I married a slob. That is to say he married me, a slob.
Terry believes everything he does is of the utmost importance. Such as the noise his mouth makes when he opens it and pushes syllables out like an orangutan. No, that’s an insult to orangutans. Scratch that. Such as the attention he bestows upon me. I should feel special. I am special. His words, not mine.
We live in a semi-detached terrace on a semi-detached road with our semi-detached child and a fully-detached cat. The cat is called Ninja. My son is anything but creative. Abel. I suppose I brought it on myself. I didn’t name him, of course, my name is Nova, for Christ’s sake. I let Terry do the honours. We didn’t plan names - we aren’t and never will be that couple. But after seventeen hours of labour, I could barely open my eyes, let alone my mouth. My thighs did more than enough of that for me. Then and before. That’s what got me into this mess. But that’s a story for later.
So, as I was saying. Terry married a slob. Me.
I reserve my judgment of the day until Terry leaves the house for work and Abel skulks off to school. They leave at the same time most days but Terry doesn’t bother to drive his son. Abel wouldn’t accept the ride anyway; his friends have convinced him that it would be social suicide to be seen with a parental. There’s a girl called Karyn who thinks he would make a cool race driver. Abel is 15, she is not, safe to say. He thinks I don’t know what they say about us but the stupid boy hasn’t discovered privacy settings yet. Like father like son.
Terry has his own piece of fluff, hanging onto his every word and stroking his big, fat ego. Her name is Pasha and she obviously doesn’t mind that my husband is a slug of a man. But more on that later.
So. Reserving my judgement. I usually know how my day will go based on who delivers the mail. If it’s the busty redhead with the embellished mole, it will be a wonderful day. She always smiles wide, asks me how the dog is (knowing I have a cat) and totters off on unstable stilettos. She is a badass. But if it’s the small, squinting Indian who always shoos my cat away, it most likely won’t be.
I get the mail, throw the bills onto the dining room table, bin the fast food leaflets and flick through the magazine. It’s not mine, just another addition to Terry’s collection of Wheels Weekly, which he pays for and excuses by accusing me of denting his car. He needs something attractive to keep his spirits up since I apparently put a pole through the bumper of his Mercedes Benz. I have been vehemently denying this fact, even though I did dent it after three homemade mojitos too many and a craving for salty chips. He doesn’t know about this, however - neither the cocktails nor the junk food. I keep this night to myself; a peaceful memory to replay whilst he’s grunting away on top of me, a smile to hide in the folds of his chest. The sound of metal upon impact. The look on his face the next morning.
Now he contemplates his next car in the pages of a sugar-daddy magazine, umming and ahhing over the canary yellows and blood-red crimsons. Terry cannot stand imperfections. Never mind that he is 5 foot nothing (something, or other) and what must be 250 pounds of balding, bitching banality. He sees himself as nothing less than a God. I, personally, see him as a prick. And a bigger one than what he has between his legs. Despite sharing more than the average number of traits with his primitive ancestors, Terry’s teeth are whiter than his skin, his eyebrows are in better shape than mine, and he dimples when he smiles. His weight has always been a sore spot for him; he just cannot shift it. He eats no junk, and everything I cook for him must be additive free, colouring free, gluten free etc etc etc (you can see why Abel dislikes him - the boy didn’t have a cupcake until he was six years old). He goes to the gym at least once a week now, having accepted the fact that even when he was attending four days out of seven, he didn’t drop a single pound.
I look at my husband and I struggle to find...well, anything. If we ever had a spark, it was lost a long time ago. Probably around the time that Abel was born and Terry realised that 1) my vagina was never going to be the same and 2) I was never going to share his enthusiasm for life. He wanted to throw a party for Abel, to show him off to his family but mostly just to create an opportunity to invite his boss and suck up to him. He thought I didn’t know what he was up to, and for a few hours I allowed him this illusion. Only after he had called and booked a hall did I tell him, from the hell that was the backseat of his shitty car, that there was no way in hell I was taking my newborn to a party. He shouted. Abel cried. And I felt any vestige of maternal/wifely love leech out through my thighs, along with post-partum bleeding.
