Splintered Memory
Author:Natascha Holloway

Part Three

Claire

She was sat by the window in the Café Nero in Clapham Junction Station, feeling both nervous and guilty. Charlie had called her forty five minutes earlier to say that she’d just arrived at Paddington.

Claire wasn’t entirely sure why Charlie was coming to see her, and she wondered if Matt had told her that they used to be best friends. She wondered if Charlie now knew that they’d shared every secret that either of them had ever had, since the moment that they were old enough to know what secrets were. Yet she pondered more uneasily whether Charlie had been told this information not by Matt, but by her parents whilst she’d been living back at home in Cheddar.

She hoped that she wasn’t going to have to spend the next couple of days re-telling Charlie all about their past and trying to reassure her. It had been this type of situation that she’d been actively avoiding since Charlie had woken up after her accident without a memory, and was the reason why Claire hadn’t once visited her after she had been released from hospital.

When Claire had walked into Charlie’s hospital room, she’d been so relieved to see her awake and sat up talking to a nurse that she’d forgotten what the others had said to her about Charlie’s condition. She’d been instantly reassured that everything was going to go straight back to how it had been before the accident, and she’d breezed into the room and sat down on Charlie’s bed.

Charlie had seemed so much like her old self as Claire had sat down. She’d looked the same, smiled the same, and she’d even sounded the same. Yet as Claire had tried to make jokes, and re-visit conversations that they’d had before the accident, Charlie had just looked at her blankly.

Claire had refused to be downcast about this though. The doctors had believed that the amnesia that Charlie was suffering from was temporary, and there had been no reason for any of them to doubt this. She’d thought that her best friend would just remember in a day or two, but when it had transpired that this hadn’t happened she’d honestly believed that she was going to be able to be there for Charlie regardless.

She’d thought that she’d be able to help her, support her, and encourage her in a way that would spark her memory. She’d known that Charlie had always been there for in the past, and she’d seen that finally it had been her chance to return the favour at long last. Yet the following day she’d arrived at the hospital before visiting hours. No one at the hospital had said anything to her though, and she’d assumed that it was maybe one of the perks of Matt being a doctor there. Nobody had seemed interested in the idea of enforcing visiting hours on his friends and family.

When she’d reached Charlie’s room she’d seen from the doorway that Matt had already been in there with Charlie, and she’d thought about leaving them alone for a while and coming back later. She’d wanted to let the two of them have some peace, as she’d known that they’d been surrounded by family and friends from the moment that Charlie had woken up, but as she’d gone to walk away something had struck her as strange about the scene in front of her.

It had been instantly noticeable that neither of the people in the room had resembled either of the people that she’d known her whole life. Matt, who would normally always have been within inches of Charlie, had been sat on the other side of the room from her and he’d looked visibly uncomfortable. Charlie, who had always looked relaxed when Matt was around, had been looking incredibly tense and insecure. There had been no conversation, and Claire had been able to feel the tension between them from where she’d been stood.

She’d left the hospital that day and she’d driven straight home. She hadn’t even stayed long enough to say goodbye to either Charlie or Matt.

Claire had watched the two of them closer than anyone else in their lives, and to have seen Charlie treat Matt like a complete stranger had brought home to her the stark reality of Charlie’s condition.

She wasn’t proud of her behaviour, the result of which meant that Rich and Bex no longer answered or returned her calls, but it was what it was.

When she had finally managed to get in contact with Ben and Rach, they’d taken it upon themselves to try and coax her into going to visit Charlie. Rach had even written her a heartfelt letter about how she had always been jealous of her and Charlie’s friendship, and how she hated to see her abandoning Charlie in her hour of need. She’d written that they both knew that if the shoe had been on the other foot, Charlie would never have acted this way.

The letter had antagonised Claire at first and she’d nearly thrown it away, but instead – for a reason unbeknownst to her at the time, she’d chosen not to. This had proved to be a mistake though, and after a drunken night out she’d come home and re-read the letter. It had made her cry. Through her haze of intoxication, in which her defences had been lowered, she’d been able to see the truth of Rach’s words for the first time. She’d felt the weight of her betrayal of not just Charlie, but of all of them. She’d not only abandoned Charlie, but she’d turned her back on the friends that she’d had her whole life.

Claire had always known that Bex and Rach had envied the friendship that she and Charlie had had, and that at certain points in their lives had each vied for the spot of best friend in Charlie’s life. Something she felt sure that Matt would have supported. She’d also known that had the situation been reversed, Charlie would’ve been by her side throughout. She’d have helped in any way that she could, and if she hadn’t been able to she’d have stayed by her side and just made friends with her all over again.

Claire had felt guilty about not having visited, and about the accident itself knowing that Charlie wouldn’t have been in the car had she not been in Bath with her. She’d also felt awful about what she’d potentially done to Matt and Charlie’s lives. She’d known that their world had been thrown into disarray, but she’d never realised to what extent until four months after the accident when she’d taken a week off work to go to Birmingham via Cheddar to see Charlie.

She’d forgotten how small Cheddar was, or maybe it had just seemed smaller to her since she’d grown up and moved away. In Cheddar there was no escaping from the fact that all of her friend’s parents were also friends. This meant that every time one of them went home, news of this would spread and all of her friend’s parents would pop round to say; “hello.”

What made these situations especially cumbersome at times, was that this close and seemingly idyllic world that their parent’s lived in made it particularly difficult when they weren’t all on speaking terms. It was hard to have to face the parent of a friend that you’d fallen out with, and then fane an accord that no longer still existed with their child.

When Claire had gone home she’d known that she’d have to do this though, as she’d known that none of her old friend’s parents would know that their children were no longer recognising her existence.

To make matters worse she hadn’t spoken to Nick since she’d moved out of their flat in Bath three months ago, and she’d known that he hadn’t told his parents that they’d broken up. They believed that her prolonged stay in London was work related and nothing more.

She’d also known that none of her friends would have told their parents that she hadn’t once visited Charlie after she’d left hospital, and she’d known that this was going to make it difficult when she’d inevitably be asked by their parents how their sons and daughters were. They’d believe that she’d have the latest news, and she’d known that she would have to lie.

During her encounter with Matt’s mum, which had actually been in the kitchen of Rich’s parent’s house, Claire had heard just how bad the situation between Charlie and Matt had become. Yet she’d been shocked to hear from Mrs Grayson and Mrs Taylor that Charlie hadn’t been able to regain any memories at all, and that the situation with her living back at home was fraught.

Mrs Taylor had talked candidly about how Rich had told his father that he didn’t know how Matt was coping, and that seeing the two of them together was like looking at two totally different people from the ones that he’d known growing up.

Mrs Grayson had been noticeably upset, and she’d confided in Claire that she was worried about Matt. She’d said that she wasn’t sure how, or if, he could handle the situation if Charlie’s memory didn’t come back. She’d said that she felt like she was losing her son as he continued to distance himself from everyone whilst he struggled to cope with Charlie’s condition.

Claire had made her excuses to leave, but as she’d been going both Mrs Taylor and Mrs Grayson had said that they were thankful that she was around to keep them all emotionally stable.

“You’ve always been the one with the calm and rational head Claire,” Mrs Taylor had said; “and I think the boys need that in their lives now more than ever.”

Claire had smiled uncomfortably. She’d never been rational or calm in emotionally charged situations. They were confusing her with Charlie.

Mrs Grayson had pulled Claire into a tight hug, and she’d whispered into her ear; “Claire, you need to make her remember. Matt hasn’t been able to, and he won’t cope if this carries on. You know how he is around Charlie, and I can’t bear to think of him suffering like we all know he is.”

Claire had nodded and smiled, but she’d all but run from the Taylor’s house.

She had known how Matt was about Charlie, she’d always known. She’d been the best friend to the girl that had found the perfect man, had had the perfect romantic love story, and had up until the accident had the perfect relationship. Charlie and Matt had had a life that was like a magical fairytale, but now she knew that it had become a nightmare.

Claire had decided to go back to London after this encounter. She hadn’t been able to face going to see her friends, or Charlie. She hadn’t wanted to have to watch their friendships crack and eventually fall apart. She had already cut herself off, and she had her own memories to protect.

She’d known that she was being selfish, but then she’d known that Charlie would’ve understood. Charlie had always known that her best friend and husband were poles apart in terms of character, and she’d have known that Claire unlike Matt couldn’t be a martyr to a bad situation. Charlie would’ve understood she’d known. Charlie knew her and had always known her.

Claire had known that at some point Matt, Rich, and the others, would have to arrive at the same horrific conclusion that she’d reached months earlier. The Charlie that they’d all known, and loved, and had grown up with, had died in a car accident.

A tap on the window brought her back to the present. She looked up from the bottom of her coffee cup, which now only had coffee stained foam in the bottom, and into the face that was smiling at her through the window from outside. It was a face instantly recognisable to Claire. It was a face that had been smiling at her that way for as long as she could remember. She returned the smile cautiously, and she got up from her chair and went outside to face Charlie.

“Hi,” she said feeling somewhat awkward.

Charlie looked at her as though trying to read her expression, and after what seemed like an age to Claire she finally said; “do you think I’m going to yell at you or something for not having visited me?”

“No,” Claire answered defensively. “It’s just, just,” but as she desperately tried to search for an answer as to what it could just be Charlie hugged her tightly and whispered; “you’re a truly shit best friend to have in times of crisis, but I’ve really missed you none the less.”

Claire pulled back from the hug unsurely, and it was her turn to try and size Charlie up. She scrutinised her face, but as she did Charlie held up her left hand showing Claire her palm.

“You’ve got your memory back?” Claire asked excitedly, her whole face lighting up, but it was less of a question and more a statement of fact.

Charlie looked at her for a second and then flicked her eyebrows up and smiled cheekily at the same time. Claire screamed and jumped up and down, before pulling Charlie into a massive hug and making her hop up and down with excitement too.

The people walking past stared at them irritably, whilst other people heading for the station tutted at the fact that they were taking up too much room on the busy pavement in front of it.

“When, how? I need to know everything,” Claire said.

“Okay, but is there somewhere we can go and talk? Maybe even get some food and a glass of wine?” Charlie asked.

Claire nodded and said; “yeah there’s loads of places around here. Let’s head up the Northcote road.” She indicated the direction with her hand, and as they started walking together she kept looking at Charlie and grinning.

“I’m going to tell you everything, but can you please stop grinning at me like that. People are going to think we’re a couple or something,” Charlie said laughing lightly.

“Alright darlin’, it’s London. They don’t mind a bit of okey pokey down ’ere,” Claire said in a terrible mock cockney accent which made them both laugh.

***

The orders were in and the wine had been poured, and Claire was now eager for answers.

“Come on Charlie. You said somewhere to sit and talk, a bit of food and maybe some wine. I’ve done my bit,” she said; “so now you owe me an explanation.”

Charlie smiled, and the first thing she said was; “I’ve missed you. It feels like a lifetime ago since we were last sat chatting together.”

Claire nodded solemnly, and then she reached out for Charlie’s hand which was on the table and said; “I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there for you.”

Charlie squeezed Claire’s hand and then let go of it. “I honestly don’t think it would’ve made the slightest bit of difference. If you had been around,” she said with a sad smile; “I might’ve just ended up losing my best friend as well as my husband.”

There was a moment’s silence, and Claire watched Charlie take a rather large sip of wine.

“So I take it that you already know that I left Matt and Birmingham about seven months ago?” Charlie asked Claire; “And that I went back to Cheddar to live with my parents?”

Claire nodded and so Charlie continued; “okay. Well, when I got back to Cheddar it was rubbish. Everyone was tip toeing around me, the same way that Matt and Rich and all the others had in Birmingham, and they were being annoyingly positive and optimistic about my inevitable recovery.”

“I was miserable, and none of the diatribe that all of our parent’s were spewing in my direction was helping. Also, by the end of my first week in Cheddar I think that everyone that I’d ever come into contact with had visited me. Each giving me their version of a full re-cap of everything that had happened in my life,” she said rolling her eyes. “Well, everything that they thought I’d benefit from knowing.”

Claire smiled.

“But none of it meant anything to me. It just felt like a story about this perfect girl, who’d fallen in love with this perfect boy that she’d known her entire life. It was all so romanticised that I couldn’t connect with it. I didn’t know if I’d really been popular, or if I’d really been the girl that all the boys had been after until this one special guy had swept me off my feet. What was more frustrating was that none of what I was hearing was triggering anything in my memory. They could’ve been reading me an autobiography of someone else’s life for all the difference it was making to me,” Charlie said.

Claire looked slightly confused, and she didn’t understand the reference that Charlie had made to her memory needing to be triggered. She saw Charlie recognise the confusion in her face and smile.

“The doctor’s that I saw after my accident all told me that if I was to regain my memory, something would have to trigger it. They thought that it was likely that the trauma of my accident, and the memory of being trapped inside the car, had caused my memory to seal itself to protect me from having to re-live it,” Charlie said before she took another sip of her wine.

“They explained that they believed that I had retrograde amnesia, which is basically where you have the ability to retain new memories but you can’t remember your old ones. The trigger that they spoke about could be anything. It could be a person, a thing, a reaction to something or someone. It could even be a certain word. The most frustrating thing about it is that until the memory is triggered,” Charlie said; “you won’t actually know what the trigger is.”

Claire smiled at the way in which Charlie kept making quotation mark signs with her fingers each time she referred to the word trigger.

“Is it wrong if I say that it’s kind of interesting though? You know, how your brain can remember new stuff but not any of the old stuff?” Claire asked before smiling awkwardly at Charlie, who she could see didn’t look like she agreed with her that it was interesting.

“So,” Charlie continued smiling at Claire as she did. “At the end of that first week, I was miserable and disheartened. The search for the needle in a haystack continued, and I had no idea what I was looking for to trigger my memory. Plus everyone was already getting on my nerves, and I really felt like I just needed some time on my own. I wanted to just be able to wonder around, get on with things, and not have to sit in my parent’s house hour after hour listening to people talk at me. But it was difficult you know. I didn’t want to be rude to anyone, and I also didn’t have anything to do.”

Claire looked at her confusedly, and Charlie smiled again and said; “I haven’t been able to work, because I haven’t been able to remember what it was that I did for a living. Or even what being a solicitor entailed. So as you can imagine, I was getting pretty down beat. But luckily my dad could see it, and he asked me if I wanted to go to school with him. He said that I could spend some time in the library, or even just sit in his office reading. He said that if I liked it and enjoyed being in the school, and I carried on with my plan of going back to school to re-take some exams, then maybe I might want to consider teaching as a new profession.”

“At Kings of Wessex,” Claire said sounding surprised.

“Weird isn’t it,” Charlie said still smiling. “I never thought that I’d go back to our old senior school, but it gave me the chance to get out of the house. It was a way to get away from my mum, your mum, Matt’s mum, and everyone else’s mum and dad for that matter,” she added shaking her head. “I’d forgotten how claustrophobic our parents make life in Cheddar.”

“That’s why we all packed up and shipped out,” Claire said smiling.

“Yeah I know,” Charlie said returning Claire’s smile.

“Anyway, I think that my dad was keen for me to go to school with him. I got the sense that he wanted to impress me. You know make me proud of him and his school,” Charlie said smiling yet again.

Claire smiled again too. She knew that Charlie was proud of her father having become the headmaster of their old school, and she knew that Charlie and her dad had always been close.

“So I went into school with him, and it was really nice. The kids didn’t care who I was, or that I’d lost my memory. They were just loud and energetic and full of their own traumas and end of the world situations. The teachers were all stressed, and so they were also completely uninterested in my woes. Most of them were new as well, and there was no one from our days still there that I had to worry about not recognising.”

Charlie took another sip of wine before continuing. “After the first day out of the house and in school, I came back home feeling really good. My spirits were lifted and for the first time in a very long time, I hadn’t spent the whole day trying to be someone that I couldn’t remember ever being. I had spent the day just being me, and that felt really good. Actually it felt great.”

