It cost me a great effort to go downstairs. I didn’t feel like eating. I didn’t want to see anyone. I couldn’t have cared less about spending time with the three people awaiting me. Well, maybe I could have.
They were already seated. Fred sat next to mum who sat opposite to Arthur. They looked up when I opened the cottage door and stepped outside. I kept my eyes fixed on the table, said “Hi.” and sat down next to Arthur. He raised one corner of his mouth in welcome. Mum ignored me – apparently she was still sulking. Fred gave me what was clearly supposed to be a forgiving smile and said “Hey, Mag.”
After that, they left me to myself, for which I was grateful. I kept my eyes on the piece of bread I was nibbling on. I wasn’t surprised at their behavior. Last time I’d lost my temper with mum, she hadn’t spoken to me for three days. I didn’t look at the others. I didn’t listen to their conversation. I stared up at the sky. It threatened rain with every cloud. This was Ireland after all. I turned my gaze on mum instead, watching her talk to Arthur. She was twisting her hands around her napkin, but otherwise she looked quite pleased. Her cheeks were glowing as she laughed at something he had just said. That was when I realized that Arthur was actually the first man mum had liked since… since Kindergarten? Really? Or had she had boyfriends and hidden them from me? But mum had always been there to drive me around and take me to dance recitals. How could she have had time? I wave of shame rushed over me. She’d always been there for me. She had sacrificed her love life to support her spoiled brat of a daughter. Oh god. I had been so blind. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, when a voice reached my ears.
I jumped. “Yes?”
“I was asking whether you enjoyed the party yesterday night?” The corners of Arthur’s mouth were twitching.
I blushed. “Oh, well – yeah, I suppose.”
“Getting drunk was certainly great fun for her.”, said mum coolly.
Arthur raised his eyebrows at her. “Don’t tell me you were all sober throughout your youth.”
“Excuse me?” Mum recoiled slightly as though something painful had hit her.
No. Not mum and Arthur.
“I’m sorry.” Pressing my hand to my mouth, I got up and walked swiftly from the table into the woods.
Tears had shot into my eyes without warning. Why did I have to ruin everything? I didn’t want mum and Arthur to start fighting, not even playfully. Not when I had only just realized how much she liked him. When I had just had a glimpse of who he really was, when he wasn’t the strange new man. He was someone who’d stick up for me. And mum.
Breathing heavily I leaned against a tree and let myself slide onto the ground. Right on cue, it began to rain. The little drops splashed onto my face, mingling with my tears. I swallowed and wiped them away.
Of course. I should’ve known he would come after me. I should’ve run farther. To the end of the world maybe.
“Are you alright?” Fred appeared from behind a tree, looking quite upset.
“No.” I got up slowly, pushing myself of the tree trunk.
“Okay.”, said Fred hesitantly. The great question mark was almost visible above his head. I took a step towards him. I kissed him.
It wasn’t my first kiss, but certainly my shortest. We drew apart before time had had the chance to turn into an eternity, staring at each other’s wide eyes and flushed cheeks.
“Okay”, Fred said again, as though trying out how the world felt in his mouth. It punctured the astounded silence around us, ending the moment as abruptly as it had begun.
“Did this make you feel better?”
I kissed him again before he had had time to feel stupid about saying this. I had no idea what had gotten into me (remainders of alcohol in my blood?), but I felt pleasantly warm was we walked back to the cottage hand in hand.
Mum and Arthur had disappeared; they were probably saving the food from the rain that was steadily turning into a downpour.
Without much fuss about continuing dinner we walked upstairs. I led the way into “my” bedroom and let myself fall onto the bed.
“We need to talk.”, I said, looking up at Fred who was standing in the doorway somewhat awkwardly. “Why don’t you close the door?”
When he had done so, Fred sat down on the other side of the bed and, after a moment’s hesitation, he kicked of his shoes and got comfortable. I felt goose bumps rising all over my body, followed by the sudden urge to start kissing him again.
“Did you go back to the party last night?”, I asked.
“Someone had to kick Dave’s ass.”
I grinned in spite of myself, but straightened my face almost at once. “I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have come with you. I ruined the evening.”
“Kind of.”, said Fred honestly. “But there were compensations.”
“You were kind of cute as a drunk. I enjoyed the part of you telling me to take of your clothes.”
I buried my face in my pillow. Argh! We fell silent. As a matter of fact, everything was silent. No sound could be heard from the ground floor of the cottage.
“Where have they gone?”, I asked, raising my head.
“They probably want to be alone.”, said Fred wisely. “They’re trying to escape your hormonal confusion… sorry, that was mean.”
No. It was true. I contented myself with giving him a burning look to cover up my embarrassment. Change of subject, please.
“What about your dad?”, Fred asked quietly. “Why isn’t he here?”
“He’s with his husband.” For a few seconds I reveled Fred’s look of absolute confusion. “He realized he was gay when I was about four. And then he met Laurie, my dad number two. He’s Irish, by the way.”
“Wow, a gay dad. That must’ve been hard to grasp at four.”
“Not really. My parents were cool about it. I mean sure, mum was sad for a while, but it was quite simple for me. Mummy and daddy like each other a lot, but daddy loves Laurie too. But of course, everyone loves Maggie most.”, I added, adopting a singsong voice.
“No surprises there.”, mumbled Fred.
“What about Arthur, then? Why’s he alone?”, I asked with glowing cheeks.
“His wife left him for another guy. He’s all down to earth and loves living here, but she wanted more glamour, I expect. She took his daughter too. He’s allowed to visit her every week.”
“Oh.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Poor Arthur.
“To her defense: Arthur’s a dreamer. He can be a little lax about everyday things… but he seems to like your mum a lot. I’ve never seen him smile so much.”
The rest of the evening passed away quite pleasantly. Finding a subject wasn’t difficult at all. It was like the kiss had removed the barriers between us. As the sky outside darkened, I was suddenly able to tell Fred about the ballet. I told him why things were difficult with mum and he talked about his family and about how his five siblings were all extremely respectable while he was studying applied computer sciences, which would, of course, lead him nowhere.
Sometime around that conversation, my hand slipped into his.
I awoke much later, my palm still warm and slightly sweaty, but – empty. Fred had gone.

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