Doesn't Everyone Have a SecretThe horn let out a short, sharp ‘barp’ causing Steph to jump out of her skin. Stamping on the brakes, she wondered what the bloody hell was wrong with the car now. She was not going back to that garage, last time they’d been laughing at her, she knew it. So diesel and unleaded weren’t the same thing, so the screen wash didn’t go in that particular hole, so what. Sometimes this bloody car seemed to have a life of its own. Come to think of it, so did everything, except, of course, her!

Turning off the ignition and scrabbling around on the floor for her handbag and its spilt contents, Steph climbed out of the huge car and noticed a bollard only centimetres away. Wow, lucky she’d stopped when she did.

In the supermarket she headed straight for the wine aisle, as always. Whilst there she heard a woman call out to her husband, ‘Look at this one, Bill, special offer, half price, £6.99!’

Steph was amused when Bill replied, with a shocked expression, ‘Blimey, that’s expensive. How much is it normally?’

Laughing quietly to herself, and with a quick ‘Excuse me’, Steph reached past him and grabbed a couple of bottles of her usual plonk. She then hot footed it to the toilet tissue aisle; John always insisted they have plenty of spare rolls in the house.

After this, as she sauntered around the supermarket grabbing food in a haphazard fashion, Steph’s mind returned to her usual question ‒ would her family even notice if she simply upped and left? She often pondered this; her daydreams took numerous forms but always included some weird and wonderful twist. Today, as her chilly hands grabbed at random frozen products, she imagined a sleek black car pulling up outside the supermarket. A deeply attractive and brooding Russian gentleman would slowly lower his tinted window and call out to her, ‘You are most beautiful woman I have seen. I want you now. You will come to Russia with me and I will keep you in luxurious lifestyle. In return you will perform many sexual acts with me which will leave us mutually satisfied.’ She found that today’s fantasy gave her quite an ache.

Steph dragged her mind back to the supermarket. Noticing the time, she figured she needed to get a wriggle on if she was going to get this food in the freezer before school pick up. Managing to get through the checkout with the usual forced pleasantries and not too many profanities, she was soon loading the shopping into her car. Seeing that someone had abandoned their trolley on the walkway between the parked cars, Steph decided to do the same. Well if it was good enough for them! Checking from side to side she rammed her trolley into the back of the abandoned one with great gusto, then dashed back to her car ‒ mission accomplished.

She couldn’t say what, but, curiously, something told her to glance back over her shoulder. Doing so she observed the two trolleys, now entwined in an embrace, picking up speed and heading towards a brand new car, not unlike the one her imaginary Russian friend drove. Damn, she must have shoved too hard. Running back as fast as her stupid shoes allowed, she just caught the trolleys before they had a chance to scratch the pristine car. Slightly embarrassed and swearing under her breath, Steph ceremoniously wheeled both the trolleys, still tightly interlocked, across the car park and pushed them carefully into the designated trolley area, under the watchful eye of, according to his badge, the ‘Trolley Collection Supervisor’ ‒ (aged seventeen and covered in acne), who had wandered over to ‘supervise’.
As he opened his mouth to speak, she held up her hand and instructed, ‘Don’t even think about it kid, I’ve got regrets older than you!’

She just made it to school in time to collect the kids and, as so often happened, was lucky enough to get a parking space right outside the gate. On their way home Steph drove in her usual fashion. Rounding the bend, a tad faster than was legal and slightly over the white line, she spotted the vicar’s car edging out at a T-junction.

‘Keep back, Vicar’ she mumbled under her breath. ‘I’ve got the right of way here; you just bloody wait for me.’

Her interfering seven-year-old son informed her, ‘You can’t be rude to vicars, Mum.’

‘I wasn’t being rude to him, Jamie. Anyway he can’t hear me in his car, can he?’

‘Well technically Mother, you did say “bloody” to him.’ Sophie, her frequently sarcastic, nearly eleven-year-old, who for once wasn’t plugged into an MP3 Player, joined in the discussion.

‘Oh for God’s sake, I’m sorry, OK?’

‘You can’t say “for God’s sake” to a vicar either,’ continued Jamie.

‘She wasn’t saying it to the bloody vicar she was saying it to you, stupid!’

‘Mum, now Sophie said “bloody” and she called me “stupid”!’

***

After a hurried and unimpressive dinner, Steph gave the children their instructions.

‘I’ve laid out your clothes on your beds, have a quick shower and get changed.’ Steph had volunteered to take charge of the refreshments stall at the school disco. She was already beginning to regret agreeing, they’d only been back at school for a month for God’s sake, they hardly needed a sodding disco, even if it was to welcome the new headmaster. However, when the PTA woman had called and asked for her help she’d been feeling particularly pissed off with John and thought that any excuse for an evening away from him was a good one.

Sophie’s shower passed without incident; Jamie’s not so.

As he undressed and Steph began to leave the room, she insisted, ‘Wash those armpits well please.’

Dropping his trousers, Jamie asked, ‘What about this thing?’

Assuming he was referring to the part of his anatomy that he always either talked about or waved around, Steph shouted over her shoulder, ‘Yes, definitely wash THAT!’

Laughing Jamie replied, ‘I meant this plaster on my knee, Mum. What shall I do about it? What did you think I meant?’