Claire nodded, but she also smiled sympathetically at Charlie. She’d had no idea what her best friend had been through before now, and she couldn’t imagine how awful it must’ve been for her.

“I started to go to school two or three times a week. I’d sit and talk with my dad when he wasn’t in meetings, and he’d make sure that he kept the conversation based around his pupils and teachers. He would ask my advice about things, and we’d discuss all of his options. It was nice to be able to think about other things, and it kept me totally distracted from my own worries.”

Claire nodded again.

“When I wasn’t in my dad’s office, I’d either be in the library or the teacher’s lounge. I’d read, or try to see if I could remember any of the stuff from the books that were left lying around. All the teachers were really nice, and some of them even offered to help me with any studies I might want to do. It was pretty obvious that whilst they didn’t necessarily care about my memory, they’d all been fully briefed on my predicament. Although in fairness I don’t think my dad had told them. It was probably more likely to have been Matt’s mum or Rich’s mum, who are both still on the PTA!”

“Who ordered the salmon?” The waiter asked appearing behind Claire and carrying two plates.

“Me,” Claire said.

“So the chicken Caesar salad is for you?” He asked Charlie, and she nodded.

“Can I get you ladies anymore wine?” He asked them.

“No thanks we’re fine for now,” Claire said eager for him to leave so that Charlie could continue.

Charlie put an overly large sized forkful of chicken and salad into her mouth, and Claire rolled her eyes and said; “still a lady then I see?”

Charlie nodded smiling, and then swallowed her food swilling it down afterwards with a sip of wine.

“Okay,” she said seeing Claire’s eagerness for her to continue. “Well, that’s how I spent my time over the next few months. I wasn’t remembering anything, but I was excited at the prospect of going back to school for myself. I also thought that I might even like to train as a teacher, assuming that I could get all the relevant qualifications of course.”

Claire gave her a look that made Charlie smile, and she knew that Charlie had understood without words that she wanted her to get to the more interesting parts of the story. She wanted to know how her memory had come back, and what had caused it.

“When the school shut for the holidays my dad still had to go in to oversee some maintenance work that was needed, but he said that I could go with him. He warned me that it would be dull, but I was keen to help. To be honest I was keen to do anything to get me out the house and away from my mum, who I knew would start harking on again about the days when I was happily married,” Charlie said raising her eyebrows slightly before eating some more of her salad.

“You found something at the school didn’t you?” Claire asked eagerly.

Charlie nodded and said; “I was in one of the classrooms with a bunch of desks that the teachers had identified as needing to be discarded. My job was to have a look at them and make sure that they really were at the end of their life. If they still had a couple more terms in them, I was under strict orders from my dad to put a sticker on them for them to be returned. It was pretty dull work, although it was quite amusing to read some of the graffiti on the desks. Messages either pencilled or penned onto the desk, or engraved into the wood with either a sharp pen or…”

“A compass,” Claire said interrupting Charlie and smiling reminiscently.

“Some of the messages seemed to act as a kind of timeline for certain pupils,” Charlie said; “and they detailed their relationships and melodramas.”

“What so there weren’t any I was ’ere messages, or I heart so and so?” Claire asked smiling.

“Well yeah, obviously, there were loads of those. Let’s face it kids from any generation aren’t very original, but I didn’t bother with those. My eyes fell on the more heartfelt messages, or the poems or quips that had been jotted down by previous pupils,” Charlie said.

Claire rolled her eyes at her.

“Anyway, as I was reading them, I came across one that said please speak to me. I don’t want to lose both my best friends. I was intrigued by it, and I wondered what that kid must have done to lose two best friends. Although for some reason,” Charlie said as Claire sat forward on her stool; “I was sure the message had been written by a boy.”

“I honestly don’t know why I thought that,” Charlie said; “but the more I looked at it, the more familiar that something about the handwriting became. Yet the more I tried to focus on the familiarity of it, the further away that feeling of familiarity seemed to go.”

Claire stared at her.

“I’d gotten so used to my doctor’s telling me not to force my memories,” Charlie said; “that I stopped obsessing over the familiarity and carried on reading the chain of messages that followed. The one below it read…”

“You haven’t lost me, but I can’t speak to you,” Claire said once again interrupting Charlie.

Charlie nodded appreciatively, and then she smiled at Claire and said; “nice memory!”

“Thanks,” Claire said inclining her head as Charlie gave her a silent round of applause. “Although I’m not sure that I can remember the other messages verbatim, but weirdly I can picture the desk you’re talking about. It was in the far left hand corner of Mrs Penwood’s class. Matt used to sit in it, and Rich sat in front of him in their English class. In our English class it was originally your desk and I sat in the one in front, but then you got moved for passing notes so I sat in it.”

Charlie nodded and smiled fondly at the memory.

“I used to read the messages that Matt wrote, and then pass them to you in a note by asking to borrow something from Rach. She always sat one desk behind you from the front because she couldn’t see the board from the back. Then you’d write what I should reply,” Claire said as the stream of memories came back to her.

Charlie laughed out loud and said; “yep. I remember that you told Rach when we were at middle school that she either got better glasses or we couldn’t be friends with her anymore, as you weren’t prepared to be associated with anyone that might be classified by any boy as a geek.”

Claire burst out laughing and said; “I was such a bitch! How did I have any friends aside from you?”

“Beats me,” Charlie said still laughing.

“Okay,” Claire said; “so you were reading the messages.”

“Yes. So I read your reply, and the ones that followed it, and I was intrigued as to what must’ve been happening. Why couldn’t they speak to each other? What had happened? Also who was the third best friend? I kind of got the distinct impression that there was a bit of a love triangle going on? Yet every time my mind raised questions, another part of my mind seemed to be trying to tell me that I already knew the answers. So I tried to concentrate on what the answers were,” she said; “but everything seemed to just keep moving further and further away from me.”

“That must have been so frustrating,” Claire said.

“You think?” Charlie asked rhetorically, and then smiling she continued; “after I finished reading the messages I was feeling irritable, so I decided to go for a walk in the school grounds. I quickly stuck labels on the desks that I thought were still okay, and then I put a note on the teacher’s desk telling my dad where I’d gone.”

Charlie took another sip of her wine and said; “I walked round the school grounds and I tried to clear my mind and take in some fresh air, but then out of nowhere I heard a screech and I saw an image of a car skidding in front of me. Everything around me started to spin and I could hear, or at least I could remember hearing a man’s voice. He was telling me that I’d been in an accident, but that I was okay and that they’d have me out of the car in no time. I remembered grabbing hold of his hand – unable to see his face, and begging him to stay with me, but then everything went dark.”

Claire looked horrified.

Charlie took yet another sip of wine, looking down at the same time at her discarded salad and pushing the plate away from her. She could feel Claire’s eyes on her.

“The next thing I knew my dad was at my side holding my hand and helping me up off the floor. He looked worried and he asked me what had happened. I wasn’t really sure though so I lied. I said that I must’ve fainted, and I tried to laugh it off. He took me home and I went straight up to my room. I lay on my bed and tried to focus on the memory that I’d had of my accident, you know to see if I could remember anything else,” Charlie said.

Claire leant across the table, clearly riveted by what Charlie was telling her.

“Nothing came back,” she said. “So to distract myself, and probably partly out of boredom I suppose. I got up and went over to my desk, and I began to scribble down the messages that I’d read on the desk at school that had seemed so familiar to me.”

“You remembered them?” Claire asked.

“Never been anything wrong with my short term memory,” Charlie said rolling her eyes at Claire.

“Oh, sorry,” Claire said smiling awkwardly again.

“What was weird was that as I wrote the responses – the messages that you’d written, I had a memory of watching you write them. This threw me at first, but then I got excited by it and so I kept reading and re-reading the messages. I thought that maybe they were the trigger that I’d been looking for since I’d woken up,” Charlie said; “but nothing else came back to me, and so feeling disheartened again I gave up and went to bed.”

“And,” Claire said encouraging Charlie to continue.

“The next morning I felt less optimistic, and I reminded myself that it was possible that what had happened in the school grounds was completely unrelated to the messages that I’d read on the desk. It was likely that they’d been written by people that I didn’t know,” Charlie said; “so I gave up on them, and tried instead to focus on the memory that I’d had of the crash.”

She took a sip of wine again and said; “bits of that memory were becoming clearer. The paramedics face for instance, I could see it now whereas I hadn’t been able to before. I also remembered telling him that I was pregnant, and I remembered asking him if the baby would be okay. I remembered telling him that Matt was a doctor at Selly Oak A&E, and I remembered asking if that was the hospital that we’d be going to.”

“Could you remember right up until you lost consciousness?” Claire asked.

“Eventually, over the next few days I could,” Charlie said. “I could remember from the point where I saw the car in front of me swerve, or whatever it did across my lane. I could remember my car rolling over, and me being trapped inside it upside down. I could remember the pain, and how scared I felt. I remembered holding the paramedics hand, and I could remember telling him that the pain in my chest was getting worse. I remembered thinking that they couldn’t get me out, and that I was going to die in the car. Finally I remembered thinking about Matt holding our baby, but then everything went dark.”

Claire didn’t say anything. She wasn’t really sure what to say.

“I was feeling okay though,” Charlie said more brightly. “The memory I was having was a little scary, but I was remembering something. So it made me feel more positive that eventually I’d be able to remember more things.”

Charlie squeezed her hand, and Claire smiled back at her knowing that she was worrying about her. It was typical Charlie she thought, always being kind and looking out for everyone else.

“The following morning after I’d recalled the whole accident, I was sat in the kitchen eating some toast when I suddenly got an image of Matt’s face. It was a younger version though than the one I’d known in Birmingham after my accident. Yet as I was trying to focus in on this memory, Mrs Taylor came round to speak to my mum. My mum was still getting ready, and so Mrs Taylor sat in the kitchen making polite chit chat with me. Well that is until she said; “I’m glad you seem happy here Charlie. I think it’s made it easier for both Matt and Rich to get on with their lives without you around.”

“What a bitch,” Claire said sounding highly disgruntled.

“Well that’s kind of what I thought,” Charlie said smiling. “To be honest I’d gotten so used to people being nice to me, the comment came as a bit of shock. I also found myself retaliating in kind. I said to her that I understood why it was easier on Matt – my husband, but I didn’t really see what difference it could or should have made to Rich.”

“Nice,” Claire said nodding appreciatively.

Charlie smiled and continued. “She then said to me though; I understand what you mean, but there was a time when everyone here thought it would be you and my son that would tie the knot and live happily ever after. I think my Rich still holds a small candle for you. Well the old you at least.”

“What a complete cow,” Claire said.

“Well yes, but also no. If she hadn’t said that, then I don’t think I’d have stormed out of the kitchen and headed towards the school. I also don’t think that I’d have been thinking about the concept of me having ever been with Rich, which interestingly no one up until that point had ever mentioned to me. No one, and Claire seriously by this time I’d had a lot of accounts of my life told to me. Including versions given to me by Rich, Matt, and Bex. Yet none of them had ever mentioned that I’d been with anyone other than Matt!”

“Well obviously Bex would never tell you that,” Claire said grinning; “I think she’s managed to convince herself that you were never with him.”

Charlie smiled and said; “yeah that’s probably true. Anyway I walked towards school and just kept thinking about what Mrs Taylor had said, and as I walked I started to piece things together. I did know those messages. The three best friends were me, Matt, and Rich. I was the one that couldn’t talk to Matt, and Matt was the one who thought he was losing two best friends.”

“Charlie, I didn’t lose my memory. So this is when you got your memory back?” Claire asked.

“Well it felt like it was coming back,” Charlie said; “but I still wasn’t convinced that I’d found the trigger.”

Claire smiled as she watched Charlie make quotation mark signs with her fingers again when she said trigger.

“But I knew that I needed to get back to school. I also felt,” Charlie said; “although at that point I couldn’t have told you why, like I wanted to go to the games shed.”

“Of course you did!” Claire said laughing. “So your memory had come back?”

“It was obviously well on the way,” Charlie said returning Claire’s smile somewhat sheepishly.

“The games shed was your trigger,” Claire said trying to contain her laughter. “God, I think you’re going to need a slightly different version of this story when you tell Matt.”

Charlie didn’t respond to Claire’s comment, and Claire noticed that she busied herself by emptying the last drop of wine from the bottle into her glass and trying to get the attention of the waiter.

“What?” Claire asked.

“Nothing, that’s it memory back,” she said. “You want more wine right?”

“I suppose,” Claire said; “but I’d rather you finish your story. I’m sorry about the Matt comment, it was insensitive.”

The waiter noticed Charlie holding up the empty bottle of wine and came over to collect it, understanding that they wished for a replacement. As he walked away, Charlie looked at Claire again.

“The shed wasn’t my trigger,” she said; “but it helped find it.”

“Okay,” Claire said unsure of what had caused the change in Charlie’s demeanour.

“When I got to the shed I didn’t really know what I was looking for, if anything. I didn’t understand what had driven me to go there in the first place. To be honest I was completely distracted. I just kept thinking about Matt and Rich, and I was trying to do some kind of mental attractiveness comparison between the two of them.”

“Matt’s always been hotter,” Claire said without really thinking which made Charlie smile.

“I went inside and kind of ambled around, but as I was about to leave wondering what I was even doing there. I had the most graphic memory of being in there with Rich. It was so graphic in fact that it felt like I was re-living it. I could feel the tension and the awkwardness, and I could all but feel Rich’s touch on my skin. I could remember the fumbling and the not knowing of what to do or what felt right. I remembered the anticipation and the exhilaration, but the strangest thing was that I also remembered feeling guilty the whole time. Not liking this memory, I left and walked to your house.”

“My house,” Claire said curiously.

“Yeah, but the weird thing was that I didn’t go to the front door like I should’ve done. I walked round to the back of your house instead, and when I saw the tree in your garden I remembered that we all used to climb it to get in and out of your bedroom. I honestly still have no idea why I walked round the back of your house rather than just going to the front door like a normal person, but I knew as soon as I saw the tree that it was my trigger. I just knew,” Charlie said.

Claire looked at Charlie expectantly, but she laughed and said; “I was too scared to touch it. What if I touched it and I didn’t like the things or the person that I remembered? Maybe I was better off not knowing? I’d already walked away from my life and from my husband, did I really want to remember a past that I’d been told he was an integral part of? I decided that I didn’t and I walked away.”

“You walked away?” Claire asked sounding shocked.

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “Fear got the better of me. I’d grown used to not knowing, and so I decided that my not knowing was for the best. “

“What?” Claire asked thinking that nothing about Charlie’s comment made sense.

“I know,” Charlie said shaking her head. “It was stupid. Anyway at that moment your mum came outside and said that she’d heard a noise. I apologised for scaring her, and she said that I’d scared her far worse when she’d come into the garden to see me tumbling out of the tree and onto the ground. And that was it.”

“What was it?” Claire asked sounding confused.

“The trigger, it was that memory. I remembered reaching for your ledge, and having a wave of guilt over having slept with Rich. I shut my eyes for a millisecond to shake away the thought, but as I did I lost my footing. I remembered you screaming from the window and scurrying down the tree, and I remembered seeing Matt’s face looking worried as I was lifted into the ambulance to be taken to hospital. I remembered him sitting with me, and you and your mum obviously, all night in the A&E holding my hand whilst he tried to call Rich and my dad. I also remembered hoping that Rich wouldn’t answer,” Charlie said guiltily.

“At least now I know why you fell out of the tree,” Claire said with a little smirk.

Charlie blushed and said; “after that memory, every memory started crashing down around me. My head was spinning and I started to feel sick, and I know that I screamed out to make it stop. It was just that the pressure of the memories trying to get my attention, and the feelings that accompanied each one was completely overwhelming. Your poor mum. I think I terrified her, and she sat there holding me like when I was eight and I was sick on your bedroom carpet.”

