Chapter 1

Sunday Morning

 

Who knew a cup of tea could taste so good?

It wasn’t that it was a different brand, different milk, sugar instead of sweetener, or any other possible variation. It just tasted good.

Sundays were usually spent the same way as Saturdays – watching TV, smoking cigarettes and feeling lonely. This Sunday was going to be different. Except the smoking, of course. Will couldn’t change everything in one day, and he had a whole packet of Marlboro and a pouch of Golden Virginia to finish first. No point in wasting it.

This Sunday was going to be the first Sunday of the rest of his life.

As he carried his tea through to the living room, he considered this expression, and decided that whether good or bad, every day is the first of the rest of your life, and whoever first coined the phrase should be shot for stating the bleeding obvious.

But as he was in a positive mood this morning, he didn’t dwell on it for long.

Will stood at the window in his living room, looking down on the street below. Seven-thirty on a Sunday morning was a quiet time in this South London suburb, the only activity being the street-cleaner diligently filling his handcart with empty beer bottles and discarded kebab paper.

A cup of tea this good couldn’t be enjoyed properly without a cigarette, so he lit a Marlboro and opened a window to let the smoke out. Apart from the solitary street-cleaner and the occasional bus, Will’s only other form of entertainment was the crows and pigeons, who must have been very grateful for all the dropped kebab meat and shredded cabbage that littered the pavement every Sunday morning, and were getting their fill before this feast was picked up and sent on its way to a landfill site somewhere.

After two years of living with a cloud over his head, last night Will Frampton had had an epiphany. He had realised that the only person making him miserable was himself. He could no longer blame Abi, his estranged wife and the only woman he had ever loved, who had thrown him out of the family home three years previously. She’d warned him on several occasions to pay her more attention, interact with the children, and generally stop being a couch potato. He’d deserved to be kicked out, to be fair.

Neither could he blame his job or his employer. The fact that he had never put an ounce of effort into his work over the past thirty years was hardly the fault of the bank. He should just be grateful that they had kept him on for so long, even if he had been doing the same job for the past twenty years.

The only person other than himself who Will felt he could hold responsible, if only a little bit, was his former best friend Andy. They’d known each other since school, and had remained close up to the moment Will had told Andy that Abi had asked him to leave. Andy had been a little too keen to console Abi for Will’s liking, and he soon discovered why.

Anyway, things were going to be different from now on. Tomorrow, he would go to work with a positive attitude, and not be his usual miserable self. Sonia, his long term colleague, and only real friend, would probably ask him if he was on drugs, or make some such stupid remark, but she’d have to get used to his new, sunny attitude.

As would Abi and the children.

 

***

 

“Good Morning. How are you?” Will couldn’t quite believe how bright and breezy he sounded. He was a little worried about what Abi might think.

“I’m fine, thanks. You sound cheerful. What’s up?” Abi replied hesitantly. Well, he had expected her to be suspicious. Now he had to make sure she didn’t stop him from talking with the children.

“Nothing’s up. I’m just calling to speak with Jack and Sophie, if they’re around.”

“Why?”

“Can’t a father speak with his children when he wants to?”

“Yes, a father can. But when that father has not made much of an effort in the past, and certainly has never called at a quarter to nine on a Sunday morning, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for the mother of his children to wonder what the hell is up with him.”

She’d got him there. He didn’t call very often, and never this early in the morning. Sunday mornings were just the same as Saturday mornings, except instead of Saturday Kitchen, he had The Andrew Marr Show to sit and complain about. More paper reviews (not newspapers – this was Sunday, after all), celebrities plugging their latest endeavours, purely for their own benefit, and interviews with politicians that, regardless of which party they represented, must have attended the same training course as all the other politicians that appeared on the programme. The one where they teach you how to answer the question that you really wanted the interviewer to ask, rather than the one that they actually did. Some of them could really turn it into an art form.

Well, not this Sunday. He hadn’t sat down since he’d got out of bed around seven o’clock. The dishes had been washed, the shelves had been dusted and his body had been showered. His face had been shaved, his pile of dirty clothes had been gathered into a black bag, and his bed had been made. If only he’d had a working Hoover, he could have vacuumed.

All in all he was feeling very pleased with himself.

The butterflies in his stomach must have been feeling quite chipper as well, judging by the way they hadn’t stopped fluttering all morning. The cup of coffee and the badly rolled cigarette he’d smoked just before making the phone call had helped for a short while, but right now the butterflies seemed to be performing Red Arrows style aerial acrobatics.

