Kelly comes to terms with being a pregnant woman. In the meantime she gets to know Matt.
I heard the door slam and a bag thump down on the floor. “Is that you, Matt?” I said. I was putting away laundry. I was really starting to show now which got me a lot of comments but made it a lot harder to carry the basket in front. I was afraid to balance it on my belly for fear of hurting the baby. “How was the programme today?” Matt had gotten a summer job at the Wood Street Youth Space, working with its youth programme. He was a junior counselor in charge of seven and eight-year old boys.
“Bloody awful. Whenever it rains in the mornings, the little buggers bounce off the walls,” he said, with a smile. It had rained in the morning which meant that they had to keep the children occupied in the gymnasium or doing projects. As I recalled from being that age, the vast majority of boys couldn’t sit still for ten minutes. I couldn’t imagine supervising ten of them. I likened it to herding cats. He took the basket from me. “Let me help you with that. You shouldn’t be carrying such heavy loads, I don’t think.”
I smiled, “I’m sure it’s fine but I won’t say no. Thank you.”
“Please, Kells. It’s the least I could do.” He carried the laundry basket while I put everything away. “How was your day? How is the book coming along?”
“Slowly but surely. Rich and Susan seem to see some possibility in it,” I said, putting away Fi’s clothes. I took extra care to hang everything. She had always been just so about her clothing but it seemed that lately she had been less focused on it. She always looked good but I wanted her to look her best. It was, like Matt said, the least I could do, after everything she had done for me and it felt good to be appreciated on top of that.
We were headed into Matt’s room when he said, “Why don’t you go sit? I’ll take it from here,” with a note of concern. I’m not sure whether the concern was for my health or for whatever he was hiding. I was going to say that I never looked in his drawers or wardrobe, but that sounded guilty to me now at 36, or 24, or whatever I was. At 15, it would have raised my suspicions to high alert.
I went to the kitchen. “Are you hungry?” I said. “Do you want some strawberries and banana? I think we have some left from the other day?”
“Yes, please. Do we have any biscuits?”
“We’re out. I was going to head to the shops once I got the laundry put away. Is there anything else you want?”
“Wait. I’ll come with you, if you don’t mind,” he said.
“Thanks. I can use the help.” I sat on the couch and waited for him. I flipped through a magazine and felt the baby move. Whatever it was, it was really starting to do that, less like a butterfly and more like holding a squirming kitten. On your bladder. I got up to pee for the tenth time that day. I made his strawberries and banana. He sat and ate and we talked. Awkwardly, I asked, “How is everyone there?” This was the first full year since he started transitioning. However much better it was now than it would have been when I was his age (for example, the mere fact that it was countenanced, much less supported, by the powers that be), I knew how bad teens were to each other in general and couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to be Matt. I thought about Bee’s snide comments and realized that there was no comparison.
He smiled indulgently. “Some are great, others are dicks. Most are neither.”
I laughed. “Welcome to the rest of your life. You’ve learned the lesson earlier than the rest of us.” I went to stand up and he offered me a hand. “Thanks, I really appreciate it. This is getting harder every day.” There was a phrase with double meaning, if ever there was one.
“I’m sure,” he said, giving me a peck on the forehead - the way I had seen my friends kiss their mums.
We walked to the shops, talking mostly about music. He was heavily into the Manchester bands of the eighties and nineties. Especially the Smiths and the Fall.
I laughed. “Isn’t there any bloody new music you like? That’s the music your mum and I listened to at Uni. This is the time when you’re supposed to look at us and think our music is shite.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just like it. It speaks to me. OK, I sound like a total wanker when I say that, don’t I? I just found it on Spotify, to be honest I didn’t realise it was so old until recently.”
I wasn’t surprised it spoke to him. He was the perfect audience for it, all adolescent angst and identity. “It’s OK. Like what you like but, yeah, don’t tell people it speaks to you. That was bloody awful.”
We were walking into the market when we heard a girl call, “Hey Matt.”
We turned around and it was a girl about Matt’s age. She was pretty, mixed race, with green eyes, about 5’4” and nine stone. She was wearing a pair of short blue shorts and a t shirt. Underneath, you could see a bikini top.
Matt’s face lit up. “Hey, Saff,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. Since he was little, he had done this when he was nervous.
She smiled, looking at him, then down. “It was a fright today, wasn’t it? I couldn’t keep the girls still. You can only play so much netball.”
“I know. Tell me about it. I broke up three fights. I don’t even think they were upset, just bored.”
Saff turned to me. “I am so rude. Hi, I’m Saffron Mitchell. Matt and I, uh, work together at Wood Street.”
“I gathered that,” I said, laughing.
Before I could finish, Matt regathered his composure. “Saff, this is Kells, Kelly. Kelly Cooper. She’s a friend of my mum’s. Kelly, this is Saff, we, uh, work together.” Saff took his hand and looked at him, with the look given by generations of teenage girls to generations of boys they liked. The “you’re a bloody idiot” look.
She took my hand. “Very nice to meet you, Ms. Cooper.”
“Kelly is fine.”
“How far along are you?”
I smiled and touched my belly. “Five months.”
“Oh wow. Congratulations. Are you just visiting?”
Matt interjected, “She’s staying with us for a while. Her husband,” and he shot me a quick glance, “is working overseas so she’s staying with us.” Good Matt. Keeping the lie straight. Or the sort of lie.
I interjected back, “And Matt generously offered to help me with the shopping. It’s getting harder to carry things and all.” Have to help a brother out - even when you’re a sister.
“I would imagine,” Saff said. “That’s so sweet, Matt.” She took his hand and he blushed.
I smiled. “Why don’t you stay out here and talk about work? I’ll go in the Spar and start shopping. Come in and when you’re done.” I turned to Saff. “I just need him to carry anyway.”
She laughed. “That’s what my mum says. She says my dad is for lifting heavy things and getting things off high shelves.”
I went in and started filling the cart. A woman passed me with a toddler in her shopping cart. He was grabbing things off the shelves and she, without missing a beat, was putting them back. She looked at me and smiled. “Good luck,” she said with a sigh. I was trying to decide between lamb and chicken for dinner. I decided to make lamb and orzo for Fi, remembering our trip to Greece in Uni. I picked up sprigs of mint and rosemary to garnish the plates. I found the biscuits I knew Matt liked and put two packages in the cart.
I got what I needed and went to the cashier to pay. There was a queue of few people in front of me, with full carts. When you came at this time of day, that was to be expected. It was mostly mums shopping for families. From the front of the queue, I heard the woman say, “I have some coupons. They’re in here somewhere,” and I could see her rummaging through a purse slightly smaller than a carry on bag. Everyone on line began to groan and give her the London death stare.
