Living a Lie

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Karen walked into the cottage and shivered. The April showers and stiff breeze may be making it chilly outside but the empty silence inside was palpable and made the interior of the cottage feel colder than the early spring evening warranted.

She shrugged off her jacket and walked into the living room, staring glumly at the state of the place. It had always been so clean and tidy when Sue was here but that had been 3 months ago and there had been a steady decline in housework ever since.

The only thing that got cleaned regularly were the glass doors to the wood burning stove. Karen found this a chore but loved to get lost staring into the flames and this wasn’t possible if the doors were dirty.

Kneeling in front of the fire she scrunched up some old newspaper, added some kindling and a handful of coal and touched a match to the edge of the paper, leaving it to catch as she ambled upstairs to get changed out of her work clothes.

Her bedroom was a bigger tip than the living room. There were clothes strewn all around, some dirty, some clean, with barely any carpet visible.

Sitting down on the bed she sighed deeply wondering how things had ever gotten this bad; how had she not realised how depressed she was and how it was changing her behaviour?

At work she was determined to be the same old Karen, she hadn’t even told them about Sue leaving, but at home it was different and the mask slipped away. Here she was surrounded by memories of their last 2 years together, 2 years that whilst not always perfect were spent loving each other, until 3 months ago, out of the blue, Sue had announced that she was leaving. Fuck!

Just as she’d pulled on a pair of jeans and a t shirt the phone rang, causing her to scan the room for evidence as to where it might be hiding under the detritus, eventually finding it and hitting the answer button.

‘Hey Karen, how you doing girl?’

‘Oh hi Lisa, I’m ok, how about you?’

‘I bumped into Sue in town today so don’t give me any of that “I’m fine” crap! Jesus Kaz we’re supposed to be buddies and yet I find out that you guys split up months ago and you didn’t even think to mention it? I’ve seen you at least 3 or 4 times since then and not a word!

You’re either really absolutely fine – which I doubt, or you’re in serious denial – which is possible, or more likely you’re absolutely heart broken but didn’t want to bother anyone!’

‘Oh’ and with that Karen’s tears started and she was sobbing incoherently down the phone to her friend.

‘Hold on Kaz, I’m on my way. Be there in 15 mins traffic permitting’ and the line went dead.

Karen hauled herself up off the bed as she heard Lisa’s car scrunch on the gravel drive, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose on an old pair of socks she found on the floor.

As she opened the door to her friend she was startled at the look of horror on Lisa’s face.

‘Jesus H Christ Kaz, you look like you’ve been run over by a fucking bus and what the hell happened in here – did you get burgled?!’ Lisa was never one to mince her words.

‘When was the last time you ate something?’

‘Lunchtime today’

‘and what did you eat?’

‘I wasn’t very hungry, I just had a bag of crisps’

‘and before then?’

The look of bewilderment told Lisa everything she needed to know. Karen didn’t look like she’d had a proper meal in weeks, so she swooped into the cottage and descended on the washing up like a dervish.

‘Karen Honey, I’m gonna make you something to eat but if I cook in this kitchen you’re gonna get food poisoning. Why don’t you go and take a nice long hot bath while I clean up and by the time you re-emerge I’ll have conjured up some food.

Then you can tell me all about it, ok?’

Karen just nodded and headed dutifully toward the stairs to go and run a bath; it was kind of nice being told what to do by someone who cared.

As she climbed out of the bath and back into some clothes she could smell something wonderful drifting up the stairs, making her stomach growl loudly.

“When was the last time I ate a proper meal?” she asked herself as she wandered down into the kitchen to find Lisa tending to a bubbling pan.

‘Nothing fancy I’m afraid cos your cupboards are pretty bare, but I managed to scare up the ingredients for some spicy tomato sauce and the pasta will be done in about 5 minutes, so grab some cutlery and go and sit down.’

A few minutes later Karen was presented with a steaming bowl of pasta, covered in fragrant, spicy tomato sauce. She ate with gusto, wolfing down every scrap until the bowl was clean.

Lisa took the empty bowl from her hands, deposited it into soapy water in the kitchen sink and sat on the sofa beside Karen.

‘Feel a bit better?’

‘Thanks Lisa, I think I really needed that.’

