Katherine – 50.

They spent the afternoon reminiscing, talking about the baby and the various relatives, past and present and Stephanie didn’t bring up the subject of Angus again. Katherine was grateful and, though she was stunned by her sister in law’s words she left it alone. It sat in the back of her mind, whenever there was a lull in the conversation she heard it again. “Leave him. Grab hold of your life.” And this from the most unlikely source.

“I’d better get back. It’s after six and he might be home already.”

“Look Kate,” as she tried out the new name Stephanie grinned, “I do like that. So, Kate. I love my brother of course I do – he’s my brother. We were kids together and that is, I think, usually something that binds you for life. But, I also know that he’s a vain bugger, always was. He’s selfish, I know most men are but he’s really selfish and … Look, I know as well as anyone what it’s like to be stuck with a bloke that is wrong for you. I know how it steals your life. I would hate to see you go away, especially when it seems we could be really good friends. I feel as though I should apologise, I just didn’t know how to handle things, so I did what I always do, I just got bossy with you and tried to take control. I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t apologise, I don’t think anything would have made a difference anyway. I was lost back then. I know that now. I just had to find my own way.” They leant together across the small space on the settee and hugged awkwardly.

“What a shame we wasted so much time eh? But, if your happiness lies in Scotland with some bloke you hardly know – then go and get it.  I will never mention any of this again, I promise you that I will never tell a soul and whatever you decide will be fine, just fine by me.”

“Steph. You know what – I never realised before just how amazing you are.”

“Go on you daft bugger. Get off before this all gets too American.” Stephanie stood at the door waving until Katherine turned the corner at the junction and could no longer see her. It had been a strange and wonderful afternoon, but she felt even more confused. If his own sister was telling her to leave him, what was it that was keeping her with Bill. Loyalty of course and surely love?

Or was she lying to herself and it was something else?

She stopped suddenly in the middle of the street. It wasn’t Bill she didn’t want to give up, it was that last tiny bit of her daughter.

If she left him she was leaving a piece of Sophie. The little girl had been half Bill, he had held her when she was born and cut the cord. He had held her when they wanted to take her away for that last time, and how he had cried. If she left him for someone else, then she was losing that connection because only they had been her parents. So many small things that they had shared, the early smiles, the gurgle of her laughter early in the morning, the trials of teething and then at last the anguish that she believed no-one else would understand but him.

He wasn’t home and in her emotionally drained state she was relieved. She threw together a plate of salad for him, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge. She laid the table and wrote a note telling him that she had gone to bed with a headache.

She opened the laptop and left a message for Angus.

 

Absolutely exhausted. I didn’t sleep last night. Maybe Skype tomorrow?”

 

As soon as she stretched out under the duvet she felt herself falling away into the darkness and she let it engulf her. She didn’t hear Bill come in two hours later and go straight to the drinks cupboard to pour whisky. She didn’t hear him curse as he took the cold meal from the fridge and slouch on the settee eating in the semi darkness, and she didn’t see him lower his head into his hands and groan in frustration and anger.

 

“I went to see Stephanie yesterday.”

“Oh right. How is she?”

“She’s fine,” As she watched him across the table an insane desire to blurt it all out almost had its way, “Yes, she’s fine. She thinks you’re a selfish bastard actually and reckons I should go and live with Angus. So, can you get your own dinner tonight? I’ll be in Edinburgh.” She had to get up and move away because she was afraid she might just act on the impulse. She clattered around tidying the work top and wiping the sink and in her mind she could see the slope up to the street from Waverly station and his tall figure in a dark coat waiting for her.

“I’m away next week. George is sending me to Germany, going on Tuesday, back probably Friday.”

“Right.”

“You’ll be okay will you, on your own?”

“I usually am.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well you know, I do spend a lot of time on my own.”

“Oh shit, you’re in a mood. You’ve got your yoga, you could do all sorts of things. You could get out, go to the library, I don’t know. Just do stuff, you reckon you’re better now so why don’t you just get on with it.”

“Okay, okay. Actually, now you mention it – I’m going out tomorrow night. I’m going to Treena and Stella’s hen night.”

“What – don’t be ridiculous. You can’t.”

“Yup, I reckon I can.” And she smiled at him and went through to the lounge where she logged on to her laptop and began browsing the shopping sites, she would need a new dress. Later she would go into town. Something with a bit of bling. Her hands were trembling but she felt good anyway.

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Katherine – 49.

Are you okay now?” Stephanie leaned away from the embrace she had held while Katherine sobbed and sniffled and apologised.

“I am, yes.” Katherine puffed out her cheeks, “Whew – well that’s better out isn’t it?” She gave a tear drenched laugh.

“Well, whatever it is this is some heavy stuff. I hardly dare ask but go on. Get it off your chest.”

Katherine pulled at the tissue in her hand, shredding it and then looking around for somewhere to put the bits. Stephanie held out a hand and then placed the scraps in an untidy heap onto the tray beside the cooling drinks. “Look, you get yourself together, I’ll go and make another drink – or would you like something else, it’s after twelve we could have wine?”

“No thanks, I didn’t get much sleep last night I think if I have wine now I’ll have to zonk out on your sofa for the rest of the day.”

“Well if that would help you’d be very welcome.”

“Aw thanks. You know Steph, we haven’t always been that close but I would love it if we could be friends.” She shook her head and then carried on, “Well, I suppose we were friends, of course but – to be honest I could do with some support right now. I feel adrift, as if I’m on my own.”

