Steve – 1
‘Mum’s had a stroke!’
Those are not words you want to hear when you answer a phone.
‘How bad is it?’ I asked, my heart starting to race.
‘It’s not life threatening,’ said my brother, Jamie.
It might not be life threatening, but it’s going to be life changing.
‘Dad’s been trying to get hold of you. Did you get his message?’
HE’S NOT OUR DAD! The voice is loud in my head, but this isn’t the time for one of our debates about calling Alex ‘Dad.’ There’s no denying he’s been good for our Mum, especially since our real Dad fucked off with her best friend. But he’s not our Dad.
‘No, I didn’t hear the phone,’ I lied. Of course I heard the phone; it had been ringing and vibrating away on the kitchen table while I was grabbing a bite to eat. I was getting ready to go out and I didn’t have time for what I thought would be an inevitable half hour conversation about days out in the country, meetings with other members of the family, the weather, and finally whatever was going on in my own life. ‘What happened?’ I asked, somewhat pointlessly. She’s had a stroke, that’s what happened. ‘I was getting ready to go out. How bad is it?’
‘He says it’s not life threatening but…’
Oh shit, here it comes.
‘But she has lost some control in her left leg and arm.’
Shit. As if she hasn’t got enough problems.
‘And is she…’ I struggled to find the words; words that wouldn’t be painful to say. ‘Is she… still Mum?’
‘Yes. Dad says she’s in good spirits. She’s a bit confused, but she’s okay.’
‘I’d better give Alex a ring,’ I said.
‘Yes, especially considering they’re moving her tonight.’
‘She’s in Brid hospital now, but they’re moving her to the specialist unit in York.’
‘Tonight?’ I’m a bit confused. It’s gone six thirty pm now. Why would they move an old lady in the middle of the night?
‘Apparently there’s a special stroke unit in York, and Dad says she has had a small bleed.’
‘Oh shit!’ A small bleed. It seemed kind of obvious to me that there’d been bleeding in her brain because that was caused strokes. Then I remembered they can also be caused by clots. My experience with our grandmother years before started to come back to me. She’d had a massive initial stroke which at the onset had pretty much incapacitated her. She got so much of her original self back, but she was never quite the same. Grandad became her carer and looking after her eventually wiped him out. Well, when I say it wiped him out, he actually died of cancer. He’d been riddled with it. But I’ve always thought that he stopped looking after himself once he started looking after her, and that made his own situation worse.
‘Okay. Okay,’ I said, my mind was racing. ‘I’ll drive through to York and meet them there. Do you know what time they’re moving her?’
‘No, and neither does Dad.’
‘I’ll ring him and find out,’ I said, deciding not to emphasise his name is Alex.
That happened a couple of weeks ago and I’m pleased to say Mum has improved a bit since then. Her left arm is still ‘tingly’ and her left leg is still weak. Considering she’s not exactly light on her feet anymore it’s made Alex pretty much her full-time carer. It’s like Grandma and Grandad all over again. Although Alex isn’t my Dad, I do like him, and I love it that he’s been good for Mum. Nevertheless, it’s a lot to take on though, caring for someone, especially someone who is now not good on their feet and is really too heavy for their own good.
Boom! Major life change.
You just never know when something like that is going to happen.
It’s things like this that make me squeeze as much fun out of life as I can.
‘Are you okay Carla?’ Steve asks. ‘Only you don’t seem your normal self today.’
‘I’m fine,’ I say, wondering how many times I’ve recently said I’m fine, when really I’m not.
I’m in the middle of dusting Steve’s martial arts figurines, and he’s got a lot of them. I normally put them back in pairs facing each other as though they’re locked in combat. Steve’s question makes me realise I’m just putting them back on the shelf willy nilly. This is probably what told Steve I’m not my ‘normal self.’
Come on Carla, snap out of it. She’s back home and she’s okay.
I know that I’m just trying to placate myself, trying to distract myself from the reality that my mum is not okay, and things will never be the same again. There is only one direction things can move in from this point, and it doesn’t end in a good place.
‘What’s on your mind?’ he asks.
I start repositioning the figurines as though they’re fighting each other but my heart isn’t in it. Whilst I’ve never achieved Steve’s level of martial arts prowess, I have done a bit of karate and kickboxing so I normally position his figurines in appropriate attacking and blocking configurations, but today that’s not happening.
‘The kettle’s on. Do you fancy a cuppa?’ says Steve.
‘No, thank you, I’m fine.’
There it is again. I’m fine.
Steve disappears into the kitchen and I hear him putting the kettle on and the clinking together of a couple of mugs. By the time he re-enters the lounge I’ve abandoned the figurines and I’m dusting the black glass TV stand.
I really hate black glass TV stands!
No sooner than you’ve removed all the dust, you can visibly see it settling again, even if you damp wipe it and buff it up.
‘Why the hell don’t they make these things anti-static?’ I complain.
‘I know. They’re crap aren’t they! Why do you think I have you come round? I can’t stand cleaning the damn thing.’
He’s grinning at me. Not goofily, more kindly. ‘Come and sit down,’ he says handing me a mug of steaming coffee. ‘Milk, no sugar, right?’
I nod. ‘Thanks,’ I say tucking my cloths into my trouser pocket. I take the mug, following his lead to the leather sofa and I plop myself down.
‘So what’s wrong?’
I can feel him looking at me.
