Later that evening, as Kate was sorting through her painting supplies to decide what she needed to stock up on, she thought she heard a child crying. She often heard all manner of sounds coming from the neighbours, and as far as she knew, no one had any children.
She looked around the room for Dylan, thinking it could be him and the silver tabby was nowhere in sight. It had sounded more like a child than a cat, she thought, and the memory of David suddenly burst into her mind.
He was so small when he was born, too small to have caused so much trouble.
The first hint something was wrong happened the morning after David was born. She awoke in the hospital bed and tried to move her legs, thinking she would get up and go to the bathroom. But something didn’t feel right. Her left leg felt heavy and awkward and didn’t want to move.
She pulled back the covers and discovered a red, angry leg, which had swollen considerably. She called to a passing nurse who took one look, told Kate not to move for any reason, and summoned the doctor.
It was a thrombosis, a blood clot, which apparently could travel to her heart or brain if she as much as moved an eyelash.
Being told she must not move on pain of death, so soon after the rigours of childbirth seemed to work the oracle. Kate simply froze, far too frightened and exhausted to think straight. They gave her medication, and over the next few days the swelling gradually went down and the danger passed.
Thinking about it now, Kate wondered idly if it counted as a life lost. They said she could have died after all. So how many was it? Possibly five or six, she thought.
Kate had tried to be a good mother, never complaining or resenting the demands of her tiny red-faced dictator. She was always a patient person but David pushed her to hell and back. He never seemed to sleep like other babies or behave as she thought a baby should.
She remembered him standing up in his cot every night, grinning at her like a Cheshire cat, almost as if he knew he was being infuriating.
Having a child had not worked for Kate. Instead of having the opportunity to show the world just how it should be done, she had managed to screw it up and do a worse job than her mother. Despite her struggle to do all the right things, David grew up hating her and she never knew why.
Surprisingly, John took to being a substitute father like a duck to water. He never spoke of Michael at all. It was as though his own son didn’t exist and Kate thought she understood. John kept hinting she should marry him and settle down. Forget any dreams she might still have about finding a better life. Kate couldn’t stop expecting to see Michael, couldn’t believe he could stay away. Surely, he would want to at least look at his son?
The time passed and David grew into a moody, rebellious toddler, and if she still had dreams of a better life, she tried to forget them. Which wasn’t easy, as the voice tormented her almost on a daily basis, constantly reminding her of the mess she had made of her life. Kate had started to think it wanted her to do something drastic, like jump under a bus, and she refused to listen, stubbornly holding on to the little bit of hope she had left.
Most people see life in black and white, and for Kate, there were a million shades of grey, plus some mystifying element that eluded her whenever she tried to concentrate on it.
Whatever it was, it was always tantalisingly close and out of reach at the same time. Why was it so difficult for her to find love? She had searched long and hard deep down inside herself, and the elusive answer simply danced away whenever she came close to it.
Kate tried to remember what had made David hate her so and her mind refused to cooperate. It was late; she should pack up and go to bed. No point worrying about any of it, was there?
The voice in her head stopped her in her tracks, asking if she had ever considered that someone else might have influenced her son. Why did it say that? It might explain why she could never quite put her finger on the cause of her son’s hatred. His feelings were strong, so he obviously thought he had a good reason to be so angry. It would also explain why she had always felt it was not anything to do with her. If it wasn’t her fault, why did he hate her so much?
Kate tried to switch her brain off as easily as she flipped the light switch on her way to bed, but the thought it might have been someone else’s fault went with her and she knew she would have trouble sleeping.
She had lain awake for most of the night, convinced she could hear a child crying. Dylan had not made an appearance, which was odd because he never stayed out all night. She would have to look for him when she returned from the art suppliers in Guildford.
She spent most of Tuesday morning carefully choosing the paint and canvases she would need, blissfully happy to be able to do what she loved so much, never regarding it as work. She decided to stop for lunch before catching the next train home and found herself in a smart new Italian place where the food turned out to be good and the waiters treated her like royalty.
Despite her surroundings, she found herself thinking about the mysterious crying child, which in turn made her think of the day Michael did, in fact, turn up all those years ago. Typically, it had to be a day when she looked her worst. Her hair, longer and messier than ever, needed washing and David was being his most frustrating, throwing his toys all over the place one minute then demanding things and throwing them on the floor too.
Don’t do this today, she remembered thinking, but Michael wasn’t taking any notice of his child. He was staring at her, almost as though he hadn’t looked at her before. John was at work, and Kate didn’t want to think what might happen if Michael was still there when he came home.
‘You’re looking good Kate.’ he said softly, his oh so blue eyes twinkling just as she remembered. Something inside her seemed to move and stretch its legs. What was she supposed to make of this visit? What did he want?
She stood up straight and looked him in the eyes. ‘Why are you here Michael?’
He smiled nervously and pushed his fingers through his hair, a habit that was all too familiar. ‘I wanted to see you.’