“You’re not on your own. I know I’m an awkward sod at times, I know I’m bossy but I love you Katherine. If you need to share something then go right ahead and…” she put down the tray and laid a hand on her chest, “I promise absolutely, that nothing you tell me will every go any further. I do know how to keep my mouth shut.”

For a while they sipped the replenished coffee in silence and then Katherine took a deep breath. “Well okay. First of all, I apologise in advance because I know he’s your brother but to be honest Steph, Bill is driving me mad. I hoped, when I came back from Scotland – why I came back from Scotland really – I hoped that my feeling better would help to sort things out. But, he’s just not getting it. It feels as though he doesn’t really want me to be well. I told him I wanted to go back to work, he said I shouldn’t. I told him I wanted to go to a conference with him – he out and out refused to take me. I met up with Treena yesterday and to be honest I didn’t dare tell him because I thought he’d spoil it. Isn’t that awful?”

“Hmm.” She waited for more, a comment about men and their foibles and selfishness. Stephanie didn’t speak and so she carried on.

“Anyway, I have decided that I’m going to go back to work and I’m going to go back to Abbotts, if George will have me. I think I’ll have a battle at home but it’s what I want.”

“That’s not what you were going to tell me though is it? I mean I think it’s great and I think you should stick to your guns and if you’re ready, go for it. But, that’s not what you were going to say.”

“No, it’s not. Okay, I lied to you. When you asked me if I was bored in Scotland on my own, I lied.”

“Ah. So you did go away with someone. I thought it was an odd story.”

“No, not at all. It was as I told you. It’s just that, while I was there I met someone.”

“You can’t have done. You were only gone a couple of days.”

“I know, and I know it sounds silly and probably a bit juvenile but, I did meet someone and we just clicked – I suppose. By the time I left he was asking me to stay with him.”

“Crikey. Bit of a fast worker wasn’t he?”

“Ha, I suppose that’s how it looks. Anyway he tried to get me to stay just for the weekend he said, but I didn’t. I came back because I owed it to Bill, I owed it to myself. I’ve always been dead serious about my marriage vows. I know it’s a bit old fashioned but,” she shrugged, “It’s how I am.”

“Right and now you’re wondering if you did the right thing?”

“Now, I am in a mess. I thought it would be different, I thought Bill and I would start to move on, recover from all the shit. But, that hasn’t happened and …”

“And?”

“I got in touch with him, Angus. I texted him and I Skyped him last night and now I am in absolute turmoil.”

“Just leave him.”

“What!”

“Leave him, Bill. You’ve been to hell and back and I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the bigger picture. If you’ve got a chance of happiness, even if it doesn’t last. And let’s face it some bloke you’ve known for a couple of days! Well it’s a dodgy start but so what. Grab hold of your life, leave my selfish sod of a brother and do what you want. Just jump.”

“Bloody hell, Steph!” Katherine stared across at the other woman. “Bloody hell. Well. That wasn’t what I expected.”

“No, I suppose not, but as I say I have seen the whole picture and I think you deserve any happiness you can get.”

“Steph?”

“What?”

“Is that offer of a drink still on the cards?”

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Katherine – 48.

There was no sleep. Contacting him had been wonderful but the knowledge that Angus still thought of her, still wanted her, was torture. She had taken a wrong turn, betrayed her resolve. She should have been trying harder with Bill, she should have been in his bed right now. If she truly believed in their marriage wasn’t that the one thing that would make a real difference.

It wasn’t going to happen. Not while there was doubt about who he was spending time with, whether he was having sex with someone else. They needed that fixed and he had to stop treating her as a ticking time bomb, waiting for her to relapse. He had to have faith in her.

Even then, it had been so long, she couldn’t remember what it was like to want him.  She could remember the thrill when Angus had kissed her, but she could not recapture any sense of what it was like to make love to her husband.

Did she want to remember?

She couldn’t honestly say. He was Bill, they had loved each other with the passion of youth. They had been through so much together, so the fact that now she had emerged from the nightmare, they hadn’t taken that step was telling – wasn’t it?

She tossed and turned, she got up and made a drink and tried to read but her mind was a maelstrom.

She tried to find calm with yoga breathing but peace eluded her. In contacting Angus, she hadn’t found a confidante who would help to share the burden, she had forced herself to open yet more boxes of confusion.

Heavy eyed and dreary the next morning, she sat through breakfast, they didn’t talk and, when he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as he left she didn’t even bother to turn her head. It wouldn’t do, this way lay the path back to despair.

“Hi Stephanie, it’s Kate.”

“Who?”

“Sorry it’s Katherine.”

“What’s this Kate thing then.” Typical abrupt Stephanie.

“I used to be Kate, a long time ago.”

“Oh. Anyway hello, are you okay. Only with the Kate thing I wondered?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Are you free today. I’m at a bit of a loose end and fancied some company.”

“Yeah, come on over. I’ve got some stuff on this morning but we can go down to the pub later if you like – have lunch, whatever.”

“Great. See you in about an hour.”

It was an overcast day but dry and the walk to her sister in law’s house cleared away some of the cobwebs. She tried to organise her thoughts but they spiralled and twisted and threatened to overwhelm her. As she opened the gate she made a decision.

“Hiya. Did you walk? It’s a fair stretch.”

“Yes, I’m trying to get a bit fitter. It was good.”

“Come on in, I’ve made coffee. I won’t be much longer – I’ve got a couple more emails to send and then that’s me for now. Go on into the dining room, I lit the fire in there.”

