I walk first into the café, Lucy and Cindy right behind me. As I step in, I freeze. So many people, I don’t know what he looks like anymore. Then Lucy nudges me and with her chin points toward a table at the back. A handsome, lean and tall man is getting up, looking straight at me and smiling. I know that smile. Even if the features have changed, he is still my baby. We rush toward each other and collide in a tight embrace. I hide my face in his strong chest and hold him tight. The smell of Kyle. I would recognise it anywhere.
‘Mum.’ He whispers in my hair, and my lips break into a smile while my eyes well up. I suppose these are called tears of joy. I push back.
‘Let me look at you.’
I gaze into the ocean-blue eyes I know so well. We stare at each other, not really sure how to move on from here, until Cindy, as always, saves the day.
‘And where’s my hug, you scoundrel!’
‘Auntie Cindy!’ He envelops her in his arms.
‘Hey, we’d better get the drinks. Can you help me, auntie?’
Lucy and Cindy trot off to the counter, and leave us, but only for a second.
‘Erm sorry, but what would you two like?’ Lucy is back for our orders.
‘I know I owe you all an explanation and it’s long overdue. I’ve missed you all terribly.’
‘I’ve looked for you everywhere, you know?’ I butt in, unable to stop myself from letting him know that his presence had been so sorely missed all these years.
‘I know, mum, but I didn’t want to be found. I followed a bit of what was going on in your lives by checking Lucy’s social media. When I was finally ready to get back in touch, I found out you moved to Sri Lanka. I didn’t want to spoil your dream, and I kept quiet for a bit longer.’
‘But where have you been? What have you done?’
‘What you really want to ask me, mum, is why did I leave? Right?’ He couldn’t have been more right.
‘I left because I was stupid and selfish, and I was full of myself. I got in with a bad crowd, and I didn’t want to be nagged at by you or shouted at by dad. I thought I knew best and that my friends had all the answers. I started using drugs, and I didn’t want you to interfere in my life.’
My expression must have dropped, as he takes my hand and with a cheery voice continues.
‘I’m well clear of all that stuff now, mum. I’ve grown up and mended my ways, you’ll see.’
‘So where did you go? What happened?’ Cindy can’t contain her curiosity and Kyle carries on.
‘I went to London first, where things got really rough. I hung around with a bad crowd and then made friend with a guy from Australia. He was going back home, so I decided to go with him, to put some distance between me and the rough life I was leading.’
‘You didn’t tell me you went to Ozzy, you jammy…’
‘Lucy, let him continue!’
‘Sorry mum, carry on jammy!’
‘I stayed there nearly two years. The environment was a blessing. I had to work hard on farms to earn my keep and was far enough from any temptation to be able to get clean. I also got fit and met some amazing people. I also found Julie, who helped me immensely.’
‘Julie, eh? Do tell!’
‘Yes, Julie is my best friend. You’ll meet her when she’s back in the UK. She is half English and half French, like you, mum.’ He smiles and winks at me.
‘I followed her to India. We went to some incredible places and ended up spending six months in a monastery. I then got back to the UK.’
‘So, you’ve been back in the UK since? Here in Reading?’
I don’t know what I feel, but the thought of him being so near and yet so far is comforting and painful at the same time.
‘When I got back to the UK, you were leaving for your adventure. I didn’t want to stop you.’ And he looks straight into my eyes. ‘I wish I had now.’
I look down at my hands, not knowing what to say and he picks up his story
‘No, I went to Brighton, did a degree in counselling and carried on with my yoga practice. I then went back to India to qualify as an instructor.’
Lucy senses that things must be made lighter.
‘My brother the hippy! What an unbelievable transformation!’
And Kyle continues his easy story-telling.
‘In a way, yes. And because I’ve managed to change so much and to find my calling, I want to help. That’s why I’m in Reading now. I’m working for a charity that helps young people in trouble. I know I can help, and I love it!’
It’s so odd just to sit here and listen to this young man speak. He is my baby boy, but he is not. He has changed so much, but I’m so glad to see I was right about his caring nature. His face is relaxed, and he starts joking with Lucy. As if these long six years have never happened, they are comfortable with each other. Both grown-ups now, but both still the kids who grew up so close together.
I just sit there watching them. Memories of the past two years are kept at bay, and I’m grateful for the respite.
‘You need to call dad.’
‘I know and I will. I just wanted to see you first. I didn’t want you to hear about me from him. Mum?’
‘I know I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. I’m here for you now.’ He takes my hand and squeezes it tight.
As we are ready to leave, I get a feeling of dread in my stomach. But it’s not for long. Kyle has promised to come over next weekend, and he will not disappear again. I can rest assured he will still be around tomorrow.
I latch on to him in a long embrace, forcing myself to let him go.
I sit in silence the whole way back. Lucy and Cindy are chatting away. They respect my silence. I just want to wallow in this happy feeling that has taken over me so suddenly and so surprisingly. I have my boy back.
It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I don’t have to grieve for Kyle any more. No more guilty feelings, and longing and wondering where he is and how he is. He is okay, and he is awesome!
Now I can concentrate on fighting the way I still long for Kiri. I need to let him go. I need to heal.