She was walking back to her Streatham Hill house from the train station when they spoke. He imagined her with her hands-free kit talking to him as if he was standing next to her. She said it sounded horrific. She told him she knew the pills he was taking and how brutal they could be. They talked and talked. He just knew that speaking to her was what he needed. He felt better, he felt stronger and with her in his life he could get through anything. She called him the next night. She wanted to see how he was. She said she had had the afternoon off and had spent it in the pub with another colleague. She said she had drunk too much. Through the tragedy he felt he had Hannah coming back to him. He missed her, desperately, and longed for her touch. As he felt her returning the despair lifted. But the release was short-lived. He was wrong about Hannah.
16. February 2008, we were new…
“How are you feeling?” Amyas asked her as the sun filled the room. She had her mouth covered by the duvet as she yawned and then laid her head on his chest burying her face.
“Tired,” she said. “But good.”
“What are your plans for the weekend?” she asked him.
“A few things around the flat. Buy some furniture and assemble the bed, if it arrives. What about you?”
“I’m meant to be cooking dinner for Raj, tonight. He reminded me at the wedding that I had bailed last time and was adamant that we watch the rugby tonight. I think he’s feeling jealous of the time I’ve been spending with you.” The mention of Raj’s name vexed Amyas. He seemed to be this immovable presence that Hannah always seemed to be falling back to. He was still feeling sore about the wedding, and Hannah having spent the day with him and assuming it was perfectly normal not let him know what was going on. But Amyas stayed unmoving, not wanting the perfect early morning, naked moment to be spoilt by being honest with each other.
“That’s a shame,” he said. “It would have been nice to have done something.”
“I should go home fairly soon to do shopping and clean up the place. Maybe I can come round tomorrow night? That’s if you want to see me again so soon?”
“Of course, I’d love that.” Amyas’s heart lifted. They stayed in bed, holding each other, sometimes kissing, sometimes letting their eyes rest and drifting into an early morning light sleep. As he closed his eyes he felt alive and terrified at the same time. He had found himself sharing a romantic makeshift bed with the girl of his dreams. As the sun swept over her perfect beauty he had no idea how he had arrived at that moment or if he would ever get there again.
17. August 2008, the end of realism…
Amyas met John Stamler and his boss Kamran at a coffee shop inside Selfridges.
“First, I want to apologise,” said Kamran, “for having a go at you last time we spoke. When you told John that you had been to hospital it became clear that something had happened. We thought it was some form of attack but we really hoped it was not this.”
Amyas tried to smile politely. He felt a flushing sensation and wanted to squirm. Embarrassment. He felt so ashamed suddenly and wanted the conversation to move on.
“We all support you at work. If you want to proceed with legal action the firm is with you all the way and whether you need a week, a month, a year, take all the time you need.” It was kind, what Kamran said. And John next to him seemed so concerned. Kamran also said that the rest of the office believed he was on annual leave so he need not worry about what anyone was saying. They were both so kind and they were being so nice to him he felt he had let them down so badly. He wanted to reassure them everything was fine now. He wanted all three of them to be back as normal and talk like nothing had happened.
“I’d like to come back to work sooner rather than later,” said Amyas. “I think I am getting used to the medication, it doesn’t make me feel as drowsy.” Kamran asked if he was sure. Amyas said he would be in the following week.
Amyas had not heard anything from Hannah since her phone call over a week before. It was beyond surprising. He had expected their next contact to be her wanting to see him, to see how he was. He could not describe the impact just her voice had on him, his mood, his spirit. And just the same way the absence of her voice caused all those feelings of pain, grief and searing despair to suddenly resurface and engulf him.
He sent her a message asking how she was and after several hours got a short answer – polite but devoid of emotion. She did not ask about him. She said all was well with her and she was spending the afternoon in a park. She would not call him, she would not text him, he would not hear anything bar a one-line abrupt token reply if he sent her something first. He did not understand.
18. February 2008, we were a couple…
“Is this for me?” Hannah asked. She had just sat down on the sofa and Amyas was taking her coat to hang up. In front of Hannah was the new coffee table Amyas had bought and assembled that day and upon it was a small bag with a note upon it that simply said ‘For Hannah’.
“Aw, I really liked them!” she said happily as she took a CD from the bag. It was the band that Amyas had played on their night together.
“I kind of did the same.” As he re-entered the room, she stood up and from her handbag took out another small bag and gave it to Amyas. She had slightly pink cheeks as she did, a nervous smile he thought, different from her usual unflustered demeanour. From the bag Amyas also took out a CD. The cover was a girl in a red dress walking into a large yellow house on a bright blue background.
