I watched from the comfort of my desk as the wind howled and terrorised the aged trees outside. The hail stones threw themselves shamelessly, recklessly against the window and a blanket of leaves were torn from the branches, thrown into the air and sashayed down onto the shed below. I wondered whether the storm would last a long time or leave any lasting damage. The study is probably my favourite room in the house. Tucked away in the roof, I have only the Eucalyptus, Oak and Silver Birch for company up here, and my sanctuary feels like a world away from the busy London streets close by. The only drawback I often found was the sound of those damned pigeons up there shagging, nesting, or doing whatever it is that bloody pigeons do.
I scribbled some notes before I gave in to the dreaded writer’s block and made myself an Earl Grey. I settled into the cosy corner sofa, feet up and arms outstretched, released a big sigh as if to exhale my frustration, and took a long and welcome sip of tea. I could easily lapse into a lazy melancholy without the outlet of my imaginary world. What I love about writing stories is when the downtime in between is just right - not too short, and not too long.
Long enough to rest the grey matter and release my self-inflicted pressure to finish a story to perfection, but not so long that my agent would persistently call me under the guise of telephoning ‘To find out how you are doing, Lily.’ Just as I started to relax, and almost telepathically, my mobile started to buzz incessantly, disturbing my peace. Instinctively, I knew who it was before I even answered.
‘Matilda Fenchurch, are you checking up on me again?’ I enquired sarcastically.
‘Just calling to find out how you are, Lily Hollywood,’ Matilda exclaimed with an undertone of sarcasm.
‘Well, my lovely, it would probably take me all day to tell you what I’ve been up to: parties, awards ceremonies, shopping, oh, and trying to get started on the new book. Oh no. No, I haven’t been up to any of those lovely things at all,’ I quickly backtracked sarcastically, ‘I’ve been holed up in my study listening to the vile sound of pigeon claws on my roof, watching the trees swaying, and waiting for my creative juices to flow, and for my pen to start magically writing some notes and for my keyboard to start typing itself like a pianola. And, no, I’ve not started it yet, is the very short answer to the question you’re waiting to ask at the right time!’ I chortled cheekily, as I could almost hear her inner voice asking me to breathe and stop talking so she could fit the golden question in.
‘Well, at least I know, and I’m onto you! Listen, let’s meet up tonight, what about The Crown, tonight at 8pm?’ Matilda asked, mumbling that she had to be quick.
‘Sure,’ I replied ‘see you later.’ I checked the time to see that it was still only 1 o’clock, and so with renewed motivation, I returned to my laptop and finished the dregs of my Earl Grey whilst I waited with anticipation for a yet another blank word document to open, hoping that I’d find a way to get through the first few hundred words of a new story if nothing else, so at least tonight I could say that the next book had been started. With a published best seller under my arm, this should be easy, right? I’m a professional writer now, people actually buy my words, my imagination, my book, I thought to myself, convincing myself that my stories were actually worth buying, and trying to ignore the occasional imposter thoughts I had.
I sat there, thoughtless, wordless; unable to think of a character, a name, an opening line or a plot. ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake, when will you start functioning again?’ I chided as I rapped my own forehead with frustration, desperate to find the same momentum I was on over three years ago now when I was writing the book that defined me as a writer. This didn’t of course, come easily; there were many years of writing short stories, frequently failing to be selected even as a runner up for the various writing competitions I entered, and making repeated attempts at building the epic best seller I wanted to write and share with the world.
Tenacity I had in abundance, that was without a shadow of a doubt. I’d not even appreciated that this was a key quality of mine until I started to make a list of my failed efforts at becoming a published writer and thought about the sheer number of times that I had dusted myself off and carried on. ‘The Crown at 8 o’clock? Hmmm, why don’t I just head into town now and treat me to something new?’ I thought to myself, my eyes fixed on my swaying audience outside with an iota of hope that a little self-love would somehow spark off the onset of a rollercoaster of writing. I quickly made up my face, rearranged my hair and pulled on my beloved vintage leopard-fur collared black dress coat. I battled the wind and rain, and headed towards the underground station, giving Dan a quick call on the way to ask he pick up our little cherubs from nursery.