I figured that I’d be here for a while and picked up a copy of Grazia. No, being this way had not made me interested in its contents. There was just nothing else to read on the rack. I started flicking through, idly looking at the pictures. ‘Oh, look, Harry and Megan,’ I sneered to myself. ‘Didn’t expect that.’ I flicked past when I saw a picture of three girls laughing in mermaid costumes. By the look of the picture they were having whale of a time, excuse the pun. I picked it up and felt queasy, and for once not because of the baby. The slogan, “Lure him to your net. Vera Wang Princess,” didn’t help.
Christ, what agency put forth that crap? Trite - and sexist. Was there no woman in the room? I made a note to e-mail Jeremy, to tell him to bid the account.
Maybe that would get me some work. Then I thought ‘hadn’t they said it was only coming out in Japan? Did this mean I had another payment coming my way?’ Then I remembered. Jamie reads Grazia religiously. I think she secretly pictured herself in it. ‘Oh god,’ I thought, ‘I hope the nanos made her not interested,’ knowing full well how impossible that was. I put it in the cart. I don’t know why. I figured I’d show Fi when she got home. Maybe, she’d know what to do.
There was an mail in my inbox from Felix I’d been avoiding for over a week. I knew I should follow him up for payment but it made me feel wrong. Dirty. I put the magazine face down in the cart, I didn’t have to deal with it now.
I was still waiting in line when Matt came in. “Sorry about that,” he said with a smile, in a tone that indicated that he wasn’t the least bit sorry.
I put the magazine out of my mind and laughed. “You’re not sorry nor should you be. Good on you. Did you have a nice discussion of work? ”
“Shut up,” he said, blushing and looking in the cart. “You got the biscuits? Thanks.”
“I’m not letting you off the hook, y’know. I won’t embarrass you here though, in case someone knows you.”
“Thanks.” He picked up the lamb. “We’re having lamb for dinner? Cool!”
I liked that he liked it. “Yeah, I figured it was a nice change.”
He kissed me again on the forehead. “It’s been great having you with us, Kells. Thanks for everything.”
Now I blushed. “It’s the least I can do. You took me in,” and I started to tear. “Sorry, hormones.”
“Yeah, that’s what they told us in sex-ed.” ‘Thanks for letting me off, Matt,’ I thought.
We walked home. Past the old community hall that had been turned into one of those Brazilian evangelical churches that were clustered around the area. We could hear the singing as we passed, Brazil’s mixed cultural heritage clashing with London’s. “She fancies you.”
He smiled. “Yeah.”
“Do you fancy her?”
“Yeah,” he said, with a huge grin.
“Are you two boyfriend and girlfriend?”
“Kinda. I don’t know. I mean we hang around together and all.”
“Does she know? Sorry, that was rude.”
“Nah, it’s OK. Of course, she knows. It’s common knowledge. I mean it’s not like we’re doing anything…” I knew that tone. He was holding back.
I was going to say something but touched the side of my nose. “OK, well, if she wants to come around sometime after work - so you can discuss y’know work strategies. Very important and all.”
“Shut up,” he laughed. “Can we maybe not tell mum?” he said.
I paused. I understood where he was coming from but felt like, by not saying something, I was betraying Fi, who had taken me in when I had nowhere else to go. On the other hand, Matt seemed to say nothing was going on, so maybe there was nothing to say. Yeah, that’s it. “OK, but if it ever becomes anything, you have to tell her, OK? She would have both our necks if she found out.”
“OK,” he said, clearly unwillingly.
We started walking home. “Maybe it’s none of my business, but why don’t you want to tell her?”
“I dunno,” and he paused, clearly thinking of a response other than the truth. “Y’know how mums get about this…”
“Not really, but I know what you mean,” I said.
“It’s not a secret. It was just me, dad and my brother Bill. That’s how I learned to cook, as the oldest child. What with Dad having to work all hours.”
“How did she die?”
I took a deep breath. “She didn’t die. She left when I was four and Bill was two.”
He gave me a hug. “Sorry, I didn’t know.”
“No worries. You shouldn’t have,” I said, cutting off the discussion. I didn’t know if he was ready. I knew I wasn’t. “Let’s not get all sad about it. You and Saff, huh? She’s a cute one.”
He smiled. “Yeah.” Then he got serious. “Does the hole..ever get filled?”
“No.” He didn’t need to explain what he meant. “It’s always there. But it does get easier to cope with. You build around it.”
“Right,” he said, fidgeting with his neck again.
“How about you help me with dinner when we get home? Surprise your mum?”
He smiled, “OK, that’ll be good.”
We started preparing the dinner. I mashed some garlic, and then mixed in the rosemary. I began rubbing the paste onto the lamb. Matt watched me the whole time.
“It’s a paste. You rub it onto the lamb and it seeps in while it’s cooking. Try some,” I said, handing him the bowl.
“Mmm, that’s good. Where did you learn that?”
“I don’t know. Cooking shows on telly when I was younger. I did all the cooking while dad was at work because…”
“Yeah,” he said, thankfully cutting me off.
“Pay attention. Girls love a man who can cook. It shows you’re civilised,” I said, with a laugh. “Start making the salad,” I said. “You know how to do that, right?”
“Yes,” he said, taking out the ingredients. He began cutting the lettuce off the head. “Of course I do.”
“Of course, you don’t,” I said, taking the knife. “You don’t cut lettuce. You tear it. Cutting makes it brown faster. May as well as cut up money.”
He smiled. “Mum always cuts it.”
I laughed. “I love your mum. She does many things very well, most better than me. But she is a horrible cook. And you best not repeat that.”
“Or what?” he teased.
“Or, tonight on Newsnight, we discuss work at youth programmes,” I said, sticking out my tongue.
“I would. ‘Why, Fi, we ran into the most lovely young lady today. We should invite her to dinner.’”
“Fine,” he laughed. “You win. Besides, her cooking stinks.”
We sat and talked while the lamb cooked.
I began looking in the refrigerator. “Do you have any parmesan cheese? Oh wait, there it is. Great.”
“What are you doing?” He looked genuinely intrigued.
“Orzo with parmesan and garlic,” I said. “Not that difficult.” I began boiling the orzo.
“Did you do this with Jamie?”
“Yes, most nights. Unless we ate out or got take away.” I don’t know why the question bothered me but it did. There was nothing wrong with men cooking. The great chefs of the world were men, my dad used to say.
“She’s stupid, if you ask me. She was lucky to have you.” He gave me another kiss on the forehead. “We’re lucky to have you.”
“Thanks,” I said, blushing. I regained my composure. We had time while the lamb cooked and the orzo boiled. “So, no one is here,” I said, with a laugh. “Tell me about you and Saffron.”
“I fancy her. She fancies me. Unfortunately, her family won’t.”
“Why not?” I asked, knowing full why.
