I sometimes think the universe is against me.
My plan to expose Pete was formed. I knew exactly what I would say to her, I had the perfect speech committed to memory. All I needed was an opportunity and yet because my quidditch team had made the quarters of the Quidditch League for the first time in twenty odd years, no such opportunity presented itself. My free time was now taken up by extra practices, conditioning sessions and the bane of my existence press related activities.
The universe officially hated me.
It was now the first weekend in December three weeks since I had seen him disappearing into that flat, but tonight all would be confessed.
That is unless the universe threw another spanner in the works.
It would also be the first night that I got to spend alone with my daughter. Abi and I had agreed that since I had had to cancel my visits for the past few weeks, I would pick Alyssa up to tonight and she would stay with me until lunchtime tomorrow. It was my first day off in three weeks and I was definitely going to enjoy it.
I rapped smartly on the door, mixed emotions running through my veins. I couldn’t wait to see Alyssa but the thought of having to break Abi’s heart with the news of Pete’s betrayal was enough to turn my stomach.
As the door opens I am confronted with a rather bizarre scene. My daughter is standing in the hallway wearing a bin liner covered in splodges of pink.
She greets me with a wide toothy grin, “I’m painting my bedroom.” She tells me, showing me her pink covered palms.
“I can see.” I respond my grin matching hers, I suddenly wish I had a camera to capture this innocent, angelic child with her curls in pigtails and splodges of paint smeared across her forehead.
I look towards Abi standing in behind the door holding it open, “Having fun?” I ask her.
She laughs her dark eyes bright, then shrugs, “It seemed like a good idea at the time. Come in, I’ll go get her ready.”
She turns to go take Alyssa into the bathroom and I seize my chance, “Can we just...” I indicate the kitchen, “...only for a moment.”
“Sure,” She consents, catching my drift, “Go wash your hands and face please, and don’t touch the wallpaper.” Alyssa ambles off obediently to the bathroom.
“So what’s up?” Abi asks entering the kitchen.
I take a deep breath, preparing myself for the speech as I follow her in, “Look I know it’s probably none of my business but...”I tail off as I see who is standing in the far corner of the kitchen holding a kettle of boiling water.
“Oh Pete, hi.” I greet him.
Pete nods in greeting.
Abi turns to me expectantly, “You were saying?” She prompts as I seem to have stalled.
“Um, you know what it doesn’t matter.” I say, brushing it off.
“Sure?” Abi inquires.
“Positive.” I affirm.
Abi’s eyes search mine just for a moment, obviously not quite convinced.
Seemingly drawing no conclusion, she states, “Right I’ll go get Alyssa ready, won’t be a sec.”
She leaves the room and I am left alone with him.
Spanner. Universe. Need I say more.
I stand in the door way of my bedroom looking at the rumpled sheets of my bed.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
I don’t want to enter the room but I know I must. James would be arriving soon and I wanted all traces of...him gone before that time.
Taking a deep breath, that does little to settle the churning feeling in my stomach, I enter the room and with as little thought as possible about the events of last night I proceed to strip the bed of all the sheets. I momentarily consider throwing the pillows and duvet into the wash as well but decide this might be a little over the top.
Loading the machine in the kitchen I set it to its hottest cycle, but even then I’m unconvinced that I shall ever be able to use them again without first thinking of last night.
As my eyes survey the kitchen, my attention is captured by the crockery stood on the draining board. Two plates, two sets of knives and forks and two wine glasses, the only reminders of our last meal together. Hurriedly I put everything back into its rightful place in the cupboards and I silently congratulate myself on not shedding a tear whilst I did it.
Right next step is cleaning myself up. I don’t need a mirror to tell me that I look a right state. I can just imagine the huge grey circles under my eyes, which are probably red and puffy too, due to a pretty sleepless night filled with quite a few tears. I just know my skin is pale and blotchy and to be honest I don’t even want to think about the state of my hair, there is just no way that today would be a good hair day.
Like a robot on autopilot I march towards the bathroom, where I run a deep, steaming hot bath. I pour a cocktail of bath and shower gels into it too, anything to get the feel and stench of him off my skin.
Once it’s ready I quickly shrug of my dressing gown and step in. I may have run it a little too hot as I quickly hop out again, my feet stinging and reddening a little, but I can’t help but think that actually a little physical pain right now wasn’t so bad, it took the edge off what else I was feeling.
Eventually I am able to sink into my bath though. Usually I could lay in here soaking for hours when I got the chance, topping up the hot water with my big toe on the hot tap. The only problem with soaking was that it led to thinking. And thinking was what right now I’d really rather avoid.
However once the unbidden memories of last night begin to flow there is nothing I can do stop them.
