How did he find you?
You’ve been doing okay. Nothing spectacular, but it’s a life, your life, and you’re sorted. Job, place to live. Oh, and Joshua. Joshy to his friends. No dad on the scene, but you’re not the first woman to fall for the charms of a loser. Doubt you’ll be the last. But Joshy gives you a reason to be, and you’re better off without the loser. It was hard at first, but Joshy’s a good kid, does okay at school too. He’ll go somewhere, do something with his life, you hope.
You were getting on with your life, minding your own business when this guy walks in. There’s something familiar about him, something unsettlingly familiar.
He comes in, wanders confidently over to the counter, smiles. “Hello Kat. Remember me?”
No you don’t remember him, not this man in front of you. But you’ve an idea where he’s come from. No-one calls you Kat these days. It’s Kathy. You’ve not been Kat since – well – not since back then, not in the sixteen years since you left home.
Except you didn’t leave, did you? You were thrown out.
“Sorry, no. you must be mistaken. Now, can I get you a coffee or something? I’m busy working, see.”
He looked at you, you looked at him. He smiled knowingly, and that’s when you realise this must be Billy. But you don’t let on you know, just watch as he walks casually out of the place, pausing at the door to read something on there.
Of course, cousin Billy would only have been a kid back then. Now he’s a young man. How old would he be? As you remember it, he was 5 years younger than you. That’d make him 24 or thereabouts. Good looking young man. Pity you can’t get to know him.
“Who was that?” asks Kieran, your boss. He’s quite protective of you Kieran.
“No-one.” Kieran doesn’t believe you, raises a questioning eyebrow. “Someone who thought he recognised me from way back.”
“And did he?” You’ve always been cagey about your past. There’s a few that do know. No need for Kieran to know though. He’s just your boss and you need this job so you’ll work hard to keep it. Ah, what the hell.
“I reckon it’s my cousin. Not seen him in years.”
“Is he going to be trouble?”
“Billy? Don’t think so. Don’t know. He was only about eight when I last saw him.”
“So what happened?”
“Long story. Look, there’s customers.”
Customers, yeah, any excuse. Because you don’t want to tell that story, go back there.
You manage to keep busy the rest of the afternoon, though part of you wonders what the hell Billy wanted. Was it just a coincidence he came in? Had he seen you and recognised you, came in on the off chance? Somehow you didn’t think so. It’d been so long.
When you leave, early evening, he’s there waiting. Ah, that’s what he was looking at on the door, closing time.
“Kat, I need to talk to you.”
“Well, sorry. I don’t know who you think I am, but I’ve got to pick my son up.” You walk off, stalk off, but he follows, his long strides easily matching yours.
“My name’s not Kat.”
“But it used to be, didn’t it?”
You can’t lie. You stop, square up to him. There’s still plenty of people here. If necessary, you can scream.
“Look,” he says, not meeting your gaze. “I just came to tell you your step-dad’s died.”
You pause. You’ve hated her for so long, so deeply, you’d completely forgotten about him. There had been a time when you’d been his little princess, when you used to look forward to him taking you on his knee, holding you tight. She’d been jealous of the attention he paid you.
That was before the arguments, before the beatings, before…
Well, just before.
“What do she want from me? Expecting me to pay for the funeral?”
You start walking again, not waiting for an answer. It’d be just typical for that scum to come round if she wanted money, wouldn’t it.
“No, nothing like that. It’s just me mam thought you’d like to see your mum.”
You stop again. “My mum? My bloody mother? Well you can tell your mam that my mother can rot in hell for all I care.”
You start walking again, fast, Billy trying to keep up. “Mam said you didn’t know the whole story.”
“Oh, and I bet you do.” You’re getting angry now.
“No, all I know is that we went away on holiday and when we came back you’d gone.”
“And what did they tell you, eh? That I was a baddun? That I’d run off?”
“All I was told was that you’d been taken to live somewhere else.”
You pause again. “Is that what they told you? That I’d gone to live with someone else? I got chucked out. I was thirteen, and that bitch chucked me out on the street. Told me never to come back. Now piss off. I’ve got to pick up my son.”
You’ve tried so long to be strong, you hope he’ll leave you alone. You don’t want him to see the tears in your eyes as you remember that time, the woman you’d loved, the woman who changed, started shouting, beating you, sending you to your room. You keep walking, not looking back, remembering the look of hatred on her face when she threw you out, told you never to come back.
