My heart fluttered inside my chest. Ben had said he loved me. Really, he loved me. I still couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it, and then wake up from a dream. But this wasn’t a dream. I’d told everyone my secret… and Ben loved me. Wow…
“Why did you do that?” he asked, interrupting the silence. I was still wrapped in his arms as the last of my tears dried up on his pastel blue shirt – I hoped it wasn’t too expensive, even though I’d made sure to wear waterproof mascara. I noticed the embroidered logo on the left hand side of it… sh-ugar it was expensive.
“Why did I do what?” I answered back, wanting to hear his voice once more.
“Tell everyone. You didn’t have to do that…”
“But I did,” I intercepted, pulling away to look him in the eye. His arms remained at my waist. His eyes glittered. Was he forcing back tears? No… surely not, “it was time to stop hiding in the dark and finally be true to myself.
“I’ve been living a lie for the past year and I couldn’t even be myself at some point. But now I can. It was time. You proved that to me.”
“But why like that? Why do it in front of all those people? Surely there were more ways to say…”
“It was the best way to explain everything. It sinks in more with paint than it does through words. I thought you of all people would know that, Ben.” I chuckled at myself for quoting Greg, sort of. Ben nodded.
“You’re right. The best storyteller would always come second best to the greatest painting.”
“That’s because the painting will always have every part of the story whereas the storyteller would miss something out each time they told the story again and again. A painting can never change.”
“Like our birthdays – September 3rd 1991 and January 7th 1992 – on the playing cards?”
“Exactly.” I informed him. I knew where this was going to end and I was ready for it. No longer afraid, I didn’t have to lie and keep secrets.
“So, March 20th 2008… that’s his birthday? The day Jamie was born?”
“The exact time he was born.”
“And 7lb 3oz?”
“His exact weight when he was born.” Ben’s eyes became wet and shiny. The fragile, transparent drops fell down his pink cheeks individually, gliding down delicately. I reached up and wiped them away, moulding the palm of my hand to fit the left side of his face.
“What’s the date today?” he murmured, closing his eyes.
“March 20th.” I replied. I watched his chest heave as he took a deep breath in and then sighed, opening his eyes again and smiling weakly.
“Today… today is his birthday.”
“Yes, the first of many,” I removed my hand from his face and took his left hand into my right, “would you like to officially meet your son?”
Ben hesitated at the front door, holding onto my hand tight. We’d driven in his car to my house where mum, the McFarlows and James, our son, waited for us.
“You’ll be fine, Ben,” I encouraged him, “you’ve been with him before.”
“But I didn’t know that he was mine then,” he answered, “it feels much more permanent now… because it is permanent…” I leaned up a pressed my lips to his to stop him getting worked up. He was nervous, anyone could see that.
“You’ll be fine,” I told him again, “you were great with him before and you’ll be great with him now. I believe in you.” I pushed open the front door and stepped inside, holding Ben’s hand as I did. He followed, breathing steadily in an attempt to clear away his nerves as much as possible.
The door to the living room was open. I walked in first and greeted Teresa, who was sat on the couch beside mum, and Jerry, who sat in the armchair, with a hug each. Ben gestured a wave to each of them from the doorway, too nervous to form a friendly greeting with words, as he fixed his gaze onto the small child in the centre of the room, gurgling and curling around with a butter yellow toy rabbit doll, hanging by its floppy ear, in his mouth, covered in dribble.
The last time Ben had seen James was in the hospital two months ago. He was now fully recovered and as happy as he was before the terrible ordeal. It was the first time I’d seen James since then too and I was ecstatic to see him again.
“There’s my James,” I exclaimed, in a baby voice, scooping him up into my arms and kissing his face all over. His hysterical laugh filled the room as his enjoyment was let loose. I glanced over at Ben, still frozen to the spot by the door, and smiled.
“It’s nice to see you again, Ben. It’s been a while,” mum asked. She’d not been able to come, as she’d had the meet Jerry and Teresa at the train station. Ben smiled weakly at her and edged into the room a little more, but not a lot. Mum knew why he was here though and what I’d planned for my presentation, after finally letting her in my cocoon of solitude. I’d told her everything and she’d been one hundred percent behind me, “how was the presentation, Casey?”
“It was good, thanks. Everything went perfect,” I answered. A quiet thud echoed on the laminated wood floor below me and I looked down to see the toy rabbit at my feet. James’ arms were stretching down to reach, but with fail, “James, who’s that over there?” I asked him, pulling his attention from the rabbit and pointing over to where Ben stood. He followed where my finger pointed and his eyes widened. He squealed with delight at the sight of Ben standing a mere few feet away from him and reached out toward him, forgetting about the rabbit completely.
“I think he wants you, laddie.” Jerry told Ben, smiling widely and nodding him over to where I stood, to encourage him over.
Ben noticed this and hastily paced himself to my side. I handed James over willingly from my arms and into his. He instantly wrapped his arms around Ben’s neck and stayed there, gurgling away.
“He likes you,” I told Ben, winking and smiling widely.
“Yeah,” he answered, pulling James’ arms carefully from his neck, so he could see his face, “gosh, he looks so much like his daddy. Apart from the hair and eyes, of course; he gets those from his mummy.” He smiled at me softly. I noticed Teresa looking over to where Jerry sat, with a look of confusion spread across her face. Neither of them looked a thing like James. By the expression on Jerry’s face, I could see that he understood, but Teresa remained baffled.
“Yeah, I think we make a good pair, you and me, don’t you think?” I said. Teresa’s mouth fell open.
“Definitely; he’s probably the best thing I’ve ever been a part of creating, don’t you think?”
“I don’t think we’d have been able to make a more handsome baby if we tried.”
“What? What’s going on?” Teresa asked, confused silly, “You’ve… told him? And he’s… he’s…”
“…Jamie’s father? Yes, that would be me.” Ben answered, wrapping a free arm around my shoulder with James, balancing on his hip, securely in the other. Teresa let out a tiny whimper before sitting back in her seat.
“You look like a proper family,” mum’s voice rang, admiring the little family that Ben, James and myself formed in front of her, “let me fetch the camera. I need to take a picture.” I sighed. She was acting like a typical mother, wanting to snap away at memories of her child growing up; something she’d not really taken a shine to when I was small. She’d grown as a mother throughout the past year and a half as she’d watched me do the same.
She soon came back with her digital camera and adjusted it to fit us all in perfectly. Ben and I got James to look over toward her and smiled for the picture. The flash just about blinded us, but it didn’t matter. James’ eyes fluttered open and shut, startled by the sudden change. We all gathered around behind mum, Teresa included, to look at the picture on the small screen on the camera. Mum was right, we did look like a proper family. It was nice.
“That’s one for the photo album,” Ben said, leaning in to kiss me. James was squashed between us and pushed our faces away, laughing his infectious laugh. Ben looked down at him and joined in with his laughter, kissing him on his forehead and hugging him, “Happy Birthday, James.”
James! He’d called him James! Finally! Now that was the perfect ending to a perfect introduction.