coffee shop today.’
‘Fuck, it’s such a mess.’
‘So Ayesha doesn’t know about her?’
I shook my head and looked down at the table.
‘She can’t know. But I don’t know what … we’ve got to stop … fuck it Lau, we were trying to have a baby. Since Chrissie came back I haven’t … I’ve had to stop … I’ve been making all the excuses under the sun, but what if Ayesh is already pregnant?’
‘So you keep saying. Could this be much more fucked up?’
‘Do you want to leave Ayesha for Chrissie?’
‘No! I mean … I can’t get my head round it. I love Ayesh. But when I’m with Chrissie, it’s more than that, it’s something deep, I feel like I’ve joined something back together that came apart. It feels right. I can’t hurt Ayesh, I love her, but … Chrissie, she rocks my world. I want to be with her. But if Ayesh is pregnant …’
‘What if she is?’
‘Well I’ll have to stay with her. I can’t do that to her, can I? We’d just been kind of waiting to see if anything happened, but now I really need to find out, but I can’t push it, because she’ll know something’s up, but if I keep on making excuses not to … you know … then she’ll know something’s up anyway, and I just don’t know how much longer I can go on with it all. I see Chrissie when I can, but I feel torn every time I see her. I feel a complete arsehole for what I’m doing to Ayesh, but I feel excited and happy that I’m with Chrissie.’
‘You’re running a bit of a risk meeting her in the city centre. Anyone could see you.’
‘Yeah, I know, but she texted and asked if we could talk, and she was on her break, so …’
‘Cal, it will be worse, so much worse, if Ayesha finds out from someone else.’
I looked down at the table and nodded, my shoulders hunched in dejection. I knew it would be worse, but in some ways it would be easier as well, because I wouldn’t be the one who would have to tell her. And maybe that was the game I’d been playing, to some extent: get seen with Chrissie and someone else will do my dirty work. Bastard cheating git.
‘I know. But if I tell her, I’ll have to do something about it, won’t I, like, choose or something.’
‘Do you know what you want?’
‘A good kick up the arse?’
‘Ha ha, no, that’s what you need, not what you want. I meant do you know who you want? If all the baby stuff was out of the picture, who would you choose?’
But that was just it, I wasn’t sure it was as simple as choosing. Chrissie – it was all still there, but I hadn’t worked out if it was from the past or if it was something that was real now. Ayesh – I’d loved her for a long time, but was it as deep and right as what I felt with Chrissie? This was where I was at, where I’d been for days, everything going in circles in my head, sending me mad.
‘I just don’t fucking know, Lau. I’ve been with Ayesh for bloody years, I’ve loved her for years, I nearly asked her to marry me at Christmas.’
‘Yeah, never did it in the end. Too bloody terrified. Maybe I was trying to tell myself something. Maybe it’s all just a bit … predictable. But with Chrissie, I dunno, I’m scared it’s just teenage stuff, unfinished business, the excitement of it all after maybe settling down with Ayesh a bit. What if I fuck it all up with Ayesh and then it doesn’t work out with Chrissie?’
We’d all been expecting an announcement at Christmas, but when there was no proposal, we thought of different reasons it hadn’t happened, assumed Dec had got it wrong, and carried on waiting for what we had thought was inevitable.
‘Cal, you can’t think like that. If you’re spending time with someone else, things are already not working with Ayesha. You can’t hedge your bets like that, it’s not fair on anyone, you included. You need to decide whether you want to make it work with Ayesha or Chrissie. Come down on one side or the other, stick with whatever feels right.’
‘But what about … what if there’s a baby?’
‘I think … well it’s really, really not my place to say this, Cal, and this is only my opinion, and for God’s sake surely you’re only twelve, how can I be having this conversation with you, but baby or not, if it’s not going to work with Ayesha, it’s not going to work. I have no doubt that if there’s a baby, you’ll do the right thing by her, which might not mean staying with her, although it might, but it will mean supporting her however she wants or needs you to, and taking a fair amount of flak from a fair few people. And Chrissie wouldn’t find it easy if you chose her but there’s a baby; you might lose her too. I can’t decide this for you, you know that, but you need to decide, and pretty soon from the sounds of it, exactly who and what you want.’
