As I lie in my bed the next morning, light flooding into the room, my whole body is aching from the night before and I understand why it’s safer not to go over the drinking limit. My head feels like it’s going to wind itself off my head.
I haven’t experienced a hangover this bad in a long time. It was definitely not worth it.
I’m reminded of how clingy I was towards Rory. Didn’t I kiss his ear? I think I even attempted to get him into the bed with me. Oh no. Did I call him a beast at one point? It’s all coming back in one horrific flood of memories. I cover my face with both hands, deeply humiliated.
I’m so absorbed in my own thoughts, that I don’t notice someone walking into the room with a glass of water.
Rory sits on the bed and the mattress deflates from his body weight. I crawl further under the covers, trying to hide my morning face from him. It’s not a pretty sight.
“Hey, sleepy head. Are you feeling any better?” he asks, handing me a tablet.
I quickly swallow it, hoping it’ll cure this raging headache.
I chug on the water to cleanse my dry throat and then say, “Not really.” I touch a hand to my forehead and groan. “What time is it anyway?”
He checks his watch. “Two in the afternoon.”
I shoot out from under the covers. “What?”
Rory chuckles to himself. “Don’t worry, it’s half term week”
“Yeah. So, you’ve got plenty of time to recover.”
It’s not the alcohol I need recovering from.
“Did you stay the night?” I ask, rubbing my eyes.
“No. I stayed for a while, but had to get back eventually.”
I run a hand through my bed hair. “I didn’t mean to drink as much as I did. One thing just led to another and I couldn’t stop.”
Rory nods in understanding. “I wish you’d called me first instead of drinking yourself to death. You know that you can talk to me. I’m here.”
I smile at that reminder. “Michael came to the house yesterday.”
Rory’s face goes suddenly tight. “Ah, that explains a lot. Did you see him?”
“No. I thought that my mother wouldn’t want to see him, you know?” He nods slightly. “But, she agreed to it – to let him into our home, to let him explain. And I wasn’t okay with that. I don’t think he deserved the opportunity and I didn’t want to be here when it all kicked off. Does that make me a coward? I always seem to run from my problems.”
Rory looks me over carefully, grabbing my hand. I lace my fingers with his. It’s the perfect fit. “You are definitely not a coward Skye. Half of the time, I don’t feel I need to protect you because you seem to have your own back. You stand up for what you believe in and that’s not easy for some people.”
I try to catch his eye. “Do you really think that highly of me?”
He cups the side of my cheek and I lean towards him instinctively. “You know how I feel Skye. I’ve made that perfectly clear. You told me that you’ve never felt loved by anyone – that you’re unlovable. You’re not though. I just think that you’re scared to let someone get close enough to hurt you. I’ll always be here, even if…” he swallows and glances away.
“Even if what?”
His eyes fill with sadness. “Even if you - even if you find out I did something bad.”
A smile emerges on my face as I peer at him. “Rory, what are you talking about? I know that you’ve got a pretty messy past. I don’t care about any of that.”
Now that I’m sobering up, I take note of his shabby appearance. It looks as if he hasn’t slept in days.
“Is everything okay with you?” I ask him, turning the conversation around.
I’ve been so consumed by my own problems lately, that I haven’t stopped to think about anybody else’s.
“There’s something that I really need to tell you. But you’re going to hate me for it.”
Now he’s scaring me. “What could you possibly have to tell me? Are you secretly involved in Rob’s drug mafia gang or something?”
This was supposed to lighten the mood, but Rory isn’t finding any of it funny. His shoulders sag down as he takes in a large breath. When he opens his mouth, ready to explain, my mother walks through the door and I know that whatever he was about to tell me has been put on hold for another day.
Rory jumps to his feet and rushes to the door. “I’ll - I’ll see you later.”
He doesn’t give me a chance to respond and we wait until the sound of the front door closes to have the all important conversation.
Mum moves forward, hands laced together. I don’t think either of us know where to start.
We have a lot to talk about. Even though I’m not too eager to find out what happened between her and Michael yesterday, I think this time I would rather be kept in the dark.
“Skye, I was wrong about Michael.” I glance at her curiously. “After speaking to him, I could see that he honestly didn’t know I was pregnant. Linda never told him.”
That conniving woman! I knew she couldn’t be trusted.
“He told me that he’d been engaged to Linda for a few years, but their relationship was starting to lose its spark. He didn’t love her anymore. They were planning to separate long before we met.”
So, he didn’t cheat on anyone… technically?
“But it looks like Linda wasn’t happy with this arrangement and decided to try and win him back. If Michael knew about the pregnancy, he said that he would have chosen us.”
At this, she starts to get choked up with emotion. “I just can’t believe how this has all panned out. I’ve hated him with a passion, for so many years… accusing him of abandoning his family, accusing him of leaving me to raise a child on my own. But it wasn’t even his fault - at least not entirely.”
“He wants to know you,” she adds, her voice taking on a desperate tone.
I can’t respond past the lump lodged in my throat.
“He’s distraught that he was never there for you growing up Skye. This news has hit him hard.”
