Authors: Carrie Elks
Canada Square by Carrie Elks
Copyright © 2016 Carrie Elks
Published by Carrie Elks
All rights reserved
Cover Design: Sylvia Frost of SFrostDesigns.com
Editor: A. Smith
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are fictitious products of the author’s imagination.
There are some things you should never communicate by text message. The end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, they all deserve the emotion that only a voice can give them, the space to breathe that only a conversation can lend. As I stare at the photograph of my boyfriend kissing another girl, I can’t help but think that this is another thing to add to the list.
We’ve been together for eight years, on and off, since we were both fifteen-year-old school kids. He’s been my first everything—first kiss, first love…
I unfold my legs from beneath me and stretch my body out on the bed, flinging my phone onto the cluttered table beside me. It's covered with books and magazines, half-used lipsticks, plus four empty coffee cups that I haven't bothered to take downstairs. There's a photograph of Luke, too. Leaning up against his BMW, hand shading his eyes. Tequila curls his lips, making them pink beneath the sun. The same lips that kiss me, whisper sweet words, tell me lies.
A sharp pain stabs in my chest as I think of the latest lie. Dinner with his family that turns out to be a party in Shoreditch. My thoughts wander to the phone again; to the blurred photograph of him kissing another girl. His strong hands grasp her hips as he stoops into her, the same way he has to lean down to kiss me. I think about confronting him and I wonder about deleting the text. An argument or a simple press of the button? At the end of the day it all comes down to the same thing. He believes he can swan back like nothing ever happened, and I'll forgive him and pretend that it didn't.
Just like I always do.
Maybe it was understandable when we were school kids. Trying on love like it was a new pair of jeans, struggling to see what fitted. Now I'm twenty three it's pitiful, yet it's a habit I can't seem to shake. I can sit here and say it won't happen again, but I'll end up forgiving him. I know it, Luke knows it, even my family knows it. My mum's way past thinking it's romantic. My brother Alex won't even let me mention Luke's name. And my big sister, Andie, only wants me to be happy.
I'm not happy. I haven't been for a while. Luke blames my college studies, keeps telling me to give them up, to go and work in a hair salon like my friend Sophie, or as a secretary, like Ellie. From the start he was against me going to university. He couldn't understand why I wanted to spend three years of my life in a classroom.
Going to college is something I've dreamed of since I was a teen. Since my year seven maths teacher told me I had a gift. And for once I ignored Luke's tantrums and the nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach and signed up for a degree in business studies.
He didn't speak to me for a month after that. Not until he came crawling back on my birthday, his lying fingers clutching a huge bouquet of flowers, his traitorous lips making promises we both knew he wouldn't keep. Though I refused to accept them, his persistence was astounding. He wore me down, one sweet gesture after another.
be sweet, he
be kind, and when he looks at me it's as if I'm the only girl in the room. He builds me up with love and passion, ready to break me down all over again.
It's like playing with Lego.
“Amy?” Mum calls from downstairs. Though our house is tiny, she still shouts loudly. A legacy from the noisy days of my youth when Alex would play music at the highest volume he could get away with, and Andie would scream at him to turn it down. Mum couldn't be heard without a voice like a foghorn, and unfortunately she's long since forgotten it has an off switch.
“Alex is here with Max and Lara. Come and say hello.”
Smoothing my hair, I stand up and glance around my room. It still looks like a teenager lives here. Posters of groups are Blu-tacked to my pale pink walls, their corners curling away with age. Boy bands that have long since split up, actors who have grown old and complacent; it’s a testament to my lost youth. It makes me feel wistful, remembering long hours spent in Luke's eighteen-year-old arms. Back then the future was laid out before us.
“Hey.” I run down the stairs. Alex is kneeling in front of the radiator in the living room, his rusty blue toolbox by his side. His wife, Lara, is sitting on the sofa with their toddler playing on her lap.
“Maxie!” I reach out and tickle his chin. He makes a grab for my fingers with surprisingly strong hands. “Who's a gorgeous boy?”
