I always said that I didn’t want children until I was thirty. I figured that it was best to get my life in order first with a secure job, nice house and healthy savings account before having to provide for another human being, but life has a way of throat punching your plans.
Although loving to me, Lewis, my daughter’s father, wasn’t the most maternal person, often passing opportunities to spend time with his nephews for his friends, skipping on birthdays, Christmases, or any family gathering in general, really.
A deep thinker, he could get lost in his thoughts for hours, making it hard for the people around him to get a conversation longer than two minutes. It’s what I loved about him. I could sit and listen to him all day. And, I often did, laying in his arms while he explained why we needed to sharpen up for our planet, and how he thought everyone needed more holiday time at work.
His brain didn’t work like ours, it took things to the extremes. Passionate is one word I’d use to describe him. He fiercely cared about what he loved, which is very rare these days. It’s something that I want to instil in Emily. I want her to know that her opinion counts and her dreams will come true.
It’s been sixteen months without him, and I’ve been barely breathing. The shock of his death is still very raw in my mind. Nightmares so vivid they plague me every night, my senses on fire when I wake in a petrified mess. It’s as if it’s happening again, and it’s driving me insane.
A tiny hand pushing at my chin knocks me out of my wallowing. Emily is asleep on my chest as it seems the train journey is a little too much for her to handle. It’s an early one, as I didn’t want to have the time to overthink it and chicken out. We’re headed to York where my best friend, Yasmin, lives with her husband, Matt.
The last time we saw one another was a few months after the funeral, and I was in no mind to remember much of it. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been a really shitty friend over these recent months. Angry. I said things I didn’t mean, wishing I could’ve taken the words back as soon as they left my mouth.
I missed their wedding day, the sight of them, or anyone happy eating me alive from the inside. I was in an incredibly dark place, not recognising the person I’d become. I was blaming everyone around me for my sadness, not able to come to terms with my reality. Pregnant, and alone — I had nobody.
Or so I thought.
Yasmin didn’t make my self-destruction easy. All the missed calls turned into unannounced visits, and the more I shut her out, the harder she pushed her way in. At one point my depression got so bad that I couldn’t physically pull myself out of bed, but she was there for me, booking time off work to make sure that I was looked after through the pregnancy until I moved into my grandma’s empty house to escape her.
The brain is such a complex organ. It can do both amazing and terrible things. I’m just grateful that I finally saw the light, and got the help I needed before it was too late. The moment Emily’s cries filled my ears, it changed me. It wasn’t just me now. There was a defenceless baby also.
A baby that I was so scared to see, because if she looked like him, then it was game over for me. But it wasn’t true. Seeing Lewis in her only brought me joy. The painful type that still severs your heart, but joy none the less. Emily is all him, and I cherish it.
“Excuse me, that’s my seat,” a very masculine voice says, a hand coming into my line of vision as he points to the empty window seat beside me.
I almost swallow my tongue at the sight of him. Tall, he towers over me with his shoulders hunched, so his floppy, mucky blonde hair falls into his blue eyes. It’s the type of blue that I’d buy in my jeans, only brighter as his face lights up in a smile.
I get up and hold Emily close to my chest. “Sure.”
“Thanks,” he replies, shoving his coat and overnight bag into the cabinets above the seats, sliding into his seat with a laptop in hand.
It seems Emily is curious too as she turns her head to the side with a slight frown, thumb in her mouth as she watches his every move. It’s kind of hard not to as he gives her a tiny wave to which she stares at him harder.
He glances her way. “Hey there, beautiful.”
Emily turns her face into my chest before looking back at him. “Mum, Mum.”
I stroke back her light brown curls from her face. “Say hello, Emmy.”
She chooses to ignore me.
“I think she’s shy,” he says, giving off a gentle chuckle.
Deciding to take back my seat when an old man tries to get past me, I move her so she can look around the carriage. “Oh, believe me, she isn’t.”