It was cosy and quiet in Stephanie’s dining room, the old furniture from her parent’s house had been refurbished and polished to within an inch of its life. The artificial flames hissed quietly into the silence. Katherine walked to the window and looked out at the tiny paved courtyard. She looked at the books in the alcove and picked up the framed photograph of her and Bill at their wedding. Next to it was one of Sophie, laughing at the camera and holding up a coloured block towards the photographer, she was about six months old. Such a short time left.

“Does that bother you?  I can put it away.” Stephanie had moved quietly into the room with a tray.

“No, it’s fine. I don’t remember it being there before that’s all.”

“I like to see her. I think of her every day you know.” Katherine nodded and smiled. “That’s nice Steph. It’s nice to think she’s not forgotten.”

“No, never. Anyway, what’s with this Kate thing. I always think of you as Katherine. Are you changing it. I don’t mind at all calling you Kate suits you. Especially it suits this new you, with the hair and all.” And there it was the perfect opportunity.

“I think you’d better sit down Steph. I want to tell you something.”

“You’re leaving Bill.”

“What, what no. Well no, that wasn’t it at all. Why did you think that?”

“It’s just the first thing that jumped into my mind. You looked so serious and with everything that’s gone on lately I just – oh look forget I said it. Come on have a shortbread and tell me what’s on your mind.” It was possibly the biscuits that were the final straw or the sleepless night or the picture of the baby but whatever it was, the flood gates opened and as tears dripped from her chin onto her new pink sweater Katherine was unable to speak through the sobs.

“Oh shit. What did I say?”

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Katherine – 47.

Katherine didn’t tell Bill about the lunch. Originally she had intended to present the news as a little victory, more ammunition in the battle to show him how well she was. But, when he arrived home they ate their meal with just the most perfunctory conversation, watched the news and then he went to his office to work. They had talked about the garden, the weather, they had discussed nothing at all that mattered.

It had been a low key evening, all the duller and more disappointing after the excitement of earlier in the day. She longed to share it with him, to tell him about the wedding invitation and the plan to go to the hen party, but she was afraid that he would ruin her joy in it with doubts and negativity.

Sitting alone in the lounge she logged onto the internet and opened Skype. Angus’s name was in the pending list. Her stomach flipped. She turned to glance at the door.

This would be an irreversible move. Once she accepted the request it opened the door for Angus to enter her virtual world. It was exciting and scary. Then again surely that step had been taken as soon as she had sent him her email, of course there was no longer a choice to be made. She grinned and accepted the request.

It was a disappointment that there was no picture of him in his profile. The little crest that she had seen on the notelets in his office was his chosen avatar. She sent him a message. Just one word, it was all she could think of

 ‘Hello’.

For a while there was nothing and then the waving dotted line appeared, ‘Angus is typing’. She glanced towards the door again. There was no sound from upstairs.

‘Hello Kate.’

 Her mind was blank, she had no idea what to say to him.

‘So, that worked then?’

Yes, it was easy once I had your email address. How are you?

‘I’m fine’

 She deleted the pointless vanilla response. If she was going to do this she must be honest with him.

‘It’s been a bit of a struggle. Things have been difficult. I thought it might help if I could talk to you. I hope that’s okay’

‘Of course it is. I am sorry that you’ve been struggling. Is there anything I can do?’

I don’t think so. It’s just wonderful that you are there.’

Was that too much, too soon?

‘I will always be here. I have missed you. I have thought about you constantly.’ ‘Are you coping?’

 ‘I am. I have made contact with an old friend. I am planning on going back to work.’

 ‘I see. Well that’s good. I am happy for you.’

She was disappointed, his response was cooler than she had hoped. She was still bubbling with the memory of her lunch and had hoped for something more upbeat. Then again they were not teenagers, and ‘OMG – Awesome’ was not really on the cards was it. She smiled at the idea.

The bedroom door opened and Bill’s feet thudded on the stairs. Her hand shot to the lid of her computer and then she calmed and waited. He passed and the fridge door was opened. She was frozen in place on the couch, hardly daring to breath, the cursor hovering over the X in the corner of the Skype window.

Bill came along the hall and took a step into the lounge. She twisted the computer on her lap, angling the screen towards the window.

“Okay?”

“Yeah. Fine. Have you finished?”

“Nearly, I just fancied a beer. Oh – sorry did you want one? I’ll get you one.”

“No, not for me thanks.”

He pointed at the computer. “Shopping?”

She wouldn’t lie, not outright. “No, not shopping.”

“Oh, right – well. I won’t be long and then maybe we can have a cuppa.”

“Yes, fine.” He took a gulp of his drink, nodded a couple of times and then left the room. She waited until she heard him close his door upstairs.

‘Is this a good time for a chat. I mean, this time in the evening?”

 ‘It’s good for me most nights. Daytime is obviously a bit tricky, but if ever you need me, I’m here.’

 They spent the next few minutes in conversation. He told her about his daughter’s visit, that Iain had asked about her. She told him about her friend’s wedding and the hen party and again was a little disappointed that his only response was a cool ‘That’s good.” Maybe he didn’t really want to know about her life here, perhaps it was too removed from their time together.

‘I don’t mean to bore you with this stuff. I know you don’t know these people.’

 ‘It’s not boring.  I want to hear about what you are doing but you know I would rather you were doing things here with me. I miss you Kate, I haven’t moved on. I want to see you. I really would like to think that there is going to be more than this ethereal contact. When you sent me the text I hoped that you were going to tell me you had changed your mind.’