She was right. She was stone cold no doubt about it right. The baby or not baby was a bit of a smokescreen, really, because if it wasn’t right with Ayesh it would never be right, and a baby wouldn’t stop it being wrong, it would just make things harder later. And if I hadn’t met Chrissie again, I’d never have realised. Oh God oh God oh God. I knew. I knew what I wanted, I knew and it was heartbreaking. Fresh tears started to trickle down my face, as I nodded at Lau.
‘It’s the telling her part that’s going to be the hardest. Fucking hell, Lau, how am I going to tell her?’
I thought back over the times I’d broken up with a bloke – the times I’d been cheated on, and lied to, or on one occasion done the cheating and lying. What had worked, and what hadn’t?
‘Be straight with her. Don’t lie to her to make it easy on you. Let her be angry. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get angry yourself. Don’t hug her. Tell her you’re there for her, and expect her to throw something at you. Then walk away and let her get on with her life how she wants to, whether you’re part of it or not.’
Cal looked up at me, his tear-stained cheeks nearly breaking my heart. If I could have done any of it for him, I would have. He was such a kind young man, so caring; he would never have chosen to hurt people he loved, and he didn’t deserve this heartache.
I looked up at Lau, at her worried face. I so wished I could ask her to come with me and help me do this, but I was the only one who could do this horrible, horrible thing to my lovely, blameless girlfriend. I felt like the most evil bastard the world had ever known.
‘I don’t know if I can do it.’
‘If you’re sure, then it’s the right thing to do, and knowing that will make it easier.’
Thank fuck for family like Lau. She always knew just what to say. I nodded, and breathed deeply.
‘Shit, Lau, you bloody know your stuff, don’t you.’
‘Just speaking from experience.’
‘What, dumped? Or dumper?’
‘Bit of both I suppose. Long time ago. But nothing like this, flower. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to hurt, a lot, if you decide to leave Ayesha. But whatever happens, you’ll look back in a year, and you won’t recognise yourself. Things will work out, one way or another.’
Cal shook his head slightly. He was in too deep, and it probably felt to him like he would never clamber out. He took another ragged breath.
I couldn’t imagine being in a place where things had worked out, all I could see was pain and hurt and having to explain over and over again what the fuck I thought I was doing. I took another ragged breath.
‘I should go, you’re gonna be wiped tomorrow.’
‘Don’t worry about it, Cal. Does Ayesha know you’re here?’
‘No, she was asleep when I left. She’s used to me getting up and pottering around. Oh holy fuck, I’m going to have to talk to her when I get back. There’s no fucking way I can just get back into bed like nothing’s happened.’
I looked at Lau, as if she was going to tell me I didn’t have to do it right away. She didn’t, of course.
‘Whatever you’ve decided, one way or the other or still working it out, she deserves to know, before other people know. If she has any say at all, she should have a chance to tell you how she feels.’
I hung my head and nodded.
‘I’m an arsehole, can’t believe what a complete fucking arsehole I am. I should be locked up and kept away from people, I don’t deserve good things.’
‘Cal, look at me.’
I didn’t lift my head until Lau took my chin and made me turn my head towards her. I slowly lifted my eyes to hers.
‘You are a good … God, I nearly said boy. You are a good man. Life sometimes gets in the way of where we thought we were heading, and shakes us up a bit. It hurts. If you do what’s right for you, but try to look after people on the way, you’ll be OK. You deserve good things. Take them when life offers them.’
I filled up with tears again, and nodded, brushing my eyes as I stood up.
‘Thanks, Lau, you’ve been great. I rang Matty because, well, I know he’s had a lot of experience with multiple women, but to be honest I think you’ve helped me more.’
‘I’m always here, flower. Both of us are always here.’
Lau put her arms round me and squeezed tightly as a few more sobs burst out of me.
‘Let us know how it goes.’
I nodded against her shoulder, then straightened up and went home to Ayesh.
‘Mmph yuh been up?’
Matt’s eyes opened slightly as I got carefully back into bed.
‘Yeah. Been talking to Cal. He’s just gone.’
Matt’s eyes opened fully.
‘Wha? He was here? Why didn’t yuh wake me up?’
I rolled my eyes. ‘I tried, but even my best tongue action didn’t get me anywhere, and he was on the doorstep. Anyway, he said I’m better than you at helping him out with his multiple women problems, despite you being much more experienced in that respect.’
‘Nice one Cal. Are we ever gona beh allowed to forget that I used to be a tart?’
‘Probably not. But at least you’re my tart now.’
‘He never said you’re better than meh?’
‘He did indeed say that.’
