Coming Out with the Truth Ch. 07byzolia_lily©
Sarah knew something was up. I was sitting at her kitchen table with a beer while she cooked dinner. She cast me a look every now and again, but she didn't say anything or ask me to help out. Which is how I knew that she knew something was up. Otherwise she'd have been talking to me, at the very least.
I was grateful for the silence. The thoughts rattling around in my head made it hard to think about anything clearly. I was sure that talking to Sarah would only intensify the chaos and I was having enough trouble as it was.
Her husband, Chris, came into the room. He was carrying her littlest, Jonathan, upside down by his ankles and Jessie was running next to him, both of them shrieking with laughter. Chris was grinning madly.
"Chris!" Sarah growled. "You're supposed to be getting them ready for bed not getting them all hyped up! What if you drop him? They're never going to settle down now!"
"Come on," Chris leant forward to kiss her. Jonathan shrieked even louder. "I haven't dropped one of our kids yet."
"Yeah, well, there's still time." Sarah glared at him.
Chris grinned and hoisted Jonathan up to kiss mummy goodnight, then left the room with him over his shoulder. Jessie hugged her and ran after Chris again, gave me a sloppy kiss and big cheeky grin on the way out.
Chris was back within a few minutes, Jonathan and Jessie both apparently tucked up in bed. Callum, the oldest of the three, went to bed before they did, apparently since he didn't have a day time nap anymore. Chris cracked open a beer of his own and then wrapped one arm around Sarah and leaned over her shoulder.
"Mmm," he said, inhaling over her bolognaise sauce.
"Grate some cheese for me, Chris." Sarah said wearily, turning away to fix up the salad.
Chris nabbed a spoon from the drawer and scooped up some sauce. He winked at me from behind Sarah's back. I didn't think I'd given anything away, but Sarah spun around.
"Chris!" She snapped. He grinned and stuck the whole spoon his mouth. "You're supposed to be helping me, not-!"
"Bloody hell!" Chris's face was suddenly very red. "Shit, that's hot!"
"It's boiling, you idiot!" Sarah said, quickly whipping out a glass of water for him and starting to fuss.
I had to hide a smile at her quick change of direction. It was very Sarah.
Sarah sent Chris off to watch tv with his cold beer and rubbed her eyes.
"Am I a nag?" she asked me in a small voice, leaning against the bench-top.
"What?" I asked. I guess I hadn't expected that as a question. She sighed and turned the sauce down and came to sit opposite me at the table.
"Am I a nag?" she repeated.
I swallowed before I responded. So maybe she got uptight a bit quick sometimes... but she and Chris were happy, weren't they?
It hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach.
I suddenly realised how much I wanted what she had. It just snuck up on me all of a sudden. Wasn't this just like those times Keith told me off when I burned something or tasted something before it was ready while he was cooking? Wasn't this exactly what I was missing out on?
Wasn't this what I couldn't have?
"Sarah." I said softly, feeling suddenly very, very empty. "This is life. You don't know... you don't know how much I would give to... to have a life like this."
"Really?" Sarah asked me, looking up at me. I nodded.
"You and Chris... you don't know how lucky you are."
She nodded slowly, the look she gave me intense and searching. I pretended not to notice.
"Thanks." She said softly and kissed my forehead before getting up to finish the meal.
She called Chris in and hugged him tight in the doorway for a moment. I looked at my beer.
It was true. She didn't even know what it was she had. Which was basically everything I wanted. Someone to come home to, someone to wake up with, to raise children with and grow old with. Someone to cook with and do laundry with and talk with... someone to be happy with and to be sad with. Someone special.
But why? Why couldn't I have it?
There was no reason that I could see, apart from my own stupid cowardice.
The knowledge sat like a leaden weight in my stomach, made my chest ache.
I was quiet through the whole meal. Sarah noticed.
She sat down with me in the kitchen after dinner while Chris got the kids ready for bed.
"Have you spoken to Keith recently?" she asked me.
My back immediately went up. "No." I said defensively. "Why?"
"He's been avoiding you too? I'm worried about him." I said nothing. "Maybe you could talk to him," she suggested hopefully. I nearly told her that I couldn't, but then she'd have asked why. But god I missed him. I wanted to tell her, I really did, but something stopped me.
Something held me back.