That smile. Haven’t seen that in a long, long time. I wonder if Pasha saw that smile and thought to herself: “I’ve got to have him!” Or whatever it is young women say nowadays. And she certainly is young. Her facebook page shows her age to be 25, and that’s always usually a lie with women who look like her. Long, peroxide platinum hair and heavy eyelashes. She’s either two years younger than that, or two years older. Either way, she’s still in the ballpark of ten years younger than Terry. I wasn’t surprised when I first saw her; she has the kind of figure that shouts ‘unemployment, daddy’s money’. He’s been trying to force me into the gym for years, enrolling me for online courses, having ‘free’ merchandise arrive at our doorstep for me to try. He was always going to end up with Barbie’s hotter sister, it was just a question of when.
I reckon he feels comfortable to take this step (leap, gallop, pirouette) outside of our marriage now that our son is 15. At this age, Terry was ploughing through the female population of his tiny village at an unprecedented rate (according to him). This is an age that he can relate to. This is an age that he believes encompasses maturity, understanding and capability. Emotional stability. Respect. So yes, I can picture Terry walking into his gym on a friday evening, towel flung youthfully over his shoulder, piggy eyes searching for an empty rowing machine. I imagine that he first saw her on an elliptical, her thighs and arms moving as one, pushing, pulling, rising, falling. Eyes glued to her behind, he takes up the machine just one row back from her and clambers on even though its a stationary bike and he hates them.
I imagine that he watches her for weeks but doesn’t, in fact, visit the gym more frequently because seeing her is like a gift and he doesn’t want to overuse it. Not because he doesn’t to give me reason to be suspicious - God forbid he should ever consider me. No, he keeps the evenings that he spends watching her in the back of his mind, and probably thinks of her when he’s jerking off in the bathroom every morning. I hear him, and I turn my back on the noises and fall blissfully asleep, even knowing that he’s with another woman in our shower. And every time he sees her after these episodes, he’s picturing himself on her. I imagine that makes it even sweeter for him; knowing forbidden fruit hangs so round and juicy, so close.
I imagine one day she’s not there when he walks in. He’s disappointed but he reminds himself that she’s young, it’s friday night, and she’s probably out enjoying a few drinks. He gets onto the rowing machine for the first time in months and works out his frustration until he’s sweating into his eyes. He worked out frustration just that morning, all over her chest (which he dreams of daily). But here he is, working it out all over again, a different kind of longing. And then the scent of sweetness distracts him and the bar slams back,just avoiding his fingers. She’s on the rowing machine next to him, her body straining gloriously as she pulls back across it. She doesn’t miss his hiss of pain. Pausing, she turns big eyes towards him and parts her perfectly plump mouth. “Are you okay, babe?”
After this initial conversation, they begin to chat lightly at the gym whenever they have the time. Maybe he waits for her after she’s finished on the elliptical, maybe she waits for him until he’s finished on the treadmill. Maybe they walk to the water dispenser together and he holds her hair back whilst she sips water like a pornstar. At this point, my imagination always goes fuzzy. It’s hard to imagine my husband flirting because he hasn’t flirted with me in over 14 years. So I’m not sure if he touches her back when she passes him, or if he lets his fingers slide across her elbow at the water dispenser. He could be outright making ‘fuck me’ eyes and I would have no idea how to recreate that. So my creativity ends there - at the point when he realises that his son is 15, and a beautiful creature that he has sex with in his mind every day just opened her mouth to speak to him.
Anyway, after I flick through his Wheels Weekly, I ask myself if I want to stress him out today. If I’m feeling feisty and the answer is yes, I hide his magazine, usually under the doormat where he never bothers to look. Abel once found five issues under there. If I have other things on my mind and the answer is no, then I leave the magazine on the table where Terry can find it. I flitter around the house for an hour or two, swallow some oats, make myself a morning shot (usually vodka, but sometimes rum) and fold away some clothes. I get ready for work with a nice buzz in my head and a lightness in my bones that even thinking about my body can’t destroy. As I leave, the cleaner arrives. His name is Prince, and he came from Nigeria only a few months before I hired him. Terry protested; both against having a cleaner in the first place (my job, apparently) and having a male cleaner at that. One look at Prince and he laughed himself out of that headspace. Prince is barely 19, and looks like an skeletal twelve year old. But I liked his polite manner, and so he was the man for the job.
