If you told me that I would be spending my thirtieth birthday alone, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. The old me loved to party. I threw myself into any event, always being the last one to leave, but things changed.
I prefer to be inside these days.
I relish in the safety of my home.
Even if my parents are throwing the party of all parties. I’ll let them spoil my sister, and hear all about it tomorrow when she pops over with the twins for a duvet day.
Sudden loud footsteps are echoing on the floorboards above me, which means George is ready to show me his birthday present—a handmade one.
My heart could barely stand it when he told me so.
My sweet baby boy.
“Mum, I’m ready now,” he shouts down in an excited tone.
My smile hurts as I climb up from the sofa. “I’m on my way, buddy.”
“Hurry up, please,” he says back, which causes my step to speed across the carpet.
I’m at the top step when he comes over to tug me towards his bedroom door. “And you tidied your room? It must be my birthday.”
George laughs. “It’ll be the only time I do it.”
Isn’t that the truth.
“No, we still have our chore chart, remember? You won’t get your treats otherwise,” I reply, going to sit on his semi-neatly made bed when he points to it.
His shoulders go up and down. “I know. So, close your eyes.”
“And, put your hands out in front of you,” he whispers.
My hands float outwards.
George places the cold object on the palms of my hands. “Open your eyes.”
“Oh, it’s beautiful, baby,” I say when my gaze falls on what looks to be a hand-painted pot aeroplane.
He plonks himself beside me on the bed. “It’s a special plane. You can hold it whenever you get scared, and it will grant you one wish!”
Uncontrollable tears push to the surface as my chest aches in the best of ways. “Oh, Georgie, my sweet boy. I love you.”
Letting him see me at my worst is my biggest regret. If I got my time again, I would’ve shielded him from it all.
Let him be a child with no worries.
Give him the life of his cousins.
He falls into my arms. “It’s okay, mum, I love you too.”
I bury my nose in his dark blonde, messy hair to bring in his scent. It comforts me instantly. “So, show me how this magic stuff works again.”
George is obsessed with everything concerning the word: Magic. There’s an enormous box downstairs that contains several packs of playing cards, wands, plastic cups, and metal arm rings, to name a few.
It’s his passion, and I couldn’t be prouder.
George takes the clay model from my hands to rub the top of the left wing, muttering a long word that I don’t catch. “Here, now you try. Rub the place I just did, and tell it your biggest fear right now.”
I do as he says, muttering, “I’m worried that TGIFriday’s will have sold out of mozzarella sticks when we go next Saturday.”
He giggles. “It’s the worst when that happens. They’re our favourite thing on the menu.”
I gasp for effect. “I just got a tiny shock from the side of the plane. Does that mean it’s working?”
The ends of his thick eyebrows turn inward. “Yes, wow, it must be really powerful. Use it wisely, mum.”
My lips tipped up at the edges. “I will, buddy. Did you decide what you wanted to wear for the party?”
Just because I’m petrified of big spaces and lots of people, doesn’t mean I’m going to let my son miss out.
George climbs off the bed to stroll over to his wardrobe with such effortless grace. “I was thinking of my black jeans and my band t-shirt. Can I wear my converse too?”
“Yeah,” I reply, knowing I’ll be fighting a losing battle if I suggest a buttoned-down shirt. “Why don’t you wear a coloured pair, so it’s not so dark.”
He bends down to forage towards the back of his wardrobe, pulling out the customised pair my parents commissioned for him for his birthday last year. “These okay?”
I love the different graffiti patterns against the white leather hi-tops. “Perfecto. I’ll give you a minute to get ready and then I’ll do your hair for you.”
“I can gel my hair now. Uncle Dexter showed me how,” he says, forcing an uneasiness into my gut. He’s growing up too fast.
I don’t let my feelings show. “Ah, right, well, okay then. Call if you need me.”
The door slams shut behind me. “Thanks mum!”
Aeroplane in hand, I make the way back downstairs to attempt to clean up a bit, not understanding how or when I let it get so disorganised again. It’s not as if the mess happens overnight, but it definitely overwhelms me, and if I weren’t so anxious about letting strangers into the house, then I’d hire a cleaner in a heartbeat.
How can I tell George to tidy his room, when I rarely clean up after myself?
I’m such a fraud.
Setting to it, I manage to pick up the dirty glasses, rearrange the cushions on the couch, and put away the magazines and books before Edward knocks at the door for George twenty minutes later. I’m still dressed in my lounge set from this morning, and my greasy hair is swept back off my face, but I really couldn’t care less.
“Happy Birthday,” he cheers, wrapping me up in his arms as Delilah and the kids shout at me from the car.
I wave over his shoulder. “Thanks. George is still okay to stay over at yours tonight, right? He’s been looking forward to it all week.”