Leaning down, I press a kiss to Lara's cheek. I love my sister-in-law so much. We first met when I was a fifteen-year-old brat, and she was lost in the misery of her mum's death. Somehow we hit it off.
“At home on a Saturday night?” she murmurs. “What's that all about?”
I shrug, trying to affect nonchalance. “I'm tired, and I start work on Monday. I thought I'd have an early night.”
From the look on her face, Lara doesn't believe a word of it. She shifts Max about as he tries to scramble off her lap, reaching for Sam, our fluffy ginger cat who’s dozing on the sofa.
“Leave him alone,” she chastises mildly. “His tail isn't a toy.”
Sam barely bats a whisker; he simply curls up and goes back to sleep. He's lazy, pampered and overfed—the last of my mum's babies. She's always happiest when surrounded by her kids, even if they're of the furry kind.
“Are you looking forward to it?”
I snap my eyes back to Lara. “What?”
“Starting work. Are you nervous?” She says it slowly. I’ve earned the reputation of being the family airhead. Always daydreaming, not in touch with reality. I blame the fact that I can never get a word in edgeways.
“A bit nervous,” I admit, underplaying the way my stomach is churning. I've read the joining instructions about twenty times, and made the journey to work on at least five different occasions, just to make sure I know what I'm doing. I don't think those are the actions of someone with their head in the clouds. I could be wrong though.
“You'll be fine, they're going to love you. Like a breath of fresh air.”
“Or a bad smell,” I joke.
“Either way they'll never be able to get rid of you.”
A loud clang catches our attention. Alex swears loudly, grabbing his toe where the wrench landed. When I glance at Lara she's trying not to laugh. I bite my lip to stop the giggles.
“Are you okay?” In spite of her best efforts there's humour in her voice.
“That fucking hurt.”
He rolls his eyes and mutters an apology before picking up the spanner and going back to his work. I don't bother asking him why he's messing about with the central heating in the middle of summer. Some things are better left a mystery.
“How's Luke?” Lara asks. Alex rolls his eyes again.
“He's fine.” There's no way I'm going to fill them in on his latest stunt. Alex hates him enough as it is. I've seen my brother when he's angry—it's scary, and quite frankly dangerous. “Having dinner with his parents.”
Mum walks in carrying a tray of mugs. Tea sloshes over the rims, pooling around the bases. When I take mine, pale brown liquid drips onto my jeans, staining them a dark, dark blue. “Oops, sorry.” She flashes me a grin and I send her one right back. She may be crazy, but I love her to death.
“It’s okay, they need a wash anyway.” Greedily, I gulp down what remains of the tea, quenching a thirst I didn't realise I had.
“Have you decided what to wear on Monday?” Lara asks.
“I bought a dress from Next.” I wrinkle my nose. “Grey, with a matching jacket.”
“It's fine, it's just not... very me.” I'm more pale creams and soft pinks. Tea dresses and floaty skirts. Not thick grey pinstripes and fitted jackets.
“You'll get used to it,” she reassures me. “Before you know it you'll be a real city girl.”
“Just like you were, babe.” Alex smiles at his wife. There's a look in his eyes that says it all. Filled with adoration, he blinks slowly, lips still upturned. She blushes when she looks at him.
I'm not sure Luke's ever looked at me like that. His stares are normally full of heat. Buzzing with desire. Not adoring or sweet.
Is it wrong to want it all?
“By the time you met me I was ready to quit,” Lara reminds him. “Remember?”
His voice is soft. A caress. “I remember.”
She slides her eyes back to mine. “A new start. It's exciting.”
“It is,” I agree. There’s something thrilling about it. Knowing I get a blank slate, that I'm free to be who I want to be. Not airhead Amy or faithful Amy or all of the other roles I've managed to take on in the past twenty-three years. I count myself lucky that despite the foolish choices I've made, and the relationship I've managed to get myself entangled with, there's still a small part of my life I can say is a success. Maybe the only part.