Oh, I’d always loved the ceaseless dazzle of the London lights. The buzz, the hum, the fashionistas, the work ethic and busyness that are all so indescribably London, all of which stole my heart when I first visited with my parents as a child. When I arrived in London as a student, I knew I’d arrived. The iconic flashing Lucozade sign that I passed each and every time I came to London in a car, the endless twinkling city night lights, and the grim, grey seventies high-rises that informed me I’d arrived in The Schmoke. I’d stalked the streets of London on many occasions in the past, enviously lapping up the grandeur of the multi-storey London houses to motivate myself to plough through to the end of the story I was writing at the time, just as I was losing the will to live, a few hundred words in, and before the story had even really started.
Oh, how I wish I was a few hundred words in, now. Somehow, back then, seeing imposing double fronted detached Victorian villas and elegant Georgian terraced town houses with opulent pillar ornaments protectively guarding their homes and openly displaying their narcissism gave me renewed ambition and determination. I always found that another few hundred words or so would be laid down to graciously wait for editing after a street stalking session so I could refocus on my aspiration. I still, very occasionally, drink in the grandeur of the architectural splendour of London houses secretly even now, particularly if I am suffering The Block. Still, it’s rather ironic that I still have not yet managed to procure my own pillar ornaments yet, despite a best seller under my arm now.
Yes, I needed to find something else to renew my motivation; something to keep me going through the ache of emptiness and blank-brain syndrome when my typing hands and imagination ceased to work simultaneously.
I got off the tube at Leicester Square to make a quick detour to Charing Cross Road and happily skipped my way through the hustle and bustle of tourist London that I still loved, but only in very small doses these days. I made my way into one of the bookstores and mingled with the London masses at the presentation plinth, pretending to be a customer reviewing my own book. All the while, I was relishing the ongoing treadmill of customers reading the cover and reviews before sauntering off to the till to ensure they were up to date with the demands of the culture pages of the London Advertiser to make it ”The one book you read this year.”
Oh, it had occurred to me that my ego might on occasion now match that of the pillar ornaments. Seeing my readers on the shop floor gave me grounding; it reminded me that it was in part their money that made my book the success it has turned out to be, and that they could just as easily walk a few steps in another direction and choose another book. Oh, how I loved anonymously watching the shop floor in a book shop, when people were in the midst of deciding which book would be their next brain meal. As always, I spent far too long in the book shop, leaving it far too late to consider any self-love shopping before meeting Matilda.
I made my way back through Soho, down Old Compton Street towards The Crown, which was turning out to be something of a regular haunt of Matilda and mine. What I had not expected when I met Matilda a couple of years ago now, was that I’d be getting a New Best Friend too. I know she worries a lot about us being friends rather than just business associates, but I don’t see the problem myself. It’s not like she’s my GP or Psychiatrist. Well, I don’t have a Psychiatrist for a start. Still, her discomfort would become increasingly obvious when our conversations took a natural turn towards our personal lives after the discussion around business and the literary world had finished. I made my way into the pub and ordered myself a coffee.
‘Hi, how are you?’ Matilda asked as she stripped off her coat, looking her usual chic, glamorous self.
‘Hey,’ I replied, ‘just looking forward to getting stuck into a glass of wine or three and a good old gossip with you!’
‘So how did you get on today?’ Matilda asked curiously, clearly trying not to interrogate, ‘Any progress on the blank page?’