He kisses the side of my head, but I step back on instinct. The usual hurt look flashing across his face. “Yes, that’s fine. Beau’s looking forward to it too.”
“Great,” I say, spinning around at the same time that George hits the last step with his overnight bag in his hand. “You all ready, buddy?”
George buts fists with Edward. “Yeah, I packed my jacket because you forgot to and I’ll need it for football on Sunday.”
I pulled a face at my brother. “Good thinking. So I’ll see you in a few days then.”
Like he always does, George wraps his arms around my waist for a beat or two before running in the direction of the Range Rover. Not too cool for his mama just yet.
Edward watches him go, before turning to me with a deep-set frown that shows off the creases now forming in his skin. “You should be there.”
I step back into the house. “I’m fine celebrating on my own. I prefer it.”
“You’re turning thirty. It’s a big deal.”
My laugh turns shaky as I grip onto the edge of the door. “I don’t like celebrating the fact that I’m getting older.”
“You’re a baby.”
“I’m not. I should have everything together by now,” I reply, wanting to slam the door in his face when I spot Delilah making her way over here.
Edward lets out a loud laugh. “You’re kidding, right? I’m almost forty, and still don’t have a clue at times.”
Delilah pushes past Edward to get to me. “Here’s our gorgeous birthday girl. Can I come in? I’m bursting for the loo.”
A hand restricts my throat when I know that she’ll have to step over the clothes on the landing and probably judge me for leaving the toothpaste marks on the sink.
“No, you can’t,” I say harsher than I meant to, causing her to stop mid-step.
Edward frowns down at me. “Laine, come on.”
“I said no!”
This is escalating. I never meant to raise my voice, and now I’m getting angry over such a simple request. My mood turns volcanic in a second, which makes it hard to calm myself down enough to apologise when she stares at me with a bewildered look.
“You can’t use it, okay?” I reply, stepping back to slam the door in their faces, breathing heavy when I realise what I’ve done.
The first sign of tears come when they knock on the door, followed by the sobs as I make my way towards my bedroom where I have to step over the piles of stuff to get my bed. I slip inside of it and let the tears fall down my cheek silently.
It’s my learnt way of crying.
Nobody will hear me that way.
A while passes before I manage to drag myself out of bed to go downstairs in search of something to eat. I no longer have a healthy relationship with food. Once I start, I can’t stop until I feel so nauseous that I spend the next few hours fighting the urge to throw it all back up again.
It’s crazy how one person’s actions can mess you up this bad.
I had a good life.
I was happy.
Until he stripped it all away to take my dignity along with it too.
I can’t stand human contact unless it’s from my son, and I barely speak to anyone unless I have to do.
It’s a sorry existence, but there isn’t a lot that I can do about it. Not while my confidence is so shot down. My therapist thinks otherwise, but I only tell her what she wants to hear half of the time, having mastered the art of lying.
I’m good at it.
I can make people believe that I’m on top of the world, all the while feeling like my insides are going bad.
I turn up to work.
Sometimes not when the thought of pulling myself out of bed exhausts me more than I’m already feeling.
I put on a smile.
Then as soon as the door closes and I know George is happy, my unhappiness settles in.
It’s a roller coaster of emotions.
I bought myself a pepperoni pizza from the deli down the road, knowing that I had been craving the carbs all week, so I put that into the oven, along with some oven fries, before making a small salad in the hopes of it making me feel better about eating the junk.
Then I got out some of the rhubarb gin mama made for me to have with some ginger ale and ice to take it into the sitting room where I drew the blinds to sit in front of the telly to catch up on my favourite tv show.
Time passes slower than I would’ve liked, and when I pick up my phone to check my messages, feeling surprised to see the amount sitting unanswered in the app. Two standing out to me.
Dad - Happy Birthday to you, my beautiful girl. What a special day. I love you more than life itself and do wish that we could celebrate together, but I understand your reasons. I will have a drink on you. Speak to you later. All my love, Dad. xxx
Unknown - I can’t tell you how many times I have written this message over the past however many years, but I finally feel strong enough to. I think of you daily, and what I did. I have no excuses. I’m the worst kind of human, and I don’t want to patronise you with my apology, but it needs to be said. I’m sorry. Truly so. You didn’t deserve what I did. Not one bit of it, and to think that I did what I did makes me feel sick to my stomach. I’m in a better headspace now. I swear it, but I think that is the last thing you want to hear because it’s not about me. It’s about you. And the trauma you must feel. I’m going to put this right. I’m going to make you okay again. Happy Birthday, Laine. You deserve a good one. Trevor.
My mobile phone goes flying across the room when I throw it there with an animal-like scream. I changed my number. Tried to delete him from my life, but here he is telling me that he’s wanted to contact me for all of the years I wished to forget him.
