This Wretched Heart

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'Just because I'm losing, doesn't mean I'm lost.'

'Lost' by Coldplay


How had she allowed this to happen? It must have been the wine. The wine, the music the atmosphere. The unbearable sadness in his blue eyes. The way she felt when he came towards and made her smile without thinking. He made her feel light and airy and full of possibility. Even when she knew it was all so pointless there was a part of her that held out some hope of something somewhere at some point happening between them. Even when she had seen him on the tram with Jane and even though it was killing her , a small part of her had been relieved that he would somehow still be connected to her life in some way. But it was all becoming too real now. It had been easy to send their conversation in Marrakech to the realm of holiday folly and not to face the weight of their words. She had hoped the searing pain in her stomach would eventually go away. It had eased slightly and been numbed further by her encounter on the tram. She really hadn’t thought he would come to the gig that night. Even if the parent thing hadn’t been true she was certain he would have avoided her. She was also sure that although she had felt nothing but agony since Marrakech, his happy go lucky attitude had put their ‘Chemistry’ down as a silly glitch in his life. She hadn’t thought he would follow her to the bar but had inexplicably sensed him behind her. It was as if the air became wavy when he was around resonating with her blood so that everything seemed to quiver.

His explanation hadn’t enlightened her greatly but she hadn’t thought it would.He and Jane were two single people seeing each other. When she was honest with herself she realised she had never spoken that much to him about Jane so it was difficult to feel the conviction of betrayal that had first ensued her discovery. Yes it was a little weird but she was married so the whole premise of her jealousy was ridiculous. She wasn’t even in an unhappy marriage so all these feelings were just completely crazy. She was brought back to the tram and her thoughts just before she saw them together. After tonight and the undeniable chemistry between them, an idea was beginning to come together in her mind. The idea that she had spent squashing down for the last few weeks. It was an idea that made her wonder whether she was having some sort of breakdown. She hated not being able to trust her feelings. She needed to talk to someone , she needed to talk to Kate. Kate would tell her if she was crazy. How else could she explain the fact that she had allowed her body to come in close contact with anyone other than Peter?

Kate like Sam had worked in the same company as Lara but had left shortly after having her first child. She wondered had they ever met. Life was strange and threw up some pretty funny connections if you delved deeply enough. Would Sam have offered to go jogging with Kate if had happened upon her first. Not that Kate ever got that kind of quality time to herself. She had two children now and as much as they had tried to keep in contact , life just kept getting in the way. The kids always seemed to have some sort of affliction which kept Kate and Mike up half the night and Lara had slowly realised that conversations between them would never be like before. She missed the natters they used to have over lunch. Kate was unflappable but apart from her mother, Lara had never really told her anything shocking. How would she react to this whole Sam thing ? She needed to get an unbiased view on the whole situation before she lost her mind. She knew that if she told her it was important, Kate would make the time for her. She felt bad because she knew that Kate sometimes felt like an outcast from normal adult life and that she hadn’t really made the effort to visit her recently. The truth was that it was awkward trying to chat while Molly who was two and Dan who was one were running around craving every ounce of their mother’s attention. It wasn’t that she really minded. She liked kids even though she didn’t really have much experience with them. The closest contact she come into with a baby was with Peter’s nieces and nephews. She had felt quite uncomfortable holding them when they were tiny. She would feel silly as they all watched her. The sense of expectation that every woman would become a quivering goo ga ga mad thing, had always irritated her. She felt self-conscious with children especially when people were there to watch. It was worse because the felt that Peter might be wondering what she would be like with their own kids one day. That had been before she told him she wasn’t sure she ever wanted kids. That had been a huge shock to him. They were engaged at the time and she realised that she had never thought of raising the subject with him. They had been together so many years she sometimes forgot they had two different minds. She had assumed that he knew she wasn’t particularly maternal.

‘ You know how I am Peter, I’m so up and down.. I couldn’t be like that with a baby it would kill me.. it could destroy us’. She imagined herself sitting on the couch crying with a tiny dismayed bundle on her knee. She would see the disappointment in Peter’s eyes as she failed to live up to his expectations of how a mother should be. He had come from such a solid background where they had all behaved normally. No blood in baths. How could she look after something so dependent when she couldn’t even depend on herself.

‘ But you’re so much better now Lara, motherhood would change things, it would change you’. That had hurt.

‘ If you want a different woman, then having a baby with me is definitely not the solution.’ She had been furious.

‘ You know that’s not what I mean, I just mean it would bring us both so much happiness, that’s all’.

