“Hello, Mum,” he answered giving his dear old mother a hug. His smile was sincere at that point, unlike before in the Moors when it had just been he and I, “how are you?”
“Oh, I’m perfectly well, my dear boy. But never mind me; it’s you who you should be concerned about. Look at you! You’re completely soaked to the bone! Come on in and sit by the fire.” She ushered Marc into the living room, completely disregarding my presence in the hallway. I knew she wasn’t my biggest fan but I thought she would have at least been the slightest bit concerned for me too. If not me, at least James, right?
I held James in my arms close to my chest as he slept. I’d managed to keep him more or less dry yet managed to do the opposite to myself. I was dripping on the doormat. I kicked my soaked, muddy trainers off – you couldn’t tell they had once been white – and tiptoed up the stairs, so not to leave a muddy trail from the moist dirt on the hem of each of my trouser legs; Teresa would not be impressed with me if I’d done that.
Once at the top of the stairs, I turned left and gently pushed open the first door on the right to James’ bedroom, not bothering to give the light switch a flick as I entered. Like the rest of the house, it was decorated in a homely, cottage style décor consisting of blue gingham patterns, white furnishings – including a classic white wooden rocking chair – and many blue, yellow and cream stuffed toys arranged randomly around the room.
I crossed the room, which was dimly lit by the landing light, to the white metal crib that sat before the window, framed with pastel blue curtains and blue gingham pull backs. It was late and the previous storm was subsiding allowing the summer night’s sky to spread across the Scottish countryside. James stirred subconsciously in my arms. I kissed his forehead and carefully began to take his jacket and shoes off, dropping them to the wooden floor below. They dropped silently, causing no noise that could be heard from the room below. I figured that one nights’ sleep in his everyday clothes wouldn’t hurt so I lay him down in his cot, pulling his blanket over him and up to his chin.
He yawned before curling into a ball on his side and snoring subtly. I smiled to myself. I loved to watch him sleep; he looked so peaceful and innocent. It was fascinating. I wondered what his dreams must be like living in a place like this and seeing such beautiful surroundings and meeting so many interesting people. I wondered whether he dreamed about me or about Ben at all. Did he honestly know who we were? Or were we people that he just knew?
I bent down to pick up the jacket and shoes I’d dropped and turned to face the door as I stood back at my full height. As I looked up I was startled by the silhouette of a man at the door.
“Sorry,” he murmured gruffly; it was Marc, “didn’t mean the scare you.” He didn’t sound genuine in his voice but it was too late for us to backchat each other and make smarmy comment about one another.
“You didn’t scare me. I just didn’t expect anyone to be there, that’s all.” I placed the jacket and shoes down on the white wooden dresser top and made my way to the door. Marc moved back out onto the landing and out of my way. I shut the door quietly behind me, turned around to see Marc’s face reasonably close to my own. It made me jump. He didn’t say anything this time. He just… looked at me… stared at me. I felt quite uncomfortable under his gaze. The distance between us was too close for comfort, yet he did not move. Even when he blinked it was merely just for a split second.
“Um, thanks,” I said, thinking of something from the top of my head to break the awkward silence that lay between us, “for driving us back, I mean. I only just realised I hadn’t thanked you yet.” He took a deep breath in through his nose, not changing his stern looking expression, and took a step backwards. I suddenly felt much more at ease in the situation now that the distance was further apart than before.
“It was no problem,” he replied in the usual tone he spoke in when I was around, “I can be useful when I want to be.”
“Well it was very much appreciated. I don’t know what I’d done if you hadn’t have arrived when you did; most likely stay out all night and walk back in the morning when the rain had stopped.”
“No you wouldn’t, you would have waited and waited and waited for someone to drive by. You can tell you’re that sort of person just by looking at you.” He answered, quickly. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or not. It sounded like an insult yet, at the same time, it also sounded like a general comment. Despite my conspiracies, I ignored the comment and attempted to smile genuinely, though it was hard to smile at someone I didn’t particularly take a fancying to in the first place.
“All the same, thank you. Goodnight.” I manoeuvred my way around him in the direction of the guest room I was sleeping in, which was at the far end of the corridor next to the bathroom.
“Aren’t you going to say goodnight to your mother? You still haven’t seen her to say that you’re back yet.” He asked, turning to my direction yet not making eye contact, unlike just before. Bewildered by the sudden interest in me I replied:
“I’m sure she’ll find out eventually when she sees my shoes by the front door,” I took hold of the door knob and turned it slightly before turning back to face Marc, “why are you up here anyway? I would have thought you’d be spending the evening with your parents after being away for so long. Its Glasgow you’re studying at, right? I’m sure I can remember Jerry telling me at some point.”