"Yeah." I agreed pointlessly, having no intention of actually doing so.
I couldn't face him. Not when I couldn't give him what he wanted.
The problem was that I had never been more aware of just how much I'd lost.
Or rather, how much I'd thrown away.
Em and I decided to go to the city for the weekend. She thought I needed to get away for a few days and I thought a distraction might be nice.
I had plans to see mum and dad, catch up with a few friends whom I hadn't seen for months, plans to go out and have some fun and maybe actually enjoy myself for a while.
We drove back to the city early in the morning and had brunch with some friends at a café we liked in one of the newly trendy neighbourhoods. They were pleased to see us, but I thought they looked at me funny. I knew why. I wasn't myself.
I got through brunch anyway, managed to actually laugh and smile a bit and for a while to feel like I hadn't left a huge great chunk of my heart back on the oval in town.
My phone rang as we were driving from brunch to Em's place. I didn't know the number .
"Hello?" I answered cautiously.
"Keith. Hi. It's Tim." I knew immediately from the voice who it was and sucked in a breath. I didn't know him overly well, but he'd been a nice guy. Under different circumstances we might have even been friends. "Uh. Graeme's brother." He went on. I had to smile.
"Yeah, I know who you are. How are you?"
"Yeah, good. Listen, I heard from Lisa that you're in the city this weekend. She heard from Sal." Christ. I'd only said goodbye to Sal 20 minutes ago. And I hadn't realised Sal or Lisa knew Tim that well.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am." I agreed. I didn't have a whole lot of choice if he knew I was here.
"Great. Listen, you want to meet up for a drink? I really want to talk to you. Face to face." He sounded serious. My heart sank. Fuck. I didn't want to talk about Graeme.
"I'm sort of a bit busy this weekend..." I said slowly. It wasn't a lie, either. I was jam packing everyone in.
"Listen," he said again. I shut my eyes. "It's just that- I feel really bad about what Grae did to you. I just want to-"
"Tim. I'm fine." I tried to sound firm, but I couldn't really. He was silent.
"Five minutes." He countered. I sighed and rolled my eyes at Em. I wondered what exactly Sal had been saying that spurred Lisa to tell Tim and made Tim need to talk to me so desperately.
I drew a breath and fought the temptation to start my sentence with 'listen' the way he did. "Why don't you drop past my sister's tonight? We're having some friends around for drinks."
"Oh. I-I don't want to be in the way." He sounded hesitant. Prick, I thought. Maybe I'd been wrong about him. He was probably afraid it would be a room full of gays and guys in heels.
"You won't." I assured him. "We set it for seven, so come over a bit earlier." There was a short silence. I hoped I'd discouraged him.
"Yeah, alright." He finally agreed.
"Great." I agreed somewhat flatly, and told him the address.
"What does he want?" Em asked once he'd rung off.
"No idea." I lied, leant back in the seat and shut my eyes.
Tim arrived at 6.30 on the dot. He'd dressed up, which was nice considering I didn't think he'd want to stay long, but he still looked a lot like Graeme. Far too much like Graeme for comfort.
"Keith." He greeted me warmly when Em showed him into the kitchen.
"Hi Tim." I tried to sound bright, but I don't think he was fooled.
"You've lost weight." He said, sounding concerned.
"Yeah." I agreed, although I hadn't realised it was that much. Still, I wasn't going to argue. He'd known me for six years and had seen me often enough to be able to play spot the difference. I got us a beer each. I was feeling way too tense.
"Keith." He said when I came back. "I'm really sorry about Graeme."
"It's fine." I told him. "You had nothing to do with it."
"Which doesn't make it ok."
"Tim. It doesn't matter anymore. I'm over it. Alright?" He didn't look convinced. "I was heartbroken at first, but I got through it. I let go of Graeme when I saw the engagement notice. That was months ago."
"Oh. Right. So- so you knew he was getting married before the cops...?"
"Yeah." I agreed. He scrutinized me closely.
"So you're not upset about Graeme?"
"Well I wouldn't say that." I said with a smile. "I probably couldn't face him. Don't think I'll ever want to see him again. But that's... he's not the reason I've lost weight, if that's what you're asking."
"Are you alright?" Tim asked me without hesitation, reaching out to touch my wrist.
"I will be." I answered, trying to sound assured. I probably would be, too. One day.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Fell in love with the wrong person." I admitted. "Things didn't work out."
