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LIES & REVELATIONS
By L.T.W. Lucas
This time around my face had fared better, no stitches necessary, but my right hip had been shattered and the wrist that had been broken in my struggle with Ray was back in plaster.
“There must be someone we can call Zeta.” The nurse said, a couple of days after my hip replacement, and still, one had called the hospital or visited me.
I'd told them that it had been an accident, walking in front the taxi, but I think that they were starting to wonder.
The taxi hadn't been going very fast, it had just pulled away from the station. The surgeon said that the severity of injury to my hip was because my bones were very brittle for someone my age.
Then had traced my surgery and medical records, which confirmed what they had already expected, the anorexia, the mental health problems, and I'd been put on suicide watch.
The hospital psychiatrist visited me and asked if I had been taking my medication.
I hadn't, not for months. I'd been happy, I didn't need it and it made me feel drowsy.
She prescribed something different, something stronger, but that wouldn't make me so tired. It would take a while for me to notice the effects, but it would help, it really would. That, and therapy.
Christ, more bloody therapy. What a waste of time.
After a couple of weeks I was desperate to be discharged, but they wanted to know where I intended to go, what help I would have.
So I told them about Jess.
The psychiatrist said that as long as Jess made sure that I was registered with a doctor in Streatham and received regular visits from a mental health officer, for a couple of months at least, then I could go.
So, a couple of days later, with the aid of crutches, I got into a taxi with Jess.
Jess had been fully briefed by the hospital and she had made sure all the help I needed was in place.
Jess was still devastated by Shannon's death and we both drifted around the house wallowing in our shared misery.
The health officer and therapist were alright, I liked them, but the tablets helped more.
By the time I could walk without the crutches I was feeling calmer, more level, less up and down emotionally. Although, the better I felt, the more I wanted my old life back, or rather, my new old life, Ben and Dee, working in the restaurant. The fact that I had screwed all that up, hurt so much.
Then I saw a job advertised in the window of an Indian restaurant on the high street and I wandered in.
The guy I spoke to said they would need references, I had to give him the name and address of my old boss in Bristol, Dan, and just hope that he would be kind. I'd left without any notice, but he was a nice guy, I'd worked hard up until then, so maybe it would be alright.
Jess wrote me a character reference and confirmed that I was living at her address.
That's how they found out where I was.
About two weeks into my new job and I'm waiting tables. It's a busy Saturday evening.
They were sitting there, waiting to have their order taken. I didn't want to go over, so I asked one of the other waitresses, Mandy, if she would take their table.
She came back with their order, but said they had asked after me, whether I was working that night.
“Damn, what did you tell them?”
“Well, I said I wasn't sure, which sounded a bit stupid. You know Zeta, you are working tonight, and they are going to be eating here, so unless you can find a way of hiding in the kitchen for the entire evening, well, you're just going to have to go over there and say Hi. Who the hell are they anyway? Good looking couple.”
“They're not a couple, well, who knows, maybe they are by now, they're old friends from Bristol.”
“Well, they've come some way to see you then.”
“Yeah, well go and say a quick hello and tell them that.”
Instead, I went over and asked them what was going on, what they were doing here, in this restaurant.
“Looking for you, obviously,” said Ben.
“Yeah, we would hardly have decided to have a weekend break in bloody Streatham would we.”
Dee was smiling up at me.
“We wondered where the hell you were. The only place we could think of was your aunt's, her friends, but we had no idea of the address, name, or phone number.”
“Then I was at work and Dan told me that a restaurant in London had rung up wanting him to vouch for your waitressing skills. He said he was tempted to just tell them the truth, that you had run out on him without a word of explanation or apology, but you know what an old softy he is.”
“And so, like the brilliant detectives that we are, we tracked you down.” Added Ben.
“Why, why bother?”
“Because we love you, and we were too harsh, we didn't take into account all the things you have had to deal with and try to be more understanding.”
More people were coming in looking for tables.
“I'm working, I can't talk to you now.”
Dee asked what time I came off work. It would be late.
Ben said they were staying in some rooms above a pub.
So we arranged to meet up the next day at twelve.
It was past midnight by the time I got home. Jess was already in bed. I wandered out into the back garden for a cigarette.
