Her calls and messages to Danny had gone largely ignored since the day he lost his temper at her flat. Kay wondered how much of this was to do with him trying to protect her from the harassment and how much was to do with him wanting to keep a distance from her anyway? It didn’t matter, she told herself, as she left her flat and buttoned her coat up against the cold outside. She was on her way to see Lucy, uninvited. Sending texts seemed to be getting her nowhere, so she had decided to take action that morning. First, she would drop in on Lucy. They seemed to be something close to confidantes these days, which was odd really, but not unwelcome, and each now appeared to be the other’s only link to Danny. Lucy had phoned her after the disaster on the beach with Danny. She had been so distraught, so upset. They had ended up meeting for coffee the next day.
“You can see why he would react like that,” she had told Lucy over coffee. “You must have known he would. He’s always had a temper, Lucy, you’ve probably just never seen it before. Again, this is why I think what you’re doing is right. Your relationship was founded on very odd circumstances. I mean, do you really feel you know each other that well?”
“No,” Lucy had replied quickly and adamantly. “I don’t. Sometimes I think he’s basically a stranger. Even back then, he was so quiet, so self-contained. It’s all so confusing…” She had been leaking tears, with a damp tissue scrunched up in one hand. “That’s what I was trying to explain to him, but he took it all the wrong way. I was trying to say we were just kids the last time we were together. We had this connection, this strong connection, and that’s the only way I can explain it, but we didn’t know everything about each other. Everything was so complicated.”
“And then eight years apart…” Kay had sighed.
“I know,” Lucy had rested her head in one hand, and stared at the table in the café. “So we still seem like strangers. Strangers, with some kind of connection, that tells me we should be together…but I just worry, I worry that he needs more time. Like you say, I don’t know all that much about him really.”
“He’s a lot like me,” Kay had told her with a wry smile. “He would go mad if he heard me say that, of course. But that was why we always clashed so much, because we were the same. Drama queens. Tempestous, melodramatic, all those things. Fiery temper. You should have seen some of the rows we had, even before we all moved here. Even when he was nine, ten years old! He was one of those kids that questions everything you say, you know? Used to drive me mad. It was like, Danny go to bed, why? Why do I have to? Why this time? Why doesn’t John? He was like that with everything. Christ, it was exhausting. Every little thing I ever said or did, he would have to argue about it, challenge it. I think now it was a reaction to not having his real dad around. It was like he didn’t trust me to do the job or something. Like he was suspicious of me, always checking me out and double guessing me.”
“I don’t think he’s done anything about contacting his dad,” Lucy had murmured in reply. “Unless I’m wrong. He probably wouldn’t tell me now, if he had.”
“No, I think you’re right. I think he put it to the back of his mind for now. Too much going on.”
She’d felt like a bitch, she thought now as she drove over to Lucys’ flat. She had felt uncomfortable agreeing with what Lucy had done. She knew that if Danny had heard them talking like that in the café, he would have exploded at both of them. He probably would have accused her of being behind it all, of wanting to wreck his life all over again. Kay felt the usual hardening in her heart as she drove, thinkingt about her son, and the mess that his once promising life had become. She felt the guilt, as she always did, like a heavy sodden cloak that clung upon her shoulders, pressing her down, so that it was a perpetual effort to hold her head up high. After all, she would remind herself dryly, she was his mother. She had raised him, pretty much by herself. She had not helped him stay in contact with his father, and that was another thing she felt guilty about. But guilt was a strange thing, she realised. Back then, as a young mother, guilt had panicked her. Guilt at being single, guilt at her children having different fathers, guilt at how much she yearned to be young and free again. That guilt had sent her looking for comfort, for attention and reassurance, for men. It had propelled her towards them because it was easy. She was beautiful, and they wanted her, and they made her feel better about the mess she had made of her life. Sometimes she had sought out the ones who seemed like they would be good fathers, but most of the time, she had not even worried about it.