‘No, not yet,’ I shook my head and pulled a face of feigned exasperation, ‘I’m still waiting to rediscover my fountain of imagination and inspiration, maybe it’ll come to me in a dream or something, who knows? Do all writers suffer the fear of the second book, Matilda?’ ‘Even though I’ve seen my work on the shop floor today, I still wonder how it came to be, how I managed to plough my way through the last book as I did. I can’t even remember the same angst about writing that book then, as I have now with the second, even already with a successful book under my arm. Maybe I’ve just forgotten and blocked the angst-ridden journey I did have when I crafted that book.’
I was desperate to skew the conversation away from writing and work. I always found that the friend and business associate overlap with Matilda was awkward at times. At times I wanted to talk to her about the writer’s journey whilst creating a literary work of art, and at other times, I just really wished she just would not go there and ask me about it. ’So, how is life in Columbia Road?’ I digressed, ‘Have you been to any crazy Eastend parties recently?’
‘No, no, I haven’t been up to that much except work in the last few weeks,’ she continued, ‘and in fact, I was thinking of getting away somewhere for a few days soon if you fancy it and are allowed out.’ As we rattled on with small talk about work and getting excited about an upmarket girls’ only weekend in Majorca, as usual, a couple of hours later our we’d devoured far too much wine and my cheeks were emanating tropical heat as we put the world to right. We left The Crown arm in arm, each steadying ourselves on the other as our automatic internal navigators guided us back to Oxford Circus tube with ease despite the wine, and we said our goodbyes before heading our separate ways home, me heading North, Matilda heading East.
I woke up with a fuzzy head and the familiar pitter-patter of toddler feet walking down the hallway heading towards our room. I lifted my head out of bed, waiting for the arrival of the cute, cherubic face of my daughter presenting herself at the doorway, unforgiving of my hangover. The bright winter sun shone through the bedroom window and eased my tired slumber into a joyful anticipation of the Halloween party we would be throwing later this evening, as well as telling Dan about the weekend trip I had now planned with Matilda. ‘We’ve got a busy day today everyone,’ I commanded enthusiastically, trying to blow away the remnants of my hangover, ‘it’s our Halloween party tonight, so we’ve got lots of jobs to do to get ready.’
As Dan started to carve out pumpkin flesh with Ellis and Edie watching curiously, I restocked the basement bar. The bar was probably my favourite room in the house, as it always seemed to come alive when we had a party, and it became the beating heart of the house with music, chitter-chatter and dancing. Eventually, my friend Tom would not so spontaneously play a jazz set on the piano in the bar, which always got everyone throwing some moves, tapping their toes and talking about what a fabulous musician he was. Tom, of course, thrived on the adoration and attention, in fact, he lived for the public love that came with being a musician.
The party started with a swing as Dan and I greeted our guests. The Bloody Mary’s were served, and children raced around the house in their spooky costumes, with ghoulish music playing in the background as the adults busied themselves catching up with each other and digging into the vast table of party food that had been prepared. Tom tinkled on the piano in the bar, and like magnets, everyone found their way downstairs to watch his fingers expertly working the keys, started to involuntarily swing shoulders, wiggle waists and tap toes. I caught up with Simone and Jasmine, my old university pals whom I saw every now and then, but we often found that despite our best efforts to stay in contact, that our shared time of life had largely passed by and everyone now had new and very different lives.
It was sometimes difficult to believe that the one friendship I had which had pretty much stayed the same, despite our very different paths, was with my old school friend, Nicole. We’d always managed to keep the magic of our school friendship alive. No matter how many New Best Friends she or I’d had along the road of life, Nicole was the person who understood without explanation my sarcasm, my narcissism, and my rather sick sense of humour, even when I got a joke hideously wrong.
As the party rumbled on, glasses were topped up as quickly as they were drained. Our guests had started to leave, so I put Ellis and Edie to bed upstairs with Nicole who was also tending to her own her three children, George, Jack and Harry. Some of the adults continued the party; the karaoke came out and several of the party crew joined Tom at the piano to drunkenly belt out some old classics. The games stations came out to play, and by about 1am in the morning, the party wound down, and most people seemed worn out and ready for bed. Well I certainly was, even though I used to be the last person to make it to bed. I always used to see the point in staying up until the end of the fun and games, but those days had largely passed me by now. The only people left at the party were a couple of Dan’s friends who were staying overnight, and Nicole’s husband Justin, so I left them to their own devices to make their own way up when they were ready.
