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If only, p.19

If Only..., page 19

 

If Only...
 


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  My temper boils like a cauldron inside me. I pick up my wine glass and throw it at the wall, causing it to shatter into tiny pieces. “Amy wasn’t pregnant, I was!” I scream as I crumple to the ground. “It was me on the phone with Nico, not Amy!”

  Cole

  I lean back and pull my aching arm up to my chest as I stare at Evie. She’s slipped into my room, shut the door behind her and then just stood and stared at me without moving or speaking for the last few minutes.

  It’s been ten days since the crash, which means it’s been six days since Nico died, and this is the first time she’s visited me. It’s obvious she hasn’t washed her hair, the bags under her eyes are as dark as the night sky and her clothes are hanging off her thin frame. She’s heartbroken, grief-stricken and terrified. It’s written all over her face. But there’s something else too . . . something darker is lingering in the depths of her eyes.

  “How’re you?” I ask.

  “How do you think I am?” she snaps, her voice heavy with the hatred that her eyes are projecting.

  Now I know why she’s here. I clear my throat and try to sit up straighter. “I’m sorry about Nico,” I whisper.

  Evie joins her hands in front of her and bows her head. “I came in here to say three things to you, Cole.”

  “Let me say something first,” I say quickly, because I know this is it. This is the only chance she’s going to give me.

  Evie shakes her head. “There are no words that can ever make up for what you’ve done.”

  “I love you,” I tell her. “I love with you all my heart, and I’ll never stop loving you. Ever. No matter what you think of me, or what you’re about to say to me, that won’t change. You need to understand that, Evie.”

  “So, the three things I want to say to you,” she continues, completely ignoring me. “I don’t want to hear from you and I don’t want to see you. As far as I’m concerned, you died in the crash. Stay away from me and stay away from my mum.”

  Before I can say anything back to her or tell her I love her one more time, she spins on her heels and barges out of the room.

  I slump back against the pillow, feeling like the walls of the room are collapsing in on me, and cry like a fucking baby. I’ve lost my best friend. I’ve lost God knows how many years of my future. And I’ve lost the only thing that I ever really wanted.

  Evie.

  Evie

  I never heard the door open or close, so I’m guessing Cole must still be in the hallway. I’ve picked up all the broken glass and mopped up the wine, and now I’m sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, waiting for his reaction to the news. I pour myself a fresh glass of wine and run my fingertip around the rim of the glass as I hear his footsteps coming towards me. When his shadow falls across me, I look up.

  “Is that him?” he asks.

  I immediately know he’s on about the canvas in the corridor. My mum took it when we were on Brighton Pier about four years ago. It was a glorious sunny day and it was Lucca’s first try of candyfloss. His dark hair was blowing in the warm sea breeze and his smile reached from ear to ear. That night when I tucked him into bed and pretended to attack him with his cuddly dinosaur, he told me that he’d had the best day of his life.

  “Yes,” I say. “That’s Lucca.”

  He slumps down in the seat next to me, looking suddenly exhausted. “I see you carried on the tradition of giving the boys in the family Italian names.”

  I can’t tell if he’s annoyed about that or not, but I guess it doesn’t really matter at this point. “He’s nearly eight,” I say, pulling a few photographs out from the drawer and pushing them over the counter to him.

  I sit back and wait while Cole scans through the pictures. “He’s a handsome little man,” he whispers, his voice almost breaking as he speaks.

  I swallow the lump that’s suddenly appeared in my throat and pick at some olives that I’d tossed into a bowl earlier. “He’s an excellent football player,” I tell him. “Even better than Nico was at his age.”

  This feels wrong. It feels like I’m telling a complete stranger about Lucca instead of his own father. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s Cole’s fault he wasn’t there for Lucca. It’s because of a choice he made. A lie he told.

  Cole nods. “Where is he now?”

  “He’s on a football league tour of Europe with Fabio. They’re due back next week.”

  “He looks like Nico here,” he says, waving a picture at me.

  It’s Lucca when he was twelve months old. He’d just started walking and was grinning at the camera, obviously proud of himself.

  “Now he looks like you,” I tell him.

  He nervously fiddles with the label on the wine bottle on the counter in front of him. He might act like a different Cole with his filthy mouth and improved sex skills, but deep down, he’s still Cole. I can see that now. “What does he know about me?”

  “He thinks you moved to Australia to be with your family,” I say quickly.

  “What? Why?”

  “Because I didn’t want him going around school saying his dad was in prison. I didn’t want him to give the bullies any ammunition.”

  “He gets bullied?”

  I shake my head. “No, but you know what children are like . . . I just didn’t want them to have anything negative to attack him with.”

  “Why does he think I would live with my family and not him?”

  I rub my face and sigh. “He’s only ever asked about you once, when he was three. That was the answer I gave him and he’s never asked since. I showed him pictures of you from when we were younger so he knew what you looked like, but I guess he’s just used to it being the two of us.”

  He sniffs and brushes his thumb over our faces. It was the picture taken just after Lucca was born when we were still having our quiet time after a relatively calm water birth. I’d given birth on my own, and I remember asking the midwife to take a picture of us before anyone came in. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks as a single tear silently slips down his cheek.