“She never said anything. Not even when I called her to tell her that you were coming to visit me,” Claire said.

“I asked her not to. Once things had calmed down she went to get my dad, and I explained to them what had happened. I missed out most of the details, but I got the main point across which was that I’d gotten my memory back. My dad insisted that we drive straight to Birmingham to see my doctors, but I was scared. I was scared that it might just be temporary, and I’d forget it all again. So I begged them not to tell anyone until after I’d been given the all clear, and they promised,” Charlie said.

“So you’ve already been to Birmingham? Matt must be ecstatic. I’m amazed that you’re not locked up in the bedroom having a majorly romantic catch up,” Claire said.

“Yep we went to Birmingham, and I got the all clear. The doctor’s don’t seem to have too much of an understanding regarding memory loss, amnesia, whatever! They just seemed pleased that it had all come back to me. They told me that I needn’t worry, and that it was highly unlikely that my memory recall was just temporary. I was relieved, and so was my dad. The first thing that he suggested that we do was to go to the house so that we could tell Matt,” Charlie said.

Claire smiled at her best friend and was pleased that everything had worked out for her, but when Charlie looked at her she got a sneaking suspicion that the story was far from over.

“I was terrified about going to the house. I wanted to see Matt. I wanted to see him so much that it made me shake nearly with excitement, but I was nervous as well you know. Even though I remembered our past together, I also hadn’t forgotten the six months after my accident. When I left Birmingham,” Charlie said; “our marriage was past breaking point.”

“Yeah, but that was before. It’s surely got to be back to life as usual now though right? You and Matt are back to being the perfect couple?” Claire asked.

“No,” Charlie said looking straight into Claire’s face; “he’s with someone else.”

“He’s what?” Claire asked as though she’d simply misheard.

“I didn’t want to just let myself into the house. I thought it’d be rude you know. So I convinced my dad that we should just wait in the car. My dad wasn’t overly keen on the idea, but he did agree to do it. I knew that Matt would use the back door as always if he was going to or coming from work, and he’d only use the front door if he was going out socially or for a run. So while we sat waiting outside the house in the car, I called the hospital to find out if he was working or on call. Unfortunately while I was on hold he came out of the house, and he looked... well its Matt so he looked amazing,” Charlie said sounding almost proud.

“I’m sure he did! He’s annoyingly gorgeous like that,” Claire said rolling her eyes.

“I was about to get out of the car and so was my dad,” Charlie said; “but then a woman stepped out behind him. She took his hand in hers, and he shut the front door. They walked down the path together. They were talking and laughing, and they looked happy. He looked happy, but it was only as they crossed over the road that I saw her face and recognised her.”

“Seriously, don’t say Emily,” Claire said like it was all too predictable.

Charlie nodded and said; “my dad wanted to kill him. I had to beg him not to get out of the car, but he was so mad on the drive back to Cheddar that he didn’t speak to me. He still wasn’t talking to me when we got home, so I went and spoke to your mum.”

Claire looked at her oddly.

“She was the nearest thing to you! I asked her where you were and what you were up to and she gave me your address. I think she put it down to my memory loss that I seemed to have forgotten your frequent visits, your break up with Nick, and your sudden move to London,” Charlie said with a slightly raised eyebrow.

“Shit, sorry Charlie,” Claire said.

“It doesn’t matter,” Charlie said smiling. “I’m hoping that you can make it up to me.”

“I can,” Claire said; “and I will.”

“I need a place to stay,” Charlie said. “I’ve lined up a few job interviews down here, and I was hoping that you might want a flatmate?”

“Of course you can stay,” Claire said delightedly; “I’d love to have you as a flatmate. I’ve got so much to tell you, so much gossip, and it’ll be brilliant having my best friend living down here.”

Charlie smiled, her eyes lighting up as she did, and she said; “thanks Claire. Getting away and starting afresh is exactly what I need, and yeah we’ve got lots to catch up on. The last time I saw you with my memory; you were cheating on Nick, you were miserable, you’d just had an abortion, and you wanted to move to London to be with some high flying investment banker.”

“Yep, that was pretty much the state of play,” she said as Charlie nodded. “This sounds awful, but what happened to you kind of gave me the nudge I needed I think. I left my job, Bath, Nick, and I moved to London. Now you’re going to be living with me, you’re going to get to meet the high flying investment banker. Although you should probably know that he simply goes as Adam,” Claire said smiling and reaching out to grab Charlie’s hand. “I’m sorry that it was because of me that you were in the car that day.”

“Claire, don’t blame yourself. Guilt’s terrible for the complexion, and it really doesn’t suit you. Plus that’s all in the past now, and you can make it up to me. You need to show me a new high flying lifestyle in London,” Charlie said smiling genuinely at Claire.

“That’s not going to be a problem, and do you know what else?” She asked as Charlie shook her head looking momentarily confused. “We’re going to have to find you a new man,” she said winking at Charlie; “since it turns out that your husband is a complete shit bag that’s already replaced you.”

Charlie burst out laughing. She then stood up and hugged Claire tightly and said; “god I’ve missed your brutal honesty, but you’d better get me to my new home because I’m drunk.”

***

It was nearly two in the morning, and Claire and Charlie had sat chatting for hours about everything. Claire had filled Charlie in on everything that had happened with her and Nick. She’d told her all about her new job, her new man, and her life in London.

They’d talked for ages about how Charlie was going to be better off without Matt in her life, and how her decision to start afresh in London was absolutely the right one. They’d agreed that going back after everything that had happened was bound to have been a big mistake, and that most likely both she and Matt would have ended up being miserable.

After this they’d talked in depth about Emily, and Claire – as Charlie’s dutiful best friend, had bad mouthed her in as many ways as was possible. Charlie though had merely nodded and agreed unconvincingly with everything that she’d said.

Claire couldn’t believe the levels of kindness that Charlie had in her, and she hadn’t been able to help but roll her eyes at her. How was it possible she thought that Charlie couldn’t even bring herself to hate this woman, a woman who had stolen her husband?

Charlie had gone to bed, in what was Claire’s spare room but would now be her room, at about one in the morning. Claire had also gone to bed at the same time, but she hadn’t been able to fall asleep and she’d lain wide awake. She just couldn’t believe that Matt had moved on. He’d been in love with her best friend for the majority of his life, and he’d even fallen out with his own best friend over her.

Matt and Charlie were the couple that she’d always wanted to emulate, that all their friends had wanted to emulate, and they were the reason why she’d known that her relationship with Nick would never work. They were the benchmark for great love, and the way that they were around each other made everyone in their vicinity want what they had together.

It had taken her years not to be jealous of Charlie, but she’d known that it had always been a weird type of jealousy. She’d never been jealous of Charlie per se, and she’d never wanted Matt. Yet she had wanted what they had together. She’d wanted that type of relationship with someone. They were just so in tune and so in love, and at times watching them together really was like watching an old black and white romantic movie.

Their relationship had also always been hard on Claire because she and Matt had never gotten along. They hadn’t gelled initially at school, and Claire had often thought that if it hadn’t been for Charlie and Rich the two of them would never have spoken or become friends at all.

In the early days, Claire had resented Matt for taking Charlie away from her and for putting her on the side lines. Matt had, and still disliked her for lots of reasons. He blamed her for Charlie dating Rich and not him. He blamed her for Charlie breaking her leg in the tree outside her house, which she now knew was one hundred percent not her fault, and he blamed her for the few times that they had drunkenly gotten together at parties when Charlie and Rich had abandoned them.

As she lay there awake thinking about Matt and Charlie’s relationship, she knew that she needed to get some answers. She picked up her phone and dialled a number that she knew off by heart.

“Hello?” A woman’s sleepy voice said on the other end of the line.

“Emily I take it?” Claire asked irritably.

“Yes,” she said. She then heard Matt’s voice in the background ask; “is it the hospital?”

“Say it is,” Claire said to her. To which she heard Emily say it was to Matt.

“It’s Claire,” she said shortly; “Charlie’s best friend.”

“Okay,” Emily’s voice said warily.

“We need to talk. Can you make some time to see me this week?” Claire asked.

“Yes,” Emily said timidly.

“Call me when Matt’s not around to arrange when and where we can meet. My number will be in his phone, which I’m sure that you can get access to. Okay?” Claire asked almost aggressively.

“Okay,” Emily said.

Claire hung up and lay in bed seething. She wasn’t sure whether that call had been a good idea or not, but that little bitch couldn’t be allowed to think that she could ride off into the sunset with her best friend’s husband. If Claire had to be the villain in Emily’s story then so be it. She had nothing to lose, and she’d see to it that Charlie would never find out about her meddling.





Emily

She hung up the phone and lay back down in bed.

“Everything okay,” Matt said rolling towards her and propping his head up on his hand.

Emily looked into his handsome face, and she smiled at him feeling momentarily guilty and said; “fine. It was just the hospital, but there’s no need for me to go in.”

“I don’t know why they ring if they don’t need us to go in. Don’t they realise that we do actually need some sleep,” he said rolling off his hand and back onto his back.

Emily rolled onto her side, and she gently put her left hand onto his cheek and kissed him. She ran her hand lightly down his face and over his chest, and then she traced his stomach muscles with her finger tips before slipping her hand beneath the elastic waist of his boxers.

“Do you need some sleep now?” She asked sweetly before kissing him lightly on the lips again.

He smiled as he pulled her on top of him and said; “not right now, no.”

When Matt had fallen back to sleep, Emily lay there in his arms wide awake and wondered what Claire’s call had really been about? Emily knew that Claire hadn’t been in Matt or Charlie’s life since the accident, and she knew that Claire and Matt hadn’t gotten along well before the accident. Why was she calling here now and wanting to meet up with her she thought?

The more she wondered about what Claire could possibly want to talk about, the more she couldn’t make sense of it. Yet she would meet her, if only to tell her not to call her and Matt in the middle of the night again. She decided however that she wouldn’t tell Matt. She didn’t want him to call Claire and yell at her, which she knew he would do if she told him.

She had learnt as a doctor, that it was important to have all the information to hand before making a diagnosis. She needed to understand what Claire wanted before she could decide what to do about it, but it didn’t seem likely that she’d need to involve Matt. She felt sure that this was just going to be a matter of Claire letting her know that she disapproved of their relationship, which she’d take note of before letting her know that she didn’t care.

Emily had waited a long time to be with Matt, and when she had finally gotten to be with him the circumstances had been trying at best. She’d stayed by his side throughout the last seven months, even when he’d treated her so abhorrently that she should have walked away.

She’d stood by him as his long suffering girlfriend whilst he’d slept with anything and everything that was female at the hospital and had a pulse. She’d endured the mocking looks from the nurses, those that he had and hadn’t yet slept with, whilst she’d treated his patients and charted for him when he’d been too drunk or drugged to do it himself.

Emily had, with the help of Nurse Willis, prevented him from being fired and stopped from ever practicing medicine again. She’d been the one to go with him when he’d finally agreed to see Oak for help, and she’d been there for him when he’d come home from rehab.

She’d been the one that had borne the brunt of his anger as the effects of the cocktail of drugs that he’d been taking had worn off, and she’d been the one that had held him as he’d sobbed over Charlie and had woken up in the night crying out for her. She’d been the one to help him put himself back together, and she’d been the one to keep him alive when he had all but lost the will to go on.

As she lay there thinking about what she’d been through with Matt in the past seven months, she felt angry that Claire even had the nerve to call her. She hadn’t been around through any of it. She hadn’t seen the effect of Charlie’s amnesia on Matt. She hadn’t had to pick up the pieces of what had been left of him when Charlie had walked away. So whilst Claire might think that she had the right to read her the riot act out of some longstanding friendship obligation to Charlie, she wouldn’t be scolded or seen off by her.

She’d earned her place in Matt’s life. Oak and Nurse Willis had acknowledged this, and so had Matt’s closest friends. Claire could either acknowledge this too, or she could go to hell Emily thought.

Matt snored lightly and Emily snuggled up closer to him. He was hers now, and she would fight tooth and nail to keep him. She reassured herself with the knowledge that he wouldn’t walk away from her. He knew as much as she did that without her he would have lost his career, the life of an innocent patient, and maybe even his own life.

She knew that he was grateful to her for everything that she’d done for him, and she wasn’t above using that to her advantage. Yet she knew that she wouldn’t need to. Matt was too honourable a man to turn his back on her after everything that she’d done for him, and she was happy with him. They were happy together.

It had taken her seven months to re-build what Claire’s best friend had broken, and it hadn’t been easy. Whilst he’d been in rehab she’d boxed up and moved out from his home everything that could possibly have reminded him of his wife, and when he’d come back home she’d moved in without invitation. It had been taken as a given between them, that she needed to be there to look after him.

She kissed Matt’s chest and smiled. She didn’t know what Claire wanted, but it also didn’t matter. Matt was with her now, and there was nothing that Claire could do about it.





Claire

She banged loudly on the door in front of her, and she waited for someone to answer. She’d spent over two hours on the train from London doubting whether her decision to come was the right one, but now that she was here she knew that it was.

“Claire,” Rich said sounding shocked and looking astounded to see her on his doorstep.

“Move Rich, I need to come in and it’s pissing down out here,” she said pushing past him and then heading straight down the hall to kitchen that was at the far end of it.

“What are you doing here?” Rich asked Claire as she stood in his kitchen dripping.

“Yeah I’d love a towel, thanks Rich, and can you stop staring at my chest please?” Claire asked whilst un-sticking her light blue top which was clinging to her cleavage.

Rich smiled at her and then disappeared from his kitchen, and Claire heard him go upstairs. When he came back into the room he threw a large blue towel at her, which she caught and then began drying her hair with.

“Where’s Bex?” Claire asked.

“Dress fitting with the bridesmaids,” he answered embarrassedly.

“Oh chill out Rich, like I give a shit that I wasn’t asked to be one of her bridesmaids. Although I am a bit surprised that she didn’t ask Charlie,” Claire said.

Rich shifted uncomfortably and said; “she did initially, but after Charlie left… and with Matt being my best man... she didn’t think it was such a good idea anymore. Charlie didn’t seem to mind though,” Rich added as though an afterthought.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Claire said taking some enjoyment in Rich’s obvious discomfort at her comment. “Anyway, I’m not here about the wedding,” she continued.

“You’re not going to boycott it cause you’re not a bridesmaid are you?” Rich asked.

“What?” Claire said slightly thrown by his question.

“You’re still coming?” Rich asked. “To my wedding,” he added as Claire continued to look at him as though he was speaking in a different language.

Claire put down the towel that she was holding and said distractedly; “yeah okay Rich whatever, the wedding, yeah I’ll be there that’s fine.”

“What’s wrong with you? Are you on something?” Rich asked.

“No I’m not on something,” Claire said. Yet as Rich went to say something else she said; “just shut up Rich. I’d forgotten how annoying you are. God, I can’t get a thought in edgeways.”

“Sorry,” he said.

“Look,” Claire said sitting down on a stool by the breakfast counter; “I need to talk to you about Matt.”

“Oh god,” Rich said sitting down opposite her. “You’ve heard about Emily haven’t you? Whose mum told you?”

“Yes I’ve heard about Emily, but no one’s mum told me. Charlie did,” Claire said meaningfully.

“Who told Charlie?” Rich asked sounding shocked that any of their parents were that callous.

“No one, she saw for herself when she watched them coming out of her and Matt’s house hand in hand,” Claire said trying to gauge Rich’s reaction to each part of her sentence.

Rich looked at Claire ashamedly and said; “Matt wouldn’t have wanted her to find out like that.”

“Yeah well we can get to that later,” Claire said. “But first of all I want to know from you, just what the hell he’s playing at?”

