Nine Months - Month Eight
Kelly is a 36-year-old man trapped in the body suit of a pregnant 25-year-old woman.
A publisher shows interest (sadly not in Jess and me) and Matt feels the pressure as his trial approaches.
“Are you sure this is OK?” I said to Fi. I had the meeting today with the publishers and had been agonising over what to wear. After all these months, I thought I had adapted to my situation but clearly I hadn’t. This was what I had dreamt of since before Uni, but the dream never included being a woman - and eight months pregnant.
Fi smiled, fussing with my shoulders. “Kells, stop. You look perfect.” We had gone shopping over the weekend and settled on a pale green dress that we both agreed worked with my colouring. She started fussing with my hair, fluffing it with her fingers. “There,” she said, giving me a quick peck. I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. I was carrying most of my weight out front. One of the old women said that’s how she knew I was having a boy. She said that, “when you’re ‘aving a girl, you get uglier. You’re giving all your beauty to her. Boys make you look beautiful.” It was an old wives’ tale but, between the enormous belly, the insomnia and everything else, I’d take it. “Besides,” Fi said, “didn’t Rich and Hannah tell you that the publisher was excited, that this was as much them trying to impress you as you them?”
“I know, I know. I’m just nervous. I’m sorry I’ve been so crazy.”
She put her hand on my belly and gave me a kiss, “It’s perfectly understandable. You are going to be wonderful.” As she left for work, she said, “make sure you leave on your right foot. My grandmother always said leave the house on the right foot.” I never thought about how I walked out the door. Now that I was thinking about it, I almost tripped and fell flat on my face. At least, I left on the right foot though.
Rich wanted me in an hour before the scheduled meeting with the publisher so we could, “go over how much you’re going to impress them. They are going to be begging for this book when we’re done.” After all these months, his American-ness had grown on me. What I’d feared was incenserity at first he’d shown to be genuine confidence in my book. I also liked the way he and Susan made such a good double act. She the world weary cynic, him the ever enthusiastic puppy. I was grateful that Hannah had scheduled the meeting for 11:30, so that I wasn’t on the Tube during rush hour. Despite what they say about London, people would give up seats to me but it still felt scary at times. Like Humphrey and I were being closed in.
I arrived at the office at 10:15 and looked at the staircase. I thought about getting my exercise and took about two steps, before I could feel every pound on my heel-shod feet. I realised that there was no medal for taking the stairs, unless you consider being sweaty and out of breath a reward, so I took the lift.
I came into the office and Hannah greeted me with a kiss on both cheeks. “Kelly, I love that dress! You look so smart. Are you ready?”
“Erm, I think so.” I was, but was getting more nervous each passing second.
In a half-bad imitation of Rich, she said, “You can’t think. You have to know. Do you know?”
I smiled, “I’m pretty sure.”
“Repeat after me. I know.”
“I know,” I said, laughing.
“You know?” Now, she was laughing now.
Rich came up behind her with his finger to his lips. Then, he said, with a big grin and a terrible Cockney accent, one learned from Dick Van Dyke, “She knows, ‘Annah.”
Hannah turned beet red, then kept laughing. “You could have warned me. Can I bring you anything?”
I smiled, “tonic water would be lovely, thanks.” Rich took me by the hand and led me into his office. Susan was waiting there.
“So, are you ready?” Susan asked. “You look lovely. That’s a good colour, brings out your eyes. Tell Fiona good choice.”
We had been over this ten or more times, but now that it was happening, I felt my mind go blank. I took some deep breaths, thought of Humphrey - and Fi - and calmed down. “I’m ready,” I said, with a smile.
“Don’t be nervous,” Rich said. “I know the committee. They love the book. They said that it was one of the best spins they’d seen on crime fiction in a long time. They said that yours was a ‘unique female voice in crime fiction.’ I can see the jacket blurbs already. Your face on signs in the Tube.”
I paused, “Do they know about me?”
He smiled, “do they know what?” He knew what.
“That I am...that I used to be…” I stammered.
He grinned, “not pregnant? No, they don’t. And I don’t think they need to. Do you?”
“I guess I just feel like it’s being dishonest.”
Susan said, “I don’t. You know why?” Rich would ask that and then not wait for your answer. I came to realise that he wasn’t rude just hyper-verbal. I guess Susan had picked up that habit. “Because it isn’t. I didn’t know you before this but, and I mean this as a compliment…”
Rich smiled, “Did you ever notice that whenever someone says that, they don’t?”
Susan gave him a look, a look I remembered from years with Jamie. “When I see you, when I speak to you, I see a woman.” I patted my belly. Without cracking a smile, she said, “No, not because of that. It’s who you are. Your voice is female. Your personality is female. You have a female soul.” I was confused. My face must have shown it because she continued, “I’m going to tell you a secret. When Rich gives me manuscripts to review, I tell Hannah to take off the name so that I don’t have any preconceived notions about the author. I don’t want to think, ‘oh, this is a good woman’ or ‘this man is full of himself.’ I want to judge the work on its own. When I read yours, what did I say, Rich?”
He smiled, “she said, ‘I want to know the woman who wrote this. Two chapters in, she said that.”
I was dumbfounded. “I’m sorry but I’m lost. What does this mean?”
She smiled, “It means,” and she took a breath, “that I think that you are who you are and that you should no more tell them about a past identity than you would about a past hair colour or former lovers.” That would’ve been easy. There were ten, including Jamie, two of whom were drunken hook-ups at Uni with friends of Fi’s. It was reported back to me that, ‘I was very nice. Considerate.’ Which is just what my ego needed. “It’s your decision though.”
I thought about it. Now was not the time to do it, or maybe it was the only time. I looked at Rich and Susan. They thought I was a woman. Alex thought I was, even after I told them. More and more I did, and not just for the obvious reasons. I smiled, “if they ask me, I’ll say something. If not, not.”
Susan smiled. We went over the plan. I would discuss the novel and Rich would handle negotiations. That was fine. I remembered a trip to Morocco with Jamie, and bargaining in the souk. Whenever I left a shop, the owner had a giant smile. A sincere smile which led me to believe that I wouldn’t be an arms negotiator any time soon.
“Just say yes to everything they ask you. I’ll negotiate the details later,” Rich told me. “Good cop, bad cop.”
It was just Rich and me headed to the meeting. As we left, Hannah came over and gave me a hug and kiss. “Good luck, Kelly.”
“Thanks, Hannah. I can’t believe I’m here.” I couldn’t. For a second, I thought of Jamie and how I wouldn’t be here without her. And then I realised that I wouldn’t be a lot of places I’d been without her.
I took the Tube home, grinning from ear to ear. I treated Humphrey to the ice cream I had been craving for a while, taking care not to drip it on me. This was becoming more and more difficult of late.
I walked in the door at 5 PM and Matt and Saff were at the table, doing maths. They were both in their school uniforms. They had been through so much, that I sometimes forgot they were really just children. It had been a rough couple of weeks for them and the football season had brought its own problems.
I had been at home working when I heard the door slam and Matt’s kit drop to the ground.
“Saff, stop. I don’t care. I just don’t fucking care,” he yelled.
“Matt, stop! Don’t take your anger out on me! I didn’t do it!” she yelled back.
I came rushing, OK waddling, out,, “What’s wrong? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Matt grumbled. “Nothing is wrong.”
Saff said, “The coach asked Matt to leave practice today. Told him he needed to calm down. Said that if needed to recover, he should.”