Tim squeezed my arm and slid his hand up my shoulder. "Twice in one year's a bit rough." He said softly.
I nodded. "Yeah." He didn't have to tell me that.
I'd forgotten this about Tim. He was confident and self-assured like Grae was, but really physically demonstrative. He was always reaching out to touch the person he was conversing with, stranger or no. I knew he'd freaked a couple of people out and managed to get into a few interesting situations because of it, and it was even more marked with people he knew. I tried hard to ignore the way his hand lingered. I knew without a doubt that he was totally straight and definitely had no interest in me. For all intents and purposes, he was just concerned. But it was still awkward.
"You need to talk about it?" He asked.
"No. I think I'm ok." I answered firmly. I was determined not to talk about it, not to cry any more. He smiled. "How about you?" I asked. "How've you been?"
"Well." He said with a twist of his lips. "You know, Grae and I had a huge fight. He invited me to the wedding, but it was conditional. I had a list of things I couldn't talk about. The whole family did. And the friends. I think a few of them didn't come rather than lie for him. He rang me. Before I knew. To tell me he was bringing his girlfriend for dinner. I- I laughed, Keith. I told him the least he could do was call you his wife. And there was this silence. And then he cleared his throat and told me her name and told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to mention you or even hint about him having been in a relationship so recently and that I was to give mum and dad the same message and make sure everyone had their stories straight. I couldn't believe it. It was only a month after we last all got together and he expected to bring his girlfriend and have us make her feel welcome. But to lie for him... I couldn't believe it. I pressed and he admitted that... he told me everything."
I was touched that he'd fought with Grae, but it was awkward. It was almost humiliating. I didn't particularly want everyone I knew to know that my long term partner had cheated on me and left me for a woman.
"Let's not talk about it anymore." I said. "I appreciate the sentiment, Tim, but... I don't need to go over it, anymore. It's done. It's over. Alright?" he nodded slowly.
"I just wanted you to know that... I'm sorry." He said.
"And... you know when the wedding was?"
"On our anniversary? Yes. The message was... rather clear." Tim grimaced.
"It was just chance. He didn't mean it. It was just the only day they could get the venue they wanted. Short notice, you know."
"Right." I agreed vaguely. "How is she, anyway?" I asked, because I didn't want to talk about Graeme anymore. I wasn't sure how talking about his wife was any better, but it had been the first thing to come to mind when I was casting about for something else to talk about.
"She's alright. She's a nice girl, but..." He looked awkward. I had to smile. "She found out." He finally said.
"What? About me?" I was surprised. From what he'd said before, I would have thought that I would have been the secret Graeme took to his grave.
"Yeah. The police, you know. When Graeme flipped out and gave them your name... she wanted to know who you were when the police talked to her later. I don't know exactly how it played out, but... I gather things are a bit rocky for them at the moment."
"Tim." I said. I felt like I was suffocating, my chest was so tight. I didn't need to know this. I didn't want to know any of it. I would have preferred to have never heard anything about Graeme ever ever again. "Can we change the subject now? Please?"
"Oh, sure. Of course." I shook my head in slight disbelief and took a deep breath. Obviously he'd really wanted to get that off his chest.
We chatted for a while until it got close to seven. I asked Tim if he wanted to stay.
"Oh." He said, frowning. I wondered what was up with him. "Well. My girlfriend will probably be here to pick me up soon." Oh. That was it? That was the reason he couldn't stay?
"Bring her in." I said with a shrug. "We won't bite."
"Really?" he asked. "You're sure that'd be ok?"
"Yeah." I agreed. It would be. He was a nice guy and I was fairly sure my friends would like him. They might be upset he was a) straight and b) spoken for, but that would be all. Unless they tried to flirt with him despite both those points. God, I really hoped they didn't.
The evening was a great success. We all had too much to drink and were all best friends by the end of the evening. I'm not quite sure what happened after that.
Most people ended up staying over, so when we woke up it was like the aftermath of some frat party which I'd never experienced when I was at Uni, and had never actually expected to experience at my age.
In the morning we made coffee and Emma sent a couple of people down to the shops to buy large amounts of food to fry up, and I found myself suddenly confronted with a whole lot of my friends who had taken it upon themselves to come and stay with me for a few days to make sure I was ok.