As I climbed the sweeping staircase, my feet were on autopilot again. The stairs slowly creaked as I walked the landing upstairs, taking care to not to wake any of the sleeping children, and I continued my journey slowly up the next flight of stairs to the next floor. I don’t normally think about writing at this time of night, or following a party night, but maybe doing something different is just what I need to get those first few hundred words down, I thought to myself. Who knows what I would find in the morning when I reviewed my writing? As I approached the top of the stairs, I could very faintly hear whispering which immediately halted, and was accompanied by an almost deathly silence in the background. How strange that the London traffic outside seemed to stop in that instant, magnifying my realisation that I was not so drunk that I’d misheard the sound of the whispering. I instantly felt sober in that silent moment.
The hairs on my neck stood on end and I instantly felt tense when I walked through the door into my study, not sure what to expect. My mind flitted, trying to think through who might be in there. Was I being burgled? Was I about to be held hostage? No, no, that’s ridiculous, I thought to myself, I have a house filled with people, I persuaded myself with reason despite my feeling of unease and fear. Was someone reading through my private papers? Why would someone want to snoop in my study?
My heart stopped when I walked into the study. As extravagant as my mind could be, I could not have imagined what I saw. Not in my life. I leapt back down the stairs as quickly and gracefully as I could in the circumstances, eager not to cause a commotion or startle our remaining party guests, a couple of whom were still up talking mindless, drunken chat. I wiped tears that had silently started to glide down my face, as I gently woke my sleepy children and half carried, half dragged them downstairs wrapped only in fleecy blankets into the freezing cold outside, as quickly as I could. I didn’t pause to consider that I had been drinking all night until less than half an hour ago, as I strapped them into their car seats.
My voice of reason stopped me in my tracks. What on earth was I doing, I couldn’t drive. I sat in my car, the babies strapped in the back, unable to process what I’d seen and not even sure what to do, my heart heaving abruptly in short bursts, as I tried to stifle the sobs that felt like they were slowly making their way from my gut, up through my wind pipe. I glanced over my shoulder. Ellis and Edie were sleeping soundly again, albeit not very comfortably I expected, as they were virtually vertical in their car seats. I dug out the old picnic blanket from the boot of the car, wrapped myself up to prepare for the cold night ahead, locked us in the car, and sat there for what seemed like hours as I replayed in my mind what I’d seen, again and again, as clearly as if I were watching the television.
I turned on the engine, and as I did, thought that Ellis and Edie must be freezing too. This is wrong, I thought to myself, as I tried to heat up the car, and unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the rather repetitive, unpleasant and unwelcome image I had in my head. I couldn’t even think about attending to my thoughts, questions, anger and heartache right now, and it took all my effort to try and suppress my tears, but try as I might, I couldn’t, and my heavily beating heart seemed loud, like an instrument. Oh, how bitterly cold. I took Ellis out of the car, swathed him in a blanket and thrust him onto my shoulder, and took Edie on my other shoulder. My mind tried to get straight what I would say to Dan. About what I’d seen. As I walked up the short driveway, I quickly rehearsed and practiced that I wanted him to leave, or that I would forgive him, and that I understood. But as I did so, I knew within my heart of hearts that whatever I thought and practiced now would not be what came out of the feisty, vast abyss that was my mouth.