“Actually, there was another reason for my call; Jack’s birthday. Would it be OK if I popped over with his present? It’d be great to see him.”

“Yeaahh, OK.” Her enthusiasm was underwhelming.

“Go on. I won’t stay long. I don’t want to cause any bad atmosphere. I just think it’d be nice for him to see his dad on his birthday.”

“I guess so. It just seems a bit odd, considering you’ve missed his last two birthdays. I don’t want you building his hopes up that his dad might get more involved, only for you to crush him. You’ve never been the most reliable of people.”

“Fair point. I can’t argue with you there. But I do want to try and see them both more. Don’t ask me what’s changed, just try and believe that something has.”

“Well, OK. If you promise to see them both more often. We’re going out for the day Saturday, so you’ll have to get here before 9. If not, you could come Sunday.”

“I’ll be there for 8.30. Thanks, Abi. I won’t let you down.”

“It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?”

Yesterday he would have told her to go fuck herself. Today was different. Today he was a new man.

“Sorry. If I could turn the clock back.” He left a pause, waiting for her to respond.

After a few seconds too long, he broke the silence. “Anyway, are Jack or Sophie there?”

“Hold on, I’ll see if either of them is awake.”

Will knew Jack would be. He wasn’t so sure about Sophie. From what Abi had told him, she was slipping into teenage mode with great enthusiasm, and being awake before 10 o’clock on a Sunday was out of the question.

Maybe he should have considered that before he decided to phone so early. Not that it mattered, as he’d spoken with her the night before anyway. If Sophie hadn’t called him he wouldn’t have remembered it was Jack’s birthday next week. She’d also told him that Abi had booked a holiday to Orlando, and that Andy was going with them, which hadn’t gone down too well with him. So badly, in fact that he’d contemplated suicide, but as the only pills he’d had were herbal sleeping pills, paracetamol and his blood pressure medication, he’d decided he wasn’t really that well-equipped for such a task. He’d also felt bad that he’d ended their conversation abruptly, and he really wanted to speak with her again, but now was probably not the right time.

He’d chat with Jack and try Sophie later.

He could hear muffled voices.

“I don’t know, he just wants to talk to you. Can’t you just pause the game?”

“I suppose so.”

“Hi, Dad.” Jack sounded a little fed up.

“Hi, Jack. Sorry, did I interrupt your game?”

“No, it’s OK. I’ll go and get some breakfast in a minute anyway.”

“Good.” He really should have given some thought as to what he was going to say. He’d been so excited about trying to rebuild his relationship with his children, he hadn’t thought beyond the first ‘Hi’. One thing he didn’t want to bring up was the holiday. That could wait until Jack was ready to tell him, whenever that might be.

“So, how’s school?” It was lame, but the best he could come up with.

“Not bad.”

“Mum tells me you’re going out for your birthday next Saturday. Where’re you off to?”

Jack perked up at this. “Mum and Uncle Andy are taking me and Tom to Thorpe Park for the day,” he said, sounding very excited.

“Fantastic.” Bollocks. They’re taking him to Thorpe Park, and I can’t even afford to get him a present until the end of the week. Never mind. Keep cheerful. “Who’s Tom?”

“He’s my best friend. I’ve known him since I was five. Don’t you remember him?”

“Oh, that Tom,” Will lied, not having a clue who Jack was talking about. “Well that sounds like a great day. I’m going to try and get to you before you go next week, so I can give you your present and wish you a Happy Birthday.”

“OK.” There wasn’t an ounce of enthusiasm in Jack’s voice, but Will didn’t really expect anything else. “Anyway, Dad, I’m going to get some breakfast now. See you next week.”

Before Will could finish saying ‘Bye, Jack. Have a good week’ Abi was back on the phone. “No, he’s gone. You’ve got me again now.”

No, I haven’t. And you know what? That’s fine. I’ll get over it. I can move on, and leave you with Andy while I start to build a new life for myself. I really can.

“Oh, hi. I guess Sophie isn’t awake?”

“You guess right. At least another hour yet.”

“Never mind. Give her my love, and maybe I’ll see her next Saturday when I pop over.”

“Maybe. I doubt it, though. I can’t see her getting up early just to see her dad.” Will wasn’t sure if Abi had meant that comment to be hurtful, but if she did, she’d done a good job.