The only joy I get from life is at work. I own a small boutique called Gracy’s, after my mother. She was the one who convinced me at the age of 22 that my fashion sense was impeccable. Everyone had always adored my dress sense, especially when I was a teenager. Plus, my mother could see that I was going nowhere otherwise. I had no skill for academics and school bored me. My grades were average at best and optimistic at worst. My only hope, she taught me, was to make use of my talent. So I saved every last scrap of my wages from the salon I worked at, and she pitched in for the rest. Together we bought a small space across from a crumbling charity shop and below a studio which I lived in for two years. She then blackmailed me to name it after her, even though I paid her investment back within the year.
Gracy’s is a place where I feel at home away from home. I trust my assistant manager to open the store every morning for me, and I get to stroll in during the afternoon. Dylan takes care of the store whilst I deal with the back office stuff, sitting on my arse and drinking great coffee that only he knows how to make. Sometimes he comes in and we have one together, gossiping about the spoilt girls who come in looking for a new identity. We get on well, even though his boyfriend once called me a sunken hope. At the time, I was staring out of the window with a face like thunder, but still.
The real joy comes not from these little tete-a-tetes but from the construction work I’m having done on the roof. I rent out the studio but recently it started to leak through. I called in a favour, expecting a little plumbing, and instead had to fork out for a full re-fit. Terry refused to pay, accusing me of keeping my business separate to spite him - therefore I must deal with it separately. Bastard. I can afford it - my boutique takes very good money - but I like spending his money when I can, to show him that I’m still here, and to annoy him. We never bothered to open a joint account, although I can’t remember if that was my decision or his. I relish watching him fill out a cheque, signing it and gifting it to me. He never gets it back.
I arrive at Gracy’s with big black sunglasses perched atop my nose. It’s cold outside but I drove so that I could wear the new dress I’ve ordered into the store. Black bodycon with straps across the torso, it’s a little bit more risque than I’m used to wearing but it’s a special occasion so I risked it. My knee high boots make sharp noises on the floor I pay so much to professionally clean, and I let my hair fall down my back. It took me an hour to detangle it this morning, knotted from my slothenly behaviour over the weekend, and tease it into soft curls. I wanted it to fall just so across my-
“Tits!” Dylan calls, his eyes wide. “Nova, you have tits!”
I flip him the middle finger and make a point of sweeping past his perch on the counter. Secretly I am happy that he has noticed. Yes, Dylan, I have tits. And if even he is noticing how fantastic they are, then God only knows-
He has followed me into the office where I’m throwing my bag at the desk. I can’t bend in this dress without cutting off my circulation but beauty is pain. I haven’t looked presentable in months and the act of making myself so has nearly exhausted me. There was hair in places no one should ever have hair. He can see this, that I have made an effort. His eyes narrow, making his face resemble a prune. “I know what you’re doing.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Dee. There’s a customer waiting.” I look pointedly towards the shop floor where the door chime rang. We can both see from the CCTV by the door that a young mother is flicking through the racks. She picks up a pink slip, fingers the silk, and balks at the price tag. Not a potential customer then, but something to take Dylan away from me anyway. He rolls his eyes and leaves.
Finally given privacy, I duck into the bathroom and remove my glasses. My eyes are slightly red from my late night binge (Terry’s scotch) but I countered that with a full face of makeup. I don’t look so old with the most expensive foundation in my arsenal slathered over my skin. I purse my mouth and note how it makes my cheeks hollow. The only thing more depressing than the fact that I don’t know how my husband flirts is that I don’t know how I flirt. Practise makes perfect, and has been making perfect.
When I click my way to the back of the store and outside into the small space we call a garden, it’s into an arena of noise. It can be reached from the studio above using a rusty, curving staircase. It’s more of a thought than an actual garden but I always advertise is an ‘intimate setting in the shade, with lots of fresh air for smokers’. Dylan calls me a swindler but I’m just smart. The tenants - usually short term students - are never really bothered once they see it and realise they’ve been had. The ones that actually speak English usually just make hand gestures and call it something along the lines of a ‘joke’.
Now, the roof is encased in scaffolding and two men hang off it like luminescent monkeys. They’re scraping away, at a tile or something, and laughing together over the sound. I raise my hand to my eyes to block out the sunlight as I squint up at them. Noticing me, they wave politely and I deflate. He isn’t up there. I smile back and start to head inside, wondering if it would be odd to change into the onesie I have stuffed under my desk. For emergencies.
A pair of arms slide around my waist and a firm chest is pushed against my back. It makes me jump before the familiar scent of wood and paint calms my nerves. I turn around to kiss the lips I’ve been thinking about all morning. It’s rough, hard, hot. Stubble presses against my skin and rubs my bottom lip raw. I let my hands flutter across broad shoulders, wrap them around wide biceps.
