“It’s been lovely to see you” I said to my sister, Clarissa, and brother-in-law, John, as I gave her a hug and him a handshake. “Your kids are a credit to you.” I bent down and gave Sophie, who was clinging on to Clarissa’s leg a kiss. Toby was already in the car.
“We’ve had an amazing time. We both thoroughly enjoyed your party. Lola, thanks again for your wonderful hospitality.”
We hadn’t even waved them out of the drive before Lola smile was replaced by a grimace as she turned on me in her usual contemptuous manner.
“You and your family. Huh. I don’t understand why you have to suck up to them so much.”
“I just enjoy having them around.”
“You’re a completely different animal when they’re around. Stuck up I think. Yes a real snob. Why can’t you just be normal like you are the rest of the time?”
I was too hurt to reply. The good feeling I’d had with my family around was already all but forgotten. It was back to business with the wife as usual.
However, it wasn’t long before our friends Sarah and Simon and Claudia and James arrived for lunch and once again the cracks in my marital relationship were covered. Lola took pride in being a good hostess and was genial and vivacious in company. Much of the conversation was about people and events that the rest of them had shared but I hadn’t as Lola and these two couples had been friends long before I settled in the area. I could see Lola was really enjoying herself and was blissfully unaware of how left out of the conversation I felt. Then when we went through for lunch Lola started bossing me around.
“Charles see what our guests want to drink.” This interrupted me asking Claudia, who I actually did like, what she would like to drink. Other orders followed. “Fetch this” “Clear up that.” I meekly did as I was told and tried to maintain a congenial front.
The wine flowed as we ate and Claudia and I were exchanging views on bringing up children. The discussion touched on our personal attitudes to life and I was starting to relax. Good conversation and the company of attractive women always put me in a good mood.
“Charles can you get the cheese, please,” spoiled all that. I did as I was bid and sat down hoping to take up the conversation where we’d left off. However the chat had returned to reminiscing mode and I felt excluded again and became morose and thoroughly pissed off.
Next evening my friend Ben and I were having a drink in the Leisure centre bar after a strenuous game of tennis, which Ben had won.
Ben: “So, how’s tricks?”
Me: “Uh not bad. You?”
“Things aren’t that great.”
“Oh dear. Julie giving you the run around?”
“No. I’ve had enough. I’ve left.”
“Wow! When did that happen?”
“Oh last week. The worst thing was leaving the children. Actually it wasn’t leaving them that was the problem it was the look in their eyes when I went back. They looked so hurt and so lost- like “Why have you done this to us?” I took them out for a MacDonalds but they weren’t themselves. Seemed sullen really.”
“Well it must have been a shock to them. But children do adapt quite quickly. Just give it a couple of weeks.”
“I know all that. It’s just hard now.”
“And you? Where are you living?”
“Oh I’m staying with Chris for a few days until I can sort something more permanent out.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Well you know you’re more than welcome to stay with us for as long as you like. In fact I’d like that very much. Things aren’t that great with me either and ….” I’d intended to say that I could do with some support and decent company but stopped myself.
“Well thanks for the offer. Much appreciated. Really though I think I’d like to rent somewhere so I could have the kids to stay.”
“OK, well the offer’s there anyway. Meanwhile would you like another drink?”
“Well I ought to go really. Chris and Nita are expecting me anytime round now. Another night perhaps we can go out for a meal. I’ll give you a ring.”
A few days later I had a call from Ben who’d found himself a flat not far from his office and I agreed to go round to meet him there before a game of tennis. I felt very sorry for him as the place was a really comedown after the lovely home he’d been living in with his family. Yet he said the kids had already spent a night there and had appeared to enjoy it.
When we arrived at the Leisure Centre all the courts were occupied with two women playing on the court we’d booked. We waited until they had finished their current game then asked them how much longer they would be as we’d booked it from 6. There must have been a mix up in the court booking system as they said they were also booked in from 6.
“Oh well, nothing else for it – we’ll just have to go and beat up the booking clerk,” said Ben.
“Why don’t we play doubles instead,” said one of the girls. “That is if you don’t mind that we’re not very good.”
“What a kind offer!” I replied. “we’re not too good ourselves.”
Actually both women were quite presentable, slim and athletic looking and perhaps a bit younger than us.
We had an enjoyable match with Gail,my partner, and I just managing to beat Ben and Lois 6:4 in the final set. It was anyone’s game until the final point – the beauty of tennis’ scoring system.