“Her dad’s from here. Her mum’s Gambian. Total religious nutter. Saff says she’s always going on about sin and hell and everything. Bloody lost it over marriage equality. I can’t imagine she’d be OK knowing about me. I mean look at my mum.”
I took his hand into mind. “Your mum loves you, Matt. I think with everything with your dad she’s just, I don’t know, knocked about. I can’t really explain it and I won’t excuse it but I’ve known her forever. She loves you unconditionally and just wants you to be happy.”
“She has a funny way of showing it,” he mumbled.
“She’s coming around and I’m doing my best for you.”
“I know,” he smiled. “Thanks. So what’s it like?”
“So what’s what like?”
“Working in an ad agency,” he said. “You know what.”
“Ah, it’s, honestly, weird is the word I’d use most. I mean it’s certainly not something I expected. Add to that that there’s this person inside you. This person who makes you fat and fart and piss all the time. And who keeps you up. And makes your stomach flip.”
“They paid YOU to write adverts?”
“Shut up or it’s Newsnight for you,” I joked. The orzo had boiled and I began melting butter into a skillet. “Watch. You melt the butter and brown the garlic. When it’s browned, you pour in the orzo and voila. Not that difficult.”
“For here it is,” he laughed. “So anyway. You fart and piss and all that.”
“And at the same time, it’s amazing. There’s this person in you, who’s dependent on you. Who’s a part of you.” I started to tear up. Stupid hormones again. “Well, anyway, it’s something amazing.”
“Do you miss it? Being you?”
“I am me,” I smiled, realising that I was probably talking to the one person who could get it. He was 15 and he could get it. “I mean, was it something I chose? Clearly, no. And maybe I’ll regret it down the way somewhere. But, no I don’t really miss it. It’s opened my eyes. To a lot. And I mean I wouldn’t have got to know you,” I said. “And for that I’m grateful.”
“Don’t be such a girl, Kells,” he joked. I could see the affection on his face though.
“Don’t be such a man, Matt.” I dipped the spoon in the orzo. “Try this.”
“Wow, this is delicious. I’m glad I got to know you too. Saff’s between us, right?”
“Right,” I smiled. “Until she’s not just a work colleague. Go set the table. Fi will be home soon.”
Five minutes later, Fi came through the door. “That smells delicious. What is it?”
Matt came out, “Lamb with garlic and rosemary. And orzo with garlic and parmesan. And salad, which I made.”
“Wow,” Fi said, coming into the kitchen. She stuck a spoon into the orzo.
I swatted her hand away. “You can wait. It’s almost done.”
“Yes, dear,” she said, kissing me on the head. This bloody family and kisses on the head, like I was the lucky Buddha. At least, they didn’t rub the belly. “How was your day?”
“Good, got some writing done in the morning, then went shopping in the afternoon. Matt came with me. I’m so glad. Made it much easier to get everything back.”
“Good job. I trained you right,” she said.
He smiled. “Uh huh,” he grunted.
She watched me put sprigs of mint onto each plate. “What did I do to deserve you?”
I smiled. “Please. I’m just grateful for everything you two have done, do for me. It’s a pleasure.”
We ate dinner and talked about our days. Matt told her all about his boys and how they were bouncing off the walls. He left out Saff, which was fair. She was, after all, just another work colleague. Fi told us about a conference in the office over Brexit and proposed new insurance regulations. She was a senior administrator at Lloyd’s and was not looking forward to Brexit, soft or hard. She had once said to me that the only thing hard in Brexit was, “the well deserved fucking the bloody fucking Sun readers and their hag Mail reading wives who voted for this shite were going to get.” Fi always had a way with words.
“On a lighter note, I have that meeting with Susan in the morning, but I’ll be back in time for dinner,” I said.
Fi said, “That reminds me. I’ve been meaning to tell you that you need some new clothes. You can’t go meeting Susan in my old rags anymore. You need to look smart.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, Fi. But I’m fine. Besides, how do you propose I pay for them? I mean,” and I remembered Matt was there. “It’s not like I’ve been working.”
Fi laughed. “Well, aren’t you lucky then? I was by the shops at lunch today and I picked you up something for tomorrow.” She handed me a bag. “Take a look.”
I pulled out a blue sheath dress, it looked expensive. I was genuinely conflicted. On the one hand, I couldn’t express how appreciative I was that Fi had bought me a dress so I would look good. On the other hand, Fi bought me a dress. “You didn’t have to. Thank you,” I said. I wanted to give her a kiss but couldn’t decide how she’d take that, so I gave her a hug.
“Go try it on. We’ll clear the dishes.”
I went into the bedroom and tried it on. Fi was right. It did look smart. It hugged me in all the right places and made me feel less self conscious in the wrong ones. I wouldn’t look like a girl playing dress up. I’d look like a woman. A pregnant woman. It wasn’t like I was hiding from what I was, but a dress of my own was a new bridge to cross.
I came out and Fi said, “Now, you look like a proper author, Kells.”
“Thank you. Again, it’s not necessary. I will pay you back when I get my advance.”
She looked at me, cross and said, “You’ll do no such thing. For everything you do for us, it’s the least I can do. And I intend to take you to the shops this weekend to get you some clothes. Those clothes of Sibby’s…”
“Siggy. Her name is Siggy.” I don’t know why I was defending her. She wasn’t my friend, Fi was.
“Sorry, Siggy. Whatever. Her clothes are getting too small. And mine are too big.”
Matt chimed in, “This bed is just right,” which made me giggle.
Fi laughed. “Well played, Matt. We are going to the shops, Kells. Full stop. No argument.”
I gave in and smiled. “OK, Fi. Thank you. I just don’t want to be a burden is all.”
Matt came over and gave me a hug. “You’re not a burden, Aunt Kells.”
“Thanks, Matt,” I said, kissing him on the cheek. Fi looked at the two of us, and smiled.
“May I be excused? I want to go, uh, check something on the computer.”
Without thinking, I said, “Go ahead. I want to talk to your mum.” He laughed and walked away. “Sorry, Fi,” I said. “I overstepped my bounds.” I took off the dress and put in on the hanger, making sure it hung correctly. I had worn an old t shirt and shorts under it.
“Overstep away,” she said, laughing. “He clearly likes you.”
“And I like him. He’s a good boy, Fi.”
She sighed, “I know. It’s hard but I’m getting better, aren’t I?”
“You are. He is who he is.”
“As are we all,” she said, getting up and looking at herself in the hall mirror. She sighed, ran her fingers through her hair and said, “So, what’s up?”
I took out the magazine from my bag. “This,” I said.
She laughed, “Those nanos are something. Reading Grazia Now? What’s new with the cast of Big Brother series 412?”
“Ha ha Fi. Everyone knows they’re only on 397. But seriously,” and I flipped to the page. I handed it to her.
“So, and,” her jaw dropped. “Oh, so that’s you.”
