Authors: Lucy Diamond
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Any Way You
‘So, what do you do?’ he said.
‘I’m a . . . scriptwriter,’ I said. That was my first lie.
He raised his eyebrows. ‘What sort of stuff do you write?’
I tried to sound modest. ‘TV dramas mostly. The odd film.’ I gave a tiny shrug and dipped my head, trying to imply that this was not a big deal.
He leaned in a fraction closer, close enough for me to smell him. ‘Really? Nice one.’ He smelled expensive. He looked impressed. He seemed to think it
a big deal.
Rather a shame that it was all lies. I didn’t quite know where they were coming from. It was as if someone else was speaking to him, not me. Five minutes later, and I’d been nominated for a BAFTA, had an office in Soho and was thinking of setting up my own production company. Well, I figured I might as well enjoy myself – and I was hardly going to tell him the truth. That would have sent him packing within seconds.
I wasn’t lying for any sinister reason. I’d been minding my own business, wondering if my trousers looked as tight as they felt, while I waited for Becca to come back from the bar with our drinks. Then he’d appeared beside me, sliding along the couch, one arm slung over the back of it. Jack. A pretty boy in a loud shirt. Young and cocky and definitely, oh,
, on the pull, but he’d been so charming and funny and . . . OK, then, he’d been so damn good-looking, I couldn’t resist playing along with it, trying on a new persona to see how it fitted. And for ten minutes, it fitted wonderfully. I even convinced myself.
Then my phone bleeped. A message.
I glanced at it covertly.
, it said. The two words were enough to make me break off right in the middle of my Hollywood story. Nathan hungry?
Don’t . . . don’t go and LEAK now
, I told myself fiercely. I could feel that familiar tingle starting at the very thought.
don’t start leaking here in public, not when I’m wearing my best dry-clean-only Kenzo top . . .
‘Sorry,’ I said to Jack. I pulled a rueful, shit-happens face. ‘Gotta make a call. I’m meeting someone else for a drink and they seem to be early.’ It was the most truthful thing I’d said all night.
‘Oh,’ he replied. He looked up at me through lashes so sooty and thick they should rightfully have been on a woman. ‘Can I take your number, then?’
‘Tell you what,’ I said, ‘I’ll take yours.’
We shook hands. ‘Nice talking to you, Sadie,’ he smiled. His hand felt cool and firm. Long fingers. No rings.
‘Nice talking to
, Jack,’ I said. I meant it. I hadn’t felt so creative for weeks.
I dialled home as soon as he’d made the return swagger to his mates, who promptly started slapping him on the back and making simian whooping noises. ‘Alex, it’s me,’ I said. I kept my voice low; Jack had obviously made some comment or other about me as his whole posse were straining their designer shirt collars, leaning over for a good look. ‘Is everything all right? He’s not due a feed in ages. Are you sure he’s hungry?’
‘He’s been bawling his head off, Sade. I’ve checked his nappy and that’s OK, and he’s not too hot or too cold or anything . . .’
‘He’s probably tired. Or windy. He can’t be that hungry, I fed him just before I came out.’ I could hear a wail down the receiver behind Alex’s words. My boy. How could I have abandoned him? I felt like running out of the bar there and then in my best strappy heels, sod the stupid night out.
Before I could move, though, Becca walked into my line of vision and plonked two tall glasses on the table in front of me. The ice clinked, and my mouth felt dry.
‘He’s just tired,’ I repeated into the phone, more forcefully this time. I couldn’t take my eyes off the gin swirling languidly through the tonic. It looked so wonderfully viscous, so wonderfully . . .
. ‘He didn’t sleep much today. Why don’t you try putting him in the sling and walking him about? Please, Alex.’ We’d only just got here and I was about to be magicked back to Motherhood Central before I’d even had a chance to lift my drink. Maybe it was a punishment for all those lies.
‘All right,’ he said. He didn’t sound convinced.
‘And if that doesn’t work, there’s some breastmilk in the fridge,’ I said. I looked around to see Becca looking grossed-out, and a couple on the next table with
faces. I turned away hurriedly. ‘You’ll need to sterilize a bottle, remember, and . . .’
‘All right, all right,’ Alex said.
The wailing started up again and I squeezed my eyes shut. This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have come.
Becca grabbed the phone. ‘She’ll call you back in ten minutes, OK? Bye now.’
I took a thankful swig of my drink. The ice cubes rattled down to butt my lips, and tonic bubbles popped on my tongue. The alcohol sank into me deliciously. I imagined it swirling through my bloodstream in the same languid way.
‘Thanks, Bec,’ I said.
She was staring at me, brown eyes scrunching up into a frown. ‘Sade . . . I think you’re . . . I think something’s happening,’ she said. She gestured to my top. ‘What’s that?’
I glanced down to see a telltale wet patch on my chest as the milk seeped sweetly out of me. ‘Oh, Christ,’ I moaned, trying and failing to cover it up with my arm. ‘Oh,
The cab sped through the dark city, and I leaned my hot cheek against the window.
‘Don’t worry,’ Becca said, giving my arm a squeeze. ‘We can try again next Saturday.’
‘We’re going to dinner with Alex’s sodding boss next Saturday,’ I reminded her. I grimaced. Mine and Alex’s first night out together since Nathan had been born five months ago – and it wasn’t going to be quite the romantic get-away I’d been hoping for. We could hardly start holding hands and snogging drunkenly over the table at his new boss’s dinner party. Not unless I was planning to
ruin Alex’s career anyway.