Guilt. A very strange thing. She seemed to have spent most of her life trying to escape it, and escaping guilt made you defensive, and made your existence a constant state of denial. That was how Kay had come to view her years with Lee. A a state of denial caused by her desire to escape the guilt that weighed her down. She thought of the time they had lived in that small house together, and she knew that she had seen and heard things, and had ignored them, denied them, flapped them away. She knew she had been incredibly selfish, and too terrified to be alone to open her eyes and question what was happening around her. She knew there were times when Lee would go into Danny’s bedroom and close the door behind him, and she knew she should have gone to the door and listened, just in case. Just in case.
She drove to Lucy’s house, her expression taut, mouth pursed, eyes frowning. She felt hard inside. She was able to take all of their accusations these days, they had followed her around for years, and she had grown accustomed to them. They may all hate me, they may all blame me, but I am still his mother, she told herself as she pulled up neatly outside Lucy’s flat. She got out of the car, locked it and hurried briskly towards the door.
Lucy came to the door on the second knock. She viewed Kay with surprise and then suspicion. She was tying her dressing gown around her middle and looked unwell. “Kay? Is something wrong?”
“Well that’s what I’ve come to find out,” Kay smiled and pushed gently past her into the hallway. “No one tells me anything,” she explained, as Lucy closed the door hesitantly after her. “And I know, why should they? Why should they indeed? But I haven’t seen or heard much from my son since he threw his tantrum at my place, have you?”
Lucy folded her arms across her chest and sighed as she turned into her kitchen. “No,” she replied. “But he is coming over today.”
Kay followed her, eyebrows arched. “Really? Is he? How did you manage that?”
Lucy blew her breath out and sat down at the table, head in hand. “Told him it was important,” she said. Kay frowned. She looked quickly around at the small kitchen, which was usually so lovely and clean, everything in its place. It looked like Lucy had let things slip a bit lately. The sink was full of dirty dishes, and the table was cluttered with school books and her laptop. A pile of washing sat untouched in the basket next to the washing machine.
“What’s going on? Has there been more trouble?”
“Not for me,” Lucy shrugged. “Not since he stopped seeing me. How about you?”
“The same,” Kay announced, slipping into the chair beside Lucy’s. “All fine until he came to the flat, then I got a nice letter the next day. I know something is going on. He’s trying to find out who’s behind it all, isn’t he?”
“You can’t blame him,” Lucy shrugged again. “Do you want tea?”
“Only if you’re making one.”
“Think I might be out of milk actually,” Lucy muttered, getting up to check. Kay watched her shrewdly as she went to the fridge and pulled open the door. She watched her sigh again, blowing out her breath in a slow, weary puff. “Yeah, I am.”
“Do you want me to run and get you some?” Kay offered. “You don’t look very well Lucy. Have you been ill?”
Lucy let the fridge door drift shut slowly, before shuffling back to her chair. She was trying not to look at Kay, which made her even more suspicious. “Yes, had a few bugs,” Lucy told her, twirling a length of brown hair around one finger. “One after the other.” She rolled her eyes at Kay. “School.”
Kay nodded slowly. “You don’t mind me popping in? I was passing anyway. I wondered if you’d sorted things out with him yet.”
“He’s coming around in a bit,” Lucy told her with another sigh, a grimace appearing and disappearing on her face. “Any minute now.”
“Well in that case, if you don’t mind I’ll hang about to see him. Just want to see how he is. I’m sure it will piss him off, but I’ll take my chances.” Kay smiled boldly at Lucy’s sceptical expression. “Maybe you should text him and tell him to bring milk?”
“Okay.” Lucy slid her hand across the table, reaching for her phone. Kay watched her curiously, noting how dazed and out of it she seemed. She glanced at the door, wondering how long they would get alone before Danny showed up. She looked back at Lucy, as she typed into her phone.
“Anything you want to tell me?” she couldn’t help but ask. “Before he gets here I mean? You don’t seem yourself Lucy.”
“I’m fine,” Lucy waved a hand, then went back to her phone. “Just a bit washed out that’s all. Tired. Stressed, probably.”
“What’s so important? Why do you need to see him so urgently? I thought you two were on a break, or whatever you call it.”
Lucy put her phone down and ran a hand back through her hair. Kay narrowed her eyes, wondering why she was not dressed, why she was not all primped and preened for Danny. Lucy normally looked so well put together, she thought. Tomboyish, in her own way, but neat and coordinated, stylish. “I think I better talk to him first,” Lucy replied slowly, considerately. Kay nodded instantly.
