*Contains bad language*
Here we go again - another Spanish Inquisition. Baz knew it would be followed by accusations, then tears. Why couldn’t she understand that he loved her, there was no one else.
Their love had blossomed three and a half years ago at work, amidst the clattering of pots and pans and the tantalising smells of sauté potatoes and steak au poivre. Baz was the head chef at a local French restaurant. He was quiet and reserved, tall and well-built. She was one of a bevy of part-time waitresses who came in at weekends. Petite, with large expressive eyes and dark curly hair. Their attraction was immediate. She liked a challenge, and for her, he was one: he didn’t immediately try to chat her up. In truth, he showed little interest in any of the girls and initially, she wondered if he was gay. She didn’t realize that surreptitiously he was watching and listening to her. He liked her looks, but also, he enjoyed her fast wit. As the weeks passed by, he began to talk to her more and more. He’d had few previous girlfriends and was inexperienced in the courtship dance. It mattered not, Cheryl had set her cap at him and was determined to have him.
She began by complimenting his cooking and moved on to ask his advice about buying a car. This was a clever move; she’d noticed his Alfa Romeo in the car park and guessed that he was a petrol head. Soon, their conversations included music and a mutual interest in wildlife, until eventually, he asked her if she would like to join him for a ride to the coast on his day off.
It was a fine day and he drove confidently as his audio system blasted out rock music. He parked on the seafront and as they left his car, he took her hand. The gentle breeze ruffled their hair as they walked. Above the gulls swooped and soared, their cries plaintive, and beside them, the waves rushed inwards and sucked backward accompanied by the shrieks of excited children playing on the shore.
‘Want an ice cream?’
‘Oooh yes please.’
Looking back, he realised that the signs were there even then. As they walked, she had quizzed him about past girlfriends, and had asked if she ‘looked alright’. He wasn’t much good at small talk, but he did know about the different types of gulls and how the tides changed. She was interested and seemed impressed. Back in the small room where he lodged their sex was passionate and natural. The chemistry between them was like a drug, it worked. From then on, he spent every leave day with her.
After six months, she began to push. If they lived together, it wouldn’t matter that he finished work late, they would still have their nights together. He hesitated, cautious by nature, he wanted to make sure that financially he could do this. She mistook his hesitancy for something else.
‘What is it? Don’t you love me?
‘Yes, you know I love you.’ He just didn’t have the words to explain that he needed to be sure that it was the right decision.
‘I suppose I’m ok for now, am I?’ She wanted, needed him to say that there was no one else, that he’d never loved anyone like this before, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. But it was not in his makeup to give verbal reassurances and flamboyant compliments. He thought she understood that the fact that he spent all his available time off with her showed that he loved her and wanted to be with her.
Eventually, he gave in. They moved into a small one-bedroomed flat and it was good. Money was tight, but his culinary skills meant that they ate well on a small budget. Cheryl was a hard worker; she kept the flat spotless and did as many part-time waitressing shifts as she could fit around her college course. They could rarely afford to go out, but due to their work commitments had little time anyway. Mostly, they were content to go for a country walk together, watch a cd or play a board game.
He had two brothers who lived at opposite ends of the country. They could only occasionally meet. One was an accountant, the other a solicitor, and both had older, glamourous partners. When Baz first took Cheryl to meet them, she was nervous.
‘I’ve got nothing to wear.’
‘How about your blue dress?’
‘It’s old.’ What he should have said was ‘You always look lovely to me.’, but it just didn’t come to him. The evening wasn’t a success, Cheryl wasn’t her usual bubbly self, she sat quietly at the end of the table rarely joining in the conversation. When they returned to the flat, she said,
‘I’m not going out with them again.’
‘Don’t be silly they’re my brothers, of course, we’ll see them again.’
‘You hardly spoke to me all night - too busy making up to Chloe and Sophie.’
‘I was catching up with them.’
‘Yeah, hearing all about how they go to the gym three times a week, and Sophie’s wonderful job in the City.’
‘Sophie has done well, and it’s great that they both keep their selves fit.’
‘So, I’m not fit!’
‘I didn’t say that…You don’t have time to go to the gym…You work too hard.’ Cheryl fled into their bedroom and slammed the door behind her. Baz could hear her sobbing through the closed door.
The hospitality business is hard and unpredictable. One night, the restaurant where they worked unexpectedly took a party of twelve. They hadn’t booked, so Cheryl hadn’t been asked to work. It meant that Baz was unusually late home. Cheryl was in bed when he let himself in.
‘Where the fuck have you been?!’
‘Hello dear…have you had a hard night…I’ll make you a cuppa, shall I?’
‘Have you been drinking?’
‘No…I’ve been working.’
‘Until this time?…pull the other one.’
‘We had a late booking…A party of twelve came in.’
‘The restaurant closes at ten…It’s gone one now.’