Seeing Ben and Dee had really shaken me up. I didn't know whether I was pleased or not. I'd made such an effort to push them to the back of my mind, and now here they were, in London, stirring up a lot of complicated emotions.
Fortunately, I was too tired from work to lay awake thinking about it.
In the morning I told Jess.
“It's a good thing Zeta. Go and listen to what it is they want to say.”
“It might make me really sad again, I might not like what they have to say.”
“I doubt that.”
“No, but you know, I don't want to get hurt any more Jesse.”
“Well, you've got to go Zeta, or you will be left forever wondering whether you should have gone, and how things might have moved on if you had.”
So I went.
They were sitting at a table by the window with a drink.
“Here, let me get you one,” said Ben, as I wandered over,”Pinot, that's right isn't it?”
I sat down next to Dee.
“What's this all about Dee?”
“You, we've been so worried, and sorry, why the hell did you run away like that? When you didn't show up to work for a couple of days Ben got himself in a real state. It's all he's been able to focus on, finding you.”
Ben handed me my wine and sat back down.
“So why did you leave like that Zeta, just vanish again? It was awful.”
“Because I was being a total head-case and you were all sick of me, I didn't know what to do.”
“Oh God Zeta, I've missed you so much, we all have.”
“You hated me Ben, and so did Dee.”
“No, we didn't, we were just frustrated and we didn't know how to deal with it, your crazy mood swings. Mum knows, I told her what had happened, and I told her I had been seeing you. She was furious.”
Then Ben did an impression of Ruth telling him off.
“You are an idiot Ben, you read Zeta's file, which was a disgraceful thing to do. You should have had more understanding, you don't seem to think about anyone but yourself. That's what you don't understand about relationships, there's difficult times, ups and downs. People need to be there for people, Blah, blah, blah.”
“Oh, that's pretty harsh, but true,” said Dee, laughing
“God, your hair Zeta, I never knew you had so much of it, it's wonderful, amazing, both beautiful and bonkers at the same time, like you.”
I'd stopped visiting hairdressers to get it cut and now it had grown both down and sideways.
Ben reached over and took my hand.
I didn't know how to respond to his touch.
“Where's Rupert?” I asked.
In Cornwall, with his dad. His dad's not well, pneumonia I think, he's in hospital. He'd have come with us otherwise, wouldn't he Dee?”
“Yeah, you're part of us Zeta, our gang of four, well, five if you count John. Everyone gets pissed off with each other from time to time, but we don't run away.”
We had another round of drinks.
“Now that we've found you, will you come back Zeta, please?”
Ben moved from his seat opposite me and sat in the chair to my side.
“Look, Ben, you don't want me, not with my big messy backstory. You're not like that, we don't stand a chance.”
“No harm in giving it another go.”
“There is, you, I, someone's going to get hurt.”
“Well, that's life, you can't protect yourself Zeta, you know that better than most people.”
“He's right Zeta, maybe you two will work out, maybe you won't, who knows, but it's got to be worth another shot surely?”
Ben looked at me, waiting for my answer.
Then Dee asked about my leg.
“When you came in, I noticed you've got a limp. How did that happen?”
“Oh, I got hit by a taxi, it wasn't his fault, I just wasn't looking.”
“You got run over!”
“Well, not run over. It wasn't going very fast, I just bounced off the bonnet.”
“Bloody hell, did you have to go to hospital?” Asked Ben.
“Of course she would have had to go to hospital,” said Dee, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, just for a couple of weeks. Then I moved in with Jess.”
“So how badly injured were you!”
“Broken hip, broken wrist, some internal bleeding. It's all fine now.
Ben actually looked as if he might cry.
“All that happened and I wasn't there,” he said.
“Well, in a way it was a good thing. It gave me time to sort myself out, get some help with all the stuff that was going on in my head, so, all's well that ends well.”
“Does it hurt then, your hip?”
“No, not much, they did a good job, it's on the mend, the limp will go. Although I doubt if I'll be dancing quite so enthusiastically for a while.”
After leaving the pub we all went for a walk on the common and had coffee in the cafe at the top of the hill.
Ben and Dee needed to get the train back to Bristol in the evening. Ben had an exam on Monday.
I went to the station with them, but it was so sad.
“Please come back!” Said Ben into my ear as we hugged goodbye.