Steph decided to get changed and drag a brush through her matted hair, but no more than that, it was, after all, just a kid’s disco. But looking at herself in the mirror she was horrified by the bags under her eyes, and the general grey pallor of her face. She was thirty-six not ninety-six for fuck’s sake! So ashamed was she that she changed her mind and spent a bit of time and care on her appearance for once. Her usual choice of hair styling method was to dry her highlighted hair with the car windscreen blower on her way to wherever she was going (why have the hot air clearing the windscreen when you can turn the dial and have it blowing straight into your face?). However, today Steph got the hair straighteners out and made a bit of an effort. Subsequently they left late to get to the disco, but for once Steph felt that she was actually looking reasonably attractive. Her blue eyes sparkled thanks to some careful application with a mascara wand and her hair was in a rare sleek and smooth bob.

Leaving John a quick note to remind him where they’d all gone and inform him where he could find his dinner, such as it was, she rushed out of the house at 7.15pm, shouting, ‘Get in the car quick, I promised that Lisa woman that I’d be there on the dot of seven!’ Screeching out of the drive without checking the road she marvelled at how lucky it was that there was never anything coming.

***

Steph found that she actually enjoyed running the refreshments stall. It was hard work because the children all seemed to be permanently in need of a drink or some sweets, but it was quite fun too. Some kids held their money tightly in their clenched little fists as they perused the table laden with treats, whilst others appeared to be almost bursting to spend theirs, fighting to shove their coins into her hand. One would have thought that tomorrow were Armageddon; so desperate were some not to be left with any spare money at the end of the evening. Most importantly she noticed that all the children seemed to be getting extremely excited.

At one point the DJ had to shut One Direction up so that the new headmaster could make an announcement. ‘It would appear that a boy’s fingers have been shut in the door by accident. Now, whilst I’m not blaming anyone specifically, I must ask you all to calm down and take more care ‒ thank you.’

The music began again and Steph looked at her ever-decreasing stock of fizzy pop and sweets and uttered, ‘I think the ravaged refreshment stall has a story to tell.’

‘I quite agree, but the PTA insisted on the damn stalls.’

‘Oh I’m sorry, Headmaster, I wasn’t really talking to anyone in particular. It’s just that if you feed children e-numbers they do tend to get a bit out of control in my experience. Don’t take any notice of me, no one else does.’

‘Please call me Gareth or at the very least Mr. Churchill. And as for your thoughts, well you’re quite right.’

‘Thank you, Mr. Church … erm Gareth.’ Steph felt her face flush. He had a very nice manner about him this new bloke. He seemed to just ooze charm somehow. And his voice reminded her of chocolate, the smooth, expensive kind that she liked to buy just for herself when John was at work, and Jamie and Sophie were safely the right side of the school gates.

‘How’s the boy whose fingers were caught in the door?’ She was genuinely concerned, but also she wanted to keep his attention for a bit longer, she was really enjoying those big brown eyes focused so intensely on her.

‘He’s not too bad. We had to call his mum to collect him because he was very upset, but fortunately there was no need to take him to hospital. No one’s fault really. They’re a good bunch of kids. Which one’s yours?’

‘Two actually, Sophie and Jamie Stubbs.’ Steph said their names with a wince and held her breath, waiting for some criticism or a derogatory comment. She found that she actually cared rather a lot what Mr. Churchill thought about her children.

After a tiny pause he responded with the correct answer. With a nod of his head he declared, ‘Ah yes, Sophie and Jamie ‒ nice kids.’ Then he added with an over-modest smile and a flash of his perfect teeth, ‘Very handsome pair, I see where they get it from now.’

Steph knew deep down that it was possibly the crappiest line anyone had ever fed her. But her relationship with John was so unexciting at the moment, before she knew it she was beaming back at the headmaster, with far more enthusiasm than a married woman should.

***

Steph volunteered to stay and help clear up whilst Jamie enjoyed some ‘socked feet sliding’ with his friends in the now empty hall, watched disapprovingly by the music teacher, Mrs. Trainer. Sophie seemed happy enough to hang about and talk to her friends; the friends she’d spent all day and all evening with, the same friends she’d be texting before bed later. They never seemed to run out of things to say. She was having much the same experience with Gareth. He was making her laugh with his dreadful jokes and paying her compliments as they packed away the tables. After one of his very lame jokes, Steph found that she was actually giggling. Feeling the giggle in the pit of her stomach, she momentarily wondered when John had last made her laugh like that. But no answer came and she felt it was probably better not to attempt to compare the two men, in case John came off worst.

By the time they all got home John was snoring loudly on the sofa. Steph saw the kids to bed, poured herself an obscenely large glass of dry white wine and sat down next to him. Kicking off her shoes, she asked the sleeping John, ‘How do you manage to sound exactly like a bloody cow in labour?’ as he continued to snore heavily. Watching him sleep for a while, she stared into his kind, familiar face.

Eventually, when it was obvious that he wasn’t going to stir, she retrieved the small, blue throw from the other end of the sofa and laid it over him.

Leaning in to kiss the thinning, light brown hair on the top of his head she whispered, ‘Come on, John, make me giggle again.’

Very unobligingly, he did nothing of the sort. He merely slept on and she retired to bed alone, where she was free to think about Gareth with his smooth skin, puppy-dog eyes and chocolatey voice.

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