I hadn’t planned for it to happen that much I knew, but I loved having Pete back. I easily forgave him when he turned up unexpectedly on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago and we quickly settled into old habits, which was why after a nice dinner we found ourselves cuddled on the sofa. Cuddling quickly turned to kissing and the familiar pressure of his hand on my waist, his fingers travelling just under the hem of my jumper sending prickles of excitement coursing through my skin.
“I really missed you.” He mumbled between kisses.
I pulled back to examine his expression and find that his gaze is filled with desire, desire just for me.
Something stirred deep within me, and I think that’s when I knew that there would be no turning back tonight.
A small smile of delight played on my lips as I kissed him once more. And then I rolled out from underneath him and stood up.
He didn’t complain, Pete was used to me putting a halt on proceedings before they became too heated. What he did not expect was my hand to extend towards him.
“Coming?” I enquired softly with a raise of my eyebrows.
I clearly remember the smile that he gave me as he too stood. His response was to kiss me deeply and then take my hand.
I allowed him to lead me into my bedroom. I hadn’t closed the curtains so the room was only lit by pale moonlight, which I was glad off, I hadn’t been seen naked by a man since well...James. I tried very hard to forget that thought, not wanting to think of him when I was most likely about to have sex with Pete.
Any fears I had were soon overshadowed by the feel of his skin on mine, and then it was all just about us.
As we lay side by side afterwards both of us trying to catch our breath I remember thinking that sex with Pete was...nice, no that wasn’t fair...well it wasn’t earth shattering but it was...satisfying and ...very,very... nice. As I lay there trying to think of better adjectives, that was when it happened, as Pete rolled over so his back was to me, “Sleep tight Annie.” Slipped sleepily from between his lips.
Instantly my body tenses, “Who’s Annie?” I ask icily.
Pete realising he had made one huge mistake rolls over and tries to slide a comforting arm over my hips. I jerked away, sliding further away from him and pulling the sheets tighter around myself.
“Who’s Annie?” I repeat.
“Look, I’m sorry babes, it was just a slip of the tongue you know I haven’t slept with anyone since my ex.” He tries to console me with words that I desperately long to hear.
“Your ex’s name’s Liz, so who the hell is Annie?” I demand again, trying not to sound as hurt and angry as I feel.
“Look it was nothing ok, I promise.” Pete says backtracking, “She meant nothing.”
“When did it happen?” I ask, not even recognising the sound of my own voice.
“Abi, please...” He begins, but I interrupt him.
“When?” I repeat.
He sighs, “A few weeks ago, okay, I met her in a bar, we got talking and things just sort of... happened,” He paused before continuing on in his pitiful explanation, “It was only once okay... well technically twice... but I swear I haven’t seen her since, it was just a one off thing. She meant nothing to me. I swear.”
Finally he finishes, it all sounded so familiar, too familiar.
I was the one who broke the silence, “Get out.” Even to me it sounded pathetic and Pete obviously thought so too.
I mustered as much courage and anger as I could, “Get. Out.” I repeated with my teeth gritted, as I forced out each word.
“Fine.” Pete bites back, throwing the covers off himself and scrabbling around on the floor for his pants and trousers, “It wasn’t my fault though, you were all...holed up with that tosser, creating your perfect little family, you drove me to it.”
I sit up, I almost can’t believe it’s come back to that old bone.
“I’ve told you I don’t know how many times that nothing is going on with James and me. You made him a problem and I never slept with him.”
Pete pulls his shirt on, “You know what you’re right he would always be an issue, but you know what the biggest problem is? Even though you won’t admit it. You are still in love with him. We never had a chance, not when he turned up.”
His words hit me like a cold slap in the face. All the fight is knocked out of me and I find that I have nothing to retaliate with.
Not that he’s right, I like James but purely because he is good with our daughter.
I. Am. Not. In. Love. With. James. Potter.
I don’t watch Pete leave, it’s too much to see him disappear again, but as soon as I hear the front door slam shut I leap from my bed, wrap myself in my dressing room and hurry from my bedroom into the living room where I slump onto the sofa and the first tear begins to trickle its way down my cheek.
Even as I sit in the bath the tears begin to flow again. I hastily dunk my head under the now cooling water in a bid to stop the flow of them.
What is so wrong with me? Why am I not enough? The two questions that had haunted me all night resurfaced, and despite replaying events I still don’t have an answer.
Once I surface I take note of the prunelike skin of my fingers and toes and the lukewarm bathwater. Hastily I wash my hair and then vacate the bath, I wrap myself in the fluffiest of the towels, the one I usually reserve for Alyssa and pad into my bedroom, I eye the clock with a sense of panic, and take another look at myself in the mirror. Only twelve minutes to make myself presentable.
I hadn’t a hope in hell.
