It wasn't the first time I'd woken up with a head that was thumping louder than the car radios of half the kids under twenty in our area, and nor was it the first time my earliest thought was 'where am I?'. But the pain and disorientation were combining to ensure that it was destined to be a classic.
My first thoughts was something like 'where are the painkillers?' rapidly followed by 'where am I?' and the first grateful relief was sharp on their tails when I recognised the crumpled pattern of my own duvet. At least I'd found my way home through the booze. Or maybe someone had taken pity on the poor pissed Penny and dumped me in a taxi or even brought me to my door.
You'd think at 38 with a son more than half my age I would have outgrown the occasional binge, but you'd be wrong. They really are only very occasional, but they really are a time for me to forget it all and get wrecked.
I'm not really making excuses for my occasional bursts of wildness but... well, okay, I reckon I do have an excuse or two. My ex-husband had departed the house with a suitcase and a parting shot about my 'prudishness' and that he was moving in with a little bitch half my age and twice the tit-size. Those are my words, by the way, not his... oh, you guessed...
That had been three years earlier and I had gone through the usual five stages of grieving:
Denial (I'm no prude, look, here I am joining a nudist club (quickly followed by here I am quitting when that seventy year-old guy pinched my butt))
Anger (I'm no prude, look, I'll do anything that effing bitch thinks she can do (quickly followed by here I am for seven weeks in a cast when the bikini slipped down in the waterslide and I broke my ankle in a panic trying to recover it))
Bargaining (I'm no prude, look, if you come home I'll flash my tits to the postman like you wanted so much (quickly followed by here I am grovelling an apology to his BOYfriend when he turned up on my doorstep screaming at me))
Depression (I'm no prude, look, here I am crying whenever my age gets me down (quickly followed by here I am explaining my tears and actions to a policeman when a guy in a bar had told me I looked okay for a forty year-old... and I hit him))
Acceptance (I'm no prude, look, here... oh, I guess that skirt is a bit long, that top rather high... (quickly followed by yeah, I'm right whenever I looked in a mirror))
But five stages of grief or not, right now was I hung over as badly as I could recall. I lay on the bed and tried my hardest to figure out what had happened the night before. I had dressed up in a frock for a change (see above) and left the house in a taxi at somewhere around eight. Ben -- my son -- had been told that there were to be no parties while I was out but he was ear-deep in books anyway, his first year at Uni starting to look like hard work to him.
Then there was the first bar where I hooked up with Wendy, 'not yet divorced' as she terms herself, and then there were the first vodkas... then more. There was a nightclub sometime later. Some funny coloured drinks there -- pinks and neon-greens -- and then... nothing.
I must have lay there for half an hour but nothing else made itself known. I was safe though, in my own bed, warm and... naked? I was. Well there was nothing odd there was there? I quickly checked the rest of the bed. No-one had shared it with me, so naked was okay wasn't it? Nothing amiss in a bit of... oh shit!
The missing word was 'soreness'. As in 'nothing amiss in a bit of soreness'. But there was. Given where I was a tad tender.
My hand shot down to the warmth between my legs, my pussy if you must, and I gasped again. There was a fine coating of... well, of dried juices. More than I could make on my own, which meant...
Thumping head or not, I cursed aloud and scrambled off the bed. On my hands and knees I scrambled some more until I found my panties tangled in my little dress and one stocking. A very quick check told me all I needed to know -- they had been perfectly (more or less) clean when I had taken them off.
Or someone had taken them off me.
I checked the bed again, my pounding brain now adding panic to the nauseating mix as I confirmed that the bed had just been slept in by me. Or at least for the last few hours.
It was clear to me now that I had been brought home for sure. Or more to the point, for sex. Someone must have brought me here, brought my right up to my bedroom here and... those were streaks of his dried... his dried ejaculate on my thighs. Higher than thighs.
I didn't really need to look but I scanned the floor helplessly for a used condom.
Not only sex then, but bareback sex. Good job I was on the pill, I thought. Then added, I hope I didn't climax!'
Now that sounds pretty stupid, I know. After all, what woman doesn't want to make sex worthwhile to herself at least in that way? But Ben would have been home. Ben would have heard me stumbling around with this stranger -- oh heck, he might even have seen him! -- and the last thing I'd want is for Ben to hear more than that...