“Yes it is. Me in the flesh. Or the gills, or both.”
She started laughing, “It’s quite something. You look very fetching. Green is a good colour on you. I like this Asian girl.”
“She’s a bitch,” I laughed.
“What’s the issue? Do they owe you money? We’ll call Bee.” If my option was Bee or not getting paid, I’d take the dole.
“That’s not it. Jamie reads Grazia religiously.”
“King James or the new translation?” She was satisfied with her own joke.
“Susan used that already,” I laughed. “Try again.”
“So, she reads it. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is I’ve managed to avoid her to date and I don’t want to hear from her.” She paused like she was about to say something. “What, Fi,” I said. “Out with it.”
She paused again. “What are you afraid of? I mean she’s sort of done everything she can do to you, no offense.”
“I, uh, I just don’t want to see her.”
“Then don’t. I don’t see why you won’t, but it’s your choice,” she said.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d say.”
“I’d tell you to say what you feel, but as of now, we don’t know if she’s seen it or if she’ll put two and two together, but if she does and she calls you, you’ll deal with it. Until then, enjoy it. I know I am. It’s rare for me to have a celebrity living in my very own home.” She picked up the magazine and handed it to me. “May I have your autograph?” I picked up a pen and wrote, ‘To Fi, shut up. Best wishes, Kelly,” with an ‘xo’ and a heart.
“I shall treasure this forever,” she said, as she put it under her glass, taking care to center it on my face. “Did you call Dr. Patel?”
“Yes,” I said. “The sonogram is two weeks from yesterday.”
“What time,” she said, flicking through her phone.
“10:30,” I said. “You don’t have to come.”
She looked hurt. “Do you not want me?”
“Of course I do,” I said. “I just didn’t want you to miss work or anything.”
“Don’t be absurd, Kells. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“Thank you,” I said. “That means everything to me,” and I started to tear up. Then I started to bawl. Between the magazine and the sonogram, I was missing Jamie. I missed her touch, her smell, her...her. I wished she was here. I knew why she wasn’t but that didn’t make the ache any less.
She held me while I cried. “I know Kells. I know you miss her but I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere. I promise you that.”
I sniffled. “Thank you, Fi. For everything.”
“The same to you, Kells.”
Decaf tea, with plenty of milk and sugar, is just about drinkable. At least I had to convince myself it was, as it was going to be a pretty big part of my life for the next four months. I sipped it nervously as I waited for my brother to arrive.
10am, our agreed time came and went. Then 10:30 passed without any word. By then I was pacing backwards and forwards. It was nearly 11 when I heard the knock on the door. I took a deep breath and went to answer.
“Excuse me, I was looking for Kel…” He looked at my eyes and his widened. “Kelly?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
My little brother stared at me for a long time, and then shook his head, “you look different. Did you do something new with your hair?”
“Har har. Get in you lug.”
The front door closed and we hugged.
“You must be freaking out,” he said.
“I was.” He kept staring at me which, while to be expected, was starting to irritate me. “Spit it out, Billy.”
“You don’t like this shirt. You know what.”
He looked at me. “OK. You are happy with,” he gestured towards my whole body, bump and all, “this?”
“Happy’s a little strong. OK is better. Accepted is best. I’ve made the decision to keep the baby so I just have to deal with the rest.”
We sat down in the living room and he kept staring at me, to the point that he felt behind him when he sat down on the couch.
“OK, stop staring,” I said.
He smiled. “Sorry. It’s just so hard to see your little sister pregnant. I remember the Westlife posters like yesterday and now you’re having a baby,” he said, laughing.
That broke the ice and I laughed. “The bloody Westlife posters were yours, you big girl.”
“I’m the big girl? Have a look at yourself lately?”
“Shut up. Do you want something to drink?”
He jumped up. “You stay there, I’ll make it. Kitchen this way?”
“You don’t have to look after me,”
He came back in with two cups of tea “Don’t be silly. Enjoy it now. Come what, about four months, your rest time is over.” He handed me mine, “Decaf for you,” he said. “Tell Julia,” his wife “I remember. Um, I know we went through this on the e-mail but how exactly did this happen?”
With that, I went through the whole saga from the blog to the nanosuits to Rich to Iceland to here.
He laughed. “That’s some series of accidents and coincidences.”
“What? What do you mean?” I knew what he meant. He meant what Fi meant and what I still wasn’t ready to face.
“Nothing,” he said. “Good on you, on the book. You always wanted to write,” he smiled. “I remember that diary that you used to keep, ‘Oh dear diary, I love Nigel but he doesn’t love me…’”
I laughed and played along. “You looked at my diary? My most intimate thoughts?” I needed the release. It felt good to have him here, a link to an easier time in my life.
“Anyway, the rest is not important. Have you and Jamie worked out arrangements yet?”
“I haven’t got that far. I’m barely getting through each day.” I looked out at the raindrops running down the window. It’d been awhile since it had rained. The flowers in the garden would be coming out once the sun returned. “Like I said in the email, I just want to get through this and have a healthy baby, and then I’ll work out what comes next.”
“Does that include what you are going to do with the baby once it happens?”
“I have no idea. Like I said, all I’ve planned is to get to the end of this with a healthy baby. Then I’ll work out what comes next.”
He smiled, “Like the blog? Kelly, plan ahead for once. Having a new baby is like being hit by a tornado. You want to have something in place beforehand or risk being blown away.”
He wasn’t wrong but I wasn’t ready or able to plan just yet. “I will. So, how are the boys?” I was a bad uncle. We’d exchange pictures and I’d send cards and gifts, but I wasn’t part of their life. If Julia would let me, I wanted to change that.
“Good. Little terrors. Mikey climbs everything and Alex is obsessed with the computer. It’s all I can do to drag him off the thing. Julia’s at her wits end.”
Bill went through the latest exploits of his two. He’d married young, only a year or so after Uni. He’d never been the ambitious type, spending his life slowly climbing the government ladder. I curled my legs underneath me, watching him talk. It felt reassuring to see such a familiar face. I’d seen that face so often I knew it better than my own. Which was especially true in the bodysuit. Every expression, every crease was familiar to me. I wanted to tell him how much his calm acceptance was helping.
“Kelly, I’ve got something to tell you,” He jolted me out of my safe space. “I’ve found her.”
He looked at me expectantly. It took me a while to catch on.
“Her her?” I couldn’t call her mum. A ‘mum’ was someone like Fiona who was always there, always loved you no matter what.
“Do you want me to tell you what I’ve found?”
“Do I want to know?” I’d picked up a cushion and was holding it close to my stomach. He looked at me. It was an unfair question. I didn’t want to know but needed to. “Start off simple. I take it she’s alive,” he nodded, “where is she living?”
“Some place in Cheshire. Warburton.”