But it’s hit us even harder.
This is what I’ve yearned for isn’t it? To be told that the father I haven’t seen for eighteen years, wants to connect, should be the most amazing news ever. But I don’t feel anything. Why don’t I feel any different?
“I know that he can’t make up for the years he’s lost, but he’s willing to try if you are.” I furiously wipe the tears from my eyes. “He’s not a bad man Skye. He’s far from it.”
“I don’t think I can see him,” I speak, tears rolling down my cheeks.
“Because it’s too late! And the fact that he’s Grayson’s father doesn’t help. I got to know Grayson. I started to like him. But this news has torn our friendship apart and now he hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you Skye. He’s just confused at the moment.”
“I hung out with Grayson and Michael mum, before knowing the truth. If anyone is upset about this, it’s me! I’ve got a half-brother and a dad that have only been living on the other side of town. They’ve been there all along, except I never knew!” I can’t help but raise my voice.
“And now, Michael wants to meet to patch things over? I don’t know if I want that. I don’t even know if I want him to try.”
Mum snuggles in beside me on the bed. She runs her fingers through my hair and I let her cradle me, just like she used to do when I was a young child.
“It’s completely your choice. I’m not going to pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do.” Her breath fans my forehead. “This is your life. Michael wants to be in it, but if you feel it’s too much, then we can draw the line here. You don’t have to see him again.”
Is that what I want? Do I want him to stay away?
I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands to think about Michael and whether I want to meet him or not. After speaking to mum last night, I realized quickly that if I don’t give this a try, I’ll always wonder what Michael had to say for himself.
It’s only when I’m walking towards the park, where we agreed to meet, that the realness of what’s happening hits me.
Maybe I jumped in too soon with this idea. My heart is already in my throat at the thought of seeing Michael again. And he’s not just Michael Swain to me anymore, he’s my dad. That makes a massive difference.
My phone beeps and I read the message from Rory.
Rory - We need to talk.
Later. I’m kind of busy right now.
Rory - Ok. I’ll stop by your place in a couple of hours.
I hardly know what to expect from this experience. I have to keep reminding myself that after this I don’t have to see him again if all ends badly. I am old enough to walk away. That’s the best part. I’m the one with all the control.
I spot someone sitting on one of the benches in the distance and take a large breath to steady my nerves.
Don’t stop now.
You haven’t got anything to lose.
Walk over there and get it over with quickly.
I approach the bench, my knees wobbling with every step. This is so hard. I don’t know what he’s going to say to me or what I’m going to say to him. My thoughts are a jumbled mess. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to breathe properly.
Michael is slouched forward on the bench, head cast towards the gravel. He’s fiddling with his hands and it gets me wondering if he’s just as nervous as I am.
I cough to grab his attention and his head flips up sharply.
Once his eyes land on me, tears are automatically filling them and I don’t have time to think about anything, because he’s suddenly up on his feet hugging me.
I stand there, completely frozen.
Should I hug him back? My arms aren’t working. Nothing is working.
“I am so sorry,” Michael cries into my shoulder. “I - I honestly didn’t know about you. If I’d known, I never would have left your side.”
Hearing this, makes my own eyes fill up. It’s everything I’ve always wanted him to say, but I never expected it to become a reality.
“Don’t ever think that I didn’t want you Skye. Please don’t think that.”
I slowly let my head rest against his chest.
So, this is what it feels like to be held by my father.
It feels like a safe place.
When I finally find my voice again, I say, “I’ve dreamt of this moment for so long.” It doesn’t feel real. “But I’m still coming to terms with it all. I mean, just the other day you were Grayson’s dad that I enjoyed hanging out with… now you’re so much more than that.”
He pulls back slightly. “I know.”
“The other day, you said that you had an inkling when you saw me. Did you know who I was before the truth came out?”
“When you first came to the house with Rory, I remembered thinking that you looked so much like someone I used to know. When you told me your second name, I couldn’t believe that you were Collette’s daughter."
"I didn’t know she’d had a child because we obviously never stayed in touch. For a split second, it did occur to me that maybe I was your father but I shut it down quickly - thinking that the idea was ridiculous and impossible.”
“Then, when I had more time to think about it, I realised that I wanted to find out more information about you, just to be sure.” He speaks with so much sophistication, it’s enough to persuade anyone to listen. “So, I decided that I needed some help. And I asked Rory if…”
I have to stop him there. “Wait. What has Rory got to do with any of this?”
“He hasn’t told you?”
My heart is racing. “Told me what?”
“I asked Rory if he would spend as much time with you as possible, so he could report any information back to me. I told him that I’d give him a pay rise.”
My expression crumbles.
What have I just heard?
My head is spinning. The world doesn’t make sense anymore.
“I’m so sorry it had to come to that Skye. I would’ve done it myself but I didn’t want to get my hopes up if I had misjudged the situation.”
Rory knew about this for weeks and didn’t tell me? All those times I went to his house and thought that he genuinely cared, were built on complete lies? He didn’t really want to be my friend. He just wanted more money for himself.