I stopped in mid-panic. Ben... yes, Ben might have seen the guy. My own son might be able to tell me what the guy looked like.... And Wendy must know as well, surely? Of course! Wendy!
Wendy was, I immediately knew, a much better bet than having to ask my son such an embarrassing thing. I fumbled for my phone and speed-dialled her number. She answered mercifully fast.
"Georgie! I'm amazed to hear from you so early. How you feeling?"
"Never mind how bad that is, Wends, I need to know!"
My friend paused and I could tell she was frowning even over the airwaves, "Need to know what?"
"I need to know who brought me home, of course!"
"Oh, right, that was Mickey. You don't remember?"
I stared at my reflection in the mirrored doors of my wardrobe, aghast, "Your Mickey?"
"Your husband, Mickey?"
"Soon to be ex but useful at times anyway, yes."
I looked down at the ghostly stains on my thighs, "You call that useful?"
"Georgie, excuse my French, but what the fuck are you going on about?"
"You don't mind? You didn't think that maybe I was too drunk to--"
"Georgina! I repeat, what the fuck are you blathering about? Mickey dumped you on your doorstep and then spent the next twenty minutes lecturing me on what a pair of stupid women we are. I was the one who suffered last night, believe me."
My mind was still full of cotton wool. With barbed wire edges. "He dumped me at the door?"
Wendy grunted affirmation, "Rang the bell, made sure Ben was coming down, then jumped back in here and lectured me all the way home. Not so sure he was happy about coming and getting us, but I figure what the fuck?"
"And there was no one else with us?"
"Hardly. You could barely stand up, let alone react to chat-ups, and I'm still just about married, remember?"
My mind whirled as I hung up, probably rather abruptly, and I tried to work out the situation. I pulled on a robe and sat on the bed. If I had been dumped on the doorstep alone and Wendy's husband (ex to-be) had just pressed the bell even in his pissed-off state he would have waited until he heard footsteps. But by Wendy's comment, he hadn't waited until the door had opened. Ben, in other words, hadn't been the person who answered that bell-press. And whoever did had found me more or less slumped there.
I had no idea who it was. Had no idea, even, whether he had come on to me or me to him. But in any case, he had taken advantage of my drunken state. Hungrily taken advantage, to judge by the delicate ache I felt in my groin now. It was wrong on so many levels, and it was someone Ben must have invited over. A tutor, I supposed. Oh heck, or maybe a friend!
What if that was true? What if I'd been making out with... fucking... a twenty year old? What a... Only Ben would be able to tell me who he'd had there...
There was silence in the house. Well there was until I yelled my son's name again, the pain blossoming in my forehead -- not that I cared. When he failed to materialise after the fourth yell, I pulled my robe tighter and staggered out into the hallway.
The house was quiet in the way that only empty houses can be. In my booze-sodden heart I knew it straight away, but that didn't stop me scurrying down the stairs and through the still, calm living room, dining room and kitchen, yelling my son's name. There were papers and books strewn across the desk in the dining room and no laptop on the table, all indicating that Ben was out of the house. All of which didn't stop me retracing my steps and even going further, risking health both physical and mental, by daring to open Ben's bedroom door.
My son was nowhere to be found. I ignored the stack of a dozen or so traffic cones in the depths of his room and shuffled back to my own room to recover my phone. I called Ben's number, desperate now for information, but the call went straight to voice mail. I should add 'of course' since that seems so very appropriate given my evident behaviour the previous night. Ben, it appeared, was avoiding his mother for very reasonable reasons -- how I must have embarrassed him!
I only tried calling my boy another three or four -- okay, eleven -- times before I gave in and made my way to the bathroom and, more importantly, the shower. I could barely bear to touch the worst of the stains on my thighs even through the hot stream, but a judiciously placed sponge did the trick. I emerged pink and stain-free, carrying a grade nine headache and enough embarrassment to make me drag my feet back to my room.