“Nova,” he whispers against me, breathing into me. “You are stunning.”
“This old thing?” I scoff.
Adam’s light eyes glitter back at me, young and wise at the same time. Then he’s kissing me again, and this time there is no breathing, just tongue and teeth and holding. We’re inside my office before I even realise he’s dragged me in there, and the door is locked with an expert finger. I’m tossing my hair back to see him clearly as he turns back towards me. And his eyes are everywhere. We first met a month ago when he came to provide a quote for the building work. I was expecting the Jennings of Jennings and Sons - instead I got one of the Sons. Since then, he has only ever seen me in loose trousers, flats, hair tied back, minimal makeup if at all. Young and thick, with gemstones for eyes and a mouth like a wound, Adam pursued me anyway. Today I decided to treat him. God knows he put the work in.
He takes a handful of my hair and tugs on it, watching a shiver roll through me. He knows how I like it by now. His other hand grabs my behind, pulls me to his body. I fling his hi-vis vest at the door, followed by his tattered shirt, and bury my face into the soft skin beneath. He smells like sweat and metal and hard work; something I find myself missing at night. When I end up on the desk, I’m not expecting it, and a huge swath of oxygen is cut out of my diaphragm. He takes my gasp as a sign of pleasure - which it would have been, if I could breathe. He’s panting into my chest, biting and suckling. I’m trying not to pass out from a heady mixture of pleasure and oxygen deprivation.
Before long, it’s no longer an issue. My dress is on the floor, my legs on either side of his tapered waist as he settles between my thighs. I’m curvier than most and he has a lot of real estate to grip. He flicks a nail under my french knickers, brand new from Ann Summers, they give me a certain sex appeal I didn’t know I had. He gazes into my eyes and I can see the heat. “For me?” he smirks. He’s young and he likes to talk. I’ve never had sex with him and I’m about to change that. When I think about it later, I don’t want to remember his words unless they contain the words ‘fuck’ and ‘you’.
I push my tongue into his mouth and slide my hand into his jeans. That takes care of that.
Adam’s brother shouts at him when he finally stumbles from my office, sweat pouring off his forehead. I tell him that Adam was explaining the finances of their recent order and that it took so long because I’m terrible at maths. Oh, also it’s really warm in my office. The brother is older, older even than me, and looks sceptical. He walks off without comment, however, and Adam takes the chance to slide his hand between my legs again. We both know what he’s searching for and he finds it. His wonder is refreshing. Terry doesn’t find anything down there interesting, and as far as I’m concerned, never has. What I just experienced with Adam was otherworldly. If Terry has sex like that with Pasha, how could I possibly hate him?
When I shut the store, the brothers have gone home for the night and Dylan is already halfway to the pub with his boyfriend. I sit in the office, gazing at the desk, the space where I defiled young, young Adam. He’s only a few years my junior but he has such an optimistic view of the world that it’s hard to remember that. The first time he laid one of those strong hands on my body, it was in our small kitchen. I was making coffee for the boys, hoping to use it as an excuse to be in their presence for a few minutes. There’s something about the smell of men at work that really gets to me. I wasn’t expecting Adam to follow me down to the kitchen but he did, with the promise of bringing biscuits back for his brothers.
I felt his eyes on me as I scooped sugar into pristine mugs, but I distracted myself by wondering if the handles were wide enough for their thick hands. They’re a big-boned Greek family, on the mother’s side. Her sons are built like houses, with thick dark hair and broad features. Except for Adam, who has the physique but much more delicate features. I reached for the milk and found myself being restrained. He had wrapped his fingers around my arm. I admit, it sent a thrill through me feeling the contained power in his grip.
He shook his head. “No milk, thank you.”
After that, he seemed to take my lack of complaint as an invitation. Every time he passed me, his hand would find its way to the small of my back, or drifting along my arm, touching my shoulders as he joked or pulling me away from a teetering tile by the hand. I didn’t protest, and I certainly didn’t want to. And then came the day, not even a week ago, when it changed. They all left and I locked up the store, as I always do. I headed out back to check their tools were secured in the shed and Adam was suddenly there.