I hadn't been able to decide what to do, whether to go with them or not. I had my job. I couldn't just walk out again. There was Jess, I needed to think about her. It was complicated.
When I saw the look on Ben's face as the train moved away from the station I felt like someone had gouged a knife into my heart.
Over dinner, I told Jess how it had gone, meeting Ben and Dee again, and what we had talked about.
Jess said that as much as she loved me staying with her, I should go back to Bristol.
“You're young Zeta, they're good friends, and it sounds to me as if Ben really does care an awful lot about you. You're doing well, you're much better now than you were. Just don't go cold turkey again with your medication. See your doctor regularly.”
I promised Jess that I would, but I still had my job and I wasn't going to leave for Bristol without giving them a months notice. That would also give Jess time to get used to the idea that she would be on her own again. It was hard, we had become very close.
“You're like an aunt to me,” I told her on my last night there. “We're family now.”
Mandy from the restaurant was upset I was going. She said she wouldn't have anyone to have a laugh and muck around with any more. We promised each other we'd stay in touch.
Jess came all the way to Paddington and told me to call her whenever I needed to talk, day or night.
Ben was at the station to meet me when the train pulled in to Bristol.
He had insisted I stay with him in his room, so he could keep an eye on me, stop me from escaping again.
I knew that the best thing to do would be to find my own flat.
Still, until I could find somewhere, that's what I did.
Within a few weeks, I had moved into a self-contained flat in a large house not far from Dee, in Clifton, and I had my old job back.
I rang Jess most days, and as the months went by it was good to hear her begin to sound excited about a play, or an exhibition, she had been to see.
Mandy came and stayed every now and then. I'd hoped that she and Dee would get on, but they didn't. Dee said she didn't like the way Mandy flirted with Rupert.
One evening all of us, me, Ben, Mandy, Dee, Rupert and John, all went out for the evening. A new wine bar called, Jazzmataz had just opened and it was karaoke night.
When we had drunk enough to lose our inhibitions we took turns at the mike.
I stood up and sang 'Back To Black' by Amy Winehouse.
“Bloody hell Zeta, I didn't know you could sing like that!” Said Ben, when I sat back down and let John take over.
“Amazing, like, amazing. You've got an incredible voice.”
Of course, none of them would have ever heard me sing before, it was just something I liked to do when I was on my own, just sing along to music on the radio.
Then they all persuaded me to get up and sing again. This time I sang 'Angels' by Robbie Williams and the whole bar stopped talking and listened. When I finished there was all this applause, it was fantastic.
Just as we were about to leave, the manager came over and asked if I wanted a regular gig there every Friday.
Dee was jumping up and down and clapping her hands with excitement. John told her to get a grip on herself and Ben hugged me.
“Do it Zeta, it will be brilliant!”
So that's what happened.
Every Friday the sound equipment was set up in the corner of Jazzmataz and I sang.
I'd put together a selection of songs that I thought suited my voice best. Soulful I guess.
Ben always came to watch, either with Rupert or John. Dee was usually working.
One night, after my set, this guy called Jake came over to our table and introduced himself.
He said he was in a band called The Soulpunks.
“I've brought the other guys along to listen to you sing, you've just got the most amazing voice, Zeta, is it alright if I call you Zeta?”
“That's my name.”
Jake was very tall, dark, and probably too thin for his height and broad frame. He was dressed in a lose nineteen forties pinstripe gangster style suit and he had a handsome, sharp, intense face. As he spoke, his black, brown eyes stared right into mine, and I felt as if everyone else in the room had just evaporated.
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't felt any attraction.
The way he moved was so self-assured, his soft southern Irish accent sounded almost musical, alluring, and there was something that seemed dangerous, yet gentle, about him.
“The band, we've been on the lookout for a really good singer, like yourself, for some time, you're definitely the one. You're fantastic.”
“Oh really, you've decided on me have you. What sort of music do you play?”
“Well, kind of jazz, funk, ska, that sort of stuff.”
“We've got gigs in Bristol and some in London. I'll admit, we haven't been on the scene long, but we're building up quite a fan base. With the right singer we could really go places.”
Then Ben interrupted.
“I've not heard of you.”
Jake ignored him.
