Christopher burst into laughter. “You fainted? When Mum kissed you? That’s hilarious!”
Harry looked at me, obviously expecting me to laugh as well. I shook my head. “I wouldn’t really be able to talk. I fainted three times yesterday night.”
“Three?” Harry laughed and Roxanna joined in, too. Harry turned to Christopher. “My dear boy, what have you been doing to your poor girlfriend?”
Christopher shrugged. “I guess she’s your long-lost daughter.” We all laughed at that.
‘I wouldn’t want to be, though,’ I thought to Christopher. ‘We’d hardly be able to date.’
He grinned. ‘We’d find a way.’ He gazed intently at me, conveying love merely by staring.
“Hey, lovebirds!” Harry called. “Do you want to listen to the rest of the story?”
We turned to face him, nodding.
“To my utter surprise, Rosie remained Kevin’s girlfriend. At home time, I was standing at the bus stop, when she came up to me and greeted me.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked me.
‘Never been better,’ I told her.
‘I’m sorry for what Kevin did,’ she murmured.
‘Don’t apologise for that jerk.’
She winced. ‘I am his girlfriend.’
Then her voice dropped down. It shook as she confided in me.
‘I’m scared of what he’ll do to me if I leave him.’
‘Oh, Rosie,’ I groaned. ‘He’s no good for you. In fact, no guy here is good for you. They’re all jerks. Don’t let him mess you about.’
She looked at me pityingly, as if I didn’t understand something vitally important.
‘Bye, Harry.’ She gripped my hand before walking off.”
Harry sighed. “You were so stubborn, Roxy.”
“Oi,” she said, amused. “That was Rosie. If I remember correctly, that night I delivered a rose to your bedroom with a note saying, ‘Thank you for this afternoon. Each night, 7pm, the beach. I’ll be waiting for you.’”
“Fair point. Roxy was pleased I’d stood up to Kevin. I asked what Rosie saw in him. What did you say, dear? ‘He had his moments.’”
“You must understand,” Roxanna told us, “that it was difficult for Rosie. Sometimes, Kevin was a great guy: friendly and gentle, but in public, he had his image to keep up. ‘No one respects a namby-pamby’ was what he told me. I wish I could believe he’d have changed if Rosie had said she would do.”
“Life got difficult for both of us,” Harry mused. “Kevin once saw Roxy and me kissing on the beach. He used to hurt her a lot, even though Rosie insisted she hadn’t been there. I was always there to stick up for her, though, even if I did get knocked out a lot.”
“It finally ended when he met Rosie on the beach one day,” Roxanna continued. “You tell them, Harry. I don’t remember the daytime so clearly.”
“‘Rosie, this has to stop,’ I told her. ‘He can’t keep hurting you like this.’
She gave me that infuriating pitiful look.
‘Yes, Rosie, you can. He has no right to treat you like a common animal!’
‘He loves me!’
I swore. ‘I can’t just stand by and watch you get hurt, over and over again. It’s painful!’
Here, she looked at me. ‘Painful?’
‘Yes, Rosie. I care about you.’
‘But, I’m not worth it.’
‘Is that what he tells you? How DARE he!’
And I couldn’t control my anger anymore. I’d had it with his cruelty and her passiveness. I just exploded.
‘He is the luckiest boy in the world and he tells you you’re not worth it?! Who does he think he is?! Does he think it’s cool to destroy some poor girl he thinks he likes? Does he even love you at all?’
I burst out sobbing. My voice quieter, I said, ‘If you were mine, I’d hate myself if I so much as briefly insulted you in anger. If you were mine, I’d wish I could shower you with rubies and diamonds.’ I swore again. ‘I love you.’ And I sat down on the wet sand and stared desolately at the waves ahead of me, desiring them to swallow me up.’
Throughout all this, Rosie hadn’t said a word.
I looked up and she was crying softly. I jumped up, alarmed. I hugged her the way I’d hugged Roxy.
‘I’m sorry, Rosie. I didn’t mean to upset you.’
She put a hand up to signal me to stop.
‘You could never upset me, Harry. You are the most decent guy I’ve ever met. I’ve upset myself. You’re right. He’s all wrong for me. And, Harry, I think I love you too.’ She burst out sobbing.
