Starting Over

The world seems to have ended when Tom's father dies in the middle of his AS exams. He struggles to cope with life, with coping all alone.

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2. The Bath

It was later that day that it really hit me, the moment I opened the door that evening and entered the empty house. Of course I was used to the emptiness by now but today was different, until now there was always the chance that my father would return to our home. In spite of the warmth of the day, the house felt cold, a mustiness had settled in the house, stale sweat, the aroma of an Indian takeaway from a couple of nights ago. I felt the cat brushing around my legs, it's meow breaking through my thoughts. I opened the front door again and off he scooted between my legs and bounded down the steps to find a quite place to relieve himself.

I closed the door and walked into the front room. I looked around at the mess I'd left the night before, the half eaten pizza now congealed on a plate, the half drunk cup of tea which had left a ring around the cup. I looked further at the discarded games magazines which littered the floor, the night's before bottle of beer now fallen over and lodging against the table leg. I lived in a tip.

I sat down the energy sapped from my body by the events of the day. My phone buzzed in my pocket, another message no doubt from some well meaning soul who didn't realise I just wanted to be left alone to wallow in self pity. I nearly didn't check it but eventually I extracted it from my jeans and looked at the screen with a mixture of boredom and fear. I saw Mel's face and a simple message  'OK?'. My fingers found and tapped out a simple reply 'hmm'. I then sat back placing my head against the back of the settee and staring upwards at the ceiling. A solitary cobweb hung from the ceiling, I'd let the place go over the past weeks, my dad would be mortified if he could see it. The phone buzzed again, Mel 'I'm coming around' was all it said. I reached down and tapped out 'It's OK stay there, see you later' but hesitated over the send button. I dropped the phone without pressing send, maybe company would help.

It wasn't long before I heard the front door go and I heard Melanie's voice.

'Look who I've found outside' I heard her voice clear and bright in the hallway. The door opened and in ran the cat, it's tail high in the air. It pounced up onto my lap nuzzling my nose with it's head.

'Someone's glad to see you back anyway' Mel said as she entered the room. She stood by the door surveying the room. It had been a while since she'd been in the house, there was an awkwardness between us that had never been there before. An awkwardness that bred from our failed relationship. It was as though we were no longer the same people we were before.

'How's today gone then ?' Mel said leaning against the far wall, her hands behind her bottom. She swayed backwards and forwards slightly as she asked the question. I looked at her, she hadn't changed much in the last year, she was small compact, her shape hidden behind jeans and a t-shirt. Her long curly hair hung well over her shoulder, It's red hue as enchanting as ever.

'Well not too bad, the questions could have bee worse than they were. School was good to me, found me a room away from the rest to complete it, even Snodgrass was nice to me' I said evenly looking her in the eye. Mrs. Snodgrass was head of out sixth form college and the bane of our lives. usually she was unmoving in her attitude, but Mel's mum Doreen had spoken to the school when she'd dropped me off and explained the situation.

'That's good, think you've passed ?'Mel said

'Lap of the Gods' I shrugged looking up and smiling. Actually I was pretty sure I'd done well. Math's was my thing and even though I didn't want to take the subject next year, I knew that I'd done well enough. School had made noises that if I didn't want to take it they would be able to go to the exam board and plead my case, however the distraction was what I needed and for over two hours my mind was full of statistics, algebra and formulae. no time to think about my predicament.

'This afternoon?' she asked moving from her place on the wall and sitting next to me. She reached across and stroked the cat as I answered.

'It went OK thanks to your mum. She was brilliant, helped me with the death certificate and at the undertakers. I don't think I could have coped without her. There's so much to think about, things I never ever thought.' I said.

She looked from the cat to me.

'You look tired John, have you had anything to eat? Mel said concerned.

'Had a sandwich at dinnertime courtesy of your mum, but nothing since except cups of sweet tea and a few biscuits. Why is everyone filling me up with tea?'

'Mum says you can come around and she'll feed you,' Mel answered still stroking the cat.

I shook my head. As much as I liked Doreen, I couldn't stomach a meal with her tonight.

Melanie smiled and absentmindedly curled my hair between her fingers, something she used to do quite often in the days when we were a couple. It was an intimate touch that made me feel comfort and at ease. Realising what she was doing, she stopped abruptly and put her hands in her lap. For a few moments we had reverted to the couple we had been, easy in each others company. She stood up and once again looked around the room.

'This is a tip, look you go and have a bath, might make you a bit less sleepy. I'll tidy up here and make us something to eat.'

I smiled weakly at her, Mel loved to be in charge and this time I hadn't the energy to argue today.

'OK, OK, I'm on my way' I said resigning myself to her mercy yet again.