“So, Zeta, I'd love you to come and listen to us and maybe, you know, consider doing a number, sing, front the band, see how it feels.”
I told Jake that I was pretty happy doing what I did solo, but I'd check them out and agreed to turn up at the pub where they would be playing on Sunday afternoon.
On the way home that evening, Ben asked me why I was even interested.
“I don't know if I am, but there's no harm in going along, is there. It's Sunday afternoon, it'll be fun. Dee, Rupert, John, they might want to come.”
So there we all were in The Swan, listening to The Soulpunks.
Jake played the saxophone and it was pretty slick, so were the rest of the band.
They looked really cool too. They were all dressed up in big oversized zoot suits, braces, Fedora hats, and Jake was wearing some dark, round, wire-rimmed Steampunk style shades.
When they stopped for a break Jake introduced me to the other three members.
“We've got the baby of the band, Strings, right here, and he's our man on double bass, Toots, he's on trumpet and the designated driver, Rojay here, he's the second saxophone.
Jake then asked if I would sing one number with them, just one, maybe Rehab, by Amy Winehouse.
“Sure, it will be a pleasure,” I said, standing up.
Jake took my hand and led me towards the stage.
The pub was packed and it was obvious that Jake's band was the main attraction.
After a few minutes mucking around, we found the right pitch and it was a real buzz being up there with the guys.
The applause was almost deafening and quite a few people had got up to dance. So we did a couple of other numbers.
Ben looked agitated and sulky when I sat down.
“Why were you up there singing all those numbers with them, are they going to pay you?”
“No, we were just giving it a try out, you know, see how we worked together.”
“Well, you don't need them, you're great on your own.”
“I kind of like the idea Ben.”
“Yeah, well, I don't.”
When the band stopped playing and the rest of them were packing up their equipment, Jake came over.
“So, are you in Zeta?”
“In what?” Said Ben.
“The band, of course, our singer.”
“No, she's not. Zeta can make it on her own.”
“I'm sorry, my question was aimed at Zeta here, not you. I don't see why you would have any say in this. She looks like a woman quite capable of making up her own mind.”
“I'm her boyfriend.”
“Well, we're fine the way things are.”
“I'm not interested in your personal life, and you know, in case you're not aware, this is the twenty-first century.”
How dare he! I could have throttled Ben.
“Yes, I think it could work out, but if I'm fronting we are going to have to change the name.”
“Well, yeah, we've got a lot to talk about!”
Ben said that Jake and I would have to discuss it another time because he wanted to go home.
Dee, Rupert and John hadn't been at the table during the conversation. They had been dancing and were now at the bar. I wandered over to them.
“We're off now, I think that's it for the afternoon.”
“That was fantastic Zeta, amazing,” gushed John,”are you going to sing with them then?”
“Yes, I loved it.”
“I loved the saxophonist! Gorgeous!”
Dee thumped him lightly on the arm.
“Behave yourself, or we won't take you out again.”
Rupert said that they would finish their drinks and follow on. I'd invited them around for some wine and a takeaway.
“What the hell was all that about!” I said, as we wandered back to my place.
“You're good on your own, you don't need them and I don't like Jake. He was bloody rude to me, you should have said something.”
“No Ben, you were rude to me, insulting. Talking on my behalf and going on about being my boyfriend as if that somehow meant that you made all the decisions.”
“He looks shifty, I don't trust him.”
“It's a band Ben, there's nothing to worry about, I'll just be singing, the same as I do now.”
“If you join them you'll be off travelling around to different gigs all the time.”
“Well, that will give you the chance to get on with work for your exams.”
Ben had had a really bad mark for his last papers, which was something I blamed myself for, at that time all he had been thinking about was finding me.
“I don't know, I just don't feel it's a good idea.”
Ben kicked a can that he been chucked on the ground and didn't speak to me again until Dee and the others turned up for drinks.
I guess he could see how it was all going to pan out, even then.
We decided to call the band Zeta May & The Soulpunks.
As I liked the guy's image, I decided that I should make an effort to compliment it, and I hadn't really formed one of my own. I'd try and wear a skirt and top when performing, but that was about it.
There was a vintage clothing shop in Clifton where the boys bought their suits. I'd often passed it, but never went in, it looked dark and claustrophobic.
Jake said he'd take me, he was a regular customer and would be able to help me chose something and get a discount.