‘Sometime in the week, then,’ she said. ‘Look, it’s not a big deal. Honestly. If you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.’
I returned the squeeze. ‘Cheers, Bec.’ I sighed. ‘I’m sorry – I’m sure there’s nothing wrong, but—’
‘I know. I know! It’s all right, you don’t have to say it.’
People were spilling out of bars and restaurants, loitering in clusters on the pavement, heads tipped back in laughter under the flashing neon signs. They had all the time in the world to hang around. Maybe they’d go on to a club now or over to someone’s house for a smoke. They could stay out until the first pink blush of dawn, if they fancied it, then lounge in bed all the next day, read the Sunday papers with their feet on the sofa, doze in front of the
omnibus. Bacon, eggs, fags, coffee, hangover. Such enviable freedom. Such a different world.
‘There’s Pete!’ Becca said suddenly, banging on the car window and waving like a maniac. ‘And Zoe!’ She leaned forward. ‘Could you stop here a second, please, mate?’
As the cab pulled in to the roadside, she turned to me. ‘Mind if I jump out? I haven’t seen them for ages,’ she asked. Then she paused. ‘Or – do you fancy joining us?’
I shook my head. ‘Duty calls,’ I said after just a tiny hesitation. ‘Have a good one.’
I watched out of the window as she went. She turned and waved, her long dark hair tumbling over her pale suede jacket, and then she was gone, linking arms with Zoe, swallowed up by the crowd.
As the cab roared away towards Battersea Bridge and home, I lurched on the slippery vinyl back seat and had the sensation that I was being pulled in half. Part of me wanted to yell to the driver, Stop! I’ve changed my mind! Pete and the others would be going clubbing probably or to someone’s house party and there would be loads of speed and E around. It had been so long, God, just SO long since I’d done anything like that, what with pregnancy and motherhood and all the zombifying tiredness . . .
, I remembered. And the very thought of his frantic wailing face was enough to kill stone dead in an instant any ideas about going out clubbing. So that was that.
‘Sorry,’ I gabbled to Alex when I got back, and Nathan was still scarlet-faced with sobs. Alex was jiggling him around as best he could, but every jiggle just seemed to shake another cry from our son’s unhappy red mouth. I reached over and took him, and his breath gasped out into my shoulder at once, in hot, tearful relief.
‘Here I am, sweetheart,’ I whispered, hurriedly undoing my top and letting his mouth fasten upon me. ‘Mummy’s home.’
My night out had vanished into the ether. Already, the feeling of being in the bar, the squishy couch beneath my legs, the smell of smoke and perfume and beer – already, it seemed like fragments of a dream I was struggling to remember. It was slipping further and further away by the second.
Nathan sucked hard and frantically for a few moments, then his body relaxed against mine in limp exhaustion, and his breathing slowed. His eyes shut dreamily and his face softened in the ecstasy of warm milk. My boy. My ever-ravenous boy. I stroked his cheek, held him tight to me.
‘He just wanted you,’ Alex was saying again, shrugging his shoulders in a
What was I supposed to do?
gesture. ‘He went mad when I tried the bottle. It was like I’d offended him. He just—’
‘It’s OK,’ I said, not looking up. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
Like a well-oiled machine, Alex’s hands moved for the remote, his beer and today’s paper at my words.
Permission to relax again, sir!
He sat down and opened the newspaper with a flourish.
As I leaned back carefully on the sofa, Nathan still attached, I felt the rustle of paper in my pocket. Then I remembered. Jack’s phone number. Jack! He had been nice-looking, hadn’t he, with his dark lashes and laughing mouth? He’d liked me, too. Well, he’d liked the BAFTA-nominated scriptwriter, anyway. Probably would have run a mile in those expensive leather shoes of his if he’d known the truth.
I tried not to smirk too obviously at the novelty of having been chatted up. It had been a long time since anybody had given me so much as a
look, let alone a second one. Not that I was
second looks, you understand, I was a million miles from those out-on-the-pull days but . . . Well, you know. Nice to be noticed, wasn’t it? Looked at as somebody to desire again, rather than looked straight through as one more child-bearing mothering machine behind a buggy. And it was dead flattering that somebody as good-looking as Jack had seen something else there, some last vestige of sex-kittenness inside me. Well, hopefully, anyway. Of course, maybe he had just been on the lash, and desperate.
Nathan opened his eyes and blinked, his curled pink fists resting contentedly on me. My deliciously chubby boy with his dimples and solemn blue gaze. I ran a finger down the side of his face and felt a twist of guilt at the sight of a tear still clinging to his eyelashes.
The washing machine chuntered in the background. The telly’s drone was interspersed with periodic bursts of moronic-sounding canned laughter. Alex poured me a glass of red wine and flicked through the newspaper. Everything – and everyone – was in their place.
I reached out a hand to him across the chasm of sofa between us and he took my fingers, stroked them absent-mindedly as he frowned at the sports pages.
Then he looked up. ‘Sorry,’ he said.
‘For wrecking your night out. For dragging you home.’
I heaved our son up to my shoulder and patted his pyjama’d back gently. He had fallen asleep and his breath sighed out, sweet and milky against my face. ‘It’s all right,’ I said, trying to ignore the flash of resentment I’d felt. I could do it again another night, after all, couldn’t I? ‘Honestly. Becca was cool about it. She saw Pete and Zoe on the way back, so she went off with them instead.’
Alex looked faraway for a moment, and I knew that, like me, he was wondering which club they were all at, imagining thudding bass-lines, amphetamine-fuelled dancing, sweat and shouting and bare flesh.