“I don’t need to recover. That arsehole Rob needs to stop tripping me. He’ll get a red card for that. But, I’m the one who needs to go home? Fuck them!” He stormed off to his room.
Saff went to follow and I held her back. I knew how Matt felt. I mean I didn’t know how he felt, just that sometimes you want to be alone. “What happened?”
“It was the usual. They were doing some set pieces and Rob tripped Matt. He trips everyone. He’s dirty. But, Matt got up and they got into a fight. He punched Matt in the side.” She didn’t say which side, but I knew. “And Matt got up and just started pushing him. He knocked him down and I thought he was going to kick him until they pulled him away,” and she was crying now. “The coach came over and sent him home.”
I felt awful. “Matt, he just needs to...was the coach upset? Angry?”
She wiped away her tears. “No. I mean yes, he doesn’t want boys in fights and all. But he didn’t throw him out. He just told him to take a couple of days to calm down. I mean everyone knows…”
“Has anyone said anything, y’know, about it?” It was it. It didn’t need a name.
“No, but he feels like they are. He won’t say anything, but I know he does. I just hate seeing him so angry.”
I put my hands on hers. “I know. And thank you. How are you doing?”
“Eh, I’m OK.” She and Ellen were coming to, if not peace, detente. They would meet in public places, preferably with cameras and security. Still, they were talking, which I could tell made Saff, if not happy, less anxious. Sam told me that she was returning to her old self, slowly but surely. “I just don’t like seeing Matt this way.” Poor kid. She was so busy protecting Matt that she wasn’t protecting herself.
After a few days, Matt was back on the pitch. He and Rob made up, sort of. Matt said that the manager made them shake hands and apologise. Saff imitated him, looking at the ground and grunting, “Sorry.” I had to laugh, having been on one end or the other of a lot of those ‘apologies.’
I even caught Matt in the bathroom once, looking at his nose. “So what do you think, O.M.? Does it make look rugged,” he said, with a grin. When we had gone to the plastic surgeon, he said that he thought Matt could get away without any surgeries, except maybe to reset his nose. He said, however, that “the nose makes you looks rugged, which the girls love.” Matt ate that up. Fi laughed and rolled her eyes. I was somewhere in between.
I came into the kitchen. “Hello, you two,” I said cheerfully.
Matt looked at me, “What’s up, O.M.?”
I smiled, “it’s good news, no, it’s great news. But I want to wait for your mum to come home. All I can say is don’t fill up on sweets and junk.”
Saff laughed, “wasn’t today the meeting with the publishers?”
I couldn’t lose my smile. “Yes, it was, Saff. Thanks.”
Matt smiled and mumbled, “I would’ve remembered.”
Saff patted his hand and said, as she rolled her eyes, “of course, you would’ve. That’s a great dress, Kelly. Really smart.”
“Thank you, Saff. I feel like a balloon.”
Matt came over and gave me a kiss, “you’re a beautiful balloon, O.M.”
I laughed, “Beautiful is good. Balloon is not. For future reference.”
I left them to their homework and sat down on the sofa. I was too excited to read, so I watched a video that Siggy had sent me. It was outtakes from the movie. I watched James blow the line, “Dammit, Watkins. You could have blown us sky high,” five times. When they finally said, “Dammit, Watkins. You could have blown us,” the other actor said, “well, if you bought me dinner, maybe” and the set couldn’t stop laughing. I could see them turn bright red, the way they did that time I caught them dancing in their underwear to the X-Factor. I had what I wanted, but still I missed them.
At 6 PM, Fiona came in the door. “Hey, Kells,” she said, giving me a kiss. “How did it go?”
I was pulsing with excitement. “Matt, Saff, come in. Your mum’s home.” Fi later told me I had a stupid grin on my face. When they all came in, I said, “Well, we haven’t signed all of the paperwork yet, but they’re going to publish my book!” Before they could all congratulate me, I said, “And they’re giving me a big advance.” It was £50,000, although I didn’t want to say that in front of Matt and Saff. “To celebrate, we are all going to dinner at Greens I made the reservation so get ready. Come on, quickly,” I said.
Saff came over and gave me a big hug and kiss. Matt hugged me and kissed me on the forehead.
Fi just watched me smiling. We had stopped pretending in front of them. We still hadn’t had sex of any kind. I wondered if tonight would be the night. “That is fantastic, Kells! I’ve never been prouder of you,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
She smiled. “What did I do?”
“What didn’t you do,” I said, tearing up. “You gave me a roof over my head, food to eat. You’ve come to the doctor with me, made sure I did what she said. You’ve been there for me,” and I started to cry. I could blame the hormones but I was happy - and thinking of James. I tried to banish them from my mind. They hadn’t done anything except abandon me in my hour of need, leave me flat broke - and submit the manuscript. And be my cheerleader for 10 years. I sniffled, “I’m a bloody mess, aren’t I?”
She pulled me in closer. “You’re beautiful Kells.” Then she smiled, “So how much are we talking about?” When I whispered it in her ear, she said, jokingly, “maybe we should call Perry.”
We stood at the doorway of the Crown Prosecution Service building. It was a newish modern building at the foot of the Southwark Bridge. No matter how times we had been here since this started, I never lost the feeling of nausea.
Matt squirmed in his shirt and tie. “I really don’t want to be here,” he said.
Fi gave his hand a squeeze. “No one does, Matt. But we need to do this.” She and I had spent all last night talking about this, wondering what Matt was in for.
I took his other hand. “We’re here for you, Matt. If you start to feel anxious or like you can’t, don’t want to speak, just say so.” I looked in his eyes and wondered if I had just made a bad situation worse. If I had put an idea in his head that hadn’t been there.
“Thanks, mum, O.M. I’ll be OK.” He took a deep breath. “This is the right thing, right?” At that moment, I would have given anything to be in his place. To take away the pain. To make like this never happened. To make him be just another kid.
We sat in the waiting area. Ms. Winston, the secretary, brought me a cup of tea unbidden. “Here you go, Ms. Cooper. How are you feeling?” I was grateful for the distraction. Fi kept playing with her hands, while Matt kept picking up and putting away his phone.
I smiled. “I’m ready.” I said, patting my belly. Edward was calm for now. We had decided to name him Edward, after my father. Bill smiled when I told him. He said that it was only right, dad played both roles too.
The Crown Prosecutor, Mr. George, came out. He was a middle aged man, about 40, with thinning brown hair and a mid-priced blue suit. I laughed to myself, at the fact that I now saw a 40 year old man as middle-aged. He offered me his hand. “Allow me, Ms. Cooper,” he said, with a smile. “How are you feeling today?” His wife was in her seventh month. This was his third child, “a girl this time,” he said with a smile the first time he told us. He had two boys, 9 and 6. The 9 year old was ready for a baby sibling, he said, “since his life was ruined 6 years ago anyway.” The 6 year old had chosen to ignore reality. Something Fi and I wished we could do.
I smiled. “I’m fine, thanks. Please. What’s going on with the case?”
He led us into his office and we sat down. He sighed, “I had hoped we wouldn’t get to this point.”
Fi jumped in, “What does that mean? I mean what’s in dispute here? These animals attacked my son and put him in hospital. What is there to do here?” I could see Matt getting agitated, reliving the attack. He was pulling at his neck, as if he could take his skin off. Fi’s leg was bouncing up and down, the way it did when she got nervous. Sometimes, it was funny, like when she was trying to remember some obscure news story at quiz night. Now, it reminded me of sitting with her after John died.