“No, I guess you’re right,” he said, trying to keep any hurt or disappointment out of his voice. “Well, have a lovely Sunday, and I’ll see you early next Saturday.”

“OK. Bye.” She hung up almost immediately.

Will had been pacing up and down the living room during the whole conversation, trying to settle the butterflies. He put the phone down on the coffee table, picked up his rolling tobacco and papers and went over to the window to roll a cigarette.

Well, that wasn’t too bad. He knew Jack would be happy for him to go over next week, even if he hadn’t sounded overly enthusiastic about it. That’s just the way children are, even ten year-olds.

There was only one thing that was playing on his mind, and made him realise how little interaction he had had with his children, even when he was living with them. He had no idea who Jack’s best friend was, even though Jack had known him for the last five years. Doubtless, he had met him at some stage, but Will had no recollection.

There again, it was two years since he had met any of Jack’s friends, and he couldn’t remember the names of any of them. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s been a long time.

Will wasn’t the greatest roller of cigarettes, and the rather lumpy specimen he put between his lips was up to his usual standard. He lit it, and then stood at the window, trying to return to his earlier positive state of mind.

It would be completely unrealistic to expect either Abi or Jack to have greeted him with anything other than suspicion or mild interest. Two years of misery and lack of contact couldn’t be overturned in one phone call. Why should he think he would know the names of any of Jack’s friends after all these years? He barely knew the names of his own colleagues, and would forget them within a month of them leaving.

He took a long drag, held his breath for a few seconds, then exhaled the smoke with a strong feeling of satisfaction.

He’d broken the ice. Now he just had to make sure he got to the house early enough next Saturday. It wouldn’t look good if he didn’t turn up in time.

The scene below was a little more lively than it had been earlier, but it was still rather quiet compared with a Saturday morning. A few cars were driving past, and the pavement had a few more people than just the street-cleaner, who by now had moved on, leaving behind him just what he should – a clean street.

The lack of kebab meat and raw cabbage, combined with the increase in traffic meant there were no more birds to keep Will entertained, but no matter. He spent his time productively, thinking about last night, his phone conversation, and how he was going to make sure that his life really did change for the better, and not just slip back into how it was this time yesterday. He really was fed up with being miserable the whole time, and his conversation with Jack had made him realise how little he knew about his own children. Who was Sophie’s best friend? Did she, or had she ever had a boyfriend? Were they both doing well at school? He spoke with them both occasionally, and saw them around Christmas and the other odd occasion in the year, but he didn’t really know them.

Will stared out of the window, not focusing on anything, feeling a little depressed. His earlier good mood had been pushed aside as he considered how much effort he was going to have to put in to rescue his relationship with his children. Effort was not something Will took to well, regardless of what it may bring. If he had put a little effort in over the years, he wouldn’t now be in a dead-end job in a bank, going through every day wondering what could have been if he had just not been so lazy.

But not this time. He looked away from the window, and surveyed his living room. A room that yesterday had surfaces that were thick with dust, and felt like a prison. Now it was clean and a lot less smelly than yesterday, and he felt proud of his achievement. It wasn’t much, but it was a start, and with a little effort he could keep it up for life.

If a little effort was all that was needed to keep his flat clean, then a little effort with his children might be enough. They were too old to be reliant on him anyway; all he and they wanted was a bit more interest from him in their lives. At least, he hoped they would want that, and that he hadn’t left it too late. Only time would tell.

He thought back to his conversation with Sophie the previous evening. She’d called him to remind him that Jack’s birthday was coming up. She had seemed to want to talk, and he had cut her off. God, how he wished he hadn’t, but there was nothing he could do to change that. He’d just have to try and speak with her again soon.

He felt his mood improving slowly. Positive mental attitude, Will. As he turned back to look out of the window, he saw a little way up the road a cyclist ride straight through a red light, and cause a car to break sharply. An event that yesterday would have made his blood boil, and start him off on a rant about what selfish bastards all cyclists are. Today, he managed to keep calm, and tell himself it wasn’t that important, especially as he had not been involved. Ignore it, Will. It’s nothing to do with you. The driver may be angry, but he probably isn’t on blood pressure medication. Maybe next time the cyclist will be knocked off and killed, so we’ll all be better off. He couldn’t resist a little dig. He wasn’t going to change that quickly.

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