I dressed in two layers of underwear, jeans, t-shirt and denim blouse and then, safe, sat in the kitchen sipping coffee and nibbling on pain-killer sandwiches. Ben had to return sometime soon and I was determined not to miss out on the information I so desperately needed. I wasn't sure what I might do with that knowledge, or even whether the name would be of someone I even knew. But I needed it anyway.
It was a Sunday, quiet as the proverbial church mouse in our area and even more so in our house. My sentinel duty started at a little short of midday and I must have looked at the clock a hundred times in the first hour. By the fifth hour I was only glancing up every minute or so, and by the eighth I could have swapped a clock for a calendar. Ben, it seemed, was out for the day, the evening, and at that rate, possibly the month.
The light faded from the Summer sky and still there was no sign of my son, and I still sat in the kitchen, my headache no more than an echo of its earlier heights -- or depths, rather -- and my mood a curious mix of embarrassment and anger. I had replayed the previous night's activities a hundred times and more in my head and I still had no more idea of what had happened than I had in the middle of the day. I had toyed with the idea that maybe I had been somehow drugged -- rhohypnol, maybe -- but it just didn't fit with what I had been told about what had happened. I had called Wendy again -- from the house phone so that my mobile wouldn't be engaged if Ben called -- and had badgered her for as many details of the previous night as she could remember (or at least until she had asked me too many questions about why it was so important that I knew all about what was, to her at least, just another drunken night out). Nothing made anything any clearer.
The clock swung past the witching hour, twelve or thirteen hours after my vigil had started, and there was still no sign of my boy. It wasn't unusual for him to be out late of a weekend night, but it was so frustrating. Even my tingling, sensitive area began to calm. Through boredom, I imagined in a particularly piqued moment.
I had been guzzling water on and off all of the day and the evening, my hangover symptoms making themselves known on an almost constant basis, but I seldom even rose from my kitchen chair to go out to the downstairs bathroom to relieve myself. It was on one of my infrequent visits during the early hours of Monday morning when I found myself very nearly dozing as I sat there. I checked the little clock on the wall above the sink and seeing that it was almost three o'clock, realised that Ben was unlikely to be home any time soon. And more to the point, even if he was, I was hardly capable of listening to any answer he might have, let alone asking him the relevant questions. Perhaps, I reasoned, he was even more embarrassed by my behaviour the previous night than I was. Which, of course, made me feel even more guilt-ridden than I already did.
I rose from my perch and stood before the back door, its surface reflecting back my image, the night outside as dark as pitch. For some odd reason I slipped my robe off my shoulders, quickly discarding a moment of guilt as I realised I hadn't dressed properly all day, and looked at my mirrored nakedness. I felt oddly safe. The garden, invisible in the darkness beyond the door, overlooked a golf course which would be empty just now and for hours to come. The front door through which Ben would let himself in when he was good and ready was a long way behind me through doorways and a long hallway. No one would see me like this except me.
I was, then, more than three months shy of my thirty-ninth birthday and I was not displeased by my appearance. I worked out, harder than ever, admittedly, to stay in shape and my curves were not so dissimilar to the way they were when I was a teenager. Gravity was starting to prove that there was one law that the European Union had failed to overturn, but my breasts were full enough for this to be less than obvious. With a flat belly, toned muscles in arms and legs, I was normally very happy with the way I looked and I knew I should have been right then. But...
But all I could look at was the area around the neatly trimmed thatch of red... okay, ginger... hair at my groin. The shower had cleansed me thoroughly and completely, and yet I could somehow still see the ghost of the stain that had greeted me there that morning. I just couldn't believe I had been so... so disgusting!
I bent and grabbed the robe, ramming my arms into the sleeves and yanking the cotton folds around me to cover my shame. The tear or two that leaked under firmly shut eyelids were more formed through anger than embarrassment, but no less bitter for all of that. I took a minute or two to compose myself then stalked up the stairs to my room. I lay on the bed, intent on staying awake until Ben made a probably drunk appearance in the house, falling asleep almost immediately.
I woke on the Monday morning with a start, confused as to what day it was at first. Confused as to what species I was, come to that. I glanced over at my alarm clock and saw that it hadn't been set and worse, it was a little after eight... if I didn't rush I would be at least twenty minutes late into the office--
I stopped in mid-scramble-out-of-bed. I had the week off!