‘Bastard. Last time I let him beat me at BattleStations. So wha’s goin on?’
‘He’s met someone else.’
‘Yeah, we worked that out.’
‘But there’s a possibility Ayesha is pregnant.’
‘Yeah. So we chatted and he’s gone home. Hopefully to talk to her.’
‘Is he gona leave her?’
‘I don’t know. I think so.’
‘Fuck. Poor Cal. Poor Ayesh. At least he had you tuh help him. You’re pretty bloody amazing at advice, Lau.’
‘An so modest.’
‘Yep, that’s me. Amazing and modest.’
‘Bloody tongue action needs some work, tho. How did yuh not wake me up?’
‘Hmm, well, I’m not sure, I did this …’
I kissed his lips and pushed my tongue gently into his mouth.
‘And then tried this …’
I nibbled his bottom lip, smiling as Matt’s breathing quickened and his hands moved to my hair, ‘Oh, it seems to be working a bit better now. Perhaps it’s all mended and I can stop.’
‘Don’t yuh bloody dare. Then what?’
I did not rush back. I took the long way and I drove slower than I’ve ever driven before, in the name of getting my head round it, coward that I was. I sat in the car, tidying the glove box in the dark, for a good while before I got out, locked and double checked the lock on the car and slowly made my way up the stairs and into the flat. I thought about making myself a drink, but if I woke Ayesh up and she got up … well my thinking was that if I managed to get back into bed without waking her, then it would be morning before I had to talk to her. I even thought about sleeping in the spare room, ‘because I don’t want to disturb her’, look at me, such a caring boyfriend, but even I saw the excuse in that one, and I crept as quietly as I could into our room and got into bed.
I hadn’t been quiet enough, and Ayesh moved next to me and turned over.
‘Where have you been?’
‘You weren’t here, and I got up but you weren’t anywhere.’
‘Where did you go?’
My heart was pounding. I needed to start spilling some of this soon, before my bottle left me and I was back in the same mess I’d been in earlier. I really was done with lying, but that only left telling the truth, and that was proving hard to begin doing.
‘I’ve been talking to Lau.’
‘What, on the phone?’
‘No, I went over there.’
‘Oh. Is she OK?’
‘Yeah. I’m not, though.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Ayesh, I need to tell you something. I don’t want you to hate me, but I think you will.’
There was a long silence. It was dark in the room, and I couldn’t see her eyes, but I could hear Ayesh’s breathing speed up, as she anticipated what I might be about to tell her.
Come on Cal, that was step one, she knows something’s up, you’ve just got to do the next bit now. What did Lau say? Be straight with her. Don’t lie to her to make it easy on you.
‘I’ve been seeing someone else.’
I heard Ayesh’s gasp as I said it. I felt the shock of it, because it rang through me as it shot through her. It was as if someone else had spoken the words and they had hit both of us as hard, at the same time, because as I said it, I realised exactly what I had done, for the first time. As soon as I stopped lying to Ayesh, I stopped lying to myself.
Ayesh turned away, and I wanted to pull her to me, to say sorry, but Lau had said ‘don’t hug her’, and she was only turning the light on. I didn’t want the light on, because then I would see her eyes, and the look on her face, which I had put there, which, now I could see it, spoke to me of disbelief, disappointment, sorrow and, finally, of rage.
‘Who is she?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Yes it bloody matters. Who is she?’
Ayesh’s voice was icy cold with fury, like I’d never heard her before. I held on to Lau’s advice as the only thing that was making any impact on my thoughts, which were flying round my head like a flock of startled birds. Tell her straight.
It took her a few seconds to think about it, but Ayesh knew me pretty well, me and my past.
‘What … you mean … from school?’
‘How the fuck did you even meet up with her again? Did you go looking for her?’
‘No, nothing like that, it was by chance.’
Well, almost. I hadn’t planned it, anyway. Maybe Chrissie had, but I didn’t think so, not to end like this at any rate.
We were both sitting up now, and Ayesh was pulling her dressing gown round her shoulders, as if sitting in bed with me made her feel vulnerable.
‘And you’re seeing her? What exactly does that mean?’
‘I’ve been spending time with her, for a couple of weeks.’
Come on, Cal, you really need to hit her with the big one. Full disclosure. She has a right to know, and you deserve to have to tell her.
‘And I’ve slept with her once.’
