“Wow! Um, Robin” I faltered; I wanted to run but was rooted to the spot unsure of what to do. The effect left me hopping from foot to foot like a mad woman or someone desperate to pee, which was not the look I was hoping for the first time that he saw me. At least my surprise at seeing him would have looked genuine I thought later.
“What are you doing here?” he asked happily, before scoffing “not stalking me I hope?” He actually looked really happy to see me; his eyes were gleaming with what could only have been described as genuine joy. I honestly didn’t expect that he would be so pleased to see me. I don’t really know what I was expecting but that definitely wasn’t it. I really hadn’t given any of this enough thought, the evidence to that was simply the fact that I was there in the first place. I didn’t even bother to find out which designer clothes store he was managing, I just ran to the shopping centre like a mad woman without a single logical thought! My only thoughts seemed to have centred around looking as good as possible.
It must have looked like I was being electrocuted, which was exactly how I felt. My body was ram rod straight and I must have looked in pain! His hand was still on my arm and the electricity that was pulsing from him to me felt as though it was causing my arm to burn, I swear that I could smell burning leather! The whole time we were stood there I had to fight the urge to run.
“Um, you know, um, shopping” I mumbled wincing as I did so. Robin pointedly looked at my hands to make sure that I knew, that he had noted that they were empty. He was the king of deceit after all so who was I kidding? Now if it weren’t for the guilt I wouldn’t have said anything, or if I at least had my wits about me I wouldn’t have said a single thing. But I was guilty, wit’s and brain were off duty and so before I could clamp my mouth shut I was off twittering on about items being out of stock, things being delivered and returning clothes that were the wrong sizes. I could see him looking more and more doubtful which caused my face to flush and my mouth to ramble on and on and on! Nobody shoots me but Robin does put out me out of my misery. He released my arm which caused me to sigh with relief and then used the pause to offer to buy me a coffee.
“Don’t you have to work?” I practically pleaded giving too much away in the process “aren’t you expected?”
Robin turned to face me square on. His dark liquid eyes looked so deeply in to mine that my stomach lurched with nerves, and every inch of my body reacted as though it were faced with danger. “At this exact moment in time there is nothing more important to me than having coffee with you” he stated flatly before taking me by the hand and leading me back in to the centre.
How ironic I thought to myself, I had never been his priority the whole time we were together. My legs were following him obediently but he was marching along so fast that I was struggling to keep up with him. He seemed totally unaware that we were attracting a little bit of mild attention, I on the other hand had been acutely aware of the glances. All I could do was pray that no one I knew spotted us. He pushed me on to the escalator in front of him with the obligatory ‘Ladies first’ forgetting of course that it was him who told me that women are idiots if they believe that men do this to be gentlemanly, he told me that actually men do this so that they can check out a woman’s arse, so knowing that in fact he was standing behind me on the escalator eyeing up my bottom caused me even more anxiety, like I needed more reasons to be nervous!
Once we were both standing on the first floor Robin once again took my hand and led the way. He led me straight into a thankfully quiet coffee shop, found a nice table right in the corner and pulled out a chair for me with mock flourish. Again, I couldn’t believe how happy he was. He was smiling broadly allowing me to see that his lovely teeth were as perfect as they had been when we first met, his eyes were still sparkling and the annoyance that I had seen etched on his face while he was on the phone had been washed away instantly. His phone by the way had been ringing, and ringing on the short walk to that coffee shop. He didn’t acknowledge this fact to me, just simply pulled the expensive smart phone out of his pocket, turned it off and put it away. His eyes never left mine while he completed this action. I think that he wanted to signal to me that I absolutely had his full attention; the trouble was that he had forgotten that for many, many years I was on the other end of that situation. Endless times I would have been desperately trying to call him over and over again to have him persistently ignore my calls before finally he would turn his phone off altogether. It used to frustrate me beyond words back then; especially the day that my Father died and I really, really needed Robin. So Instantly I felt very, very sorry for his caller. It also forced me think of Philip, which caused a flurry of guilt to stir in the pit of my stomach. I had never had to deal with this rubbish from my husband. My Phil always answered the phone to me, and if he were about to enter a meeting or some event that would mean that he wouldn’t be available he always had the decency to warn me in advance so that I knew why he was able to be reached. I made sure to do the same thing back too. Mutual respect- that’s what our whole marriage was based on and I suddenly felt very glad about that. I didn’t miss the game playing one tiny bit.