I’m angry, blazingly so.
I grab a cushion from the floor to throw at the wall before punching my fist into the sofa a bunch of times. It doesn’t settle my emotions, but it does calm me enough to pick up the landline phone to call my therapist.
Dr Sampson is out of office, but I still leave an answerphone message to ask her to fit me in for a session in the week.
I don’t have to message Trevor back.
I can go about my evening like the past ten minutes never happened. I’m in control of my feelings, and I’m going to go eat my food and enjoy it.
I put half of the pizza on the plate next to the fries and salad before carrying it back to the sitting room where I sit with the television playing low. It takes me no time at all to eat what’s on my plate before I’m going back for second helpings and snacks.
The landline rings out when I’m halfway through a tub of honey Greek yoghurt, and I wonder if I should ignore it until my dad’s voice echoes from the hallway where the answering machine sits.
He can’t reach me from my mobile.
I need to call him back, but I also need to calm myself down first. It’s the worst knowing that you’re a worry to those you love. It only heightens my anxieties, but I know now that it’s their job to care for me, and I’m lucky to have their concern.
“Laine, is everything okay?” he says as soon as he answers the line.
I take in some much needed fresh air when I go to sit on the bench on the patio of my back garden. “No. Trevor messaged me. I got angry and smashed my phone on the wall.”
He doesn’t even wait a minute. “I’m on my way.”
“No, dad, don’t leave the party.”
“I am not leaving you alone after he messaged you. I want you to go and collect your phone from wherever it is to bring with you. We can give it into the police for a lead on his whereabouts,” he says, the sounds of loud conversation floating down the line.
My eyes search the room for an escape route. “I’m safe here. It’s a gated community. But I will get the number from my phone. I’m tired. I need sleep.”
The line goes quiet. “I’m going to call the security to let them know to be extra cautious.”
I tilt my head to the side to stretch out the tense muscles. “It would make me feel better if you did that, dad.”
“Then, I will. I am happy that I get to hear your voice today, my darling. What’re you up to?” he replies, the echoing in his tone letting on to him being in his study.
My feet feel cold when I bring them out of my slippers to rest on the concrete. “Just chilling out, really. I feel bad because I ruined my diet tonight. But I can be back on it tomorrow. I just keep craving all the bad stuff recently.”
“Because it makes you feel good when you’re eating it. I am guilty of that too, but your mama makes sure I don’t go overboard. Do you not like the nutritionist I got for you? I can find another one for you,” he says.
I fidget on the hard chair. “I have to want to eat better for it to work. They could give me a thousand solutions, but they’re wasted when I’m in this headspace. I can’t believe that I let myself get this big, dad.”
I’m almost 15 stone.
He sighs. “I’m sorry you’re feeling down on yourself, Laine. What can I do? I will do anything.”
“Nothing,” I whisper.
He sighs once more. “I will go to the gym with you if it will make you feel better? I need an excuse to go more often, so why don’t we go together?”
I fight the urge to ask him if he thinks I’m overweight because my mind taunts it.
“I don’t mind going when it’s not so busy, but I guess we could work out at the gym you have in the loft space. It has everything there still, right?”
Dad hums. “Your mama made me move it all to the small garage because she wants to make the loft into a playroom for the kids. I think we would be better off at a proper gym.”
“I suppose a playroom is a better option,” I reply.
He laughs. “Exactly. You can message me the days you want to go, and I’ll pick you up. Everyone is missing you tonight. I think your brothers were hoping to introduce you to some of their guy friends.”
“I’m not interested. They should already know that,” I snap out.
“I was only trying to make light of the situation,” he responds, and I apologise for biting his head off.
“It’s okay. Did you know that George asked me to be a plus one to his football award ceremony? I was touched,” he replies, and I’m not sure if he’s aware that he’s speaking in broken English.
I can’t stop my grin. “I did know. He told me that he wanted to invite you as soon as he got the letter. The others are taking their dads.”
“I said that I would book off a few days from work so we can stay over in London for the weekend. I know he wants to go to Harry Potter world again,” he replies, clearing his throat a few times.
“You’re supposed to be retiring.” I fire back.
He laughs. “Yes, maybe, but you never leave your businesses alone forever. I want to keep my foot in the door, you know?”
The tiredness is really starting to settle in on me. “No, I get it. Dad, can I let you go? I’m exhausted. I want to get an early night.”
There’s a quiet slam on his end. “Of course, you sleep well. I will be around to see you sometime this week.”
I agree, knowing that I’ll have to spring clean the entire house before letting him inside, but I’ll stress over that when the time comes.
Now all I need is some sleeping tablets and my invitingly warm bed.
Happy Birthday to me!