Disclaimer: This an original work of fiction. Any similarities to people living or dead are purely coincidental. No unauthorized copying or re-posting of this story is permitted.
This story depicts a loving relationship between two, CONSENTING women. THERE MAY BE SEX OR INTIMATE MOMENTS. If you just pulled a distasteful face or it’s illegal in your neck of the woods, then HAMBA KAHLE (Go Well).
There is some cussing so be aware. Nothing we haven’t all said before and appropriate to the situation.
NOTE: I am a proudly South African woman. All my stories are based in South Africa with a uniquely South African point of view. Some of the places mentioned actually do exist and some are made up.
Thanks to the beta’s who keep me on the right track.
All feedback will be appreciated. Please send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
DEDICATION: To my wife and son. All I am, everything I do, is for you. You are my inspiration, always.
“LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU WHILE YOU’RE BUSY MAKING OTHER PLANS.” - JOHN LENNON
I often felt that God had a wicked sense of humour. An old guy sitting up there with the saints and angels playing, “GUESS WHAT, I FOOLED YOU AGAIN”,and laughing his head off. Sometimes it feels like there is no such thing as ‘free will,’ as if everything is already decided and we just play our part in the game.
That is, of course, false. It's just a way for us to blame someone or something else for our bad choices. We have the power, we always had the power, and everything that happens to us is because we set ourselves up to be there, at that time, doing that thing. Choices. How many do we make every day? Some are so pedestrian that we make them out of habit, without really thinking. Breakfast? Clothing? Lunch? Transport? Work? Dinner? Going out? Staying in? Calling friends? E-mailing family? We really don’t put too much thought into these everyday things.
Careers? Love? Marriage? Children? Where we live? Whom we let into our circle of friends. How much of ourselves we share with others. This takes careful deliberation, often weeks or months or years of careful deliberation, listing the pro’s and the con’s until finally… we compromise. Nevertheless, are we secure in our decision or do we just hope for the best? Was I right or wrong? What external forces influence our choices? Whose expectations do we live up to? Society? Family? Ours? Only time will tell. What is important is we had the courage to decide.
This may sound melodramatic but think about it. How many things can go horribly wrong from one decision? How many of our loved ones will actually support our decision? How many people will stick around when the chips are down? We get it right or wrong and either way we have to face those consequences.
Yep I think the big guy is sitting up there have a roaring time and being very entertained because all along we are the ones to blame.
‘You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them- Maya Angelou’
The alarm clock woke me unceremoniously; with its flashing display and incessant beeping; 5:30am. The truth was I’d been awake since five but unwilling to leave the warmth of my bed. It was a typical autumn morning, chilly with the promise of warmer temperatures later in the day.
Joel lay curled up in the small of my back; I could feel his breath make a hot spot on my t-shirt. I slowly slipped out from under the covers wanting to give him just a few more minutes of sleep. My bare feet hit the cold tiled floor, DAY ONE. Actually, it was day 400 and something, but day one on our own in our new home.
Walking past the mirror over the sink, I almost turned around to see who else was in the bathroom with me then realised it was me. I didn’t recognise the woman staring back at me; tired eyes, out-grown hairstyle, and pasty skin. I was never the most glamorous person but I looked a damn sight better than this. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and combed my unruly hair back into a ponytail, no time to wallow in self-pity.
Joel was awake attempting to make the bed, struggling to straighten the duvet cover. “Good morning baby.” Finally, he threw the last of the pillows in place. “Morning baby,” he smiled and was off to the bathroom, all business this morning. I quickly changed into black pants with a teal blouse, put on a pair of earrings and a smidge of lip-gloss and went to make breakfast.
The flat had one and a half bedrooms; Joel’s room was full of all the unpacked boxes, with an open-plan kitchen and lounge and a shower and toilet off the main bedroom. Joel joined me in the kitchen a few minutes later wearing blue jeans and a green, check shirt. “My, my you look handsome today, Son.”
“I thought I should make a good impression on my first day,” he said tying the laces on his sneakers.
“Are you nervous?” I put the bowl of cornflakes and milk in front of him.
“Nah, I figure one school is the same as the next. Everything is new until it’s not.”
“O-Kay. No more fishing trips with Grandpa. You are starting to sound like him.” We finished our breakfast in silence, then gathered our things and went to wait on the corner for the taxi (minibus taxi).
I had to sell my car so I could put a deposit on a flat and be able to furnish it. Without Scott around to constantly fix it, that car cost me more on repairs and parts than it was worth any way.
Joel had been attending a pre-school two roads away from Mum and Dads house but I was fortunate enough to get him transferred to the school where I worked. I had been a locum teacher for six months and then offered a permanent post when the women I was subbing for decided to stay home with her baby instead. Thrilled that my career was settled, I decided it was time that we stood on our own two feet, so to speak.
I fell pregnant in my first year of college. Scott and I had been dating since high school. He was sweet, kind, and one of those people who was not afraid to show how much he loved me, even if his friends teased him. It didn’t hurt that he was tall and muscular with dark skin and big brown eyes. He was doing his apprenticeship in motor mechanics. I knew Scott was the man I would spend the rest of my life with.
My parents, coming from a staunch catholic background, were devastated when I told them I was pregnant and announced our plans to marry. They had all the usual concerns of us being too young and neither of us having careers yet.
Scott’s apprenticeship and my waitressing job paid the bare minimum but we were young and in love and excited about our child so we didn’t care what anyone else thought.
I further destroyed them when I announced that I would not be getting married in the church. There are two big ways to disgrace a catholic family; falling pregnant out of wedlock, yes they still say it just like that, and not getting married in church. I was two for two so naturally the priest was invited to dinner to council me back to my senses and aunties and uncles called to ‘talk’, more like threaten, me.
Scott’s family were not big on going to church and we didn't want to wait months for a priest to approve our marriage. I was so in love, I didn't care where I got married.
Three weeks later, we became Mr and Mrs Ellis. There was a civil ceremony in court and lunch at his parents’ house. The Ellis’ were ecstatic that we were married and they were going to be grandparents. My family attended as well as my mother’s brother, sister, and their respective families. They smiled for the photos and went through the motions but the tension radiating from them was palpable. You would be forgiven for thinking that you were at a funeral, if it were not for our friends and my cousins dancing and enjoying themselves.
Mum could barely look me in the eye when she said goodbye. Dad kissed my forehead and whispered just for me to hear, “you always have a home to come back to”, and then he climbed into his car and drove away.
Scott was an only child so it was just the four of us in the house. I went to college full time; Dad insisted that I finish and he would pay my fees. Mrs Ellis, Anne, was a housewife so there was not really much for me to do except relax and be pampered with treats whenever I got home. Mr Ellis, Jeff, a mechanic, worked until 4pm every day, came home, showered and went to the pub until suppertime. Then he would eat and watch television until he fell asleep. He never said much but he was sweet and would always ask how I was.
Scott promised to take me on a proper honeymoon soon but it really didn’t bother me, I had him and our baby and that is all I really needed. He bought us a television and DVD player for our room so we could have alone time together. I was happy and in love, what more could I ask for.
‘Evil thrives where good men do nothing.-Edmund Burke’
We got into a taxi on the corner, rode for ten minutes to the school, and jumped off at the gate. First, we went to Joel’s class where Mrs Beatty was waiting to welcome us. She was a tall, slender woman that seemed to float rather than walk and was always very cheerful. I always thought that she might have been a dancer of some sort; she exuded that natural grace of a dancer. She took Joel on a tour of the class, showing him which cubby was his and asked him to draw a picture of himself to label the cubby.
I stood at the door watching him shed his jacket and bag and gather art suppliers to draw his picture. He greeted and shook hands with the other little boy at his table and sat down to his task. “You okay?” Elaine Beatty asked touching my shoulder.
“You’d think this was my first time wouldn’t you?” I replied weakly.
“Don’t worry; he’s going to do just fine. From what I read in his first term report, he is absolutely capable.” Standing against the doorframe, I prayed that he would be okay, make many friends, and just smile more again. He looked up from his drawing, crossed his heart, and winked at me. That was our signal for ‘I’m okay and I love you’.
It was like our secret handshake that Joel came up with last year after watching Carol Burnett DVDs with Mum. He wanted to know why she always pulled her ear at the end of each show and Mum told him it was a special thing she did for her grandmother. He decided that we should have one too. We spent weeks trying out different signals; tapping the nose rubbing the cheek, hand signals of various kinds. They were abruptly discarded after a one or two day trial period and we moved on to other ideas.
Scott’s parents had been begging me to bring Joel to visit and eventually I had run out of excuses. I tried to make sure that they saw him at least once a month but we had neglected them over the past few months, mostly because I was not up for reminiscing or hearing how sorry Scott was about everything. Joel was not happy at all about it and I had to put my foot down to stop the whining.