When I opened the front door, the house was still. The evidence of a fabulous party was everywhere – glasses, empty wine and cocktail bottles, bowls still half-full of crisps and spooky snacks. There were a few coats and bags in the hallway, but otherwise, it was silent beyond the combined sounds of snoring, coughing and snorting, coming from different directions throughout the house. I put Ellis and Edie to bed again and turned the heating on to warm us all up, then went to find Nicole, who was fast asleep in an alcohol-induced deep sleep. Without thinking much more, I fetched some suitcases from the walk-in wardrobe, and began to fill them with all of Dan’s possessions – clothes, cufflinks, bags, shoes, toiletries, electronic equipment, passport…. the essentials that one would need when being thrown out of their home.
I could no longer repress what seemed to be a tap of tears, as I wiped the steady stream of tears from my cheeks, clearing one cheek, then the other almost in rhythm as I reminded myself that my self-imposed standards for a marriage or relationship were there to keep my dignity and self-respect intact. What was he doing? Did I really see that? Where would we go from here? Forgiving him wouldn’t be easy, but recovery of my self-esteem would be almost impossible if we remained together. I went to find Dan upstairs in my office, wondering how on earth I’d be able to write in there now without recurring images in my mind of them, but to my surprise, they were not there.
I helplessly succumbed to my fear and anger as I checked out the rooms upstairs. My fear of what I might say, what they might tell me, and my raging anger that they both could treat me so disgracefully. Maybe they’ve already left, I thought to myself, returning to our bedroom to finish surveying the surroundings for reminders of Dan. Catching a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror, I looked like something out of a horror film. My face was wet, red and blotchy from a constant stream of tears, and my eyes were swollen beyond any quick cosmetic fix. How long has this been going on? Was it a one-off, or was this something that had been going on under my nose without me realising? How had I not worked this out about Dan? How had he managed to keep this secret at all, let alone for the whole decade or so that I’d been with him.
As the morning progressed, the guests slowly filtered out of the house, apparently none the wiser of my discovery, or my confusion over the state of my marriage and the questions I had. How I managed to keep myself intact when I felt so broken, shattered, unfixable, I’ll never know. Dan didn’t return home that day. He didn’t return home that week.
The children were understandably confused about my never-ending stream of tears throughout that first week of post-discovery separation, and why their Daddy wasn’t there to wipe away the tears for me. Oh, I tried that week to keep myself in check for the sake of Ellis and Edie, and despite having packed away Dan’s belongings, everywhere I turned there was an unwelcome reminder in the form of a memory, or some other small artefact that I had overlooked in my quick and hasty packing on the night of The Discovery. My heart still throbbed, so heavily that it often felt it would jump out of my chest, and I felt physically weak. I’d barely slept for the whole week, and every now and then my knees would give way from the strain of the emotional assault I was enduring. I couldn’t eat, and every now and then I retched, my stomach growling from hunger but I was also still sick to the core. Blood coursed through my veins like the Victoria Falls, and my head ached with my relentless inner voice asking endless questions, ‘Why, why, why?’
It was the slowest and most painful week I’d ever experienced. Every time I thought I could get through the next hour or so without any more tears, I’d feel even weaker, even more overwhelmed, and yet a new stream of tears and bout of gut-wrenching sobs would erupt, even when I thought I had no energy left to cry.
Whilst wallowing in the pit of adversity, my organisational skills kept me as focused and busy as I could be. Long evening telephone calls with Nicole and Matilda ensued, as I called them to help keep me sane in the aftermath of The Discovery. I desperately wanted to remain resolutely focused on the future – closing the door to the past and wanted to open a new door. Whilst it momentarily felt somewhat daunting and premature to be making a hasty decision to close the door on my marriage to Dan without even seeing him after The Discovery, I somehow knew in my heart of hearts that what I’d witnessed was not a one-off. It just couldn’t be. I also couldn’t believe I’d seen this in our home, where I feel safe, in control and where our children run wild, play, sleep and feel secure.