I sat there dumbly. ‘Cheshire’, it seemed very real. A solid place. Not like the places I’d imagined her to be over the years. New York, Paris, Australia. Places out of movies. At least to me.
He took a deep breath. “She remarried,” another piece of information I’d have to deal with. I reached out and took Bill’s hand. It must have been hard on him as well. “About 8 years ago. The guy owns a Land Rover dealership.”
“Good on them. Must be doing well.”
“Have you been in contact?”
Again he nodded.
“What did she sound like?” I could only remember feelings when I thought of my mother. Sense memory, Jamie called it. The smell of her perfume, the softness of her arms when she held me. I thought I remembered the sound of her voice, but I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a false memory I’d created as a child.
“We’ve just shared emails, so I have no idea.”
I looked closely at Bill. He was only 34, but he looked tired. Two boys will do that to you. You could see the lines forming around his eyes and grey slowly creeping in at his temples.
“Anything else I should know?”
He took a deep breath. Oh god, I thought, what now.
“Well, she has two kids, both girls.”
“What?” This was something of a shock. The one thing I thought I was certain about with my mother was that she was bad with kids. It was the only explanation for her leaving us, without going to a dark place where I blamed myself. I felt a hole opening up below me.
“The oldest is 13, the younger one 11. Issy and Lisa. From a ‘prior relationship,’” he said, an edge creeping into his voice. She was 20 when I was born, 22 when Bill was. I guess it wasn’t unreasonable. At least the age difference.
“Do they know about us?”
He shrugged, “I’ve no idea. She’s invited me up to meet with her in a couple of weeks but I don’t know that that includes the lot of them. I guess she wants to check me out first. The invitation is extended to you as well.”
I recalled like he’d bit me. “I can’t, not like this!”
He chuckled, “Well I guess it would complicate things. I mean you’ll have to get your hair done and all.” I threw the pillow at him.
We continued talking for hours. Around 1, I made us sandwiches for lunch, like I did when we were kids. He crumpled crisps into his like we used to and laughed. “I haven’t done that for ages.” He crunched down. “I don’t know why. It’s really good. Have to do this with the boys. When Julia’s out.”
We talked about everything, well everything but the elephant in the room. Football, politics, my “condition,” which he found endlessly entertaining.
“My sister, a bloody tart with her legs spread and her knickers down. Now look at you! We’ll send you up north to have it. I shan’t be embarrassed before the neighbours, the vicar!”
I laughed, “Arsehole.”
He laughed. “Come stay with us in Brighton. Julia’ll be happy to have you.”
“Does she know?”
“Sort of. I mean I told her but this is sort of see for yourself, you know.”
“I appreciate the offer. I’ll come for a visit, but my life’s here.” We didn’t discuss Cheshire until he got up to leave. He reiterated the offer. He wouldn’t say it but I think he wanted me there for support.
“I can’t face her like this.”
“Why? You don’t need to make a special effort for her. This is you and she has to take you as you want be.” I just said I’d think about it.
Bill left around 3 and the flat felt empty. I started making the dinner, the physical action acting as a distraction. The rain had stopped and the sun glinted off the dew covered garden. Even the plastic chairs looked magical. The radio played an old song I remembered from being a kid and all of a sudden I was crying.
I didn’t hear the door slam. Matt and Saff came into the kitchen. Saff started to come over but Matt held up his hand. He came over and put his arm around me. “Are you OK, Aunt Kells?” It felt funny to hear him call me that again. I had become just ‘Kells.’
“I’m fine. Old song came on and it made me tear up.” They both looked at me with utter disbelief. “Go discuss work, you two. I’ll make you a snack.”
Saff said, “I’ll go into the garden. You two talk.” She looked concerned, bless her little 15 year old socks.
“So what happened for real?” Matt said.
“My brother was here.”
“Giving you a hard time?” Anger flashed across his face. More anger than a young face like his should have to deal with.
I put my hand on his arm. “No no no. Nothing like that. He heard from our mother.”
“Oh. Oh shit.”
“Yeah. Definitely oh shit,” and we both laughed a little.
“He’s seeing her. He asked if I wanted to come.”
I paused. “I don’t know.” I didn’t know. I didn’t care what I looked like, she had no rights to say anything. I just didn’t know what I would do. I stood there for a second and decided to figure it out with Fi later on. This was too much for Matt to have to deal with, however much he wanted to help. I smiled. “We’ll figure it out later. Go out to your work colleague.” This was our new inside joke
I brought them out biscuits and lemonade that I had made. “I hope you like lemonade, Saff,” I said.
“Oh you didn’t have to, Ms. Coo..Kelly. Are you OK?”
I smiled, “I’m fine. Bloody hormones.”
She smiled, letting me off the hook. “I’m sure. I know how I get you know...sorry, girl talk, Matt,” which, in retrospect, was an absurd thing to say, given the players.
“Stop fiddling,” Fiona scolded me as I played with the hem of my dress.
“I’m just not used to skirts,” I sighed, putting my hand in my lap. Not that there was much space for them with my bulging tum.
“It’s not a skirt. It’s a nice dress. It suits you.”
I looked down at the dark grey pinafore style dress and the two inch heels. “You don’t think it makes me look like a pregnant school girl?” She just laughed. “I notice you’re in trousers.” I added ruefully.
“I’m not the one trying to impress.” That wasn’t entirely true. Ever since I’d asked Fiona to be my plus one to the Dale dinner, she’d been repeatedly asking me about their tastes, who’d be coming, etc. She said she didn’t want to let me down, although I didn’t think she could. I didn’t push it. Instead, I returned to watching
East London go by outside the train window. The carriages of the East London line felt open and airy after the cramped tube trains.
“Are you sure they like red? What if Susan’s cooked fish?” Fi said nervously. I had never seen her this nervous.
“They served it last time,” I said, placing a hand on her knee. I hadn’t really thought about it, it was meant to be reassuring. I noticed that she moved her leg a little closer.
Standing outside the now familiar doorway, I felt a familiar panic rising. Not only did I want them to like me, I wanted them to like Fiona. She took my hand and smiled. I felt a little better.
“Kelly, how lovely to see you!” Rich beamed. He had an expensive looking bottle of red in one hand and a corkscrew in the other. I saw Fiona shuffle the carrier bag containing our much cheaper bottle behind her. I introduced Rich and Fiona and was struck with how weird it was to see the two of them talking. Two parts of my life colliding.
“Hello dear,” Susan poked her head out of the kitchen. I’d worn my hair down on Fiona’s suggestion. While the look suited the summer weather, I found it irritating having to constantly brush it out of my face. I felt like I was peering out through a curtain. “Kelly, so what do you think? Do you agree Ingrid, Sally and Ólafur are a sort of love triangle?” Susan came and took my hand, and dragged me towards the kitchen before I had time to protest.