“Oh now hold on Claire,” Rich said defensively. “You haven’t been around. You weren’t around when Charlie was at home after the accident with no memory. You didn’t see what any of it did to him, or has done to him. So I think it’s pretty out of order for you to just rock up here and start judging him.”

“No judgment Rich I promise, but I need to hear things from your perspective. How bad were things? How bad has it been for him?” Claire asked.

“Why? Why do you need to know any of that now? It’s in the past and he’s moved on, and I for one am glad for him because he deserves it. Charlie won’t care anyway. It’s not like she can remember their life together,” Rich said; “and I’m sure she’s moved on too.”

“She does care,” Claire said.

“She left,” Rich responded.

Claire saw that Rich was eyeing her just as warily as she was eyeing him. She knew that similarly to how they were both sat on opposite sides of the breakfast counter, they were also both about to take opposite sides of this conversation. He’d defend his best friend, and she’d attack for hers.

“She left because she didn’t remember anything,” Claire said.

“What and things have changed?” Rich asked spitefully.

“Yes actually Rich,” she said; “things have changed.”

“What? Like the fact that you’re her best friend again,” he countered.

“No,” Claire said; “like the fact that she can remember what you two did in the school games shed.”

“So what,” Rich said. “She has one memory, and you’re here trying to drag Matt back through the hell that he’s only just about recovered from.” But Claire could hear that his voice was shaking. He was obviously shocked by what she’d just told him.

“It’s not just one. It’s all of them. She remembers everything. She came back here with her dad to tell Matt a couple of weeks ago, and what does she see? Not a husband pining for his wife, but a man that looks like he’s got no troubles in the world. From what I heard,” Claire said; “he was just merrily strolling out of his and Charlie’s home with Emily in tow. It hardly sounded like he was in hell to me Rich.”

Rich stared at her with his mouth gaping open, and she noticed that it made him look much less attractive than he normally did.

“Shit,” he said.

“Yeah,” Claire said; “I’d say.”

“No seriously,” Rich said; “shit.”

“What?” Claire asked not understanding.

“We can’t tell Matt”, Rich said.

“The hell we can’t!” Claire said angrily.

“No, we can’t. Look if you want to know what it’s been like for him, I’ll tell you. But when I’m done you’ll know why we can’t tell him,” Rich said; “and then you’re gonna have to tell Charlie.”

“If the reason’s valid enough Rich,” Claire said eyeing him warily; “I’ll tell her anything.”

Rich took a deep breath, and then he began. “After the accident we were all fools. We convinced ourselves that if the doctors were cautiously optimistic, Matt included, then there was no reason why we shouldn’t all be optimistic too. Charlie would be fine. She’d come home, and everything would just go back to normal. I think we were all just a little bit relieved you know, that she was alive and not brain damaged or paralysed or anything.”

“Not brain damaged?” Claire asked Rich with a raised eyebrow.

Rich tutted before saying; “you know what I mean Claire. She could talk and had all her faculties and stuff. Anyway, we all assumed that she’d be fine. I don’t think any of us thought about the amnesia or the effects of it on us, or on her, or on Matt. I’ve got friends now, who can’t believe that I’ve still got friends that I’ve known since infancy. They think it’s amazing that my best friend and fiancée know everything about me. A lot of them are jealous that I’ve got these long standing relationships, and to be honest if they hadn’t pointed this out to me then I don’t think I’d have realised just how lucky we all are.”

“The point,” Claire asked unkindly.

“The point,” Rich said shortly. “Is that we’re so accustomed to having each other know what we’re talking about all of the time, that our conversations take on a format that other people who haven’t grown up with us can’t follow. What’s weird though, is that Charlie knew this. Before the accident she’d been really conscious of it, especially when she’d been trying to introduce Emily into our group.”

Claire scowled at the mention of her name.

“All I’m saying is that it’s weird that she recognised it, and then became a victim of it. When she came out of hospital we didn’t adjust. We treated her the same way as always. We talked to her the same way, and teased her the same way, but she wasn’t the same and most of the time she looked awkward or uncomfortable. She tried to fake it, and with Rach, Ben, Nick, and Bex, I think it worked. But I know her better than they do,” he said; “and I think I know Matt almost as well as he knows himself.”

“Okay,” Claire said; “so things were tough.”

“No,” Rich said irritably. “They were way beyond tough. Charlie couldn’t look at Matt, and she didn’t go near him. God, you of all people know what they were like together Claire. It used to drive us both nuts. They couldn’t help but exchange glances. If he wasn’t looking at her, then she’d be looking at him. You remember how they moved together, and how touchy feely they were with each other right?”

“Yeah of course,” Claire said.

“How about the way that he used to stand behind her, wrap his arm around her waist and pull her tightly to him so that he could kiss her neck?” Rich asked, and Claire nodded and smiled reminiscently.

“I think I’ve seen him do that to her at least a million times, but not once after the accident. Even the way that they’d always sit together changed. You know how he’d normally always sit and bend one of his legs, so that whichever knee was nearest to her was upright in the air so that she could lean against it and wrap her arm around it?” He asked, and Claire nodded again.

“Well after the accident they didn’t sit like that. Everything changed. She wouldn’t go near him,” Rich said; “and when he did gravitate towards her you could feel the tension in the air.”

“I didn’t know,” Claire said guilty.

“No, you didn’t. If you had Claire, you of all people would have found it as strange to watch as I did. What was worse was that Matt couldn’t talk about it. Not even to me. He just worked and spent time with Charlie. But the more time he spent with her, the more distant he became with the rest of us. We were losing both of them,” Rich said; “and it really freaked Bex out.”

“How did it affect her?” Claire asked barely containing the impulse to roll her eyes. It was typical Bex to want to make a melodrama out of something that had no affect whatsoever on her life.

“Come on,” Rich said urging her to see reason. “We’ve all grown up around this perfect relationship. We’ve set it as the benchmark. The only thing the two of them ever argued about before the accident was you. Seeing their relationship falling apart wasn’t particularly nice to be around. What was worse was that it made you question everything about yourself, and your relationships as well. What if it happened to me? Would people be able to stay around me, still recognise parts of myself that I couldn’t? What if it happened to Bex? How would I cope? Would I be able to stay with her?”

“Would you have left Bex?” Claire asked sounding a little shocked that Rich had contemplated doing this if he and Bex had been in Matt and Charlie’s position.

“Yeah, I think I would,” Rich said honestly; “and I told Matt the same thing. Six months is a long time to be with someone who can’t remember anything about you, or a life you shared together. Matt was becoming a shadow of himself, but do you know what’s awful? Do you know what keeps me awake at night feeling endlessly guilty?”

Claire shook her head.

“I chose Matt over Charlie. I picked sides. I could see that being with her was killing him. The situation was eating away at him, at his soul, and it seemed to me that we’d already lost Charlie. She wasn’t dead, but she wasn’t the Charlie that we’d all known. So I told him that I’d leave her if I was in his shoes, but knowing that it’s probably what I said to him that led him to go home and end things with her keeps me awake at night. The idea that I’m the kind of person that abandons friends when they need me the most,” he said sounding choked; “makes it kind of hard to sleep.”

“I know all about abandoning friends,” Claire said; “and I know all about being kept awake by it.”

“Matt’s never told me what happened at the end before Charlie left, but I honestly thought them being apart would help him. But how wrong was I?” He asked rhetorically. “After she went Matt completely fell apart. I hadn’t realised, but his whole life had been about Charlie. I don’t think he actually knew how to get a long in a world where she wasn’t a part of it. He started drinking heavily, and he started prescribing himself pills to take. He stayed out most nights, and he slept with woman after woman. You wouldn’t have recognised him. I didn’t. His life was a shambles, and like her or not Emily stepped in and saved him.”

“Saved him? What literally speaking, like from an overdose or something?” Claire asked.

“No,” Rich said; “but I don’t doubt that it would’ve come to that. I think he hit a point where that’s what he wanted, but Emily got involved before it came to that. Thank God. She also stuck by him when he treated her like shit, and she protected his medical career by all accounts. She got him into rehab, and she got him clean. I know what you’re thinking by the way, why didn’t I help? But he wouldn’t let me Claire. Nick and Ben came up to stay to try and help as well, but he refused to see us. He just stayed indoors getting high, or hiding at the hospital getting high.”

Claire was shocked. She’d had no idea how bad things had gotten after the accident, and she couldn’t believe what had happened once Charlie had left.

“He’s okay now,” Rich said regaining Claire’s attention; “but it’s thanks to Emily. They also seem happy together. He’s back on form, and everyone’s friendships with him are mended. Their relationship looks pretty solid as well from what I’ve seen, and she looks after him. She’s given us the old Matt back, and he’s happy again, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”

“Does she make him happy the way that Charlie made him happy?” Claire asked even though she was afraid of hearing the answer.

Rich smiled and then said truthfully; “I can’t answer that. The only person who’d know the answer to that is Matt, and I doubt he’d ever tell us. But as I say they seem happy together, and I’m just grateful to Emily for getting Matt through everything in one piece.”

“Okay grateful yes and I can see why you like her. It sounds like we’ve all got a lot to be grateful to her for, Charlie included. None of us would’ve wanted to see any harm come to Matt, and Charlie would’ve been beside herself. But Charlie’s better now, she’s back. She’s Charlie again. Surely they’ve earned the right at another shot at happiness together?” Claire asked.

“Okay so she remembers what they had, but do you really believe that they can go back to that? Both of them are carrying scars from everything that’s happened, and Matt’s are pretty brutal. I’m not sure that they can go back, or what the fallout or potential damage would be if they tried to. If you want my opinion, we say nothing to him and you tell Charlie not to say anything to him either. If you tell her that Matt’s happy,” Rich said; “I know she’ll accept that.”

“I’m not here on Charlie’s orders,” Claire said looking disgruntled. “She’s already made the decision not to tell him. She made that decision when she got her dad to drive her away from Birmingham.”

“Then leave it alone,” Rich said.

“I can’t. He should know. Surely he’s got the right to choose who he wants to be with,” Claire said. “If he decides that he wants to stay with Emily then that’s his right, but maybe he’ll…”

“Choose Charlie?” Rich finished for her.

Claire nodded and asked; “does he hold her round the waist and kiss her neck?”

Rich looked up at Claire, and he knew that if Matt knew the truth he’d choose a life with Charlie every time. Yet he worried that he couldn’t watch Matt go through all of what he’d just been through again, if a second chance with Charlie did not turn out to be all that he’d hoped for.

“Yeah,” Rich lied; “he does.”

Claire looked shocked for a couple of seconds and then asked; “so he’s really moved on then?”

Rich nodded, and Claire got up off the stool.

She hadn’t told Rich that she’d come to Birmingham to see Emily, and seeing his reaction and hearing his version of events she decided that it was best not to. She’d watch Matt and Emily for herself at his and Bex’s wedding, and then she’d decide whether or not to tell Matt the truth. Yet whilst she was here, it couldn’t hurt to put the fear of god into Saint Emily she thought.

“Right,” she said; “well I’m going to head back down South then. I won’t say a word to Matt, and Charlie doesn’t need to know that I was here either.”

“No one needs to know,” Rich replied.

Claire kissed Rich on the cheek and said; “I’ll see you in a couple of months at your wedding then. Take care.”

“You too,” Rich said.

***

Claire was sat at the Starbucks in the Palisades shopping centre waiting for Emily to show up. This was an easy place to meet, as it was in the centre of town and directly above the train station where she needed to get her train back down to London.

She saw Emily approach her table and she eyed her warily. She had to admit that she had forgotten how pretty she was. She was thin and blonde with a pretty face, and Claire remembered disliking her on those qualities alone when they’d first been introduced. She hated anyone who shared any of her own characteristics.

“Hello,” Emily said coolly. “Do you want another coffee?”

“Let me get them. What are you having?” Claire asked standing up and smiling at Emily. She was pleased to see that by wearing her ultra high heels she was taller than Emily, whom she’d correctly remembered as being roughly the same height as Charlie.

“A cappuccino please,” Emily said sitting down and then cursing herself for not having worn high heels.

Claire returned with the coffees and sat down. Yet just as Emily was about to say something to her, she decided to speak first. She wanted to take control of this conversation from the outset.

“I’m sorry about the call the other night. I was completely out of order. I was just a little shocked when I learnt from a friend at home that you’d moved in with Matt,” Claire said.

She saw that she’d thrown Emily instantly, and she resisted the urge to smile. “It was just really weird for me,” Claire continued; “as Charlie’s best friend that is, to hear about him living with someone else. But I know that’s not really a very good excuse for demanding that you meet me.”

“That’s okay,” Emily said cautiously. “I suppose I can understand the reaction.”

Claire smiled sweetly.

“If you’ve realised that you over reacted, why did you still want to meet me?” Emily asked shrewdly.

Claire respected this straight approach and said; “it’s a bit difficult to explain actually, and to be honest I’ve been changing my mind ever since I arranged to meet you about whether or not I should’ve cancelled.”

Emily continued to watch her suspiciously, but she didn’t say anything.

“When I found out that you were living with Matt,” Claire said; “I happened to be privy to some other information that only I and four other people know.”

Emily remained silent.

“Charlie has her memory back,” Claire said matter of factly. She was also pleased to see shock show instantly in Emily’s face, and then be replaced just as quickly by a look of anxiety.

“Who are the four people?” Emily asked quickly.

“Matt’s not one of them,” Claire said; “and Charlie doesn’t want him to be added to the list of people who know.”

She knew that her answer had answered the question that Emily had really wanted to ask her, as well as the one that she would’ve wanted to ask her next. “No one that knows,” she continued; “including me, is going to tell him or anyone that might tell him.”

“So why have you told me? I might tell him,” Emily said.

Claire laughed maliciously and said derisively; “yes, you’re likely to tell him.”

“And what do you mean by that?” Emily asked defensively.

“Are you looking for him to leave you?” Claire asked coldly.

“He wouldn’t,” Emily said.

“Okay,” Claire said in an unconvincing tone.

“Why have you told me? Do you expect me to feel bad, have a problem with my conscience and go home and tell him?” Emily asked.

“No. I’ve told you because I think you deserved the right to know as part of the full explanation of why I called you. I didn’t want you to think that I was a crazy person,” Claire said.

“I don’t believe you. Is Charlie planning on coming back to Birmingham?” Emily asked.

“No, she’s not. I promise you,” Claire said; “no one is planning on telling Matt.”

They sat in silence for a while, both of them sipping their coffees and eyeing each other warily, but Claire finally broke the silence and said; “I wish I hadn’t come now. I’m sorry that I told you. Look, my train’s in ten minutes so I’m going to go. You won’t have to see me again, except for at Rich and Bex’s wedding of course. You should probably also know that Charlie’s going to be there as well.”

“But she’s not going to talk to Matt?” Emily asked nervously.

“I can’t guarantee you that they won’t speak, but I can promise you that Charlie will never tell Matt the truth. Charlie knows that she hurt him too much in the months after the accident for them to ever get back together,” Claire said knowing that what she’d just said was the first honest thing that she’d said to Emily since she’d arrived.

Emily looked at her but didn’t say anything, and Claire turned on her heel and walked away without saying another word. She knew that she’d done what she’d come to Birmingham to do. She’d put the fear of god into Saint Emily, and she smiled





Charlie

Life in London was different to what she’d expected, but it had also been exactly what she’d needed. She loved the obscurity of life in the capital. It was big and noisy and obtrusive all of the time, and she found that it was in the noise and general bedlam that she was able to lose herself. No one knew who she was, and no one had even bothered to try and get to know who she was.

Having lived under a constant spotlight for almost thirteen months, Charlie found the sense of being inauspicious soothing and strangely a little comforting. No one knew that she had suffered from amnesia, and better still Charlie was fairly certain that had people known they wouldn’t have cared. Everyone in the capital was too wrapped up in their own lives, and in their own problems.

Charlie had interviewed at three law firms and had been offered positions at two of them. She’d chosen the smaller of the two firms that had offered her a position, and although it had been a slight step down in title compared to her previous role the money had actually been better.