I just couldn’t believe that they both would take such a risk of getting caught in our home if it was a one-off. Whatever the truth, I couldn’t even begin to think of how I would be able to face Dan in the future. I culled several years’ worth of clutter, and spent as much time as I could cuddling Ellis and Edie, telling them how much they were loved by Mummy and Daddy, despite feeling raging, ferocious anger with Dan because not only did I have to manage the depths of my own despair, but I also had to cover the tracks of his absence at home and manage Ellis and Edie’s grief too. It seemed so unfair that our perfect lives could come crumbling down like this, and so unexpectedly.
I heard nothing from Tom, which was not a surprise, whom until now, had been a faithful old friend whom I’d giggled with over his choice of lovers, had listened to endless stories of his liaisons, and as students, we regularly immersed ourselves in vying for the attention and affection of the most handsome men, as we took wild guesses about where they might lie on the spectrum of sexual fluidity. Whilst I felt broken by his betrayal, I couldn’t help but lift a small smile as I thought of him overdoing the fake tan sprays, so he had a constant tinge of orange not dissimilar to baked beans. Strange, as I never thought I would miss telling him time and time again to tone down on the orange pantone. Not only was I mourning my husband, but I was also mourning one of my best friends.
As the party progressed, I was overcome with lust. It happened every time I saw Tom playing the piano and feeling his music so passionately. Watching someone feel their music, their body not just moving to the rhythm, but personifying the score with their movement so you could hear the beat with your eyes, seeing his hips smoothly moving on the seat that he was sat on was instantly erotic. I’d managed to suppress my carnal response to his music countless times before at parties that Lily and I had hosted, until we could either get away, or until the urge had passed. Tonight, for some reason, though, something was different. The air was electric between Tom and I, and sex was inevitable, it just wasn’t clear when it might happen. Whilst I’d allowed myself to respond to Tom’s music and electricity in the past, as my body had naturally wanted to countless times before, it was always a few hours later, not as instant as it was tonight. I’d learnt to tame my inner beast when it came to Tom. Tom had played jazz sets for me a number of times, it was foreplay for us.
I’d not planned to fall in awe of Tom, how could I? I just fell in love with someone who just happens to be a man. I’ve mulled over my dilemma every minute, every day for months, even years now, since we rekindled our affair that we tried so desperately to keep at bay for the sake of Lily and the children. Oh, and not forgetting the men that Tom had faux relationships with, I assume in an attempt to fill the gaps in between our on-off relationship.
The love affair that couldn’t be. Tom and I had never really discussed the other men. There was never time, because as soon as we resumed our relationship, we spent months satisfying our craving for each other, without much thought for anyone else. That included Lily, Ellis, Edie and The Others, as we called them. When we’d finished, time would be ticking and there wasn’t even much time to discuss The Others, and of course, Lily naturally took priority over The Others anyway, when we were discussing what we should do.
Well, she was my wife after all, and Tom was Lily’s much-loved best friend, and had been for many years. I’m not really sure of the point where Lily ceased to be Tom’s best friend, I’m not even sure that they stopped being best friends, despite the obvious betrayal on his part. I suppose it must have been difficult for him to face Lily, and despite the evidence, I know he is otherwise honest and loyal, and I know misses her. This wasn’t something that either of us really planned. It. Just. Happened. Fate, call it what you will. We’d tried to end it countless times before over the years, but always without much success after a couple of months of separation, we seemed to return to our old ways, despite our determination to stop. It was always Tom that ended things, rather than me. It was his ‘conscience’, or so he told me. Hypocritical, I always thought, as his ‘conscience’ didn’t speak up when he was in the middle of playing a set, just the two of us, knowing exactly where it was likely to lead.
So, the pattern had been set, even before Lily and I married. In fact, I married her with a broken heart, after Tom’s ‘conscience’ had gotten the better of him the first-time around. When I look back at my wedding photos, I can still see a teary eye as I look longingly at Tom, whilst posing, feigning wedded bliss at the time. Not that I have any wedding photos anymore, I left all of those in the attic when I left. It seemed wrong for me to take them, knowing that I’d broken her heart, and that I’d started an affair even before I took The Vow. But I can remember the photos, the day they were taken, and how we wandered around the grounds, seemingly blissful, occasionally posing. I recall the photos on the basis that I can remember my heart hurting as I smiled and posed, the Happy Groom. I’d not even really thought about how happy Lily was feeling at our wedding, just that I was trying to hide a broken heart yet again.