‘There’s plenty more sauce so stick it in the fridge once it’s cool and you have a ready meal for another time. Now – what the hell’s going on mate?’

So Karen started to explain the whole sorry saga. There had been no big fight, no falling Bayan Escort out, no infidelity, but Sue was still lying to her family, her work colleagues and more than a few old friends about their couple status.

Basically she wasn’t ready to come out of the closet but also couldn’t cope with the lies and deceit any more.

Other than friends they had made as a couple or people she had been introduced to by Karen, just about everyone else thought that they were living together as friends and house mates, not as the couple they had been for the last 2 years.

Finally Sue stated that although she loved Karen, she couldn’t live a lie any more and then she left. Karen hadn’t seen or heard from her since and didn’t even know where she was living.

Karen was crying again by the time she finished, the hurt of that day rushing back into her soul and crushing her spirit all over again.

Lisa sat holding her sobbing friend until she finally ran out of tears.

‘Oh Karen, I’m so bloody sorry. You two were so good together, I thought you’d be partners for life; did you know she was still in the closet?’

‘Yeah, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. Sue didn’t see her family very often and I assumed that she’d tell them eventually when she was ready. I guess she just didn’t love me enough to do it for the sake of our relationship.

I was her first female partner and she still thinks of herself as a straight woman who had a bit of a “glitch” in her life because she fell in love with another woman. Maybe she’s right, maybe she really is straight and our relationship was just an aberration.

I still love her and much as she’s hurt me badly, I just hope she finds happiness in the end.’

‘That’s bloody magnanimous of you under the circumstances, I’m not sure I’d be so pleasant if it was me in your shoes.

I’m not sure if I should tell you this – I certainly don’t want to give you any false hope, but I’m pretty sure she really does still love you. When I bumped into her my initial words were “Hi, how you doing, where’s Karen?” to which she hung her head, stated that you’d split up, started crying and ran for the door!’

‘I know she still loves me, she told me as much, just not enough apparently.’ and with that Karen burst into tears again.

They spent the rest of the evening watching mindless TV and discussing any topic other than Sue and why she left and eventually Karen started to feel a bit more like her old self again. It was good to have company and Lisa was never one to allow too much self pity.

Once Lisa had left Karen went straight to bed and had the best night’s sleep she’d had since she’d been sleeping on her own, waking the next day feeling more refreshed and positive than she had for a while. She got up early, shopped for groceries and spent the rest of the day cleaning and tidying until the cottage gleamed from top to bottom.

Pleased with her efforts she decided to give herself a treat so she called a few friends to see if any of them were free to join her for a meal that evening but she’d left it too late, everyone already had plans.

She was invited to join some of them but didn’t really want a loud, raucous evening in a club or dyke bar, so she decided to go for a meal on her own anyway.

Quite often on a Saturday night her and Sue would visit their favourite curry house so Karen decided that was exactly what she would do. She would take a good book, her MP3 player and go and have a damn fine curry, convincing herself that she was perfectly capable of having a decent Saturday night on her own.

Her plans started to unravel as soon as she walked into the restaurant and the waiter greeted her with a smile and asked where her companion was this evening. She managed to keep her composure but it was a close run thing, so she decided to change her plans and get her meal as a takeaway instead.

Things then got slightly worse as she handed her bank card over to pay and realised that she’d ordered enough food for 2 people – it seemed some habits were hard to break. Driving home with the smell of deeply spiced food drifting through the car and even the radio was conspiring against her – it seemed every song they played was about failed love or broken hearts.

By the time she pulled up outside the house she was feeling pretty miserable again, but she was determined to lift herself out of her funk.

She served herself a generous portion of delicious Indian food, putting the rest aside to freeze, poured herself a large glass of good red wine, slipped one of her favourite thrillers into the DVD player and settled down for the evening.

By the time the film had ended and Karen had smoked a joint she was feeling pretty mellow and relaxed again, so she wandered upstairs to bed having decided to get up early and go for a long walk in the morning.

As she was pulling her bedroom curtains she noticed a strange car outside and it looked like there was someone sitting in the driver’s seat. This was unusual as there were only 3 cottages in her little terrace; an elderly couple on one end, hers on the other end and the empty cottage in the middle that the owners used as an occasional weekend retreat, so late night visitors weren’t a common occurrence.