He didn’t waste time with words, not then. He was in front of me and then he was on me, pressing me closer, kissing me. I didn’t know what to do, I was so shocked. I had been dreaming of his hands for weeks and now here they were, all over my body. The air was chilly but my goosebumps were for him. He tasted like bubblegum and coffee, and his touch was so gentle as to be nonexistent. So I bit him, and relished his gasp. He wasn’t used to that, to women taking charge. The next time he kissed me, he wrapped his hand around my throat and squeezed just hard enough that I had to clench my thighs. He got into it fast, and was holding me against the wall before soon, one thigh between my legs, one hand under my blouse.
Adam Jennings: the perfect distraction in my life.
When I get home, Abel is playing loud music from his room. His father is in the kitchen, sweating all over the tiles. He’s been jogging and his golden skin shines through the dri-fit shirt pasted to his back. He pays enough for his fake tan that it endures everyday tasks, sweat, and nuclear warfare. He glugs water from the fridge like a rhino and I stand against the door, and just watch him. It’s not that he disgusts me, or even that I dislike him. I am just indifferent to him. He’s like a fly that you know is there, and if it comes into your way you might swat it, otherwise you just pretend it isn’t there.
“Jesus, Nova. Where the hell is the rest of your dress?”
I look down and realise I’m still wearing the strappy bodycon. Terry is just as surprised as I am. All I can feel is Adam, all over my body, draped over my skin like a coat. I’d completely forgotten clothes. Terry’s eyes are wide, his mouth open. I shrug. “It’s from the boutique.”
“Take it off. You look like mutton dressed like lamb,” he shakes his head.
24 hours ago, his comment might have made my stomach sink a little. 24 hours ago, I might have resented that comment and let it fester for a few days. But 24 hours later, and I feel rejuvenated. I have had a 28 year old inside me, and he likes mutton. I smile at Terry, noting how the movement of my lips across my teeth cause him to flinch. He remembers what my teeth can do, as I do too and fondly. Stepping into the kitchen, I reach for the zip along the side of the dress. A few seconds and the material is a puddle on the floor. Terry’s sputtering as the artful glow of our lighting picks out the hollows and curves of my body. He’s never seen underwear like this - not on me. I continue to approach him, slowly, letting the stiletto of one boot hit the floor in front of the other.
“Nova!” he hisses, eyes darting to the kitchen door. But they always come back to me. He can’t stop staring at the way my underwear curves around my hips, how it cups my chest. I always wondered if Pasha wears lingerie for him but now I know that she doesn’t. Or if she does, she doesn’t know how to choose the right kind.
“What’s the matter, Terry?” I smirk.
He backs away from me, scrabbling for the fridge door so he doesn’t hit his head. When I’m nose to nose with him, his breath fans across my cheeks. He had some of the leftover macaroni I left for Abel. This close, I can see the crow’s feet in the corners of his eyes. I smile again, and let my mouth sink to his shoulder. I’m gentle with him, knowing that he’s sensitive, that his skin bruises easily. My tongue picks up salt and lemon on his skin. When I dip it into his mouth, he pushes me away. His chest is rising heavily.
“Get a grip. Abel could walk in at any moment,” he yells.
“He knows what sex is,” I laugh.
Terry steps away from me, disgust curling his every feature. I lean against the counter, feeling Adam at my back, imagining what angle he would take me against our kitchen island.
“Sometimes I just don’t get you, Nova.” Terry spits. “I’m going to bed.”
Still smiling, delighted with his reaction, I spin on my heel. I know he’s staring at my back as I undo my bra and drop it onto the floor. I peer over my shoulder, coy, sexy. “Not even from the back, Terry?”
He practically roars. When he stomps out of the kitchen, I dissolve into a fit of giggles, chest pressed against the cold granite of the counter. I chose the design for the entire kitchen when we bought this house. Who would have thought I’d leave an imprint of my breasts in the condensation?
My antics have cheered me up, although I don’t quite know what Adam has done to me. But at least one thing is confirmed to me now. Terry is in love with his little girlfriend. He’ll have sex with me to keep up appearances and to maintain the pretence of our marriage...but he won’t do it for pleasure. And Terry is a lot of things but a martyr is not one of them. This piece of information makes me happier than I could have ever imagined. I hook my clothes over one arm and stroll up to our bedroom in my knickers. Abel’s music is no longer playing and I can only imagine his father has something to do with that.