He gives another wave. “Maybe it’s me.”
At that, Emily gives him a bit of a smile. “Bababababa!”
Here she is.
He laughs. “I think I spoke too soon.”
The backs of her legs move up and down, chubby cheeks spreading as her smile grows.
I pull down her dress when it shows off her frilly knickers. “It takes her a moment to suss someone out sometimes. Then she’s your best friend for life.”
The softness in his eyes is slightly off-putting, my chest going tight all of a sudden. “She’s lovely.”
I smile, trying to restrain her body when she becomes determined to launch into his lap. “Thanks, we think so too, but we’re biased.”
There’s no we at all, but for some reason, I feel the need to protect myself, so a ‘we’ sounds good right now.
Pulling open his laptop, he presses a few buttons until the screen lights up. “I’m not the best at working on the train, but I need to get this done if I want to enjoy my weekend,” he says, pulling out a pair of tortoiseshell eyeglasses.
“Oh, so you’re travelling for business?” I say, managing to get Emily to sit still when I pull out her soft cloth reading book.
He nods his head. “Yeah, well, for the most part. I’m heading up to visit my friend after my meeting. There’s always alcohol involved with him, so I’m playing it safe.”
“I don’t blame you.”
Emily turns to the page that makes a crinkling noise, shaking it in the air until the guy sitting next to us has to catch it. I don’t get the chance to warn him that now he’ll be having to play the pass it game. It can go on for hours, she never gets tired of dropping the book in your lap so you can give it back over for her to throw it right back.
“Are you going anywhere nice?” he says, laying the book in Emily’s lap.
I take in a lungful of air, not sure how today is going to play out. I’m turning up unannounced, and they’ll do one of two things. Slam the door in my face, or hug me so tight that I can’t breathe. I really hope it’s the latter. I have a lot of making up to do.
I let my eyes wander to the train window to see the passing steelworks as we pull up at Scunthorpe station. “I’m headed to York. I’m catching up with family.”
“Ah, nice one,” he says, jumping when Emily lets out a high-pitched squeal, her body slipping out of my arms to flop on to his lap, hands going straight to the window to press her face up against the glass.
I go to grab her. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s fine.”
Emily refuses to leave him, her hands banging on the glass as the two women sitting on the train station bench wave at her. “Ahhhhh!”
I watch her bang the glass another time. “I told you that you’d be her best friend.”
He tries to save his laptop when it slips from the tray at the back of the seat in front of him, my arm going out to stop it from crashing on the floor. I don’t get the chance to put it back when his hand touches my arm, and I jolt as if he shocked me, feeling sick to my stomach as tears rush to my eyes unannounced.
I grab Emily from his lap as he goes to collect the laptop from the floor. “I’m sorry.”
He puts it back in its place, and I see a sticky label on the top that reads: JAMIE. “It’s all right. It’s a bit cramped in here, isn’t it?”
“Just a bit.”
We’re quiet for the next three stops, him typing away on his laptop while I try to keep Emily entertained with toys and snacks, wrestling with her when she tries to show the guy, or Jamie, whatever I give her. I keep checking my Trainline app to guess what time we’ll be pulling into the station, needing to be ready at the doors for when we pull in.
The crossover time is short and hauling around luggage and an eleven-month-old baby is hard. At the five minute mark, I clear up all of our mess, standing up to grab my gym bag from the compartment, seeing my handbag has skidded to the back. Emily is wrapping her fingers in my hair when I get up on to my tippy toes, almost knocking me off balance with the force of her tugs.
I close my eyes, pulling my head away from her. “No hair pulling, baby.”
Jamie is removing his glasses when I’m almost ready to head for the doors near the luggage rack, seeing that other passengers have the same idea. “′ Bye then.”
I give him a small smile. “See you.”
I know Emily is waving to him over my shoulder, but I don’t look back, too caught up with my thoughts. One step at a time. I need to get my best friend back.