“Mom are you going to leave me with them?” he asked while tying his laces. The whining had stopped but he was sulky.
“No baby, I’m staying for lunch as well.”
“Are we leaving straight after lunch?”
“We can visit for a little and then leave. They miss you, Son. It has been hard on them too so please make the effort to be pleasant. We don’t see them very often. Please?” He nodded his acknowledgement and went to sit in front of the TV and wait for me. I could not understand his reluctance to see them. They always spoilt him rotten.
The drive was quiet except for the radio but I could see the tension become more pronounced in my son, the closer we got to the house. When we pulled into the driveway, Anne and Jeff were waiting, beside themselves with excitement.
Joel shot me a worried look, “do you promise not to leave me alone and we can go home soon after lunch?” I kissed my little boy’s forehead where the worry lines seemed to be making a permanent home.
“Cross my heart”, I promised and winked to give him assurance. Jeff opened the passenger door and helped Joel out, crushing him in a long hug. Anne had tears in her eyes as they ushered us inside. They made the usual comments about how much he had grown and gave him gifts.
Anne had knitted him a jersey with a truck motif on the front and Jeff bought him a Model T Ford collector’s car.
Jeff was explaining the details of the car when Anne asked me to help her set the table. I remembered my promise to Joel and stopped in the doorway. After a few minutes he looked up crossed his heart and winked at me. We had found our signal.
Lunch went well without too much discomfort until Jeff started talking about Scott. Joel became visibly tense especially when Anne mentioned that he was just like his father. We had not had dessert yet when he asked if we could go home because he had a project to finish with Dad. Anne and Jeff were very disappointed but I knew that look on my son’s face and didn't force the issue. Anne dished dessert for us to take home and they stood at the gate waving as we drove away.
Joel stared out the window the whole way home. I parked the car in our driveway and turned to him. “You were rude to your grandparents, not wanting to stay for dessert after they went through so much trouble.”
“It makes me mad when they keep saying that I’m just like Scott. I’m nothing like him, Mom.”
“Baby, people just say that sort of thing. They didn’t mean anything by it.” I said holding his hand. “You know it’s not their fault either, Son. Just like it is not yours or mine. Your Dad is responsible for his own actions and he is the only one to blame.”
“They knew.” His voice was so small and so vulnerable. “They knew he was being mean to you and they did nothing. Ouma would just pick me up, take me to her room, and close the door. When she begged Oupa to stop Dad, he told her to shut up and mind her own business. He said she would be in big trouble with him if she didn’t leave it alone.” The tears were rolling down his cheeks and his body shook. I pulled him into my lap and held him tightly whispering soothing words.
Through everything, I never imagined he would even remember what happened. He was a toddler for goodness sake. I left because I wanted to protect both of us. I knew how that kind of environment could affect children and I didn't want that for him. He was a child, who should not have been exposed to the ugliness of life at such an early age, not at all, if I could help it.
“Mom, I think we found our special signal,” he sniffled.
“…the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows…” – rocky balboa
Those first months of marriage brought us so much happiness. Scott was so attentive; he would drive me to college and pick me up stating that the mother of his child could never take public transport. He came to all my doctors’ appointments, would buy the baby little inexpensive gifts and made sure my cravings were always appeased. He cried the day we found out that we were having a boy; I was not one of those people that wanted any surprises.
We visited my parents every Sunday and they started to get excited and planning for the baby. Scott would help Dad with house projects or sit and watch sport together while the women prepared lunch and gossiped in the kitchen. We would often go to a friend’s house on a Friday and Saturday evening and Scott would boast about the baby and me.
Things started to change in the seventh month of my pregnancy. It was as if my stomach tripled in size overnight. Whereas the first six months were uneventful, with very little morning sickness, the next few months were awful. Everything seemed to happen at once. I hated meat; the smell of it, even the thought of it made me nauseas. I was tired all the time; a day at college knocked me for a six and I would come home and sleep the afternoon away. My gynaecologist assured me that although less common, this was completely normal for some pregnant women and to do just what my body needed me to do. The most important thing was that the baby was healthy.
We began to socialise less with friends as I often didn't have the energy to be out late. The last braai we attended was Mark, Scott’s best friend’s, birthday. The smell of the meat was so revolting that I stayed in the house with the doors and windows closed and watched TV with Mark’s granny. Eventually Scott took me home. I only ever wanted to go to my parents or stay home.
Scott began to behave like a caged animal. He was frustrated and short-tempered, throwing or kicking things around the house and drinking far too much alone in the garage. I realised the sudden change was overwhelming for him so I encouraged him to go out without me. Things got a little better, not back to normal but better. He was a much easier person to be around and by the time I was ready to pop, he seemed like the old Scott again.
After baby was born, friends and family would come over regularly to visit. The men were outside in the garden or the garage while the women cooed over the baby and passed him around. We named our son Joel after Billy Joel since our favourite song was ‘just the way you are’, ironic. Scott helped with everything; diapers, feeding, bathing, making him sleep and even night patrol. He was truly the model father; he even cut down on going out with his friends and preferred to spend his weekends at home with us. Joel was baptised when he was a month old with my brother and sister as his godparents and Scott didn't even fight me on that.
When Joel was three months old, we started taking him out to visit friends and family but I insisted we be home by 8pm the latest. After a few months of co-operation, Scott became frustrated again. He felt the baby was old enough to be left with his parents so we could go out on weekends and I was adamant that I would not do it. Things had changed, we were parents now, and we couldn't just dump our child to party with friends. He was now our priority, not them.
We had a huge fight, more like a screaming match. He complained that I didn't have time for him and the baby had changed everything. He said I was behaving like an old married woman and he was not ready to be an old married couple. I told him to do whatever he wanted but I was not going with him. That was the first time he didn't come home.
He walked in close to noon the next day smelling of stale alcohol and sporting a huge hangover. I followed him into the bedroom demanding to know where he had been. After an argument, he pushed me out the door and locked it. This went on for months and he never offered an explanation as to where he had been. Arguments got louder and more physical and eventually we stopped sleeping in the same bed.
He spent time with Joel but only if he was quiet; the minute he started to fuss, Scott would pass him off to the nearest person and storm out. I often sat and wondered who this man was? How had he changed so much from the person I married? I yearned for those first months, for that loving attentive man who was proud of his wife and child. We were married for over a year, it seemed like so much more time had passed, and already it was crumbling. To the outside world, I tried to pretend that everything was okay between us, especially to my family. I was twenty years old with a baby and a divorce looming. How had that happened?
One day when he went out, I packed our bags and went to my parents’ house. I told them what had been going on and asked if we could stay. Scott was there within the hour; his parents must have phoned him and told him we left. He demanded that I come back home. I told him that he could have access to his child but I was not willing to continue living the way we were. It was time for him to grow up and start behaving like a husband and father.
At first, he was loud and aggressive making demands and telling me what I could and couldn't do. When he saw I wasn't budging he started to apologise and beg. My only response to him was to show me he could change. Anyone can make promises, they are dime a dozen. The hard part is putting those promises to action. He was quiet for the longest time and then asked to see Joel.
By the end of the following month we were back home with Scott. He had done everything that he said he would do. Every day after work he came to visit us until Joel went to sleep then he and I would spend quality time together before he had to go home. He spent the whole weekend with us; going to the park, the zoo, the beach and always made sure, we had treats. He was not perfect but then neither was I.
We both acknowledged that we were young but as parents, we were different from our friends and we had responsibilities to each other and our son. We learned to compromise, communicate better, and went out more as a family and sometimes just the two of us, leaving the baby with his parents or mine.
We still had fights but nothing like we did in the past and I felt like I was beginning to fall in love again. All in all life was looking good, the future seemed brighter, and then Scott got the job of a lifetime.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou
Joel and I were settling into our new life quite comfortably. All the boxes had been unpacked and we each had our own rooms to retreat to. As much as we loved spending time together we both liked to have our individual space sometimes. Joel had made friends at school and according to Mrs Elaine Beatty was coping well with the curriculum. He was more relaxed, he smiled and told stories and was especially excited about his new friend Liam. They seemed to be cut from the same cloth.
I enjoyed my job and was invited to join the PTA since I had a unique perspective as a parent and a teacher. The PTA met once a month on a Tuesday evening in the teachers’ lounge to organise fundraisers and discuss issues. It was a great opportunity to get to know some of my colleagues better and mingle with parents as well.
Sunday lunches with Mum and Dad were now a tradition. Mum and I would start preparing lunch straight after morning mass while Dad and Joel were in the shed busy with whatever project was on the cards. Every month end one or both of my siblings would be home for the weekend, which made the day extra special. Ashley was eighteen and doing a degree in project management at WITS in Pretoria while Charlton was 20 and studying Physiotherapy in Cape Town. We were a very close-knit family, which is why they were upset with me for hiding what was really going on in my marriage.
