by Janet Howson
tea no sugar and a dash of milk
Jess and Patrick left ‘The Murder Mystery’ casting, the same way they had entered, holding hands. No one had made any comment on this. Everyone knew how close they were and some of them knew how unhappy Jess was in her marriage.
“Oh well, we got away with that then, no one blinked an eyelid. I thought at least Sean might have something to say about us holding hands and my arm around you the whole of the meeting.”
“I was really glad. I was dreading anyone questioning me. I’m not ready yet to talk about what Michael has done and my pregnancy? Perhaps I’ll talk to Jason at work, then go from there.” Jess squeezed Patrick’s hand; he was the only one who knew everything. Michael telling her he was leaving her for a girl who hardly looked eighteen and the debts he had run into with his gambling. She hadn’t even told him she was carrying his baby. She knew she had to though, but not yet. She had to get her life sorted out first. There was so much to think about. The house would have to be sold. Where would she live? The custody of the child..”
“Patrick. I’ve just had a thought. What if I told Michael the baby wasn’t his? I mean it is perfectly plausible. He is never in so he doesn’t know if I have been seeing someone else. He wouldn’t want the responsibilities of a child anyway. He is still a child himself.”
Patrick turned his head round sharply to look at her. “Are you serious? Wouldn’t he know?”
“He tends to forget most things. He’s drunk most of the time.”
“Yes, I know but it is his child, Jess. Look, let’s get back to my place and we can talk about it there with a cup of tea. No more alcohol for you my girl”
Or pain killers, Jess thought to herself. Things were going to change. I will keep healthy for the baby. Patrick started his car and they drove back to his bed sit.
“Tea no sugar, a dash of milk,” Patrick placed the steaming hot mug on the kitchen table in front of Jess. “Now we need to do some serious thinking. Can you carry on living with Michael until the house is sold? He might move his girlfriend in at any time. Either he goes or you do.”
“I hadn’t even thought of that. I’d been thinking how awkward it was going to be. He hasn’t come back home since he turned up out of the blue with her. I was kind of hoping he had moved in with her.”
“I doubt she’s legally allowed to move away from her parents. I bet she still lives at home. No, my guess he’s dossing down on a friend’s floor somewhere. He’s too lazy to have sorted out a solicitor and he can’t afford one. It will be up to you to start the ball rolling.”
“I know, I had thought the same. The problem at the moment is that I’m terrified of him turning up drunk and abusive. I’m scared he will hurt me and the baby.” Jess put her head in her hands and sobbed.
Patrick moved his chair so that he was sitting beside her and put his arm round her, rocking her for a few minutes until the tears dried up and she could look up and listen again.
“Right, that’s decided it. You are moving in with me. I know I haven’t got a lot of room but we’ll manage. We are at work five days of the week so we will only be tripping over each at the weekend. Besides, it might just give me a kick up the backside to find a little terrace house. I have been saving up for a deposit, so now would be a good time.” He waited for Jess’s reply. It was a long time before she spoke.
“I just can’t believe how kind you’ve been to me, Patrick. You don’t deserve to have all my troubles thrown at you, and to jump from work colleagues and best friends to living together is a big, big step.” She looked into his eyes and saw nothing but devotion. Jess just knew he would be a faithful partner but a father too? “Remember I am pregnant with another man’s baby. Could you really take all that on? There would be three of us in the relationship in eight months from now. That is a big ask of anybody.” She took Patrick’s hand in hers, “I will take you up on the offer of staying here for a few days but I want you to really think about how we get on living together. Then we can sit down again and ask ourselves the same questions.”
Patrick took all this in. His offer of a refuge for Jess was spontaneous, he had thought no further than that. He had told the truth about wanting a house and he couldn’t think of anyone better than Jess to share with.
“Hey, you, I am not likely to change my mind. I have known you forever and I just know we will be fine living together. I love babies. Remember I’m an uncle to my three brother’s children and I have babysat, entertained them and taken them out regularly. I would love a chance to be a surrogate father and one day perhaps to be a father to my own kids.” He looked sideways at Jess, wondering what her reaction to this would be.
Jess looked preoccupied and was frowning slightly. She got up suddenly, “hadn’t I better go back to my house and get some clothes, toothbrush and whatever else I will need? I don’t want to go back there in case Michael is there, but I have got to do it.” She paused running her hands nervously through her hair. “I’ve got to tell him at some time that I am moving out.” She paused, “and I suppose you are right. I have to tell him I am carrying his child. He’ll probably move his ‘childfriend’ in, so I’m doing him a favour.” She breathed in forcing back tears, trying to focus on Patrick’s presence rather than think of all the abuse she had suffered from a man who called himself her husband and what his reaction would be to the pregnancy.
“Right, let’s go. I’ll pick up some groceries on the way back from the twenty four hour Tesco. You know what we bachelors are like? We live on a wing and a prayer. Not now though. I have a wonderful lady who needs feeding properly and looking after.”
Jess felt warmth spreading over her. For years now all she had heard from Michael was criticism, accusations and complaints. The baby inside her was going to be cared for by two people with so much love to give. She would not be on her own.