She had known before her accident that she’d been at a point in her career where she’d already started contemplating changing direction. She had therefore hoped that by choosing the smaller of the two law firms that had offered her a role, she would have a more rounded career and would not be pushed again into working in a specialised area.

The firm was based by London Bridge, and the commute from Claire’s was relatively short. From her flat just off Battersea Rise, in between Clapham Junction station and Clapham Common tube station, the journey simply entailed a quick bus ride to Clapham Common and then a few stops on the Northern line to London Bridge. Once there, it was then less than a five minute walk to her offices.

Everyone at Angershore, Fortly, and Jarvis, were friendly and welcoming, and Charlie had after just a couple of weeks felt completely at home there. She also enjoyed her commute, but then she knew that it helped that she worked long enough hours to rarely have to experience the rush hour crush.

Thanks to Claire, Charlie had also been ingratiated into a circle of friends that Claire had already made after having moved to London from Bath. All of the women were really friendly, and most of them were solicitors too which made it easy for Charlie to fit into the group. She’d thought that it had also helped that they too had all enjoyed a night in or out with a few bottles of wine.

None of these women knew the first thing about Charlie, which was another relief. They didn’t know about her accident. They didn’t know about the amnesia, and best of all none of them knew anything about Matt. This meant that she’d been able to start completely afresh, and she’d never had to field any awkward questions about him.

The subject of her having been married though had come up once when Jenny – one of her new friends, had noticed that she wore both an engagement and a wedding ring, but Claire had quickly and craftily navigated the conversation away from Charlie. She’d explained that Charlie’s marriage was a dull story, and ended the way that they all do with her husband having an affair with a younger woman.

Charlie had raised an eyebrow at this version of the story, but she’d been thankful to Claire for her quick thinking. It had led the conversation away from her, and they’d instead talked about the way that modern society forced women to try and stay younger looking.

That night Charlie had removed her rings, but she hadn’t known what to do with them. She hadn’t been able to bear the idea of putting them in a drawer, or heaven forbid having thrown them away, so in the end she’d put them in her purse. She’d liked that they were still near her, but Claire had mocked her and had been adamant that men would find it strange.

The topic of men was still a strange one for Charlie. She wasn’t shy around men, but she just wasn’t sure how to be around them in a non platonic way. She’d spent half of her life, and all of her adult life with the same man. She’d also grown up with him, and had been friends with him before they’d gotten together. The idea of talking to men in an attempt to get a date, or find a new boyfriend made her feel nervous. She also wasn’t sure that she was ready to replace Matt.

In the past she’d never bothered or thought much about her flirting, she’d known that it wasn’t leading anywhere and this had made her feel very relaxed. Now though she felt tense all of the time, and she was constantly worrying about coming on too strong or not strong enough.

Claire had set her up on a couple of dates, but they’d gone awfully and Charlie had been thankful to Adam when he’d told Claire to stop pushing her.

Charlie had been impressed by Adam. She had been unsure about what to make of this so called high flying investment banker, and she’d felt protective over Claire when they’d first been introduced. She had been expecting a bit of an ego has landed encounter, but Adam didn’t have an ego at all. He was kind, funny, and most importantly to Charlie he looked after Claire. Yet he still kept her on her toes, which Charlie knew that she needed, by teasing her mercilessly.

She’d seen instantly what had drawn Claire to him. Adam was tall, dark haired, obviously handsome, and wealthy. He was certainly a catch, but then Charlie knew that Claire was too. She’d always been stunning, and had always been an obvious blonde haired beauty. So it was no mystery how she’d managed to attract a man of Adam’s stature. Yet Claire had rarely kept the men in her life around for long, and she’d openly admit that she was high maintenance.

Nick had been her longest relationship, but Charlie had always known that it wouldn’t last. She hadn’t said this though as he was one of Matt’s oldest friends, and she’d known that had she said it she’d have been accepting that some of the things that Matt had said about Claire were true.

The problem had always been that whilst Nick was a nice guy, he’d never had that something special about him that Charlie had known that her best friend had needed to keep her interested. He had however been dependable, and this was something that Charlie had known had drawn Claire to him.

Adam on the other hand was not dependable in the slightest, and this was plainly obvious to see, but he did have that something special and Charlie was impressed with how he seemed to have managed to calm Claire. At times when it was just the two of them, and they thought that Charlie wasn’t around, they were also really affectionate with one another.

Charlie was happy for Claire, and she was pleased that she finally seemed content with someone. She was also pleased that she liked Adam, and that the two of them got along. She had after all known the difficulties of best friends and partners not liking each other. Yet just as everything in her new life in London seemed to be on the up, as was always the way there had to be something on the horizon to act as a dampener. It was now less than two weeks until Rich and Bex’s wedding, and she was dreading the moment that she’d have to see Matt again.

The worry of seeing him again had been keeping her up at night, and had been making her feel nauseous all of the time. The one positive side effect of her worrying was that she had all but stopped eating, and as a result she had lost a fair amount of weight.

Charlie knew that she didn’t really need to lose any weight. She’d always had a good figure – she was athletic and well toned, but as with most women she hadn’t minded discovering that her clothes were less snug.

Claire also noticed the weight loss, and when they were shopping for dresses for the wedding she said; “this worrying is worth it, you look great. What size is that dress?”

“A six,” the shop assistant said from behind Claire.

“Nice!” Claire said appreciatively. “Now we can finely share wardrobes.”

Charlie laughed whilst pulling at her hair and looking at her reflection in the mirror, and she said to Claire; “do you think I should get my hair cut?”

“Yes,” Claire said; “and I know just where to go. In fact I may have already booked you an appointment, but Adam forbade me from making you go unless you asked.”

Charlie laughed and said; “thank god for Adam.”

“Hallelujah to that!” Claire said laughing and winking cheekily at Charlie.

“Seriously,” Charlie said laughing again and shaking her head at her best friend.

“Come on. We don’t want to be late,” Claire said unzipping the back of Charlie’s dress for her.

***

Charlie had looked in the mirror at her hair, and she’d been impressed with what the stylist had done. She’d always had rich thick brown hair, but she’d never done much with it. She’d worn it long for as long as she could remember, and aside from having had some layers cut into it a few years back she’d never really done anything more adventurous. She’d just never felt the need to.

The hairdresser had cut her hair short at the back, cutting the hair right into her neckline, and had then shaped the rest in a short style that was feathered and shaped round her face. The style included a fringe, which Charlie had never had before and had been nervous about. Yet the effect of the fringe and the style the hair dresser had chosen for her was impressive, and according to Claire she looked more beautiful than before and she only hoped that Adam wouldn’t agree with her.

Charlie had found herself looking at her reflection wherever possible for the remainder of the day, finding it strange each time that she did she didn’t instantly recognise herself.

The hair style was definitely worth it Charlie had decided, after receiving her fourth or fifth compliment after having only been in the office for twenty minutes. She’d also thought that if the looks that she’d been getting from some of the men in her office were anything to go by, then she must’ve been looking okay. She’d only hoped that Matt would agree with their assessments.

Charlie didn’t know why she wanted Matt to see her as attractive at the wedding. She knew that he would be there with Emily. Yet for some reason she did, and she knew that he was the reason why she’d had her hair cut in the first place. She also knew that he was the reason why she’d bought a ridiculously expensive outfit for Rich and Bex’s big day, and why she wasn’t sleeping.

The night before the wedding, Adam assured her that it was natural to want your ex to see you and be filled with remorse at ever leaving you. As he said this though, Charlie looked across at Claire. Claire avoided her gaze, and Charlie couldn’t help but wonder what she’d said to Adam. Not wanting to go into it, she said nothing and Claire quickly changed the subject. Charlie only hoped that this topic of conversation didn’t come up at the wedding.

She went to bed early to pack, and to try and get some sleep. They were driving up to Worcester for the wedding first thing tomorrow morning in Adam’s new jag, and she knew that once they arrived she would inevitably at some point see Matt. She’d then have to speak to him, and probably also to Emily.





Matt

The lead up to Rich’s wedding had been strange to say the least. Everything in his life had been going well up until about two months ago. Work was good, he was out of rehab, and life with Emily was okay. For the first time since Charlie’s accident, he’d begun to feel happy again. A feeling that he had at his lowest points thought that he might never experience again. Yet for the past couple of months something had been off, and he could only attribute this to Rich’s upcoming nuptials.

Emily had been unusually clingy, even for her, and very attentive in the bedroom. Matt wasn’t complaining about her bedroom behaviour, but he was worried that her clingyness was a reaction to Rich and Bex’s wedding. He was concerned that maybe she was hoping that if she was the perfect girlfriend, then he might consider proposing to her. From what he’d heard from the boys, girls got weird when it came to weddings.

The idea of her thinking this though made Matt feel incredibly uncomfortable. Not only was he still married – well legally he thought as he acknowledged in his mind the fact that he currently had no idea where his wife was living, he also knew that he didn’t want to get married again.

Living with Emily was one thing. Although in truth he knew that this had only come about because he’d needed a support system to come home to from rehab, and at the time she’d seemed more preferable than having to ask Rich or his parents to come and stay with him. The idea of her becoming his wife though was ridiculous, and the thought of her thinking along these lines made him feel claustrophobic. He was becoming increasingly worried that Emily was fast becoming too committed to their relationship, and that thought made him feel guilty.

Matt knew that Emily felt more for him than he did for her, but he also knew that she’d become an integral part of his life in the last few months. Without her, he’d have lost more than just his marriage. It was likely that he’d have lost his career, and maybe even his life given the amount of drugs he’d been taking when she’d finally gotten him to admit that he had a drug addiction.

Emily had seen him through a difficult time in his life, and she hadn’t – as she probably should have done given the way that he’d treated her, abandoned him.

When he’d come out of rehab she’d looked after him, and in return he’d stayed faithful to her. It had seemed like a fair trade at the time, and the least that he could do for her, but he knew that he didn’t love her. He was fond of her, and she was easy to live with. They had a lot in common, and their lives seemed to all intents and purposes well suited. What had made it even easier to accept her as part of his life was the reaction of his friends. They’d accepted them as a couple without asking any questions, and on top of this they’d seemed genuinely pleased for him.

Matt still hadn’t taken Emily home to meet his parents, even though she’d shown a keen interest in him doing this, but this was partly to do with him not wanting to have to face Charlie’s parents. He could only guess that they wouldn’t be hospitable towards him, but then he couldn’t blame them. He’d hardly been a good son-in-law. Yet aside from this he’d also known that if he took Emily to Cheddar, it’d be tantamount to an announcement that he was divorcing Charlie.

Even though he hadn’t seen or heard from Charlie since he’d walked out on her the morning after they’d had sex, he still couldn’t bring himself to accept that everything between them was over. It was silly and he knew that it wasn’t fair on Emily, but he was doing the very best that he could. She’d also seemed fairly content, well up until these past couple of months at least.

He tried to shake his thoughts from his head. He didn’t want to have to think about having a difficult conversation with Emily about their future tonight. Tonight was Rich’s night. It was his stag do, and he, Ben, and Nick, had a lot planned. He was also hoping that the night would ease some of Rich’s woes. They’d all noticed that he’d started to look stressed over the past couple of months, but they’d just assumed that he was worrying about the wedding, Bex, or maybe both.

“Are you going to be okay tonight?” Emily asked him, which interrupted his musings.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll be fine. I won’t drink too much, and all the boys know not to let me.”

“I’ll wait up for you if you want? I’m on call anyway,” Emily said.

“I’ll be fine,” he said working his feet into his black shoes and checking his reflection in the mirror.

“Gorgeous!” Emily said from where she was sat on the bed.

Matt turned round and smiled at her and said; “a little biased maybe?”

“Not maybe, I’m totally biased. But you’re still gorgeous,” Emily said standing up to kiss him.

He returned her kiss, but as he felt her hands move to the front of his trousers he gently pushed her back. “I’ve got to go,” he said. To which she pouted.

Matt kissed her on the cheek and left the room. Yet as he walked down the stairs he couldn’t help thinking that this was another instance where she’d been about to use sex as away to get him to stay in with her and not go out, even though she knew that he was heading to Rich’s stag do. She really was getting too clingy he thought, and he was definitely feeling claustrophobic despite his best efforts not to.

He was going to have to have a conversation with her, but not tonight he said to himself. Tonight was about finding out what was bugging Rich he thought.

***

The night had started off well. They’d begun with a few drinks in Selly Oak where he, Ben, and Nick, had made Rich drink a series of disgusting concoctions, and had made him with each drink put on more pieces of what would when it was complete be a fairy outfit. They’d then headed into town and had ended up in a strip club, where they’d each paid for Rich to have a lap dance.

Unfortunately as the four of them stood outside a takeaway shop, eating chips and waiting for a taxi, the evening took a dip. Rich began reminiscing about their school days, and his time spent dating Charlie. Matt ignored him at first because he knew he was drunk, and it was his stag night, and also because the rational side of him knew that it didn’t matter. It was all from a long time ago and Charlie wasn’t a part of his life anymore, but as Rich went on and on he could feel his temper rising.

“I loved Charlie first you know,” Rich said drunkenly to Ben.

“Yeah we know mate, but it all turned out alright in the end didn’t it? Cus on Saturday you’re marrying Bex, and she’s the real love of your life isn’t she?” Ben asked Rich, and it was clear that he was trying to get Rich to change the subject and talk about Bex rather than Charlie.

“Yeah, Bex is the love of my life. But we all know that she wasn’t my first,” Rich said slurring his words quite badly. “How sad am I though? I’m marrying the second girl that I ever slept with.”

Matt turned to scowl at him and said irritably; “fuck off Rich.” He then walked across the street to see if he could see anything coming towards the taxi rank, but the road was empty.

Rich laughed and said to Ben; “your first times supposed to be shit isn’t it?”

Ben didn’t answer, and it was clear that everyone was trying to ignore Rich at this point.

“Mine wasn’t. I’m telling you,” Rich said laughing again; “Charlie knew what she was doing.”

Matt turned to walk back over to him, knowing that he wanted to punch him in the face, but Nick and Ben stood in front of him.

“Come on Matt, he’s too drunk to hit now it wouldn’t be fair. Hit him in the morning when he’s got a hangover,” Ben said.

“Taxi,” Nick said looking over Matt’s shoulder. Yet when it stopped and they all piled in, Matt noticed that Ben and Nick deliberately sat in between him and Rich.

“Do you know where mine and Charlie’s first time was?” Rich asked Ben.

“No one cares mate,” Ben said.

Matt leant forward resting his forearms on the tops of his thighs by his knees. He put his hands together, kept his head down, and said; “you did it in the school games shed Rich. It lasted about two minutes, and she was thinking about me the whole time. Well according to her that is.”

Everyone looked at Matt, including the cabbie who’d glanced at him through his rear view mirror.

“You know about the games shed?” Nick asked sounding stunned.

“Guessing Claire told you?” Matt asked Nick.

Nick nodded, and Ben smiled and said; “Rach told me.”

This time Matt smiled at Ben and said; “no secrets between any of us then is there?”

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Rich slurred. But Matt simply ignored him.

The cab pulled up outside of Rich’s house, and it took all three of them to navigate Rich inside. Once he was on the sofa in his living room Matt went back outside to pay for the taxi, and when he went inside again he could hear Rich’s snores coming from the living room. Nick and Ben were already in the kitchen opening up a couple of bottles of beer.

“Want one?” Ben asked Matt as he walked in.

“Yeah why not,” he said.

“I can’t believe you know about Charlie and Rich in the games shed,” Nick said handing Matt a beer. “When Claire told me I was sworn to top level secrecy, like on my life and everything.”

“You too,” Matt said to Ben.

“Yeah,” Ben answered smiling.