Once inside, the shop was captivating, if not a little creepy. Weird looking mannequins from way back, stared at us as we entered, their eyes seemed to follow our every movement, unlike the old shop display heads which kept their gaze firmly fixed straight ahead. It was like entering a time capsule, another world, full of ghosts. It went further back than I had expected and smelt damp and musty. I couldn't see any form of heating and it was quite cold. There was so much to look at and take in. Everything, the shoes, the bags, the clothes, they all spoke of lives past, other people's history.
As the doorbell chimed, the lady who ran the shop looked up from the book she had been reading.
She was thin and wizened, maybe in her seventies or eighties, and she was wearing a huge men's camel coloured wool coat and fingerless wool gloves to keep warm. Her grey hair was scraped into a tight bun and she looked stern, unfriendly. Then, as soon as she saw Jake her whole face and demeanour changed, she came alive.
“Jake my darling! How are you?”
“Good Babs, good, and this is Zeta, our new singer, she needs some outfits.”
“Well have a look around and if you need any help let me know.”
Jake flicked through the rails of clothes, occasionally pulling one out and holding it up against me. He knew everything, the eras, the fabrics, and managed to guess correctly what would fit me.
Once he had an armful of dresses he thought I should try on he showed me where the changing room was and then sat down next to Babs for a chat.
“Come out and show us when you're ready,” said Babs.
The idea of undressing in the equally cold back storage cupboard wasn't that appealing, but as I changed frantically out of one outfit and into another I soon warmed up.
It took over an hour. I'd come out to show Babs and Jake, and they'd clap every time I emerged as if they were watching a fashion show.
The forties dresses suited me best and I left with a navy crepe tea dance dress that hung just below the knee, a wartime Wrens suit, and a nineteen thirties red satin and sequinned evening dress that was absolutely stunning.
“You look like a movie-star.” Jake said, when I came out in the red dress, and then, with Babs permission, he stood up and opened a glass cabinet of jewellery and pulled out a diamanté necklace. He stood behind me and fastened it around my neck, then told me to look in the mirror.
“Wow, that's beautiful,” I said.
“Yes, it is.”
Bab's gave me a generous discount and hugged Jake as I picked up the bags ready to leave. Then she took hold of his hand and I heard her say in a quiet, conspiratorial voice, “she's lovely Jake”.
As we walked away from the shop I asked Jake if Babs had thought that I was his girlfriend.
“Didn't you tell her I was just a friend?”
“Why, why bother. It doesn't matter does it?”
“No, I guess not.”
Jake said I should wear the red evening gown for our first set, mind blowing was how he described it.
That weekend, I pulled out the red dress and changed into it, ready for my first real gig with The Soulpunks.
Ben laughed when I came out of the bedroom.
“Bloody hell, you look like you've been beamed down from some old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film or something.”
“Well, do you like it?”
“I guess so, it's just not really you is it, kind of dated. Did Jake make you buy it, to fit in with him?”
“No, I just thought that as the lead singer in a band I needed some kind of image, that's all, you know, dress up a bit.”
I didn't tell Ben that Jake had been shopping with me, I knew he wouldn't like it.
“Red dress, red hair, it's a bit over the top Zeta, almost blinding, talk about razzle- dazzle them.”
So I changed into the blue crepe dress.
“That's better. I like that one, far more you.”
By the time I reached Jazzmataz, I was quite late and Jake looked really anxious and agitated.
“Christ Zeta, I thought you'd changed your mind.”
“No, just the dress, Ben thought the red one was a bit over the top.”
“Shame, you know, you should go with your own instinct Zeta, it was perfect, the guy's an idiot.”
“Well, he is. Still, I see you're wearing the necklace.”
“Yes, it's lovely, thank you.”
Jake had insisted on buying it for me as a present.
“Anyway, let's make beautiful music.” He said, kissing me lightly on the cheek, before taking my hand and leading me across the room. The place was packed out.
The owner of the club, Ricky, didn't seem bothered that he would now have to pay extra for a band.
Ben turned up with Rupert and Mandy, she was down from London for the weekend, but Dee had to work.
At half-time me and the guys were surrounded by people keen to congratulate and praise us. I didn't get a chance to speak to Ben.