I noticed that Robin had seated me with my back to the room and himself facing outwards just as he always had. It was like he was worried that he might miss something amazing if he couldn’t see the whole room, although of course he wanted the full attention of the person he was seated with. How funny that some habits don’t change, even after so many years had passed. Having said that I hoped that I had changed a lot. I didn’t say anything to him about this, not that I could have got a word in edgeways as he was chattering away like an over excited school boy. “What can I get you? Do you still like coffee? Latte was always your thing I think” yes and still is darn it, he continues “would you like food? They have nice cakes, or perhaps a sandwich or a cookie, you used to like toast in the morning, would you like me to see if they will make you some?” he smiled at me kindly before pointing out that I am a lucky woman who clearly doesn’t have to watch what I eat. Men are too naive to realise that very slender women are that way exactly because they watch what they eat-every damn day! Not that I could really be classed as being very slender after having two children. Anyway I declined the invitation to eat as if I could have swallowed anything dry right then, and asked for a white filter coffee. Robin literally bounced to the counter leaving me sitting alone, staring in to the corner of the coffee shop feeling more than slightly bewildered. I just couldn’t understand why he was quite so pleased to see me, he didn’t look nervous which was how I was feeling, he didn’t seem the slightest bit worried that perhaps I might be holding a grudge after the awful break up we had been through. He definitely didn’t seem angry. I was starting to feel like I had missed something. I know that we hadn’t seen each other in 14 years and of course so much water had passed under the bridge, but we also hadn’t suddenly become best friends either. It felt really odd. I felt wrong footed and again like I really shouldn’t have come. I found it odd that in so many ways he was so familiar, he even smelled the same, but in other ways he was a stranger. For starters I had never seen the Robin that I had known behave so enthusiastically about anything, ever.
He came back and plonked my coffee down in front of me, and a cup of what looked like herbal tea down where he was planning to sit. He had been a PG tips drinker when we had been together, but then he disappeared back to the counter and came back with a slice of chocolate cake, and a slice of cheesecake, both of which I had adored when I was younger, neither of which I would have touched with a bargepole since I realised that they had so many calories in them, “just in case you changed your mind” he laughed happily, “you always did that”. I met his laugh with a smile but honestly I was too nervous and baffled to join in the joke. Once he was seated I asked him how he was, he assured me that he was fine and asked me how I was doing, we made awkward small talk for a while and then he suddenly blurted “You’ll never guess who I bumped in to last month”.
“Sasha” I answered before my brain could warn my mouth to hush.
“Ahh, that’s interesting” he commented as he nodded slyly “she turns up and then suddenly you do!” His smug attitude was out in force once again “and she told me that you two no longer speak”.
“We don’t” I confirmed slightly dishonestly “I just guessed because, after all who else would you mention to me?” I added what I hoped was a nonchalant shrug, but I wasn’t too confident that he was convinced. If he could see that I was lying to him, then I was beyond grateful that he didn’t say so.
My discomfort was increasing; I felt overheated in my clothes but didn’t want to remove my jacket. I was feeling vulnerable and once again was wishing that I could leave. A long silence was sitting between us when thankfully the waitress appeared with two toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, "We used to eat toasted cheese and ham sandwiches all the time when we lived in that bedsit" Robin enthused.
"Yes, especially when you used to gamble the rent money away" I scoffed a little unkindly.
"Hey!" He defended, "you didn't mind when I used to win. Do you remember when I won a grand and took you to Paris for the weekend?" Actually I had forgotten. Robin reminisced about the places we went and things we saw, but actually I didn't remember it that way at all. Sure we passed a few attractions, ate in a few restaurants but mostly we just stayed in our cheap, grotty little B&B and had wild sex. The people running the place treated me with no respect as they thought that I was just Robin's paid whore and I was a little sad that we didn't get the chance to do and see more, it was the first time that I had left the country and my lasting memory is of the bright red bedspread. Robin looked at me blankly when I told him as much, "we had a great weekend" he asserted softly, "I was there Cassie, I saw how happy you were". Did we? I wondered, I really can’t remember it all that well.
I took a sip of my drab filter coffee once I couldn’t put it off any longer (I had been stirring it since he sat down), it was bitter despite the sugar and I silently wished that I could sink in to a comforting Latte instead. I sighed with disappointment and then realised that here we were, sitting across the table from one another in silence. It was crazy, I couldn’t remember a time ever when Robin and I had nothing to say to each other, even when we had spent every minute of every day together we had always had so much to talk about. Tentatively I asked Robin how he had been keeping and what he was doing with his life. Of course he knew me very well and so cut through the bullshit; "you want to know if I am married and have kids basically?" he scoffed. I felt myself blush and simply nodded whilst adding "amongst other things yes!"