I flopped back onto my pillow. What a joy! What a wonderful, delightful feeling to know that I had been panicking for absolutely no reason! What a glorious--
I stopped for a second time, my stomach flipping in an altogether less delightful fashion as the events of Saturday night -- or rather, the evidence of Sunday morning -- came crashing back into my head. I sat up calling my son's name even before attempting to climb out of the bed.
"Ben! Did you make it back last night?" I gave no mind to the pointlessness of that question and nor to the thought that he would have had no more than five hours of sleep even if he had come back. "Ben?"
In clear proof of my desperation for answers I stumbled out of bed, into my robe, and into the pit of despair that he called his room. His bed was unmade as ever, but more importantly in just the same way that it had been unmade the day before. Ben, it seemed, had not returned home all night. Not unheard of, even without -- I checked my message-less phone -- any communication in that regard, but... oh boy... just how badly had I embarrassed him with person unknown for him to disappear like that this time.
Of course, my mind -- the evil bitch that it is -- reminded me, the usual expression is 'person or persons unknown'. I tried to suppress a whimper as I staggered along to the bathroom where I found what I was already suspecting was going to be the only relief I would feel that day. Persons plural! Where did that nasty idea come from? And could that possibly be the reason for so much soreness just where the supposedly super-soft toilet tissue was delicately dabbing?
I ouched my way back to the bedroom and hastily threw on as many layers of clothing as I could reasonably get away with before heading to the kitchen for another daily vigil, waiting for the possessor of the information that I so desperately wanted.
It was another long, and another fruitless, wait. At least the endless fidgeting distracted me from the fridge and food in general. But with every fidget I came up with yet another reason why my son had been horrified by my behaviour at the weekend. There again, I didn't care any longer if he had heard me and the stranger -- or strangers -- I just wanted the name. Or names. Or even just a description or two. Surely not three?
The sun went down but not my heart rate. Eventually my eyelids followed suit and I found myself jerking awake at the kitchen table, my face stick in a dried puddle of saliva that had leaked from me sometime during the night. Pulling myself free of the obnoxious table, I checked my watch and the kitchen clock. It was after three and the house felt as empty as ever, but I still dashed upstairs to confirm that Ben was still playing the role of absent son.
And probably the horrified son, as well.
It was stupid o'clock, but I felt weirdly tired. Dog-tired my own mother would have probably said with astonishing foresight fifteen years ago when I was still at home. Figuring that my son was going to remain absent all night I went to my room, stripped quickly and dived into the bed. I wondered whether I would see him the next day. Or ever again, come to that.
At eight o'clock the next morning I found out.
"Mum! Wake up! Please!"
"Wassmadda?" I was awake fast and far more alert than usual, "Wasstime?"
Ben breathed an audible sigh of relief and threw the empty pain-killer bottle back into my bedside cabinet, "Thank fu... goodness. Mum, wake up because I really need to talk to you before I run out of nerve."
"You wanna talk?" See? I was always sharp and alert from the first second I was awake.
"Don't want to, but I need to." He breathed deeply again, then plunged on, "Mum, it's real important and if I don't say it now I don't think I ever will."
My mind was de-fogging fast and I finally understood that this was going to be about the weekend -- and to judge from my son's agitated state, I was due some bad news about my behaviour then. As you all know, I was fully expecting that but now the moment was apparently upon me it still sent a shiver of fear and shame-to-come shuddering up my spine. I sat up fast, "Just say it then, angel, but know -- just know -- that I'm so very sorry."
He glanced down at me then fixed on my eyes, "You're sorry?"
"Yes," I told him emphatically. Just like my son, I glanced down at myself, but on seeing that I had sat up fast to the point where the duvet had slipped down to my waist and that I was naked, I gave a squeak and covered up fast. Then wondered how the hell he'd not at least looked just a little longer at one part of me -- or rather, two -- which I never showed off normally. "Sorry again," I told him with feeling.
Ben's dismissive shake of the head felt midway between a grateful relief and the gentlest slap in the face but his next words had me thinking too busily for any lingering thoughts as to his reaction to my accidental exposure, "What do you mean, mum, you're sorry?"