I am exhausted and it’s not even that late. I could fall asleep right now.
Fife just dropped me off, and then took the kids back home as they have school tomorrow. They were asleep in the car when they left, and it was the only quiet I’ve gotten all weekend.
Brad and Angelina hung out until quite late on Saturday night and it really was a good laugh. After the football, we played charades and Pictionary – the sort things the kids could get into. Or, the sort of things LittleOne could get into, whereas BigOne spent the whole time complaining that he didn’t want to play and that ‘This is stupid’. Then he stormed off to the spare room to play on his iPad. Personally, I just thought ‘Good riddens’. If he wants to sit alone and sulk, let him.
Then on Sunday we all went for a hill walk. Actually, Fife and LittleOne went for a hill walk. I crept along behind them trying to keep up, and BigOne spent the entire time on his phone and never even looked up. We then went into the village for an ice cream, and afterwards we took a bike ride (LittleOne finally allowed to use ‘mummy’s bike’, but only for ‘a little while’). This was all followed by a massive row between Fife and BigOne, who – after receiving a text from his friend — complained about being ‘in the middle of no where’. His friends back home were hanging out and it totally ‘sucked’ that he was being ‘forced to spend the weekend with some slag my dad is shagging.’ Lovely.
I would have NEVER spoken that way in front of my parents when I was a kid. Hell, I’d never speak like that in front of them now, let alone talk TO them like that. And all Fifesaid was, ‘Hey. Watch the language.’ And, ‘Act nice as she could be your stepmother one day.’ Then Fife gave me a cheeky wink.
WTF! I didn’t find that funny at all. I didn’t find it funny that he disregards disciplining BigOne he when they speaks that way. And I ddidn’t find it funny that he called me a potential ‘stepmother’. Of course, BigOne argued that he already has a mother. Believe me, I couldn’t agree with him more on that point. He then got even madder that Fife wouldn’t take him home. Eventually, he started throwing stuff around the house, so Fife sent him off to the spare bedroom for the rest of the evening. Which wasn’t a punishment as he had his laptop, iPad and phone with him.
On Monday morning I got a text from Goatee, reminding me about the BBQ. I was bored and sick of having to be nice to children who feel threatened by me, and I as much as I wanted an alternative to Bank Holiday Monday in Perthshire, I was not going to Goatee’s house with Fife and kids in tow. Unfortunately, Fife saw me check my phone, and he asked who was texting me.
I told Fife that an old friend from MNM was having a BBQ, and we were all invited.
Fife asked who the friend was, and when I said it was Goatee, I thought there was no way he’d want to go. In fact, I was kind of worried he’d ask why I was still getting texts from my ex. However, much to my surprise, Fife said, ‘That’s a great idea. You’ve spent the weekend with my friends and family, it’s only fair I do the same for you.’
Fuck. Why didn’t I lie about the text? See what boredom does to your judgement. I tried to take the humble step back approach, ‘No, no. I couldn’t ask you to come. You won’t know anyone there. I’m sure it won’t be your thing. It’s all the way in Glasgow, and…’
‘I think it’s a fantastic idea. I’d love to meet your old work friends.’
Well, you know me. I’m shit at saying ‘no’, and the next thing I knew the kids were packed into the car, and I was shitting bricks all the way to Glasgow.
What if Goatee invited me because he wanted us to get back together? Maybe he thought I’d never turn up with boyfriend and kids in tow? Maybe he thought I’d come alone and he could remind me of the good old times? Or heaven forbid, maybe HarryPotter would be there. Or Boobs. Do I want to see Boobs? All I could think was, ‘God, what did I get myself into?’
We pulled up in front of Goatee’s house, and I walked to the front door and reached for the latch. It was second nature, this had been my home. Then LittleOne tugged at BigOne, who swatted him away, pulling me out of my nostalgic stupor. It’s been over a year since I’d been to that house and even longer since I’d lived there. Until I walked up to that door it seemed oh so long ago, but then — standing there staring at the brass knocker and the little peep hole — it all came back. It seemed like yesterday.
I knocked and nothing. I knocked again, nothing.
Fife suggested that since it was a BBQ, everyone might be around back, so we headed around the house and to the garden. There they were.
GoateeBrother’s son ran up to me and hugged my waist. I couldn’t believe how much he had grown. I tried to pick him up, but he’d gotten too tall. Next Goatee’s friend’s little girls, the ones I used to babysit, ran over. They were so big, and the eldest was starting to get the features of a teenager. It would be a few years before she actually hit puberty, but her face was already changing.