The slap hit my face before I even saw it coming. The jolt whipped my head to the side, and the sting spread across my cheek like a lightning strike. Before I’d recovered from the fact that Ayesh, my gentle Ayesh, had hit me, she raised her voice and pointed to the door.
‘But I want to explain –’
‘Get the fuck out, Cal. You bastard. You fucking bastard.’
‘Ayesh, please, I know –’
‘Get. The. FUCK. OOOUUUT.’
Let her be angry. I had to trust that Lau knew what she was talking about, because I really didn’t want Ayesh to be this angry, I wanted to tell her it wasn’t about her, that I was the one who’d fucked up, I wanted her to calm down and hear my side … yeah, Lau was right. All I could do was get the fuck out and let her be angry.
I got out of bed and quickly pulled my clothes on. I didn’t know where I was going to go, but Ayesh needed me not to be here. I needed me not to be here, this was more intense and horrible than I had imagined.
Ayesh had started to cry, big gulping sobs that made it sound like her heart was breaking in two, and it made me want to go to her and hold her and shush her and tell her it would be OK, but I had lost that right, the right to comfort my girlfriend who I loved, because it was me who had made her make those noises.
There was one last piece of advice I needed to follow. Tell her …
‘Ayesh, you know how to get hold of me if you need to, I don’t know, talk or something.’
… you’re there for her. And expect her …
The glass of water from her bedside table flew towards me and shattered on the wall with a crash and a splash as I dodged it
… to throw things.
I walked out, shaking, disoriented, head full of the most disastrous few minutes of my life. Had I really expected it to be any different? Had I thought that if I could explain my side of it, Ayesh would understand and be OK about it? Perhaps I had. I had proved to myself over and over again for the past two weeks that I was great at deluding myself.
I found myself at my car, less than fifteen minutes after I got out of it. The engine was still making the tick tick tick noises as it cooled. I took my keys out of my pocket and opened the door, then started the car, not really knowing where I was planning on going, but knowing I needed to be away from here.
I drove blindly at first, not paying attention to which way I was going, but then I realised where I was heading, and I let the familiar route do the driving for me. Before long I ended up where I needed to be. Home.
It wasn’t much past four o’clock, and no one would be up. I let myself in as quietly as I could, and crept up the stairs, opening the door to my old room. There was still a bed in there, but it was a guest room now, not my room. I didn’t want to put a light on, it would feel too bright and might wake Mum and Dad up, but there was stuff on the bed that I needed to move before I could lie down, and I dropped a box on the floor with a thump that reverberated around the silent house.
I stayed still for a moment or two, listening, then heard the inevitable sounds of movement from Mum and Dad’s room, and their door opening.
In the event of a break-in, it would be Mum who was shot through the heart trying to tackle intruders while Dad pulled the duvet over his head and grumbled about the noise.
‘Me. Cal. Go back to bed, Mum.’
If only she’d leave me alone till tomorrow morning, I could work out what I was going to say to her. Yeah, fat chance.
‘Cal? What are you doing here?’
The door opened and the light went on.
‘Why were you here in the dark?’
‘I was trying not to wake anyone up.’
‘Hm. That worked well.’
‘I dropped something.’
‘What are you doing here, sweetheart?’
‘I need somewhere to stay.’
‘Why? What’s happened?’
‘I’ve left Ayesh.’
Mum sat down on the bed as if her legs had gone from under her, and I joined her, as I felt the same. Saying the words made it true. I’d left Ayesh. How had I done that?
‘What happened, sweetheart?’
‘I can’t talk about it tonight, Mum, I just want to go to bed. Can we do this tomorrow?’
‘Where is she?’
‘Back at the flat.’
‘Is she alright?’
‘I doubt it.’
‘Should someone be with her?’
‘I don’t know, Mum, but she won’t want to hear from anyone who’s anything to do with me right now.’
‘Oh Cal, what have you done?’
‘Tomorrow, Mum. My head’s too fucked at the moment. Please.’
I wasn’t going to sleep, but I needed the dark and the quiet so some of the madness that was spinning around me would stop.
‘Alright, but you are going to tell me what’s going on tomorrow.’
That was Mum’s ‘no arguing’ voice. It still worked, and I nodded, before starting to take my shirt off. Mum got the hint and got up, shutting the door behind her.