“Don’t worry,” Rich said to Fiona, “The partners are through here.” I turned just in time to watch Fiona and Rich disappearing into the living room. They seemed to have hit it off.
“Before we get into your book, I want to introduce you to a couple of friends. Kelly, this is Hannah,” she pointed to a tall black woman, beautiful but stressed and tired looking, “and Millie, she writes for…”
“The Independent. Yes, I read your column,” I took both women’s hands In turn. Millie Hopkins wrote about games and computer culture from a feminist perspective. She got a lot of flack from the Gamergate types and other weirdos for her trouble.
“Hannah works for the PLP.” Susan seemed to assume I knew what that was.
“The Parliamentary Labour Party,” Hannah explained. No wonder she looked so stressed and tired.
“I would never show your work to anyone of course. Professional ethics and all. But I have to admit I’ve been dying to show these two your book.”
“She’s been driving us mad. She won’t give a thing away but can’t stop talking about it. I haven’t seen her this excited by a project since Donna Tartt,” Hannah confirmed.
“All she’ll tell us,” Millie touched my arm, “is that it has a uniquely female perspective.”
I felt bad. I should have told Susan the truth. Would she still want to be my friend, my editor when she found out I’ve conned her?
“How much do you want to tell them Kelly?”
“I don’t know if it deserves so much praise. It’s pretty clichéd really. I take the Scandi-noir trope of the melting ice revealing a dead body and secrets in a small town and move it to the North of England. A hot summer, a reservoir in the
Pennines is unusually low, which reveals a car with a dead body of a Swedish au pair who came over in the 70s. Then the action switches to Iceland where the au pair’s sister…” It was bizarre to have all three women following my every word.
Like most writers, I’m a natural introvert with an extrovert dying to get out. After what felt like a million questions, they let me go. Susan turned back to the cooking and the conversation moved on. As a man, it felt odd when the three of them insisted I take the bar stool at the end of the island. Given the way the heels hurt my feet, I wasn’t completely stupid, so I didn’t complain.
“What do you think will happen with the Germany negotiations?” Susan turned to ask Hannah. I enjoyed watching their dynamic. Hannah led the conversation, but they all deferred to Susan when it came down to it.
“I think the Germans will be keen to find a solution. They’ve been pretty good about the whole thing. They don’t want to crash the whole European economy just for revenge. Still, any deal will be on their terms.”
“I was in Berlin during their last elections. You know what struck me?” Millie was mostly content to take more of a backseat like me. As she talked, she always looked for confirmation from the other two, “How positive their election posters were. ‘Vote for me because I’m a nice guy,’ In the Anglosphere it’s all ‘Vote for the other guys and they’ll sell the NHS to a Polish Muslim,’ or ‘Vote for them and they’ll let Russia nuke Surrey.’”
“Right. It’s the same in Spain. Their newspapers seem so sedate compared to ours. I guess they know what can go wrong. We’ve grown complacent.” Again, Susan acted as final referee on the subject.
“OK,” Susan wiped sweat from her brow, “I think we are there. Millie, be a love and ask the ‘boys’ to come through. Hannah, would you mind setting the table?”
“What should I do?” I swivelled, contemplating how I was going to get down.
“Nothing, rest. You’re pregnant, enjoy it while it lasts.”
It felt wrong, but I wasn’t complaining.
Fiona and a new man were the first in, both laughing loudly. She saw me sitting there. “Kells, this is Chris. He’s another author.”
“Chris Bowman? I think Rich mentioned you would be here,” I struggled to get up and offer him my hand. He smiled and came over, motioning me to sit.
“Rich has been prepping me for Richard and Judy,” he said as he shook my hand. Unlike everyone else who had dressed up, Chris was in a rugby shirt and jeans. He was also carrying a bottle of some micro-brewery beer whereas everyone else was drinking wine.
“Sorry, are you from the West Country,” I asked. I don’t why I asked that. I wanted to ask him about craft and being a famous author. Instead, I came up with that.
“Ooo arrr,” Everyone laughed. He walked over to Hannah and put his arm around her waist. She looked at him with a mixture of amusement and affection. I was surprised when I felt Fiona’s hand on the small of my back.
Next to come in was an androgynous young woman with a shaved head. I couldn’t help but admire the shape of her skull. People with very short hair always fascinated me and this person had a beautifully shaped head.
Millie said, “this is my partner Alex. Alex prefers to use gender neutral pronouns.” Alex lent over and took my hand. The handshake was firm and the other hand stayed in the pocket of their grey trousers. A very male gesture I observed. But perhaps I was over analysing.
We sat down to eat. “Susan, this food is amazing, thank you,” Fiona said to nods of agreement from around the table. You could tell how good it was from the fact that conversation had died down. Everyone was focused on eating. Conversation returned once we’d consumed the starter and started on the main.
“How did you two meet?” I said to Alex who was sat next to me.
“I’m a computer game designer, we met at a conference.”
“Some jerk was trolling me at the time,” Millie explained, “He posted online that I’d be there and that people should go down and protest. We ended up hold up in the conference room of the hotel for hours while the police checked out a fake bomb.”
“Shit, what was the jerk annoyed about?” I was fascinated.
“I said a game was sexist because it allowed the player to hit a woman, and all the female character had huge knockers.” Millie said matter of fact. Chris nearly spat his beer out.
The conversation turned to work. Fi discussed Lloyd’s. Chris, Rich and I, publishing. I noticed that Hannah had gone quiet.
“Is everything OK?” Susan asked softly. Hannah didn’t look up. She mumbled, “It’s fine.”
Chris crossed his arms. “It’s not fine. You need to say something.”
Hannah rolled her eyes, “I’m getting hassle from this union official.” She took a deep breath. “He grabbed my arse the other day. Chris wants me to report it.”
“You need to report it!” Chris banged his fist on the table making it shake. A little bit of wine spilt out of my glass.
She looked up at the ceiling. “It’s not the right time. The party is in such a mess, it’d only make things worse…” She looked up at the ceiling. “To be honest, I dread going into work every Monday.” Susan had got up and put her arm around her friend.
“Bugger the party!” Chris looked angry, but calmed down enough to put a reassuring hand on Hannah’s shoulder.
Susan and Fi nodded. Fi said, “You’d think it’d be bloody better but it isn’t,” and then she told a story of how she had been harassed early in her career. How one of the men in her office had programmed a key on his keyboard to say, “fucking bitch,” and how he pressed every time she walked past. Susan told how, when she started, she’d go home in tears every night because the old school journalists would make lewd comments and tell her she had no business there.
It was hard to picture Susan, confident, powerful Susan, coming home crying. I started to tear up, remembering Jamie and Felix. Susan, who stood across the table from me, and said, “Kelly, are you crying?”