Walking downstairs without turning the lights back on she peered through the dining room window to get a better look and take the number plate of the car. Burglaries in the village were thankfully rare but there was no harm in being cautious.

The car was still there and there was definitely someone sitting in the driver’s seat but it was too dark to be able to see who or get the license number.

Karen was in a quandary – she even considered calling the police but then she decided she was just being paranoid and decided to go to bed.

She’d been snuggled under the covers for about 15 minutes before she realised the wine had made her thirsty and that she should get some water, so she threw on a robe and padded downstairs to the kitchen, peeking through the curtains again as she passed. Damn – the bloody car was still there!

On impulse she unlocked the front door to get a better look, thinking that maybe if she blatantly stared at them they would drive away but as she stood there watching nothing moved in the car.

It was then she realised that the windows were so steamed up the occupants probably couldn’t even see out of them – surely they weren’t sleeping out there? Maybe they had broken down? Now her curiosity was really piqued so she ran upstairs, threw on some jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt and headed back out of the front door to get a better look.

She was apprehensive as she approached the car, her mobile phone in her hand in case she needed to call for help, but even as she drew level with the drivers window there was no movement. Rapping on the glass she heard a startled cry from within the car and then a string of expletives but she wasn’t worried any more – she knew that voice oh-so-well.

‘Sue? What the hell are you doing out here woman?’

She heard the buzz of the window rolling down and slowly a tired and bedraggled Sue emerged into view.

‘Urm hi Karen.’

There were a lot of questions Karen wanted to ask but all that came out was ‘Why on earth are you sitting out here?’

‘I’m sorry, I’ll go. I should never have come. I fell asleep. I’m so sorry.’

Karen opened the driver’s door just as the engine started, stopping Sue from pulling away.

‘For gods sake come inside, I’ll put the kettle on.’ and she tugged Sue out of the car and guided her towards the open front door.

This had been Sue’s home for two years and yet she was awkward now, like a stranger visiting someone’s house for the first time. While Karen was making tea she sat on the sofa, then stood up again, then sat in an armchair, then stood up again before moving to sit on the floor in front of the dwindling embers of the fire to warm up. She’d been sitting in the car for a long time and the cold air seemed to have invaded her very bones, making her stiff and sore.

She wasn’t sure how long Karen had been standing there watching her before she felt her presence but she found it difficult to look at her, continuing to look at the ebbing glow instead.

‘You’re cold?’ It was more of a statement than a question but Karen registered Sue’s almost imperceptible nod.

‘Come here’ and she took Sue’s hand and settled her on the sofa, handed her a hot cup of tea and placed a warm blanket over her shoulders, before returning to the fire, adding wood and opening the air vents to help it catch quickly.

Karen had thoughts and questions rushing around her mind but she seemed incapable of actually forming a coherent sentence, so she sat silently next to Sue on the sofa, waiting to see if she offered any kind of explanation. After what seemed to be an eternity of awkward silence, Sue finally looked up at her and smiled weakly, tears forming in her eyes as she spoke.

‘I’m so sorry Karen, for everything. I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry I didn’t at least offer you a proper explanation and I’m sorry for disturbing you tonight.

I didn’t mean to end up in the lane outside; I just went for a drive to clear my head and unconsciously came here, then I was crying too hard to drive and then I must have dozed off.’

The tears were flowing freely down Sue’s face now but Karen felt surprising calm and in control, wrapping her arm around Sue’s shoulders and pulling her in for a comforting hug.

‘Sue, what’s going on Babe? If you don’t love me any more then that’s fine but please tell me why you left, maybe then we can at least stay friends.’

‘I don’t want to be fucking friends!’ Raged Sue suddenly, taking Karen by surprise and making her jump ‘I want to be your partner! I want to be able to shout from the rooftops about the woman I’m in love with and show you off to the world. I want to be able to marry you and spend the rest of my days growing old with you!’

OK, so now Karen was seriously confused and although Sue had hurt her it was blatantly obvious that she was in a whole different world of pain. Her eye’s were blazing with a fury that Karen had never witnessed before and her whole body was trembling as she tried to contain her rage.