I hadn’t ever really felt love pain before Tom, or, in fact after Tom. It was always either Lily or Tom, but for some reason, the thought of leaving Lily didn’t really fill me with fear, unlike the thought and experience of separating from Tom. I felt guilt over Lily, yes, but not love pain, not an aching heart. I miss the children terribly, their shrieks and yells and sheer excitement when I get home.
I don’t really miss Lily though. Lily and Tom both have something in common which I’m sure is the thing that made them best friends, and also the same thing which attracted me to them both in the beginning. Their painstaking commitment to their art, their passion, frivolity and fearlessness to follow their dreams, even if most people thought they were unlikely to be successful. That’s not to mention that they are both eye-wateringly good looking.
I met Lily on the train, on the way to work, some 15 years ago. I was stood up on the tube, holding onto the handrail, looking around, and I couldn’t help but notice that she had a more than a few admirers on the train - men peeking over their papers trying to discreetly lap up her good looks with their eyes, without her noticing. She didn’t notice. Lily was quite shy and demure, even lacking in confidence I’d say. She didn’t know just how beautiful she was, or at least if she did, she certainly didn’t acknowledge it, and it wasn’t really something she concerned herself with. At that point she had not found any success in her career, and I know she doubted herself as a writer back then, she has done for a long time.
She was determined, nevertheless, to keep trying to achieve publication, and as I got to know her better, I discovered that she wanted to achieve writing stardom, and also that she was pretty persistent in her ambitions and aims in life. Lucky for me, the one thing I had, that many other men didn’t, was boldness. I didn’t suffer the same humility as Lily did. Back then, I was fearless, shameless even, and unafraid of rejection from anyone. What was the worst that could happen? So, I slipped my business card into her hand as I alighted, making sure she got full contact with the depths of my soul through my eyes as I did so. The eyes are the window to the soul, as they say. Always better to have a long, lingering look in my opinion. I wasn’t afraid if she didn’t call me. I knew she would. It was a trick that had been successful for me on many occasions. Not necessarily on a train, but the eye contact and direct approach, it’s always worked a treat for me. I remember when she called me, a day or so later, leaving just enough time to maintain her dignity and not appear over-interested in me. I liked that. Most people I’d been out with in the past had found it difficult to restrain themselves from calling me relentlessly in my younger days, before I had a mobile phone. I’d go home after college or work, and my latest girlfriend would always have undoubtedly called me by the time I’d got home, every day, leaving no surprise or titillation, no chance to get excited about when I might see them next.
Not Lily, no. She was restrained beyond anything I had experienced before, and I found I liked her all the more for this. What was not to like? Wild, blond curly hair with a sweeping straight fringe, deep-sea blue eyes, and lashes that were so long you could almost mistake them for fake. A beautiful woman’s body, not too skinny or slim, but well-nourished and firm, and she was clearly not afraid of a cake or two, thankfully. Lily dressed exquisitely, to perfection, even back then when she had virtually no money. She still does, and this is something about Lily that I can’t help but admire. When it comes to clothes, she steps outside the box, and is really unlike a lot of other people. I recall many a shopping trip rummaging through the rails of charity shops in wealthy areas, and then a painstaking process of tailoring and changing whatever she had bought at the local dry cleaners to get exactly what she had found to look exactly as she had imagined it could be.