Just then they were interrupted by the sound of Lucy’s phone vibrating and beeping on the table. She grabbed it and read out the message. “He’s getting milk. He’s on his way.”
“Nervous?” Kay asked her, folding her arms. Lucy stared at the table, her head now in her hand. Kay felt the urge to reach out to her, but as usual she reacted by folding her hands deep into her lap, twisting her fingers together there, and reminding herself that any of them would be repelled by her touch. Lucy nodded sadly in reply, and Kay felt the pity tugging her down. She got up then, just to have something to do. She grabbed the kettle and started to fill it with water. “Best get this on then.”
They waited in silence, while the kettle boiled. Kay stood with her side against the kitchen cupboards, thinking of things to say, questions to ask, conversations to initiate. Instead she found herself watching the door, awaiting the moment her son walked in, and wondering what she would find upon his face.
When he finally knocked on the door, Kay saw the wash of fear that filled Lucy’s eyes, before she struggled to compose herself. She let him in, lowering her eyes and tugging her dressing gown closer, and mumbling him that his mum was here too. Danny stepped into the doorway and looked accusingly at his mother. Kay blinked at him. She ran her eyes up and down, taking in his dishevelled appearance. He looked like he had slept in his clothes, his expression was tense and his eyes explosive, and was that blood on his jacket?
“What are you doing here?” he shot at her, remaining in the doorway, staring at her with piercing eyes. Kay snorted at him, and thought you’ve looked at me like that since you were born, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and I used to wipe your shitty little arse my son.
“Good morning to you too,” she replied, getting up from her chair and swiping the carton of milk from his hands. “I’ll put the tea on shall I?”
“I need to talk to Lucy.”
“You can. I won’t be long,” Kay said over her shoulder. Lucy had returned to her spot at the table and had gone back to looking rather dazed and nervous. “I’ll just have a cup of tea with you. You look like hell, by the way.”
“Cheers.” Danny finally relaxed his shoulders and slouched into the kitchen. He pulled out a chair and slumped into it. Kay lined up the cups and poured the boiling water into each one, while the strangled silence dragged out behind her. “You might as well know,” she heard Danny announce then, and turned to look at him. He was staring right back at her, challenging her, looking like he hated her. “I went to see Jack Freeman last night.” Kay removed the teabags one by one, waiting for him to continue, while Lucy sat silently at the table, holding her breath. “We had quite a chat,” Danny nodded at her. “Then I beat the shit out of him.”
Kay passed him his tea and fixed him with a knowing stare. “Well that wasn’t very clever of you, was it?”
“Oh Danny…” breathed Lucy, head in hands. He gave her the briefest of glances before turning his blazing eyes back on Kay.
“That was quite enjoyable actually,” he corrected her. “Now that I’m all grown up, you know? I can kind of see how Lee got off on it all, to be honest. Smashing someone’s face in when you really despise them. It is satisfying, I have to say. It does make you feel good.”
“What do you want me to say?” Kay placed the other cups on the table and sat back down. “What reaction do you want from me Danny? Did you find out anything useful? Is he behind the harassment?”
Danny snorted in disgust, his eyes scowling back at her. “He says not. But he would say that wouldn’t he? He admits he’s been in contact with Jerry over the years, and Jerry’s wanted him to mess with my head. He’s been in the same pub down by the sea for years. Did you know that mother?”
“What do you mean by the sea?”
“Like ten minutes away!” Danny practically shouted at her. “All this time! We all assumed he’d crawled back to Essex or wherever the fuck he came from, but no, he got half of the club, from Lee’s will, he says. You must have known that?”
Kay released a sigh, and shook back her hair. “Okay,” she said, bracing herself. “Obviously I did know that. There was nothing I could do about it. But I didn’t know he moved back this way or bought a pub down here.”
