After the One - Cass Lester
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After the One
About the Author
Table of Contents
Start of Content
for my mates
who’ve laughed with me and cried with me
and who laugh at me and despair of me
Some days the fates have really got it in for you. When Charley Taylor woke up on Thursday 16 April, with a leaden, flat weight squatting heavily in her stomach, she knew it was going to be one of those days. But then 16 April was always one of the worst days of the year for Charley, one of a handful of days when, instead of leaping out of bed with her usual verve, she wanted to stay put, pull a 10-tog security blanket over her head and hide from the world. All told there were eight duvet-hiding days in Charley’s year, the others being, in date order: 8 August (her wedding anniversary), 22 September (her birthday), then Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.
And then there was 25 February, aka the worst day of the year.
So, on this particular Thursday morning, all Charley wanted to do was hibernate with a pack of chocolate digestives until it was Friday. But it was gone seven o’clock and she had to get up and go to work, because, regardless of the date, and regardless of little things like births, marriages and deaths, life goes on.
If Charley had known how the day was going to pan out, and particularly the fact that she was actually only going to be in the office for about ten minutes, she would have hunkered back down and spared herself the monumental effort of slapping on a smile, holding it there and dragging herself into work. But not being in the privileged position of being able to predict the future, she bullied herself into getting out of bed.
‘Come on, you… Get up, make up, go to work and do the day.’
Throwing off the duvet, Charley slung her legs out of bed, crossed the room and yanked open the curtains, only to be confronted by a soggy grey day as dull as ditch-water, with rivulets of rain running down the cold windowpane. It was in stark contrast to the photo on the bedside table where Josh, wearing Bermuda shorts and a suntan, with his shades pushed back onto his beach-scruffy hair, stood against the backdrop of an azure-blue Ibiza sea. He was grinning broadly at her, as was his way.
‘You’re not missing much,’ she informed him, brightly. ‘It’s not exactly another day in paradise.’ Then, almost as an afterthought, she added, ‘Happy birthday.’
If he’d still been here to celebrate it, she’d be cooking him a birthday breakfast right now. The thought momentarily stopped her in her tracks and she stood, adrift in her memories for a while, until, with an effort, she brought herself back to the present.
You know how to do this, just make like it’s an ordinary day, she told herself, padding barefoot into the bathroom. It’ll probably turn out a lot better than you think.
She looked at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. It gazed back at her, gloomily, so she pulled a silly face at it. A thirty-one-year-old woman with long dark curly hair escaping a lopsided scrunchy, and with tell-tale smudges of yesterday’s mascara round her eyes, made a face back. Charley wondered which one of them she was trying to convince.
Despite Charley’s commendable optimism, the morning kicked off to a pretty lousy start. Her car, which had seen better days – and a good many of them before she’d even owned it – decided that today was the perfect day to break down. She’d barely pulled away from the kerb, when an alarming, and almost certainly expensive, rattling erupted from underneath.
‘Bloody hell!’ she swore and immediately manoeuvred back to the side of the road again. It sounded horribly like the exhaust was threatening to fall off, but she wasn’t going to get out and clamber underneath to have a look, not in a work skirt and white shirt, that was for sure. She’d have to call the garage, again. Her heart sank; the last time the car broke down, less than six months ago, they’d been adamant it wasn’t worth fixing.
‘It’s knackered, love. You want to trade it in before it dies completely.’
She knew they were right, but Josh had given the car to her, so she’d told the garage to go ahead and fix it anyway.
The mechanic had been admirably reluctant to rip her off. ‘Honestly, it’s going to cost a fortune, love, it’s not worth it,’ he’d protested.
Nevertheless, she had insisted. ‘I’m just not ready to change cars yet,’ she’d explained.
It wasn’t that Charley was allergic to change, more that she avoided it like the plague. Losing Josh had torn into her life like a savage storm, leaving her shipwrecked, cast away on a sea of loss. Astonishingly, life had gone on, and somehow, she was expected to carry on without him. Her instinct, her coping mechanism, had been to grasp hold of the things that had remained, and nail them down in the desperate hope of providing some sort of stability against the endless, buffeting waves of bereavement. Her car, their flat, her job, even the bloody broadband supplier, had all become her mooring posts.
Charley got out of the car, locked it and decided to worry about it later. Not least since her immediate problem was getting to work on time. A swift glance at her phone told her there’d be a bus in about five minutes, but she’d have to leg it. Kicking off her heels and clutching them, and her bag, tightly into her body, she hurtled down the road, her stockinged feet splashing through cold, gritty puddles. Could