He had let it go but she knew it wouldn’t be the last time he tried to convince her. It had niggled at her the night before their wedding but had disappeared into the ether of her mind where she would deal with it at some point along with all the other crap she sent there. Maybe some day she would want kids but right now it seemed almost laughable, given what she was even considering. The tiny shard of a suggestion which had embedded itself in her brain was tumerescent. It was making her think something impossible, it was clouding her judgement. Kate would understand wouldn’t she? She would try to meet Kate tomorrow. Peter would be home later tonight so she could pretend to be asleep. So strictly speaking she wasn’t keeping her close encounter with Sam a secret. It was just a question of timing. She could tell him what happened after she spoke to Kate. She climbed into bed her mind awash with possibility.

Kate had sensed the urgency in her voice and told her she could meet her for an hour after work.

‘ Susie can look after the kids so don’t worry’. Susie, Kate informed her was their new live in au-pair which she had finally agreed to after two years of little or no time to herself.

‘ I know I’m not working and we can barely afford it but Jesus I can’t get a minute to even clean the house between the two of them’. Lara knew she felt constantly guilty about being a stay at home mum and was constantly justifying herself to everyone. Either way , she was grateful that Kate now had the option to leave the house for a coffee and a heart to heart.

She sat in the small intimate cafe waiting for her friend to arrive. She wondered was this the best place to have their chat but it was empty enough apart from some guy who seemed pretty engrossed in his lap top. She wondered how the conversation would go. Last time she had chatted to Kate everything had been rosy. They had chatted on the phone a few times since she met Sam but she had never revealed any of her feelings about him. Now not only was she going to tell Kate about what had happened between them but also what she wanted to happen. She dabbed at the frothy latte in front of her and licked it off the spoon, closing her eyes as yet another flashback to Sam’s hips against hers made its (not unwelcome) appearance. He was the pink elephant of her imagination, lingering in the corners of her mind, edging himself to the fore.

‘ Don’t worry it’ll never happen’. Kate’s blue eyes looked tired but she smiled brightly at Lara, who jumped up to hug her.

‘ Whoa there tiger you’re hurting me’. Kate chuckled and rubbed her arms in mock pain.

‘ Geez I’m glad I came , hold on there while I order a glass of wine’ She winked ‘ Susie said she’d babysit for the night’.

A sense of peace washed over Lara as she felt she could finally talk all her problems out. She had stopped counselling a while before she met Sam and she couldn’t bring herself to go back even though she could have done with an unbiased view. Jane of course had been out of the question. Kate wouldn’t be altogether unbiased either. She knew Peter and she loved him so this wouldn’t go down too well with her. Also she was married and it was always hard to talk of third parties to married people. Hackles would always rise. There were too many emotions at stake . There was a fear that being unfaithful was almost contagious or that if you even conceive of the possibility of it, it meant you were somehow complacent. But Kate was pragmatic and she was sure that she would see that she hadn’t intended for any of this to happen.

In retrospect she would see that she had started the conversation badly although she really couldn’t think of an appropriate opener to this kind of thing.

‘Kate you know how much I love Peter ’?

‘Oh God Lara what have you done?’ Kate’s horrified expression filled her with dread ‘I knew you had something to tell me I just knew it’

She should have known then and there not to pursue the conversation. Instead she pushed on, testing the waters to see how her best friend would react

’I haven’t done anything so stop looking at me like that! I just kind of want to pick your brains if that’s ok?

‘Pick a winner’ Kate’s cackle reassured her as she leaned forward in her chair eager for her to continue.

Lara paused, it was true that she wanted very badly to see how Kate would react to her dilemma, but once the words were spoken she feared they would sprout giant wings and soar out of her control.So she began by justifying and reinforcing her love for Peter and how this was absolutely no reflection on how she felt about her partner. All of this was absolutely true and required no embelishment. Kate knew their history and remembered well the tumultuous years that Lara had cried to her over the phone when she had wondered why she had missed another day at work. She knew there had been a time when they had called each other every name under the sun and invented a few new ones. She knew that they had travelled to the brink and swayed nervously at the edge, watching the silt and debris of their arguments, fall away into the darkness. Those were the days Peter referred to her as a ‘ Tasmanian Devil’. Since then counselling and meds had sanded down her edges making her less dangerous to be around.They had allowed her to work on her life in a more reasonable light and function in a way she had been unable to do for so long. Now she she didn’t have false positives coursing through her veins. She remembered symbolically flushing the last pills down the toilet filling her with both enormous relief and panic as they whizzed away into the blue. She mused that they might give some anxious shark out there, relief.Her biggest fear then was that she would find out that she couldn’t be a normal person without them and now she had to question whether she was.