“Charlie told me about an hour before we got married. She rang me up and scared me half to death. I thought she was calling to say that she couldn’t go through with the wedding, that she’d changed her mind or something. But she just said that she couldn’t marry me with this secret between us,” Matt said.

“What did you say when she told you?” Nick asked.

“I asked her if she was still coming to the church to marry me,” Matt said; “and she said only if I promised to be stood at the altar waiting for her with a best man whose nose wasn’t broken.”

Ben and Nick both laughed and said; “but you’ve never once mentioned it to Rich?”

Matt smiled slyly.

“What?” Nick and Ben both asked together.

“It’s in my best man’s speech,” Matt said.

All three of them burst out laughing before Ben said; “we’re assuming Bex knows though right?”

“Jeez Ben, what kind of guy do you take me for? I checked with your missus before putting it in,” Matt said smiling at Ben and all three of them burst out laughing again.

The following morning Rich had a rotten hangover and couldn’t remember any of the journey home. None of them reminded him though. None of them wanted to ruin Matt’s speech.

***

Matt was stood in his morning suit fiddling with his cravat when Rich walked into his room wearing just his shirt and trousers, and Matt noticed that Rich was looking incredibly pale.

“You look like shit!” Matt said clearly rather amused. “Are you really this nervous?”

“I’m fine,” Rich said edgily. “The question is how you are? Are you okay? Not feeling the need to do any drugs or anything?”

Matt laughed and said; “I’m pretty chilled out mate, but then I’m not the one about to say I do.”

“Charlie’s here,” Rich said watching Matt’s face for his reaction.

“Okay and this has you tripping out why? Doubts, worried that you’re marrying the wrong girl?” Matt asked Rich before laughing.

“No, but you’re not freaked about seeing her?” Rich asked.

“I knew she was coming,” Matt said. “So no, I don’t think I was planning on being surprised or freaked out at seeing her here.”

“Oh,” Rich replied. “Okay, in that case I’m gonna go and finish getting my suit on.”

Rich turned and left the room, and Matt turned his attention back to the mirror and his cravat. Yet he suddenly felt very nervous, and a lot like he’d just started to sweat profusely.

Matt had known that Charlie was going to be here, but seeing her again was going to be strange. He hadn’t seen her in ten months, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to feel when he did see her again. In truth, he’d been trying desperately not to think about it.

He absent-mindedly looked at the wedding ring on his left hand. He assumed that Charlie would have taken her rings off by now, and he thought that she might think that it was strange if she saw that he was still wearing his. He turned the ring and felt dejected when it came off easily. He looked at it again and then put it in his trouser pocket. Yet as he did he only hoped that Emily wouldn’t notice that he’d taken it off, or that if she did that she wouldn’t read too much into it.

Matt shook his head to chase this concern away, and he walked out of his room.

Bex had chosen a nice venue for the wedding. It was a hotel that also had its own church. This made it ideal for wedding parties as the guests could stay at the hotel, walk to the church, and then walk back to the reception afterwards. There were also no undue delays in waiting for people to arrive, and the bride and groom didn’t have to pay any unnecessary transport costs for their guests.

Matt knew that if Rich had just seen Charlie, it was likely that she’d be at the hotel reception checking in. He headed in that direction at top speed, unsure of why he was so anxious to see her. His original plan had been to avoid her for the most part, unless forced to make polite conversation with her. Yet when Rich had said that she was here he’d known that he needed to see her. How bad could it be he asked himself as he hurtled down the corridors towards the hotel reception?

He rounded the last corner, and he saw two women and a man standing at the reception desk. He slowed down, and he tried to catch his breath and compose himself as he walked towards them.

Claire turned round and he saw that she looked momentarily uncomfortable at seeing him, but she just as quickly composed her face into a bright smile that made her blue eyes sparkle.

“Matt, it’s nice to see you. Wow, look at you looking devilishly handsome in your morning suit. God we must be running really late, we haven’t even changed yet. Well obviously,” she said pointing to her jeans and boots and talking ridiculously quickly.

He hadn’t really been listening to what she’d been saying though. He’d instead been looking at the back of the woman to her right. He knew this was going to be Charlie, but she looked different even from the back. He noticed that she’d lost weight, and that she’d had her hair cut incredibly short.

Charlie turned round to face him, and he was momentarily stunned by how well both the haircut and the weight loss suited her. Charlie had always been beautiful, but Matt had never seen her look this stylish. She’d always been naturally pretty and very girl next door. She’d never been about flash clothes or trendy looks, but it seemed that they really suited her. He jealously wondered how many men she must have after her, aside from the guy that was stood with her.

He noticed as he continued to look at her that her hair cut shaped her face and framed her features. It looked styled but also understated, like she’d just woken up and had run her hands through it. Her eyes seemed bolder somehow with the hair cut, and her cheekbones looked more defined and prominent. Yet he knew the definition might have been from her weight loss.

From the front it was even more evident that Charlie was much thinner than he’d ever known her, but she looked amazing and it made her look taller. Matt couldn’t help but stare at her as he tried to look her over as subtly as possible, but he guessed that he’d failed at subtlety when she smiled at him. It was just that all of her clothes were figure hugging, and she’d looked really good in them.

“Hi, I’m Adam,” the guy stood next to Charlie said as he held out his hand to Matt.

Feeling very conscious that he hadn’t spoken Matt shook hands with Adam, but as he did he looked him squarely in the face and thought that he disliked this man intensely. He also wondered if he was aware that Charlie was married. That Charlie was actually his wife.

“Matt,” he said releasing Adam’s hand and then asking as nonchalantly as he could; “you’re here with Charlie and Claire?”

Adam nodded and said; “I drove them up from London this morning.”

London Matt thought. So that’s where Charlie had gone when she’d left Cheddar. He’d never imagined that she’d head there, or that she’d go and stay with Claire. In fact he wondered how that had even come about given that Claire hadn’t shown the slightest bit of interest in visiting Charlie after the accident.

“My better half,” Claire said moving to stand by Adam and looping her arm around his.

“I don’t disbelieve it,” Matt said smiling at Claire but also feeling a massive wave of relief that this guy wasn’t accompanying Charlie this weekend.

Claire returned his smile almost smugly, and he knew that she hadn’t missed either his comment or his look of relief. He really disliked her at times he thought.

“Your room keys,” the receptionist said.

“Come on,” Charlie said to Claire taking the keys from the receptionist. “We need to change.”

“Yeah okay,” Claire said smiling at Charlie.

“It’s nice to see you,” Charlie said lightly. Yet before he could reply she turned away from him with Claire and Adam, and he watched her walk away carrying her overnight bag in her hand.

Matt stood there dumbstruck. It’s nice to see you he thought. That was it he asked himself? Nearly ten years of marriage, and a fifteen year relationship in total before she’d walked out on him, and that was all she had to say to him now. She surely had to be joking he asked himself?

He shook his head and remembered that for her, he was just some moody guy that she’d had to live with for six months. He was just some good for nothing guy that had slept with her once and had then walked out on her. What had he been expecting he thought? Added to which, on thinking about it he hadn’t actually said anything to her. He’d just stood there looking her over and probably making her feel ridiculously uncomfortable. He shook his head despairingly.

“Matt, what are you doing?” He heard an angry voice ask him from behind, and he turned around and saw Bex stood in a big white dressing gown.

“Can you please go and attend to your best man duties, and ensure that Rich is where he’s supposed to be?” Bex asked.

Matt nodded, and dashed off in the direction of Rich’s room. Today was not about him he thought.

***

Matt had felt distracted throughout the wedding, and whilst he’d been stood to Rich’s right – waiting for Bex to make her entrance, he’d felt as anxious as he had when their positions had been reversed almost a decade ago. His eyes had kept wondering over to where he’d known Charlie had been sat, but he hadn’t been able to see her properly. He had however caught a glimpse of her arriving, and he’d been able to see the pretty lilac flower that she had in her hair.

Outside after the service, he stood with Emily who was talking to him excitedly. Yet he still felt distracted and he continued to look around for Charlie, but he couldn’t see her anywhere. He tried to engage himself in conversation with people, and he stood for a while making polite chit chat with Bex’s parents while Emily held his hand tightly as though to remind him that he was there with her.

It was only when he was stood talking and laughing with Rich, as the photographer took photographs of the two of them, that he finally spotted Charlie. She was stood talking to his parents and he stopped laughing. He looked at the photographer and asked; “are we done?”

The photographer looked shocked by Matt’s sudden change of demeanour, and he nodded. Rich nodded too, as a sign that it was okay for him to walk away from his best man duties for a while.

Matt walked quickly over to where Charlie was stood with his parents, and as he reached them he put his hand on his father’s shoulder briefly and kissed his mum on the cheek.

“Hi,” he said quietly to Charlie. She smiled in response.

“We were just telling Charlie that she must be living it up in London too much to have lost all this weight,” his mum said; “but that we do like this fancy new haircut of hers.”

“I wasn’t actually,” Matt’s dad said. “I was just telling Charlie that if I was twenty years younger and not her father-in-law…”

“Okay dad, I don’t think any of us need to hear the end of that sentence,” Matt said interrupting his dad just in time and making his parents and Charlie laugh.

“Matt,” Emily said from behind him before putting both of her hands on his right arm.

Matt’s mum, dad, and Charlie, all looked from Emily to Matt. He looked from Emily to all of them, but his eyes lingered on Charlie’s as he tried to make a silent apology to her.

“Hi,” Emily said holding out her hand to his dad.

“Dad, this is Emily. Emily this is my dad,” Matt said as Emily shook hands with his dad. “This is my mum,” he continued as she shook hands with his mum; “and Charlie you know,” he finished almost ashamedly.

Charlie smiled at Emily, and then with a laugh she said to Matt’s parents; “with introductions like that, maybe Rich and Bex should’ve sprung for name badges.”

Matt’s parents laughed, as did Emily, but Matt just looked at Charlie.

“Matt’s dad is Robin,” Charlie said to Emily as Robin laughed again; “and this is Marie,” Charlie added sharing a warm smile with Matt’s mum. “Hi,” she finally said to Emily before hugging her and astounding Matt.

Emily pulled back from Charlie and said to Matt; “Bex is demanding that you get back over to her and Rich. As best man I think you’re supposed to be in most of the photos.”

He could feel his mum scowling at Emily, and so he said; “okay, well I’d better get back then.”

As he walked away from his family he tried to guide Emily in front of him, but he was mortified when she stopped and took his hand in hers before continuing back towards the main party.

Matt wondered what his parents were making of his new girlfriend. He knew they wouldn’t be enamoured, but then Emily hadn’t done herself any favours in coming over when they were talking to Charlie. His parents loved Charlie. Although he now felt guilty that he hadn’t bothered to speak to Charlie before today. He knew that he owed it to her, or to the old her at least, to have found out where she’d moved after Cheddar and to have told her that he was with Emily.

He also couldn’t believe that he’d just embarrassed himself in front of his parents like he had. Charlie had had to introduce them to Emily properly, because he’d been so uncomfortable with the introductions that he’d forgotten to tell Emily his parent’s names. It was a disaster he thought. Yet at least as they reached Rich and Bex, Emily stopped holding his hand so tightly.

Matt exchanged a look with Rich as he positioned himself on Rich’s right hand side, and Emily nestled up against him. He saw Claire in front of him and she looked furious. She stared daggers at him, and then she turned and walked over to where Charlie was now stood alone. Matt wished he could hear what was being said, but then thought that maybe it was better that he couldn’t. This day was turning into a nightmare he knew, and the reception hadn’t even begun.

“I hope your speech is clean Matthew,” Bex’s mum said to him.

He was grateful for the distraction and he reassured her that it was – well, to the most part.

***

Matt was stood by the bar with Nick and Ben. They were talking, but he was also watching Charlie who was on the dance floor with his dad.

“Your dad still has some pretty sweet moves,” Nick commented as they all watched Matt’s dad spin Charlie and then pull her back into hold whilst she laughed.

Matt nodded as he looked away from them and asked Nick; “have you spoken to Claire today?”

Nick shook his head and said; “I was gonna go over and say hi, but then I overheard Rach and her mum talking about the fact that they couldn’t believe that she’d had the nerve to come to the wedding with the guy that she’d cheated on me with. After that, I sought of lost my nerve.”

“Ouch!” Ben said.

“Guessing you definitely haven’t spoke to him then?” Matt asked.

“Nope,” Nick said. “You know what’s weird though? Seeing her wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined it being. She seems happy with him, and I’m not that jealous.”

“That jealous,” Ben said.

“Oh come on. Claire can be a bitch, but she’s hot as hell. Always has been,” Nick said as all three of them looked over at where Claire was sat talking to Adam.

“Speaking of hot,” Rich said coming over to join them. “How hot is Charlie looking today? Oh and nice man,” he said to Matt. “The speech,” he added when he saw Matt’s confused expression. “You know that Bex is going to kill me later when there are no witnesses around.”

Nick, Ben, and Matt, all laughed.

“In fairness Rich,” Ben said; “you were the one shouting about it at the end of your stag night.”

“Shit, was I?” Rich asked Ben whilst eyeing Matt warily.

Nick, Ben, and Matt, all laughed again.

“Let’s just say that we’re all square now,” Matt said.

“I don’t think Bex is going to see it that way,” Rich said before ordering a pint from behind the bar. “Who were you deciding was hot or not by the way when I came over?”

“Claire. But then you said Charlie, and I agree. She’s looking hotter than I’ve ever seen her, and I’ve always thought that she was fine. Although don’t tell Rach,” Ben said lowering his voice.

“I gotta say” Nick said to Matt. “I’d happily trade places with your old man right now.”

“Great! So now we’re all decided that Charlie’s hot, is it possible that we can talk about something else?” He asked knowing that there was a slight edge to his voice.

“Okay, how about the look on Bex’s face when Matt made reference to the school games shed?” Ben asked before laughing yet again.

“I wasn’t sure which one of you Bex looked most annoyed at,” Nick said also laughing once more; “but I’m kind of leaning on Matt.”

“Yeah,” Ben said smiling; “but I reckon Claire looked even more annoyed at Matt than Bex did.”

“True,” Nick said; “but do you know what I thought was really weird though.”

“Charlie’s face,” Matt said answering Nick’s question for him.

“Yeah,” Nick replied. “She looked embarrassed one second, and then amused the next. Then when she noticed that people were looking in her direction, she suddenly looked like she didn’t understand why anyone was looking at her at all.”

“I saw that too,” Matt said; “but I thought it was just me.”

“I’m lost,” Ben said. “What are you saying? It was as if she remembered and that’s why she was embarrassed? Or she was embarrassed because she couldn’t remember? It could’ve been that she was just amused at the thought of ever having been stupid enough to have slept with Rich.”

Matt and Nick both shrugged.

“She obviously didn’t remember,” Rich said; “amnesia!”

Matt looked from Rich to Charlie, and he could’ve sworn that she’d been watching him less than a second ago. Yet he could now see Emily watching him, and he turned back towards his friends.

“I think I’d better go and ask Emily to dance before I die from a withering glare,” he said.

“You’d also better dance with Bex,” Rich suggested; “and maybe apologise.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Matt said as he started to walk over to Emily; “but you know she already knew right?”

Nick and Ben both laughed again as Rich looked completely shocked.

If Matt had thought that the wedding and early part of the reception had gone slowly, it was nothing compared to when the party on the dance floor had gotten under way. Once he had asked Emily to dance, she’d taken this as a sign that he was showing everyone there that they were a couple.

She had made him stay on the dance floor for twenty minutes, and she’d spent most of the dances pressed up against him almost inappropriately until he’d finally put a bit of space between them. When he had managed to shake her from his side completely, and had left her happily talking to Bex and her bridesmaids, it had been half past twelve and Charlie had been nowhere in sight.

“She’s prettier than I remember her being,” Claire said to him as he stopped by the bar near to where she’d already been stood.