I gave them all hugs and Goatee’s brother came over to give me a hug as well.
‘It’s been a long time. We didn’t think you were coming.’
I shuffled about and then realised that Fife was standing behind me. I introduced the two, and GoateeBrother lead us over to a group of people I recognised. The couple I used to babysit for and the group we used to have dinner with – the ones who always made me feel so nervous and like a child. Everyone did the obligatory, ‘Oh, so glad you could make it.’ ‘So happy you’re here.’ Fife shook hands and introduced himself all around, and to the untrained eye it may have seemed terribly friendly, but I was still quite uncomfortable with the stupid situation I got myself into.
Then I spotted another group in the corner of the garden — the MNM crew. The editor I had just pitched the Highland Gordon manuscript, the new receptionist, and much to my surprise Boobs was there. I scanned the garden for HarryPotter, but he was no where in sight. But of course he wouldn’t be there, it’s not like he and Goatee ever agreed on anything.
I was really nervous, but I couldn’t pretend to not see them. I went over and said ‘hello’. Boobs had a very small baby on blanket, and she was lying on a chaise lounge. Boobs’ husband asked if I cared for a beer, I said thanks and took the bottle he was offering me. I introduced Fife to everyone, and NewNonFictionEditor introduced his wife. Boobs’ husband offered Fife a beer as well, and Boobs said a bunch of the other kids (including hers) were inside watching telly if Fife’s kids wanted to join them. NewNonFictionEditor’s wife offered to take BigOne and LittleOne inside and introduce them around.
There was a bit of an awkward silence after the children were ushered away, then Boobs asked how I liked working at the Agency, and I did the standard, ‘Yes, it’s great. Lots of stuff to learn, but it’s a fast paced environment. So, quite enjoyable.’ You know, the stock answers.
The conversation then died. Not much else to say and I deeply, deeply regretted telling Fife about the text from Goatee. Damn it why can’t I lie? Another day in an isolated cabin with unruly boys looked like a much better option.
Then a voice came from behind, ‘You have made it. I honestly didn’t think you’d come, but I am so happy you did!’ It was Goatee; he was walking towards the BBQ pit with a giant plate of meat. He put it down then strode over to give me a hug, and then he reached out and shook Fife’s hand. ‘I believe we’ve met. It was a few years ago at the Wigtown Festival. Love your work.’
‘Ah yes. Good to see you again, and thank you for having us along,’ Fife said in return.
Everything was all so civil and it kind of scared me. Nothing with ex-boyfriends is ever this calm.
Then Goatee asked if I’d come with him. Fuck here it comes, I thought. I left Fife talking to Boobs’ husband as Goatee took me into the house.
She was in the kitchen placing chopped fruit on a tray, and as we came into the room she turned to ask Goatee if we should move the festivities into the house – it looked like rain and it was getting even cooler. When she spoke to him she smiled, looking at him very softly. She had long blond hair, which was pulled back neatly, and she was wearing a lovely peach jumper and cream trousers, the colour of which emphasized the pink of her cheeks. The way she held herself – with confidence and calmness — she seemed to be near Goatee’s age, but she looked younger. Something about her was quite glowing.
Goatee walked over to her, but his hand on the small of her back, and said ‘I’d like to introduce you to someone.’
Goatee introduced us by name, and I could tell from her expression that she knew I was an ex. But her look wasn’t threatening, she just seemed to know. She shook my hand and thanked me for coming. Then she said, ‘It must be nice to your old work colleagues. I hear it’s been a while.’
We made small talk about seeing everyone again after so much time, and how it was also nice to meet some new faces.
Goatee stood next to her smiling. Not the smile he used to reserve for me, but bigger and yet kind of quiet. She asked Goatee to please get the hummus and veg out of the fridge, to which he complied, then she questioned his timing on the BBQ. He said that he was just about to put the meat on the grill outside, when he saw that I had arrived. He’d go back in a moment and start cooking. She was comfortable in that house, and she was even more comfortable with him. As much as I used to think I belonged in that kitchen, she looked like she was born there.
She and Goatee worked as a team and moved around the kitchen in unison, one handing the other a dish or a glass before a request was even made. I was witnessing something I never thought I’d see – Goatee in a partnership. He did not once tell her what to do or take control.