  “I thought I did,” I breathe, hearing the way my own voice wobbles. “I thought it was you on the phone with me that night, not Nico.”

  He frowns. “But you must have realised that I didn’t know. I never mentioned it. Not at the hospital and not when we met before I went inside.”

  “I thought you told me to sort it,” I tell him. “That’s what Nico said, but I thought it was you. I thought you just assumed I’d had an abortion.”

  “I didn’t know.”

  “I know that now,” I whisper.

  “Didn’t you ever think to make sure that I was aware?” My eyes shoot up at his change of tone. “I might not have been able to be a dad while I was in prison,” he continues, “but I could have been one for the last two years.”

  “Don’t turn this around on me,” I snap.

  He shakes his head. “I’m not.”

  “I tried to visit you and you refused.”

  “You never—” He stops and I see the realisation flash across his face. “Is that what that visiting order was about?”

  I nod. I’d tried to request a visit a couple of weeks after Lucca was born. I hadn’t seen or heard from Cole in the year since he’d been sent to prison. I knew he got weekly phone calls if he wanted them, and by that point I hadn’t changed my number. Cole never called. He was true to his word and had let me go, but I wanted to at least tell him about Lucca. I thought he deserved to know that he had a son.

  “I was coming to tell you that I didn’t have an abortion. I was going to give you a picture and tell you his name and everything. I just thought that no matter what had happened, you deserved to know.”

  “Well, what the fuck happened to that thought a few weeks ago?”

  I flinch at the venom in his words. “I was too busy dealing with the fact that I thought my brother’s killer had walked back into my life,” I hiss.

  “You know what?” He drops the photographs back on the ta
ble and rubs his hands down his face, wiping his tears away. “I can’t deal with this shit right now.”

  I watch open-mouthed as he pushes up from his chair and walks out of my apartment without another word.

  Cole

  I climb out of the back of the car and hobble up the garden path and into the house.

  “Oh, Cole,” says Joan. We’ve never been the cuddling type, but she lunges forward and pulls me into a warm hug.

  I feel tears falling down my face as I wrap my arms around her. She’s been to visit me in the hospital every day so I’m not sure why we’re having a big emotional moment right now.

  “I want to know the truth,” says Simon, setting my bag down on the living room carpet.

  “What do you mean?” I sniff and wipe my face with the back of my hand as I pull away from Joan.

  “You might have been a little shit when you were younger, and there were hints of it when you first got here, but you changed for that girl and I know you would have done anything for her. There is no way the Cole we’ve seen over the last three years would have gotten behind the wheel of that car when he was drunk. I’d have never let you use my car if I thought that was even a possibility. So what gives, Cole?”

  I shake my head. I can’t tell them. I can’t tell anyone. “I made a mistake.”

  “Just leave him be, Simon,” says Joan, guiding me towards the kitchen. “I’ve made you some breakfast,” she tells me. “Your favourite.”

  I don’t understand. Joan hasn’t outright been mean to me, but she’s just never felt like a motherly figure either. That was Evie’s mum. “Thank you,” I say.

  Simon plonks himself down in the chair opposite me and sips his tea without breaking eye contact. I cut into my bacon and chew without saying anything.

  “So,” he begins a few minutes later. He stabs at his scrambled egg and dips it into the brown sauce. “You’re eighteen, which means you’ll be going to a proper prison. You’ll be spending time with rapists, murderers, paedophiles and other horrible bastards. Is this really what you want?”

  “I don’t think I have a choice,” I mumble.

  “You could tell the truth.”

  “I already did.”

  “You’re a liar,” he says. “And I actually think you think you’re doing it for the right reasons, but I want to know the truth, Cole.”

  “What difference would it make to you if you knew?” I say, resting my cutlery on the side of the plate.

  He folds his hands and rests his chin on them. His eyes keep flicking over my head to Joan, who is washing the baking trays and grill in the sink. “If you tell me the truth, and you swear it, even if it’s not what I want to hear, you’ll still have our house to come home to when you get released. We’ll make sure you’re okay.”

  I swallow as I think about it. I will need somewhere to go when I get out or else I’ll be homeless. I googled it on my phone and I’ll receive benefits while I’m inside, but I won’t be able to access them until I get out. “It was Nico,” I finally say. “He was driving, not me.”

  Simon nods, and I think I see pools of sadness settle in his eyes. “Was he drunk and high on drugs?”

  I nod.

  “Had you taken drugs?”

  I shake my head. “No, I was clean.”

  “Why are you doing it then?”

  “He deserves to die with the respect he’s earned. If this comes out, every other good thing he’s done will be forgotten. And,” I say, “Amy was pregnant with his baby. When I first confessed, I didn’t know any of them were dead. I didn’t know what I was really doing, I guess. I was just trying to protect him.”

  Grief stirs in my stomach and coils around my heart like a giant snake. Just because I’ve confessed to driving doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to grieve. I found out from Simon as he drove me home that I’ve been banned from Nico’s funeral. Of course, no one can actually stop me from turning up, but Mrs Romano has asked Simon and Joan that I refrain from attending. Simon says she was very polite and seemed uncomfortable, even though she believes that I killed her son.