“It’s Kate Nash. I was telling you how much I was getting into her and thought you’d be able to hear for yourself.”
“Wow, I can’t wait to listen to it,” he said, unable to stop a great, wide smile. For a boy obsessed with music, buying a girl a record was what he considered an intimate gesture – words he wanted to say and emotions he empathised with all wrapped up in twelve songs. It was unexpected for Hannah to have done the same. “This is the first time a girl’s bought me a CD.”
“What, really? You loser!” she laughed, though blushing slightly. He smiled again, causing her to blush more.
“Raj said you owe him one,” she said as Amyas sat back next to her having refilled their wine glasses. “He took me to the pub this afternoon and put all the drinks on his tab. I think he was implying the alcohol was going to enhance your chances of getting lucky tonight.” Amyas gave an appreciative snort as she laid out her legs on his thighs. “He was surprised that I was seeing you again so soon. Asked if it was getting serious.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Well it’s still early days, isn’t it? But there is something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh this sounds ominous,” he said.
“Not really. Well, maybe. It’s kind of about you ‘getting lucky’.” She bent her legs and swung them off him into a sitting position, back straight, more serious. “When I was young everything was about boys and then about men. I was such a wrong ’un…” It was usually her favourite phrase, which would amuse him as it didn’t go with her accent. It made it all the more her phrase. But she was now using it reproachfully, with a frown. “But I was young and that was the kind of thing you did, flirting, fooling around and going with boys. And in the last year I’ve dated a lot of guys and had too many stupid one-night stands. Looking back I feel a bit cheap. Bordering on a slut.” She suddenly had sad, hurt eyes and Amyas noticed her wince when she said the word slut. “Even with that guy I was seeing at work. I was on the rebound from Raj, we flirted at work, got drunk together and that was it. Sex. Any time he wanted sex I would oblige and then I couldn’t tell if it was me he cared about or just the thrill and being able to have someone any time he wanted. And when I stopped wanting the sex part he stopped wanting me. So I rebounded to someone else and wanted to date and just wanted that attention so even bad dates would end up with me getting drunk and making stupid decisions.
“So now we’re going out I don’t want it to be all about sex. I want us to really get to know each other and I want to know that I can trust you. I want it to be special again.
“So if it’s okay I’d really like it if we could wait a bit before having sex, again that is?” She had a look of vulnerability he had not seen before. She tried to give a small, almost apologetic smile but her eyes portrayed anxiousness.
“It sounds like waiting is really important to you,” he said, taking her hand. It was strange hearing her say what she did. The girl so confident in her sexuality showing regret. It was personal and it was honest. It was beyond what Amyas had experienced or had even considered. “I want you to trust me. I think you trusting me is more important to me than sex.”
“When Raj ended things it really hurt. I never wanted to feel that way again, so discarded. And then when my dad… oh things were such a mess! I have been such a mess. I’m sorry, it never bothered me before. I guess you’re pretty unlucky.” He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb, gave a brief laugh at her use of the word unlucky and she smiled.
“I love getting to know you. Plus I love moments like this; being with you, listening to you and, if you let me, kissing you. Kissing’s pretty good.”
“Yes but it’s not as good as sex,” she said, a glimmer of a smile behind what seemed to be slightly moist eyes.
“I have something to tell you too,” Amyas said as they finished their wine and he was pouring two more glasses.
“Oh? Now who’s being ominous?” she said smiling.
“It’s in the spirit of being honest with each other. I did end up going with and kissing another girl whilst we were going out.” He had not intended to tell her. But after what Hannah had said there was a weight at the pit of his stomach, gnawing away and refusing to be ignored.
“Ha!” she laughed, encouraging him. “I knew you would! I bet you went on loads of dates.” She was smiling as if she had won a bet.
“No it wasn’t even a date, I just ended up spending the evening with a girl I met at a party. We’d kind of met before and we were just…” He should have thought the sentence through. How could he describe the evening with Lisa? “Catching up.”
“Catching up? Oh, okay.” Hannah wasn’t smiling anymore. She looked bemused if anything. “So when was this?”
“I think it was after our fourth date? After Valentine’s…”
“Our fourth date?” Hannah suddenly sprang up, sitting straight. “Hang on, that was a week ago.” Her jovial, playful demeanour was gone as she looked at him seriously and accusingly. “That’s after we were properly dating. That’s really not okay.” She put her glass down on the table and was staring at him, mouth open. Amyas had clearly underestimated what her reaction might be. He needed to start explaining himself. Quickly.
“It was after you had been to that wedding and I didn’t hear from you.”