‘I know but they didn’t arrive until nine, and then they stayed drinking until late.’
‘Why didn’t Mr. Thebault tell them to go?’
‘It’s good business…he needs it.’
‘Rubbish… you’ve been sitting around talking to Jenna.’
‘No…honestly…She wasn’t even on tonight…you can check the rota if you don’t believe me.’
And so today, they were enacting a familiar pattern. They had had a rare trip to the pub. As they sat in the crowded bar surrounded by the noisy chatter and raucous laughter of the other drinkers, a woman approached. She was mid-thirties, slim and elegant.
‘Baz! I thought it was you.’ He stood and she briefly hugged him. Taking Cheryl’s hand, he pulled her up and said to the stranger,
‘This is Cheryl...Cheryl, this is Marie…We used to work together.’
‘Oh, you’re a lucky girl, aren’t you?’ Cheryl sat back down.
‘Where are you working now?’
‘Still at Le Bouchon.’
‘No…not after all this time. Still poking up with that ferret Thebault.’ Their conversation was brief, but Baz knew that it was enough. Cheryl was quiet for the rest of the evening, giving monosyllabic answers when he spoke to her. They travelled home in near silence. Back in the flat Baz tried to diffuse the forthcoming storm, enfolding her in his arms. She stood stiff and pulled away as soon as she could.
‘How long did you and Marie work together?’
‘Not sure…probably six months or so’
‘Is she married?’
‘Why didn’t you tell her I’m your girlfriend.’
‘Seemed pretty obvious.’
‘You were pleased to see her.’
‘It’s always good to see an old friend.’
‘Friend, was she?...You don’t usually hug your friends.’
‘That’s because most of my friends are blokes…They’d think it was weird.’
‘Well, I think it’s odd that a strange woman comes up and hugs you.’
‘She’s not a stranger.’
‘Clearly not…did you go out with her?’
‘No!’ The tears began and Cheryl ran to their bedroom.
The following October Cheryl started a teaching degree in a neighbouring town. Whilst Baz had been slaving away in a hot kitchen, on the nights when she wasn’t working, she’d been studying hard at home. Now, on tutorial days, she’d return home and would excitedly tell Baz of all the things she was learning. She was nervous about her first assignments, but when the marks came back, they were good. She made friends with her fellow students and occasionally arranged to go out with them. This was new behaviour. Never before had she had a separate social life from Baz. Even the way she dressed changed, she seemed less concerned with what looked good and more interested in durability and comfort. At home, she became inclined to disagree with things that Baz said, not arguing, but voicing a different perspective.
As the months wore on, Baz came to know the names of most of her fellow students. One in particular often cropped up, Andy. It was Andy this, Andy that. He began to suspect that Cheryl was having an affair with Andy, or at the very least had the hots for him. Emotionally Baz was very different from Cheryl. If he was upset or worried rather than verbalise it, he would withdraw into himself. From the outside, it appeared that he’d become surly and sullen. Cheryl couldn’t understand why he’d changed.
The crunch came when the couple were asked to a student party.
‘I can’t come…It’s a Saturday night…Mr. Thebault will never let me have the night off.’
‘I’m not going without you…I’ll work too and we can go on afterwards…It’ll only just be getting going by the time we get there.’
The following Saturday, at nearly midnight, they drew up outside a rundown terraced house in a seedy area of town. They could hear the thrumming music from where they were outside, and the shouts and laughter of the people inside. Cheryl took Baz’s hand and led him inside the open front door. Immediately, she began to introduce him to people. Familiar names from all her chat at home, but now he could put faces to them. Andy was there and Baz scrutinized him. He was nothing special. During the evening as he watched him, he saw him pat another man’s rump as he passed. The recipient turned, laughed, and kissed Andy full on the mouth.
Over the next few days, Cheryl noticed that Baz’s demeanour had changed. He was back to his former self.
‘Has something been worrying you?’
‘Why’d you say that?’
‘You’ve been quiet, but now you’re back to your old self.’
‘Want to talk about it?’
‘I don’t like to think that something’s been up and you couldn’t tell me.’
‘I thought you were having an affair with Andy.’ Cheryl burst out laughing.
‘I know that now.’
‘You daft sausage…don’t you know that I think you’re the loveliest, most handsome guy around, and I’ll always love you.’
‘Well…you know…with you learning stuff…and mixing with different people…I might not be good enough for you anymore.’
‘Sweetheart…I am changing, I know that, but my love for you will never change…I’m growing that’s all.’
They both gained some insight from this conversation. Cheryl had demonstrated how to reassure a partner when they are feeling insecure. Baz now understood that her insecurities came not from a fault in their relationship, but a lack of confidence in herself. Cheryl was given a taste of what it feels like to have your fidelity doubted. Because their love was strong, their understanding of each other deepened and their relationship matured.
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