‘Have you ever had feelings for anyone else since Mark ?’ She tried to gauge her friend’s normally transparent expression but was now met with opaque.

’ Eh no !! I mean I fancy guys from a distance obviously .. I’m human but I can’t say I’ve had ‘feelings’ for anyone else.’ She looked completely worries ‘ Is this what this is about , have you feelings for someone else?’

The tears surprised them both and she found herself unable to answer the question. She felt disloyal enough to Peter and now she was bringing someone else into the equation before she even got the chance to talk to him.

Kate didn’t push her for an answer and let her sniffle her way through a tissue while she continued to talk ‘ I mean yes of course sometimes you want a bit more spice especially when you have kids ’ she grinned ‘ I used to always say I’d be different, I would continue to make the effort but well I just don’t have the energy half the time.’ Lara had stopped gulping and snuffling so Kate pushed her a little

‘ I know you and Peter have been together for years now and that things in the bedroom might be a little you know … vanilla ?’

Lara didn’t know why Kate was bringing up their sex life and hated the term ‘vanilla’, which no doubt had been invented by some depraved sex fiend to make normal sex seem bland and boring. So what? If she and Peter didn’t tie each other up with silk scarves, which seemed lame and pointless in the first place? All of these so-called ‘spice up’ techniques she had attempted over the course of their relationship and had concluded that unless you were naturally inclined to talk dirty or really wanted nipple clamps then you were just trying too hard and made the whole thing just a little jaded. She couldn’t shrug away the pathetic air that had clung to her skin as she toured their local sex –shop for implements and had come away feeling more prudish than ever before. It hadn’t been the fear of trying something new which had upset her, but the lack of real interest in anything the shop had to offer.

She and Peter had sex frequently and although she hated the expression it was more love making than the rutting you saw on TV up against a wall or in the back of a car. Years of practice meant he knew exactly how to read her body. His tongue knew every pressure point and he could make reach frenzy that although exhilarating and highly pleasurable was also bound in familiarity. Familiarity had not invited its clichéd friend ’contempt but rather had brought its more lulled and lazy partner –‘complacency’ along for the ride.

She shaved her legs so sporadically she was sure Peter had forgotten that her skin could be smooth and not covered in the tiny bristles his fingers would skim over albeit lovingly but tentatively. Often too, would her nose scrunch up, as the days’ sweat emanated from his body. He had read somewhere that women found this appealing but for Lara nothing was more welcome than the scent of a freshly showered man. These were issues that all couples faced, not even issues but hiccups. Perhaps they were vanilla but she really enjoyed their sex life. This was in fact the exact dilemma she faced at the moment. Nothing was wrong between between them. In fact everything was better than ever.

‘ What has that got to do with feelings for someone else?’ She was genuinely bemused.

‘ It’s just that if you do have feelings for someone else it might just be because you and Peter are having a lull in that department, don’t make more of it than it is’.

She could see the imagined conversation she had hoped for, fade like a plume of smoke.

‘ Yeah maybe you’re right, maybe it’s a lull’. She would just have to let her think that she had dragged her all the way into town for the first time in ages because she and Peter were having a lull in their sex life. She could tell Kate didn’t want to hear it and it both surprised and saddened her. Maybe things weren’t so rosy these days with Mark and she didn’t want have to talk or think about anything related to that. Maybe one of them had cheated. Kate had become a lot more private about their relationship since having kids. Maybe the need to protect your hive was stronger than the urge to gossip. Her face must have looked dejected because Kate continued.

‘ Look love if you think you have feelings for someone that’s fair enough but for God’s sake don’t act on them, don’t be selfish you’re married’.

‘ Wow Kate, don’t hold back’. This aggressive attitude was completely not like Kate.

‘ Lara it’s not right that’s all. You’re married, you shouldn’t even go there’. She reached out her hand but Lara pulled hers away.

‘ Who is this guy ?’

‘ I don’t want to talk about it, it’s ok don’t worry you’re right’.

‘ Don’t be like that. Common , you have to see why I’m being judgemental given that a few years ago you would lose your mind if he even stared sideways at model on TV’.

Lara blushed. She hated being reminded of that side of herself.