I was between them and rubbed both their legs, in an effort to calm them down. It failed. “I’m sorry, Mr. George, I think we’re all on edge. What’s going on?”
He looked at us, “As you know, the Gambian consulate decided to go to Bedford Row,” where the best criminal barristers had their offices, “and the cousin’s counsel has decided to claim that his human rights are at risk...”
I slammed my hand on the table and didn’t let him finish, “You cannot be bloody serious? HIS human rights? What right? The right to beat a boy to death for what? What the bloody hell, excuse me?”
Matt whimpered, “O.M., please...please stop.”
I took his hand, “I’m sorry, Matt, I just can’t...I just can’t believe it….”
Fi took a deep breath, “What does this mean? For the case?” Her voice was calm but I could see the mix of fear and hate in her eyes.
Mr. George sighed again, “Well, they’re fighting deportation if he’s convicted. Said returning him to Gambia would put him at risk because of his religion.” He rolled his eyes.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I yelled. Edward was kicking up a storm. I rubbed my stomach but kept going, “he beats someone near to death because a church told him to and now he claims the same church is the reason why he should get to stay here? Please tell me that the court won’t believe that shite, excuse my language.” I looked over and Matt had pulled his legs to his chest, lightly rocking back and forth.
He smiled a rueful smile. “I’ve heard worse. The problem we have is they’re now claiming that this was just some dumb kid protecting his cousin. That you provoked him.”
Matt mumbled, “I wasn’t doing anything. We were just holding hands. I didn’t say anything.” I leaned over and tried to hug him. He pulled away, moving his chair next to the wall and leaning up against it.
Mr. George came around the desk. “Matt, I know. I know you were. And I know what these men did to you.” He always called them men. He said that, ‘this is not boys being boys. This is men and I will treat them that way’, “and I know why they did it. But, you need to be strong, tough here. We’ve been through this before but we need to go through this again. Can you do that for me?” Matt nodded. “OK?”
Matt closed his eyes. “They called me a shemale dyke cunt. Said I needed a real man. Amadou told me to get the fuck away from his cousin. Said if,” and he started to wheeze a little, “a real man fucked me, I’d get my head straight. Then his friend grabbed Saff and told her he’d show her what a real man was. And I went to grab her away and they knocked me down. The last thing I remember was his friend kicking me in head and calling me a tranny whore,” and he started to cry again.
I said angrily, “If that isn’t targeting him for who he is, then I don’t know what is.” This was hitting home for me in a way I hadn’t expected. Fi sat mute, unable to process what was going on. She looked as shell shocked as she did that night in hospital.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Cooper, Ms. Walters. If I had my way, he’d be in Holloway now, but her Honour, in her finite wisdom, decided to let the poor dears out on bail. Can’t let them suffer. They’re just poor lost boys, persecuted for their faith,” he sneered.
“There’s something else you should be aware of,” I prepared myself for the worst. “Do you know who Andrew Hall is?”
Fiona spoke, “Of course, we know who he is.” Everyone in the country knew who he was. A right wing blogger and “journalist.” Pro Brexit, anti immigration. In short, a bit of a bastard.
“Well, yes.” He shook his head seeing our expressions, “I’m afraid he’s taken an interest in the case.”
“He’s supporting those boys!” My blood pressure was so high I was worried Edward would pop out in a cloud of steam.
“No, you misunderstand me Ms. Cooper. He’s taking Matt’s side. Says it’s proof immigrants are a danger to our liberal values.”
I collapsed back in my chair unable to speak. Matt looked like all the colour had drained out of him.
“This is the same man who didn’t think a gay judge should be allowed to make a ruling on Brexit?” Fiona’s voice was calm and measured, while her eyes looked like she was ready to burn everything to the ground.
“The good news is that the court will keep Matthew’s name out of the press. He still counts as a minor in these circumstances. But you will have to be prepared. People, especially people who know you, have a way of figuring these things out.”
I thought of Matt’s school, which was more than half BAME. How would they feel about Andrew Hall supporting Matt?
“Good news,” Matt muttered. Fiona took his hand and squeezed.
Matt was quiet during the drive home. He only spoke to ask if we could have the kale and goat's cheese pizzas that had become his favourite.
“Of course we can Matty,” I said with rather more force than was necessary.
I woke at 4am that night, needing to pee. Nothing unusual there. But as I padded down the hallway I heard a noise coming from the living room. I nearly jumped out of my skin, thinking it was burglars.
As I calmed down, I realised the sound I heard was crying. I moved as quietly as I could to the half open living room door. Peering through I saw Matt curled up on the sofa. In front of him was a scrapbook.
“Matty are you OK?”
The poor boy nearly jumped out of his skin.
“It’s OK Matt, you don’t have to be embarrassed,” I could see his wet cheeks glinting in the moonlight, “What have you got there?”
Matt didn’t say anything, although he did shuffle along to make space for me.
I picked up the scrapbook and began turning the page. He still didn’t speak, his breathing shallow.
The book was full of pictures of men, footballers mostly. Steven Gerrard featured prominently.
“I used to keep this under my bed, in an old shoe box,” Matt muttered. I stayed silent. “In the old days. Before, you know, I came ‘out’ I used to look at it. I’d wish I could be more like them.”
I smiled. I could remember having heroes as a kid. Although this was something more than heroes.
“Once Dad found it. Well you know how useless mum is at cleaning so Dad used to do it.” I held Matt’s hand as he started crying again, “I don’t know how he figured it out, but he told me it was OK if I was gay and that he would love me anyway,” Matt put his head on my shoulder. I could feel the thin material of my t-shirt becoming damp almost straight away. “Do you think it was bad that I didn’t tell him the truth? That I wanted to be like them. Do you think he would have accepted me?”
I held him close, “Matt, I think John was a wonderful man. I knew him for more years than you’ve been alive and I am absolutely, 100% sure he would have felt nothing but pride for you. And as to it being wrong not to tell him, would you say you knew the truth back then?”
He thought for some time, “On some deep level yes, but I didn’t know what to call it.”
“So how could you have said something if you didn’t even know the words?”
He nodded and we embraced. In the morning Fiona found us cuddled up on the sofa.
Three days later, all hell broke out.
I was in the kitchen, trying to decide what to cook for dinner, when Matt came home. He walked in, shoulders slumped and looking miserable. He came over and gave me a kiss on the head, “Hey, O.M.,” and then he leaned down to my belly, “Hey, Eddie.” Lately, he had started to doing that, mostly to jokingly say things like, “Hey, Eddie, stop so she can make dinner,” or “I know you want to get here, but take your time.”
I smiled, “He kicked,” I lied. “He loves the sound of your voice. What’s up? Where’s Saff?”
He sat down in a chair, slumped over, legs sticking out. “She’s at Ruth’s today.”
He clearly wanted to say something but wouldn’t do it first. Like his mother, he didn’t want to be seen as dumping his problems on you. By asking, you let both of them feel like they were being polite by responding. Whatever. “Is something wrong? Did something happen?”