“Yes, medicine, and I can talk to my parents in the morning when we’ve all had some much needed sleep. And my reason for being up here was to go to my bedroom. However, it appears other arrangements have been made.”
“Oh? Why’s that then?” I asked.
“You’re sleeping in it.” He replied with no genuine emotion.
“Oh, well I’m sorry about that but it’s the room I’ve slept in every time I’ve come to visit. I’m sure if you’re parents had known of your plans to visit they would have made other arrangements for me such as sharing with my mother.” Neither one of us spoke for a brief moment. At a guess, neither of us exactly knew what would be appropriate at that given moment. I bit the inside of my lip and dropped my head the peer at my wet socks.
“How long are you staying?” he asked, taking a couple large steps forward. This end of the corridor was darker and it showed on his face as his features became much more prominent against the shadows on his face.
“The summer,” I answered, looking back up to him and crossing both of my arms across my chest, “and Ben – James’ father – will be joining us mid August.”
“Well, if I’d have known the whole lot of you were staying I wouldn’t have bothered making the journey myself.” He answered, leaning one arm against the bathroom door frame beside me.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, feeling offended by his comment, “I have a right to see my son, just like you have the right to see your parents.”
“I’m at University, so I have a right to visit my parents when I can whereas you… you handed your baby to a couple you hardly knew and left him with them. Some mother you are to leave your child with somebody else… a completely different country, even.” I was in complete and utter shock. How dare he talk to me like that… how dare him! What gave him the right to accuse me of being a bad mother to a child – my child – that I loved with all my heart? He had no right at all!
“You have no right to accuse me of being a bad mother when you don’t even know the half of it,” I replied sternly. I didn’t want to raise my voice and start a commotion on the cottage landing, it wasn’t worth it, “I was fifteen when I found out I was pregnant with him and sixteen when I had him. I knew that if I wanted what was best for him I would need to finish my exams and get the best possible grades I could in order to give him the best he deserves.
“I love James with all my heart and to hear someone like you criticising my choices is ridiculous. You don’t know anything about being a parent!”
“No, I don’t, but I still understand what makes a good one. I’ve had plenty of years to admire my own parents’ efforts. They’ve gone through so much in their years of being parents… trauma beyond belief. They watched their child die before he’d even turned a year old. Although I can’t remember it, they must have been devastated. I’ve been told by my brother and sisters how they were like – especially mum – after it happened and it was bad. Mum was a mess.
“And then, fifteen years later, you turn up in your little situation and rely on them to raise your unborn child. When mum phoned to tell me I said she was mad but she already had her heart set on it. She wanted to look after a little baby so much as it had been so long since she’d been robbed of her last baby.
“If you hadn’t made things worse already, you ended up having a boy and naming him James… after the baby they’d lost. I came to see them once when you and your mother were back in England and mum was just crying in the armchair with him in his arms. She said it took her right back… that he even looked like him… her James. She became obsessed, hardly ever let dad near him. It was her new obsession… still is.” The expression on Marc’s face was confusing. It was somewhere between that of anger and also confusion, as if he couldn’t make up his mind how he felt about the whole thing. I didn’t know what to make of it all.
“You’ve made a valid point, Marc,” I noted, “and I take your thoughts into account. However, I feel that what I do for my son is what I think will be best for him, despite what anyone thinks. I’m his mother and I always will be. I don’t care what your mother does when I’m not around, so long as she’s doing a good job in looking after him in the mean time; which I know she does.
“There’s no questioning Teresa and Jerry’s parenting skills – they’ve raised four kids in the past, including you, after all – and I wouldn’t want my James to be with anyone but them. Yes, your mother can get a little too maternal towards him, but I expected that from the beginning and I knew that it was something I was going to have to accept.
“Now, if you’re done lecturing me on how bad a parent I am I would like to go to bed with as little rage in my system as possible, if that’s not too much trouble for you.” Marc frowned and heaved a heavy sigh. He removed his hand from the door frame it had been resting on previously and let it hang by his side with the other, “good night, Marc.”
“Good night.” He murmured under his breath before striding across the landing and back down the stairs. I took a deep breath in to be rid of any bad energy I held in my mind before turning the door knob, pushing the door open and switching the light on. I shut the door behind me after entering the guest bedroom, which I now knew had previously been Marc’s old bedroom before moving to Glasgow for University, and stood against the door with my head resting against the heavy wood. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in through my nose and another out through my mouth.
This latest encounter with Marc had been both awkward and uncalled for. I’d done nothing wrong to provoke his verbal attack against me and truly believed I didn’t deserve the insults he’d thrown at me.
I put to down to being merely a clash of two completely different functioning personalities. It was something both of us would have to put up with as neither would change easily or willingly.