“I told you my phone broke.”
“I know, but from my point of view, you spent Valentine’s Day with someone else, I then don’t hear from you. And all through the time we’ve been going out you’ve said you still see other people so I thought…”
“I haven’t been seeing other people. You’re the only guy I’ve gone out with.”
“What?” Amyas said. “But you kept telling me you had and then making me feel like a loser because I wasn’t.”
“I didn’t think you were going to hold me to it! That you were taking notes and playing tit-for-tat! I haven’t been out with anyone else since I started going out with you. It’s called being flirty! Jesus, Amyas, we had just met. I’m not exactly going to say Hey let’s commit totally and utterly after one date. Everyone expects the other person is still tying up loose ends, has a couple of hook ups before deciding what they want. Not go out with someone for over a month and then say okay now’s a good time to screw around!” It was the first time he had seen her flustered or annoyed. She then stopped talking and took a breath. “I have been out with plenty of guys before you and can easily give one a call for a hook up if you want me to.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “Okay, look at it from my perspective. You tell me you’re seeing other people so I obviously believe you. You also could have let me know about your phone rather than leaving me in the dark for days, especially after Valentine’s Day. I had no idea how our last date went and when I didn’t hear from you I thought it was your way of finishing with me.” He stopped for breath and to gauge her reaction. “Every time we’ve been together it has been amazing. But after, when we would make plans you would cancel them, making it feel like an age until I saw you again. I know part of it is your work but it does feel like you keep pushing me away.” They sat in silence whilst she looked at the floor.
“Is that what you think? That I’ve been stringing you along?”
“No,” he sighed. “I’m just saying I’m new to this. That you’re a lot more experienced with this sort of stuff than I am.”
“Experienced? Is that a polite way of calling me a slut?” Her eyes were furious now. He was not sure if she was going to walk out on him there and then.
“Amyas, I have not gone out with someone properly in two years! You are the first man I’ve wanted to see again in such a long time. The last time I had a ‘boyfriend’ it was a complete, horrible mess so forgive me if I might be a bit vulnerable and a little scared. No matter what you may think, I have only ever had two boyfriends. I know as much about all this as you! I know I haven’t been fair but I’m sorry, I just wanted to be sure what this was before I got my hopes up.” She leant back, pouting. Amyas was at a loss what to say. He let the seconds tick away in silence, not wanting to antagonise her further.
“I guess I have been pushing you away,” she said finally. “I haven’t been overly fair on you a hundred per cent of the time but I just didn’t want to get hurt and didn’t want to rush things. Every time we’ve seen each other things have gone well, really well. And we could have quite easily ended up in bed together each time and that would have ended up in either things being too serious too soon or just made everything about sex again, and I didn’t want that. I just wanted to give us time.” Amyas held her hand. In a way, if he ignored the anger and exasperation, she was saying everything he had wanted to hear.
“I really like you and do not want us to see other people. I only want to go out with you,” he said. “This, to me, has never been a fling. Yes, I know it’s early to talk about this but since our first date I have been bowled over by you. I spend most of my day so lost in thoughts about you I feel terrified I’m getting in way too deep and you are going to say it’s all been a mistake and leave. I feel so alive when I’m with you and I miss you when you’re not around. And I’m scared too because this is way more than just dating or just sex. I really like you, Hannah.” She was staring at his hand as he was stroking her. He wasn’t sure if this was to tell him she wanted him to let go of it. She would occasionally glance up at him. She did not smile, groan, glower or give him any gauge to what she was thinking.
“Why did you tell me about this girl?” she then asked.
“I guess we’re at the stage where I want to be totally honest with you.” Hannah gave a small smile and what sounded like an ironic laugh. “I guess no one can accuse us of not being honest with each other now.” She raised her eyebrows and looked away again. Amyas thought there was only one thing he could do. He kissed her.
She didn’t stop him. She kissed him back and leant into his kiss. It was over a minute till they stopped. “You can’t just kiss me every time we have a fight,” she said when her mouth had briefly parted from his. She then kissed him again. And again. And again.
“Bite me,” she said as his lips were pressed against her neck. Her back was towards him and her body was pressed into his as they lay in the dark. They were in bed. They said to each other it would just be sleep, nothing else. “No sex, just bed,” Hannah said, looking up at Amyas as he lay on top of her, on the sofa. Two bottles of wine had been cast aside as had Amyas’s t-shirt. “No sex,” she said again, repeatedly kissing and then biting into his bottom lip, smiling as she did.