“Andrew fucking Hall happened, excuse me,” he said, fumbling in his bag. He handed me an article from “Hall of Justice,” Andrew Hall’s website entitled, “You Can’t Beat Africans, but They Can Beat You.” Oh bloody hell, I thought. You can’t come up with a better headline, you five-times married fuckwit. Five fucking times. Apparently, I was, by virtue of not marrying him alone, at least six from the bottom when it came to the smartest woman in England. I scanned the article, ‘now I’m not necessarily a fan of the whole LGBTQXYZ movement,’ (thanks, arsehole, real fucking nice) ‘but at least I act in a civilised manner (yes, by whipping your mouth-breathers into protesting equality and screaming at their MPs like brain damaged children)’ and ‘these savages are bringing over their “values” and thinking they can just beating a poor “boy” (nice quotes, fuckface) to death because “he” (again) and “his” girlfriend want to hold hands. What’s next - allowing honour killings because it’s their ‘culture’ and who are we to judge? (OK, after what happened, this last one gave me pause, sorry)
I sighed and handed it back to him, “Where did you get this shite? Hall of Justice? Hall of Shame, if you ask me?”
“Someone taped it to my locker,” he said.
Oh god, I thought, it’s starting. “Do you know who?”
“No. It doesn’t matter. And this was the best part of my day. I went to sit at my usual table at lunch,” Matt sat with Saff and a mixed group of other kids, “and Aqib told me to fuck off. Told me I wasn’t welcome.” Aqib was a short kid whose grandparents came from Pakistan. Had one eyebrow and looked like he had to shave at lunch. He was a nice kid though, very polite. Always called me Ms. Cooper, even when I told him to call me Kelly.
“I thought you were friends,” I said. “I mean he was here last week. What happened?”
“He saw the article. He asked how I could do it…”
“Do what? What did you do?”
He started to rub his neck again. “That’s what I said. I said that I didn’t agree with it...and then he said well if I didn’t agree with it, I should say something.”
Great moments in teen logic. By not vehemently denouncing something, you agreed with it. “Did you tell him that’s not really possible?” I started to get agitated. Edward started to kick. I sat down. “Does he not understand that you were the one who got hurt, not,” and I took a deep breath, “them?”
“I thought he did.”
“What did everyone else say? What did Saff say?”
He looked down at the table, “Nothing. They didn’t say anything. They just all looked away.”
My heart ached for him. I remembered what it was like in high school. Everyone likes to think that they were the hero, the non-conformist. Sure, they were non-conformists. Just like everyone else. “What about Saff?”
“She tried to defend me, but then Cassy asked how she could defend Andrew Hall.” I never liked Cassy. I knew girls like her at Uni. They were all in favor of the poor and oppressed, so long as they stayed over there and so long as they showed sufficient gratitude.
“What the bloody hell?” I said. “So what did Saff do?”
“She got up and went to the library. She looked like she wanted to cry. I feel horrible. I made this happen,” and he started to tear up.
I held him to my chest. “YOU didn’t do anything. THEY did this to you. And you certainly didn’t ask,” and I held the article by two fingers, “for this. Screw Cassandra and Aqib. You don’t need them.” Matt looked at me in disbelief. When you’re an adult, you forget how limited in your life is in high school. These are the people you see. This is who decides your social life.
“I know. And now Alan and Stephen and all the other pricks all think I’m their friend,” he sneered. “Like I wasn’t a ‘freak’ before. Now, I’m their hero. I’m helping keep England safe for arseholes. Great.”
His phone rang. I could see on the table that it was Saff. He looked at me, took a deep breath, “Hey Saff,” and walked to his room and closed the door. I stood by the door. I couldn’t hear much beyond, “You know I didn’t want this,” and “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Your mum….”
It had been a long day at work and I just wanted to sit and have a cup of tea.
I went into the kitchen and Matt was looking through the cupboards. "Hey Matt, how was practice?"
"I don't want to talk about it! Don't we have any fucking crisps?".
I held out the bag that I had picked up on my way home. "Here. ". I was not happy with his attitude but decided to let him cool down. "What happened?"
"I said that I don't want to fucking talk about it. Do you not understand that," he snarled.
Edward started kicking. I needed to be calm. "I'm going to go to the other room. When you're ready to be civilized, I'll be here.". He didn't say anything. He just sulked.
After twenty minutes, I went into his room. He was starting at the ceiling. His football kit was in the garbage. I picked up his jersey. "Something happen?"
"Yes," he sneered. "Something happened. What happened was I was asked to leave the team. The coach said that I was a distraction. He said with everything with the trial and Andrew fucking Hall, I was a distraction, so I should leave for a while. Said I could come back next year. Fucking arsehole doesn't even realise I'm graduating," and he started to cry.
"How the hell could he say that?"
"Because it's fucking true. It doesn't fucking matter. I hate this fucking trial. I'm tired of it. I'm a fucking freak and the coach knows that."
"You are not a freak, Matt. Would Saff be with a freak? A beautiful girl like that has her choice and she chose you. "
"Well, that doesn't matter. I broke up with her."
"She doesn't need all this shit. Look at what I did to her. She needs a real guy."
"You are a real guy.". My heart was breaking for him until...
"That's fucking hilarious coming from you, Kelly."
You ungrateful little bastard. You impudent horrible little shit. "Excuse me?"
He didn't look me in the eye, but said, "you heard what I said."
I took several deep breaths and said, "If you meant to hurt me, you've succeeded admirably.". I started to tear up. I waited for his apology but, after a minute, when I realised none was forthcoming, I said, as calmly as I could, "I am leaving. When your mother comes home, tell her she can reach me on my mobile, if she wants.". I put on my coat and waited at the door for him to come out, to say something, to acknowledge our relationship, my humanity but there was nothing by silence. So I left.
I walked the green near the house and began to cry. I was hurt and I was angry. I wanted to speak to someone. I couldn't call Fi. She had enough to deal with already. I couldn't call Jeremy. This was, however close we had become, way beyond the bounds of our friendship. I wouldn't call James. I picked up the phone and called Bill.
He heard my sobs and said, "Is everything OK?"
"Can I stay with you for a while?"
"What happened?" After I related the story, he said, "You're not welcome here. Not without Fiona and Matt.”
“Are you fucking serious, Bill? You won’t let me stay there? Thanks a fucking lot.”
“I’m as serious as a bloody heart attack, Peggy. Yeah, you heard me right. You don’t get to fucking leave. Not now.”
I started to get angry, then confused. “What the fuck Bill?”
“You’re that boy’s mum. Maybe it’s not what you would have chosen and maybe it’s not where you thought you’d be, but you’re there. And mums don’t leave. Mums can’t leave.”
I looked at the ground, “He doesn’t think I’m his mum...”
Bill laughed, “Are you that fucking stupid, Kelly? Have the bloody hormones sucked out your brain - ow, fuck, sorry, Julia just hit me. That boy is in pain with everything that was going on.” With Fi and Matt’s consent, I had told him Matt’s story. I didn’t want him figuring it out from the news. When I told him, he laughed and said, ‘no fucking shit, She-lock. I knew Fi had a daughter before.’ “And what do you do, you run away. Am I going to find you in twenty years married to a car dealer?”
That hurt. “Fuck you, Bill,” I laughed.
He laughed and then got serious. “He hates you, now? Guess what? You better get fucking used to it. No ice cream for dessert? I hate you. You can’t watch the same videos for seven hours straight? I hate you. That’s part of the job description. Get over it, princess. You’re going to be a mother and you better be a mum while you’re at it.”
“I’m really angry,” I mumbled. “I can’t go back and pretend something happened.”
“I hope to god it’s the fucking hormones, because otherwise you’re too stupid to have a kid. No one said that you had to pretend nothing happened. But you better get your arse back there now, young lady,” he laughed.