Kate was having a lot of trouble keeping herself detached. The way he looked and the things he was doing brought back so many memories she couldn’t concentrate. How long had it been? It must have been eighteen months since he had walked away. What had brought him back now? She had supposed he would be married by then as he was too good looking to stay single for long.
She had to sit down. Her legs were beginning to demand it and she hesitated, knowing he would take it as a signal to be all over her like a rash. She compromised and leaned against the windowsill. ‘Why did you want to see me, I would have thought you would have better things to do.’
He had the grace to look awkward and gave a nervous laugh. ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about you, so here I am.’
And just what do you expect me to do about that, she thought. The next thought slipped unbidden into her mind and made her swallow so hard, she almost choked. Did he still love her?
The voice warned her of falling for Michael’s charms again, and to remember how badly he had hurt her.
‘Oh shut up!’
‘Pardon?’ he said, looking anxious.
‘Oh not you, Michael, I was thinking aloud. Would you like a cup of coffee?’
Why had she offered hospitality? She should throw him out, and for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to be angry with him. He always did have that effect on her.
It was getting late, John could be home anytime soon and she knew all hell would break loose if Michael was still there.
‘Your dad will be home soon, she said, pointedly.
He didn’t look at all worried. Don’t tell me he’s grown a pair since I saw him last, she thought. He had picked up one of David’s toy cars and was turning it repeatedly in his hands, seemingly without a care in the world. She waited for David to notice one of his toys was in someone else’s hands and go into his usual spoilt brat routine and scream to get it back, and he didn’t. She knew he had noticed, for he was watching Michael intently, studying him from behind the armchair.
‘Why are you here, Kate?’
As if you care where I am, she thought. ‘Where else would I go?’
‘There must be better places, than here with him…’
‘He has been good to both of us,’ when no one else was, she felt like adding.
Suddenly she decided she would not be playing his games again, not even for a social visit. ‘I think you should go now. I want you to leave.’
He stood up and crossed the room to stand in front of her at the window. ‘Don’t be like that Kate, I have missed you.’
Oh no, you don’t, she thought and pushed past him to get to the front door. He was right behind her and put out his hand to stop her from opening the door. ‘You don’t really want to throw me out, do you?’
He was standing so close; she could feel the heat coming off his body on the bare skin of her arm. The familiar smell of his aftershave washed over her, evoking so many wonderful memories of their romantic past.
With an extraordinary effort, she managed to pull herself together and gritted her teeth, desperately trying to remember she still hated him.
He leaned towards her and tucked a stray curl behind her ear. ‘Beautiful as ever Kate, I must visit you again and soon.’
He opened the door, which meant squeezing past her. Her body disobeyed every command she gave it and long forgotten sensations came back to life. It was all she could do not to grab him and melt in his arms.
By some miracle, she held herself together and managed to close the door behind him. She stood there for a moment, trying to decide how she felt. She didn’t have to think about it, it was obvious she still loved him. She just hoped it wasn’t obvious to him.
Thinking about Michael usually depressed her but that wasn’t happening today. She felt almost elated and that was insane. It was all of thirty years ago, surely all thoughts of Michael and their ill-fated romance should have been buried long ago?
On the way home, she called in at the local supermarket for there was hardly any food in the flat and Dylan’s was running low too; which reminded her, she hadn’t seen him that morning. Where was he?
When she arrived home, she checked all his favourite hiding places and the silver tabby was in none of them. She checked the cat flap still worked as it had been known to get stuck occasionally, much to Dylan’s annoyance. You would think she had done it just to annoy him, the way he carried on.
Kate was getting worried now. She hadn’t seen him for at least two days and it wasn’t like him at all.
She walked across the road to her neighbour and knocked on the door, waiting patiently for the old woman to make her way to the front door,
‘Hello Janet, I was wondering if you had seen Dylan lately? And how are you these days,’ she added guiltily. Kate thought she looked a bit tired, not quite her usual perky self.
‘Oh I’m not so bad, and no, I haven’t seen his Lordship for a while now. How long has he been missing?’
‘About two days, I think. I hope he’s all right.’
‘I’m sure he is Kate, although there has been a strange car parked outside number ten for over a week now. Nobody ever gets out of it though, not that I’ve seen anyway.’
‘I’ll have to ask around. Do you need anything Janet?’
‘I’m fine; you go and find Dylan, that’s more important.’
‘He’s not more important than you, take care…’
None of the other neighbours had seen Dylan either and by the time she was back home she was worried. She had a quick look at the car Janet mentioned, it was a green Vauxhall and beaten up enough to be her brothers, but the inside was so clean and tidy she dismissed the idea. It had probably been dumped anyway.
It was possible Dylan had gone walkabout, although he had stopped doing that a long time ago. He was too old now, wasn’t he? Apart from ringing the local vet and reporting him missing, she couldn’t think what else to do. She knew cats do sometimes up sticks and move on when the mood takes them. She just hoped that wasn’t what had happened as she would miss him terribly.
Where is Dylan, the cat? And why is she remembering Michael, after all this time?