I went upstairs and started to run a bath. Whilst it was filling I dived into my bedroom to grab some fresher clothes and clean underwear. Piles of clothes were in heaps on the floor. I saw old pizza boxes stacked up in the window. She would have a field day if she saw this room. Mel was a wonderful person, but her OCD at times boarded on the fanatical. That coupled with her antiseptic hand wipe could rapidly make you want to pull your hair out.

I shut the door behind me anxious to hide the mess in case Mel decided to continue tidying. I reasoned however that with what she would find in the kitchen she would be busy for a while. Stripping off I lay in the bath feeling the foam from the bubble bath on my skin. I liked a warm bath and soon the steam filled the small bathroom. The heat combined with my tiredness soon made me develop heavy eyelids. It wasn't long before I fell asleep. I loved the bath, it was a domain I felt warm and safe in, a place I often used to come and think or rest.

I was pulled from the clutches of dreamland by the sound of water running. At first I thought I must have left the tap running but when I opened my eyes I saw that Mel was sat using the toilet. I turned my eyes towards the wall.

'Mel, couldn't you wait' I said exasperated rapidly pulling the foam over my body again. Mel had a problem with her bladder which meant she went quite regularly to the loo. I waited until I heard the toilet flush before turning round to face her again. She was washing her hands in that way that she did before applying the obligatory squirt of antiseptic gel from a bottle in her jeans.

'Oh come on John, it's nothing you haven't seen before.' she smiled back at me. That was true. For years before we had been a couple we'd bathed together as kids although that had stopped when puberty struck. She was still much more comfortable with her body than I was with mine though. She put the toilet seat down and sat down again.

'So how are you John. You still seeing Millie?' she asked.

Millie was the girl who I'd started seeing a couple of months after Mel and I had split up. We'd lasted a few months before inevitably we'd parted. This time it was quite amicable, the affair having run its course and fizzled out. What with my dads illness I hadn't had time really for any sort of relationship. I'd wanted to spent the maximum time with him as I could.

'No, that sort of ended a while ago, still occasionally see her around and go for the odd drink. what about you?'

Mel hadn't had a boyfriend that I knew of since we'd split up. Certain people had told me she was gay and had been seen  with other girls. I have to admit it had taken me by surprise considering how she'd been with our physical relationship.

I saw her hesitate and look at me unsure of what to say. Having known her for so long there wasn't many emotions or moods that I didn't guess at a glance. This look was typical of her hesitation, She was weighing up whether to tell me or to keep it to herself. Normally she would tell me but I sensed the year we'd been separated had taken it's toll and she was now wondering whether to trust me.

'Well, you may have heard rumours about my sexuality?' she said quietly, unusual for her. She lifted her eyes to catch mine. I shrugged.

'Well, it's true. I actually prefer girls. I've had a couple of flings but I am keeping this quiet so please do not tell anyone especially my parents. I can trust you can't I John?'

I smiled and nodded. It was nice to have Mel back as a friend. Over the years she had tormented my life, embarrassed me but when I had been bullied it had been tiny Mel who had hit the lad and broken his nose. I didn't like violence but she'd helped me so much. I knew I needed a good friend to help me get through this and  it seemed she was back in my life. I thought for a minute, a nagging fear in my brain.

'What about us then if you're gay?' I asked unsure of whether I wanted to know the answer to the question.

She sat back and folded her arms her face contorted for a minute as if deep in thought.

'It's OK Mel, you don't have to answer' I said

'No John, I think I must. I've thought a lot about this and never can work out why we worked so well together. I loved our affair, it was beautiful but since then I've not really been attracted to boys. I guess you might have been a one off or maybe you're feminine and don't know it.' she said standing up.

'Anyway, I'm not interested in you now, which is just as well as the foams getting thin, tea in five minutes oh little one' she said laughing as she exited the door.

In spite of myself I laughed as well. Things were never ever dull when Mel was around.

I pulled myself out of the bath, toweled myself down and went downstairs. She'd completely cleared the front room and opened the windows to get rid of the odours that had been present. She'd also found a photo of my Dad, Mel and I and placed it on the sideboard. I picked it up remembering when it had been taken. We were about ten at the time on a family holiday to Filey, happier times. I saw the young face on my father and the mental image of his haggard face came back to mind. how he'd aged in those few short years. I felt once again the tears falling down my cheeks splashing on the glass of the picture. I didn't hear Melanie enter the room but felt her arm go around my waist as I looked at the photo.

'Remember that was the holiday that you got bit with a crab' she said, 'we had some fun back then didn't we ?'

I looked at her and saw a few tears rolling slowly down her face. I put my arm around her feeling her body against mine, comforting.

'Yes but I remember it was you who put it down my trunks' I said smiling

'Oh yes, she said laughing, 'come on beans on toast I'm afraid.'

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