“Sod off, arsehole.”
“Yeah, whatever, sis. Next call from you better be that you’re in labour.” He laughed, clearly pondering that last bit. “Bloody hell.”
“Thanks, Billy. Tell Julia to hit you again for me.”
I hung up and the phone and walked back home.
Matt was still sitting in his room, staring at the ceiling. He had his earbuds in. I yanked them out. “Fuck are you doing?”
“Listen to me, Matthew. You are angry. I am angry. But, guess what, you don’t get to treat me that way.” He started to talk and I said, “Shut up, Matthew. I will speak my piece and then, if I feel like it, I’ll listen to you. I am not some circus freak that you get to knock around. I am a person, the same as you. You wouldn’t take it if someone said what you said to me to you, and you damn well better not think that you can say those things to me. Because whatever you think of me and what you think I am, I will tell your mother and we can both agree that she will not be best pleased. Am I making myself clear, Matthew?” He stared at me dumbly. “I asked you a question. Am I clear?” He nodded. “Good,” I said. “I will be in my room, if you want to speak with me.”
I sat in bed, staring at the ceiling. I turned the television on and off five times. I didn’t want to hear the noise. After a half an hour, I heard a knock. “May I come in,” Matt said quietly. He held his hands behind him and shuffled his feet.
“What?” I said, more hurt than angry.
“Yeah, well, about before. Do you mind if I sit?” He looked like he was about to cry.
I wanted to hug him and choke him at the same time. I patted the bed. “Is there something you want?”
“I...I...I can’t take it anymore,” and he started to cry. “All I wanted to be was normal and then it happened and now there’s the trial and Andrew Hall and everyone hates me. I walk down the halls and everyone is staring.”
“No, they aren’t,” I lied. It was high school. Every little thing was magnified and this was no little thing.
“Yeah, they are. And all I had was football. That’s all I ever wanted. Was to be on the football team. To be one of the guys and now I don’t even have that. I don’t know why I ever thought I could do this,” I started to cry. “I wish I wasn’t like this. Why did I do it? They’re fucking right. I should’ve known better…” and he bawled.
I took in my arms. I knew he was in pain but I didn’t know how much. He was such a strong kid that I forgot how vulnerable he was, we all were. I rubbed his back and let him cry. I didn’t say anything beyond, “shhhh.” We sat there for I don’t know how long. I only knew that my leg had fallen asleep and that I would’ve sat there until my body fell asleep if that’s what Matt needed.
Eventually, he broke off. “I didn’t mean it.”
“I know,” I said, wiping away my tears. He didn’t say he was sorry, but I could tell he was.
“I shouldn’t have said it.”
“No, you shouldn’t.”
“You didn’t choose the suit. It chose you.” I realized that I could’ve said the same to him. He kept going, “I love you, O.M. You know that, right?”
“Yes,” I said, with a smile.
“Do you still love me,” he said, sounding like a little kid.
I gave him a hug. “Matt, I will always love you. I may not always like what you do, but I will always love you. That’s my job.”
He smiled, hugged me and just said, “Thanks,” then, “can we maybe not tell mum about everything?”
“Fi, I promise. I will be careful. Nothing is going to happen.” I was going to meet James. I shouldn’t have. The trial and pregnancy hormones were overriding my rational thought.
“I just..I don’t know Kells. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t stop you. They still are Edward’s parent too.” She had adopted “they” as the pronoun. I think it provided her with some comfort. It made James that much less real in our lives. Then she added, “I suppose.” She looked disappointed and sad.
We’d chosen a smart little restaurant in Primrose Hill. It was near where I’d met a client that morning and close enough to our old flat in Camden. In fact it wasn’t near at all, but it was less harsh than I could have been.
My meeting finished early so I was about thirty minutes early. I had brought a book with me but, between Fi and James, I was too nervous to focus. Instead, I went to the newsagents and picked up a magazine. I started flipping through it and saw the bloody advert. This time, the much thinner me was slung over the shoulder of one of the male models, smiling at the camera. The tagline read, ‘Be the Catch of the Day’. I really needed to find out who wrote that and kick them in the balls. James walked in. They were wearing a tight jumper that showed their muscles. Had they been working out?
They came in and gave me a kiss on the cheek. They didn’t even try to kiss my lips. “Hi, Kelly,” they said. “How are you feeling?”
I pasted on a fake smile. “Huge. How are you? You look well. Have you been working out?”
They laughed. “I’m up for a new role. In a Netflix show. It’s a police procedural, and I’m supposed to be the rugged detective,” they laughed, “if you can believe that.”
I thought about Jamie, the old Jamie. She had tried to be the ingenue, then the smart best friend. Apparently, they had found their niche - as a rugged detective. I had to laugh. “Good on you, James. I hope you get it.”
“Thanks,” they said. “It means alot coming from you.”
“Yeah, well.” I looked at their face and thought about everything Jamie had been through. This had been her dream, to be a working actress.
They looked down at the menu, “Yeah, well. How are you?”
I hadn’t told them about the book. We had spoken, but I kept it from them. Fi once asked why and I couldn’t answer. Did I want to punish them? Not want them to gloat about how they were right? I didn’t know but it was going to be coming out soon. If Rich was to believed, I’d be in the window at Foyle’s and Waterstone’s, so I couldn’t hide it. “Well, I have a book coming out.”
They looked genuinely happy. “Seriously?” They got up and gave me a hug and a kiss. I missed that kind of hug and kiss from them. “That is great news! What book? What’s it about?”
“It’s the one you submitted. The one…”
“About the au pair they find in the dry lake bed? I knew that would be the one! You never believed me, but I always said it was your best! See?”
They were so enthusiastic that I almost felt bad about what I said next, but it needed to be said, “Why did you do it, James?”
“Why did I do what?” They knew what. I could see it in their eyes.
“For an actor, you’re a terrible liar, James. You know what. Ms. Kelly Rogerson.” They slumped in the chair. “And the nanosuits. When did you order them?”
"What?". They seemed surprised.
"I asked when you ordered the suits." I was surprised at how calm I was about all of this.
"You know when. It was after you blew yourself up at work.". They were acting upset. I knew they weren't just that they were acting like it.
"James," I said calmly. "You may have stripped the account bare, but I could still access the account information."
"Oh?" Their eyes betrayed the impassivity of their face. I hoped they did better on set.
"Yes. I was fired 20th February. There's a payment to NanoByte on 27th January."
Now, they were genuinely upset. "Kelly, I cannot believe you. After all these years..." And they started to tear up.
"James," I said. "Enough. If you want us to have any relationship, partners, parents, friends, bloody enough."
"I don't want James. And I don't want Jamie the actress. I want you. I want honesty. I deserve it.". I rested my hands on my stomach. "Don't tell me what you think the answer is supposed to be or what you think I want to hear. Tell me the truth. Tell me why you did it."
"I didn't want to go through another cycle. It was hopeless and painful, and I just couldn't face it again. I'm sorry, Kelly."
"I actually understand that now," I said. “Between the weight gain and the constipation and the leaking from here, there and everywhere, I get that now," I said with a laugh. They were laughing too until I said, "that doesn't explain why you ordered the surrogate suit for me."
Then they got indignant. "That is a lie! I cannot believe you would accuse me of that!"
I looked at them and pushed myself up, slowly. "Goodbye James," I said. "We can work out a custody arrangement or let the lawyers do it. My goal is to have you in this child's life. I know what it's like to have just one parent and I wouldn't do that to my child but please leave me alone. Thanks." I waddled to the door, picking up my coat as I left.