 She read it over and over, what could she say to him. If she told him that she was working as hard as she could to save her marriage then maybe he would cut the connection, maybe he would tell her that he didn’t want this rather juvenile communication. Maybe he would tell her that it was best, if this is all she could offer him he would rather there be nothing. And then at last she admitted the truth to herself and knew that she couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t tell him that deep inside she knew that she wanted just what he did, that to leave the house right now and go to him would be the stuff of dreams. She heard Bill on the stairs.

‘I’m sorry I think I have to go. Can I call you again tomorrow? Maybe a bit later than this.’

‘I apologise. I have pushed you too hard again. Forgive me. Yes, please – tomorrow.’

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Katherine – 46.

Katherine chose a table away from the window. She didn’t want to be seen by too many of her old colleagues. Although she was looking forward to meeting Treena, until she had taken this step there was still a little fizz of nerves. The anxiety vanished immediately her friend walked through the door and it was an effort not to leap up and wrap her in a huge hug. There was no air kissing, no pretense, the embrace when it came was warm and genuine. Treena straightened her arms pushing Katherine away slightly, “Oh wow, look at you! It’s like the old Katherine come back. She lifted a hand and pulled at one of the wild curls. “I remember this.”

The ordering was easy, Katherine wasn’t bothered about what she ate and Treena obviously used the place often and ordered tuna salad, without even looking at the menu.

“I can’t believe it; I was so thrilled to hear from you. Stella says hi and if you don’t come to the wedding she’ll never speak to you again.”

Their food arrived with the usual palaver and once they had a glass of wine and had toasted the wedding and Katherine’s resurgence they were back in the comfortable friendship as if it had never been interrupted.

“So, what’s the plan now? Are you going to carry on being be a lady of leisure or …?”

“Nope. I’m going to get back to work.”

“Brilliant. You are so talented it would be a shame not to. So, have you sorted anything?”

“No, not yet. It’s early days. I’m still looking at options.” There was a pause and Treena put down her cutlery.

“What happened? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to of course but, after all this time, what happened Katherine?” And so she went through the story again, the sudden trip, the hotel and then she made a decision.

“While I was there. In Edinburgh I met a man. Well two men really, a lovely kind barman and then his friend.”

“Right. And?”

“Oh god, I don’t know. I liked him so much, when I left he gave me money for the train.”

“How do you mean? Why did he give you money?”

“Oh, that’s another story for another time I reckon. Anyway he was lovely and…” She paused to look her friend in the eye, “He wanted to keep in touch. I said no – but – I just can’t keep him out of my mind and then yesterday. Well yesterday I contacted him again. Is it awful. Am I terrible.” There was silence for a long moment.

“Don’t answer this if you don’t want to – okay.” Katherine nodded, “did you do – well, you know – the rumpy pumpy stuff?”

“No, I kissed him, well I suppose we kissed each other.” She giggled. “That’s all. He is so lovely but no, that’s all. Though. He asked me to stay with him.”

“Shit Katherine. I mean really, shit!”

“I know.”

“You’ve been together a long time haven’t you. You and Bill.”

“Yes, since Uni. I fell for him in the first year. He was so lovely. His hair was almost blond in those days, in the summer, and oh I don’t know what the word is. Wholesome – that sounds awful but.” She gave a little raise of her eyebrows. He was tall and athletic, in the tennis club and all that. So many of the blokes were –you know, very studenty, grubby and what have you but Bill wasn’t like that and he was handsome, a bit Scandinavian looking I suppose.”

“Yeah well, he still has it all going on doesn’t he. Not my type of course!” they giggled again, “But he’s still good looking and fit, nice blue eyes. Does he work out.”

“No, not really. He still plays squash and that seems to be enough.” Treena was nodding.

“Anyway, yes a long time. It’s been hard though – the last few years have been very hard for both of us. It’s made a difference.”

“I can’t even begin to imagine. I know how we all felt. After all, we’d seen you pregnant, seen pictures of Sophie when she was only a few minutes old. You brought her in to meet us. And then – well it was ghastly, so what it was like for you – I just can’t see how you kept going.”

“Ah well, I didn’t, did I? Not for a long time but – well, “she threw her arms out, “I’m back. At least I truly believe I am.”

“But what are you going to do? About this bloke. What is he called by the way?”

“Angus. He’s called Angus, he’s a widower with a daughter and I can’t DO anything can I? I’m married.” Treena looked away, she glanced around the café, fiddled with the coffee cup.

“Well, if you need to talk you know where I am” Katherine thought that maybe she had gone too far and embarrassed her friend.

“I’m sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have put you on the spot. You know both of us, me and Bill. But honestly, I didn’t do anything – well apart from the stuff I already said – and I won’t. So please don’t feel awkward.”

“It’s not that love, it’s not. Really, tell me anything you like.” The change of subject was sudden but a relief for all that, “Hey, are you going to come to the hen night?”

“You’re having a hen night?”

“Yeah. Not the usual sort, seeing as we’ll both be there, but yes. Saturday. We wanted to do something without all the family and the formal stuff. Just for our friends. Everyone has always been so supportive and good to us, we wanted to say thank you.”

“Oh come on, why wouldn’t we be, you and Stella are lovely and you know we all love you to bits.”

“Well, we feel really lucky having such great friends.”

“I haven’t been around much though – I didn’t even know you were getting married.”