“Harder,” she said as Amyas bit into her neck. As he did he unhooked her bra and she gently wriggled out of it. They were just in their underwear and as he bit again he felt Hannah’s hand under his briefs, massaging him. He felt his briefs being lowered. He then felt Hannah grind herself into him, rubbing her body up and down into his. He bit her harder, his arm round her, cupping where her bra was. He moved his hand down her body till his fingers were brushing under her remaining underwear.
Hannah turned to face him, kissing him. Amyas could feel her delicate hand gripping and sliding up and down. Dismissively it would suddenly seem, she would then turn her back on him again but keep hold of his wrist, placing it at her between thighs. He pressed himself into her, holding her with one arm, his mouth pressed against her neck, and his hand stroking between her thighs, higher, more pronounced, pressing and touching as Hannah started rubbing herself up against, faster the more intimate he pressed. She flung herself round to kiss him again, her mouth more forceful and biting his lip and he let his hand continue and felt hers’ reciprocating. Their breathing was hard, they both started to moan and make short, sharp cries. She started digging her nails into his chest and then suddenly flung herself onto her back, holding him while she did so he was on top of her. Soon above the sound of their moaning was the sound of the headboard, repeatedly colliding into the wall as their cries got louder and louder until with two intense small screams the moaning and collisions subsided.
“Oh stay on your side of the bed!” Hannah said, irritated, pushing Amyas aside and sulkily rolling over.
19. September 2008, the end of reason…
“That must have been a terrible ordeal,” said Pauline, his therapist. It was their first meeting. Amyas felt he had told his story a thousand times but relayed it once more to the middle-aged woman with the Liverpudlian accent. His work’s health plan had found her. When they told him of the appointment he was hopeful. Therapy was the key. That would fix him, prevent any long lasting damage, sooth the numbness and bring an end to the lack of emotions that was certainly not him.
Pauline had not been his first choice. Weeks earlier his GP, Dr Stella, had given him a leaflet for a specialised counselling centre. Alighting at Paddington and being fortunate to speak to a doctor at short notice – he did not think to call ahead, he simply found himself there doing what had been suggested to him – he was told it was too soon. Their therapy did not start until eight weeks after the incident. Eight weeks seemed a lifetime away. Amyas just wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible. So he took his work up on their offer to find a therapist for him.
Pauline was not what Amyas expected. She was a lot more outgoing and talkative than he had imagined. He had expected someone who would sit patiently making notes then analyse his feelings. From Pauline he got opinion, her own stories and plenty of advice. “You should try relaxation therapy,” she offered once. “It’s a type of acupuncture. I go to festivals and have a stall.” Amyas had also expected Pauline would have been briefed about what had happened to him and would have been chosen by his work’s health plan as the best specific therapist of that type of incident. But the first question Pauline asked was what she could do for him. And during the next sessions, further stories of her life and how she began her career recently, after her and her husband’s car dealership went into liquidation, seemed to raise doubts in Amyas’s head. Did she really have the experience to help him? Was she a counsellor rather than psychologist? She also told him she rented out the room in the Harley Street building. The Harley Street location was one of the main draws. A therapist in London’s most famous street of all things medical and healing. It turned out the building was just office space for freelancers and the reception room would be full of people on crutches, eye patches, neck braces – more an A&E than a designated house of therapists who would help him rebuild his life.
When Amyas spoke – which he did in his now routine soft, passive voice – he did not want to talk about Las Vegas or what had happened to him. He wanted to talk about Hannah. Since the incident she was all he could think of.
“You’re going through post-traumatic stress,” said Pauline. “And who could blame you! Call Hannah and speak to her. Tell her how you’re feeling and that you would like to see her. For all the time you were together, she’d want to be with you. She probably feels as bad as you do and just wants you to pick up the phone.”
20. April 2008, we were…
Amyas and Donny Tabasco stood on deck, each swigging from their beer admiring the lights of London as their pirate ship cruised up the Thames.
“Hannah not able to make it tonight?” asked Donny.
“No, she had to meet friends after work. She hadn’t seen them in ages so…” Amyas let his sentence tail away. His company was celebrating the ten-year anniversary of its London office. After a lavish event for clients, hosted the week before in a London gallery, the twenty or so staff members were being treated to a night cruising the River Thames on a private boat with alcohol flowing throughout. The invitation had been extended to spouses and partners and despite initial excitement Hannah asked Amyas if he minded terribly if instead she popped into a surprise party for a friend.
“It’s really annoying, Raj just called to say he was running late and to meet him there. He was meant to be my ride! I hope he’s at least there at the end of the night, I’m not taking a night bus all the way from Woolwich!”