I digress. I left Lily. For Tom. But I can’t help but wonder what happened myself, as Lily and I never argued or bickered, I just fell in awe of someone else, who just happened to be a man. Eventually, I fell out of awe with her. Towards the end, she felt more like an irritant. Almost like having used too much bleach whilst cleaning, so that your hands are sore afterwards. I had never been surer of anything else in my life, yet the thought of breaking her heart was soul destroying. I didn’t wish her ill. I just didn’t want her anymore, I wanted someone else who just happened to be one of her oldest friends. Yet despite all that, I couldn’t help but feel angry with her.
Before the discovery, I was almost screaming to do something extraordinary, something out of the blue, something electrifying just to feel the blood pumping around my body, to remind myself that I continued to live and feel things beyond this capsule of repetitive family life.
What else could I do, other than leave? When Lily found us upstairs, in a state of naked, selfish ecstasy, I hadn’t expected it. I don’t know why; it was risky to have sex with Tom when there was a party downstairs. We’d had sex countless times before at my house, but never quite so boldly when Lily, the children and lots of our other friends were downstairs. Somehow, Tom and I had always managed to slip away under the pretense of going to a club, or getting more beer, or whatever the excuse was, we’d always managed to slip away when it was necessary.
I just couldn’t help it, really. When I met Dan, I knew immediately that I was attracted to him, which wasn’t a surprise really, as Lily and I had always taken bets on which of us should go in for the bonus. When Lily introduced me to him, he was dressed exactly as I like: body-hugging jeans, a well-cut blazer, and to my absolute pleasure, he was, as I expected, and as per Lily’s usual style, well chiseled with the most piercing eyes. It was just unfortunate for me that Lily got in there first. As Lily and Dan became more entrenched in each another, it became obvious that I was increasingly the spare part, and so off I went, to pastures new, to find other friends that suited my lifestyle back then. Lily and Dan never ceased to include me, though, as I eventually became the token perpetually single person in their soirees. Not that I minded, mind you, as we always had a rocking time.
Predictably, Dan, Lily and I got on like a house on fire. The turn of events happened a couple of years after Dan and Lily met, I’m ashamed to say. Yes, that long ago. Dan, Lily and I had been at their house, having a barbeque with a few other friends of theirs. A lovely hot summer evening, long before Ellis and Edie arrived. The drinks were flowing, Dan was doing his thing at the barbeque and whist I was there chatting away to whoever, I couldn’t help but notice that I was repeatedly distracted by Dan as he turned slabs of meat on an old barbeque and swung his hips in time to the music. Now, being distracted by Dan was nothing unusual as I had already noticed many months before that barbeque that he distracted me anyway. What was unusual was that every time I looked at him, he was already taking a sneaky peek at me, himself.
Or that’s how I thought about it at the time, anyway. In between burger flips and servings, he would attend to the turntables he had going and put more music on, old school tunes as he is definitely one for selecting a classic funk number. So, there he was, flipping burgers, swinging his hips, and looking at me with those chocolate eyes in between all of this. Eventually, it was like there was a wire of electricity directly connecting the two of us. I don’t know what I expected to happen that night, or in the future, but I do know what I wanted at each and every moment we had eye contact and each moment in between when he was focused on his thing, and I continued to savour the relish.
Later, when Lily went to bed, as she usually did first, I took the opportunity to accidentally-on-purpose brush past Dan. The first time I did it, yes, I did feel a little guilty, but I was so overwhelmed by my own lust that to be honest, I gave Lily little thought. Now, when I look back, I cannot believe my lack of loyalty to Lily, my brazenness, and my complete and utter selfishness, despite loving her as I did and do. I knew it was a matter of time before Dan and I gave in to each other, and possibly a matter of time before we broke Lily’s heart, even if she didn’t know about it. It seems unbelievable now that Dan and I had an affair for five years before Dan and Lily even got married, before Edie came along, and then later Ellis. Yes, it did cool at some points, when the babies came along, for example. But, no, it never completely fizzled out.
When Lily caught us that night, it was almost a relief for me. Almost like someone, somehow had put an end to the lies and the deceit. Yes, I was shocked, I think we all were. But equally, I was relieved.