Danny was shaking his head slowly from side to side, his top lip curling up, his eyes narrowing to nothing. Kay felt the anger rolling from him, and she hardened herself to it, just as she did with the guilt that swamped her day by day. There is nothing more I can do, she thought, staring back at him unflinchingly, I can’t say sorry any more times, I can’t do anything more to make it up to you.. “You should have told me,” Danny said, looking away from her now. He still did not really take in Lucy though, Kay noted. It was like she was invisible to him. Here he was, sat in her kitchen and drinking her tea, yet refusing to even properly acknowledge her. Kay decided to get out of there quick and leave them to it. Her pity for the girl was building by the minute.
“Maybe,” she shrugged. “But like I said, I didn’t know he was around here. What did it matter if Lee left him money in the will?”
“It matters because the fucking bastard has everything he ever wanted in life!” Danny roared at her then, rising up from his chair, his fists balled at his sides. “It matters because he’s never paid for a fucking thing! Not like me! He’s got a fucking student pub, full of fucking drugged up kids, and none of them know what he’s really like do they?”
Kay decided there and then to skip the tea she had not even touched yet. It was obvious that Lucy had something extremely important to discuss with Danny, and her being there was simply enraging him. She pushed back her chair and stood up. “I don’t know what you want me to say Danny. I’m sorry. As usual. I am sorry I have ruined everything for you. I don’t know how many times I will have to say that. But as for Jack Freeman, maybe you should do those kids a favour and let them know? Just a thought.” She smiled at Lucy and headed for the door. “Maybe that would get rid of him, who knows? Is that what you want?”
“I wanted to kill him, that’s what I wanted last night,” Danny growled, still standing. “I wanted to hurt him and I wanted to fucking kill him. The disgusting fuck admitted everything, you know.”
Kay sucked her breath in, and stepped closer to him. She searched his eyes for a moment, trying to work out which way he was heading. In the end it felt safe to reach out and find his hand. She circled her fingers slowly around his, and when he did not pull away, she enclosed her hand tightly upon his and pulled him to her. “You wanted to know,” she said softly, now totally forgetting about Lucy. “At least now you know.”
She watched his face soften, and his body relaxed slightly. His hand felt warm and soft inside hers and she yearned to pull him into her body, and enfold him in her arms. “He said he was sorry.”
“Did he? Did he mean it?”
“I think so. He said he loved me for fucks sake.”
“Well, there you go.” Kay smiled at the insanity of it all and could not hold back any longer. She tightened her grip on his hand and pulled him to her, and once she had him, she wrapped her arms firmly around his back, and pressed her face into his neck. She felt him stiffen, and she remembered that he had done that, even when he was a baby. “I love you,” she said into his ear. “And I know that doesn’t help you very much with any of this, but I need you to know it. I love you and I’m here for you, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it. I’m with you Danny. I’m proud of you. You need to sit and talk with Lucy.” She felt him shudder with a sigh, and he pulled back from her, dragging one hand awkwardly across his eyes. “You were very brave,” she told him softly. “Did you see him alone?”
Danny nodded. “Mike waited outside. He came in after a while…he pulled me off him.”
“That was lucky.” Kay glanced at Lucy, still sat wordlessly at the table. She knew it was time for her to go. “Right,” she said, reaching up to pat her son on the shoulder. “I’m off. I only wanted to check in with you all. I’ve got things to do. I shall leave you both in peace.”
Neither of them said a thing, as she left the flat, and closed the door gently behind her. Kay headed for her car, her mind a whirl of images. She thought of Jack Freeman, and wished she had asked Danny which pub he meant. She imagined her son then, stood before the other man who had taken advantage of him, the man who had pulled the wool so completely over her own eyes. How must that have felt, she wondered, and a shiver snaked down her spine at the thought. She could only imagine how strongly Danny must have wanted to hurt him.
That’s okay, she thought coldly, as she climbed into her car and pulled out her mobile phone, I want to hurt him too.
She found herself alone in the kitchen with Danny, and suddenly it felt too hard to breathe. Panic hurtled through her, taking her by surprise, making her feel giddy and drowsy, and not quite there. He had sat back down, only glancing at her once. He had picked up his tea, and was taking successive sips, his eyes darting around the room, picking out objects to glare at, avoiding her. She forced herself to take a deep, long breath, drumming her fingernails softly against the tabletop while she struggled through her own mind, trying to remember everything she had planned to say to him. Where had it all gone? Her mind had gone blank! It was empty, totally empty. Fear, blind fear careered through her, and she wanted to get up and run dramatically from the room, away from him. Would he follow her? Would he care? Or would he merely roll his eyes in disgust and walk out?