Amyas knew he would be going home from his party alone that night whilst his girlfriend was being taken home by her ex-boyfriend. Her ex-boyfriend who was a trader, drove a Porsche (non-Boxter variety), had attended Oxford University, was five years older, was a member of a golf and rugby club and was debating whether to buy a house on Primrose Hill. The more Amyas had got to know Hannah, it seemed the more he had got to know Raj. And the more he pissed him off.
Things were generally going well with Hannah. Since the night he had moved into his flat and then the heart-to-heart after, they had become a proper couple. They were exclusive to each other, she would spend Saturday evening round his flat and they would squeeze in the occasional midweek date. But, ever the pessimist, for Amyas therein lay the problem. ‘Squeezing in time’ for each other. He was seeing Hannah regularly but there were parts of her life she seemed to be deliberately not letting him into. A week before she had asked if she could come round that evening. She said she had not slept the previous night because of ‘family dramas’. She referred to her family – her mum and brothers – frequently and always in exasperation, then telling Amyas it was not a big deal before putting on her big smile and moving the subject on to something else. When she rang his doorbell that night there was the usual, relaxed confident Hannah holding a bottle of pinot noir and casually saying she had exaggerated and her mum was simply being a pain as usual. And then there was Raj. The persistent ex. Who saw as much of Hannah as Amyas did, whom Amyas had never met, and when Hannah brought up his name Amyas would sit and try to smile politely in fear of looking petty or jealous.
“The gallery last week was impressive, I thought,” he said to Donny, changing the subject. “And tonight has been seriously good fun. There’s not many times you get to cruise down the Thames on your own pirate ship.” He looked up at the tall wooden mast with skull and crossbones blowing in the wind. “How much do you reckon all this cost?”
“That’s more than my job’s worth, mate!” Donny grinned. Amyas remembered, Donny being the sole member of the firm’s accounts team, all the invoices and payments went through him.
“Tell you what though, it’s nothing compared to what’s happening next.” Donny nodded over into the distance. London’s iconic Tower Bridge was lit up as they approached. “They’re going to raise the bridge for us. That by itself costs…” Donny whispered something into Amyas’s ear.
“Ha! I should have asked for a bigger bonus!”
“Seriously though, mate, it might have been worth pushing for something more…” – Donny also did payroll – “Everyone knows how much Kamran rates you. One word and he would have spoken to Dallas and got them to be less stingy with the purse strings.”
“I didn’t mind. I was surprised by the pay rise. I think that’s where Kam pulled some strings.”
“Ah,” said Donny. “I forgot about the pay rise.”
“I’d only been there since May and it wasn’t the best year for us overall. In a way it’s a good combination, to have the bad year whilst I’m learning the ropes. If things turn around this year, I should be in a decent position.”
“Yeah, hopefully it will turn around. But even if it doesn’t, the London office is the one making money, it’s Dallas that’s letting us down. The way I see it they would be stupid not to keep us on at any price, recession or no recession.” As Donny spoke they had reached Tower Bridge, and on cue the arms raised, making way for the ship of traders.
“Raising the bridge for a hedge fund!” bellowed one of their many colleagues who had come out to the deck to witness it. “Return of the bull market, baby!”
“What do you mean, she’s out with her ex!” Kate nearly yelled. She, Amyas and Joan were in the Island Queen by the Islington canals waiting for Nick, about to start their Saturday night with a pub dinner. “I know people who stay friends with their ex but this is ridiculous, Amyas!” Kate put down the cream sheet of paper with the gastro pub’s menu, frowning in protest.
“Nick said she stood you up last week too. And before that. Come on, Amyas, she’s walking all over you.”
“She’s been busy at work…”
“I’m busy at work too, Amyas. You’re a trader, for heaven’s sake. You do twelve-hour days and she’s the one who keeps cancelling on you.”
“It’s shift work, Kate. And she needs to see her friends.”
“Well, why didn’t she invite you with her? Why all the mystery? Oh, Amyas, I don’t mean to be horrible but I don’t like people using you. She could stop by here and join us for one drink. It’s not much to ask.” Kate sighed, shaking her head. Then a look of contemplation crossed her face. “Oh, maybe don’t invite her. Joan’s here and he’s awful.”
“What was that?” Joan said, diverting his eyes from the menu, almost taking interest in the conversation. A friend since university ‘Joan’ had got his nickname due to the bowl-fringed Joan of Arc haircut he used to sport. Despite him later having it almost shaved to the scalp, the name stuck, mainly to emasculate someone with a sense of humour so dry and remorselessly inappropriate it would drive girls from a party in tears or result in death threats being pinned to his door.
