Chapter Forty Four: New Years Eve

 Fliss and I – for various reasons – had planned a quiet New Years Eve in, catching up on the final series of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ on video.  It wasn’t so much that we couldn’t afford to go out as that neither of us felt up to it.  Fliss had arrived home via a hellishly convoluted train journey on the 30th, and I had arrived home from mums on the 27th.  Neither of us discussed our respective Christmas’, but I could tell within a few minutes of her arriving home that Fliss’ family Christmas had been about as enjoyable as mine had been.  God knows what Katy’s was like…

  Fliss made hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows, and the two of us settled down on the sofa with Marmalade and our videos.  Before too long, Marmalade was asleep in my lap and the heat from our gas fire was making me feel drowsy.  In the glow of the firelight, I saw Fliss reach for the remote control and pause Buffy mid kick, “Did you hear something?” she asked.

  I shook my head.

  She was about to press play on the remote when there was a distant knock at the door.  Fliss stopped the tape, and got to her feet.  The cat, sensing something was up, jumped down from my lap, and followed Fliss down the stairs.

  A couple of minutes later, the living room door opened once more to reveal… Nat.  But it was a Nat that I had never seen before.  Her hair was hanging loose and seemingly un-brushed, her clothes looked as though they had been pulled on with no thought as to whether they matched or not, her face was devoid of make-up, and her eyes were puffy, as though she had been crying.  She was clutching a carrier bag.  Behind her, staggering under the weight of two suitcases was Fliss.  I watched with increasing apprehension as Nat tottered over to our armchair, reached into her carrier bag, and produced a bottle of gin from which she took a large, desperate swig.  More shakily, she reached into the pocket of her jeans for her cigarettes and lighter.  The carrier bag clinked glassily as it dropped from her fingers to the floor, and her fingers shook as she lit her cigarette and took a wobbly drag.

  We waited, expectantly.

  “She threw me out,” she snarled, bitterly, as she exhaled, “She said… she said she never meant for things to go as far as they did,” she choked a little, and then took another swig of gin, “She told me she didn’t love me, that she never loved me, she just wanted to have me.”

  Fliss winced.

  Tears were running down Nat’s cheeks as she continued, “She was everything I was looking for! Everything I wanted, I need her!” She wailed, “I never needed anyone before!”  She took another swig from her bottle, and then dragged fiercely on her cigarette, “God, I’ll be a laughing stock at work after this,” she growled, “but I don’t care about that,” her voice wobbled, and then became a thin wail, “I just want her!”

  “What about Dylan?” I asked quietly a few minutes later.

  She violently shook her head, “Oh no!” her cigarette butt smouldered, and she used it to light a fresh cigarette, “that’s over, it was an all or nothing choice…”

  “But he would take you back,” I reasoned, “if he knew it was over, I’m sure he would…”

  Nat shook her head emphatically once more, “No,” she said, firmly, “you weren’t there, you don’t know what happened, what he saw, what he walked into: He walked in on Amber going down on me for fucks sake!”

  I could feel myself blushing as I looked away.

  “God, Maggie!” snapped Nat, “You are such a prude…”

  “I am not!” I protested, furiously.

  Nat and Fliss exchanged a knowing smirk.

  “I’m not!” I cried, “I am not a prude!”

  “Then why are you so angry?” asked Nat coolly, her eyes mocking.

  I’ll give you angry, I thought furiously as I stormed out of the room.

  I was stonily calm when I returned, about an hour later.  Nat had finished most of the booze by then, and was lying on the sofa, a fag trailing from her fingers, and her head in Fliss’ lap.  Her expression was maudlin as she half opened her eyes, and slurred; “He doesn’t love me, Maggie, not like I love Amber.  He finds me amusing, and he treats me as someone to look after him and be there for him to fuck, but he doesn’t love me.”

  “Then why did you marry him?”

  “Because I thought he loved me!”

  “Did you love him?” I demanded.