  I don’t want Mrs Romano to hate me. I thought Nico would survive. I thought it was just going to be our little secret, and that he would have told his mum the truth in the end. Now I know I can never tell the truth. It would break their broken hearts even more.

  “Why don’t you just tell the truth after the funeral?” asks Simon. “The England players are attending so those plans don’t have to change, but you might just save yourself from wasting the next fifteen years of your life.”

  Fifteen? “How many?” I look up at Simon and feel unease settle into my bones. How can I live after being inside for that long? Do I really believe in what I’m doing enough to give up my life?

  “I’ve asked a solicitor,” Simon continues. “Obviously there are cases where people have been sentenced for less, but there are also cases where they’ve been sentenced the full whack. Good behaviour may get you out slightly earlier.”

  Fifteen years? Fifteen fucking years of my life in a prison with scum? What the fuck have I done? What the fuck am I still doing?

  “I’m tired,” I say, pushing my plate to the middle of the table then wiping my mouth. “I’m going to my room.”

  Joan and Simon let me go without saying anything else. I know they’re disappointed, but how can I change what I’ve done now? It’s too late.

  I slump down on my bed and bury my face in my pillow. I scream for Evie. I shout for Nico, and then I roar for myself. Tears explode out of my eyes as shudders rattle through me.

  I’ve ruined my life. Nico has ruined his own life, and that of his friends and their families. How could so much go so wrong in just one night?

  I snatch my phone off the bedside table and dial Evie’s number, but it just rings out. I ring it over and over again, but Evie never answers.

  Evie

  “So he just walked out and you haven’t heard anything from him since?”

  I cut through my steak and take a sip of my wine. Steph stayed out last night and most of today, so it’s the first chance I’ve had to tell her what happened.

  I wriggle in my seat and nod. “I don’t know what to say to him tomorrow.”

  “Just ignore the fucker,” she says, shovelling a forkful of new potatoes into her mouth. “And why are you wriggling?”

  “I’m uncomfortable,” I tell her. “I feel like everyone is looking at us and thinking we’re scruffy.”

  We’re both underdressed for the restaurant we’re in, and we’ve tucked ourselves in the corner to try and hide the fact that we’re wearing our sportswear and have dried sweat on our foreheads.

  Since I got mugged, Steph has been bullying me into going to self-defence classes. Today was our first lesson, and I think I’m going to have more bruises on me after today than I did when I was actually mugged.

  “They’re probably looking at your black eye and wondering what arsehole did it to you.”

  I narrow my eyes at her. The bruising has really come out now and it looks awful. “How’s your cow?” I nod towards Steph’s steak that’s practically still mooing. I don’t know how anyone can eat a steak that’s bleeding all over the plate.

  “It’s good,” she says, cutting it up in little squares. “How’s yours?”

  I nod. “Good, but not as good as the chips.”

  She laughs. “What is it with you and chips?”

  I shrug. “They’re just my favourite. And burgers. I love those too.”

  “I don’t know how you manage to keep your figure with an appetite like yours.”

  I giggle. Everyone used to say that to me when I was younger. “I don’t either, to be honest.”

  Steph picks up the bottle of wine and refills my glass. “So . . . back to Cole.”

  “Do we have to?”

  She nods. “I’ve been thinking about it. I think I know why he walked out last night.”

  I raise my eyebrow at her. “Enlighten me.”

&nb
sp; “I’ve tried to put myself in his shoes. He says he did it for you and your mum, and I believe him.”

  I open my mouth, but she puts her hand up to stop me from interrupting her.

  “He’s achieved absolutely nothing from doing it,” she continues. “No pat on the back, no thank you . . . nothing. He’s wasted six years of his life in that prison. He’s heard and seen God knows what, and he did it all to prevent Nico’s name from being tarnished. Even when he knew Amy was dead and there was no need to protect Nico because he wouldn’t be a dad anyway, he still carried on with his lie. He did it so you and your mum could carry on thinking Nico was the best thing since sliced bread, even when Cole knew he wasn’t.”

  I sit back and think about what she’s saying. “So why’d he tell me the truth now?”

  “Because he still feels something for you.” She sips her wine and stabs her fork through her steak. “And he obviously still finds you irresistible. But he knew he couldn’t really have you again because of what you thought he did. He’s told you, even when you already told him you’d forgiven him, because he wanted to clear the air between you. He wants you back, and he wants there to be a clean slate.”

  I sigh and push some bits of fat to the corner of my plate. “It doesn’t explain why he walked out last night after saying he couldn’t ‘deal with this shit.’”

  “It does,” she says, nodding. “Imagine you’d done all of that. Everyone hated you, you’d gone to prison, lost the girl you loved and missed out on all the stuff you get to do during your late teens and early twenties. Imagine doing all of that and thinking you were doing it to save your best friend’s reputation, even though he was dead and it was his fault anyway, and then imagine hearing that you’d missed out on seeing your son being born and watching him grow up for the first eight years of his life. Cole’s never ever going to get those years back, and he might have completely lost his chance of ever creating that father-son bond that people talk about. It must be fucking devastating for him.”

 
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