August 2008, the end of you and me…

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.