‘Sue, you need to calm down and tell me what’s going on. Talk to me for god’s sake – did it ever occur to you that I may be able to help?’ oh great, take one seriously angry and upset woman and then speak to them in the most patronising way you can manage – nice one Karen you doofus!

Sue span around, her eye’s bugging out with indignation as she started to splutter expletives but Karen jumped in first.

‘I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean it to come out like that, it’s just that you’re not making any sense. If you still love me and want to be with me then how come you left? Please Sue, start at the beginning and tell me what’s going on.’

‘Ok, but I’m going to need something stronger than tea, do you still keep a bottle of single malt in the cupboard?’

A couple of minutes later they were both sat cradling large crystal tumblers containing amber liquid and Sue had finally calmed down enough to speak rationally.

‘I’m not sure where to start or how to explain. Sometimes I think I’m the biggest coward in the world and other times I consol myself with the thought that I’m actually being brave and magnanimous buy putting other people’s feelings before my own – either way I’m as miserable as hell and I hurt you along the way, for which I’m truly, truly sorry.’

And then it all just seemed to tumble out and in a rush of words that were tripping over each other in their need for release Sue explained her problem.

‘You know I’m kind of Jewish right? Well my dad has never been religious, otherwise he’d never have married my mum who’s technically Christian, but one of his favourite sayings is “once a Jew always a Jew”. His dad is still very devout, observes the Sabat to the letter, always in the synagogue, would curl up and die rather than let pork or prawns past his lips – well, my dad is getting more like him as he gets older. I think he’s feeling his mortality and doesn’t want to take the chance of pissing god off if there really is a promised land after we die.

Do you remember when we went to the New Forest last winter? I remember looking up at you from the snowdrift you’d pushed me into during a snowball fight, your cheeks all rosy from the cold and exertion, a grin plastered onto your face like a 5 year old kid, and it finally hit me. Never in my life would I ever love someone the way I loved you. You meant the world to me in that moment; you still do, and I realised just how wrong it was of me to hide our love like I was ashamed of it – ashamed of you, so I resolved to tell me family about us the next time I saw them.’

‘I remember you coming back from visiting them in January. You were strange and upset and offish from then – right up until…..’

‘….I walked out. Yeah, I know. I was stunned when I saw my dad. He’s turned into another man, more devout than a bloody Rabbi – he’s driving my mum absolutely nuts with his “can’t eat that on a Friday / can’t eat that any day / you’re dress is too revealing etc etc and he spends all of his spare time at the fucking synagogue making up for the last 49 years!

I honestly think my mum would leave him if she had somewhere to go so the last thing I wanted to do was cause more upset and pain by telling her that her only daughter and possible source of grandkids is a bloody lesbian!’

Sue stopped long enough to take a large gulp of whiskey and when she looked up, Karen could see the inner turmoil behind her eyes and had to wonder to herself how she hadn’t noticed that Sue was in so much pain before she left.

‘Anyway, once I’d decided to tell my parents, and failed, hiding our relationship just became too hard to bear and it seemed so unfair on you that I didn’t know what to do. In the end I just snapped and ran away!’

‘Where have you been living Babe? Who’s car are you driving?’

‘I stayed with my mum for a couple of weeks until my dad drove me nuts with his religious bullshit – you know he actually had a go at me for wearing a pair of shorts and a short sleeved tee shirt! Since then I’ve been staying with an old college friend Sharon and her husband; the car belongs to her.’

Karen put her drink down and pulled Sue into a tight embrace, hugging her fiercely as she battled with her own roiling emotions. Part of her was so very angry with Sue for not trying to discuss this with her before now but another part of her was angry at herself for not noticing the anguish Sue must have been in.

‘I’m sorry you’ve been going through this shit Babe, and I’m sorry I never noticed you were in pain but I wish you’d have spoken to me.’

Sue looked into her eyes and saw the mixture of pain and concern on Karen’s face and before she knew it she had placed her lips on hers. God she felt like she had come home! The sadness, longing and hunger she had been feeling for the last 3 months were driven away in a flash and she couldn’t help but moan as Karen’s tongue sought hers in a dance they had performed so many times before.

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