“Doesn’t matter, you were always one of our best friends.” Treena leaned over and grabbed hold of Katherine’s hand. “Please come it’ll be great, that would make it perfect.”

“Okay, yes, I’d love to.”

“Brilliant. I’ll email the details.”

“Oh right. Can you use my new email address?”

“Yeah, no probs. Write it on there.” She handed over a napkin and a pen. “Oh bugger, I’ve got to get back. It’s been brilliant seeing you – truly. And that other stuff, if you need a sounding board you know where to come.”

“Thank you so much. Can we do this again?”

“Oh yes, and next time why don’t we see if Sue and Carol can come. Would you like that.”

“Yes, yes, I’d like that a lot.”

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Katherine – 45.

Bill came back downstairs dressed in his pyjamas, his hair wet and dishevelled. “I thought I’d make a cup of tea. Do you want one?”

“Not really.”

“Okay. Sorry I’m late but you know what it’s like?”

“Yes, I think I do.” He turned his head to look at her. She saw the nerve in his jaw jump as he clenched his teeth.

“Are you still niggled about the conference?”

“I want to go Bill. I am planning to go back to work and I thought this would be a great way to start getting back into things.” He was shaking his head again, she felt a mad urge to throw something at him. She clenched her hands together in front of her, and concentrated on the feel of the nails digging into the soft skin of her palms. “I would really appreciate it if you would put me down as your guest and if it makes you any happier I promise I won’t embarrass you.” She could see him start to fume, knew it would be wisest to leave it but she drove on. “I don’t intend to be hanging on your arm every minute, I don’t really intend to come out drinking and all that stuff in the evenings. All I want is to come with you, reconnect with some people I used to know and begin to get back into it all again.”

“Look there’s going to be another one in a few months, maybe by then if you’re still feeling okay we could consider it.”

“No, Bill I really want to go to this one. What the hell difference will it make. You won’t have to spend time with me I can be with the girls. I bet Sue and Carol will be going, I can be with them or any of the others.”

“No. Anyway I already have a guest.”

“What? Who?”

“A new probationer. I’ve already promised him, I can’t let him down now, it wouldn’t be right.”

“Somebody else can take him.”

“Look, I am not going to put your name on the list for this conference. I’m sorry but I don’t think it’s wise. There’s no point in discussing it any more.”

She spun away from him, ran up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door and letting out a shout of pure frustration.

She was up before him the next morning, already eating breakfast when he came into the kitchen. She didn’t raise her head to speak and in the end, carrying his mug of tea, he came and sat beside her at the table. He reached out to take her hand but she drew back, “Look, I’m really glad you’re feeling better, bloody hell of course I am but – I think you’re rushing things. Take your time. If you want to do something, then do something easy, something with no stress and then as you get stronger we can perhaps consider the next step. It’s sensible, that’s all. I am thinking of you.”

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore Bill. I see now that you really don’t intend to help me so, fine. I’ll do it myself.”

“Talk to the doctor, see the therapist. If they’re happy then we’ll have something to talk about.”

“I’m happy Bill, I don’t need someone else to tell me how I feel. I don’t need permission to feel better. I know I’m okay.”

He glanced at his watch, “I’m late. I have to go.”

“Yes, go on – go.” Without looking at him Katherine left the kitchen, climbed the stairs and turned on the shower. Before he had closed the front door behind him she was under the gush of water washing away the fury.

Once the house was quiet she logged onto Skype but there was no new contact request, nothing to show that Angus had tried to call. She felt a strange mix of relief and disappointment. At least it wouldn’t seem that she had let him down. There was a text message on her phone.

Sorry, I do need your email address.

If you send it I’ll get someone to sort if for me tomorrow

I’m not always this hopeless I promise you.

Have patience with me ☺

Axx 

 She smiled at the emoticon. The idea of Angus, tall and distinguished, perhaps sitting behind the desk in his beautiful office sending smiling faces out into the ether was endearing and it softened her mood and calmed her.

 

I’ll send my address today.

I’m sure you’re not hopeless at all.

K.x

She spent the next half an hour setting up a new email, a new account on her computer with a password to protect it. Then she put the details into her Skype account.

 

Can you find me at

Kateb137@sky.com

I am out for a while now.

Back later.

K x

 She sat beside the machine for a while until it was time to leave for the bus but nothing happened. Then again, she had told him she was out. There was a little time before she was due to meet Treena and so she went window shopping. On the way to the café she strolled around the streets near to the office surprised at how familiar it all felt. She stopped to look up at the windows and picked out the one beside the desk that used to be hers. There were figures moving back and forth inside. She was tempted to go in, to tell them that she was early for her lunch date and so popped in to say hello but in the end was unable to summon up the last bit of courage. The residual anger and upset from the morning held her back. Bill and his attitude held her back and it made her feel weak.

 

 

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Katherine – 44.

When the text alert chimed a few minutes later she rushed to view it. It was Bill

I’ll be late.
I’ll have something to eat while I’m out.
See you later.
Don’t be mad at me I only want what’s best.
Bill x
She deleted it. There was no surprise, but there was relief. At least tonight she wouldn’t have to tiptoe around him and there would be no chance of another argument. She wasn’t giving up the idea of the conference. Tomorrow she would meet Treena and that would be yet more ammunition in the fight to get him to acknowledge that she was okay.

Up in her room she pulled out the trousers and blouse she would wear. The idea of seeing her old friend, of doing something that she used to do without a moment’s thought gave her butterflies in her stomach. It was a good feeling, an alive feeling.