"Wait," they said. "I can explain."
I turned around. "If I think you're lying, I will leave and never speak to you again. We'll do handovers in car parks outside McDonald's and all that."
They slumped. "I'm done lying. Except for work," they said, with a smile.
I was angry. "Don't try and smile your way out of this," I said. "I'm not interested in charm now. Speak now. Why?"
"I couldn't face it again. I didn't want to. And I didn't want to try, even in the suit."
"Why didn't you say something to me?"
They started to cry. No, Jamie started to cry. The real Jamie started to cry. Not James. Not the actress playing the role. Jamie did. "I..uh... I..uh.. I don't know. I just don't," they said, slumping in their chair.
I felt bad but wasn't ready to forgive them. "Why me? Why did you do this to me?"
"Do you mind it," they asked, still sobbing. "You don't seem to."
"That’s not the point and never was. I felt violated. I still do," I said, calmly but forcefully.
"That's a little dramatic. I'm sorry for not asking you but that's dramatic."
"What do you call impregnating someone against her will?"
They briefly smiled at ‘her,’ then said, "I didn't think of it like that. I guess I just thought..."
"What," I interrupted them. "You thought what?"
"I was facing down forty. The end of my career, such as it was," they said, with a mirthless laugh. "You were miserable, I was miserable."
"So you thought you would trick me."
"No," they said. "I can't explain it. I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself. It was after that audition for the Chekhov play, remember?". I remembered. It was a shitty little reinvention of the Cherry Orchard. It was supposed to be set in some majestic pile in the Midlands, an original idea if ever there was one. The director told Jamie she was too old for Charlotta and that, to be honest, she should consider another career. I nodded and they continued, "I was feeling sorry for myself and I started looking at your old manuscripts. I was reading one and I thought, 'holy shit, Kelly gets women. He thinks like a woman."
I smiled in spite of myself, "Thanks." I thought about what Alex said. And Hannah. And Susan.
They smiled, a sincere smile. "I meant it as a compliment. And I knew about the blog. And I thought we're both so bloody miserable, we should do this. We can reinvent ourselves." She was so proud of herself.
"That's all well and good, but you didn't ask me." They started stammering. I continued, "Worse yet, you put this child at risk."
They looked shocked. "How?"
"When we were in Iceland. All the drinking. My first trimester. Do you know how important that it is for fetal development?"
They started to cry. Real tears. "Oh my God, Kelly. I’m so sorry. If there is anything wrong, I will kill myself."
"Dr. Patel says we should, fingers crossed, be Ok. Why did you do that to me? Why didn't you tell me?"
They looked down. "I don't know."
"Were you resentful?"
"It's totally normal, by the way. All the books say to expect your husband to be jealous," I said, laughing.
"I deserve that," they said, laughing.
"The difference is, in the books, the woman knows she's pregnant. What you did is borderline abuse, you know that."
"I know. I don't blame you for hating me." Their eyes were rimmed red.
"I'm done hating you, James. I'm just focused on this child right now."
“Thanks. So am I,” they said. I knew they believed it, even if I didn’t. I excused myself to go to the bathroom. After I was done, I splashed some water on my face. In spite of myself, I found myself remembering all of the good times. Remembering not the man who screwed me over, but the woman who cared.
When I came back, a woman was talking to James. She had long blond hair that ran down the length of her back. She was wearing a peasant top (thanks, TK Maxx), jeans that looked like they were painted on and black ankle boots with a 3” heel (I was helping Otty and Liv on a TopShop campaign). She was beautiful but she had an over made-up face. She and James were laughing. I looked over at James. I could tell their defences were back up.
I walked over and said, “Hello, I’m Kelly.”
The woman turned white, “Oh, hello. I’m, uh, Alyssa” She looked at her wrist. “Oh, it’s 3:00 PM. I have to head back to the hotel for the, uh, press thing. I’ll see you at the premiere, James. Very nice meeting you, uh, Katy,” and she left abruptly.
“Who is that,” I spat. The people at the next table turned around.
“She’s no one. An actress from the film,” they said, looking at the expensive watch on their wrist. “Besides, what do you care,” they said. I could feel them returning to acting mode.
“I-I care because you’ve been telling me you want to get back together. Another lie!” I kept my voice low but the couple at the next table were staring.
“I’m not lying. Not this time,” They reached out across the table. I didn’t take their hand, “Alyssa’s just staying in London. For the film premiere.”
“So you are telling me that you two aren’t sleeping together,” For a moment, I felt uncertainty. What with the pregnancy mood swings and Matt’s situation, I couldn’t completely trust my emotions.
“No, we aren’t,” they sighed heavily. They looked older than I remembered, even with the body suit, “But we were. During the filming.” I was speechless. “You left me. You didn’t call or even email. I was a mess. I needed some comfort.”
I felt like my head was spinning. If you told me you saw steam coming out of my ears, I wouldn’t have been surprised. “I. Left. You.”
“Yes you did, carrying my child,” If looks could kill them, they and the half of the restaurant behind them would have been dead.
“You tricked me,” I stammered.
“I know what I did was wrong, but you hurt me as well.” Again with the shared blame.
A waitress, possibly with a death wish, chose that moment to come over. James ordered for the both of us while I fumed. They ordered me a fruit smoothie. They knew I hated those things.
“We’re going to play the ‘we hurt each other game,’ now, really? How did I hurt you?” I sneered.
The waitress lingered for a second, probably not knowing what to do, then left. “You. You and Fiona.” The way they spoke her name made me madder than anything else.
“What about Fi and me? She took me in after you took all of our money. I had nowhere to go. No, we had nowhere to go. Me and your baby. The one you seem to care so much about all of a sudden.” I crossed my arms. The effect was probably more comical than I intended given my swollen belly. “Anyway, we haven’t slept together. Unlike you and Alyssa.” Pow, take that, I thought.
They looked at me. “You may not have done anything physical, but you did something. Something worse. You fell in love with her. You're in love with her." I started to say something. They put their hand up. "I don't mean the stupid way you were at Uni. I mean real, true love. Like we used to have. Like I thought we maybe we could still have. With the one person you knew would hurt me most." I just stared at the floor. She was right. She laughed a little. "Well, she got what she wants. What she always wanted."
"What does that mean?" I knew what they meant.
"You were always a girlfriend to her. You loved her but she saw you as a girlfriend. She never saw you as anything but that. And now she has that. Tell her congratulations. I hope you two are happy. I really do. I know we're through but I hope you'll be ok with that. With never having what we had." They paused and and tossed a £50 note on the table. “I made mistakes. I fucked up. But, I was never unfaithful. Let me know when the baby is born, I guess,” they said, just as the waitress returned with our drinks. James pushed past her and out of the door.
The waitress looked at me, I didn’t know what to say. “I-I need the loo. Excuse me,” I got up desperately fighting back the tears. I couldn’t look at anyone. I knew they were all judging me.
Somehow I found my way into a cubicle and sat on a seat. My head was in my hands and tears were flowing freely. I looked up suddenly when I heard a gentle knocking on the cubicle door.
“Hello, Ms. Are you alright in there?” It was the waitress.
“I-I’m fine,” I just about got the words out in the midst of blubbering. I clearly wasn’t fine.
“You shouldn’t let him upset you. My ex was just the same, nothing was ever his fault.”
I stopped crying. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I walked out.