Scott and I had been talking about buying our own house. I had one year left at college and when he qualified as a mechanic the company offered him a position at a service centre for BMW in Cape Town. After much debate, we decided that he would take the job and when I finished college, Joel and I would join him. He came home every last weekend of the month and would phone every night to talk to us before we went to bed. Joel was three years old and I had enrolled him in pre-school so he could be around kids his own age.
Scott shared a house with three colleagues and I was happy that he wouldn't be lonely but it also meant that we could never visit him unless we booked into a B&B, which was very expensive.
This arrangement worked perfectly for a while and then he started to miss calling us some nights. He said he was working late or had to do a special favour for an important customer. Some nights when he called, I could hear lots of noise in the background and he would say that some of his colleagues liked to get together for drinks. He still came home once a month but was always on his phone texting or talking to people. When I complained that I was tired of sharing him with his phone and his friends that kept dropping by, we would fight. He then started to stay away for months at a time and say he had to work that weekend.
No one sees his or her marriage fall apart. It just gradually happens like water eroding a hillside until the face of it has changed into something unrecognisable. I could not pinpoint the exact moment when it started to change again. The distance between us grew from a crack to a canyon. When people asked, I pretended that Scott was working hard to move up the ranks. The truth was we started to live two separate lives. Often when he called, he would speak mainly to Joel and then one or both of his parents, we would say goodnight and that was that.
When Scott was home, he was not used to the demands of being a husband and father and this often led to fights. He would take Joel out for a few hours, mostly to his friends and I took that opportunity to do whatever I had on the back burner. Our fights escalated from screaming and shouting to pushing and shoving. He didn't really hurt me but I stumbled into furniture or against the cupboard and had bruises because of that.
The last time it happened, he was home for the first time in three months and made plans with Mark and some of the other guys. I was seething with anger and let him know it. All my frustrations of the past year came spilling out. He grabbed me by my throat and pulled me towards the bedroom. I had never seen that wild, animalistic look in his eyes before. I was so scared and all I could think about was, ‘where’s Joel?’
Scott threw me onto the bed and I tried to get away from him but he grabbed me by my t-shirt and pulled me to the edge of the bed. He put his knee into my chest and pinned my hands above my head. I pleaded with him not to hurt me and apologised for fighting with him when the door opened and Joel came running in. I screamed for him to get out but my brave boy covered my face with his body. Scott let go and stormed out of the house. I tried not to cry in front of Joel but I couldn't help it. We sat on the bed holding each other for the longest time. My baby did not shed one tear.
That night we packed our bags for the second time in three years and left for good. Dad went ballistic when he saw the marks on my throat and wanted to call the police. I sent Joel to watch cartoons while we spoke in the kitchen, he didn't need any more drama for today. It was as if the river had finally burst its banks and everything that had happened in the last few years came flooding out.
The next afternoon Dad took me to pick up the rest of our stuff. Scott had already left for Cape Town. Jeff sat stoically in his chair while Anne cried and said how sorry she was and that they would not abandon Joel and me because we would always be family. She was convinced that we could work it out but I was adamant that I would be filing for divorce and full custody of Joel. I kept imagining what would have happened if Joel hadn't run into the room.
A month later, the divorce papers were signed and submitted to the court. Because Scott didn't contest the divorce or custody of Joel, it was granted quickly. We did not speak or see each other since that night and he never called his son again. I tried to make sure he had contact with his grandparents but he didn't seem keen and I didn't want to force him. He was always polite but very tense and never wanted to stay long.
I graduated from college and worked as a locum teacher at various schools hoping for a permanent position. Joel loved living with my parents and he and his grandpa were practically inseparable. When I was offered a permanent job, I jumped at the opportunity since it was close to home and Joel could go to the same school.
I sold my car and rented a granny flat. I was grateful to my parents for supporting us but I needed to start afresh all round, just my little man and me.
“Every good thing that has happened in your life happened because something changed” – unknown
The PTA meeting was in full swing. We had finally agreed that our fundraiser for the term would be a winter dance and took a refreshment break before specific jobs were allocated.
I looked around, as I sipped my coffee, at the diverse group assembled. There were four teachers and four parents that made up the committee. Eleanor James co-chaired with Principal Fraser then there was Mrs Singh, Mrs Lorenz, and Miss Henderson who made up the parents. Mrs Beatty, Miss Mcloud and myself made up the rest of the committee. As usual, the parents were huddled together while the teachers made good use of the refreshment table. Looking at me no one would know the year and a half I had survived. I wondered what they had to endure in their lives.
The creaking of the door drew my attention. Before I saw who entered, I heard the whispers from the parents refilling their cups. Eleanor was of course holding court filling the others in. From the bits of the conversation I could pick up, I got; divorced, single mom, lived in a caravan and butch. She didn't sound too different from me, except for the caravan and butch part. I was never very girly to begin with and thought of myself as sporty casual. "I think she's...you know...a lesbo," Eleanor whispered.
The women at the door was in her late twenties maybe early thirties, very tall and athletic with short black hair. She wore a Bob Marley t-shirt and black clam diggers with sneakers. She smiled and greeted as she walked pass the refreshment table, headed for Mr Fraser. I knew her from somewhere but I could not quite put a finger on where. They spoke for a while, then she handed him an envelope and left all under the watchful eye of the mothers.
Our meeting re-convened and we each were allocated duties for the fundraiser. I was in charge of food and beverages. Mr Fraser also informed us that there would be a crew of people doing renovations on certain parts of the school over the next few months but they would only be in after 12:30pm, when the junior primary school day was over.
Our meeting adjourned and we were tidying up when I heard Eleanor James and Daisy Lorenz still discussing our earlier visitor. I shook my head wondering what ghastly tit-bits they discussed about me. These women were a well-oiled gossip machine, zero to full spread of information in 3.2 seconds. Their texting thumbs must be as well toned as Usain Bolt’s thighs. It is a shame how one person’s tragedy entertains so many. I was still trying to place where I had seen our visitor before.
Over the next week, I saw her around the school checking light fittings, doors, windows, measuring for shelves and bookcases, counting desks and chairs. There were two men with her, much younger than her, to which she was giving instructions. She was always polite to whomever she passed along the corridors. I wracked my brain as to where I knew her from; this was starting to keep me up at night. How can someone be so familiar and you have no clue as to where you have seen them.
We officially met in the principal’s office a few weeks later. A message had come to the staff room that Mr Fraser needed to see me urgently. I saw Joel and Liam sitting on the bench outside his office looking rather roughed up. She came running up the stairs as Mr Fraser called us into his office.
It seemed that they had ganged up on a boy in class and were fighting on the playground. We were both visibly shocked and flew into defensive explanations of how this was so out of character for them and it had never happened before. I had all these thoughts swimming in my head; what if Joel seeing his father choking me had triggered a violent streak in him or maybe this child was a bad influence on him. Yes, I did the blame thing.
I turned to Joel and demanded to know what happened. When he would not answer, I threatened to ground him. Liam stepped forward, “he was helping me, Miss”. Joel tried to stop him from saying anymore but he gathered all his bravado and stood as tall as his five-year-old frame could stretch, “it was my fault Miss, not Joel’s.”
I crouched down in front of him and the most beautiful brown eyes looked back at me. “Tell me exactly what happened,” I said in a calm even voice. He hesitated, looking to Joel for reassurance.
“Derek was teasing me on the playground, calling me ‘trailer trash’.” The tears started to well up in his eyes, “he said I was poor and my daddy never loved me that’s why I don’t have one”. Joel was by his side in an instant and wrapped his arm around Liam’s shoulder.
“Then Derek kicked Liam’s lunchbox into the sand and his bread spilled out. When I went to help him pick it up, he pushed us both into the sand and said my daddy didn’t love me either. That is when I threw sand in his face and we both tackled him. It was my fault too Mom.”
Liam’s mother had moved to sit in the visitors chair and had not said a word. I hugged both boys who looked brave yet fragile standing there. “Thank you for telling me the truth, you were both very brave to stand up to a bully,” I saw Mr Fraser shift in his chair, "but fighting is not the answer. Next time, go and tell a teacher and she will deal with it, okay?”
Both boys nodded. “Now can you wait outside for a moment?" They walked to the door, Liam looking sadly at his mother.
“We need to come up with an appropriate punishment for the boys. As you both know, fighting is taken very seriously,” Mr Fraser said perched behind his desk. “Miss Johnson, Mrs Ellis, both boys have started this year, that is too soon to be getting into scraps like this. An example needs to be made so no further incidents will occur.”