After a lonely dinner she thought maybe the best thing to do would be to get into bed and try to read herself to sleep. Tomorrow held the promise of excitement, so, like a child at Christmas she would have an early night to make it come sooner.

Sitting alone in the house, eating alone, getting ready for bed on her own. She had to wonder what it was all about. Surely if he wanted the best for her, as he said, he would be there, really and truly there, talking to her and trying to sort things out.

As she passed the lounge on the way upstairs she heard her phone chime again. So, probably a message to say he was delayed. She didn’t really care, let him stay out as long as he wanted. The repeat alarm would keep on sounding though, so she would need to open the text.

Sorry I didn’t answer earlier
Meetings all day.
Please contact me. Just to talk.
Any time.
I miss you.
angusC21@gmail.com.
A xx
p.s. this is my private email of course.

Her stomach flipped as she read it over again.

She sat on the settee and pulled the laptop towards her.

To: angusC21@gmail.com

From : Kathandbill@gmail.com

Subject: Hello

Hi there. I just wanted to say hello. I was feeling a bit down and needed to talk to someone. I think I’m okay now though.

I hope you had a good weekend with your daughter.

I didn’t mean to …

 

She stopped, what didn’t she mean? She had been going to say she didn’t mean to bother him but it wasn’t true. She deleted the last part.

To: angusC21@gmail.com

 

From : Kathandbill@gmail.com

Subject: Hello

Hi there. I just wanted to say hello. I was feeling a bit down and needed to talk to someone. I think I’m okay now though.

I hope you had a good weekend with your daughter.

I miss talking to you. I would like to keep in touch now and again.

Kate. X

She read it over again. It was okay wasn’t it. It was friendly, she wondered about the first sentence but she had reassured him and after all it was the truth. Yes, it would be fine. Her finger hovered over the send button. Long habit made her recheck and then she saw it. Her address, it was their joint address. If she sent this, then Bill could easily see it and any response. She broke into a cold sweat. God, how close that had been. She could imagine his reaction. She deleted the message and double checked that the address hadn’t gone into the contact list.

She would have to set up an address just for herself. Was that right? what was she trying to hide? She sighed. She could just send another text couldn’t she. Would that be enough? Short messages with no chance to really say anything. What would be the point?

She picked up the phone, typing quickly on the tiny keypad.

Do you want to Skype?
It might be easier.
K.

She didn’t hesitate this time. Skyping was private, there would be no hard copy for anyone to find nothing to hang around in an inbox waiting to ambush her and – yes, and if they used the video she would be able to see his face.

Skype it is then.
Let me see if I can set this up.
I usually have someone to do this for me in the office
I think I need your email. But how hard can it be.
Don’t go away.
Ax

She logged on to Skype, her heart was thumping, she was thrilled.

The sound of the car drawing into the drive made her gasp and in panic she slammed the lid of the laptop, just as Bill had done last night. His keys rattled in the lock. As she heard the thud of his bag on the floor she turned to look at the dead, closed machine and imagined Angus, struggling with the software and finding her logged off.

“It’s me. I’m going up for a shower.”

She lowered her head to her hands and groaned as Bill ran up the stairs and into his bedroom.

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Katherine – 43.

Though she was awake Katherine stayed in her own room until she heard Bill drive away, another row wouldn’t help. The kitchen was messy with his breakfast debris and she slammed around cleaning and muttering under her breath. Once her own coffee and toast were ready she took them into the conservatory to sit and watch leaves dancing across the lawn. There were dead plants rustling together in the breeze and the whole garden looked forlorn and neglected. It was bright outside and the idea of physical activity lifted her spirits. Clearing away the breakfast things took a couple of minutes and then she went out to the shed to collect some tools.

Working in the gentle warmth of the winter sun calmed her and the hours slipped by filled with pruning and weeding and tidying. Part way through the morning she realised that she had a smile on her face, she was content.

By the time her empty stomach forced her indoors for something to eat the exterior of the house was looking better than it had for a long time. She stood by the window eating a sandwich and admiring her work. Right now at this very moment, she could believe that all would be well, that they would get through this sticky patch and find some contentment together. There was a lot of work still to do but if they were both willing, then there was no reason for everything to crumble and fall apart, they could rebuild their lives, resurrect their marriage.

The years of depression had robbed her muscles of the strength she used to have, day after day of doing very little had deprived her of energy reserves. She was tired, dirty and aching. A long hot shower did much to ease the stiffness and, wrapped in her soft dressing gown she sat on the settee, satisfied and enjoying the hard earned leisure.  She booted up the lap top and did some shopping, a couple of new casual shirts and a pair of jeans. Then, after a glance at the news she clicked through to Abbotts. It was possible the events page hadn’t been updated when she’d looked before and the previous weekend’s activities would be on there now.

She wanted it to be there very badly, it wasn’t and the next conference was already posted so that was pretty decisive. She struggled to hold back the imaginings. It would have to be addressed but she dreaded it. There was no way to move on until she knew she was the only one in his life and it was going to hurt. It already hurt, just thinking about it sickened her.

She distracted herself reading about the upcoming event, it was two weeks away and in London. She had no doubt he would be going, he loved them. In the past she had enjoyed some of it, meeting new people who were in the same field, keeping up with developments and so on but the forced camaraderie of the drunken nights in bars and clubs not so much. Bill loved all that.