‘I know, I know, sorry I’m being defensive it’s just, you’re right about this, it’s no one I’m just being silly’ she could feel the tears coming again and paused to compose herself

‘ I have been with Peter so long and before I came off the meds I never really had these feelings, so now I suppose I don’ t know what to do with them’

’ It’s normal to have crushes hun, it really is, it’s just I know you haven’t dragged me all the way into town to talk about a crush. Are you planning to cheat on Peter? Because I’m sorry but you won’t get the ‘go-ahead it’s ok’ routine from me ’

‘God no’ she could laugh now ‘I would never ever cheat on Peter’ at last she could speak candidly

’You know how I feel about cheating, I mean Jesus after all the years of crap I put Peter through how could I ?They both laughed at this unexaggerated remark.. She was reminded of a recent footballer’s wife who had appeared in a TV interview her beautiful face covered in tears, her voice cracking with despair,

‘I thought everything was fine I really did’ her Newcastle twang managing to evoke more sympathy. Lara had stared as this stunning creature as she described her shock at her husband’s numerous acts of infidelity, and reluctantly concluded that this beauty was either a monster cow (doubtful) or that perhaps when it came to sex, variety would inevitably trump familiarity. Whatever the reason she couldn’t even bare to imagine coming home to Peter after a night of being with someone else. It made her blood run cold and her stomach churn. She felt sick from what had happened already with Sam and in a way of course she had cheated she couldn’t deny that . But she wouldn’t let this continue but because the worst thing about it all was the deception. She had spent a very long time analysing her feelings and although of course they were all amplified by her depression, they were still going to exist. Jealousy of course had ruled her life for a very long time and her counsellor had asked her to examine why that was. She was beginning to look at it all differently.

Kate was grinning relieved as the conversation moved to safer territory. Perhaps it wasn’t the time to share. She would talk to Peter first. This made more sense she was beginning to realise as he might be the only one who could really understand where she was coming from.

She steered the conversation away from her and was grateful that she wasn’t drinking wine because over-sharing was a definite side effect.

’Tell me Kate do you regret sleeping with other men during your split from Mark ?

‘No pet, not at all. As far as I knew we were never getting back together’ She winked and gave a wicked grin.’ I didn’t sleep with that many either!’’

‘Yeah right’ She knew that she had been quite promiscuous at the time something Kate had not tried to hide but at the same time wasn’t shouting about it from the rooftops either.

‘Did you enjoy it as much as you do with Mark?’

‘Completely different pet, completely different, although I do have to say that one guy in particular was amazing in bed absofuckinglutely amazing’

She leaned in closer and looked around her quickly as if she expected Mark to appear out of nowhere

‘ I didn’t believe in that whole multiple orgasm malarchy until this guy but wow was I wrong!’

Lara hadn’t believed it either and still wasn’t sure what it meant. She like Kate had thought it was a myth. Her orgasms with Peter were amazingly intense as she imagined all must be however she was never able to have another shortly after. It was as if her body was spent by just the one. She was always too sensitive to keep going and Peter who had made it his mission to give her the mythical multiple had eventually accepted that once was enough. She didn’t want to ask Kate what it felt like, as she really wasn’t in the mood to draw attention to the fact that she wasn’t having them.

‘I spent full days with him in bed and we just shagged and shagged, then ate take- away and shagged again’

Lara cringed as the word she found so crass and casual, rolled off her friends tongue, springing graphic images to mind. It was like the use of the term ‘cock’ versus ‘penis’ , the prior evoking a ‘ ready for action’ image the latter a limp and flaccid, functional tool. The term ‘shagged’ was an alien concept of complete disjointed sex which she could not ever relate to.

‘So why did you break up?’

‘ Oh we weren’t really together and yes Lara I know you hate the term but it was just shagging’ She lowered her voice again ‘He had the weirdest pillow talk ever and always wanted me to stick a finger you know where! yuck in the end he actually turned my stomach’

They had both burst out hysterically with laughter drawing glances from other diners and a snigger from the young guy sitting close to their table who was just standing to leave. As he passed them he stopped he whispered ‘ I would never ask a lady such as yourself to do that’ then winked causing another expulsion of giggles.


Lara had left the bar quickly. Making her excuses to Jane about having work the next day, she had hugged her friend and quickly hugged him.

‘ What were you talking about ?’ Jane had a strange look on her face and he had shifted uncomfortably in the seat. He was a bad liar and could never come up with quick answers if he had to make them up.

‘ Nothing just asking how Peter was , it’s been awhile you know’.