By now, I had taken the seat next to Miss Johnson listening to Mr Fraser’s pompous remarks. “Miss Burton,” I began, “I am no longer Mrs Ellis. Mr Fraser I find it peculiar that Derek James and his parents have not been called in or does this school not view bullying as a serious violation of the honour code. I would also like to know who was on playground duty when this incident happened. Surely, they could have stopped this before Liam’s lunch ended up in the dirt. I fully agree that punishment needs to be dealt out but for Derek and the negligent teacher as well.” I could hear the blood pumping in my ears, I was so angry. How dare he just brush over the original incident as if nothing happened? I was not going to allow my son or myself to be railroaded.
Miss Johnson sat quietly while Mr Fraser shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Since this is their first offense, I am willing to let it go with a stern warning,” he said dismissively, not answering any of the questions I had raised. My anger level seemed to rise exponentially. I did not intend to let this go. “Mr Fraser…” I began when suddenly a large hand squeezed mine, stilling my next words.
“Thank you Mr Fraser, we will give the boys a stern talking to. I trust that this incident will not go on their permanent records?” She stood pulling me up with her and still holding my hand we exited his office. “I thought we should quit while we were ahead," she whispered, gently releasing my hand from its warm resting place and I instantly missed the contact. “Thank you for handling everything back there. I just was in shock I guess," she smiled.
“It’s okay; he was being a pompous A-H and needed to be put in his place.” We collected the boys and walked down the corridor towards their classroom, with a promise to have a talk later. They returned to their class for the last two periods of the day.
“I would like to take the boys for ice-cream after school," she blurted.
“No offense Miss Johnson…”
“Kayla. Kayla Johnson,” she said holding out her hand.
“Leigh Burton.” That big, rough, warm hand surrounding mine again was so comforting that I almost forgot to let go. “Ahh… no offense Kayla but I don’t really know you enough to let you take my son anywhere.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clearer,” she smirked, “I meant both of you.” My eyebrows shot up into my hairline making me look like a Joan Rivers devotee.
“I don’t think we should be rewarding them for fighting,” I stuttered trying to hold on to coherent thoughts while the light brown eyes bored into me.
“I don’t think they should be punished. There is honour in standing up for what is right especially when it's someone that you hardly know.” The only thought in my mind was, ‘god this woman is beautiful.’ “Look it’s just ice-cream; we can talk to them together and then go our separate ways.”
‘Sometimes, the smallest act of love can take up the biggest space in someone’s heart’
The car hooter sounded outside and Joel flew by me like Flash Gordon on gummy berry juice. Liam was a bit more cautious but equally ecstatic. Dad was taking them fishing for the day, which was a welcome reprieve for me. I could vegetate for the whole day in my PJs. Mum said I should join her at the CWL (Catholic Woman’s League) meeting today but I was in no mood to get dressed.
I made sure they were buckled into their seats and kissed them both goodbye. Handing Dad a cooler bag of sweet treats and cool drink, I reminded them to listen to grandpa and be safe. They sang ‘Country Road’ as they pulled out of the driveway.
I tidied the house then had a nice hot shower and washed my hair. Then putting on clean jammies and socks, I cuddled on the couch. I was searching for the remote when I found Liam’s gloves tucked between the cushions. Joel had changed so much since becoming friends with Liam. They smiled, joked, and played so well together. They were happy and carefree and it was infectious. Other than the one incident with Derek a few weeks ago, they stayed out of trouble and received glowing reports from their teacher.
Kayla took us out for waffles and ice cream after school that day. We double-teamed the boys, making it clear that fighting was not the way to solve your problems but that we were very proud of them for standing up for each other. They apologised and promised not to fight then ran to play in the kids’ area while we finished our dessert.
We were silent for the most part occasionally looking over to make sure the boys were okay. I thought I should make the effort to get to know this woman since it was clear our sons were best friends. “So what do you do for a living,” I asked. Okay, okay so I was intrigued since I saw her in that meeting and this was my opportunity. There seemed to be so much going on with her.
“I work for the municipality.”
“Doing?” That was a very vague answer; she obviously did not like to share.
“Waste management.” The tension in her jaw was visible. This line of conversation was clearly uncomfortable for her but suddenly it all clicked into place for me. That is why she was familiar; she drove the garbage truck that came every Friday morning. I had seen her swing bags into the back of the truck some mornings and was astonished that a woman did that kind of job.
“So we are both government trolls hey, at least the benefits are good especially when you have kids.”
The smile was weak and she restlessly played with the sugar packets. “Hey I didn’t mean to pry, I’m sorry. It’s just that since I saw you at that PTA meeting I’ve been trying to wrack my brain as to where I have seen you before.”
"I better go pay the bill.” I reached for my purse, assuming we would split the bill. "My treat," she said and left. As Kayla went to find our waiter, the boys came running, excitedly talking about fishing.
“Mom can Liam come with Grandpa and me when we go fishing? Grandpa won’t mind, he always says, ‘the more the merrier.’” They were practically jumping out of their skin, waiting for an answer. I hated being on the spot especially when Liam’s puppy brown eyes looked at me so expectantly. How could I disappoint him?
“Firstly we have to ask Liam’s mom for permission, then we have to ask Grandpa if he doesn’t mind having two gummy bears for the day…”
“We can do the first one now,” Joel exclaimed and they ran off to Kayla at the cash register. They were jumping up and down trying to both speak while she was trying to hear what the cashier was saying. I gathered our things from the table and stood by the door waiting for them.
The boys looked dejected as they walked to the parking lot. “What did you say to them,” I asked.
“I said that WE,” she pointed between the two of us, "will talk about it later. And two pouty angels better stop sulking or the answer will definitely be NO.” Immediately their attitudes changed and they bounced along towards the truck.
“Joel we’re going this way, son,” I shouted after him.
“I can take you home,” she offered, throwing the keys to Liam to open the doors.
“The taxi is right there, it really isn’t necessary,” I said pointing to a short line of people waiting on the pavement.
“And I am right here so there is no way I am letting you take a taxi.” With her hand gently on my back she escorted me to the passenger’s side, ‘oh that big warm hand again’, opened the door and closed it while I fastened my seat belt. Then she jumped into the driver’s seat, “Houston this is Johnson shuttle 004 ready for take-off”. Then changing her voice, “roger that Johnson 004, there seems to be a blinking light, seatbelts are not secure”. Quickly the boys complied. “Seat belts secure Houston, countdown started, 10…”
“9…8…7…” the boys continued. Kayla started the van and revved the engine louder and louder which excited the boys even more. “Three…2…1…BLAST OFF,’’ they shouted, arms raised high above their heads. She eased us out of the parking and down the road as safe as anything.
“Thank you for a lovely afternoon,” I said as we pulled up in front of the house.
“Our pleasure,” she smiled. I walked around to get Joel out of the back seat. We stood waving on the pavement as they drove away, when suddenly she stopped and then reversed. “Sorry, can I have your number?” My eyebrow rose.
“Let me guess, you lost yours?”
The blush crept up her neck. “Ahh for the fish… I mean about the fishing… thing,” she stuttered.
“Mmm. Got a pen?” She reached over in the glove compartment and handed me one.
“Let me just find something for you to write on.”
“Oh that’s okay,” I said taking her hand off the steering wheel and turning it palm up. Slowly I wrote my cell phone and home number on her palm, then wrote my name and dotted the ‘I’ with a heart. Then I blew gently on her palm to dry the ink a little. “Don’t lose it”, I smiled handing her back the pen. She swallowed hard and offered a weak smile in response. I let go of her hand and stepped back onto the pavement.
I shook my head at the memory covering my face with my hands. I do not know what came over me. It was an innocent question and I turned it into a flirt session. I flirted with her, shamelessly. “Kayla Johnson,” I mumbled. My rumbling tummy alerted me to the time. I had been watching a marathon of soppy chick-flicks and only managed a few cups of tea.
It was almost 12:30pm; the boys must be eating the sandwiches Mum packed and were now stuck into the chips I sent. I looked in the fridge for something that could be warmed up because I definitely did not want to cook. Oh, Bruno Mars had it so right with the ‘lazy song’. There was nothing so I decided on fruit for lunch.
There was a knock on the door as I was settling down to watch ‘The Notebook’. A Debonairs’ Pizza delivery person held out a sub box to me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t order anything.” He checked his receipt.
“The maid in the big house said you were back here.”
“Well who are you looking for?”
“A Miss Leigh Burton,” he said checking his receipt again.
“That is me.” He handed me the box and turned to leave.
“It’s already been paid for ma’am. Enjoy your lunch.” I watched confused as he hopped on his bike.
The smell of the spicy sauce filled my nostrils as I opened the box; a spicy, meaty, cheesy sub. My tummy grumbled in thanks. I noticed a hand written message on the lid of the box, ‘TO HELP WITH YOUR LAZY DAY. K.’ I could not help but smile, this was so incredibly thoughtful and so unexpected.