“Nothing, Joan, I was just saying Amyas deserves better than a girl who keeps stringing him along.”
“If he’s getting sex, what’s the problem?” As usual Joan looked at the situation from a standpoint of pure logic.
“Well, it’s girls being girls isn’t it?” Joan picked up the menu again and ran through the selection.
“Joan, you misogynist! Amyas really likes this girl. If he wanted sex he could just pick up any random girl he wanted in this bar…” Joan doubled up with laughter, unable to contain himself. Amyas didn’t know whether to blush or frown.
“Are you alright now?” Kate asked Joan as he restored his breathing, wiping the residual tears from his eyes.
“I think Joan may have a point, Kate,” Amyas added.
“Oh stopping putting yourself down and stop listening to Joan! You’re really handsome, funny and one of the loveliest men we all know. If Hannah thinks she can take you for granted that’s her loss.” Kate left her polite, well-spoken rant and returned to the menu. However, she was unable to stop herself adding one last comment. “Bitch.”
Joan returned to the table after placing his order.
“I don’t see where I keep getting this bad reputation from,” he said philosophically. Kate took it upon herself to provide suggestions.
“Maybe it’s because at your last birthday party, a party organised by your girlfriend, the only two people you invited were your two ex-girlfriends?”
“Lizzie didn’t seem to mind.”
“Is that why she got ridiculously drunk and locked herself in the bathroom for an hour crying and calling you a bastard?”
“Oh, she always does that.”
21. September 2008, the end of being rational…
Being back at work he hoped no one would notice his constant tiredness. Hopefully they would think he was just hungover or weary from weekend partying catching up with him. John Stamler. Kamran and Andrea knew in reality he had not touched a drop of alcohol in weeks. The drugs made it impossible – he would want to throw up. They were still even making him nauseous in the middle of the night and stopping him sleeping.
Work was fine. Everyone was busy so he could keep a low profile. He tried his best to smile and look alert when talking to his friends like Donny Tabasco; it became a tap he could turn on, that fake burst of bubbliness. But when at his desk with all his monitors in front of him he could not stop thinking of Hannah. He should not call her. He was weak, sad, self-pitying and really needed her. His thoughts were all over the place. He wanted her. He wanted to see her. He did not want her to see him like this. He needed to give it time. He had obviously freaked her out by telling her what had happened, that was why she had not been in touch and was non-communicative when he tried to start up a text conversation. If he saw her or if he spoke to her surely he ran the risk of scaring her away more.
But Pauline said to call her. That she would want to hear from him and want to be with him. Amyas was not overly keen to take Pauline’s advice. She seemed a good woman, but the way she sometimes monopolised the conversation in their sessions did seem to him counter-intuitive to what he had hoped therapy would accomplish. So Amyas waited. He did not call her. And then one day at work that burning sensation in his stomach and bubbling into his chest would not stop. He needed to do something. He needed what he was feeling – the hurt, the pain, the rejection, and then the sudden numbness and nothingness – to stop. So he sent her a text asking if he could call her. She replied saying she was free that evening and to call when she had finished work.
22. May 2008, we were… at London Bridge…
It was nothing dramatic or specific and Amyas hoped he was reading too much into something that was nothing at all. He was at work. He had made a coffee for him and Donny Tabasco and was carrying them back to the desks, together with John Stamler’s Diet Coke. “Thanks, buddy,” said Stamler, opening the can. “Man, this is my third this morning. Hardly slept last night.”
“Stamler, what are you talking about. You never sleep!” Jordan from the swaps team called over, ever grinning.
“It’s a problem, dude. It was like three a.m. and I was wired.”
“Maybe it’s all the Diet Coke you drink?” suggested Amyas. “You know, Andrea and Donny worked out the office gets through around fifty cans a week and we’re not sure who else drinks it.”
“Pssssh! The cola is good! Keeps me focused.”
“Keeps you insane,” laughed Jordan.
It felt good to laugh about something, thought Amyas as he sat down with his own drink. He could not place it but things with Hannah seemed not quite as they were. It began as just an inkling, initially after Kate’s comments in the pub. But then Hannah said she was seeing Raj again and she seemed to be acting differently. Messages were slightly shorter with less romance, and greater in time between replies. He knew things had to cool down eventually – that the last two months of playing the young lovers with the constant flirting, kissing and sleepovers had to normalise. But he just had a feeling something was not quite right and it scared him a little.
Sipping the coffee, he received a message from Hannah. She had to cancel Saturday. Her shift had changed and there were also work drinks after she wanted to go to. She then sent him another message to ask if he could meet her that evening instead. She was on the early shift the next day so asked if they could meet at London Bridge for a drink. Amyas agreed, though with a sense of foreboding.