“My name’s Zoe by the way.”
“Hi,” I said meekly. “Kelly.” Please don’t tell anyone what a mess I am.
“So he left you pregnant then?”
“What a bastard. We ‘wronged’ women need to stick together.”
I laughed. The way she accepted me as a woman me feel a little better. I thought of Fiona, how stupid I’d been to even come here.
The waitress smiled at me, she held up the £50 note, “Here, take this. The least he can do is pay for a taxi home.”
Again I laughed, but I pushed her hand away, “You keep it. They can pay for your tip,” she started to say something, “Honestly, I have plenty of money. I don’t need them for that.” And I didn’t. Not really. I’d been holding on to some idea of what we had, but was it worth it?
“Do you want to come sit down for a bit. I’ll get Silvio to make you one of his specials?”
“No. Thank you. You’ve been really kind,” I gave her a little hug, “but there’s something I need to do.”
I went outside and called a taxi. I needed to get home. To see Fiona.
The whole ride home I cried. James’ words rang in my ears. I loved Fiona, I knew that. But I couldn’t shake what they said. I had known Fi for seventeen years and spent the ride home remembering our relationship. The way we talked about our problems. The way she laughed off my passes. The way she talked to me about her boyfriends, telling me how “I knew just what I (she) should say.” I had the taxi let me off a short walk from home.
I walked in the door, my eyes rimmed red. Fi came over to hug me and I pushed her away. I went to the spare bedroom, sat on the bed and began to cry.
I heard a knock on the door. "Kells? Can I come in?". I almost said no but realized that was unfair to her. I had spent the evening lecturing Jamie on being open and honest and needed to practice what I preached.
"Sorry. Come in."
She sat on the bed. "What happened? What did they do to you?"
I took a deep breath. "What am I to you?"
"What am I to you? What do you see me as?"
"Kells? What are you talking about? What did they say?". She was getting agitated, as well she should.
"They said something. They meant it to be cruel but it hurt because it hit close to home. They said that I was fooling myself. That I loved you but that you never saw me as a man, but more like a girlfriend. Is that true?". She stared past me, out the window. "Don't bullshit me Fi. I've had enough for one life tonight. Is it true?"
She took a deep breath and exhaled. "No but yes. You were my friend, my male friend, but no I never saw you romantically. Not before."
I felt gut punched. I had always known that but to hear it verbalized hurt. "Thanks for that, I guess," I said. "I'll get my things from the bedroom."
"Please don't, Kells. I love you!"
"Stop it, Fi! Please!". The agitation made Edward kick. "Whoa," I said. "I have to sit. He's kicking up a storm."
She put her hand on my belly, leaned over and said, "Shhhh, Edward. That's it.". The baby started to calm down. She looked me in the eyes and said, "I love you Kells. Maybe I didn’t that way before and certainly not in the way that I would have ever expected, but I love you and Matt loves you. And I thought you loved us."
I wiped away a tear. "I do."
"Then what does it matter what happened before? I wait for every doctor’s appointment, every sonogram. I love that baby like he's inside me. When you were away, I couldn't sleep because I've grown used to you next to me blowing gas in my face..." We both laughed and she continued, "you've been the best thing that's happened to Matt, to me since John. I love you Kells and I don't want to lose you. I don't want to be Aunt Fi, who comes around on holidays. I want to see the baby take his first steps, hear his first words. I want you, I need you here everyday."
I was now bawling. "I want to be here everyday but..."
"But what? You want a word? We're a family, Kelly. You, me, Matt, that baby, we're a family. "
I paused. "But..."
"But what? But passion? But heat? Whatever you and them had? News flash Kells - that boy in that room, in there, is a fire extinguisher" and then she put her hand on my belly, "and that one in there that's a bloody fire hose," she laughed. “If you think you’re having sex on the beach at Ibiza any time soon, you’re not. And you won’t want to. You’ll watch Edward splash in a wading pool in the garden and it will be the best time you’ve ever, we’ve ever had. We’ll be going to Legoland and Warwick Castle. I love you Kelly. And I can tell you that I don't want anyone else in my bed but you. If that's not love..." and she kissed me.
"I love you Fi."
"I love you too, Kells,” she said, holding me in her arms and stroking my hair. What happened?"
I smiled. "It doesn't matter.". It didn't.
That night we had sex. I’d love to able to say it was amazing, mind-blowing sex. That trains went into tunnels, rockets launched and it all ended with fireworks in the sky. For the most part, it was awkward. There were lots of ‘does this work…’ and ‘am I doing it right…” But, when it was over, we lay there holding each other and I knew we would make it. It wasn’t how I’d imagined it back at Uni. But it was real, and that was better.
I woke up the way we did most mornings. I was the little spoon. I could feel her breath on my neck as I watched the grey light coming through the window, but it felt different, better today. I watched Fiona’s phone willing the alarm to never come. Could I persuade her to bunk off work for the day?
But eventually it did come. I hated that harp jingle. Fiona reached across me and hit snooze. I turned my head slightly, not wanting to leave this position.
“Hey,” she murmured sleepily, nuzzling into the back of my neck.
“Why don’t we go away somewhere? Just you, me and Matt?”
She linked her leg around mine, “It’s Thursday.”
“I know that, but tomorrow after work. For the weekend.” I felt her pulling away as the second alarm went off. She climbed over me, grabbing her phone.
“I need a shower,” she grumbled. She had never been much of a morning person.
By the time Fi was out of the shower, I was waiting for her in the living room. Armed with coffee.
“Thanks,” she muttered, “Maybe we could go someplace. I guess it could be one of the last weekends before Eddie gets here.” She glanced towards the hall, “And it’ll take Matt’s mind off the trial next week.”
“Great,” I beamed, “because I’ve been looking.” I turned around my laptop. There were a number of windows open all with holiday cottages and B&Bs. “Hey Matt,” Matt had staggered into the living room, “You fancy going somewhere this weekend?”
“Huh, like where?” He took after his mother when it came to mornings.
“Just somewhere in the country. We can go for walks,” he grunted, “Maybe stop off in a country pub or two.” He perked up at the mention of pubs.
“Can I have scrambled egg with chorizo, O.M.?”
“That’s a yes,” I said triumphantly, “You take after your mum when it comes to negotiation.” Matt smiled at me before staggering off to the shower.
Fiona reappeared fully dressed. She looked good in her business suit. Again, I wished she could bunk off for the day. She handed me something, “Here, take my credit card. Book us somewhere, you choose.” She turned to leave but thought better of it, “Just not too far away. I don’t want to spend the weekend driving.” She paused, “And by the sea. I fancy the sea.”
“Yes ma’am,” I joke saluted
“Ma’am,” She smiled wryly, “you can drop that, but keep the salute.” She kissed me on the lips then left.
In the past I would have protested about taking her card. After all, I had that £50,000 coming my way. But now it felt right. We were a couple, a team. There would be plenty of chances for me to repay her.
I’d spent most of Friday packing. I knew Fi would tell me off for over packing but I wanted to make sure we were prepared for every eventuality. Sun, rain, wind, flood and famine. Matt got home first and tossed his iPad on the top of the bag I’d packed for him. I’d hoped he’d leave it behind. Ever since leaving the football team and breaking up with Saff, he spent most of his time moping around the house staring at that thing. What he was looking at I didn’t know, but I did double check the parental controls.