Lucy pushed her hair back behind her ears and shook her head at her own stupidity. She felt like a teenager, not a woman in her twenties, not a grown up, with a grown up job, and her own flat. She felt like a stupid kid, caught out, about to get scolded, about to get put in her place. She felt sick, and her head pounded. She reached up with one hand, the fingers seeking urgently through her hair, until her forehead found a place to rest within her palm. He wasn’t going to speak to her was he? He was just going to sit there and make it difficult for her, wasn’t he? “I didn’t know she was coming,” she said then, blurting it out before she could think twice, before she could question whether it was the right thing to say or not. His eyes swam to meet hers. She wondered what she saw there. “She just turned up,” Lucy shrugged at him. He gave a brief nod.
“Are you okay?” he sighed. “You’ve been ill or something?”
Lucy wanted to laugh. She imagined he was taking in the state of her, the dressing gown and the unbrushed hair. “You could say that,” she replied, and considered then, launching straight into it, shouting it out just like that; I’m pregnant! I’m pregnant and it’s yours! She found herself suddenly biting down hard on her bottom lip, to stop herself. “No, I mean,” she said quickly, “I’m fine. I’m fine. How about you? I can’t believe you went to see him. Freeman.”
Danny sniffed, drank some more tea and stared down at the floor. “Second on the list,” he shrugged.
“What do you mean?”
“Of the people who might have it in for me,” he explained, eyes still down. “Dennis, Lee’s brother, Freeman, and Jerry, Lee’s dad. Well, that’s all I have so far, there could be more. The bastard could have fans all over the place for all I know.”
“You’ve seen the brother?”
“Yeah. It’s not him.”
“How do you know?”
Danny rubbed at one eye with two fingers, and still, he kept his eyes away from hers. He looked agitated, she thought. Calmer than he had before his mum had pulled him into her arms, but still on edge, still brimming and overflowing with all the things Lucy feared she would never again be a part of. “Long story,” he said, ending the conversation.
“You can tell me,” she tried. He looked at her then, and it made her wish that he hadn’t. She wanted to cry, looking into those angry blue eyes.
“You wanted out,” he said, his tone emotionless.
“No I didn’t. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted to stay friends, and I wanted, I hoped, once you’d had some time alone, that we would still have a future.” Lucy felt the tears growing closer and took another deep breath to steady herself.
“Is that what this is all about then?” Danny asked her. “Calling me over and saying it’s urgent? You want me back or something now?”
“How have you been?” she asked instead, pushing back the urge to shout it out at him, it is urgent, you silly sod, it can’t get any more urgent! Danny scoffed at her in reply, banging his empty cup down onto the table, and looking away from her, shaking his head angrily.
“You’re unbelievable Lucy.”
“I’m only asking. I just want to know how you’ve been.”
“You want to know if I’ve done what you wanted?” he turned his eyes back on her, and this time he was smiling a cruel smile. “You want to know about that? You want to know if I’ve checked out other women, just to be sure you’re the right one?” Lucy averted her gaze to the table, where her phone lay quiet and dead. She couldn’t blame him, she told herself. “Well I have actually, if you want to know the truth.” He raised his eyebrows at her in triumph, and sat back again, leaning back in his chair and glancing at the door, as if planning his escape. Lucy nodded silently, and tried to absorb the information. She knew she had no right to be upset, but still, she felt the pain hit her like a dull thud to the chest, and she had to breathe in and out again, as the words he had spoken crashed from side to side in her head.
“It’s okay,” she managed to utter, swallowing back tears. “I understand. I understand why you’re angry with me, and I understand why you did it.”