They met at London Bridge station. She kissed him on the cheek and led him to a pub on the river. Inside not only was each table occupied but just reaching the bar was a challenge through the throng of drinkers. “I’ll be quieter outside,” said Hannah as they picked up their drinks.
“It’s going to be busy everywhere on a Friday night,” she said. “We might as well stand here.” They stood under the glow of an outdoor heater, next to the pub’s riverside tables and chairs, all with people sitting, chatting and drinking. Amyas was more than happy to stand. It was quieter being that little bit away from others. More private. They were also overlooking the Thames, the gentle ripples of the tide reflecting the sparkling lights of the city, and just beyond, the silhouette of St Paul’s, the Gherkin and the London skyline.
They talked casually at first. Hannah told him about another exhausting week at work. As Amyas looked at her, beyond her permanent smile and enthusiasm he could literally see her tiredness. Dark circles were clearly apparent around her eyes.
“How was Wednesday?” Amyas asked.
“Wednesday? Oh, with Raj. Yeah fine, I think. Got pretty drunk. There was a Pizza Express teaspoon in my bag so we must have gone there to eat late, though I can’t really remember.” Hannah then changed the subject and asked Amyas if he wanted another drink.
She returned from the bar with a white wine and a bottle of lager.
“I’ve decided not to see Raj again,” she said, suddenly. “Stuff’s happened between me and him and now you and I are getting more serious I’ve told him that it’s best we stop seeing each other.” Hannah looked resolute. He had not seen her looking that combination of serious and… he could not properly describe it. Vulnerable, he would say. She looked like she was taking deliberately slower breaths, and she had her mouth slightly open, staring at him waiting for him to reply.
“Wow,” was all he could think to say. “That’s a big decision.” He knew it wasn’t a great response but he did not know what to say. The second she said she was stopping seeing Raj his face wanted to erupt into a massive smile and he was instantly overjoyed. But the way she was standing in front of him, visibly exhausted and upset, that was definitely not the reaction. So he put his hand on her arm and stepped closer to her so he could lower his voice.
“Hey, it’s okay. It means a lot you telling me. I could tell something was wrong. All I care about is that you’re okay.” He rubbed her arm and she gave a small half-smile. Stuff. Stuff had happened with Raj. Should he ask what stuff was? He didn’t give a fuck. Raj was gone. Hannah had chosen him over Raj. It felt like the happiest day of his life.
Why had he put up with Raj so long? Because he didn’t want to lose Hannah. He liked her so much and could not understand how someone as beautiful, popular and fun as her was with him. She was bohemian to his conformism. He had not met Raj or Hannah’s other friends because they each seemed to keep those parts of their lives separate from each other. In a way it was still a bit early, and Hannah had told him her fears of rushing into things, how much she had been hurt in the past. Amyas wanted them to give themselves time away from other people to build those foundations as a couple. He liked her so much. He was falling in love with her. And as so often with love he did not want to do anything that would risk love leaving. That’s why he didn’t even think of asking what stuff was.
“He’s meant to go to my brother’s thirtieth. This is going to be super awkward. Sam just asked him last weekend. He’s come to all my family events, when we were going out and since we broke up. I’ll have to explain to my mum and brothers why he’s not. They all get on well. Raj used to go with them to buy drugs. They are all wrong ’uns.” Hannah gave Amyas a sideways glance. He moved closer to her and put his hands on her hips.
“I know what a big deal this is for you,” he said. “I know how big a part of your life he has been. But you’re right. I am serious about you. I want to be that person you trust and who you can talk to. No matter what.” He held her and she gave that half smile again. Her eyes looked so sad as she looked down. She then looked up at him, those sad eyes suddenly resolute again, looking into his.
“There’s this girl,” she said. “She’s sixteen years old and I’ve been working with her on her problems. It’s the reason I’ve found work so difficult over the last weeks and I’ve eventually got myself transferred off her case.” Hannah was trying to look composed and Amyas believed she was going to talk about her father’s death.
“I didn’t give the real reason why I wanted to be transferred. I feel bad because the girl has had a really difficult time of it but it brings back a lot of memories. A lot of issues I didn’t know I still had. When the girl was fourteen she got pregnant and had an abortion which has badly affected her.” Hannah paused, taking another deep breath. “And her abortion reminds me of my abortion and that’s why I think it’s best she works with someone else.” This was close to being the last thing Amyas expected.