I stare into the steaming cup in my hands on my lap. Then before I can stop myself I blurt out ‘It’s my mum, she’s had a stroke…’ Tears start streaming from my eyes, running down my nose and dripping into my coffee. Then from deep within me the sobbing starts. I realise I’ve been holding this in, trying to be strong, but now it’s like a wild animal released from a cage and it’s uncontrollable. My whole body starts shaking and my coffee is in danger of becoming a wet stain on my trousers and scalding my legs. Steve gently reaches forward and takes the mug from me, placing it to one side with his own.
‘I’m… sorry,’ I sob. ‘I’m so sorry. You don’t need this.’
‘But you clearly do,’ he says gently.
I’m holding my head in my hands as I break down in front of him. My whole body shakes and shudders, and between my sobs I tell him in broken pieces the events of the last few days. I tell him about my mum, what she means to me, and why it breaks my heart seeing her so confused and frail and broken. He lets me go on until I’m pretty much talked and cried out.
‘Have you not had anyone to talk to about this?’ he asks. I hadn’t noticed, but while I was yammering at him he’d moved closer and his arm was round my shoulders. It feels good and I lean into him a little.
‘No, well not in person anyway,’ I say. ‘Beth is away with work. We’ve talked on the phone, but it’s not the same.’ I grab a cloth from my pocket and wipe my eyes. ‘I’m so sorry Steve. You really don’t need me blubbering and blabbering at you.’
‘But it’s not is it! I’m supposed to be working, not drinking coffee and bothering you with my personal problems.’
‘Hey,’ he says gently. ‘We’re human beings before we’re anything else.’
I look up at him through teary eyes, my face coloured with confusion.
‘We’re only human Carla, and we’re human before we become cleaners or electricians, or martial artists, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.’
I nod. ‘Yeah. But thanks anyway.’
His tenderness surprises me. I always had him pegged as a rock hard martial artist and not someone so gentle, sensitive, and sincere.
‘How are you feeling now?’
‘Still crap! But a bit better thanks.’ The shaking and sobbing has stopped, thankfully, and all I can feel now is the warmth of his body against mine. It feels lovely and I start to get that low down tingle of arousal. I lean a little further into him, taking comfort in his arms and enjoying the feeling of his body. I drop my hands into my lap and rest one on his thigh. Even sitting down and relaxed I can feel his leg muscles are firm to the touch. I lift my head back and look into his eyes which feel red and swollen. His pale grey eyes, tinged with kindness, look back at me. I must look a real sight!
‘I bet I look dreadful,’ I say.
‘Well,’ he says with a hint of cheek. ‘In all honesty, I’ve seen you looking better.’
We both chuckle, his caring expression quick to return. I’ve never really noticed just how handsome Steve is. Don’t get me wrong, I find him attractive, but mostly because underneath his clothes it’s clear he has a cracking body. His shirts are always a little on the tight side. I guess he falls somewhere between a medium and a large with a large being too baggy and a medium a little too tight, but the better option for making him look good. Steve has a pale complexion that looks like he’s never been a fan of the sun- he probably burns like a ginger. His mousy blonde hair is cut short, very short in fact, almost a crew cut but it’s slightly longer on top giving the impression it was cut by someone who knows what they’re doing. I’ve often thought his short hair makes him look a little intimidating, and being a martial artist maybe he likes it that way. But today he doesn’t look intimidating at all. Quite the opposite. My low down tingle intensifies, making my thighs nip closer together.
‘Thanks Steve,’ I say, and I kiss his cheek, resting my forehead against the side of his face.
‘That’s okay,’ he says. ‘We need to let these things out.’
I kiss him. A closed mouth kiss on the lips, and he returns the compliment. I kiss him again, this time my lips more open and passionate, but…
‘Easy tiger,’ he says softly. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’
‘I do,’ I say, trying to sound seductive but hearing my voice breaking as I speak. I reach for his lips with mine again, and this time he pulls back placing his free hand on my shoulder, his other arm sliding from round my back to my other shoulder.
‘Carla, you’re upset at the moment, and I don’t want to take advantage of that.’
I’m stunned, and I know it shows on my face.
‘I wouldn’t be a good idea.’
‘It would make me feel better,’ I say.
‘Maybe it would,’ he says. ‘But I don’t want to complicate things.’
‘You’re obviously feeling vulnerable at the moment, and I’m not in the habit of taking advantage of vulnerable people.’
I’m still stunned.
I can’t recall a time when a man has turned me down, ever.
‘Besides,’ he says with a smile. ‘I like to take a girl out before getting more… intimate… with her.’
My arousal dissipates completely as I realise nothing more than a hug is going to happen between us. Something inside me feels like it’s missing, like I’ve been short changed somehow.
‘Come on,’ he says standing up. ‘I’ll make us another drink; the last one has gone cold.’ He stands up and heads towards the kitchen. He looks back over his shoulder in a way that says I should follow him. ‘And you might want to check your face in that mirror,’ he says, nodding towards the large wall mirror over the mantle place.
I’m still feeling surprised but I find myself doing as he says. The reflection that looks back at me doesn’t look like mine. The eyes are red and bloodshot, but worse than that, my face is streaked with dirt from the cloth I used to dry my eyes. Oh my god!
‘There’s some tissues on the side,’ says Steve from the kitchen.
I grab a few, wrapping them round my finger and licking the end to make it damp. I look back at my reflection and start dabbing.
Yeah. I wouldn’t want to fuck that either!
As you can probably tell, Steve really took the wind out my sails the other day, in a good way. As I say, I’ve never had a man turn me down and as I write this I find myself wondering what it means. I haven’t quite made sense of it all yet. Anyway, I have no doubt I’ll find out in the fullness of time. I hope so anyway.
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Until next time 🙂