The Book, Chapter 01

My hand paused half way through its ministrations of teeth brushing. I stood, open mouthed looking at him aghast through the reflection in the bathroom mirror. He hadn’t even paused in the rubbing down of his body. He had said it as casually as asking for a coffee and just carried on seemingly oblivious to any bombshell having been dropped, never mind the size of it. Foam started to drip down my chin and I wiped it off with the back of my hand and spat the rest vehemently into the sink. He finally looked up, smiling and moved a couple of steps closer to me, grabbing my bum as he did so.

‘Love this ass.’ He murmured.

Throwing my toothbrush after the foam, I rounded on him.

‘Get off me. What do you mean, ”Sorry babe, you’re not going to be able to come to my place tonight, my wife has come back for a while?” What wife? You told me you were divorced!’

He looked at me uncomprehendingly, ‘Hey, what’s wrong?’

‘What’s wrong? What planet are you from? Five minutes ago we were having sex in the shower, and then you casually mention that your wife has turned up and so I can’t come and stay this weekend. A wife who, incidentally, eighteen months ago, you told me you were divorced from!’

I couldn’t take it in. I shook my head as if that would help clarify things. I grabbed for a towel to cover myself, a futile move given that we had been naked for the last twelve hours.

‘Look chick, what’s the difference? Separated, divorced, it’s all the same.’

‘No, no its not. You’ve been lying to me for one thing and……’

He dared to venture a step closer. I held my hands up, ‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you even think about touching me!’

‘Aww, come on babe, don’t be like this. Honestly, nothing’s changed. Okay so we are not technically divorced but we are separated, you know that, she hasn’t been around since we’ve been together has she?’

‘No, she hasn’t, which begs the question, where the hell has she been and why has she come back now?’

‘I told you, Italy. That’s where she’s from and where she went when we split up. Only things haven’t worked out for her and so she called and said she is coming back to the UK tomorrow and, well, it’s still her house too.’

‘Oh, it’s all making sense now. You pay me a surprise mid-week visit, travel all the way here to see me, but all along it was just to tell me that actually, I can’t come and visit this weekend cos your wife has moved back in.’ I was shouting now but I didn’t care. ‘God you’re such a shit! You didn’t even tell me yesterday, you wait until after we’ve spent the whole night together.’

He grinned a lazy, wicked grin, ‘Hey, come on babe, you can’t blame me for that, you’re a great shag.’

I saw red, ‘Oh you shit, you absolute shit, that’s all I’ve been isn’t it, someone for you to have sex with until your wife decided to come back.’

I barged past him, sending him smashing into the wall as I stormed out into my bedroom and slammed the door behind me.

I stood, gazing out of the window, at the miserable October morning without seeing anything. I was shaking with anger. How could this be happening to me again? My last boyfriend had lied to me about exactly the same thing. I found that out when I saw a picture of him in the paper with his wife. That was one of the reasons I had been so careful about getting involved with Burke. I hadn’t even wanted to meet with him in the first place but my friends had been so insistent that I couldn’t go round not trusting men forever. I had eventually caved in and agreed to meet him one afternoon, for one hour only, for a harmless walk around the park. He had agreed, and drove the two and a half hours to London to meet me. However, I was so determined that he wouldn’t like me that I hadn’t put any make up on, had on my dog-walking scruffs and had just scraped my hair back in a ponytail. Zero effort. He had loved it, it turned out he didn’t like his women high maintenance. So I then went on the attack and had quizzed him about his divorce, making it clear, in no uncertain terms, that no way would I ever get involved with a married man again.

I looked back at the bed which was in a spectacular state of disarray. The clothes I had been wearing yesterday, strewn around the room like they had been having their own private techno party. I had been duped again. God I was the most dreadful judge of character and, it would appear, incredibly gullible too. My mood was swinging, more than a middle class couples party in Cheshire, between hurt and anger. He knew, he knew last night, he had travelled especially to tell me that his wife was back, but the crafty swine held off on telling me until this morning. Unbelievable. I glanced at my watch.

‘Shit.’ I shouted, I was going to be late for work. I scrabbled for some semi-decent clothes. I couldn’t be late, I had pulled off a massive coup with one of the best five star hotel chains in India and had to be there for the contract signing.

There was a knock at the door.

‘Fuck OFF.’ I screamed as I delved under the bed for a matching pair of boots, simultaneously pulling a crumpled jumper over my head, figuring that the creases would iron themselves out in the crush on the underground.

Of course he ignored me, he was special ops in the US Airforce, an angry red head was hardly going to scare him. He entered the room, naked, the man had no shame, and a body to die for. I refused to look at him.

‘Jo, listen.’

I turned away from him, dragging my fingers through my hair, no time to blow dry, it was going to be another ponytail day, when did women get too old for those?

He tried to put his arm around me. I slapped him away. I had to focus on the anger. I couldn’t afford to get upset, I had too many meetings to get through.

‘Don’t. Just don’t speak to me. You have lied to me, cheated on your wife, used me mercilessly last night to get laid, and will doubtless go and shag your wife tonight at your happy reunion. I told you quite clearly, no married men, what part of that didn’t you understand?’