We spend the rest of the evening talking, while Alex finally gives up on the radiator and holds his son until he falls asleep, head lolling on his daddy's ink-vibrant arm. Although I'm stuck at home while my boyfriend is out doing God knows what, I can't help but feel like it's the best Saturday night I've had in a long, long time.
* * *
Luke finally shows his face the following evening. His hair is neatly combed, his sandy locks longer on the top, brushed back with gel. The sides are clipped close to his scalp. He's very touchy-feely, his lips coated with candyfloss lies—sweet yet somehow nauseating. As usual we go to my room, avoiding the living room where Mum’s watching a reality show.
“Is this new?” He reaches out, stroking the hem of my green and pink flowery dress with his rough fingertips, his knuckles brushing against the soft skin of my thighs. “It's pretty.”
“And old. You've seen it before.” I pull away, and the silky fabric slides from his grasp.
“Still pretty,” he murmurs. I close my eyes, trying to ignore the way he makes my heart speed. My body's conditioned to respond to him, even if my mind is screaming otherwise.
“How was last night?” I ask.
Luke looks at me, his blue eyes unwavering. “Boring. I wish you'd been there.”
“You didn't ask me,” I remind him. His parents are like my second family. His dad is a Romford boy made good. He owns a car dealership in East London and earns good money. Luke’s been working there since he left school at sixteen.
“I will next time.” He smiles as though he's doing me a favour. “You look so hot in this dress.” His arms still carry the colour from his recent holiday in Ibiza, covered with a smattering of fine, sun-bleached hairs. A pale border of skin follows his hairline, freshly revealed by his recent haircut.
His fingers are gentle as they circle around my ankle. His thumb brushes against my skin. Though a thrill shoots up my leg I ignore it.
“Sarah Stearn texted me last night. She was at a party in Shoreditch.”
His face reveals the slightest flicker of unease. But like the great car salesman he is, Luke smooths it over immediately. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. She said you were there.”
He pauses for a moment. I can almost read the thoughts flashing through his mind. How much do I know? Can he get away with lying? How long will it take me to forgive him this time? He shifts a little, enough to reveal how turned on he is. Eyes dilated, breath warm. I'm disrupting his mojo.
“I popped over after dinner. Mum wanted an early night.”
“You said you had to stay at home. That it was important.”
“There was a change of plan.” He's so glib, so easy. Lies trip off his tongue like blossoms from trees. They cover us both.
“Why didn't you call?”
“I was going to. But then Nick phoned and asked me to pick him up. I found him passed out in the toilet. Had to carry him out to my car.”
Squeezing my eyes shut, I remember that fuzzy picture. It wasn't Nick he was holding. Definitely not Nick.
“Nick was out with Sophie last night.” I know this for a fact. My best friend, Sophie, posted photographs all over Instagram. He took her to some swanky restaurant near the City, and the two of them ate dinner overlooking the Thames.
“It was later, after he took her home.” Still unruffled, Luke leans back on my bed, folding his arms beneath his head. His legs are so long they reach the end of the mattress, making me feel tiny in comparison. It’s the story of my life—being 5’3” means I’m forever craning my head upward, even when we’re both horizontal.
I stare at him for a minute. Enough to take in his smooth skin, his pale lips, the way the pale-blond stubble is shadowing his jaw. I rub my own face as a lungful of air slowly escapes through my pursed lips.
For the first time I’m wondering if this is it.
Is this all I have to look forward to? The bitter lies of a boyfriend who can’t even be bothered to cover up his tracks. Once upon a time he would have been on his knees, begging me to forgive him, making promises he’d never do it again.
Now he’s got his eyes closed. His lips are curled up into a half-smirk. There’s no need to apologise, no need to make up a story, because he knows I’ll take him back anyway. I’m Pavlov’s dog, dancing to the tune only Luke knows the notes to. Too scared to question him in case I end up alone.