And nothing I said or did would discourage them.
It had been more than two weeks. The longest two weeks of my life. Not a day went past where I didn't wonder why I hadn't said anything, and more, why I couldn't now. I couldn't figure out why it was so hard, and every day I wondered if it would even make a difference if I spoke up now. I'd thrown everything away before I'd even recognized what I had.
And Keith had left town.
Sarah had seen him and his sister packing huge amounts of luggage into her tiny car and I was sick to my stomach thinking that maybe he'd moved back to the city...
If he had, I was going to have to get his address off Gloria and go up to see him.
I asked myself, then what? The problem was that I didn't know.
But I couldn't stay like this.
I was drowning on my own. It had never mattered before that I was alone; being alone and single had never been a big deal.
And now it was. I was miserable. Utterly consumed with regret and with confusion and a great raging emptiness inside me.
Life without Keith in it suddenly seemed so pointless, but the idea that I could have him in my life seemed so remote, so impossible, that I couldn't reconcile that desire with reality.
So I wallowed. Thought about him all the time and wondered what the hell I was supposed to do now. And felt like I was drowning.
Keith came back on Thursday. I was working but Sarah called me. He was back in town. With an entourage.
I was sick with nerves. What would he say if I went to see him? What if I didn't? Just the thought of it and I froze up.
That Saturday the town held an annual fair. Normally I took charge of my brothers' sons and took them around but they were starting to grow up and wanting to run around with their friends and I had vague ideas of catching Keith and talking to him. God knows what I was going to say.
I saw his sister first. She was pretty eye catching, with her green star shaped sunglasses and silver sparkly sneakers. She was walking arm in arm with two other women, another two following with two guys who were meticulously groomed and dressed in a way that clearly marked them as from the city and probably gay. None of the others was dressed like Emma was.
Then I saw Keith. He was walking slightly behind them with a tall, blonde man, engaged in serious conversation.
As I stopped they all stopped and conferred for a moment. A blonde girl with Emma let go and gave the tall blonde man a tender kiss, cupping his face, then linked arms with Emma again and the girls wandered off together. The two guys spoke briefly to Keith, laughing, then they headed off as well. The big blonde man put his arm around Keith.
Hot jealousy swam through me. The blonde woman- she could have been the one in the photos the city cops had shown Keith. I'd only glimpsed one photo of Graeme, but this guy was him. I was sure of it.
And maybe Keith had been too good for me. But this guy- this guy did not deserve to be within the same country let alone touching him again.
The icy rage that coursed through my veins was of a strength that took me by surprise. I found myself striding up to them as they walking in my direction, and totally powerless to stop myself. Keith laughed at something he said, his face lighting up and I couldn't stand it. He saw me just as I reached them and his face fell. I half expected him to say hello, but he didn't. The blonde man kept grinning, probably hadn't even seen me. I had to do something -- anything -- to wipe the smile off his face. I grabbed the front of his shirt and roughly jerked him towards me. I didn't care that he was taller than me. I wasn't thinking anymore at that point.
"You! You stay away from him!" I snarled. He looked shocked. "You've already hurt him enough, you prick!"
"John -- let go!" Keith yelled at me, grabbing my arms and trying to push me away. I had a good grip on his shirt. I was not letting go.
"How could you do this?" I snarled at him instead. "How could you bring him here? Have him in your house?"
Keith stiffened. "I have the right to entertain whoever I like." He snapped coldly.
"Even a fuck like him?" Keith went red.
"Excuse me-" the tall blonde said tentatively. I shoved him away from me as hard as I could. He went down.
"John!" Keith yelled, giving the blonde a hand to his feet. The blonde wasn't quite ready, so Keith hauled him up rather than helping him much. I was shaking. With rage, jealousy, despair- I'm not sure.
The whole thing had taken a matter of seconds.
Keith grabbed my arm and dragged me behind the nearest stall, out of the eyes of the crowd. The blonde followed. I scowled at him.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Keith yelled. He shoved me. I barely felt it.
"You're here with him- and he had his arm around you- after everything he did! You forgive him that easily?"
Keith stared at me as if I were crazy, then comprehension dawned in his eyes. "You've got no right-" he sputtered. "You can't tell me who I can and can't see!"
"In case you've forgotten," I yelled, flinging an arm out to point at the blonde man.