  “No,” she sighed, her expression tired and confused, “not really.”  She squinted up at me, “He wanted stability, and it was what I thought I wanted too.  I was sick of feeling like everyone else had their lives sorted when I didn’t, and of being surrounded by happy straight people… Amber was good to me, I thought it could last, I was wrong.”  A melancholy expression settled over her face as she said, “I thought I’d met my Fabrice when he walked into Juvenile Hell that night, instead,” she sighed, “he just turned out to be another Anthony Kroesig.”

  “What is she on about?” whispered Fliss as I took Nat’s cigarette away from her, and stubbed it out in my ashtray.

  “I don’t know,” I whispered back.

  Her arm rested on Nat’s shoulder as she whispered soothing words into her ear.

  “It’s no use, Fliss,” said Nat sadly, “there isn’t going to be a happy ending for me.  At least Adrienne loved you, Amber never loved me at all; I was just another conquest.”

  Fliss kissed her just above her ear, “I love you, Nat” Nat began to cry, “Shh…” hushed Fliss, “What’s the matter?” but Nat didn’t reply, she just sobbed harder.  When at last she stopped, she whispered something to Fliss that I didn’t quite catch.

  “What did she say?” I asked quietly.

  Fliss’ eyes were wide as she looked up from Nat’s horizontal frame, “She says she’s pregnant.”

  None of us said anything for a few minutes, although the words ‘Oh shit’ hung in the air as plainly as if anyone had spoken them.

  “Oh Nat” soothed Fliss at last, “why didn’t you say something before?”

  I felt numb as I asked, “What will you do?”

  “Get rid of it,” said Nat, savagely.

  “Does he know?” I asked quietly.

  “No” she snapped, “and he never will,” her eyes were icily determined as she said, “it’s best for everyone this way.”

  I was unable to sleep that night.  My mind was buzzing with all of the revelations that the night had brought me.  I had never felt sorry for Amber, I realised, and I still couldn’t.  My heart went out to Nat, as it always has done, but I wasn’t sure about how I felt about Dylan.  There were issues there that I just didn’t want to think about, including my own feelings for him.

  At three a.m I got up and, figuring that Nat would probably be too drunk to wake up, made my way into the living room where Fliss and I had left her, comatose on the sofa, a couple of hours before.

  She wasn’t there.

  I felt the panic rise upwards from the pit of my stomach to my throat.  But her clothes were still there, as were her suitcases.  She couldn’t have gone far.

  I shivered as I made my way through to the kitchen.  I had pulled on my dressing gown, and was wearing a jumper over my two nightshirts, yet I still felt cold.  In their three pairs of socks, my feet felt like blocks of ice.  I put the kettle on and mixed coffee and sugar into a pool of milk in my mug.

  At the kitchen table, I clutched my drink in my numb hands and tried to think.  We are to re-commence recording at Twilight tomorrow, and then, as now, I wasn’t looking forward to it.  Since she returned from her week away, Jenny hasn’t tried to question me about my behaviour, but I know that she’s been watching me.  Normally she doesn’t attend every day of our recording because something always crops up at ‘NME’ to prevent her, but since our row, she seems intent on sticking it out to the end.  I find increasingly that I’m struggling to play up to my usual standard, yet everyone seems to have accepted this.  I don’t know why.  Maybe they wait until I’ve left every day and then the session drummer slips in as I slip out.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  If I could do it, I would be a dancer again, and leave Titanium Rose; they’ll probably sack me soon anyway.  It feels like months since we were last in the studio, and like years since I last saw Fergus, or even spoke to him.  He won’t phone me, and I can’t phone him, it’s like he was someone I loved once, a very long time ago, in another life maybe.  That time has gone now, and we no longer belong together.

I think I nodded out for a couple of hours there, I don’t know what happened exactly; one minute it was dark, the next minute, daylight.  I have never felt as alone in all my life as I have at this moment.

  Where was I? Nowhere probably.

  As I sat in that kitchen thinking, or not thinking, over a week ago now, I heard the sound of a door creaking open along the corridor.  There were footsteps, slow and hesitant, and then a series of thumps, followed by a crash.  I ran from the kitchen, my heart pounding in my chest, my head filled with a sudden sense of wrongness…and I saw Nat.  She was lying in a crumpled heap of black satin and red lace at the bottom of the stairs, and she was eerily still, the disquieting stillness of unconsciousness.