I knew the moment I saw him that Ben was Pete’s child. It wasn’t so much his features as his gestures. I know that sounds mad, a newborn baby surely has no gestures but Ben did. The way his tongue poked out was just like Pete when he was concentrating. His flexed fingers reminded me of Pete’s during an almighty stretch. I knew it in my heart but Pete couldn’t see it. During the labour he was distracted and then refused to cut the cord. When they handed the baby to me I feigned exhaustion and told them to give him to his Dad, but Pete just gently laid his baby boy in the Perspex cot at the side of my bed.
As the weeks went on I wanted so desperately to talk to him, to reassure him that Ben was his baby but it was too huge to broach. He’d told me to never mention it again I had to respect that or face losing him. Our relationship had been significantly cooler since my Dad’s funeral and the sex less loving, but I hid from the facts behind a veil of grief and pregnancy.
As Baby Ben grew so did the gulf between Pete and I. On the surface our lives were still the same and he was a good Dad on a practical level. He bathed and fed him, changed his nappy, did everything he’d done for Hannah. But he was cold towards his son. Pete also started to go our more after work, coming in drunk after we’d all gone to bed. I became paranoid he was having an affair. I started going through his pockets and listening in on phone conversations. Whenever we were out with his friends I’d try and trip him up on details of previous social events he said he’d been at. He could tell what I was doing and it would cause huge rows. I got a part time job at a rival production company hoping that any gossip on my husband may filter back to me. Of course there was none but I was obsessed. I think it was my own infidelity that fuelled my jealousy. I knew only too well how easy it was to have sex with someone who wasn’t your partner, someone you didn’t love.
By the time Ben started school I knew I had to at least try and save my relationship. I arranged for Vivienne and Bill (who were at this point on the verge of breaking up themselves) to have the kids so I could take Pete away for a long weekend. The choice of destination was bold, foolhardy perhaps, but in my head it made sense. I packed for us both and met him from work in a cab. He was too bewildered by the whole idea of a surprise weekend away to show any other emotion than shock. ‘What about the kids?’ was all he said. I held his hand held his hand in the back of the car as we crawled through theLondontraffic in the rain, me talking all the time, not giving him the chance to reprimand me or back out.
Just as the A4 became the M4 and we started to move more freely he turned to me, smiling at last, and said ‘where are we going anyway?’. I took a deep breath. ‘Menorca!’ I said it like a Blue Peter Presenter announcing the name of their latest on screen pet, all breathy and fake. He looked at me and his hand went limp in mine ‘Really? I wonder why you pickedMenorca?’ ‘Because it’s lovely and we know it and we’ve had fun there before…’ I said, the pseudo enthusiasm leaking out of me with every word. ‘Oh yes, we had fun there, living the teenage dream, fucking like rabbits just to piss the parents off and look where that got us’. He folded his arms protectively across his body and turned to the window, watching Heston Services speed past.
My heart sank, we hadn’t even gone through passport control and the wheels were already falling off. But once we’d checked our bags in he seemed to perk up, we had a couple of drinks in the bar and on the plane we even managed a fit of the giggles when a grossly fat woman fell asleep on his shoulder. By the time we reached our hotel the atmosphere was relaxed between us. We lay side by side on the big bed trying to decide whether to order from room service or drag our travel weary bodies out for the night. And then suddenly we were kissing. It dawned on me that even when we did have sex we never kissed anymore. It felt good, intimate. Pete was much more gentle with me than he had been in years. We took our time, we left the lights on, we looked into each others eyes and when the sex was over we lay in a sweaty spaghetti of arms and legs until my hand went numb and he got cramp.
The rest of the weekend was just as good. We lay around the hotel pool, reading, playing backgammon, drinking beer. We snoozed in the sun, swam, even snorkeled together. On our last night I suggested we take a walk down to the beach, I had two motives. Firstly I wanted to recreate that first night of passion we’d enjoyed thirteen years before. The evening was almost identical, the moonlight dancing on the water, we stripped and waded in. Somehow it felt even more illicit now we were married with two children. He lifted me up and I wrapped my legs round his waist, my arms clamped tightly round the back of his neck and for the next few minutes were locked together in a moment of perfect reconnection. When it was over Pete pressed his mouth to my ear ‘I love you Emma, I always have, since that first Christmas when your Grampa made me a go-kart!’ I laughed as tears streamed down my face ‘I love you too Pete, so very much’. We dressed and sat on the shore holding hands. I was nervous but I decided the time was right to act on my second motive. ‘Pete…?’ ‘Yes Emma’ he said, leaning in and nudging me with his shoulder. ‘There’s something I think we should do, to make sure things between us stay this good’. Silence. My heart started beating hard in my chest, I could feel my pulse throbbing in my neck. ‘I’m not sure I like the sound of this’ he said eventually. ‘Well I know you don’t want to talk about it but I think we should have a paternity test done for Ben, so you’ll know once and for all, for sure, you know’. ‘What??!’ he spat in my face. ‘Did you just say what I think you said? Now? When we’re getting on so well…?’ I floundered. I’d make the wrong decision as usual. I thought that if he knew without a shadow of a doubt that Ben was his he could love him properly. That he would forgive me my grief stricken moment of madness. That we could move on and live happily ever after. He stood up and started walking towards the hotel, I ran after him, not knowing what to do for the best. As he got to the road at the back of the beach he stopped and span round, I nearly crashed straight into him. ‘Ok, let’s take the paternity test if that will shut you up. But, if we find out he isn’t mine I never want to see him or you again. DO YOU HEAR ME?’ I nodded. Reaching out I held him by the wrists but he pulled free and stormed back to the hotel. I stood there, at the back of aMenorcianBeach, under a buzzing street light, wondering if I was, in actual fact, set to self destruct.
True to his word we had the test done and as I suspected the results came back that Ben was 100% Pete’s son. I didn’t feel relief, I had always known it to be true. But I expected something from Pete. A warming towards Ben perhaps, an acknowledgment that his behaviour over the years had been churlish. Oh I know I did a bad thing but I’d apologized as much as Pete would allow and I was truly remorseful. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last fifteen years and I think what stopped Pete from changing was his own guilt. He knew he’d punished that child for a crime he didn’t commit and he would have to live with that for the rest of his life.
Within a year of that long weekend my worst fears had materialized. I came home early from work to find Pete in our bed with a runner from the production company. It was such an abominable cliché I have learnt to laugh about it but at the time I was devastated. She was just the first (as far as I know) in a long, young, slim, pretty string of girls. He stared me straight in the eye that day with a look which said ‘now we’re even’.