I stripped to my boxers and got into bed, but couldn’t even close my eyes. I stared up into the dark, feeling so ashamed of myself and trying to figure out my next action. Tomorrow was Saturday, there was a Raiders home game, and I was on the bench, but if I didn’t get my act together pretty soon, I wouldn’t be in a fit state to play. I could hardly string two thoughts together, let alone concentrate for eighty minutes of high intensity rugby. I would have to talk to Dad first thing and hope he was sympathetic.
As my situation whirled round me, I couldn’t even think about Chrissie and what I was going to say to her. I was struggling with what had just broken in two between Ayesh and me, and with what I had just done: walked out on seven years of happiness and love, given up a shared life and a shared home, and hurt, really hurt, the woman who had chosen to be with me rather than with her family.
While I was in the midst of my self-absorbed introspection, my phone rang. It was Ayesh’s ring tone, our favourite song, the one we always danced to when we were clubbing. With a lurch to my gut, I realised I was never going to dance with her again. I pressed the screen on my phone.
‘You know what you’ve done, don’t you?’
I was well aware of the many things I’d done, but didn’t know which particular one Ayesh meant. A general agreement was all I could come up with.
‘Yeah. I’m sorry, Ayesh.’
‘I don’t want an apology. I’d like to say I don’t want anything from you, not any more, but if I’m pregnant, you are going to be a father to this baby.’
Saying that, calling it this baby made me feel sick – I might have left my child before it was even born. It could be a real child, there could be a real person I was hurting before it was even in the world. All my clarity and resolve crumbled and left me with nothing solid to hold onto, except Ayesh. She needed … something.
‘Yeah, whatever you need. You know that.’
‘I’m doing a test tomorrow – oh my God that’s why you’ve been all ‘not tonight I’m tired’ isn’t it. You disgust me. You can come and pick up your stuff tomorrow. Today. If it’s still here when I get back from Rhi’s, it’s going in the skip.’
Ayesh had a routine on match day that either involved watching chick flicks with Mum or shopping and drinking coffee with her friend Rhianna. I guessed the chick flicks were off the table for the foreseeable future.
‘But I’m playing –’
‘Do you know how little of a shit I give about whatever the fuck you’re supposed to be doing? If it’s still here when I get back, it’s gone.’
She disconnected, leaving me with a gaping wound where my heart should have been. I had brought this whole mess on myself and on Ayesh, and it was right that I was feeling every bit of misery I was feeling, but it wasn’t right that Ayesh was hurting as much as she was. I’d done the right thing. I thought I’d done the right thing. Then. Now I wasn’t sure.
I rolled onto my side and cried, for me, for Ayesh and for us.
After a while, it started to get light outside, and I dragged myself out of bed and downstairs. I was going to need a lot of caffeine to help me through today, and I wanted to get a head start on it. I switched on Mum’s swanky new coffee maker and put some bread in the toaster, although I wasn’t hungry and the smell of it browning made me feel a bit sick.
I thought I might have some time on my own to think, but Mum must have heard me get up, and she was soon downstairs and sitting across the table from me, waiting for me to tell her what had happened.
‘Just let me drink my coffee, Mum.’
‘I want you to tell me what you’ve done.’
‘I told you, I’ve left.’
‘You didn’t say why.’
I fell back on my new catch phrase.
‘I’m pretty clever, I pick things up really fast. Try me.’
I closed my eyes and tried to gather the strength to start this, the first of many times I was going to have to explain myself. It had all seemed so clear when I’d decided last night after talking to Lau, but everything had imploded crazily since then, and I was no longer sure of my reasons. How it felt was different to how I had thought it would feel when I was being vaguely logical. I stumbled to the start of an explanation.
‘I’ve … I can’t … it’s … I slept with someone else.’
‘I slept with someone else.’
‘You idiot. Is it serious?’
Mum was not being noticeably on my side. I hadn’t expected an easy time from her, but it seems I hadn’t been that good at judging anyone’s reactions so far, and now I was under attack before I’d even woken up properly. Hell, I hadn’t even been to sleep yet. I took a long swig of coffee before I answered.
‘What were you thinking? Ayesha loves you, she’s mad about you, I thought you were mad about her.’
‘So did I. I was. I am, I mean … fuck it, I don’t know, I’m such a headfuck right now, Mum.’
‘Then you need to finish it and go back to Ayesha. If you finish it, she’ll forgive you.’
I shook my head, and suddenly, that was one thing I was sure of. I had blown it with Ayesh, because I’d told her what I’d done, knowing it would be the end of us. I wasn’t going back, I couldn’t go back, I didn’t want to go back. It hurt, and I loved her, but I had left, and there was no going back.