Back outside I found Fife in the garden with Boobs’ husband trying to entice some of the kids into a game of football. The kids hung back but the men joined in. Fife yelled at me to join, but I reminded him that I don’t run. Not even across a garden. He told me to stop being a ‘girly girl’ and join them. I ran over and kicked the ball about with Goatee’s nephew, then was pulled aside by the girls I used to babysit for. They said the boys were playing too rough, they wanted me to play ball with them.
I looked over and Goatee and his partner were sitting next to each other, each in their own separate chair, but holding hands. He was happy; happier than I’d ever seen him. Happier than I ever made him. I think it’s because he’s finally found someone who he is on equal terms with.
The BBQ wasn’t able to keep the rain at bay and it got pretty cold, so we all moved into the house. Sitting in the lounge on that red leather sofa, I mingled and chatted. I got to know Boobs’ husband better, and Boobs herself seemed more relaxed than I’d ever seen her before. NewNonFictionEditor is a really interesting man who came to MNM from London specifically to turn the place around, and from what everyone says he seems to be doing just that. He also said that he’d have an answer for me on the Highland Gordon’s book next week, but it was looking pretty good.
I also learned more about Goatee’s new girlfriend. They’ve been dating since September, and she does something in the legal profession. They met through Goatee’s brother. Plus, she has a teenage daughter (who wasn’t at the BBQ), and generally she seems like an absolutely lovely person.
Despite my reservations, it was a good day all around. (I managed to stay away from that couple we used to have dinner with, and who used to make me feel like a child.) Right before we left, I found myself alone with Goatee when I was getting our coats. I told him he looked happy and I was glad to see it. He said that he was happier than he ever thought he could be. In fact he was thinking about asking her to marry him. I threw my arms around Goatee, gave him a huge hug, and I begged him to invite me to the wedding.
He laughed and said, ‘I haven’t asked her yet.’ He paused for a bit and said, ‘If you hadn’t turned me down, I would have never met my future wife. So it looks like I’ve got you to thank.’
I laughed and said I was happy to help. Then he added that he liked Fife very much, ‘He seems a stand-up guy.’
I said that he was, and that I was happy with Fife as well.
Then Goatee said, ‘I would have never admitted it back then, but you and [HarryPotter] would have made a decent couple. In fact, I thought you two would pick things up after you got back from travelling.’
I shuffled about and said that ‘Things just didn’t work with [HarryPotter]. Although, I’m kind of surprised he wasn’t in the office the other day. I guess he’s still avoiding me.’
Goatee got very solemn and asked, ‘You don’t still talk to him then?’
I responded ‘no’, and Goatee told me that I should call him.
I asked ‘Why?’, but he said ‘Just give him a ring. I’m sure he’d like to hear from you.’
Goatee was making me nervous, so I pressed the matter. Eventually Goatee said, ‘He’s on bereavement leave at the moment. His father died about a two or three weeks ago? He had cancer.’
Everything then just went blank in my mind. I couldn’t process it. His father died? Cancer? I pictured LadyBohemia lying in that dark room. Then I thought about HarryPotter’s dad, the spitting image of HarryPotter. Geeky and kind.
I put my hand over my mouth, almost as if I was trying to hold back a gasp. Goatee put his hand on my shoulder and said that he was sorry to tell me. He thought I knew. I asked how long he’d been ill? Goatee said that HarryPotter had been quite tight-lipped about it all, but they think he’d been diagnosed sometime in the autumn, but it was fairly aggressive.
Now my mind was reeling. When HarryPotter came to see me when I first moved to Dundee, he said he was going to see his Dad the following weekend. I asked to come with him, and he said ‘no’. I took this as a sign of infidelity, when really he just wanted some privacy. I am such a shit.
I got our coats, and Goatee said that I should keep in touch, ‘Don’t be a stranger’. We said our good-byes, and as we drove back to Dundee Fife chatted away the whole time about Boobs’ husband, football, and how nice everyone was. The kids fell asleep and I couldn’t stop thinking about HarryPotter. I can’t believe I kicked him out of my flat last February. Everything he was going through and I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. Feeling ‘guilty’ doesn’t even begin to explain how bad I feel.
Fife’s suggested that I stay at his place one night this week, but I don’t know. It would be a right pain for him get the kids off to school AND me to Dundee for work. For now I’m okay seeing Fife on the weekends, and he’ll be living in the cottage as soon as Helen’s work schedule changes, so I’ll see him more then. No need to go around to his this week.
God, I can’t believe HarryPotter didn’t tell me about his dad back then. A whole weekend together and he didn’t say his dad was sick. Even worse, I can’t believe I didn’t give him the chance.