I didn’t care that it was wrong of me. I leant down and kissed her on her lips.”
Harry sounded a bit choked, and Roxanna was staring up at him lovingly.
‘My dove, your cheeks are wet. Have you been crying?’ came Christopher’s voice.
‘I wouldn’t doubt it,’ I replied. I suddenly yawned; exhausted by the roller coaster ride of emotions Harry had taken us on.
“Finish up quickly, Dad. Terri’s exhausted.”
“I can see.”
Harry paused to clear his throat.
“The following day, at lunchtime, Rosie and I walked up together to confront Kevin.
‘Kevin, you’re dumped,’ she told him, fierce resolution is her eyes.
‘What?’ He sounded incredulous. ‘You’re dumping me? No one dumps me.’ His tone was menacing.
‘Get a life,’ she told him. I was very proud of her.
‘You’re going to regret that,’ he threatened, his eyes glinting maliciously.
It was my turn to say something.
‘No, she won’t. If you ever lay so much as even a finger on her, I promise I will break your nose.’ Something about the way I said it made Kevin think it was a threat to be taken seriously, even though he was two years older than me. He left Rosie well alone after that.
And that was the story of mine and Roxy’s relationship.”
Roxanna stood up and kissed Harry before stretching. Something about her gait was distinctly catlike. I imagined a long black tail protruding from the base of her spine.
Christopher chuckled beside me.
“Both of you to bed now,” she said, before going to turn on a radio behind Harry. “Terri in the guest bedroom, Toph.”
Toph? I wondered.
'Her nickname for me' came the helpful voice in my head.
‘Toph’ and I stood up. I was really tired, though, and my knees gave way under me. Christopher caught and steadied me. He looked intently into my eyes and said, “Sleep, Terri.”
The next morning, I awoke to find myself in a luxurious four poster bed draped with indigo curtains decorated with shiny silver stars.
“And the crazy girl wakes up,” someone chuckled. I sat up to see Christopher perched on the end of the bed. No, wait. That was Charlie. I was extremely glad that Charlie wasn’t psychic; otherwise he’d have heard an involuntary, delighted yell of ‘Christopher!’
“Morning, darling,” I greeted him cheerfully, and then hoped I wasn’t in too romantic a mood.
“Darling?” He snorted. “That’s new.”
I was about to argue when I remembered Charlie hadn’t known me properly until yesterday.
“Did you have a nice sleep?” he asked.
“It was amazing, thanks. I dreamt about your dad and Roxanna and...”
“Roxanna?” Charlie interrupted.
I bit my lip. Oh dear. Maybe I shouldn’t stay here too often, I thought.
“Who’s Roxanna?” He snorted. “Do you, perchance, mean my mother?”
I pretended to have forgotten Rosie’s name.
“What’s your mother’s name, then?”
“Rosie,” he laughed.
I laughed too, sighing with relief internally.
Charlie shook his head. “I suppose you’ve only known her since yesterday.”
I nodded eagerly. That was true. I could afford to make minor mistakes at this stage of the relationship.
Relationship. I remembered the way Roxanna had looked lovingly at Harry last night. I sighed. I grinned as I also remembered the wedding scene from my imagination. I stared into the distance, seeing myself in wedding dresses whilst hearing Christopher’s voice saying, ‘Stop what? Loving you? Imagining you in wedding dresses?’
A similar, but not nearly half as enchanting, voice broke into my reverie.
“What are you thinking about?” He sounded greatly amused.
“Oh, just things from my dream.” I looked at him.
He frowned. “Terri, have you had any boyfriends before me?”
“No,” I answered, puzzled. “Why?”
He ignored my question. “Are there any famous celebrities you like?”
“Not in the way I think you’re referring to.” I frowned. “Why?” I repeated.
This time he did answer. His response was slow and measured. He seemed to have difficulty voicing what was troubling him.
“Well, and I can’t be sure, and of course, you’ll tell me if I’m wrong, but I could’ve sworn you mentioned the name ‘Christopher’ in your sleep.”
I bit my lip and gulped. “Christopher?”
He gazed searchingly at my face. His eyes burned with intense curiosity with a hint of worry in them.
“Tell me, Terri, who’s Christopher?”