I glanced over at him. Rupert and Mandy were chatting away, but Ben was just peering down into his pint of beer looking moody.
“I'm not sure I'll come again Zeta.” He said, on the way home.
“Because I feel like a spare part, you don't need me there. Before the band, you did, we sat together halfway through your set, and at the end. We talked about how it went and had a laugh. It was us. Now it's you and them.”
“No, it's not.”
“It is, tonight, at the end you were up there for ages chatting with Jake and the others.
“Well, look,” I said, “we're here together now, aren't we.”
“Yeah, big deal.”
The following Friday Ben said that he and Rupert were going to go to the stand-up comedy at The Swan instead, like we all used to before I started singing.
I really missed Ben being there, just knowing that he was, It mattered, more than I had thought it would.
I told him when I got home.
Ben said that the comedy wasn't as good without me either, it hadn't seemed as funny, and for a while, everything was alright again.
Then Zeta May & The Soulpunks were being offered gigs all over Bristol and in London.
We had one in Brixton and Jess came along with a friend of hers.
It was great to see her. She seemed brighter, happier, coping a lot better with Shannon's death.
“You sound amazing Zeta, what a talent, and this band, well, you're brilliant, I love it.”
After the gig, we got in the van and headed back to Bristol.
It was fun driving through the night with Jake and the boys.
Toots drove and the rest of us sat in the back of the van.
We'd analyse how well the gig had gone, what numbers the crowd had liked best and then Strings would reel off any new jokes he'd heard.
Strings was one hell of a Bass player. He came from a big family of brothers, but was the only one with a gift for music, and he was self-taught. He'd learnt to play guitar first and then, as soon as he was tall enough, he'd taken up the double bass.
The Hootenanny had been an excellent venue and the crowd had reacted well, they'd called for us to come back on and perform a couple of extra numbers.
Jake had been nervous before we walked out, he'd pushed hard to get us this venue. Jake wasn't just in the band, he pretty much managed everything, he was the very core of it and we all relied on him.
The band really started to get a name, some recognition, and we were travelling all over the country to bigger and better venues.
Ben and I saw less and less of each other.
Then he got his results. He had his degree in computer science, which I thought was great, but he said it wasn't, it was a low grade, he had just about scraped through and it would be tough competing in the job market. He was angry and disappointed.
“I've got a bloody great loan, a shit degree, it's all been a fucking great waste of time Zeta!”
As the weeks passed and Ben had to deal with one job rejection after another, he became more and more morose.
One weekend I suggested going down to Cornwall to see his mum and dad. He hadn't visited them in ages.
“Haven't you got a gig?”
“Sure, but I'll tell them I won't be able to do it, just this once. They can play without me, it will be fine.”
Jake was furious.
“What the hell Zeta! You can't just bail out, our gigs are set in stone, you're letting everyone down.”
“I've got to have some time off Jake, now and then. We're almost booked up solid and this weekend we've only got two small venues. Ben needs me, he seems really depressed, I'm worried about him.”
“Yeah, well, he's a moody git anyway, I don't know why you put up with him.
“Because I love him.”
“Really Zeta, do you really?”
“Well, I can't think of one thing either of you have in common.”
Then Jake stormed off.
“So Ben's the moody one is he!” I yelled after him.
It was about six in the evening when we arrived at Ruth and Harry's.
They didn't seem that pleased to see me, though they looked relieved to have Ben back home for a few days.
Ruth had been calling up to speak to him a couple of times a week.
Harry took Ben out for a quick pint before dinner so that Ruth could talk to me alone.
“What's going on Zeta, what has happened between you two?”
“Ben, he's changed. He was doing so well at University, enjoying life, then this. His work, career, everything, it's a mess.”
“I know, that's why I thought we should come down.”
She blamed me, I knew that.
“He was fine, everything was good. Ben's really smart, he should have easily got a first in his degree.”
“And then he met me.”
“I'm not saying that.”
“No, but you're thinking it. I'm doing my best, I'm trying to help.”
“You don't seem to be around most of the time Zeta. I call and you're always off out with that band. He sounds bored and lonely. ”
“Yes, I'm singing, we're doing well, getting lots of work, and I've got my waitressing job. So what, that's what I do. I can't just sit around the flat with Ben.”