“Hmm,” Matt said distractedly.

“The girlfriend,” Claire said. “Although has there been any need to flaunt her around quite as much as you have been doing. You are aware that your wife’s also in attendance right?”

“I wasn’t flaunting anybody,” Matt said angry with himself for sounding defensive.

“Touchy!” Claire remarked instantly.

“What do you want Claire?” He asked dropping any pretence of politeness.

“I’d like for you to stop hurting my best friend. But tell me? Did you come here with that as your sole intention? Flaunt the new girlfriend around, and then make some unfunny derisive remark about Charlie in your best man’s speech. Did Emily think that was funny?” She asked.

Matt could feel his temper rising and he said angrily; “fuck off Claire. I don’t think you have the right to talk to me about Charlie. Where were you after the accident?”

Claire was about to respond when Charlie said; “Guys. It’s Rich and Bex’s wedding, don’t argue.”

They both turned to look at her, and it was clear that neither of them had seen her arrive.

“Matt it wasn’t a shock for me to see you with Emily today,” she said. “I’m guessing someone had obviously told their mum or dad, and you know how these things go with our families. Plus when I left, I never expected you to stay single. So don’t let Claire wind you up, because honestly no one thinks you’re flaunting Emily around.” She then smiled at him reassuringly.

He didn’t reply, and she smiled at him again and said; “can you give us a sec?”

Matt nodded and walked away, but as he sat down at an empty table across from them he couldn’t help but watch the exchange that followed. He’d never seen Charlie like this before. She was clearly angry with Claire for something, but he couldn’t understand what Claire had done.

Normally he would’ve thought that if Claire was being yelled at it’d be deserved, not that Charlie would ever have agreed with him about that. Yet tonight, Claire had been taking Charlie’s side. How could that have annoyed Charlie so much he wondered?

The argument continued, and Matt couldn’t tear his eyes away. He saw Rich walk over to them, and he contemplated stopping him. Any man that was about to come between Charlie and Claire was a braver man than him, but Rich didn’t. Rich didn’t come between them. He took Charlie’s side instantly, and when Claire turned her back on both of them Rich walked off with Charlie. What the hell was going on Matt asked himself bemusedly?

He got up to go over to where Rich and Charlie were now stood talking to find out, but he could see that Rich for some reason now looked upset and that Charlie was consoling him. It didn’t make any sense, and he decided that enough was enough. He didn’t see why he had to be in the dark about whatever was going on, and he quickened his pace over to them. Unfortunately Emily suddenly appeared in front of him.

“I’m tired,” she said.

“Go to bed then,” he said shortly irritated that she was here. He then looked past her to Charlie and Rich. They were now hugging, and he felt an old feeling of jealousy rise up inside of him.

“That’s not very nice,” she said pouting as she always did when something wasn’t going the way that she wanted it to.

As with all traits that seem attractive at first, Matt had long since grown to hate her pouting and now found it widely annoying and childish. He didn’t say this though, he instead said; “sorry, but I can’t go to bed before the bride and groom. It’s part of my best man duties,” he lied pulling her into a hug so that he could survey the situation behind her more closely.

“Oh okay,” she said nestling into his hug and holding him tightly.

He fought the urge to roll his eyes at her, but as he did he saw Rich and Charlie look in his direction. Charlie smiled across at him, and then she said something to Rich. Matt returned her smile somewhat weakly, but this seemed to prompt Rich to smile at him as well.

Matt suddenly felt like he was sixteen again. He was once more watching his two best friends share something intimate. He wondered what it was that Charlie was saying to Rich, and he followed his best friend with his eyes as he walked away from Charlie and over to Bex. He watched Rich drag his new wife away from her adoring bridesmaids, and take her out onto the dance floor. Yet when he looked back to where Charlie had been stood, she’d gone.

“On second thoughts maybe we can go to bed. I think Rich has everything in hand,” Matt said.

He felt Emily lift her head from off his chest, and she took his hand in hers. He knew that when they got back to their room she’d try and initiate sex, but he really wasn’t in the mood. So when they got back he deliberately asked her to go and put on the sexy little night dress that he’d seen her pack, but whilst she changed in the bathroom he lay on the bed and feigned sleep.

Matt heard her sigh as she realised that he’d fallen asleep, and he kept his eyes closed as she tried to wake him. Finally she lost interest and got into bed to go to sleep. Unfortunately while he continued to lie still, his mind was transfixed on the image he had of Charlie as she’d turned round to look at him at the reception desk. He felt the familiar pull on his heart as he tried hopelessly to shut her face out of his thoughts, but as he lay awake he felt increasingly irritable and he longed for some drugs to take.





Charlie

The wedding had been the wakeup call that Charlie had needed. Even though she’d seen Matt with Emily in Birmingham, there had been a part of her that had hoped he’d be at the wedding alone. She’d thought that if he was, then maybe surrounded by the romance of a wedding there was a chance that he might realise that he still loved her and would tell her. She could then reveal to him that she was his old Charlie, fully recovered and memory intact.

Unfortunately it hadn’t played out like that, and Emily had been with him. Charlie had also seen for herself that they really were a couple, and on top of this they were happy. She’d watched them over the day, and she’d seen that Matt had moved on with his life.

Charlie’s heart had stung, but as the pain had seared she’d realised that she hadn’t moved on. Even though she’d moved to London with the intention of starting a new life, she hadn’t allowed herself to relinquish her ties to the past. She’d been holding out for a story book ending with Matt, and she hadn’t wanted to admit that she was actually a single woman in her early thirties.

What had made things worse was that in the lead up to the wedding, she’d managed to convince herself that she’d been too kind to Matt in her recollection of how he looked. She’d told herself that in reality he couldn’t possibly be as good looking as he was in her head. Yet seeing him at the wedding had dashed any hopes that she’d had that Matt was just average.

As she’d turned round to face him when she’d been at the reception desk checking in, he’d actually taken her breath away. She hadn’t in fact been able to believe the kind of disservice that she’d being doing to him in her mind.

The real Matt was so much more handsome than the one in her head. He still had that cheeky smile which had always set girls hearts on fire, and had often gotten him out of trouble with everyone’s mums and all the female teachers at school. His eyes had still been the same dazzling hazel colour, and they’d still lit up when he’d smiled.

Charlie had known that when she got back to London she’d have to start dating again. She’d also known that Claire would be the best person to help her do that. So even though she’d been angry with Claire for her actions at the wedding, she’d forgiven her knowing both that she needed her help and that her intentions had been good.

During the wedding, it had become clear to Charlie that Claire was looking for any excuse to tell Matt about her memory. Yet what had irritated her more was when Claire had let slip the fact that she’d already told Rich.

Charlie had to admit though, that the one good thing to come from Claire having told Rich was that she’d got to congratulate him on his wedding day as herself. There had been no having to pretend that she had no memory, and it had been clear that Rich had been touched at this. Although she had felt awful about making him upset, and she’d asked him to stop looking so sad. He’d smiled and said he was just feeling guilty about Matt though. Yet she’d said that there was no reason to, and she’d told him to look over at Matt who she’d already spied hugging Emily.

“Rich he’s moved on, and he seems happy. You look at them and tell me Matt’s not happy,” she’d said. Rich had turned to look at Matt, and he’d smiled at them. “It’s better that he never knows. We had our time together, and now they deserve theirs,” she’d told him before hugging him and smiling over at Matt again who she’d seen was still looking over in their direction.

Rich had been pacified, but that night Charlie had lain in bed unable to sleep. She had finally given up the fight, and she’d gotten up and gone and sat in the hotel bar. She’d been looking for a distraction, a few straggling guests from the wedding, but she’d settled for a drink.

The bar tender had been a young girl whose English hadn’t been very good, and so Charlie had sat at the bar in silence thinking about Matt and their past together. At about 4am and with no explanation, the barmaid had walked away and had left Charlie with a quarter of a bottle of vodka and a few cans of diet coke. Charlie had then proceeded to get horribly drunk.

She’d known that she should’ve been happy for Matt, but she missed him. She’d also kept thinking back to his speech, and the split second during it when they’d exchanged a glance and she’d known that she’d very nearly given the game away.

He’d looked in her direction with a look of apology on his face, which she’d known had been for him having made reference to her indiscretion with Rich. Yet as he had, she’d been laughing at the looks on both Bex and Rich’s faces. She’d caught his eyes, and they’d smiled at each other. It had been a smile that they’d shared many times before. It had been a smile that had always been just for them.

Charlie had seen off the last of the vodka, and had stumbled back towards her room. She’d realised in her drunken haze that the only way that she could be sure that Matt would never find out about her memory, was for her to never see him again. That would also remove any temptation she’d have of telling him about it. She’d known that to protect him, she needed to stay away from him.

She’d gotten into bed and had decided that when she got back to London she’d file for divorce. She’d known that it was time to put her past behind her once and for all. It was time to move on with her life, a life that he wouldn’t be a part of. Yet the thought of that had made her cry.

The first few dates that she’d gone on back in London were truly awful. The men were dull, self obsessed, or worse both. They talked about their exercise regimes or their careers, and whilst Charlie had feigned interest she just hadn’t been able to bring herself to accept second dates with any of them.

“You’re over thinking it,” Claire said.

“How am I over thinking it?” Charlie asked as she squeezed into Claire’s skin tight light blue jeans, and then grabbed Claire’s favourite boots and held them up for Claire’s approval that she could borrow them.

Claire nodded distractedly at the gesture with the boots and said; “you know that if the date’s going well and he comes back here, then it’s likely that it’s going to lead to something more. You also know that you haven’t had sex with anyone other than Matt in what, twenty years? So you’re scared, and you’re completely over thinking the whole dating thing as a result.”

Charlie knew there was an element of truth in this, but she refused to acknowledge it and said instead; “twenty years? I think you know that I wasn’t having sex at eleven!”

“Just give it a go Charlie. If he’s half decent invite him back,” Claire said; “then just see what happens.”

Charlie decided to take Claire’s advice, and she went out on her date optimistically. She was confident that she could play it by ear, and not over think things. Yet the date turned out to be a disaster. The guy was rude to everyone they encountered, and he all but called her over the hill when she admitted that she had previously been married.

To escape the date she called Claire for a rescue, knowing that she was at dinner in the same area with Adam and one of his work colleagues, and Claire invited her straight over to join them.

Charlie was going to go back and tell her date that she wasn’t feeling well and had to leave, but as she approached where they’d been sitting she saw him shouting at the waitress and decided not to disturb him. Instead she asked the hostess for her coat.

“Good decision,” the hostess said smiling and passing Charlie her coat. Charlie returned her smile and headed out into the night.

When Charlie arrived at the club that Claire was in, she gave her a call so that Adam could come down and collect her. It was a private members club and she knew that he needed to sign her in.

“Sorry to gate crash,” Charlie said when she saw Adam.

“Not at all,” Adam replied smiling; “another shocking date by all accounts?”

“I really know how to pick them from these internet dating sites,” she said smiling wryly.

“Let’s get you a drink” Adam said.

Charlie nodded.

They walked inside, and Charlie could see Claire sat at a table talking to a man next to her. She assumed that this was Adam’s work colleague.

He was older than Adam, maybe about forty. He had dark hair that was peppered with grey, a round face, straight nose, green coloured eyes, and a nice smile. He wasn’t what she considered to be attractive, but there was something endearing about him she thought as she sat down next to Claire and put her head on her shoulder.

“Let’s get you drunk and high,” Claire said to Charlie.

Adam ordered champagne and tequila, and Claire took out a little black tube and emptied a small pile of white powder onto the table. Charlie looked at Claire aghast, and then looked positively stunned when Claire split the powder into four even lines with the edge of one of Adam’s credit cards.

“Claire we’re in a public place,” Charlie said; “and cocaine is actually illegal.”

“It’s okay Charlie. This is a private members club and they’ll turn a blind eye,” Adam said. “Well, they will with enough of a tip.”

He then leant forward and snorted his line with a rolled up fifty pound note, which he then passed to Claire who followed suit. Claire passed the note to Charlie, but she shook her head.

“Stop over thinking things,” Claire whispered.

Charlie looked at Claire, took the note, and then stopped thinking.

***

Charlie’s head was banging when she woke up, and she had to sit up quickly when she felt the violent urge to vomit. Yet it was then, as she sat up, that she felt something heavy move from across her chest to over her lap. She looked down at the weight and saw that it was a man’s arm. Lying next to her, completely naked, was Adam’s work colleague. Charlie couldn’t even remember his name, and she was mortified by what she’d done.

She pulled the sheet from off the bed, and she wrapped it tightly around her naked body and walked into the living room. There were traces of white powder all over the coffee table, and there were discarded bottles of tequila next to the sofa. Charlie felt vomit rise up in her throat, and she choked it back before heading quickly into the kitchen to get some water.

Charlie sipped at the water slowly, and leant back against the cupboards. She tried to remember the previous night, but as it came back to her in horrifying flashes she wished it would stop. She could remember the cocaine, the shot drinking, more cocaine, more shot drinking, and then finally Adam’s colleague kissing her and her pushing him away.

She remembered coming back to the flat, and she remembered more cocaine followed by more shots of tequila. She remembered stumbling to bed, and turning around to see that Adam’s colleague had followed her in. She could recall him kissing her, and she remembered reciprocating. She then had a mortifying recollection of stripping naked, before climbing astride this stranger as he clumsily fumbled her body with his hands and lips. The memory made her flinch, and the awkwardness of the encounter made her feel embarrassed to her core.

Charlie crept into her room, and she grabbed some clothes before going into the bathroom to change. Once she was dressed, she headed outside and walked down the hill towards the Starbucks on the high street. She knew that she could wait there for Claire to let her know when the coast was clear.

This is not what she’d wanted she thought. This wasn’t how she’d wanted to move on. She was looking for a new man to start a new chapter of her life with, not a meaningless one night stand that she’d regret as soon as she woke up the next day.





Claire

She felt guilty over Charlie’s one night stand, and she felt guilty for her recent underhand behaviour. Whilst she had been encouraging Charlie to go out on dates to her face, she’d been deliberately setting her up with guys that she’d known that Charlie wouldn’t like. It wasn’t that she was being spiteful, it was just that she was wanted Charlie to realise that men like Matt weren’t easy to find. Mostly she’d wanted Charlie to realise that instead of looking for someone new in her life, she should have been fighting for the someone that she already had in her life.

Claire had tried to be supportive in Charlie’s plan to start afresh, but that had been before the wedding. She’d also agreed to both Rich and Charlie that she wouldn’t tell Matt about Charlie’s memory. Yet that again had been before the wedding. The wedding had changed everything.

Rich may have managed to convince her that Matt had moved on, and he may have managed to persuade her that Matt was happy, but he’d had no control over what she’d seen for herself at the wedding. She’d seen the way that Matt had looked for Charlie throughout the day and night, and how he’d tracked her with his eyes when he’d known where she was.

Claire had also watched him with Emily, and whilst she’d accept that he hadn’t shown any signs of being unhappy he and Emily hadn’t looked like loves young dream either. Well Matt hadn’t.

She’d been so busy watching Matt throughout the day that she’d neglected Adam awfully, but she honestly hadn’t cared. She’d been mesmerised by how Matt had barely been able to keep his eyes off their table, and how he’d had to force himself to look at Emily and not Charlie. When he’d been making his speech, and waiting for the laughter in the room to die down, she’d noticed that he hadn’t been able to keep from looking across at Charlie to see if he was making her laugh. It was clear to her that nothing at all had changed. As had always been the way with Matt, when Charlie was around no one else in the world seemed to exist.

When she’d made the decision to confront him at the end of the reception, she’d known that she was going to tell him about Charlie’s memory. The one flaw in her plan though had been the fact that she hadn’t realised that she hadn’t been the only person observing someone that day.