Everyone turned to look at me. “S-sorry. I was on this photoshoot a couple of months ago. I only did it because my bastard w-husband left me flat broke. It’s not enough that they dressed us like mermaids and put us in nets, the photographer made these horrible comments and waved his…a” I felt everyone staring. “Sorry, it’s not even comparable. Sorry.” Fi put her arm around my waist. She pulled me closer and kissed my cheek. She was laughing, but not at me.
Rich pushed his chair back. “I think we could all do with a breather. How about port in the garden before dessert?”
Everyone agreed this sounded like a good idea. As everyone else helped themselves to port and brandy, Alex came over to me. By this time I’d calmed down a little. “Not drinking?” I asked.
“I don’t. I had some bad experiences back when I was a teenager. Alcohol and drug abuse is big problem in the community, you know.”
I didn’t. “Sorry, the community?”
She looked at me. “The trans community,” I stopped dead; what did Alex mean? “Forgive me for asking, but my trans-dar went off as soon as we met.”
“Am I that obvious?” I wasn’t sure if I should say I was trans, since I didn’t choose this although neither did Alex. Or Matt. I had to explain the pregnancy though. I explained the nanosuit and how Jamie tricked me.
She listened quietly and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t say anything. And no, you are anything but obvious.” I pointed to my tum. She laughed and said, “No, it’s just an instinct. The way you look for approval from the other women. Little things like that. Are you going to tell Susan and Rich?”
“I feel like I should. Like I’m hiding something important.”
“It’s up to you. No one should have to ‘come out’ unless they are sure they are ready. It’s not as easy as they make out in fiction.” I thought about Matt and realised how true that was.
“It just feels like I’m deceiving them. I feel bad, especially when Susan and Rich have been so good to me. Susan even said I had a ‘unique female voice’”
We laughed, me nervously, Alex was more relaxed. “There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re very female.” She looked me up and down. “Whether you chose it initially, you were clearly meant to be a woman and not just because of that,” she said. “Me on the other hand, I’m stuck between two camps.”
“Can I ask why you don’t identify as one or the other?”
“I always felt more male than female, as long as I can remember. But my experiences have mostly been female. In our society, female is like black. You’re still the ‘other’. I could be 90% male and 10% female. The 10% would be what marked me out as different.” They ran their hand over their shaven head. I noticed how thin Alex’s wrist were. I noticed the hardened skin on the underside.
We took a taxi home. Fi was a little pissed and I didn’t fancy walking any further in these damn shoes.
Fi put her arm around me, and I laid my head on her shoulder. “That was fun, they were fun people,” she said. “Ooh, I’m going to feel this in the morning,” she said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had this much.” She had had a few glasses with dinner and then the port, along with everyone else. Not that much, but it is if your drinking consisted of one or two once a week at quiz night. I smiled and rested one hand on my baby bump and the other unconsciously on her leg. She made no effort to move. “Rich and Susan took the news well, I was proud of you,” Just before we left, I’d taken them to one side with Fiona and told them about the nanosuit and my being, for want of another better term, transgender.
“They reminded me of the liberal parents meeting the black boyfriend in some 80s sitcom,” I said.
Fiona laughed, “That’s very cool Kelly, obviously we completely support you,” she did a very bad impression of Rich’s American accent. It was enough to make me laugh.
“It’s felt wrong since I first met them. I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want them to drop me as a client. It was just selfish, like Jamie.”
Fi took my face in her hands. “Stop it! You are nothing like Jamie,” and then she kissed me. A proper kiss, not just a peck. Do you know in France they call a French kiss and English kiss? I had no idea why that fact popped into my head at that moment.
We pulled away and neither of us said anything for the rest of the ride. Reaching home I got out of the car in a daze. I half expected Jamie to be there ready to admonish me for cheating. I hated that I felt that way, but I did.
We got home and she said, “Oh shit. I have to take Matt to his Youth-Litter-Picking thing in Springfield Park at 6am tomorrow.”
“I’ll take him,” I said. “You sleep it off. I don’t sleep anyway,” I said, with a smile.
She smiled and gave me another kiss, a peck on the cheek this time. “Thank you for doing it. I need to lie down. The car keys are by the door.” Within minutes, I could hear her snoring.
That night, I lay awake in bed staring at the thin wall that separated our two bedrooms. Did I want to be on the other side? Did Fi want me? I had thought it was Jamie whom I wanted, now I wasn’t sure. I fell asleep around 12 and woke up around 3 AM. I knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep. I took my laptop into the garden and started work on the latest round of revisions. Wrestling with a particularly gnarly plot hole Susan had spotted took all my focus, finally drowning everything else out. After about two hours I opened up my email just to distract myself further. On an impulse I started an email to Bill, ‘Hi Bill,’ I wrote, ‘I think I need to come with you to meet mother. Room for a little ‘un?’
I sat staring at the email until I heard Matt moving about. I looked at the time on my phone, 5:15am. I had to get moving. I hit send.
I got up to make him breakfast. He came into the kitchen, hair matted with sleep and scratching his armpits. Whatever male habits I lost, he gained. “Where’s mum? We have to be at the park at 6.”
“We had, uh, a long night,” she said. “She was tired so I’m letting her sleep.”
“Heh heh, long night.” He was old enough and smart enough to figure it out.
“Well, anyway, I hope you don’t mind if I come instead.”
He smiled. “Cool. Can I have eggs and bacon?”
While I cooked, we talked. “Is Saff going to be there too?” I teased.
He refused the bait. “Yes.”
“Does she need a lift?” I said, with a smile.
He looked at me and said, forcefully but with a smile. “No thank you. Her dad’s bringing her, which is good.”
“Is he better?”
“Saff says so. Says her dad’s more normal. Says he doesn’t believe all that stuff like her mom.”
“That’s good. I don’t mind going, but why are you up at 6 on Sunday to pick up rubbish?”
He sighed. “It’s not rubbish picking, it’s park beautification. Cleaning the rugby pitch. Painting a mural in the playground. That sort of thing. She doesn’t get it. Besides, the programme leader asked us. Said we didn’t have to but mum said it would be smart to go.”
I took the keys from the bowl by the door and we left quietly. I hadn’t driven since I put on the nanosuit and wasn’t sure how it would go, given all the changes. I wedged myself behind the wheel and we went on our way.
We didn’t talk much since it was not even 6 AM. I had been up for almost three hours but Matt was still wiping sleep from his eyes. He asked how the party went.
“Fun. Lots of interesting people.” I told him about Millie and her column. He laughed when I told him how all I could come up with for Chris was, “Are you from the West Country?” I debated telling him about Alex. I thought they could be role model for him but, as I said the words in my head, I realised that it was condescending (“look, they’re trans too and they design games!”). Instead, I just said, “her partner Alex designs games.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “Glad you and mum had a good time.”