‘ Yeah well thanks for leaving me sitting on my own for so long’. They had gone back to his place in a taxi. Jane hadn’t spoken to him at all but stared out the window the whole time. He had seen the taxi-man gaze at them from time to time in his rearview mirror. He was probably used to this kind of thing but it still made Sam cringe.

As soon as they got in the door she spoke.

‘ So you like Lara ?’ The way she said it made him want to laugh as if she was a brothel madame offering him one of her ‘ladies’. He wasn’t surprised that she was asking . He had anticipated this conversation on the way home.

‘ How? .. yes Jane I’m sorry I do’.

‘ How did I realise?’ There were tears in her eyes. ‘ It wasn’t just the fact that you left me to go talk to her for half the gig but ..’ Her tone became angry ‘ The fact that you have me fucking smelling like her’.

‘ What the hell ?’

She reached into her oversized bag and pulled out the familiar bottle he had bought her a few weeks ago.

‘ This is what Lara smelt of, when we hugged’.

The words were clear but it took a moment for them to sink in. Suddenly he felt like the biggest aresehole in the world. He had never intentionally bought it so that she could smell like Lara. He must have subconsciously been drawn to it for that reason. The truth was that he couldn’t stand the heavy scents she doused herself with constantly and that he had hoped she would opt for this lighter fragrance. Of course she would have noticed. Women had a nose for these things. He wondered would he ever have made a connection like that ?

‘ Jane please I didn’t realise it when I bought it, I swear ...’ She still looked unconvinced.

‘ You are right though, I do have feelings for Lara’. He was sick of saying that term. It sounded so poncy every time he spoke it.

‘ Well this is all completely creepy. Were you going to start buying me the kind of hippy clothes she wears ?’ Her mascara was running down her face like Lara’s had earlier reminding him of his ability to hurt so many people.

‘ Jane I’m so sorry, I really am I don’t know what I’ve been thinking’. He tried to touch her arm but she pulled away.

’ Was all of this .. I mean ‘us’ .. was it just so that you could be closer to her’.

‘ NO of course not. I didn’t think you would be hanging out with her and I never thought I would see her again’.

‘ Why the fuck did you come to the gig then ?’

She was right of course. He was the big plonker in this whole scene. There was no way of colouring it in his favour.

He looked directly at her.

‘ I’m sorry about all of this and I really have been enjoying our time together but I guess I’m really not over- how I feel about Lara’. He sat on the edge of his bed. ‘ I tried to and I know she’s married to Peter but I just ...’.

‘ Love her ?’ There was no malice in her voice this time.

‘ Look Sam, Lara is a great girl , the best in fact and you trying to douse me in that sickly scent she seems to love , hasn’t made me angry at her’ She was pulling her clothes out of the drawer he had given her and was stuffing them into the giant designer bag she loved. The thought that maybe that’s why girls loved giant bags crossed his mind. Not because of the obvious ability to put their day to day stuff in it but to be able to be prepared for any situation and in this case it was an escape. An accessory to her escape. He blushed at that one and cringed at the callous timing of his private joke.

She stopped doing what she was doing suddenly. ‘ Oh God of course that’s why she’s been so weird with me’. She turned around ‘ Fuck Sam this is so unfair on both of us’.

He had nothing to say to that. It wasn’t fair to anyone.

‘ I won’t be that stupid girl though that you see in films, I’m not the ‘ best friend’ and I will definitely never take second best’ Her face had erased the hurt and was now lighter and determined. There was no point trying to talk her out of it. Not that he felt adequate conviction to ask her to stay .

‘ I will say however that although she seems attracted to you, it’s Peter she loves and she would never leave him for you. I would do them both a favour and back the fuck away and stop trying to become part of their lives, three’s a crowd Sam and you’re the third wheel’.

He didn’t respond to that. It was true, he was kidding himself but no one else. He watched Jane walk through the hall and out the door and waited for some kind of regret or sadness to follow. He had liked her it was true and had been willing to try to work at it but then maybe he had also been trying to sabotage it. He hadn’t felt that spark that he felt around Lara and when the two friends had been side by side. Jane could have been naked and all he would see were Lara’s eyes. He was being a fool though and Jane had hit the nail on the head. He was a third wheel, Lara might have flirtatious feelings for him and fancy him but he loved her. He fell back on the dishevelled bed where he had made love to Jane the night before. He closed his eyes and wish for the covers to creep over him and hide him from the humiliation he was feeling.

‘She will never leave Peter for you’ Jane’s voice rose up from the bedsheets and cloaked him in further ridicule.

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