I quickly found my phone so I could thank her. It rang so long that I thought it was going to go to voicemail. “Hello”, an out of breath voice answered me.
“Hey, did you get it?” The background noise was so loud, I could just about hear her, but she was walking away from it.
“Yes, thank you so much. You didn’t have to go to so much trouble.”
“Oh rubbish, you deserve it.”
“Where are you, it’s so loud.”
“I’m at the recycling plant. They called me in at the last minute so I’m working a double shift.”
“And you managed to buy me lunch?”
“Hey, did you smile when you got it? Did it make you happy?” I nodded smiling widely to myself. It made me more than happy, I felt a little special. “Leigh I can’t see you nodding.”
“I’m sorry,” I laughed. “Yes it made me very happy.”
“That’s all that really matters then.” The silence stretched on and then she said, “I’ve got to go. Enjoy your lunch. Bye.” She ended the call before I could reply.
“Kayla Johnson,” I sighed.
‘You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down- Charlie Chaplin’
It was a few weeks before the end of the second school term. Between setting the grade three-exam papers, marking exam papers for all my classes, writing performance reports and preparations for the dance, I was overwhelmed to say the least.
Joel was frustrated because every time he asked if Liam could sleep over, I said no. He was bored with watching me work but two energetic boys in the house while I had all this paperwork on the coffee table was a definite no, no. Kayla picked Joel up for a few hours on Saturdays, so I could get some work done and, thankfully, was picking him up again today. I was so grateful for the peace and quiet, which allowed me to get most of it done.
I was marking the last of the grade seven English papers when I heard a knock at the door. Joel raced passed me to answer it. From the excitement at the doorway, I knew it was Liam and the hug I got a few seconds later confirmed it. I had to laugh at the high-pitched excited talking as they sorted through movies and toys that they wanted to take with.
“Stop slacking and get back to work,” a voice teased behind me. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Jesus, Kayla. You scared the crap out of me.” My heart was racing and the flush rose on my face. Her laugh was beautiful, full bodied and resonating from her belly. “It’s not funny.”
“That’s because you are overworked, tense and losing your sense of humour”. She put her hands on my shoulders and massaged them. With her thumbs, she massaged small circles up and down my neck. I could not stifle the moan that escaped my mouth and instinctively leaned against her thighs and closed my eyes. I could feel the warmth of her body through her jeans, which comforted me even more.
Kayla comforted me, whether it was her smile or her touch or her bad jokes or just the sound of her voice. Sometimes just seeing her working or walking across the corridors was enough. A warmth spread through me when she was around almost a confirmation that all would be well because she was there. “God that feels good. Can I keep you?”
“Hm. You already are.” And just as suddenly as I felt comforted, tension filled the room like a surge of electricity. The silence was deafening. Kayla’s hands stilled and she removed them from my shoulders then stepped around me to go and get the boys while I pretended to be tidying papers.
We had always found it easy to talk to each other. We spoke every night and texted during the day. When I knew she was at the school doing repairs, she would come and find me so I knew she was there and I would seek her out before I left and say goodbye and she would do the same.
It started with planning the fishing trip with Dad, then the boys wanted to talk to each other before bed and we just continued to talk once they went to bed. It turned into a nightly routine and I sometimes found myself unable to sleep if for some reason we missed a day. She would text me terrible jokes during the day, or I would give her a call at lunch just to see how her day was going. We ate meals together on weekends or took the boys out for a few hours or more, which often ended in a movie. It was just so easy with her.
“Are you almost finished?”
“Hmm? Oh…um… yep, almost. I have about twenty exams more to mark and then I need to plan the menu for the dance.” I didn't look at her. I couldn't. I was afraid of what I might see. I tried to sound casual but I was a wreck.
“Come with us.”
“Come out with us.”
“Kayla…” I started to get up.
“Look, we were just going to the park. I’m going to get some ham, crispy buns, and juice for lunch, it’s nothing special.” Everything with you is special Kayla.
“I can’t, I have way too much to do.”
“You need the fresh air and I would love the company. I’ll bring you back in two hours, I promise and I’ll help you with the menu.” I made the fatal mistake of looking up and met her eyes. Shit! “Please?” Oh Hell!
“Okay.” It came out as a whisper. Our eyes were still locked on each other when the boys ran out of the room and broke the spell.
“Fantastic,” she smiled, "but you are going to have to change." I seemed to move in slow motion. In ten minutes, we were out the door and heading to the supermarket.
Kayla stood in line at the deli while the boys and I went in search of treats. We were at the fridges deciding on which juice to buy when Eleanor James happened upon us. She was the co-chair of the PTA and the queen of the ‘Holier than Thou’ society. “Good morning Mrs Ellis”, she smirked. She knew I had reverted to my maiden surname but typically, Eleanor enjoyed being insolent.
Peeking into our basket, she huffed her disapproval, “are you two boys going to eat all that junk food today? I do hope the menu for the dance is a little healthier," she smiled. Oh that false, condescending smile that never reached her eyes, it was just pure judgement.
“Let’s move it slackers, we are burning daylight," Kayla proclaimed coming around the corner, arms laden with rolls and ham. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Eleanor.
“Well, well Miss Johnson.” She looked from Kayla to me. “Isn’t this a surprise?” Eleanor’s eyebrows lifted into her hairline and the smirk grew wider. Kayla deposited her goods into the basket and gave her a curt smile. “I must be going,” she manoeuvred her trolley around us. "But it was lovely seeing you…both.” She dashed up the aisle looking back one more time; just to be sure, her eyes were not deceiving her. Shit!
We paid for our groceries in silence, drove to the park in silence. I was aware of the occasional glances Kayla gave me but ignored them and looked straight ahead. The boys were out the car and running for the swings as soon as we parked. We went to the back of the van to unload the picnic basket. “I can take you home if you want,” she said, not making eye contact.
“No.” I grabbed the blanket and walked to a spot under a nearby tree. It was close enough to the playground so we could keep an eye on the boys but also in semi shade. I spread out the blanket then took off my sneakers and sat down with my socked feet in the sun. Watching the boys having so much fun made me smile. Kayla put the basket down and sat at the far edge of the blanket.
“I’m sorry Leigh.”
“What for?” Neither of us were looking at each other. “For forcing me to take a break and be outside on a beautiful day?”
“The whole school will know by Monday.”
“Know what Kayla, there is nothing to know?” The irritation was evident in my voice and she wisely dropped this line of conversation.
I knew exactly to what she was referring. Eleanor James must have phoned the entire parent body by now. By Monday morning, the story would have collected sensational tit-bits and the gossip machine will be in full force. Maybe I was being naïve but if I didn’t react as if I had something to hide then they would lose interest and move on. However, I did have something to hide.
I looked over at Kayla who was watching the boys intensely with a creased brow. I thought she was beautiful, a beautiful face with a beautiful heart and soul. I loved being around her. She makes me laugh, she is so thoughtful, and somehow she knows when I need one of her insane jokes to lift my day. I love how gentle and patient she is with the boys and she will always make time for Joel even if she is busy at work and he phones to ask her a silly question. I just love her and that scared the shit out of me.
‘She is a woman for heaven’s sake. What am I doing? I cannot do this to Joel; he is just getting back to some kind of normal. What about my family, how can I disappoint them again? Shit! Shit! Shit!’
The boys came running up the hill, ‘dying of hunger’ as Liam put it. I fixed the ham rolls while Kayla shared out the chips and juice. The laughter certainly lifted the sour mood as they regaled us with stories of their playground shenanigans. They wanted to take a walk through the Blue Zoo before we left and piled on Kayla trying to convince her to say yes.
I looked around at the other families in the park; Mitchell Park was where my parents and grandparents took us as children. There were two men with a little boy about five or six years old and a baby in a carrier strapped to the chest of one of them. The dad with the baby was taking pictures while the other one helped the little boy on the equipment, then he took the baby and let her play a little. They were a family no matter what anyone else thought.
The boys ran off to play, having secured a ‘we’ll see’ from Kayla. “When did this happen Kay? I’m trying to pinpoint the moment, the second.” My eyes strayed from the family to Kayla sitting rigid with her arms wrapped around her knee. She was watching the happy family too. I moved closer and touched her arm, “please don’t ignore me. Say something.” She stood up abruptly and started packing the picnic basket. “Kayla!”
“I promised to get you home in two hours. Time’s up.” She whistled for the boys and walked towards the car. They grumbled all the way up the hill and into the car. I folded the blanket and followed them. They moaned about not seeing the animals and they had not gone on the merry-go-round. Kayla had a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and her irritation levels were reaching their limit.
“Boys! That’s enough!” I scolded. The rest of the trip was deathly silent. We pulled up to the curb fifteen minutes later. “Thank you for today, I really needed it,” I smiled.