I’m such a fool. He did have an agenda. He lied to me over and over again. Did he even mean it when he said that he was falling for me? I can’t believe I bought everything he said. I can’t believe that he went behind my back… all for a bit of extra cash.
Who does that?
He’s not the person I thought he was.
I find myself choking on the unexpected sobs leaving my throat. Michael rests an arm on my shoulder and I’m quick to shrug him off. “Don’t touch me. You have no right to touch me.”
He backs away, like I’ve just burned him. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I - I trusted Rory. I told him things in confidence. He made me believe that he wanted to be in my life and that clearly wasn’t even true.”
“I don’t know how Rory feels about all of this. But in his defence, he did opt out pretty early on. He didn’t give me much of a reason, but simply said that he couldn’t go along with it anymore. After that, I tried to get Grayson on board by inviting you to things. I realised that it was my job to try, nobody else’s.”
How could you do that to me Rory? How could you sit there and allow me to open up about my worries and troubles and then go feeding them to someone else?
“Did Rory know that you were my dad?” I have to ask.
“No.” I almost sigh. “He kept asking why I was so interested in finding out about you, but I kept the details to a minimum. I just told him that I knew your mother and wanted to figure something out for myself. He had no idea.”
So, at least he was telling the truth about that. But, it still doesn’t make what he did forgivable.
“I - I don’t know what to say,” I admit, holding my head between my hands.
“If you’ll allow it, I’d like to get to know you better.”
I’m not about to jump in and say that I want to start over. It isn’t as simple as that. What if he turns out to be a disappointment? Maybe it’s safer to leave things as they are.
“There is so much you’ve missed. So many birthdays, Christmas’s, school plays… I’m just not sure that we can salvage any sort of relationship out of this, when you don’t know anything about me or what I’ve been through.”
Slowly, he pulls away and we sit on the bench together, knees apart. I’m struggling to look at him, in fear of what I might see.
Are we similar? Do we look alike? I never thought of these things before. We’re bound to have some physical similarities.
“It kills me that I wasn’t there to see you grow up Skye,” he begins. There’s a slight tremor to his voice. “I can’t change the past. I wish I could. I know that I wasn’t there for you back then. But I can be here for you now.”
I think it over. “I understand that you weren’t made aware of the pregnancy, but what I don’t get is why you left my mother with no explanation. She deserved to hear the truth from you, not somebody else. I mean, can you imagine how she would have felt to hear that you were already engaged? You are the reason she’s struggled all these years. I’ve had to be there through all the tears and heartache,” I state, pointing a finger towards my chest.
“I’m the one that had to see her health deteriorate on a daily basis because of you. Why give her false hope in the first place? Why make her feel like you were going to choose her and then take the easy way out by asking Tanya to do the dirty work for you?”
He takes longer to answer this time and I can see that this is hurting him, as much as it’s hurting me. But I’m not here to play nice. I deserve to know what his intentions were and if he really did love my mother. It’s not as easy as putting the past behind us and moving on. I can’t do that, without being absolutely sure that he’s being honest with me.
“I see your point. No matter how this might seem, I did love your mother… very much,” his eyes lock with mine as he says this and my stomach flips over. “I was ready to leave everything behind. I was willing to risk it all. Your mum made me feel alive again. She made me want to be a better person.”
“I should have handled the situation differently, I’ll admit that. But when Linda told me that she was pregnant, I felt a sense of commitment to her. She made me swear never to see your mum again if I wanted to remain in our baby’s life."
"I obviously didn’t know that your mother was also pregnant at the time, so to avoid any complications, I agreed that she could deliver the news to Collette instead of me. I realize now, that was a stupid idea.”
I nod, crossing my legs. “She told my mother to get an abortion, did you know that?”
His eyes widen. “She did?”
“Yeah.” Michael clearly doesn’t even know his own wife, or how manipulating she can be. “After you left town, my mother was branded as the town’s homewrecker. Word got out that she’d been seeing a married man and she got abuse for it. You, on the other hand were starting fresh in a different place and didn’t have to deal with any of that.”
“I don’t understand how that information was released. We kept our relationship discrete. The only other person that knew about it was…” He clutches his head, as the realization dawns on him. “Linda. Linda must’ve spread the rumours.”
Linda plays a big role in all of this. She was so desperate to keep Michael, that she went to extreme lengths to make it happen.
“As far as I’m concerned, Linda is officially out of my life for good,” he says, “I want nothing to do with her. She lied about you, she lied about the payments… she lied about everything. We’re getting a divorce.”
I wonder how Grayson is taking all of this. I’m guessing not very well, considering he turned up at my house completely off his face the last time I saw him.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be. I can’t believe what she’s put you and your mother through. It should never have come to this. But at least the truth is out now.”
While he resembles Grayson in the eyes and face, I am able to see some aspects of myself in his mannerisms – how he chews on his lower lip when he’s anxious, how his smile curves at the edges, producing a barely there smile. I can’t believe I didn’t notice these subtle signs before.
There is no denying that this man is my father and it’s going to take a while to accept. But, the fact that he’s here right now is a good start.