“Instead of concentrating on his career, all he's been doing is thinking about you.”
“That's not my fault Ruth. While I was working he could have been doing the same.”
“You went off, he was really upset when he should have been focusing on his exams.”
“Look, Ruth, I had no idea. I didn't know how Ben felt about me. I listened to you, I thought I was just another one of his flings, I didn't expect it to last.”
Ruth wasn't sure how to respond, and then Ben and Harry were back from the pub.
It was clear both Ruth and Harry thought that I was just about the worst thing that could have happened to Ben, and I figured that they were probably right.
Dinner was tense. Hardly a word was spoken.
I helped Ruth load the dishwasher, in silence, and then I said to Ben that we should go out, to The Seafarers, see if Tammy and Oliver were in there.
Ben wasn't that enthusiastic, but we wandered out anyway. I couldn't face an evening sitting in with Ruth and Harry.
On the way to the pub, I tried to get Ben to open up and talk to me, tell me what he was thinking.
“I don't know Zeta. I just feel lost, I don't know what direction to go in.”
“Forward Ben, go forward.”
“How? I've applied for loads of jobs and so far only one firm has contacted me for an interview.”
“It's the same for most students leaving Uni Ben.”
“And you Zeta, I feel I've lost you.”
“No, you haven't, I'm here, see, walking right next to you.”
“Physically, maybe, but your minds always somewhere else these days, with Jake and the band. They're all you ever talk about, especially Jake.”
“No, I don't, are you jealous Ben?”
“Yes, of course, I bloody am, it's tearing me up inside. I knew this would happen, from the minute he showed up at our table asking you to sing.”
“That what would happen?”
“That he wanted you. That he'd take you from me if he could.”
“He wanted me to sing, that's all.”
“No, it was more than that, I could read it in his face, I saw the way he looked at you.”
We reached the pub and I squeezed Ben's hand.
“It's OK Ben, I'm here, I'm not going anywhere.”
The pub was busy, a band was playing, and Ben looked like he wanted to go back out again. Then we saw Oliver sitting in the corner on his own.
“Where's Tammy?” I asked.
“Oh, we've split up.”
“Who did the splitting?”
“Me, I guess.”
“I don't know. I felt a bit suffocated, Tammy's the possessive type, and then she started going on about engagement rings and stuff and the distant sound of wedding bells was a real turn off.
“The eternal bachelor boy, our Oliver,” joked Ben.
Ben seemed more relaxed now we were in Oliver's company.
I realised that I hadn't talked to Tammy for months.
Oliver asked Ben how Rupert was.
“Oh, he's great, he's got a bloody first and a load of interviews lined up.”
“How about you Ben?”
“Crap, don't ask, I don't want to talk about it.”
“OK, then.” Said Oliver, looking at me and raising his eyebrows.
He obviously hadn't heard from Ben for a while.
I went to the bar to get the drinks so that they could catch up.
While I was there one of the band members came over to me.
“Christ, you're Zeta May!”
“The one and only.”
“We saw you in Bristol, it was awesome.”
“Thanks, nice to meet you?”
I shook his hand.
“Dave, it's Dave.”
“Nice to meet you, Dave.”
I took my drinks from the bar, ready to inch my way back through the crowd.
“We're huge fans, I know this is really forward of me, I mean, tell me to get lost if you want to, it's a big ask. You wouldn't do just one number with us, would you, later on?”
“Sorry Dave, I'm here to spend some time with my boyfriend.”
“Who was that?” Ben asked when I sat down.
“Someone called Dave, he's in the band that's playing.”
“What did he want?”
“Oh, just recognised me, wanted to know if I would do one number with them later on.”
Ben gave a big exaggerated sigh.
“It's OK, I said no.”
“But I bet you wanted to.”
“No, I didn't, I just want to have a quiet evening with you.”
“It's not that quiet.”
“No, well do you want to go somewhere else?”
Ben said he didn't know what he wanted.
Oliver heard the end part of the conversation.
“You can't go and leave me on my own here. I haven't seen you guys in ages.”
So, we stayed.
Dave and the group were good and when they took a break, I went up and told them so.
It was weird. They seemed so blown away by meeting me.
Dave made one final stab at trying to get me to sing with them.
“Just the one!”