The traffic was bad coming out of London but we had expected that. Then it rained most of the rest of the way. It rained so much I wondered if we’d made the right decision. I sat there watching the the street lights going by, glowing through the rain. While Fi’s face focused on the road, I looked back at Matt, his face lit blue-white by his iPad.
With the traffic and weather, it was nearly midnight by the time we reached our rented cottage, on the edge of the New Forest. According to the internet it was by the sea. It seemed like the sea had come to meet us, from above. Fiona sent me inside to make tea while they brought the bags in. One of the fringe benefits of being a pregnant woman, I thought as I watched Matt running to and from the car boot.
Finally we were in. There was a large fire that the owners had stocked it with a couple of logs. I got to sit on the sofa watching Fiona and Matt squabbling over the best way to get it lit. In the end, I went and found a lighter and some old newspaper in the utility room.
We ate cheese on toast and drank wine in front of the fire. We’d tried to keep an eye out for a supermarket on our way, but in the rain the best we could find was a little Tescos Metro connected to a petrol station.
Afterwards, Fiona and I snuggled on the sofa watching the flames slowly rising, claiming the wood, while Matt lounged in the chair searching on his phone. I wondered if he was looking up Saff and his friends on social media. I made a mental note to check in with him some time soon.
We sat there silently enjoying not having anything to do. After about half an hour, Matt got up and announced he was going to bed. He kept his phone in his hand glancing at it as he spoke. We were left alone. I lay there, my head in her lap as she stroked my hair. The only noise was the crackle of the fire and the occasional sound of Matt moving above us.
The fire had nearly burnt down when Fiona announced it was nearly 2am, “We should go to bed,” She touched my cheek gently.
“Ummm,” I turned over so I was looking up at her, “I think we should,” I said, in what I hoped was a seductive manner.
In the middle of the night, I felt Fi shake me. “Kells, Kells.” I felt her wipe the sweat from my face. “You were crying. Did you have the nightmare again?”
“Yes,” I said, shaking and leaning into her arms.
“It’s going to be OK.” Lately, I had been having a nightmare where, while giving birth, they peeled back the skin of the nanosuit revealing my old male self underneath. “Dr. Patel told you that everything is going to be OK.” At the last appointment, we told her about the nanosuit. To her credit, she said nothing beyond, ‘I would never have guessed,’ and ‘well, then, give me the company’s information so we can see what we have to do.’ I can only imagine what she said in the staff meeting though. “She said it’s a normal C-section and you will be fine.”
I cried a little. “What if they’re wrong? She said I wouldn’t need to take the suit off, didn’t she,” I spoke the words carefully, like I was discussing a clause in a contract.
She pulled me closer and stroked my hair. “You will be fine. It will be fine. Dr. Patel said you were her best patient and not to worry.”
“Promise?” I hated being so scared, but happy that Fi was here to comfort me.
“Yes, I promise, Kells.”
The next day, the rain eased but didn’t stop. After a breakfast of cereal, Fiona and I decided to attempt a short walk. It was all I could manage these days. Still, despite the cold and the damp the fresh air smelt amazing after the city. Sadly, Matt took one look outside and decided not to join us.
“Don’t you want some fresh air? It’d be good for your training,” I was cautious not to mention football explicitly, knowing how sensitive he still was.
“Nah,” he shook his head, “it’s just trees and stuff, seen one, you’ve seen them all.” A Londoner born and bred.
Fiona and I walked in silence for the first ten minutes. I enjoyed the sensation of her hand squeezing mine. Mine now being the smaller. My head was filled with so much. What had come before between us, what was to come. It frightened me thinking of how much I now had to lose.
“How is it?”
“Huh?” Fi’s mind had been elsewhere.
She laughed, having answered this many times before. “Well magical and painful,” she squeezed my hand, “But mostly painful.” She must have seen my expression because she added, “But you don’t have to worry about that.”
“I hate that I’m going to miss it,” I said.
She laughed, loudly enough that the two other fools walking nearby turned. “You want to know what it’s really like? I read this somewhere. Take your lower lip and pull it...over your head. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again either.”
“Sorry I woke you again last night.”
She smiled, “That’s OK.” Then she took her voice down to a whisper, “you more than made up for it this morning.” I looked around, half expecting to find a family of shocked German tourists covering the ears of their children.
“I just,” I took a deep breath, “I just don’t want to go back. Ever.” I had never said it out loud. I’d hardly even let myself think it. The air felt cold and still as I waited for her to speak.
Fiona stopped and took me in her arms, “You don’t ever have to, baby.”
I played with a button on her coat, “Promise?”
“Yes,” she said, half exasperated, half affectionately. “Now let’s get back, before Matt can do too much damage.”
Her suspicion turned out to be well founded. Although perhaps not in the way she had expected.
The kitchen was a disaster area. It put me in mind of a WWI front line medical centre, during the Somme.
“What the hell?” I looked at Matt, his innocent face dripping with sweat. On the hobs were two pans. One was half full of water bubbling away. The whole contents of a packet of spaghetti sticking out. The half in the water had gone soft, the half out hadn’t, their ends somehow burnt. The inside of the larger pan was coated with something burnt black that had once possibly been red.
“Spag Boll?” I guessed.
“Sorry O.M. I wanted to do something special for you both,” He ruffled his hair in that way that used to transfix Saff.
Fiona hugged him, “It’s a lovely thought Matty, but I think from now on we should leave the cooking to Kells.” They both smiled at me. Bastards, wonderful bastards.
I tried to rescue what he made, thinking maybe I could fry up the spaghetti and meat. My dad always said frying makes anything palatable, except this. Half an hour later, we were all squeezed on the sofa in front of the fire, eating Tomato and Cheddar soup (using the last of both).
Matt looked at his soup, embarrassed. Fi smiled, “It’s the thought that counts Matty, but why would you try Spag Boll?”
He blushed. “I mean I’ve watched O.M.,” not well enough, I thought, smiling, “And I know I haven’t been easy to live with lately,”
“Not at all love,” I said. They both laughed at me. “Well, yes. But much less than you could have been. You’ve handled everything. The trial. The break up, the…”
“You can say football,”
“… the football. You’ve handled it like a man. And I mean that as a compliment, truly.”
He smiled at me, then took a deep breath, “Well that’s just it. I’m ready to transition. Properly. My body, I mean, not just tying down, these,” he pointed at his chest.
I looked at Fi, wondering how she’d take it. I’d begun rehearsing arguments for taking it slowly in my head when she spoke, “I think that’s wonderful Matty.” Her smile was genuine. “Are you sure?”
He nodded. We both exchanged glances. I doubt he thought it would be this easy.
“It wouldn’t be sudden. I’ve looked it up. I can get the surgery on the NHS when I turn 16 but they ask that I attend regular counselling sessions beforehand. Look, I’ll show you.” He jumped up, nearly knocking over the remainder of his soup.
While he was out of the room I turned to Fi, “So that’s why he’s been on the iPad all the time.”
“You had an idea?”
She nodded again.
I smiled, “You’ve been checking his internet history?”
“Shut up.” She hit my arm. I knew I’d caught her out.
That night, as we got ready for bed, we talked.
Fi looked at the ceiling. “Thank god for the book. Between Matt’s transition and Edward, we need all the money we can get.”
I couldn’t think of a better use for the money but said, “I thought Matt can get it all free on the NHS?”
Fi smiled. “You have so much to learn, Kells. With kids, nothing ever comes free. There will always be other costs.” She leaned next to my belly. “But, they’re all worth it,” and then she kissed me.
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