Earlier in the week we had a tasty taster featuring Amy- today I’m sharing a little glimpse of Jack…
The power shower thundered, sending a searing-hot cascade of water down onto Jack’s head. Squeezing far too much shampoo into his hands, he began to viciously scrub his short hair. What the hell had he been thinking? Well, actually, he hadn’t been thinking, had he? He never looked beyond himself. The moment. The day. He was so stupid. So angry with himself.
Why the fuck had he posted that tape? And more immediately, where was he? And how soon was he going to able to get away from whoever it was he’d spent the night with? Jack could feel the familiar sensation of suffocation closing in on him as he abandoned his hair and began to furiously soap his torso.
He was a shit.
But then you have to be good at something.
And now Amy was coming here. It hadn’t crossed his mind that she’d even visit, let alone move her entire life back south. And not just south, but bloody London. Being back in touch, and hopefully forgiven, was one thing when she was safely tucked away in Scotland. But here. Face to face. Jack hadn’t banked on that at all.
He really didn’t want to see Rob today. It was his fault this had happened. Rob had come into work one day, back in the summer, going on about how worried he and Paul were for Amy. How she seemed to have placed herself completely off the emotional scale. The combination of bright sunshine, happy reminiscences, and the weight of a conversation he and Amy had never had, had brought his buried guilt racing to the surface.
Then, a few days later, Paul had visited Jack and Rob’s bookshop, passing through on one of his rare visits between his archaeological digs. He’d been sorting out some of his university mementos, and had come across a load of photographs.
They were all there, at university, more years ago than was acceptable if Jack was still going to pass himself off as thirty at the clubs he frequented. Amy, Rob and Paul huddled together in a muddy ditch, laughing. Rob, Paul and him, pints of Tiger lager in hand, outside their favourite pub. Paul, Amy and him, all cuddled together on Rob’s battered and suspiciously stained brown sofa. Amy and him. Amy and him together. Smiling. Together.
That had been the killer. That was the photo that had made him think. Her eyes had shone at the camera. If Jack was honest, so had his. So, in a state of happy but unrealistic nostalgia, he’d gone home, dragged a box of assorted junk out from under his bed, and pulled out the tape.
He had weighed the clear plastic box in his hand. It was time to explain. If Amy was half the girl he used to know then she’d forgive him. And suddenly, from nowhere, Jack had found that he really, really needed to be forgiven.
That was why he’d put Unfinished Sympathy on Amy’s tape. He wanted her to understand that he knew he’d hurt her. That he, himself, had been hurt by having to leave her. But for reasons he hadn’t totally understood at the time, he’d felt he had no choice. A fact which had led him to the record the unbearably twee, but wholly accurate, I Will Always Love You. It seemed to say how sorry he was. It said everything he’d wanted to say then, but couldn’t. He was sorry, really he was. But for Amy to turn up here! Bloody hell.
Stepping out of the shower, Jack began to dry himself with a suitably punishing rough brown towel. Now he was going to have to tell Rob he’d returned the tape, and have another go at talking to Kit.
He hadn’t deliberately failed to tell Kit about Amy. Specific conversations about individual exes had never come up. Jack was pretty sure that Rob hadn’t mentioned Amy to Kit either. Amy had been part of their old life, and Kit was part of their current one. Simple.
Jack knew he had to see Kit soon, before someone else filled her in. He wasn’t sure why he’d walked out on her now he came to think about it. At least she’d understand. Kit always understood. After all, they’d remained friends. Great friends. They had moved on smoothly.
‘Talk about my past catching me up,’ he muttered to his sleep-deprived reflection as he dragged a borrowed razor over his chin. ‘It’s pretty much tripped me up, into a pile of shit, and it’s entirely my fault. Bloody sentimental tape. Fuck!’
Approaching his bookshop, Jack peered up at the sign which swung, pub-like, from its low eaves, and silently thanked his grandfather for the money he’d left him.
Even though he’d attained a first degree in Ecology, Jack had never had any intention of taking up a career in that arena. The idea of running a bookshop had started as a faint possibility; an option amongst many. It had developed into a dream, and then, when he’d accidentally come across the empty premises in Kew, it had blossomed into an exciting and challenging project.
Now Reading Nature was a source of real pride, and despite his self-inflicted gloom, Jack got a kick of achievement from seeing its single bay-windowed frontage ahead of him. Through the glass Jack could see Rob’s cropped ginger-haired head bent over the counter. He was busy sorting the mornings post into to do, to send out, bills to pay, and junk to recycle, piles.
‘Morning,’ Rob smiled up at his friend as he came in, but adjusted his expression as he saw the cloud hanging across Jack’s face. ‘What’s up? Club no good last night?’
‘It was fine, busy, you know.’
‘Not really, mate, but then I’m a boring old married fart.’
Jack attempt at a smile failed, ‘I’ve done something stupid. I think.’
Rob pulled a face that clearly said, “No change there then,” but simply said, ‘Go on.’
‘I’ve got in touch with Amy…’
Come back soon for an extract featuring Kit, the erotica writer…