“Do you want to know who it is?” he shot at her, sitting forward in his chair now, and folding his arms on top of the table. His eyes bore into hers. She tried to look away, but he seemed to be able to hold her there, his eyes wide and staring, his mouth a grim straight line. She shrugged in reply. What did it matter? What did it matter who he had been with? “Caroline Haskell,” Danny informed her, shaking his hair from his eyes and moving his arms, spreading his hands palm down on the table. Lucy nodded again. Swallowed. Wondered when she ought to tell him about the baby growing inside of her. “The reporter. And before you ask, no, it wasn’t when we were together, it was after you dumped me.”
“Danny I didn’t call you here to talk about all of that,” Lucy said, now blinking furiously to rid her eyes of the tears that threatened to fall. She did not want to cry in front of him, she really didn’t. He frowned at her and gestured his impatience with his hands.
“What, you don’t want to hear all about it? You don’t want the details? You’re not happy I did what you wanted?”
Lucy could only shake her head, and wrap her arms around herself protectively. “Did it make you happy?” she asked uselessly. “You don’t seem happy.”
“I was happy when I was with you,” he replied, teeth clenched. “I was alright when I was with you.”
“I’ve got to tell you something Danny.” She said it quickly, and purposefully. She said it before he could say another word. She found herself turning to face him, leaning across the table and staring right into his confused eyes. “I can’t sit here any longer, shitting myself, so I’m just going to come right out and say it.”
“I’m pregnant, Danny. Pregnant.” Lucy found a little strength returning to her now, as she witnessed his seeping away from him. His face had gone pale rather quickly, and his mouth was hanging open. She saw his gaze drop to her middle, then back to her face, then back to her body again. She stared back at him, waiting for his first response, wondering what it might be, not letting herself dare believe it could be positive. He just looked dazed, she thought, like he had just been violently woken from a heavy sleep and had no idea what was going on. Then he sat back very slowly, moving back away from her.
She sighed. “Pregnant. I’m pregnant Danny. I’m having a baby and it’s yours. It’s yours.”
He stood up then, the legs of the chair screeching across her floorboards. She imagined him running for the door, leaving it hanging open behind him, and she wanted to smile suddenly, and had to stop herself. She covered her mouth with one hand, watching him cautiously over the top of it. “I don’t understand,” he murmured at her. She shrugged.
“I think it was the night you got back. We weren’t careful Danny.”
“But you were on the pill, weren’t you?” He pointed at her with one hand, while the other raked through his hair. “Weren’t you on the pill or something?
“No Danny, I told you I wasn’t. I had no need to be. I’d been on my own for ages. We took a risk Danny. Remember? Neither of us cared at the time.”
He stared at her silently. For a moment he looked almost petulant, with his bottom lip jutting out, and his forehead creased in a heavy frown. He looked angry with her. “I don’t remember that,” he argued. “You should have said! I told you I didn’t want kids, Lucy, I told you!”
“Alright, that’s fine,” she found herself shouting back, and getting to her feet. “I knew you’d have this reaction, so that’s fine. You can go now. I just needed to tell you, that’s all.”
“Are you deliberately trying to fuck with my head?” he roared at her then, hands back on the table, cheeks flushing red. “First you dump me then you call me to say you’re pregnant! I don’t want kids Lucy! I told you that!”
Lucy felt the anger rushing through her quickly. She lifted her arm and pointed to the door. “Get out then,” she said tightly. “If that’s how you feel, just go! If you don’t want this baby, that is fine with me, just go. Go on! Go!”
“Right,” he snarled at her. “I fucking will!”
She watched him go. The door slammed so hard behind him that her coat fell down from the hook in the hallway, and she jumped. Lucy found herself staring furiously at the empty space he had just exited from. Fine, fuck off, fuck off then! She had expected herself to cry, but the tears had gone. Instead she just felt a roaring, spiteful anger, and a vicious protectiveness towards the life inside of her. She sat down suddenly, crossing her arms over her stomach. We don’t need him, we don’t need him, if that’s how he feels, we’ll be fine on our own. She realised then that the baby was becoming just that to her, a baby, a person, a life all of its own, not just a situation anymore, or a dilemma I’m pregnant. It was a baby. It was her baby. Lucy closed her eyes, sadness washed over her and she shook her head, tightening her arms across herself, unable to fathom how she had managed to make such a mess of it all.