‘But sweetheart, you have to try –’
‘Leave it, Mum. It’s over. It’s possible Ayesh is pregnant, and I’ve still left.’
Mum gaped at me, as if I had turned into a two-headed monster in front of her. Maybe that’s how she saw me right then, but I needed her to see how definite I was that I wasn’t going to change my mind, otherwise she’d think she could change it for me. I saw a lot of things flicker across her face. There was the brief flare of joy at the possibility of being a grandmother, which was quickly replaced with sorrow at the circumstances surrounding it, and then overridden with anger at a course of action she didn’t understand.
‘No … Cal, that’s, that’s just wrong. You can’t leave someone who’s having your baby.’
‘It’s not definite, might not be, probably isn’t. It’s a possibility, that’s all. It wouldn’t make any difference, though. Things have changed with us.’
‘Because you’ve had a … a … fling. You can’t just throw away everything you’ve got with Ayesha, your home, your life.’
‘It’s not a fling. It’s … Mum, it’s Chrissie.’
Mum looked confused for just a second.
‘Chri – oh! But when … how long … you never said a word.’
‘She’s only been back a few weeks. I just think I’ve got to be with her.’
If Chrissie would even consider being with me after this mess came out. She didn’t want to hurt Ayesh either, but now she was part of the big pile of crap that I’d dumped over all our lives.
‘Cal, you need to think very carefully about leaving Ayesha for someone you’ve only known for a few weeks.’
‘I’ve known her for years, Mum. She’s just the same. We’re just the same. I’m not going to argue with you about this, it’s my life, and I know how I feel. Me and Ayesh are over. She wants me to get my stuff today.’
‘Will you be moving in with her then?’
‘Oh I don’t fucking well know. She doesn’t even know I’ve left. She wanted us to break it off so Ayesh didn’t get hurt.’
‘Well there you –’
‘No Mum. Just stop. If you don’t want me to stay here while I sort myself out, I understand, I’ll go somewhere else.
‘Oh Cal, of course you can stay.’
‘Thanks. But you need to give me some space.’
‘And you have to realise that we all care about Ayesha too. We’ve known her for a long time, and we love her.’
‘I know. I’m sorry it’s going to be hard. You can still talk to her, you’d be good at talking to her, but maybe leave it a bit, yeah?’
‘Is Dad up yet?’
‘No, but he won’t be long.’
‘I’m supposed to be playing this afternoon.’
‘Do you think you can?’
‘I haven’t slept, and my head’s all over the place.’
‘Probably not then. Your dad’s not going to be very pleased.’
‘Just another one for the list then.’
Mum and I sat in silence for a while. I knew there was a lot Mum would want to say; maybe she was respecting my wishes and giving me space, or maybe she was just so mad at me she couldn’t speak to me.
Before long, we heard the unmistakable sounds of Dad shuffling downstairs, clearing his throat and sighing as he got over the daily disappointment of having to haul his arse out of bed yet again.
Mum pinned me with one of her meaningful looks. It was almost as powerful as her ‘no arguing’ voice.
‘You need to talk to him right now.’
‘Does he know?’
‘No, he’d gone back to sleep before I went back to bed last night.’
She stood up and took her coffee into the living room, leaving the way clear for an uninterrupted chat with Dad. Or should it be Scotty? Shit, this was way beyond the realms of the usual family/work dilemma.
‘Cal! You’re here early.’
‘Er, yeah. I was here all night.’
‘What? Oh, was that you in the spare room last night? It sounded like one of your sister’s strays until we remembered she’s back at Uni.’
Iz often took pity on people she met on nights out who were too pissed to find their way home. It never seemed to occur to her that it wasn’t that safe, installing random strangers in the guest room for Mum to trip over when she went to get the ironing pile. I suppose I was lucky she wasn’t home, and I hadn’t cuddled up to one of them by mistake in the dark.
‘Yeah, it was me. Sorry I woke you up. Er, Dad, I need to talk to you about something, but I’m not sure if … whether you should be Dad or Scotty.’
Dad frowned. He didn’t like it when family intruded on work, although he didn’t seem that bothered when it was the other way round.
‘OK. Just talk to me then. We’ll work it out as we go along.’
‘Right. Well, the thing is …’
God, was it going to be this hard every time I said it? Like I was just standing in front of the people I loved and saying ‘Look, here I am, the biggest bag of shit you’ll ever see, here are the crappy things I’ve done, feel free to take a pop’? Yeah, I expect so, because that was how it was.