By the time the doorbell I rang, I had just about managed to swipe some concealer over the big grey circles under my eyes, pulled on a pair of holey black jeans and after a couple of other options gone for one of my favourites, an old loose fitting grey and white striped off-the- shoulder t-shirt. As I headed for the door I swept my still damp hair up into a loose bun, but even as I took a steadying breath with my hand on the doorknob, I could feel wet tendrils escaping the old hairbobble.
Just act normal I told myself as I pulled open the door.
“You look like shit.” The four little words that I’d been thinking escaped my lips as soon as Alyssa had disappeared into the flat after giving her mum a quick hug.
“Thanks.” She responds drily, fiddling with a loose tendril of hair, trying to get it back into the mess of hair at the back of her head.
“Is Pete about?” I ask lightly, thinking that maybe I’ll catch the universe off guard and spring a surprise attack.
Abi looks down at the floor rather than at me, “Um, no. He won’t be coming around again.” She says in a thick voice.
“You mean...?” I trail off, surely she didn’t mean what I thought she meant, did she?
She raises her eyes to meet mine, her chin wobbling as she fights back threatening tears, “It’s over. He slept with someone else so... it’s really over this time.”
“Oh Abs. I’m so sorry.” And I truly am sorry that she is hurting. That that twat hurt her. Then my body just takes over. I drop Alyssa’s rucksack that had been hanging on my shoulder on the floor just inside the open door, I take a step towards her and my arms envelop her, drawing her into my chest. She doesn’t resist, but at first her body is stiff, then gradually she softens wrapping her arms around my waist and burying her head in my neck. And so I hold her, and it’s good to be needed by her, to actually do something right by her. After a few minutes she inhales deeply and asks quietly, “What’s wrong with me? What is so wrong with me?”
“Nothing, you ‘re amazing.”
“Then, why wasn’t I enough?” Suddenly I get the feeling that this isn’t all to do with Pete, that this is about me...us too. A deep pit of guilt that’s been lying dormant in my stomach for years begins to bubble up again, I made her feel all this too, when in fact it was me who hadn’t felt like I’d deserved her.
“It was never about you Abs, you were perfect.” I hold her tighter to me, willing her to understand that it was never about her. “I didn’t feel like I deserved you, I had shit grades, my “friends” only liked me ‘cos of dad and everyone expected me to be just like him, and there I was and the only thing I was ever good at was flying.”
“So you slept around.” Abi states, a note of confusion in her tone.
“They were never anything like you, but they wanted me and I liked being wanted, needed...desired even. They played up to me, treated me like I was special, they stroked my ego. It was all about me... it was never anything to do with you, you did nothing wrong.” I pause, realizing I’m not explaining this very well but I plough nonetheless, “And I am so sorry, so so so sorry that I hurt you, that I ruined everything for you as well.”
I stop not knowing what else to say and for the first time I realise that I am crying, tears are trickling down my cheeks and into her hair, not because of what I had done, although I felt a lot of shame over that, I cried instead over the future that I had lost, a future with this woman and our child.
“I forgive you.” It was so quiet I almost missed it.
She pulls away a little, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand, then searches my eyes with her own before repeating, “It was nothing to do with me.”
I shake my head, “No.”
“Then I forgive you.” She says softly once more, a strangely peaceful smile crossing her lips.
As we stand there looking at each other, neither one quite sure how to proceed it feels oddly like a new beginning as if we’re meeting each other for the first time, or perhaps just properly seeing each other without the weight of our past.
It’s me who finally breaks the silence,“Look, do you want me to take Alyssa for the afternoon? You could catch up on some beauty sleep.” I suggest.
“Do I really look that bad?” She responds cocking her head to one side, her bundle of hair slipping dangerously to one side.
I want to tell her that she’s the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on, but I don’t, that would be overstepping.
“You look like a dog’s dinner.” I say bluntly intsead.
She cracks a smile, “A mouth-wateringly delicious dog’s dinner though, right?”
I narrow my eyes a little, my smile mirroring hers, “Er, yeah sure.” I concede.
“Better than I thought then.” She smiles widely, “ And thanks for the offer but I’d rather not be alone, plus I’ve got a bedroom to decorate and I promised madam I’d paint a ballerina for her.”
“A ballerina huh?” I question.
“It her life’s ambition at the moment, and since I can’t afford the classes, it’s the best I can do.” She smiles again and shakes her head.
“I could always-“ I begin to suggest, immediately recognising my error.
“No, you are not paying for them.” Abi interrupts immediately perhaps a little harshly, but she softens her tone quickly, “She doesn’t need your money, only your love.” She pauses considering the implications of what she says next, “You could help paint, if you wanted.”
“Got anymore bin bags?” I ask coyly, raising an eyebrow at her.
“Just a couple hundred.” She responds.
“Then I’m all yours.” I reply, happily stepping into the flat.
If only she knew how true that was.
A/N Well this was definitly one of my favourites to write (probably explains the quickish update!), so let me know what you think.