The moment she opens the front door I regret calling round. The world-weary expression on her face is an unpleasant reminder of why I walked out.
‘Hi,' I say, trying to sound casual, hoping she can't smell the beer.
‘Tommy's in bed,' she says flatly.
Well, fuck you too, is what I want to say.
I feel bad for using the boy. Although I miss him, he's not the reason I keep coming back. I'm damned if I know why I keep coming back.
I make no move to go.
‘I'll get him to ring you,' she says.
I can tell she wants to close the door and get on with whatever she was doing. But I've nowhere I want to go. I've been sitting in the pub since work finished and I need something more than another beer.
‘Was there something else?'
I shrug, and then say:
‘A cup of tea would be nice.'
It feels like begging. Is this what I get after four years of living with her? I should just smack her in the mouth and leave.
‘All right,' she says with a sigh. ‘But it'll have to be quick; I'm going out. The sitter's coming soon.'
I think about making a joke about a ‘quickie', but of course I don't. I know my place.
‘You could always ask me to sit,' I say.
She looks at me kind of strange. I can't blame her. When have I ever volunteered to look after Tommy? Even when I was living with them I didn't want to stay in with him.
‘Where're you off to?' I ask, following her down the hallway. I'm looking at her arse in her jeans. I want so much to grab it. All the times I could have but didn't; now I want to, but can't.
‘Yeah? What to see?'
‘ A Wonderful Life ,' she says, glancing over her shoulder.
I consider asking her if she wants company; but she wouldn't be going on her own. Besides, I don't want to sit next to her in the cinema. It's physical contact I want.
In the kitchen, she switches on the kettle. She makes no attempt to be friendly. She always was a heartless bitch. To be honest, that's what attracted me in the first place, her cool indifference. It's what attracted me and it's what repelled me.
‘Maybe I'll go up and see Tommy,' I say.
‘I'd rather you didn't. He's only just gone to sleep.'
She puts a cup of tea with the teabag floating in it in front of me and leaves the room. I wonder what the hell I'm doing. It's three months since I left and I still don't know what I'm doing. Why am I here? Not because I'm wanted, that's for sure.
Ten minutes later, she comes back wearing a dress I've never seen before.
‘Very nice,' I say.
I make a half-hearted attempt to grab her as she passes, but she side-steps and I nearly fall on the floor.
She looks at me with disdain.
‘What d'you want, Charlie?'
‘What do I want?'
I want love, comfort, sex. I want to take her to bed, that's what I want. I want to fuck her senseless. I want to fuck her till she begs me to stop. But what then? What do I want when the fucking is over?
‘I don't know. I don't know what I want.'
Do I want to be asked back? What if I were asked? What would I do? Or do I only want what I haven't got?
The doorbell rings. She goes to answer it and returns with Margot, her friend from next door.
‘Hello, stranger,' Margot says.
I nod my head. I used to flirt with Margot. I felt secure and confident in those days. Now, I don't know whether Margot is the sitter or Annie's date or part of a foursome. No one tells me anything. But Margot probably knows everything, or thinks she does. Annie would have poured her lying heart out.
Suddenly, I don't want to be there. I'm better off on my own. I say goodbye and head back to the pub. But what about tomorrow?