“It was after my dad’s death. It was a really emotional time. Raj and I were broken up but I needed someone to be with so we did it. I used the morning-after pill but that didn’t work. It was all such a mess, it was the last thing I could ever have coped with. I told my mum, she went with me. She was the only one I told. It was a pretty tough time. It affected me more than I thought it would.” As Hannah told her story she had not looked at Amyas, but stared absently into the distance. Amyas would later not recall what he said to her. He just remembered brushing a strand of hair from covering her eyes and kissing her gently on her forehead as he held her close. He looked into her panda eyes and wished he could take away the sadness. Her complexity and tragedy dwarfed him. He was naïve to the point of not ever having lived, in comparison to her experience of every human emotion. ‘To be intact made him incomplete’. He would read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote years later and think back to that night at London Bridge and how sheltered his life had been, with every incident and adversity insignificant in comparison to Hannah and what she had been through. For the girl had lived her teenage years to the full while Amyas had stayed in his room. She had built herself a career where he had stumbled on his. She had experienced love, pain, heartache and heart-break and felt such grief and mental anguish that he could never imagine. To be intact made him incomplete. Amyas knew he was incomplete, but he loved her and the only thing he wanted to be was the man she could rely on.
Amyas held Hannah; her head against his chest. As they came out of the embrace she looked at him with her deep green and blue eyes. She bit her lip.
“Do you want to come with me to my brother’s thirtieth? It’s not for a while but my whole family will be there and most of my friends too.” Amyas knew how pivotal this was to Hannah. She had kept him separate, her sanctuary against family woes. She must know how much he wanted her to let him in. To finally break down those last defences, let him know she wanted him in her life, more than just a distraction or shelter from the storm. She must know he wanted nothing more than her to ask him to meet her family, to finally be official, public, ‘Amyas and Hannah’. But she still bit her lip, looking anxiously at him as if she did not know he would say yes in a heartbeat. His hands were upon her hips and he smiled.
“Thank you,” he said softly. “I know what this means to you and I am so glad you want me to be there. I would love to go with you.”
They finished their drink and walked back to London Bridge station. Hannah was to take the train back to Streatham for her early start and Amyas was taking the Northern line to north London.
“Wait a second,” she said. “There’s something I want you to have.” From her bag she took out a paperback book and gave it to Amyas. The cover said Eleanor Rigby, by the author Douglas Coupland.
“This is my favourite book,” she said. “I’ve read it a thousand times. I thought maybe you could read it. Tell me what you think about it.” He said he would. They then said goodbye and after an emotional evening Amyas went to kiss Hannah tenderly on the cheek but she intercepted him and kissed his mouth, keeping him with her and then kissing him again for some time.
23. September 2008, the end of hope…
“Were you doing drugs that night?” Hannah asked. Amyas was sitting on his bed, one hand holding the phone to his ear and the other massaging his forehead. The conversation had not gone according to plan and her question typified the call. She knew he did not do drugs. Her tone was accusatory and abrupt. He knew it had been a mistake. She did not want to be talking to him and was not making any effort to hide it.
“So why do you think you feel like that?” she asked clinically if not cold, in response to his description of how low he felt. He told her how Pauline said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress.
“Oh okay, I guess that is understandable,” she said passively.
With all he had to say she would reply in the same manner, more like a clinician than the girl who had told him she was falling in love with him. Amyas got none of the compassion he craved and sank deeper into despair with every word. He moved the conversation away from himself and tried to ask how she was.
“Oh, I’m fine,” she said, almost cheerfully. “I was at my mum’s on the weekend. She’s decided she wants to start dating again so we’ve put her on Match.com. She’s only been on a few days and already had a load of hits so she thinks she’s on to a winner.” Amyas congratulated Hannah on the progress made with her mum.
“Yeah, now she’s saying I should set up an account too and get out there. But you know what it’s like, it’s so difficult meeting anyone in London.” The words hit him like a train.
“So you don’t think there’s any chance of us getting back together?” he asked. With her being so open he did not see the need for pretence.
“Well I don’t think that’s a good idea, especially for you at the moment. I don’t think you’re really ready to start thinking about seeing anyone right now, are you?” It was like he was speaking to a stranger. Who was this psychopathic bitch and where was Hannah?
“With a lot of my boyfriends, and I’m not meaning you specifically, I’ve always tried to be what they wanted me to be and recently I’ve realised that’s not the way. That I have to go out with someone for me and be myself, but like I said, London’s not the easiest place to meet the love of your life.”
Amyas decided to bring the conversation to an end.
“I better go. I probably won’t call again for a while,” he said dejectedly.
“Oh,” Hannah said, sounding genuinely surprised. “If you think that’s best with you.” And they finished speaking.