“I will bring Joel back later tonight, after supper. If that is okay?” The boys were very happy to have more time to play. I leaned over the centre console, kissed them both, warned them not to nag and to behave. Then I kissed her on her temple before I bolted from the car and up the driveway with tears spilling from my eyes.
I got stuck into marking the rest of the exam papers to distract my thoughts. I could still smell her shampoo and feel her soft hair on my face. What was happening with me? The more I tried not to think about her the more she flooded my thoughts. She did not answer my SMSs or my phone calls. I was so frustrated but I had to finish marking and get the menu done. Monday we were finalising reports and Tuesday was the PTA meeting. At around 7pm I got a message from Kayla, ‘we’re outside. Thanks for letting Joel spend the day with us.’ I opened the door and waved. Joel got out the back and high fived Kayla then ran up the driveway. She drove away as soon as he was safely inside the gate.
I did not know that was the last time I would see her.
‘You have three choices in life: give in, give up, or give it your all.’
Tuesday’s PTA went exactly as I thought it would; whispers’, glancing looks and giggles as I walked by. I felt like I was back in high school all over again, the whole thing was so immature.
The gossip had obviously spread to my colleagues as well. The staff room was buzzing with whispers about Kayla and me since Monday. I was waiting for just one of these people to ask me if it was true. You would think that one of my colleagues would have made the effort to seek the truth if for no other reason than pure curiosity.
When it was my turn, I presented my menu; mini hotdogs, pizzas, sliders and ice cream for dessert. I also showed them the tickets I had designed and printed. Mr Fraser agreed to make an announcement in the following assembly that tickets would be on sale every break-time in the office foyer. “I’m pleased that you have chosen a healthy menu. I must say I was a little worried when I saw your basket on Saturday”, she smirked.
This was it, my chance to squash the rumours for good. “Firstly Eleanor, we were taking our boys on a picnic and I thought they deserved a treat. They certainly do not eat junk food every day that is why it is a treat, not that it is any concern to you. I hardly think one packet of chips and marshmallows is going to cause artery blockage or diabetes in two very energetic boys.” Eleanor was clearly flustered. She had not expected me to fight back. I don’t think anyone has ever put the ‘queen bee’ in her place before. There were whispers from the others around me. “Secondly, you are out of line Mrs James. I suggest you stick to school matters and not offer opinions about topics you clearly know nothing about.” My heart was thumping in my chest. Eleanor gave me a murderous look from across the table. “If there are any questions, please feel free to ask them,” I concluded. Mr Fraser cleared his throat and moved the meeting along to the next subject.
We were tidying at the end of the meeting when Anita Singh came up to me and helped stack the chairs. “You were right,” she said. “Eleanor James is out of line in a lot of ways and no-one stands up to her.”
“Thank you. I think more people should stand up for themselves”, I smiled. “For the record, since I know you have heard the rumours, Kayla Johnson and I took our sons, who are best friends, on a picnic to the park. And yes, we have become good friends as well." I gathered my bag and left. Dad and Joel were waiting outside.
The ticket sales went really well and we sold out within two days with still a week to go before the dance. Kayla had gone completely silent; it had been a whole week since I last spoke to her. She didn’t answer text messages or calls. The boys still spoke every night and we spoke to the boys but we didn't speak to each other at all. I saw her a few times picking Liam up or finishing off the repairs but whenever I tried to find her, she was gone.
I spent some time with the boys in the mornings before classes started. No matter what happened, I didn't want Liam to think he was not important to me. On Wednesday morning, Miss Baxter, the aftercare teacher, asked me if it was okay for Joel to hang around in the playground with Liam and his Mom after school. Apparently Kayla would spend about half an hour in the afternoon with the boys before she had to drop Liam off and go back to work. Liam stayed with Rose, her landlady, after school. I felt like I was going to cry and quickly gave her my okay before I went to my class. I missed her so much; it felt like a piece of me was missing.
Dad phoned on Thursday and said he wanted to take the boys on an overnight fishing/camping trip on Saturday. I wasn't sure if she would answer me so I gave her number to Dad. She agreed and offered to drop the boys off on Saturday morning. She still didn't contact me, Dad phoned to let me know that she would be picking Joel up at 8am and what I should pack.
I was packing a few sandwiches on Saturday morning when I saw Liam running up the driveway. As I opened the gate, he wrapped his arms around my waist and squeezed me tight. My heart melted, I missed him so much. He was a big part of our lives and it felt like I was missing my own child. Kissing the top of his head, I told him how I missed him and escorted both boys to the van.
The closer I got, the warmer I felt; the gravitational pull was extraordinary.
The greetings were a little formal and courteous. She didn't look at me at all and her smile was fake. Clearly, she could not get out of my company fast enough.
It was a lance through my heart. Every polite word cut deep. Maybe I should just let it go. If she didn't want to be friends then that was fine. We only had to communicate when it concerned the boys, so what was my issue. That would make things so much simpler.
I jumped on the taxi at the corner and headed for the mall with my list of groceries for the dance. I was standing in line at the bakery to put in my order for the burger and hot dog buns when I saw Kayla pushing a basket trolley up the aisle. There was a young woman with her, maybe in her mid-twenties. Actually, the woman’s raucous laughter drew my attention in the first place.
Kayla seemed enthralled by what she said because she was smiling like a Cheshire cat, whilst she could barely acknowledge my existence. I stared straight ahead trying not to take any notice of them, and then they turned and headed towards the bakery. I stood like a soldier guarding the gates of the palace.
I felt her walk by. I know she saw me but yet again, she didn't acknowledge me. I forced myself not to turn and look at her. The woman touched her arm then moved it up to her shoulder and round to her back. I felt the temperature rise, the heat radiate from the tips of my ears and steam exit the top of my head. I wanted to scream, ‘get your hands off her!’ Was I jealous? Really! JEALOUS! What are you, fifteen? Jeez, get a damn grip. You don’t own her! She can see and be with whomever she likes! She does not owe you anything! So why was I acting like a spurned lover?
I finished my shopping and went home. After packing everything away, I decided that I didn't want to be alone so decided to spend the rest of my day with Mum. We baked and cooked supper, which helped get my mind off Kayla for a while and then watched some old Humphrey Bogart Movies of Mum’s. After ‘The Maltese Falcon’, I begged her not to put on ‘Casablanca’ but she was adamant, I even offered to pay her not to watch it, but she just laughed.
An unexpected, great, true love, at the most inopportune time. A call to honour, betrayal, heartbreak. Reunited in the most unlikely place. Love or duty. She is prepared to give it all up for love. He is willing to give her up for the greater good. Because now he knew the truth, it was not because she did not love him. It was not because she had lied and used him. He knew the truth, and even though they would not be together, he knew she was willing to give up the world for their love. He knew the truth.
Life could be so cruel; to meet and know the love of your life only to be ripped apart or lose them to another, to just give them up and walk away? To not even put up a decent fight. I could not do that!
“Mum can I please borrow your car?” I asked, hurriedly putting on shoes.
Mum was startled. “Sure, where are you going?” she said handing me the keys.
“I love you mum,” I said kissing her and running out the door.
It took me thirty minutes to reach Kayla’s door, not because she lived far away but because I had stopped at least four times, debating whether this was the right thing to do. Then I sat outside in the car for at least fifteen minutes staring at the side of a caravan. There was a faint light coming through a small opened window.
I eventually found the courage to walk up the driveway, slowly, until I reached the door. The television was on loud with bursts of laughter in between, the same laugh I heard earlier in the supermarket. They had obviously spent the day together and now they were spending the evening together.
I am such an idiot! This is not the movies. I should never have come here. What did I think was going to happen? I turned to walk away when the door flung open and Kayla stood in all her towering glory clutching a cricket bat.
“And exactly what were you planning to do with that?” Was I flirting? Dammit!
“Jesus, Leigh. What the fuck are you doing out here?” What was I doing here? What did I come here for? My eyes fixed on a spot on the wall as I contemplated a suitable answer.
“Who is it?” said the voice from inside. The volume of the TV was now considerably lower.
“It’s just Leigh. Come inside its bladdy cold out here.” Just Leigh! The woman cuddled up under a blanket on the couch. There were chips, popcorn, and sweets packets on the table as well as half-filled wine glasses. “Is it the boys? Is everything okay? I just spoke to them a few hours ago and they were fine,” Kayla asked slightly panicked. I tried to speak but my throat had gone dry. Maybe it had something to do with the cosy setting I walked into.
“They’re fine,” I croaked. The woman probably sensed my uneasiness and stood to leave.
“I better get going,” she said putting on her slippers.
“You don’t have to go Pat, the movie isn’t done yet,” Kayla said.
“No, it’s late and I’m exhausted.” She put on her jacket and opened the door. “Thanks for today.” They hugged and walked out together; probably to kiss away from prying eyes.