‘… the thing is, I’ve left Ayesh.’
‘Oh. Jesus, Cal. Does your mum know?’
Well, dur Dad. Mum always knows everything, even though this time I’d had to tell her, rather than her guessing. But I was all out of sarcasm, it just felt too confrontational.
‘Yeah, she knows. But it only happened last night, I haven’t had any sleep and I’m a wreck, I’m not sure I can play today.’
I could almost see him switching from Dad-mode to Coach-mode.
‘I’m sorry, maybe I should be talking to Mac about this.’
‘No, Cal, it’s fine, anyone else would be talking to me, wouldn’t they. Let’s just imagine you’ve called me on the day of the match because you’re having a personal situation.’
‘So you say you haven’t had any sleep.’
‘And your concentration is affected.’
‘And would you say your concentration has been affected for the last couple of weeks, maybe?’
Now I wasn’t sure what was going on. Dad was certainly in coach-mode, and being brisk and professional, but I hadn’t expected this. Had I really been off since I first saw Chrissie? Was that why I’d been dropped to the bench?
‘Er, yeah, possibly.’
‘OK, then, I’ll take you off the bench today, but you have until Tuesday to sort your head out and start concentrating, or you won’t be considered for the squad, until you’ve shown a bit more application than you’ve been giving recently. Got it?’
‘Got it, coach.’
Dad’s eyes softened and he tilted his head.
‘Seriously, Cal? You left Ayesha?’
And that’s when I broke down, again, full on sob-fest at the kitchen table that ended with Mum and Dad holding on to me as I poured snot and tears of shame on them.
Once it was over, or rather over for now, as it wasn’t to be the only time I broke down, Dad disappeared and left me with Mum. She seemed to have stopped being angry, for now at any rate, and was caught up with organising me. Mum never forgot a single thing people told her, and somewhere last night or this morning I’d told her that I had to collect my stuff from the flat. She was busy trying to sort it out for me.
‘I know Matty and Dec are around this morning, but they’ll both be going to the game this afternoon.’
Yeah, the game I was no longer involved in. Didn’t really want to be reminded about that.
‘It’s OK, I’ll go this morning, I can go on my own.’
‘Have you got much?’
‘I don’t really know. I can’t think. Most of the stuff is ours, not mine. My clothes, I suppose. My X-box, my weights. I’ll leave everything else, I haven’t got anywhere to put it, and I shouldn’t be taking stuff anyway. It wouldn’t be right.’
‘I think someone should go with you. Would you like me to come?’
‘No, Mum, I’ll be fine.’
‘Call Dec. Or Matty. They’ll go with you.’
‘Jesus Christ, Mum, I said I’ll be fucking fine.’
‘Alright, Cal, there’s no need for that.’
‘Sorry, sorry. I’m having trouble controlling myself. Maybe I’ll call Dec.’
Mum nodded, but didn’t say anything else, just got up and made me yet another cup of coffee. The caffeine wasn’t doing much for my mood, as I was feeling jazzed and on edge, but if I didn’t keep drinking it I was going to pass out on the sofa before I got to go round to the flat.
I got my phone out and called Dec.
‘Calster! Looking forward to picking the splinters out of your behind later?’
‘Er, I’m not on the bench today.’
‘Oh. Are you starting then?’
‘No. I pulled out of the squad.’
‘Oh. Everything OK mate? Did you pick up a knock in training?’
‘No. Dec, I want to ask you a favour.’
‘Name it, mate.’
‘OK, first I need to explain something, but it’s hard, and I don’t want to do a lot of talking and answering questions, so can you just listen, and say if you can do it and I’ll do the talking later?’
‘Right, well, me and Ayesh have split up –’
‘Fuck! Sorry, didn’t mean to say anything. Fuck, though.’
‘Yeah, well. Anyway, I’ve got to go and get my stuff today and I wondered if you’d go with me? I probably shouldn’t be there on my own.’
‘Yeah, no worries, Cal. Shit. Is Ayesh going to be there?’
‘Fuck no, but I’m a bit of a mess and I might need some moral support.’
‘No worries. Shall I meet you there?’
‘Great. An hour?’
‘Cal, I know you said not to ask anything, but fuck me, that’s pretty huge.’
‘Yeah, I can’t do this.’
‘OK. See you later.’