It didn’t take them long to whip round Tesco and Jess supervised what food to buy. Patrick was going to fill up the trolley with ready meals, Nachos and pizzas, but she steered him towards the fresh fish, salad and vegetable isles. They laughed a lot together as Patrick protested with tongue in cheek at the future changes to his diet.
When they got back to Jess’s house, all was in darkness. “Great it looks as if Michael hasn’t returned. I really didn’t feel up to another confrontation.” She opened a cupboard under the stairs and pulled out a rather battered looking suitcase. “I won’t take long. I’ll just put in enough clothing and toiletries for a few days.” She’d started to climb the stairs,
“Wait, I’ll do that,” Patrick took the case from Jess and followed her up the stairs.
He noticed the wallpaper stripped from the stairway walls, not finished and left unpainted. The paint pots and tools littered the landing. The jobs that had been left and abandoned. The bedroom was not much better. It had become a dump room for anything that wouldn’t fit in a cupboard. Stacks of Horse Racing magazines, computer games, DVDs and newspapers littered the floor. Patrick wondered how long Jess had been living like this. He watched her pulling out drawers and extracting clothes, to throw them into the suitcase. He watched her throwing a wedding photograph into the bin that was already cluttered with tissues and old magazines. She then pressed her knee on the case to enable her to zip it up. Patrick was surprised it didn’t tear.
“Right, that’s it.”
Patrick was brought back to the situation in hand. “Let’s go then, I’ll carry the suitcase down stairs and get it in the boot.” He stopped and turned to Jess. “Do you want to write Michael a note? You will have to communicate at some point.”
“No, I’ll text him later. I’ll say I’ve gone to my parents. He won’t dare arrive there. He knows they don’t like or approve of him.” She shook her head, “I haven’t told my parents yet about the baby. I need to talk to them tonight and tell them where I am.” She sighed, “So much to organise, too much to think about.”
There was a crash and a moan. “What was that?” Jess and Patrick stopped in their tracks. “It sounds like it's coming from the other bedroom.”
“Stay there, Jess, I will look,” Patrick dropped the case and crossed the landing to the spare bedroom. “Is there anyone in there?” he waited but there was no reply. He pushed the door open gently and peered inside. A body was lying on the floor, fully clothed and wearing shoes. Patrick went further into the room. It was Michael, out like a light and snoring loudly. The smell of drink filled the room and an empty bottle of whisky lay on its side on the floor.
Patrick retreated from the room. He had no intention of waking him and being subjected to all the bad language and accusations he would receive. He had been there before and learnt his lesson.
“What is it, Patrick?” Jess shouted from her bedroom.
“It’s Michael. Keep your voice down, we don’t need to wake him. He is out cold and inebriated. You wouldn’t get any sense out of him at the moment. It’s best we let him sleep it off.”
“I wonder why he’s he in the spare bedroom?”
“My guess his ‘childfriend’ was with him and she didn’t want to sleep in the marital bed. She’s probably gone home now and if she’s got any sense she will, stay there.”
Patrick took the case and headed for the stairs, Jess lingered but then took a deep breath and followed. “Can you put the case in the car and I will gather a few bits from the kitchen and lounge? I need my Murder Mystery script, we will have to start learning the lines pronto.” Something else they had in common. There wouldn’t be the long evenings on her own, or even when Michael was in, the silences or the noise of his computer games. They never talked. With Patrick it was different. They could talk for hours and still have more to say. He would never be violent or verbally abusive, he would never fall through the front door so drunk he couldn’t stand up. At first she would help Michael to bed, making excuses for him, then she stopped trying and the marriage died. “R.I.P.” she said out loud, “I wish farewell to the unhappiest years of my life.” She grabbed the script from the table and without any further hesitation, she ran to Patrick’s car and got in beside him.
“All done?” he asked.
“Oh yes. Done, finished, terminated and on to the next chapter of my life.”
Patrick leant over, looked Jess in the eyes for a minute and smiled. It was exactly the right thing to do, but Patrick always knew what the right thing was to do with Jess.
About the author
Janet Howson was born in Rochdale but moved to the South of England when she was seventeen. She loved writing and reading from an early age and wrote poetry and plays. She joined an amateur drama group when she was eighteen and her love of the theatre began. She trained to be a teacher and her two subjects were English and Drama. She then went on to teach for thirty-five years in Comprehensive schools in Redbridge, Havering and Essex. During this time, she wrote and directed plays for the pupils, ran drama clubs, worked with pupils from special schools, involving them in productions, worked with Chicken Shed after school and continued to be involved in amateur drama both as a performer and a director. Now she is retired, Janet has joined two writing groups and with the help and advice she has received from the other members, has started to write short stories and her first novel, Charitable Thoughts has now been published. She intends to continue writing both novels and stories, adapting some of them into theatre scripts and radio plays.
The Best of CafeLit 8 an anthology published by Chapletown Books 2019
Stories included: Marking Time & Induction Day.
Nativity an anthology published by Bridge House 2019
Story included: Solution.
Charitable Thoughts a novella published by Austin Macauley
Can be found on Amazon Books
It happened in Essex tall tales from the Basildon Writers’ Group
Can be found on Amazon books