"I got married last year Cass," he looked me dead in the eye while informing me "I have been married for four months” before emphasising “this is my first marriage. She is a good woman. Too good for me naturally,” he added nonchalantly. This news left me frozen. I was willing myself to say something positive, or even to say anything, but failed. I mulled this fact over. He was married, and not to me. He had only just got married after all these years, what did that mean? Did it mean anything with his track record? Robin broke me out of my thoughts by adding "But you dear Cassie ran off and got married to my best friend two minutes after we split! I assume that you are still together as I have never heard different" I nodded silently as he leaned in and added nastily "not that I am surprised by him getting his claws in to you. He always had a thing for you". The bitterness in his voice hit me hard and left me feeling confused, after all we had long since split when Phil and I got together. I also felt floored because while I felt no shame for marrying Philip I didn't know how Robin knew and I felt embarrassed to ask because I wasn't sure what I was going to hear. I hedged my bets by 'rubbishing' the claim that Philip had always been after me, "that is utter nonsense. Philip and I hardly even spoke through school and you both fell out before we even sat our exams!" I scoffed "so I hardly ran off with your 'best friend'”. I could see that Robin was really thinking about this. It was a good minute before the slow, soft laughter fell from his lips. “He hasn’t told you?” it was a question, not a statement of fact. My baffled silence prompted him to go on. “You have been married for how long? 12 or 13 years and he never told you that the day you and I were meant to meet at school, you know, our first date?” I nodded slowly but was having to concentrate on what he was saying because I suddenly felt very sick, “do you remember that I was late to meet you?” again I nodded. He was late by an hour, I was crying and just about to leave when he finally showed up. “Well” Robin continued “the reason for my lateness was because your future husband” he spat those last few words and the bitterness left my blood running cold “decided to arrive at my house when I was leaving and begged me not to go. Not to meet you!”He checked my reaction before adding, “He tried to sell me the merits of Sasha and I DOUBLE DATING with you pair!” Robin was laughing by this time which made me want to punch him! Philip is my husband after all so I didn’t like Robin taking the piss out of him. I didn’t know what to do with this news, I felt so sad to think that I never even realised that Philip liked me back then. I had been so consumed by Robin that I was blind to everything and everyone else. “It was Philip who told Sasha about us, the pious bastard” Robin spat. His bitterness continued to stun me. Robin used my stunned silence as an opportunity to take a drink of his tea, but his eyes never left me for a second.
“I am not sure about any of that, but Philip is a lovely man, a good man. I would never put him down as ‘pious’ but I can see why him spoiling it for you being able to ‘play’ Sasha and I could have pissed you off”!
“That was never my intention and you know it. You know that I chose you!” He practically throws the tea cup he had been drinking from down with frustration.
“Actually” I remind him “Sasha told me that you begged her to take you back and that you only settled for me because I was ‘putting out’”.
“That is such bullshit” he laughed, “firstly I was having sex with her for weeks before she made me say that I would be her boyfriend. Secondly there was never a choice between you too. I stayed my distance because Phil had his eyes on you and I wanted to stay in his good books!” he shook his head and said “as soon as I realised that you didn’t even fucking see him I made my move! No fucking choices, no messing, I just would have told her myself if he hadn’t have beaten me too it”. I have heard him tell me this many, many times in the first year that we were together, but despite what I allowed Robin to think, this was the first time that I actually felt that I might have believed him. Of course it changed nothing. Nothing was different but I hated feeling so wrong footed.
“Anyway” Robin continues despite my interruption “he got his own back the night that I, BEGGED, HIM, NOT, TO, MARRY, YOU!”
“What?” I demanded. My head was spinning by this time and I truly had never felt so sick in my whole life. Given that my heart was pounding so hard in my ears I needed to double check that I hadn’t misheard. “What did you just say?” I asserted again.
“Oh! My fucking God!” Robins rage is plain for all to see now. The few people in the coffee shop turned to look and I was looking over my shoulder nervously desperate not to make a scene. Once he had breathed and calmed down slightly he continued “what kind of shitty marriage do you have with him? He never told you about that did he?”
“Told me what?” I pleaded confused. I was on the brink of crying in anticipation of what I was going to hear.