The next day, Terry is up before me. He’s avoiding me. I wish I could tell him that he doesn’t need to bother; I don’t crave his flabby body any more than he craves my pale one. My girlish giggles and spontaneous strip-tease was for my own benefit, not his. He rushes off before I can even muster up the energy to open my eyes. I get dressed to the sounds of old school garage, letting the window wide to air the room out. It smells like his aftershave and it’s making me feel queasy. I have a distinct aroma in mind, and it isn’t the scent of expensive sandalwood.
Abel is in the kitchen when I finally totter downstairs. He stares at me as I grab two mugs from the cupboard. “Coffee?” I ask him.
His father doesn’t allow him to drink it, claiming it will stunt his growth, but I see the empty starbucks cups in his wastepaper bin. He likes cappuccinos, though he tells Karyn that he likes plain Americanos. I’m always tempted to tell him he needn’t bother: no one likes an Americano. Karyn definitely cares more about his music taste than what coffee he likes. But if my teenage son knew I was spying on him, he would probably kill himself. He threatens that a lot, and he has my determination; he would do it just to spite me, if I pushed him to it.
He takes the coffee, suspicious, and takes a sip. I made it extra frothy for him, and added cinnamon. The only thing better than our dishwasher is our coffee machine. It has seven settings and fills two mugs at the same time. I bought it with Terry’s money and enjoyed the look of constipation on his face when I told him how much it cost. Abel closes his eyes at the taste of scrumptious, sugary badness.
“Dad will freak,” he warns.
“I won’t tell him if you don’t.”
I sit opposite Abel, trying not to look down at the counter where I pressed my breasts last night. I look at my son instead, at his unruly dark hair and spotty skin. When his face clears up, he will be handsome. He is already the same height as his father, and has a natural leanness to his features, from my side. His eyes are dark, but his lashes are long and thick. Karyn better hope she can handle the stress when he matures. He will be a heartbreaker. He smiles now, the first one I’ve seen in months, and gulps down his coffee.
“Are you going to take me to school?” he asks and I nearly fall out of my chair.
“Me?” I’m struck dumb by surprise.
He scowls, like the 15 year old that he is. “No, the coffee machine.”
“I’m sure she can get into the driver’s seat, if we push.” The joke surprises a laugh out of him. It breaks halfway through and he looks away out of embarrassment. I changed his nappies for years and he still thinks this is embarrassing. “You don’t usually like me to, Abe.”
“Well, you’re like...” he gestures at me. “You look cool today. Not like...” he trails off, releasing this isn’t the best sentence to finish. “I mean, I don’t mind.”
I grin, not even caring that he was about to insult me. I know what I looked like. I know what I felt like. Before Adam. BA. Like the coming of Christ. And Christ, did he come.
My car is not as flashy as my husband’s; it’s almost eight years old, but I keep it maintained and clean. Abel piles in, throwing his tatty bag into the backseat. He’s wearing his uniform like a hoodrat, his shirt untucked and trainers with his trousers.
“What do you do with your allowance?” I ask, glancing at his bag. “That’s the same bag I bought you three years ago.”
How I have not noticed this before is beyond me. It’s more hole than material, and covered with badges. He looks guilty. “I-”
“Do not tell me you’ve been giving it to a girl or something.”
“What?” he laughs. My son’s laugh is lovely, light and without judgement. ”No. I save it.”
I can’t help but turn in my seat to face him, and narrowly avoid swerving into another car. He yells and I right the car quickly. But I glance back at him to gauge whether he’s lying to me. “Saving it? For three years? Abe, you would have thousands.”
“Seven thousand, to be exact.”
This time I take no chances. I park the car down a side road and turn to face him. “Abel, what the hell do you need seven thousand pounds for?”
He shrugs. “Dad told me to save it. He said I need to learn money management from a young age because no one taught him when he was my age and he had to build everything he owns by himself.”
“He said when I hit 18, if I can’t pay rent then you would see no need to keep me around.”
I narrow my eyes. I can feel my nails indenting the wheel but it’s hard not to do that when I’m imagining that it’s Terry’s neck. “Abel, I would never kick you out. Never. And that money is yours. You don’t owe it back to us, not a penny of it.”
He stares, not sure if I’m tricking him or not. It makes me wonder what kind of head games my husband has been playing with his son. The sneaky, slimy, son-of-a-bitch.
“Mum, you’re swearing.”