He sat down on the edge of the bed.

‘You can’t blame me for that Jo. One look at you, defiant in your scruffs and I knew I was hooked. In my eyes I am divorced. We don’t live together, she hasn’t been in the country for the last eighteen months, we might as well be and, well, I knew I wanted you from the moment I saw you. So what if I told a little white lie? Haven’t we been great together?’

‘You just don’t get it do you?’

‘Get what Jo? There is nothing to get. I will go and see her today, see what she wants; she might need to stay for a few weeks until she decides her next move, but it’s you I want.’

‘So, I’m just expected to stay away am I, not be concerned about you back living with your wife?’

I stormed past him and ran down the stairs. I would grab breakfast on the run, I had to get out of the house. He followed me. I delved into the cupboard under the stairs, looking for a coat, it was freezing out.

‘I can still come down and visit, we can look at next weekend if you like, but it would be awkward for you to come up to my place, I don’t want to hurt her and you wouldn’t feel comfortable.’ Visit his place? Under these circumstances? Was the man deranged?

‘Listen to you, ”you don’t want to hurt her” what about me? Don’t you think you’ve hurt me?’

‘I don’t understand why you can’t see that it doesn’t make any difference, all that’s changed is that she is in England and not Italy.’

‘No Burke, that isn’t all that’s changed. You are living together again and what happens if anything happens to you when you go back to Iraq or wherever you get posted next?’

‘Well that’s thinking positively.’

‘I could kill you myself right now never mind the Iraqis, but what if something was to happen to you, who would tell me? I would be just left wondering, not knowing as your wife is your next of kin.’

‘Okay, here is the deal, I will get one of my buddies to contact you ok?’

‘No Burke, that is not okay, because that is talking like you have no intention of getting a divorce.’

He didn’t comment, just sat there, still naked in the cold morning. No denial, no reassurance.

I pressed on, ‘And don’t you think it will hurt me wondering what you are up to in the house with her?’

‘Don’t go there Jo; at the end of the day, you and I are not married and you can’t dictate to me what I can or can’t do.’

That was the final straw, just who was this man I had been having a relationship with? Just what were his values and more importantly, just how little did he value me?

‘You absolute, complete and utter shit. How dare you? You evidently don’t care about anyone but yourself. I spat the words out through clenched teeth as I trembled with fury. I moved towards him then stopped, not trusting myself not to beat the living daylights out of him.

‘I have to go to work, I have a meeting this morning with the Indian hotel group.’ I paused, thinking back to the night before, ‘India, ha! Remember, last night, in bed, after making love, us talking about taking six months out and traveling around together, going to volunteer at that lodge in the tiger reserve?’

‘Yes, and it’s a great idea, we can still do that, Jo.’

‘How Burke? How can we do that? You are married.’

‘I am separated Jo, why are you having such a hard time seeing that it really doesn’t make any difference?’

‘Why are you having such a hard time seeing that it does?’ I heard the news come on the radio, eight-o-clock. I had to leave.

‘I have to go. I want you to leave. I can’t do this Burke, not again, and you knew that.’

‘Hey, we can talk about this right? I’ll give you a call later, at lunch time.’

I looked at him, this man who I had trusted, who understood me, who didn’t try to control me and I had great fun and great sex with. I felt my heart crushed against my chest.

‘Please don’t, Burke.’

‘Burke? What happened to Yank?’

‘Yank was my name for a man I thought I could love, Burke suits you better, in the UK it translates as idiot, no, scrap that, fuckwit! With that I stumbled out into the wet, miserable, grey November London morning.

I was also dreading getting to work, things weren’t going brilliantly there either. I might have pulled off a coup but my boss, who was also a long term best friend and who had persuaded me four years previously to jump ship and come and set up the ‘Rolls Royce’ of travel companies to India for him was becoming increasingly belligerent. I never knew from one day to the next what mood he was going to be in.

Waiting to cross the road opposite the station, mere moments from the aroma of the coffee shop, a car swerved to miss a dog crossing the street and careered straight through the puddle in front of me, soaking me through. I stood in disbelief, looking at how my life seemed to be crashing down around my, very soggy ears. Utterly dejected, I reached for my mobile phone. If there was something I needed right now, it was the voice of no reason. My three best friends, three conflicting opinions to take my mind off my impending misery, and of course to help me drink wine and lots of it.

I quickly searched the girl’s group ‘History repeats. Yank is a twat. Meet tonight? My place, can’t face being out. Desperate, bring wine,’ and hit send.

Then I remembered, they were all away for a long weekend on a spa break, it was the one thing they could never persuade me to accompany them on. For me a massage involved hanging onto the massage table for grim death praying for it all to be over. Spending an hour in the salon having my hair done was my idea of hell. I would much rather be out, walking, rowing, horse-riding, anything but enduring a spa weekend. I sighed, at the prospect of a long, lonely, miserable weekend. How the hell had this happened to me again?

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