“I saw Philip on his stag night” Robin informed me “I fucking congratulated him and bought him a drink” he shook his head and smiled wryly “I was so bloody happy for him, until I asked him the name of the lucky fucking woman!” He looked at me square on before telling me that they fought that night over me. “Didn’t you see the state of him?” he asks. I hadn’t. I was away that weekend having my hen do in a health spa. “He broke my fucking nose!” Robin laughed dryly as he pointed to a new bump in his nose, well apparently not that new. “I fucking bet he didn’t tell you” Robin hisses, “he probably was shitting himself that if you found out the wedding would be off and you would be back with me. Back where you belong”. His words were not lost on me but I was frozen with shock. Why wouldn’t Philip have told me? Did he really think that I would have left him? Robin took my silence as his opportunity to get his own questions answered “How did he do it Cass? How did he snare you?”
The brutal nature of his question snapped me back to reality. It was me who was the wounded party. Robin cheated on me, broke my heart, he walked out and left me! So why was he sitting there like I had hurt him! It was as if time had performed some kind of role reversal that no one had told me about. Or, he was still playing me. Probably the latter I decided.
“Philip came to see me after you had left me. I was broken Robin” I make sure that I have his full attention before I continue “You cheated on me over and over again. I thought that I was worthless by the time you were done with me” he tried to interrupt me but I didn’t allow him to “you walked out on me! You just left me!”
“You were LEAVING” Robin shouted back at me “you told me that we were over! You were leaving. You were done” I saw him try to calm himself but the rage still gleamed in his eyes, gone was his joy at seeing me “What would you have had me do? Sit and fucking wait for you forever?”
“I waited” I screamed back with such force that it hurt my throat “I stayed in that horrible little bedsit and waited for you for a whole week” I shook my head “I had to see that stupid blond tart day in and day out. I thought at least you would come back for your things! I waited for a whole week. Where did you go?”
It wasn’t entirely lost on me that Robin chose not to answer my question. “Don’t think I didn’t hear all about your little Robin bonfire” I blushed as he continued “yes I heard that you did a whole little dance of glee to be shot of me”.
“Did ‘number three’ call and give you all of the gory details?” I hiss not waiting for an answer “what did you expect. You left and I never heard from you again!” My emotions betrayed me at this point and a few tears escaped before I could stop them. I was stunned that even though all of the years had passed, even though we had both moved on and grown so much, the pain was all still so fresh and raw as though it had only just happened.
“I did come back” his words stunned me and dried my tears. “Every night I managed to get totally pissed and would walk up and down the street” he shook his head sadly “I was so fucked up, in real fucking pain” he laughed wryly before adding “the noise came out as a fucking howl” He laughs bitterly “I was walking down the street pissed out of my face howling like a mad man!” he was half laughing and half crying at that point.
It all felt too much to me. I knew that what he was saying was true because I could remember hearing someone howling in the street late at night after Robin left. It terrified me as I was all alone in that bedsit. I found myself wishing that I had have had the courage to look and see who it was. Then... Well, then what? Would I have taken him back? Probably I would have done then, I didn’t know better. I found myself thinking about Philip. I knew better now right?
“I spent years, years getting over you” Robin continued “I tried to search for what we had. To find it again” I just read that as he slept with every woman that he could lay his hands on. “It doesn’t exist” he informed me “what we had was a one off”.
This statement ignited my anger again “But yet when you had me, when you had this bloody so called ‘fabulous’ relationship, you abused it, and me” I raised my hand in warning when he tried to interrupt “you cheated on me left right and fucking centre. You used to steal our money and gamble it away, and you used to get pissed and hit me!”
“Oh and you never laid a hand on me?” he scoffed.
“Oh I know I gave as ‘good’ as I got back” I acknowledged “but that just says it all. Our relationship was just a heap of shit basically”. I took a sip of my now cold as well as bitter coffee and shuddered. What was I doing? I was sitting in this stupid coffee shop, boiling because I felt too shy to take my jacket off and reveal how overdressed I was, I was drinking a coffee that tasted foul, and sitting there opening old wounds with a man who I should not have been with. What had made me think that this was a good idea?
Robin leant forward in his chair and hissed “See Cass. You only ever remember the bad times. That was always the problem with you. We had a great relationship most of the time, but we were young” he shrugged as he continued “sure I wasn’t faithful all of the time and that was shitty of me. Sure we used to fight” he added this with a smile like as if it was funny “we were wild, impulsive” he paused before adding “passionate!” He leant back in his chair and smiled broadly “Do you remember when we went to Kevin McFarland’s Birthday party?” he asked happily.
“Yes” my heart skipped a beat in horror as I realised that this conversation wasn’t going to end well.
Robin clearly wasn’t aware of my frozen face; he was remembering something that he clearly thought was a good memory. “Do you remember that we snuck off and had sex on the pool table in the basement?” he asks laughing.