She would go with him. Maybe not to all of it, but it was only two days and there was plenty to do in the city and then she could choose which talks to attend. She felt a bubble of excitement. Some of the others would be there, Sue and Carol probably, they enjoyed them. When Bill saw that it was friendly and relaxed surely there would be no further argument against talking to George. In fact, that might be the perfect time to broach the subject of a job with the boss.

As the idea took hold she became more and more thrilled. She would talk to him as soon as he came in. She paced back and forth and in the end it was too much to hold and she picked up the phone and called his mobile.

“Hello? Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’ve been working in the garden.”

“Great. Look, I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. I was just a bit wrapped up in what I was doing.”

“Yes, it’s okay. I shouldn’t have barged in.” She took a deep breath, this was good, this was normal. “Listen I won’t keep you. Why I rang. I’ve just been looking at the website and there’s a conference in a couple of weeks. The one in London. I guess you’ll be going?”

“Yes. I was intending to. It’s only two nights. You’ll be okay won’t you? You could go and stay with Steph.”

“No, that’s the thing. I’d love to come as well. It would be great to see people again and I thought, you know in a more relaxed setting it would be easier. Can you put me on the guest list?”

“You. Come with me?”

“Yeah. Like we used to, I thought it would be fun.”

“No, no I don’t think so Katherine. I think it’d be too much for you.”

“How do you mean?”

“All those people, crowds and socialising. It’d be overwhelming.”

“No, honestly I don’t think it would. I’m actually really excited about the idea.”

“I don’t think so. Look we’ll talk about it later. I’ve got to go now. But, I really don’t think you should plan on coming. Maybe later, in a few months when we’re sure you’re…”

“When I’m what Bill?”

“Okay, when you’re sure you really are better. When we can be sure that you’re not going to backslide.” She tried to answer him but the words clogged her throat, she felt her eyes prickle. She gulped and tried to speak but in the end put the phone down with a slam. “Well that went well.” She muttered to herself as she slumped back into the kitchen to make a drink that she would ultimately pour down the drain. The disappointment was a physical presence. She could feel it roiling in her belly and knotting her shoulders. She would not cry, but she bit her lips with the effort to keep control. If he didn’t put her on the list as his guest she couldn’t go, yet again he held the aces.

She was angry, hurt and frustrated. She needed someone to talk to. She picked up her mobile from where it sat on the worktop and sent the text to Edinburgh.

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Katherine – 42.

Seeing Treena would be a good first step in the plan to go back to work. At first she was excited about telling Bill, showing him again how much better she was. On reflection though she decided to keep the news for later. How much better would it be to report a pleasant lunch with no awkwardness than try and persuade him beforehand that it was a good idea. Okay it was a bit sneaky, but she was hurt by his remarks and so, she would make him take back his words.

She cooked the steak at last, she made an extra effort with the dinner and hated herself for it.

The meal was quiet and they were unnaturally polite and stiff with each other. At one point Katherine almost threw down her knife and fork and told him that if he was going to sulk then he could eat on his own, but she ploughed on, making small talk and fighting the misery lodged in the pit of her stomach.

“I’ve got some work to do. It might take me a while.”

“Fine. I might have an early night anyway; I’ve been cleaning all day.”

“Oh yeah, yeah I saw how nice it all looks. Plenty for you to do eh. I guess you feel as though you’re catching up. Brilliant.” She recognised the subtext and ignored it.

For a while she watched the television, flicking from one mindless, boring programme to the next. She picked up her book but it didn’t hold her attention.

The phone was fully charged, she picked it up and opened the messaging box. She edited the message.

 

I wondered if you still wanted to keep in touch.

It’s fine if you don’t. I understand.

If you want to send me your email, maybe we can chat.

K.

 

She heard Bill moving about upstairs, clicked off the phone without sending.

After a couple of empty hours loading the dishwasher and sorting out some kitchen drawers she went upstairs. Outside his office door she raised her hand to knock. She moved away, moved back and stood closer. The words were indistinct but he was talking to someone, maybe Skype, maybe just on his phone. She wondered what he was working on. It would be great to be involved in all of that again. Perhaps showing interest would help to win him round. She knocked once and opened the door. He spun in his chair, “What the hell? Katherine.” He turned to the computer and spoke to whoever was on the other end of the communication. “Later. Got to go.” And he slammed down the lid of his laptop.

“I’m sorry, sorry Bill. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I was a bit bored to be honest and I just thought that I could come in and see what you were doing, what you’re working on at the moment.”

“Shit don’t do that. Don’t come in just like that. I was in the middle of a call.”

“Yes, Sorry. It’s just that –I thought I’d come and see what you were up to…” she stopped, to her own ears she sounded pathetic, whiny. Irritation at herself boiled over, “Actually, sod off Bill. I just thought we could spend a couple of hours together and if you had to work I thought it might be fun for me to come and be with you. But actually, sod you – I’m going to bed.”

She turned and stomped along the landing into her own room where she threw herself across the bed and thumped the pillow. This was impossible. It was easier when she showed no interest. Then again it had been a long time, and he had a routine carved out by circumstance.  She sat up. She’d overreacted hadn’t she. It wasn’t going to help. She stood up from the bed. Maybe it would be best to apologise. Before she pulled open her own door she heard the sound of the other bedroom and moments later the rush of water in the shower. Too late, he was going to bed and another wasted evening was chalked up to misunderstanding and lack of communication. She took off her slippers and threw them across the room. “Damn it.”

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Katherine – 41.