“We usually have a drink at the bar after playing and would be delighted if you would join us,” I said as we packed up our rackets and put on our tracksuits. I found myself attracted to Lois who was very dark, quite tall and slender with a stylish hairstyle with plaited ringlets and beads. She seemed relaxed and comfortable with herself without being either pushy or shy. I thought Ben was getting on well with Gail too but unfortunately several of us had other commitments so we split up much sooner than I would have liked.
We did arrange to repeat the event the following week. I also arranged for Ben to come over for dinner to my house the following evening. That evening passed off without incident. In fact it was a pleasant evening as Lola was in a relaxed mood and seemed to enjoy having two men as company. At the end of the evening I walked Ben to his car to see him off and took the opportunity to refer to the previous evening.
“You seemed to get on OK with Lois,” I ventured as an exploratory introductory remark.
“Not half as well as you did,” he returned, with a hint of bitterness I thought.
“She is a bit special, don’t you think?”
“Well she’s nice but so’s Gail.”
I was pleased to hear this and wondered why. I suspected that I was already interested in Lois to the extent that I didn’t want any competition from Ben. This realisation seemed premature but, at the same time quite exciting. I’d oggled attractive women most of my adult life but never got further than the oggling stage. Well, maybe that wasn’t quite true. I suppose I had fancied friends etc. at parties. Yes I remember getting as far as kissing Claudia full on on one occasion. We were both waiting for the loo, both fairly merry, if not quite drunk. I would have followed her into the toilet if she’d invited me.
“Wow mate. You’ve got it bad!” said Ben, bring me bank to earth.
“No I was just remembering some of the other women I’d grappled with.”
“Oh Yeah! I thought you’d been the faithful husband.”
“Well I have really. Just let my hair down on a couple of occasions.”
“Well back to my lonely pad.”
“You don’t have to you know. You could kip down here.”
“Thanks, nice offer but…. All right see you Tuesday then. Sweet dreams.
“You too, bye.”
Lola was already in bed, light off, her back pointedly facing my side. I was pleased really. To feel this was a surprise as normally I’d feel hurt and rejected.
5 years later
“Hi, Claudia. Is Lola in? I’ve come to pick up the kids.”
I stood outside the front door of my old marital home. Inside there were quite a few of the friends that I’d known for many years, obviously enjoying themselves. The bitterness that I felt towards them welled up inside. Not one of them had had anything to do with me since I’d left Lola and taken up with Lois. It was obvious that Lola had told them what she had told me on numerous occasions – that I was wholly responsible for the breakup of my marriage – and that they had gone along with that line of argument. Because they thought that, they had given Lola support through her difficult times and cut me out completely. Yet I was the one who’d had to move out and start again. I’d only left Lola because she didn’t love or respect me.
“Hi mate, how are you?” This from Ben stopped my train of thoughts. He was my replacement, lording it up in my old shoes.
“Hi Daddy,” from my son Timmy then “Hello, Dad,” from daughter Sam gave me the excuse to ignore Ben and walk back to the car with my children who were staying with us for the weekend.
When I got back to my new home it seemed quiet in comparison with my old one. The children rushed in and embraced Lois who made a big fuss of them in return. While I’d been out she’d cooked us all a meal. TImmy and Sam went up to their room to unpack their things.
“How was it?” she asked.
“Same as usual – awful. All my old so called friends were there with Ben acting as host.” I felt I shouldn’t say too much as I didn’t want Lois to feel in any way responsible or inadequate.
“Sorry, it’s just hard sometimes.”
“Don’t worry darling. I understand. Come here, let me make it better.” She gave me a huge hug, kissed me deeply and made me feel loved as I’d never felt loved by anyone else. I had no doubt that I’d done the right thing. I was happy in my new relationship; very happy; but it was still hard. And I did feel lonely and let down sometimes; deserted by my friends. Life could be very unfair and I hated feeling left out. When I thought things through I knew I hadn’t really enjoyed the company of these people but it hurt a lot that I had been so readily cast aside.
“Clarissa called. Just to confirm arrangements. She was very friendly and says they’re both looking forward to coming.”
“Well that’s a start at least. At least some of my family are starting to accept us as a couple.” Even my own family had doubted me and had been more supportive of Lola than of me. I suppose they saw my marriage as successful, as superficially it was, and thought I’d run off with Lois as the self-indulgent action of a middle-aged male, rather than the need to get out of an unequal and sterile marriage that was causing me much unhappiness and loss of self-esteem.
“It’ll be all right eventually. Just give everyone time. They’ll come round.”
“I know, I know. And when they see how happy we both are and how well the kids are doing.”
“Daddy I like the new picture in my room. Thanks,” said Tom.
“I’m starving,” said Juliette, as if to prove my point.