At that point I flew forward in my chair and knocked my coffee over in the process. I ignored the cold liquid dripping to the floor as I snarled “At Kevin’s 22nd Birthday YOU went missing” his face dropped as he realised his mistake. “I searched everywhere for you, and finally gave up and went home. YOU” I stab that word “came home two days later. I had no bloody idea where you had been and who you were with and YOU wouldn’t tell me as ‘I wasn’t your bloody Mother’ and ‘wasn’t allowed to question you’” I was on my feet at that point “but now I finally know that yet again you were off fucking someone behind my bloody back!” I shouted the last sentence no longer caring that we were making a scene, just like the bad old days. Then I realised that I could not be here. I could not do this. I made a grab for my bag but Robin beat me too it, “Don’t leave Cassie” he pleaded clinging to my bag as though his life depended on it, “don’t walk away again”.
“Why Robin” I rounded on him “what do you think will happen from here?”
He doesn’t answer me. He is frozen on the spot with his mouth flapping while his brain is clearly searching for something to say. I save him the trouble. “We are both married” I emphasise “to good people. I won’t leave my husband. I won’t do that to our children”. I notice a flicker on Robin’s face as this news sunk in. Clearly he didn’t know everything then.
“Please Cassie” he pleaded, but his words had no follow up, which summed him up nicely.
I turned to walk away but then suddenly a thought hit me and I stopped. I hated myself when I saw a look of hope cross his face, “Robin? What five words would you use to describe me?”
He thought for a few seconds and it crossed my mind that he might tell me that he wouldn’t do it, but then he started to speak:
“Stubborn” he started with a small laugh, “wild” he continued confidently “honestly I have never known someone so ‘up for it’ as you!” I felt cold on hearing that. “Sexy” he added looking me up and down, before continuing with ‘hard headed”. I was standing there thinking, ‘isn’t that the same as stubborn’? None of these words felt like a compliment, even ‘sexy’ sounded smutty coming from his lips. His last word for me was ‘outspoken’.
I thanked him, and yet again tried to take my bag so that I could make the move to leave when he made the fatal mistake of calling me back and asking me what words I would use to describe him.
That was easy.
I turned to face him and then just told him straight:
Dishonest was my first word, and I followed it up with several examples of time when I knew he had lied to me. Like when he said that he had paid the rent only to really have spent it all on a ‘lad’s night out’. I had to borrow the money from my boss and work extra hours to make it up, well that happened loads of times.
Unfaithful needed no explanation.
Cowardly: He had been caught cheating and walked out of my life and didn’t even have the guts to knock on the door to collect his things. That was only one example of his ‘gutlessness’ I could have given several more.
Immoral: I added, but that time he spat back with a word of his own. He called me ‘sanctimonious’, but I ignored him and gave him my final word, which was ‘Mistake’. I informed him that he had been the biggest and worst mistake of my life, and coming there that day had been my second. With that I snatched my bag and practically ran out of the coffee shop and back down the escalator.
I was so grateful to sit on the train on my way home and sip my warm Latte. I sent my Mum a text asking her to collect the children and keep them for dinner, she surprised me by agreeing immediately which was very unlike my Mum. Since my Dad died my Mother had developed a very active social life and was a little reluctant to be seen as my or anyone’s free Childminder, so she always gave me a hard time when I asked her to pick the children up at short notice. I didn’t mind, I understood her wish to be treated fairly, but was very relieved not to have to beg that day.
My conversations with Robin swirled around in my head, those from the past and present. The truth was that I really didn’t know what to think or to believe. I had been left with far more questions than answers proving once again, as if more proof were needed, that I should never have gone to see him. I had achieved nothing. I thought about that, and perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I had achieved something because actually I think that there was a little bit of me, that even though I have moved on and am blissfully happy, did feel the need for a little bit of closure. There had always been the sense of us having unfinished business and perhaps now that could seal it. I knew once and for all that everything that needed to be said had been. Actually, I had realised that nothing further had ever needed to be said, and perhaps that was the point.
Gladness filled my whole body as I walked up my gravel drive and saw that Philip’s shining silver car was there already. I really wanted to see my husband. I wanted him to hold me, to kiss me and to make the world feel good again. I had hated the feelings that had risen within me since I had confronted my past. I wanted my husband’s love to wash it away again.
The smile was wiped off of my face as soon as I made it through the door and saw Philip in the hall staring at me with a face like thunder. He was visibly shaking with what I could sense a mile away was rage. “Where the fuck have you been” he growled causing my stomach to lurch with horror.
TO BE CONTINUED:
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