Chapter Twenty Seven: Natural, Sensual Thing

My concern for Fliss tends to waver according to whether she appears to be having a good day or a bad day. Some days she mopes in her room, and is quiet and subdued, but other days she has Meelan and Kylie round, or they go out in Chorlton or Bolton together. They hold noisy, girly, sleepovers every few weeks or so, and on those nights, I know that I can relax and not worry about her. When I am not worrying about Fliss I seem to spend almost every minute of every day thinking about Fergus; have I ever loved anyone as intensely, as urgently, as happily as I love him? I don’t think so, and yet, I know, deep down, that there is risk attached, as there is every time. I love the way he touches me… it took so long for me to reach a point whereby I felt safe enough with him to let him so much as take hold of my hand, and every touch, every caress, means so much to me now. Ours is a slow relationship in some ways, perhaps, because of me, but I am a girl who obsesses over the little details, and his hands on my skin, his lips on mine, his breath on my face, mean more than I can ever say; he isn’t just touching me; he is teaching me to trust, and to love, again.

  Christmas was quiet this year, with everyone going their separate ways once more before re-convening in the New Year. 2003 promises to be a lively year, and for the first time that I can remember, it was Flora and Katy who were distracted at our band meeting last week, not Fliss. We were supposed to be meeting to discuss our next round of recording sessions, but Flora and Katy, naturally, felt that the war in Iraq was more important.  Fliss had made the mistake of saying, quite early into the proceedings, that America would bomb Iraq even if Britain didn’t; protests or no protests.  Katy had gazed at her with an expression of pity, and Fliss and I had lapsed into a guilty silence; a silence that did not lift, even once we had left the house.

  On the Sunday, Fergus and I watched the news with gloomy expressions.  When the report on the Anti-War march in London was shown, we fell silent; despite the downbeat narration, I found myself feeling strangely moved by the sheer number of people who had turned out for it, and yet… why didn’t I march against the war? I don’t trust George Bush, or Tony Blair, I don’t believe that the war in Iraq will be a war against terrorism, or that it has much to do with any alleged weapons of mass destruction… yet, I cannot find it within myself to go out and publicly proclaim my disapproval.  Fliss, I believe, feels something similar: Both of us would rather not see this war take place, yet we feel utterly powerless to stop it.

  Perhaps the reason why I can’t do is, at least partly, because I have had other things to worry about lately. Money has become an issue once again, mainly because I was forced to leave my job last month. I shouldn’t have done, I know, but I just couldn’t cope with it anymore. I had been keeping my increasingly prevalent migraines at bay for about a month when they began to escalate in frequency and severity, and I had to move onto stronger, and more frequent, medication. I was discussing this, and the endemic nature of the bullying and sexual harassment culture at work, one dinnertime, when I suddenly began to experience that familiar pounding headache, and blurred vision that I know so well. Nat found my pills for me, and I was just about to take them when I started to hyperventilate, and the dizziness got worse; what followed, according to Nat and my G.P, was a full scale panic attack. Nat drove me home and stayed with me until I was calm again, and she also phoned work to inform them that I wouldn’t be in the office that afternoon, or, indeed, for the rest of the week. She wanted to phone Fergus, but I didn’t want to worry him, so she stayed with me until the pain and dizziness receded. When I was at last able to see and think clearly, we talked. The first thing she said was, “I’m worried about you, Maggie May, you shouldn’t be putting yourself through this, even if you and Fliss need the money, there’s got to be a better way to earn some.”

  I shook my head; I felt limp and exhausted as I lay on the sofa, covered in sweat, and my eyes and head still hurt. “What else can I do? I don’t have qualifications; all I can do is unskilled work.”

  “Why don’t you go back to Catering or market research?”

  “I will, when we’ve enough money to stay here for another six months.”

  “Can’t you get some money from Sandra Dee?”

  “Why? It’d be like getting a bank loan.”

  She smoothed the limp, sweat darkened strands of hair away from my face, as she advised, “Let Fergus take care of you tonight, and don’t go back to work tomorrow, go and see your doctor instead. I’ll go with you.” She added, seeing my reluctance.