A few minutes later Kayla came back. “So do you want to tell me what’s going on,” she asked. I had not moved an inch. The caravan was a matchbox. It was one room with a toilet and shower towards the back. A single sink with cupboards above and below with a bar fridge served as the kitchen.
A small round table surrounded by seating in a U-shape was the eating and probably sleeping area and the small TV was on the table. I could not fathom where she kept their clothes, as there were no wardrobes or drawers. Kayla noticed me looking around and became very uncomfortable.
“This is the first time that I’ve been to your home.”
“Well this is all of it,” she said tidying up the remnants of the evening.
“I’m sorry for ruining you’re…” my hand gestured towards the table. "It was sort of spur of the moment.”
“You haven’t answered my question. What. Are. You. Doing. Here?”
I moved towards the table, needing to sit down. “Why are you ignoring me?” She sighed and leaned against the one open space on the wall. “You don’t reply to messages or answer calls anymore. I barely see Liam unless it’s the measly ten minutes or so in the morning and I don’t see you except from across a corridor or parking lot. Why?”
She shuffled her feet and folded her arms defensively across her chest but would not make eye contact. I moved to stand in front of her and she immediately assumed a rigid stance. “I miss you,” I croaked gently touching her folded arms. When she did not resist I slowly unfolded them and stepped closer. Her eyes closed and I felt her shudder.
“I can’t, I’m sorry Leigh. I…can’t”, she whispered behind a strangled sob and stepped away.
“Can’t what Kay? What is so difficult that you cannot do? That you haven’t been doing already.” I reached out forcing her to stand still. In this tiny space, it's not as if she could go very far. “You tell me to go and I will go and never bother you again. You tell me all this is in my own head, none of it is true, and I will believe you. You look me in the eye right now and tell me that Kayla.” My voice, which had started calm, had risen, startling even me.
She kissed me. Gently pressed her lips to mine and slowly added pressure. Beautifully soft, chocolate flavoured lips. My world clicked into place. I relaxed against her body with my arms around her waist. Her hands moved up my arms burning a trail to my neck, her thumbs drawing small circles on my throat.
“Leigh, open your eyes baby.” I had not even realised we had stopped kissing. Those beautiful eyes were looking at me, looking into me. There was so much love but also that hint of apprehension that she always had. I could almost hear the cogs grinding. She was over thinking the kiss.
“Stop it! I swear to God Kayla if you even think about moving I am going to scream,” I smiled.
“Stop thinking. You are thinking too much. Enough thinking.”
“There’s still a chance for you to leave if you want. We could just…” she shrugged.
“You must be joking!”
“I have nothing to offer you Leigh.” She moved us both to sit at the table. “I’m a garbage collector and sometimes a bartender. I hold on to the back of the truck and throw black bin bags in. That is my job and it sucks. Some days I come home and I cannot get the smell out of my nostrils. The pay sucks even more and all I can afford is this matchbox caravan.” The tears had filled her eyes and were rolling down her cheeks.
“I don’t care,” I said kissing her tears away. “I was pregnant and married at nineteen to a man who didn’t want to be tied down but only realised it after Joel was born. It took me leaving him twice and him almost choking me to death for me to realise I had to get out for good. If my parents didn't insist on me finishing college and paying for it, I would probably still be a waitress or a maid or homeless for all I know. Would you turn your nose up at me?”
“I’m a lesbian and I don’t hide it and I will never go back into the closest, ever. You are straight and religious. People stare and make nasty comments. What kind of relationship would we have; never holding hands in public, never being affectionate around people, pretending we are just friends because our kids are friends? I saw how you reacted when Eleanor saw us together. You knew the backlash that was coming.”
“I was upset at the lies and gossiping that I knew would follow, not because they thought we were together.”
“It will get worse and we will have proved all those rumours right. What will happen if you lose your job? What happens if the boys have trouble at school? I cannot protect you Leigh. I cannot protect them. What about your family?” She stood abruptly and started pacing. “I’ve lived my whole life this way; it doesn’t just end with happily ever after.”
“Come here.” I held out my hand and she sat next to me again. “I’m not stupid, tremendously inexperienced, but definitely not stupid. I know what I am signing up for. Besides its 2014, there is more tolerance in the world. As for the boys, we will sit them down and talk them through it when the time comes. Everything else we will deal with together, one day at a time. There are a trillion perfectly rational, legitimate reasons; I am sure, why we should not be together. All I need to know is I love you, you love me, and we love our boys.”
“God Leigh I love you so much and our boys. I have been so miserable without the two of you this past week. I was just trying to protect all of us. I love you baby.”
“Then kiss me,” I commanded. We found each other completely in that moment. Everything that I felt went into that kiss, everything that mere words were too inadequate to express. We talked some more and kissed some more and at some point I called Mum and told her I was staying over with Kayla.
I told her my tragic story from start to finish. She kissed away the tears and promised that the next hundred years will be so great that I will forget it ever happened. We fell asleep holding each other on the tiny bed and when I woke in the morning, those beautiful eyes were watching me.
‘Don’t look back; you’re not going that way’
I awoke to big, beautiful, brown eyes mapping the contours of my face while fingertips traced their way across the plane of my arm. “Good morning,” she said, her raspy, sexy voice filling the quiet.
“Morning.” I stretched my limbs as far as I could then nuzzled her neck and took a deep breath. Oh, she smelled so good; not perfume or soap. It was just Kayla.
“What are you doing,” she giggled.
“Smelling you, I’ve always loved the way you smell. It comforts me.” We lay silent for a while as she stroked my hair so gently I almost fell asleep again. “Baby what time is it?”
“Say that again?”
“What time is it?”
“No, not that.”
“Baby?” She smiled so wide I thought her face would split in two. “Baby…baby…baby…my baby,” I teased punctuating each word with a kiss.
“I dreamed it for so long; I can’t believe it’s real. You are here lying in my arms where I can touch and kiss you.” She kissed me softly, caressing my lips with hers, being so gentle with me, and not wanting to push me too far too soon. I appreciated the thoughtfulness but there was a fire burning in my belly and moving steadily south. I knew it was too soon but my body was not listening to any rational suggestions my mind put forward.
The kiss deepened and hands began to roam over bodies. Lips followed the path previously mapped by fingers and breathing became short and laboured. I wanted to make love to her, to feel her all over me. I wanted to claim every inch of her body.
I was inexperienced when it came to sex. Scott was the only person I had ever had sex with and it had been years since I had any physical relationship with him. I was a straight, religious girl out of high school then, now I was a woman. I was a woman who knew what she wanted and was not afraid to take it.
She pulled away abruptly. “Babe we have to stop,” she panted.
“I don’t want to,” I moaned and kissed a trail from her earlobe to her collarbone.
“I really don’t want to either but we should. Please babe.” She said it with so much pleading that I was taken aback by her change in tone. “I want to do this right from the very beginning. No shortcuts.”
The love and sincerity in her eyes astonished me. This woman wanted to do right by me, how could I deny us that glorious opportunity.
“I love you.”
“I love you too. We better get up before I lose all hope of keeping my word.” With one last kiss, she hopped off the bed and went to shower. I made the bed, tidied up, and was washing dishes when she came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. “You don’t have to do that,” she mumbled through a mouthful of toothpaste.
“Would you just put clothes on before I maul you? Good G*d woman!” Oh, she is incredibly beautiful. She always wore long pants so I had never seen her long, toned legs before, definitely an athlete. She laughed and reached under the seat to pull out a suitcase of clothes that was very neatly folded and well organised. She pulled out underwear, socks, grey jeans, and a white shirt. “I like the red one,” I mentioned while drying and packing dishes. With a knowing smirk, she complied and returned to the bathroom to finish her teeth. “I can iron that for you”; I called through the door.
“No need, I have a steamer. One of the gadgets I kept from my days as a door-to-door sales person.”
“You’ll have to tell me all about that some time.”
“I plan to, it’s called dating,” she laughed exiting the bathroom looking stunning. “We better get out of here; we still have to swing by your place.”
Fifteen minutes later, I was ushered into the shower at home. When I came out; blue jeans, a white shirt, and my tan jacket were laid out on the bed and I could hear Kayla busy in the kitchen. Touché’ Miss Johnson.
A steaming cup of coffee and buttered toast waited for me. “Drink up, we are going to be late”, she announced, eating her own breakfast.
“Mass. It’s Sunday. Doesn’t the morning service start at 9am?”
“Err yep. Are we really going to church?”
“Don’t you go every Sunday?” As if summoned by the angels Mum called to remind me to pick her up.
We were outside Mum’s by 8:30am. Kayla parked in the driveway since we were taking mum’s car. “Wow Mrs B does Mr B know you are trolling the church for dates when he’s gone,” Kayla teased opening the front passenger door for her.