We got to the park just before 6. There were a whole bunch of kids wearing Wood Street t shirts milling about slowly.
A young man, in his early twenties, came over. “Matt, glad you made it.” He offered his hand. “I’m Johnny. You can’t be Matt’s mum,” he said with a smile. I appreciated his attempt at flattery this early in the morning.
“Ha ha no. Hi, I’m Kelly, Kelly Cooper. I’m a friend of Matt’s mum. Well, Matt too.” I don’t know why I was nervous. “So, what can I do to help?”
He smiled, looking me up and down. “Whatever you’d like or nothing at all. I mean most of the other parents aren’t staying.”
I figured I’d let Fi sleep awhile, so I said, “I don’t mind if Matt doesn’t.”
He kissed me on the head and said, with a smile, “I’ll let you know.” Over his shoulder, I saw Saff come in, with a white man in his 40s, who I assumed to be her father. From a distance, I saw her holding his hand. As they approached, she dropped it, clearly not wanting anyone to see.
Saff walked over, with a big smile. “Hey, Matt, I’m so glad you came.”
“Uh, hey Saff,” he said, with the same smile. “I told you I would. This is going to be fun.” I smiled, thinking these are the same words said by generations of men trying to impress generations of women. Chick flick? Going to be fun! Crafts fair? Can’t wait! Experimental feminist dance troupe? You read my mind!
Saff’s dad coughed. Saff said, “Oh, sorry. Matt, this is my dad. Dad, this is Matt Walters and his aunt Kelly.”
Matt nervously stuck out his hand. I could see him willing eye contact. “Nice to meet you sir.”
Saff’s dad looked at him sternly. “You too, young man. So you and Saffron work together at Wood Street, I take it.” I stifled a laugh at work together. Matt gave me a quick glare.
“Yessir. We work with the same age. Uh, eight year olds. I mean, I work with the boys and Saff, Saffron, works with the girls. But sometime we do things together. I mean, with the kids and all.” He turned beet red. “Saffron’s great. With the kids, I mean.”
“Mmmm,” Saff’s dad said. “Work together. Good.”
Just then, the work leader said, “OK, volunteers, gather up here!” Matt and Saff, grateful for the reprieve, ran over.
After they were out of earshot, Saff’s dad let out a laugh. He stuck out his hand, “Richard Mitchell.”
I laughed, although I felt bad. I had been on the receiving end of that inquisition more than once. “Kelly Cooper,” I said.
“Very nice to meet you. Did I scare him enough?” He said, with a big grin.
I laughed, “I’d say so.”
“That’s my duty as a father. Make the boy afraid. Even if they just,” and he rolled his eyes, “work together. I imagine your father did the same.” Um, not exactly, I thought.
I laughed, as we watched them walk off together to clean the playground. They kept fidgeting like they wanted to hold hands, but were afraid we’d see. “Saff’s a great girl. We met her by the Spar one day. Very polite. You and your wife raised her well.” I almost mentioned how she had come over, but thought better, knowing what Matt said about her mum. “So are you planning on staying around,” I asked.
He yawned. “I hadn’t much thought about it. It’s bloody early but, if I go home, the younger ones will be up and about.”
“How many do you have?”
“Three. Saff’s the oldest. Then there’s Addo, well Richard Addo, but we call him Addo, he’s nine and Amie, she’s seven. Oh, and Ellen’s nephew Amadou is staying with us. He’s sixteen.”
“Wow, I can see why you’re so tired,” I joked.
He laughed. “How far along are you, if you don’t mind me asking.” I imagine if it were Ellen, she’d just ask. And then tell me about all of her pregnancies.
I smiled. “Five months.”
He laughed, “Enjoy the calm before the storm. What brings you to Walthamstow? Are you from around here?”
Um, my wife tricked me into a nanosuit and got me pregnant. And then left me destitute and 25. “No. My husband’s an actor. He’s on a shoot in Iceland and Fi and Matt generously allowed me to stay with them.” I realised that the shoot would be wrapping soon. I shuddered, thinking of her coming back to London. I wasn’t ready for her.
“Are you OK?” Richard said.
“Sorry,” I lied. “The baby moved around a little. He’s usually not up this early.”
“Ah, I remember that,” he said. “Is it a boy?”
“I don’t know. The sonogram is next week. I guess I just call the baby ‘he.’” As I stood there, I didn’t know what I wanted the baby to be. Could I be mum to a girl? To a boy?
“Saff would tell you that you need to less gender-biased,” he laughed. “Drives Ellen just about barmy.”
I smiled. “That’s to be expected at this age.” I wasn’t in the mood to discuss my family, so I lied. “I know I did.” Out of the corner, I saw Matt staring at us, intently. In his eyes, I could see, could you please leave? And take Saff’s dad with you.’ I laughed, “I believe that I am being asked to find alternate entertainment,” I joked.
Saff was giving James the same look. He laughed and said, “FA-ther, you are absolutely embarrassing me! If she only knew. Ah, let’s leave them alone.” For effect, he glared at Matt, which brought a death stare from Saff.
I smiled, “Uh oh, you will be paying for that later. Trust me.” I knew - from being on the receiving end of many such looks. “Well, it was very nice meeting you. Don’t worry. Matt’s a good, responsible kid.” I don’t know why I felt the need to add that.
He smiled. “I am sure. Very nice meeting you as well.”
I wedged myself behind the wheel and drove home. I opened the door quietly, in case Fi wasn’t up yet. She wasn’t. I puttered around on my laptop for an hour and a half. I started to type an email to Siggy five times, to ask when shooting would wrap but decided not to find out. I wasn’t sure what I would do with the information.
Around about 9:30, Fi woke up. She came out of the bedroom, wearing her robe. She had bags under her eyes and muttered, “My head. I need coffee.”
I laughed. “Like old times, Fi.”
She smiled weakly. “Except that we’re a lot older. Well, I am,” she said, looking at me.
“I’ll make it. Sure you don’t want the hair of the dog?” I joked. She turned green. “Kidding.”
I made her a cup and brought it over. She took a big sip, holding the cup in two hands. “Thanks, Kells. I needed that. About last night…”
I said, “It’s OK. You were more than a little pissed, Fi.”
She patted the cushion next to her, as if to say ‘sit.’ “You don’t do anything drunk that you wouldn’t do sober,” she said.
I choked on my water. “Come again?”
She smiled and put her hand on my thigh. “I can’t explain it Kells. I guess, I just, since you moved in, and everything. I mean I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”
I was torn. On the one hand, this was my dream at Uni. On the other hand, my dream didn’t involve me being pregnant. And married. To a woman who was now a man. I wasn’t sure what was what. “I’m not,” I said, with a smile.
“Good,” she said, the corners of her mouth twitched upwards. Without speaking she leaned in giving me a kiss on the lips. Not a French kiss, just a kiss.
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