The sound of their car backing out of the drive woke her. So, there was to be no peace making this morning. She’d slept in. Bill had long since abandoned the habit of waking her. She knew that mostly he was happiest slipping off to work without having to even see her. Sometimes he would call during the morning, more often he would not.

In spite of herself she looked for a note on the kitchen table, perhaps an apology, or just something to say he hoped she was okay. He had done that in the early days, when Sophie was troublesome at night and he hadn’t wanted to interrupt a hard won lie in. Not for a long time though. She didn’t really understand why she was looking, it was just a wish, a need for kindness. There was nothing.

Her phone was in the lounge and needing charging again. She had forgotten to turn off the internet and so it had spent the night hours searching and downloading spam. She flicked through them sliding the trash away to the side and then plugged in the charger. The message light was still flashing. For a moment her heart jinked, so he had sent her a message after all.

 

I hope this is you Kate.
Please if you feel you can, call me.
Just to talk. I need to know you are well.
A x

 Angus had promised not to answer the text, she felt a jolt of disappointment. She had thought he was honourable, but he hadn’t kept his word. Then she gasped and raised her hand to her mouth. Of course, she had called him when Bill had gone away and had forgotten to hide the number. He wasn’t responding to the text; he was reacting to her calling him. It was her fault; she had initiated it.

What was she to do. She knew that the right thing, the best thing was to delete the message and the number. Then she thought of the angry exchanges of the weekend, the feeling of disappointment when Bill had gone away, probably lying about it, where and with whom.

Angus was part of her new life. She had never done anything that would embarrass him. She felt a desperate need for a friend who had no memory of the bad days, the sad days and the struggle.

She wouldn’t ring him. Though she would love to hear the sound of his voice, the gentle burr of his accent, it would be dangerous, might lead her to wish for things she had already decided to deny herself. Maybe though she could do as he asked when she was leaving Edinburgh. If she sent a text and asked for his email address, then he could become an on line friend. A virtual contact. There wouldn’t be the danger that she was communicating with someone who was hiding behind a false persona, she knew just who he was. Would there really be anything wrong with that. Perhaps she could talk it over with someone. Not Stephanie, that would reveal the blurring of the truth about who she had been with.

She put the phone on charge. For the moment she would do nothing.

She finished the cleaning. The living room, the conservatory, kitchen – all of it. By the middle of the afternoon she was filthy and exhausted. She had a shower and lay on the bed. The street outside was quiet, the house was silent, she felt completely and utterly alone. While she had been lost in the fog of depression, solitude hadn’t troubled her. She avoided company, would cross the road if she saw one of the neighbours at the shopping centre and spent her days sitting on the settee, drowsing in the drug induced stupor or staring out of the window with no desire to do anything else. Today the need for company overwhelmed her.

She logged onto the Abbotts web site and found the email address for Treena.

 

TO: TreenaPark@Abbotts.com

From: Kathandbill@gmail.com

Subject. Charity Run

Hi there Treena

Surprise!

I just wanted to say thank you for what you did, raising money for the SIDS charity. I am sorry it’s taken me a while to acknowledge it.

I expect you know I haven’t been too well but I am much better these days. I would love to meet up.

If you can’t manage it, I do understand but anyway I just wanted to say thanks.

I hope you and Stella are well.

All the best

Katherine.

***

She read it over a few times. It wasn’t pushy, she had given her a get out. For a couple of minutes, she sat with her fingers frozen on the keyboard, then she took a deep breath and clicked send. It was done. One thing about electronic communication there wasn’t much chance to change your mind. It was a matter of moments before the computer chimed and the envelope icon blinked in the corner of the screen.

TO: Kathandbill@gmail.com

From TreenaPark@abbotts.com

Subject: Charity Run.

Wow. How brilliant to hear from you. The fun run was – well fun really – ha ha.

I am so glad to know you’re feeling better. I am sorry I didn’t come and see you more. No excuses I just found it so bloody hard to see how you were.

We often asked Bill about you and asked him to pass on our good wishes. I hope he did that.

Would love to meet up. Almost any day, just give me a bit of notice. Lunch would be excellent.

Thrilled to hear from you.

Treena.

p.s. Me and Stella are getting married. Hope you’ll be able to come – that would be awesome.

***

She read the message over and over, she knew she was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. She was thrilled. It was Monday, surely too late now to arrange anything for Tuesday but Wednesday might work.

To: TreenaPark@abbotts.com

From: Kathandbill@gmail.com

Subject. Charity Run

Hi there Treena

Fantastic.

Can you do Wednesday. I can come in and meet you. Maybe not at the office but is that little coffee shop that does the home made quiche still there?

Really excited.

All the best

Katherine.

***

She paced the kitchen, wiggling the computer mouse every time the screen darkened and after five minutes the message came back.

TO: Kathandbill@gmail.com

From TreenaPark@abbotts.com

Subject: Charity Run.

Wednesday is good. Little café changed hands but it’s still excellent. See you there about half past twelve.

Looking forward to it.

Treena. Xx

***

For a while she found it impossible to sit still. She ran upstairs and pulled out a couple of the tops she had bought. She would wear the black moleskin trousers, her new shoes. She was buzzing with excitement. She wanted to tell someone. She picked up the phone, she’d tell Stephanie. She opened the texting screen. The previous message was still there. She was driven by the excitement of the moment, the feeling of reaching out.

I am okay. Trying to piece things together.
Sorry I called and did not speak. 
I just wanted to connect.
K x

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