  I did as she said. My G.P signed me off with stress for a month, and I posted my resignation letter the same day. Nat took me to the Flea and Firkin, and I met Tasha, the bar girl who used to work at the same firm as me. We exchanged horror stories as Nat quietly sipped her pint of Guinness, and I left feeling strangely free. But the next day reality kicked in, and I had to face the fact that I was unemployed again. It’s not even like I can sign on for Jobseekers Allowance – you can’t if you leave a job voluntarily.

  What has made life so strangely wonderful, despite it all, has been Fergus, and his constant place in my thoughts. Nat never told him about my panic attack, and I only gave him the vaguest details, but he has been wonderful about it. He stayed with me the night after it had happened, and was very attentive and loving, very gentle and kind.

    “You’re very lucky,” commented Jenny one evening last week as he left the room to make drinks.

  “Hhmm?” I hadn’t really been listening.

“You and Fergus, anyone with half an eye could see he’s devoted to you.”

  I blushed, but I didn’t say anything; I’m never quite sure how to take that kind of remark, and if he is devoted to me, there’s a part of me that wonders if that’s right or not. There’s a part of me that thinks I don’t merit that degree of love, not from him, not from anyone.

  Jenny had chosen to come round to the flat on band business, but she’d done so out of hours, and on a night when Fliss was out with Kylie and Meelan and their friends in Chorlton, supposedly raiding skips, or “skipping” as it’s also known, an activity that has recently supplanted charity shopping in their collective list of enthusiasms. “I came to talk about Fliss really,” she confessed as she sipped her tea. “I’m a little worried about her, she doesn’t seem very focused at the moment, and I was wondering if her flakiness was a recent thing or not, or whether she’s always been a bit dizzy.”

  “Fliss is usually very focused,” I confessed, “and she’s usually very good as regards the band, but she’s been up in the clouds for months now.”

  “Any idea why?” probed Jenny, keenly.

  I hesitated, “Well…”

  “Fliss has a secret girlfriend,” said Fergus, with a weary sigh, “that’s why.”

  “Why a secret girlfriend?” pondered Jenny, mainly for her own benefit.

  “Erm, because whoever it is doesn’t want anyone finding out?” I ventured, before going on to relate our experience of the girl on our drainpipe, and how we had given chase but failed to catch her. 

  “Closeted then,” sighed Jenny, “oh dear…” she seemed to be thinking as she let the information sink in. Then, she got to her feet, saying briskly as she did so, “Right, I must be off.” She turned to me, “You will keep me up to speed on this, won’t you?” It wasn’t really a question.

  I hesitated, and she leapt on it.  “Well?”

  “It’s like spying,” I said at last, “Fliss said it was none of my business, and I’m inclined to think she’s right.”

  “She was two hours late for a photo shoot last week,” said Jenny, with a trace of exasperation, “and she’s regularly an hour or so late for band practice as well, from what Flora’s told me, so I’d say it’s become band business, wouldn’t you?”

  I nodded gloomily, “Well, when you put it like that…”

  We parted on an agreement that I would let her know anything important, but I was very uneasy in my role of spy.

  As I lay in Fergus’ arms later that night, I asked him, “Would you talk to Jenny about me, if I was Fliss?”

  There was a long silence, and then he said, “You mean, if I were you?”

  “Yes, I think so.”

  “I don’t know, I don’t think it’s that straightforward.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, I think you feel naturally protective of Fliss simply because she’s Fliss, and you think she would be particularly easily hurt. If it were Nat…”

  “Nat’s different,” I said firmly, “she can take care of herself.”

  “Yes, that’s what I meant.”

  There was a long silence, and then I said, “If I told you I loved you, would you be surprised?”

  “No,” he absently kissed my nose, “but I’d be very pleased.”

  I snuggled up against him, “I wonder what will happen,” I murmured drowsily.

  “Hopefully Fliss’ mystery girl will come to her senses.” He replied.

  But it wasn’t Fliss that I had meant.

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