I shake my head to clear some of the anger. I haven’t felt any emotions towards that man for years. It’s strange to have to do this at all. I have been numb almost since giving birth. It wasn’t anything that I could control, although I certainly did try. I tried drugs, I tried alcohol, even writing. Small dents, nothing conclusive. Now, the burn in my chest is a welcome and long-lost sensation. The last time I can even remember being angry with Terry would be just after I realised I was pregnant. I didn’t want an abortion and it was against his beliefs so he promised to wholeheartedly support me through my decision. We tried hard to make it work but it was difficult; he was working ridiculous hours at the office and I was trying to keep my boutique afloat.
One day he came over to my studio and brought food with him. He was going to cook for me. He promised a meal of pasta and steak, something special for someone special - his words. Halfway through, he burned the pasta. Instead of laughing it off and boiling another pot, he threw the pasta at the cooker and swore for a whole minute. I tried to calm him down, reassuring him it was just pasta. Those were the days when the touches came easily and it was nothing for me to kiss him. But for Terry, failure was never an option, not in anything. He started on another pot but he was in a foul mood the whole night. That night was the same one I told him that I was 100% keeping our baby. Through a scowl, he told me that he was glad, and that he hoped our daughter could cook better than the both of us. It was a joke - I knew - but the comment irritated me. I didn’t speak to him for the rest of the evening and he left, slamming the door.
He has a habit of pressing his expectations onto other people. He does it in a way that suffocates, moulds, changes. I never allowed him to do this to me, which is why it didn’t take him long to grow to resent me. Manipulation was always his talent; it allowed him to move through the ranks in his company and brought him to success. And not once did he ever get me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I didn’t accept his jokes, not the misogynist ones, not the homophobic ones, not the double-edged ones. His ego is big and every chuckle he gains only makes it worse.
I turn to Abel, sighing. “I’m sorry. That money is yours, okay? Go and spend some of it. Be a normal teenager.”
“Well, there is this girl...”
The store is busy today. The Ascot is coming up and the rich, white women are searching for something unique. Dylan has rota’d in a cheery girl called Sarah to man the till whilst he circles the floor. She sees me and nearly looks right past me. I am greeted with another open-mouthed wave. It’s amazing what a shower and a curling wand can do for you.
The first thing I do is gather three coffees on a tray, a pack of rich tea biscuits and some hand wipes. The boys are hard at work and only the sound of my shoes on the metal staircase alert them to my presence. The oldest looks up and sees the tray. I suspect that the joy on his face is not for the coffee but for the low-cut top I am wearing. He takes the tray and lowers it to a makeshift table they’ve created out of the redundant chimney.
“Thanks, Mrs Lloyd.”
“Nova,” I murmur, my gaze falling across Adam.
He cuts me into pieces with his eyes, letting me know exactly which parts of my body he wants to touch. It’s all I can do to remain on my feet. I smile at the younger brother, gesturing to him to help himself to the tray.
“How’s it going?” I ask.
Adam answers. “No wind today so it’s been easier,” he grins.
I’m staring at his adam’s apple as I reply. I want to nibble on it. “Have you taken lunch yet?”
The oldest one answers, a biscuit crunching between his teeth. “Not yet, just trying to get to a stubborn nail.”
“You should take it soon. I don’t want any starving men on the job,” I joke.
“I’m ravenous.” Adam says this and butterflies erupt in my chest. The sensation is so visceral that I stumble a little. They all reach out to steady me but it’s his warmth that I lean into. He lingers a fraction too long and not long enough.
“Right,” I clap. “That’s decided then. Lunch time, boys. I insist.”
The brothers disappear down the staircase, leaving behind Adam who claims he needs to find his phone in the debris. Barely two minutes pass before I’m letting us into the studio and we’re stumbling over dust sheets, falling onto the bare mattress. The sheets are laundered but even if they weren’t I wouldn’t care. I want him more than air. I’m crawling over him, drawing heat from his body like a storm. He’s whispering compliments into my ear, telling me how beautiful I am, how much he wants me. He’s shuddering under the scrape of my nails, groaning at every bite.
I sit on top of him and stare down into his face. Beautiful. He’s the beautiful one.
“It’s like you’ve never been touched,” he suddenly frowns when I almost fall apart in his arms.
“What do you mean?” I pant.
“Exactly what I just said.”
“If this is how I’m supposed to feel, then I suppose I never have been.”
He strokes a hand across my cheekbone. “He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
“But I do now.”
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