I looked back at Ben, who was glaring over at us.
“Another time, maybe, and sorry, I have to split, my boyfriend's not feeling well.”
I went back to the table and apologised to Oliver, telling him that Ben and I needed to go.
“Fair enough, but keep in touch, I miss you guys.”
As we walked along the seafront I held Ben's hand. Then we sat on a bench with our arms around each other and Ben started to cry. Big fat tears soaked my shoulder and although he hardly made a sound I could feel his whole body shaking. So I held him as tight as I could, until he finally stopped.
“I'm sorry Zeta.”
“Being so wet.”
“I'm the wet one Ben, you've soaked my bloody shirt.” I was just trying to make light of it.
“Oh for fuck sake, Ben, you have nothing to be sorry for. Look, I love you, we're going to be OK, it's alright. Now come on, let's go home.”
Ruth and Harry were still up, they were watching television.
“Did you have a nice time?” Asked Harry, not out of any real interest, just because he felt he should.
“Yes, but we're tired now, aren't we Ben. We'll go upstairs if that's OK.”
That night we held each other as if our lives depended on it.
When I went downstairs in the morning, Ruth was in the kitchen and Harry was out in the garden. Ben was still fast asleep.
“Could you and Ben stay longer Zeta. I think he really needs to spend some time here, at home, have a break from Bristol.”
“I'm sorry Ruth, I've got my rent to pay, my job, and the band, I can't just drop everything.”
“No, I know, but maybe Ben should stay a while longer. I've never seen him so miserable, so deflated and down.”
“I know, but whether he will or not, without me, I'm not sure.”
We both tried to persuade him to stay for at least a few more days. I had two long shifts at the restaurant on Monday and Tuesday. So he agreed, he'd come back on Wednesday.
I asked Ben not to walk with me to the station, it would just be upsetting.
As the train pulled away, I had a really ominous feeling about us, deep down I knew I hadn't been honest with Ben. I'd told him what he wanted to hear, not how I truly felt.
I stared out of the window, seeing nothing.
A passenger came up and introduced herself.
“Hi, I'm Shelly, I'm a big fan, you've got the best voice ever.”
“Thanks, that's lovely.”
“I saw you in Brixton, you were just amazing, and the band, they're really good. The blonde one, the bass player, has he got a girlfriend?”
“Strings. No, not right now.”
Shelly gave me her address and asked if I would send her a signed photo of me and the band and maybe one from Strings.
When she moved on down the aisle, I sat there thinking, Christ Zeta, people know you, they know who you are, like a well-known person. Not famous or anything, but recognisable. Angie, what would she have made of all this. She would have been really proud, this made me feel good, and then I thought about Ben again.
Back at work, Dee gave me a big hug.
“Something's worrying you, isn't it?” She said, standing back and studying my face.
“Christ, you're as bad as my sister Angie, she was a bloody mind reader as well.”
“So, tell me your troubles?”
“Can I call around this evening, talk to you then?”
Dee said that as long as I bought a bottle of wine I was welcome anytime.
So after work, I wandered home with her and told her about Ben, our visit to Cornwall, what he had said, how he had cried.
“Well, do you love him Zeta, or is he right to be worried about Jake?”
“That's the whole problem, I'm kind of confused right now.”
“Maybe you should have some time apart.”
“I couldn't do that to him, not right now, it would upset him even more and I can't help feeling guilty.”
“Well, that time I went up to London for instance. I had no idea he would be worried like that. To be honest, I thought he just wanted to be rid of me. I thought everyone did. He should have been studying. I've kind of ruined everything for him.”
“You're not responsible Zeta. He's had plenty of time to catch up instead of moping around feeling sorry for himself.”
“His parents don't think so, they blame me.”
“Nonsense, it's not your fault, we're all responsible for our own lives.”
“Ben's someone who's been used to drifting through life with everything turning out pretty much the way he imagined it would. I'm not sure he's emotionally equipped to cope with the pitfalls.”
“Poor Ben, it's true, but what can you do, sadly, he's just going to have to learn the hard way, you can't protect him, or adjust to fit in with what he wants. Live how you want to live Zeta. You're in a great place right now, don't let anyone ruin it.”
I felt better as I walked home from Dee's, for the chat, but still just as confused about what I really wanted.