You still didn’t know why, still didn’t know what you had you done that was so bad as to deserve that. Did you want to know? You thought you’d put all that behind you, left it in the past. Did you really want to rake up all the past, find out why she’d changed back then?
Billy doesn’t follow. You wonder if that’s the last you’ll see of him. You’re confused, because you’d always liked Billy. He’d been a laugh back then, and he seems nice now. So part of you wants to see him again, but not if it means seeing her.
You pick up Josh, your Joshy, from Lily who picks him up from school on the days you work. You take her daughter Megan to school when she’s on an early shift. Hectic schedule for you both, but it works. You’re in a bit of a mood that night, but then remember what went on in the past. Whatever had gone on with your mum, she’d taken it out on you. Just because you’d been reminded of that past didn’t mean it was Josh’s fault.
“Any homework tonight Joshy?”
“I’ve got some reading to do. Will you listen to me please?”
And you do, running your fingers through his hair while his fingers follow the text in the book. He’s doing so well, tries so hard to make out the difficult words. You smile. You can’t imagine ever chucking him out.
You don’t sleep too well, even though there’s nothing you can do about it at two in the morning, but then you need to be up early. Lily drops off Megan who needs breakfast and you take both Joshy and Megan to school before going to the café.
Most customers this early usually want something to take away, but there’s a couple of customers sat in drinking a coffee. Billy, and a woman in her mid-forties.
“I’m busy,” you say as Billy gets up and you walk past him.
“Cousin?” Kieran asks.
“Yeah, as I said.”
“Seems like he’s pretty persistent. Who’s the woman with him?”
“Reckon she must be his mum, my aunt.”
“Well, they’ve been waiting since we opened.”
“I never asked them. And at least they bought a coffee. Hey, they did pay for it didn’t they? Didn’t claim mate’s rates because we used to be related?”
“Yes, they paid. Now go take this outside, get it sorted whatever it is.”
“But I’ve got work.”
Kieran is calm. “Look, I don’t know what this is all about, but take half an hour and go sort it.”
You pause, suddenly worried he might let you go. You can’t afford to lose this job, can’t afford to pay the bills without it.
“Look, if it worries you about taking a bit of time out, you can work over lunch. I’m not about to get rid of you for a one off. You’re a good worker.” As if he could read your mind.
You walk to the door. “Outside,” you mumble as you pass them. Whatever it is they have to say can be said outside. If things start to get heated, it’ll be away from the café.
There’s a bench outside. You sit on it and wait for Billy and his mum to join you. You still can’t think of her as your aunt.
As they sit, you ask “Did she send you?”
Aunt Dawn, ready for the question maybe, says calmly, “No. That was my idea. Your mum doesn’t even know I’ve come. I thought it was about time you knew the truth, now he’s gone.”
“I don’t need you telling me the truth. I know the truth, I lived it.”
“But the why? Do you know the why?”
And you don’t. So you say nothing. And she tells you.
First she tells you the part you know, the vicar that found you wandering the streets shortly after you’d been chucked out, how he was walking his dog, how he found you a place to stay with a couple who became your foster parents.
Then she tells you the bits you don’t know, the fact that the vicar didn’t even have a dog, didn’t live that close either. How convenient that he and not anyone else had been there.
But that’s how she’d planned it, your mother.
Your aunt asks how often social services were involved in your case, and when you answer that you’d never seen anyone, she makes you wonder why?
And then she tells you why your mother beat you, why she sent you to your room.
Why she eventually threw you out.
It was because of him. Your step-dad, the one who always liked to take you on his knee, who liked to squeeze you a little too tight, who’s kiss on the cheek lingered a little too long.
By the time your mum realised he was a wrongun, a bully, he’d already got his feet firmly under the table and he wasn’t going anywhere. It was clear to your mum that he wanted you for more than a step-daughter, so she’d send you to your room at night to keep you away from him, and when there was no other way, she threw you out, making arrangements with the vicar to pick you up and find a suitable home.
She made you hate her so that you wouldn’t try to go back.
You think back now to that look on her face. Those eyes. You’d taken it for hatred. Or was it desperation? Desperation to get you away?
It broke her heart, your aunt said, to send you away like that.
They leave soon after. You won’t go to your step-dad’s funeral, but you do agree to meet your mum at a later date. It won’t be a happy ever after, no falling into each other’s arms, promising to get together regularly. You’re not even sure you’ll tell her about Joshy. You certainly won’t be taking him along. But you’ll go, try to determine exactly what it is you saw in those eyes, hatred or desperation?