“You are a shameless flatterer,” my mother laughed. “I will sit in the back, Love, you take the front.” I was amazed at the ease with which they interacted, like two old friends. I didn't realise they knew each other at all except as acquaintances.
At church Mum made her way to the front to sit with the choir while we sat at the back. Kayla blessed herself from the Holy water font and genuflected before she entered the pew. “You are catholic?” I whispered.
“Shh we are in church,” she smirked before kneeling to pray.
The service was beautiful and sitting here with Kayla made me proud but I couldn't help being disappointed and sad that we would never be welcome here as a couple, as a family. Even if we were married and raised our children with love and good values, lived the principal teachings of the gospels, stayed faithful to each other for fifty or more years; the only thing they would see is a lesbian couple and reject us for that reason alone.
We waited at the car while Mum had her usual chit-chat with the women after the service. “So you’re catholic.”
“I haven’t been to mass in a long time. We have issues; the church and I," Kayla explained.
“It’s difficult to reconcile faith with religion. I felt it today. How do you continue to worship in a place where you are not welcome?”
“They wouldn’t baptise Liam. Flat down refused because I was openly gay.” I could see the anger of old hurt flash across her face. I hooked my arm through hers offering comfort. “I tried attending other churches but it didn’t feel right. It didn't feel like I had been to mass, you know and besides we are not welcome in any of the other churches either. It’s not just the Catholics.”
“It’s because all they see is two women or two men together and they assume it’s all about sex. It has become about who you are having sex with not whom you love. They don’t see the love and commitment between two people irrelevant of gender.”
Just then, I noticed a woman walking towards us. I recognised her but I could not remember her name. It was only as she got closer that I realised it was Tammy, Mark’s girlfriend. “Oh hell,” I exclaimed unhooking my arm and straightening up. “A blast from the past.”
“Hello stranger”, Tammy said and hugged me. “How have you been?”
“Hey Tammy, I’m great thanks and how have you been?”
“All good, very good actually.” She looked Kayla up and down.
“Sorry, Tammy, this is Kayla. Tammy is Mark’s girlfriend.” They shook hands briefly both plastering on fake smiles.
“So what has been going on? You look great, really great, not like a divorcee at all.” She prattled on in good old Tammy fashion, stealing glances at Kayla far too often. She went on and on about the old days and all the things Scott and Mark did that was so crazy or so funny, etc., etc., etc. Then of course, she went on about how MY divorce affected everyone in the group. How it was such a shock because we were so in love. “We see Scott from time to time but not as often as we’d like. He’s still in Cape Town and doing very well for himself.” All I did was nod, smile and ‘hmm’ through that exhausting conversation and wished for it to end.
Kayla was starting to lose her cool. She knew the story from our talk last night but not all the details and this was not how I intended for her to find out. She abruptly excused herself saying that she needed to make a call and walked around to the other side of the car. After a few minutes, she went to stand with Mum and a few women from the CWL. She exchanged information with the women then they both came to the car. All the while Tammy had not stopped talking.
“Tammy it was great seeing you but we have to go,” I said.
“Oh okay. Let’s get together some time and catch up.”
“Umm sure.” Kayla had opened the back door for Mum. “Kay, you drive,” I said throwing her the keys. “Bye Tammy.” Kayla held the passenger door open for me and closed it again when I got in.
Kayla concentrated on driving while Mum yapped away about some repairs that needed to be done at the church and thanking Kayla for helping. She parked in the driveway behind her truck. Mum got out and opened the kitchen door. “Babe are you ok?” I asked holding her back from getting out.
“I’m fine,” she half smiled not turning to look at me.
“I know that fake smile, Kayla Johnson, and why aren’t you looking at me?” She leaned her head back on the headrest and sighed loudly.
“We know nothing about each other.”
“That is not true! We know nothing about each other’s pasts but we know each other’s hearts and that is what’s important.”
“I love you Leigh. Really, really love you. The ‘I want to grow old with you’ kind of love.” She closed her eyes and I laced our fingers together. “I’ve fallen too hard, too fast.”
“Don’t be afraid baby. I have the parachute.” Her laugh was heartfelt.
“We better go inside before your mom sends a search party,” she suggested.
“Look, I know there is a lot to talk about and stuff floating around but not today. Today we are just going to enjoy our Sunday together. Please?”
“I love you,” she said kissing our joined hands.”
“I love you too.”
‘Never regret anything because every detail of your past is what made you into who you are today’
The dance was a huge success. Kayla volunteered to help me at the food table along with Anita Singh and her sister-in-law Kirsten, Janet Lorenz and Felicity Henderson. It was a great opportunity for Kayla to mingle with some parents, she tended to separate herself from them, and they could get to know the real Kayla not what they heard in gossip.
They seemed to all be very comfortable with each other and Janet and Anita were encouraging Kayla to Join the PTA if for no other reason than to outnumber the teachers. Elaine Beatty was commending her on the great job she did on the repairs and wanted to know if she could do some work for her at her home. Kayla was relaxed and outgoing and I was happy they were as taken by her as I first was.
We stole kisses in the kitchen when no one was looking, like naughty teenagers. I could not help but smile when she was around. She filled me up with a warmth that was safe and comforting. I wanted to touch her all the time and I wanted her to hold me and kiss me. Oh when she kissed me. The world made sense when she kissed me.
We had to be careful because Eleanor and her gaggle of gossipers were keeping a close eye on us instead of chaperoning the kids. I had noticed them whispering and glancing over at the food table. Granted we were giving them something to talk about with the amount of laughing going on and we always seemed to disappear into the kitchen together. After word got around about me putting her in her place in the previous meeting, I was certain she was biding her time until she could get her own back.
We had not spoken to the boys yet and we certainly didn't want them finding out through the school gossip machine. We decided to wait until we were a little more established in our relationship before telling them and besides, we hadn’t even been on a date yet.
The food had been thoroughly consumed and the volunteers were carrying the trays to the kitchen while Kayla set out more cups and I was filling the punch bowl. “You two certainly work very well together.”
It was Eleanor and her gaggle waiting to get their cups re-filled. “I must congratulate you on a job well done. The food was delicious and this punch is simply delightful. I simply must get the recipe from you; it will go down a treat at our book club meetings.”
“Actually, Kayla made the punch,” I boasted proudly.
“Hmm. Well Miss Johnson you certainly are a dark horse. Who knew your talents stretched beyond being a Handyman or is that handy person.” The gaggle giggled. I could see the muscles tense in Kayla’s shoulders and arms. “Then again you were a barmaid were you not?” I felt like jumping over the table and drowning Eleanor in the punch bowl.
“Do you know what you are Eleanor? Nothing more complicated than a schoolyard bully,” I said. “You must have a very small, insignificant life if all you have is this gaggle of gossiping fools that follow you around and giggle at your unintelligent babble; hoping that if they stick close enough to you then they won’t become one of your victims. Is being co-chair of the PTA your power trip? Do yourselves a favour ladies and get a life!” Kayla looked at me as if I had grown five heads. The gaggle had slowly dispersed, leaving Eleanor standing alone with nowhere to hide her crimson face.
Just then, Joel and Liam came to the table. “Aunty Kay, will you dance with me please.” Joel bowed in the most courteous manner and took her hand to lead her to the dance floor.
“May I have this dance milady,” Liam bowed and escorted me to dance. We ended up dancing for almost an hour non-stop. I was exhausted but having an awesome time. I needed a beverage break and indicated so to Kayla.
“You know you just made it worse, don’t you?” Kayla said peeping over the rim of the cup.
“What did you want me to do, just stand there and let her insult you?” I threw the cup at the table and stormed off. There was really nothing to do in the kitchen but I managed to look busy fussing over clean trays. Arms wrapped around me from behind and a kiss placed on the back of my neck.
“I love you,” she whispered while rocking our bodies gently.
“I hate that woman! Is it always going to be like this?”
“People always staring and making comments. Are we always going to be the hot gossip of the town?” The rocking stopped, her arms went slack, and she straightened and moved away.
“We should have spoken about this before we started. It’s my fault for not insisting.” Her hands were jammed into her back pockets and she found a spot on the floor to focus on.
“We do Leigh, but not here. Maybe we can get together tomorrow after church. Have lunch or something.”
“I thought you and Liam could stay over tonight? The dance ends at ten and I’m not on clean up duty so we can go straight home,” I said placing my hands on her tummy and making circles with my thumbs. She closed her eyes.
“I can’t think when you are doing that.”
“What’s there to think about,” I purred.
“I told you I want to do this right. No skipping steps. I cannot sleep in the same bed as you and not touch you. It will drive me insane.”
“Baby, I love you for wanting to do that and I respect it. If we can’t sleep in the same bed, can we at least sleep in the same house? Maybe we don’t have to sleep at all; we can just talk the whole night.”
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