Chapter 1 – Leaving
Waiting as casually as I can, I clutch my polystyrene cup of coffee in one gloved hand, the other stuffed in my jeans pocket to prevent fidgeting. My eyes scour the street outside the train station. Where is he?
He’s an hour late now. I take out my phone again to check for a message, a missed call, something to say that he’s coming. We’ve already missed the train. The deal was that I would be on that train, if he wanted to join me then he could. But when the train arrived, I let it go, deciding to wait a little longer. But I will leave with the next one, no matter what. I will start again, even if it must be alone.
I take a sip of coffee and instantly grimace, realising that I’ve forgotten to add sugar. The taste is bitter and still too hot, stinging my tongue. The cold wintry wind is beginning to strengthen, whipping against my face and making my entire body shiver. I place the other hand around the cup too, attempting to keep warm. A drop of rain hits me directly on the tip of my nose. I sigh, realising how cliché it is to stand here in the rain, waiting for a man who is so late that its almost certain that he isn’t coming.
Five minutes left until the next train arrives. Despite promising myself that I would not contact him again, that I would leave it entirely up to him, I send a quick text:
Alex, where are you?
As soon as I press send, I feel stupid for doing so. I keep the phone in my hand, telling myself that its to keep an eye on the time for the train but really knowing that its so that I see any reply the second it arrives. Two minutes until the train arrives and my phone lights up, bleeping the familiar text message tone.
Zoë, I can’t come. Ava’s pregnant. I’m sorry.
“Fuck”, I exclaim loudly, causing passers-by to look at me in disgusted shock. I turn immediately to walk into the station, approaching the barrier in brisk, furious strides, dragging my small, wheeled suitcase behind me. A guard stands by with a serious expression on his face, ready to inspect my ticket. I thrust it in his direction. His eyes narrow as he scrutinises the details. I roll my eyes in frustration. One minute until my train arrives. He finally waves me past and I make it onto the platform just as the train rolls into the station.
I carry my luggage on board and locate an empty seat, managing to lift the suitcase onto the overhead rack. As I sit beside the window, I take my Ipod from my handbag and shove in the earphones and, thinking that I might as well go for the full jilted woman stereotype, put on the saddest song I can find: Nothing Compares To You by Sinead O’Connor. How pathetic I must appear only makes this situation all the more depressing. I watch the platform as the train pulls away, wondering if he’ll suddenly come running through the station building to find me leaving and run alongside the train, begging someone to make it stop so that we can be reunited. Of course, that doesn’t happen. He’s sitting in his flat with his girlfriend, Ava, probably rubbing her belly and marvelling over the miracle of new life. Brilliant. A nice mental image to fill the four hour journey ahead.
I remember comforting friends whose boyfriends had cheated on them. Telling them what a cheap slapper the girl must have been to happily sleep with somebody else’s man. That he’s clearly not worth the bother. Yet I have just spent the past year in a secret relationship with a man who was already in a very public and very serious relationship with another woman. I’m the other woman. But it isn’t as if I set out to steal someone’s boyfriend, or even to have an affair with him. I’ve never thought of myself as the type of girl to do this. I try to justify myself. He’s not really happy with her, it isn’t just about the sex, we’re in love, we would make a better couple than them. But all of the excuses I can come up with can’t take away from the fact that what I am doing is wrong. Which is one of the reasons I’m ending it. The other is my insane jealousy. Every time I see them together, every time he’s with me and I imagine him doing the same things with her, every time he reminds me that he does love her too. Its enough to…well, make me want to move hundreds of miles away to escape.
A food trolley eventually rolls by, pushed by a plump, middle aged woman with a large toothy grin. I purchase an over-priced sandwich, several chocolate bars and a bottle of water. Munching on the sandwich, I wish I had kept a book in my handbag for the journey. Of course, I thought I would be spending this time blissfully planning a new life with Alex. Possibly having a cheeky snog or two. There are several books in my suitcase but I don’t fancy pulling it down to rifle through my clothes and underwear in front of my fellow passengers. I only needed the one suitcase, I’m not the type of girl who needs a hundred pairs of shoes or a different outfit for each day of the year. Besides, this is a fresh start, time to reinvent myself. The train is quite full now, though I barely noticed any movement of people boarding. Come to think of it, I barely noticed the train stopping at all, being far too absorbed in my misery and music. Nobody has come to sit in the seat beside me. Perhaps they’ve all taken a glance at the red-eyed, blotchy-faced woman with her earphones in, staring dejectedly out of the window and known that this is not the person you want to sit next to for a lengthy train journey.
As time drags on, I stop feeling sorry for myself and start feeling angry with myself. What kind of a complete idiot gets themselves into this position? Firstly, getting involved with a guy who already has a girlfriend: stupid. Secondly, actually falling in love with said guy: really stupid. Thirdly, imagining that this guy will abandon his girlfriend and go to start a new life with me in a place that neither of us have even visited: spectacularly stupid. He wouldn’t even have had a job. I, at least, have employment ready and waiting.
It was pleasant surprise when an advertising company in Truro contacted me, offering a job that was a big promotion from my current position. Plus, they offered a nice big salary to tempt me away from London. It was their turn to be surprised when I instantly accepted. Then I called Alex. He had thought I was calling to arrange one of our usual meetings at my flat after work. I don’t know what people imagine affairs to be like, but it isn’t romantic in the slightest. He would turn up for a quickie, be texting his girlfriend about how terrible the traffic is or how he’s had to stay late in the office whilst pulling up his trousers and then dash out of the door to return home to her. Looking back, I can’t believe I accepted these fleeting visits as evidence of any real kind of affection. I also can’t believe that she never caught on. She must be every bit as stupid as I am. Or she just didn’t care. We did get more substantial time alone together sometimes. If she went out with her friends, I could spend a few hours with him. On these rare occasions, we could almost be mistaken for a regular couple. Sex was much better when it didn’t need to be rushed and being able to have dinner afterwards and actually talk to each other is a vast improvement. That’s what made us grow closer in the first place; we could talk for hours.
The last time we’d been alone together was a week ago. I had been all ready to leave on my own, to start again and forget all about the last year. I had told him as much when I accepted the job offer. But then he turned up at my flat unannounced. He looked so sincere as he almost begged me not to go. Then there were those three magic words that never fail to have me willing to do anything for him: “I love you”. I looked into his eyes and tricked myself into believing that I saw some grain of truth there. He loves me. He said that he would never have let this go on for so long if he didn’t really love me. But I knew that I couldn’t carry on like that. “Come with me”, I said. “Run away with me”. He agreed almost instantly. Suddenly we were like a couple from a cheesy film, hopelessly in love and willing to do anything or go anywhere if it meant being together.
But then came the text messages during work the next day.
Maybe we should wait a while before we leave.
It isn’t fair on Ava just to run off. I need to talk to her.
I do love you but I still care about her. Maybe we’re rushing this?
This continued all day until I sent him the final message.
I‘m catching the train at 10am on Monday. If you want to come, then be there. If not, I’m going anyway”.
It was an hour later when his reply arrived.
I’ll be there. I promise.
A tear rolls down my cheek as I take one last look at this message before deleting it, along with every other message my phone holds from him. All of the flirtatious messages sent during boring days in the office. All of the beautiful, sincere messages about how much he cares for me and how he wishes we could be together. All deleted within moments.
About halfway through the journey, I manage to fall asleep. I’m woken by an announcement. “We are now approaching Truro”.