She’d always known that Charlie could read her like a book, but she hadn’t realised that she’d been watching her. She’d thought that Charlie would’ve been distracted by Matt and Emily, but when she’d made her beeline for Matt Charlie had been there in a flash to intervene.

Claire had been furious with Charlie that night, and when she’d gone to bed she’d raged at Adam about Charlie being a fool. Claire had known that Charlie only had to click her fingers, and Matt would’ve coming running back to her. Yet Adam had defended Charlie’s actions, and he’d said that it was thoughtful of her to conceal the truth to spare his feelings.

She’d been disgusted at hearing this, and she’d refused to speak to him. She’d gotten into bed and had turned her back on him, but Adam had managed to pacify her and they’d made love.

Afterwards when she’d been lying in his arms, he’d said to her that above everything else that she’d told him that night about Matt and Charlie’s great romance this was the most romantic part in his opinion. Charlie was wilfully turning her back on the love of her life to prevent him from any further hurt. She was giving him a shot at happiness with someone other than her.

When Adam had fallen asleep, Claire had gotten out of bed and had sat by the window. She’d watched the night turn its different shades of grey before finally the sun had risen. Yet as she’d sat there Adam’s words had kept running through her mind, and she’d realised that he’d hit the nail on the head. Charlie was protecting Matt. She was sheltering him, and as a consequence she was giving up on her own happiness.

Charlie was her best friend, and it was her job to protect her and shelter her from unhappiness. She had to put a stop to the lies, and to Charlie’s selflessness. She had to put a stop to all of it, and she’d known that just as Rich had chosen Matt’s happiness over Charlie’s all those months ago. She had to do the same, but this time she’d be looking out for Charlie rather than Matt.

Claire had known though that if she went against Charlie’s wishes and Matt got hurt again she’d never forgive her, and the knowledge of this made her doubt whether she was ready to take this risk with their friendship. The stakes were high, and the longer that she’d thought about it the less willing she’d been to gamble. She needed Charlie in her life, and she felt sure that there had to be another way to make Charlie realise that she needed and deserved Matt in hers.

The night that Charlie had called to say that she was bailing on yet another date, was the night when Claire realised that there had only been one thing left to try to get Charlie to see sense. Claire had known that she’d needed to get Charlie drunk, and it had needed to be on something that made Charlie act completely unlike herself. Claire had also known that the something that she’d needed was tequila, as she’d witnessed its effect on Charlie more than once before.

When they were fifteen, Claire’s parents had gone away and her older brother Bryan had thrown a party. Charlie and Claire had stolen a bottle of tequila from the party and they’d sneaked it up to her room, before they’d invited their friends over. It had been the usual chorus of Matt, Rich, Nick, Ben, Rach, and Bex, and they’d all done a couple of shots.

The effect on most of them had barely been noticeable. They were all used to a small amount of alcohol, and it hadn’t been the first time that one of them had stolen from one of their older siblings or parent’s parties for the benefit of them all. Yet Charlie had never touched spirits. She’d always stuck to shandy, or if she was feeling adventurous just beer on its own.

After a couple of shots of tequila she’d been all over the boys, and she’d been dancing and teasing them. Bex and Rach hadn’t been impressed, but Claire had found it hilarious. Rich too hadn’t been amused, and he’d been horribly jealous at how Charlie had fawned over Matt. He’d finally dragged her off to Bryan’s bedroom, and from the account that Charlie had given to Claire the following morning that had been the first night that she and Rich had gotten truly intimate.

Claire had been shocked. She’d known that Charlie was cautious, but then Claire had known that Charlie could be given that she’d been both beautiful and popular with all of the boys in their school. Yet it hadn’t been her actions that had shocked Claire. It’d been the fact that her actions had suggested that she’d finally gotten over her crush on Matt. A crush that had until that tequila induced night, been putting a serious dampener on her and Rich’s sexual relationship.

At university Charlie had always been a good girl, and Claire had been the one to go off the rails. She’d enjoyed a little bit too much the freedom of a life away from Cheddar, and a life away from prying eyes that reported everything to someone’s parents, but at one party Claire had seen that Charlie had been out to get drunk.

She’d assumed that Charlie must’ve had a fight with Matt, a stupid spat that they’d have forgotten the next day, and she’d been doing shots of tequila with a group of guys. Shortly after this, Claire had seen Charlie leaving the party with a guy that she hadn’t recognised. Guessing that her best friend’s actions were tequila induced, she’d grabbed hold of Charlie and had dragged her home.

Claire had known that Charlie would never have forgiven herself if she’d gone home with another man. She simply wouldn’t have been able to deal with the guilt of having cheated on Matt. It therefore came as little surprise to her the following morning when Charlie, who’d been nursing a massive hangover, swore off tequila for the rest of her life.

She had felt guilty as she’d sat in the private members club watching Charlie getting drunk, watching the leering lecherous Doug make his moves just as Adam had warned Claire that he would, and as she’d also gotten drunk she’d started to have second thoughts about her plan and she’d tried to get rid of Doug. The problem by this time though, was that with the mix of cocaine and alcohol that had been in Charlie’s system she’d no longer been willing to listen to reason.

Back at the house Claire had become side tracked by Adam, and she’d only remembered that she’d been supposed to be keeping Doug away from Charlie when it was too late. They’d both gone into Charlie’s bedroom and the door had been shut, but the following day Charlie had been both hungover and mortified.

Adam had gotten rid of Doug, and had then gone home for the day to sleep off his hangover. Claire had managed to tidy the flat before Charlie had returned home, bringing with her two large lattes and muffins, and they’d then sat together under a blanket and put on a romantic movie to watch. Yet as the film had been coming to an end and Claire had been starting to feel better, she’d turned and seen that Charlie had been crying.

In the weeks that had followed, Claire had noticed that Charlie had been working longer and longer hours. When she had got her to come for a drink, she’d stuck to wine and she’d drunk modestly. Yet even when she’d been in she wasn’t happy, and Claire had often heard her crying.

Claire had tried to confront Charlie about things and suggest that maybe she should get back in touch with Matt, but Charlie had completely lost it with her. They’d argued, and Charlie had stormed out of the flat. When she’d come back and Claire had asked her where she’d been, Charlie had announced that she’d been to see a divorce lawyer and some estate agents. She’d said that she’d found a place in London Bridge, and that she’d be moving out within the month.

She’d said it was because it was closer to work, but Claire had known it was so that she could be alone. She’d known that Charlie was changing, and she was becoming unrecognisable.

Initially Claire had been hurt, but she’d realised that Charlie had lashed out at her because she was the only person she had left in her life to lash out at. Foolishly, it hadn’t been up until that point that Claire had realised just how much her best friend had lost as a result of her accident.

Before their argument she’d only quantified Charlie’s loss in terms of Matt and her marriage, but she’d lost much more than that. Charlie had stopped speaking to anyone from Cheddar aside from Claire. She’d moved away from all of her and Matt’s old university friends, and from her friends from where she’d worked since uni.

Charlie’s social life in London revolved around Claire and her friends, and Claire had realised that she ought to have known that Charlie would never have been comfortable with this. She’d lived her entire life, up until the accident at least, at the centre of one group of friends.

Claire had finally seen that it was time to put their friendship on the line for the sake of Charlie’s happiness. The risk had become worth it, she’d already started to lose Charlie and their friendship. She had to tell Matt about Charlie’s memory, and damn the potential consequences of her doing so.

***

Adam had tried to talk Claire out of going to Birmingham since the moment she’d told him that’s what she was planning to do, but Claire had known in her bones that it was the right thing to do. That said, as she drove Adam’s car up to Birmingham she felt an increasing sense of doubt and nervousness rising within her.

She knew that she didn’t have a good relationship with Matt, and telling him something that was likely to have a detrimental effect on his life wasn’t going to be easy. She also knew that she had to avoid being callous or cold, but that said she knew that she couldn’t plan a conversation with Matt. He had a tendency of rubbing her up the wrong way, and she had a tendency of reacting to that by trying to deliberately score cheap points with hurtful comments. Their friendship had always been this way.

Claire called at the house first, but there was no one home. She was only grateful that Emily hadn’t been in, and she wasn’t sure what she’d have said to her if she had been. As she walked to the hospital, she really wasn’t sure if her coming to see Matt was such a good idea after all.

“Can I help you?” The young woman behind the reception desk asked Claire as she leant on the desk to ask for some assistance.

“Yes. Can you tell me where I might find Matthew Grayson?” Claire asked politely.

“Do you mean Dr Grayson?” The receptionist asked, looking almost reproachfully at Claire for not having asked for him in an appropriate manner.

“Yes, Dr Grayson. Is he working today?” Claire asked.

“Yes,” the receptionist said simply.

“Can I speak with him?” Claire asked already starting to feel a little irritated with this woman.

“What’s it in regards to?” The receptionist asked.

“It’s a personal matter,” Claire said.

“I’ll page him for you,” the receptionist said; “but you might just have to wait a few minutes.”

“Okay. Well I’ll just wait over there then,” Claire said pointing at the nearest set of blue plastic chairs. The receptionist nodded, indicating that this was an acceptable place for her to wait.

Claire sat down on the uncomfortable blue chairs to wait for Matt, and as she waited she felt anxious and she began fiddling with her fingertips and nails.

She saw Matt walk over to the reception desk and speak to the receptionist, before turning to look at her. Claire found it strange to see him in his doctor’s coat. A doctor was just such a grownup job she thought almost smiling, and even though she was well aware that they were all grownups she still found it much easier to picture them all as teenagers.

Matt didn’t exactly look pleased to see her as he walked over to where she was sat, and she told herself to be polite.

“Claire,” he said sounding a little cold.

“Matt, or is it Dr Grayson here?” She asked trying to lighten the atmosphere between them.

“Matt’s fine,” he said; “but why are you here?”

“It’s about Charlie,” Claire said. Yet she knew as soon as she’d said that that she shouldn’t have opened with that statement. She saw Matt’s face go ghostly white.

“She’s okay,” Claire said quickly and feeling pleased when some of the colour returned to his face. “I just need to talk to you about her that’s all. Is there somewhere we can go?” She asked.

Matt looked a little confused, but he nodded. He then led her down a corridor away from the reception area. At the bottom of the corridor they turned right, and then they went down another long corridor. Claire hated hospitals. She hated the way that they were a maze of long white corridors with plastic floors and fluorescent lighting.

As they neared the bottom of yet another long corridor, Matt walked into an office and Claire saw from the name on the front of the door that it was his. Matt sat down at his desk, and he indicated for Claire to sit down opposite him. She closed the door, walked over to his desk, and sat down in the seat that he’d indicated to.

They looked at each other for what felt like an age, before Matt finally broke the silence and said; “you said that you wanted to speak to me about Charlie.”

Claire nodded and said; “yeah I do. But firstly I just want to say that I know we don’t have the best relationship, and I know that you don’t exactly like me.”

Matt made a derisive sound as though he’d just pushed air through his nose.

Claire ignored it and told herself to stay calm. “Anyway I hope that you know that in spite of that, and all of our differences of opinions and whatever, I love Charlie to pieces. She’s my best friend, and I’d never do anything to hurt her,” Claire said pausing to take a deep breath. She knew that she was talking far too quickly, and that she was running her words together.

Matt didn’t say anything, but he carried on looking at Claire as though he was unsure of where she was going with this conversation.

“I wanted to tell you this months ago, and I very nearly did tell you at the wedding,” she said as he sat further forward and leant his elbows on his desk and looked at her with clear misgivings.

“Charlie… Charlie,” Claire tried to say again. But she just couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“Is divorcing me,” Matt said at the same time as opening his desk drawer and taking out some papers. He then threw them down on his desk.

Claire looked at the papers in front of her feeling more than a little sidetracked. She’d known that Charlie had been to see a divorce lawyer, but she hadn’t realised that things had progressed this far. What was Charlie doing she thought?

“As you can see,” he said tartly; “this is information I already know. If you’re here to rush me to sign them, you can tell her that I’m having them looked at. I’ll sign them in my own time.”

“No, I’m not here about this. I knew that she’d been to see a divorce lawyer,” Claire said honestly; “but I didn’t know that she was this serious about it.”

Matt didn’t speak, but instead he picked up the papers and put them back in his drawer.

“Matt,” Claire said making him look up at her. “I know why she’s doing this.”

“Let me guess,” he said tonelessly; “she’s seeing someone new. So she wants to formally end a marriage and a life that she can’t remember anything of.”

“No. She’s not seeing anyone,” Claire said; “and the thing is, she can remember.”

Claire was annoyed at herself for the way that she was doing this. It wasn’t the way that she’d planned to tell him, and she knew that she wasn’t exactly been tactful in her approach.

Matt looked at her disbelievingly and asked scathingly; “what can she remember?”

“Everything,” Claire said pausing and waiting for a reaction from Matt.

When he said nothing she continued; “she came to London about seven months after she left you. She’d been living back at home in Cheddar, surrounded by stuff from our past, and when she came to see me she had her memory back. I was as shocked as what you are now, but she remembers everything. She asked if she could live with me, and she told me that she already had some job interviews lined up. Matt, she’s working as a solicitor again and everything.”

Matt looked shocked. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t her parents, my parents, or even you tell me before now? Why didn’t Charlie tell me?” He asked sounding genuinely hurt.

“She’s sworn everyone that knows to secrecy, and to be honest I’m not sure your parents know! I wanted to tell you, but Charlie begged me not to. Also I think you saw for yourself how she reacted when she saw me talking to you at Rich and Bex’s wedding,” Claire said.

“But why wouldn’t she tell me?” He asked looking as hurt now as he sounded, and Claire saw that his eyes were filling with tears.

“She came to tell you, almost as soon as it happened. Harry drove her straight up here to speak to her doctors, and when they gave her the all clear she went straight to the house to look for you,” Claire said hoping that he could figure out the rest of what had happened so that she wouldn’t have to tell him.

“So what she just got to the house and changed her mind? Thought sod it, he’s only my husband. I’ve only spent half my life with him, he doesn’t need to know?” He asked angrily.

“They thought you were out,” Claire said; “so they waited outside in the car. You know what Charlie’s like, she wasn’t just going to let herself in and shock you when you came home from work. But the thing is. You weren’t at work. You were in, and when you left the house you weren’t alone. You were with…” but Matt interrupted her knowing what she was about to say.

“Emily,” he said.

Claire thought that he was doing well now to keep his tears at bay, and she said almost sympathetically; “yeah. Charlie and her dad watched you kiss her, and head off smiling and holding hands. Charlie decided not to tell you at that point. She hasn’t said this to me, but I think she feels guilty for all the pain that she caused you in the six months after the accident. She didn’t want to hurt you again. So when it looked to her like you’d moved on with your life, she decided to let you be.”

“That’s the real reason why she wasn’t shocked to see me at the wedding with Emily?” He asked sounding choked, and Claire nodded.

“Why are you telling me this now?” Matt demanded his emotion turning from shock to anger.

“Because I think Charlie’s making a huge mistake,” Claire said.

“What mistake?” Matt said loudly.

“Not telling you. She’s being selfless, and sweet, and kind. She’s putting everyone else’s needs and feelings before her own. She wants you to be happy,” Claire said feeling her own anger rising; “and she’s scared to death of hurting you again, but she’s making herself miserable.”

“She’s miserable?” Matt asked sounding concerned again and the anger in his voice ebbed away.

“Yes. She just works all the time or sits in her room alone. She won’t go out, and she refuses to try and move on with her life. She’s stopped going on dates, and she refuses to accept my advice that she should come back here and fight for you! Instead she just bottles it all up,” Claire said; “and then she cries when she thinks I’m out or I can’t hear her.”

“You told her that she should come here and fight for me?” Matt asked sounding genuinely surprised and smiling slightly.

Claire rolled her eyes but returned his smile. “Look. I’m actually quite a nice person, and believe it or believe it not she’s my best friend. I’ve only ever wanted what’s best for her. It’s just taken me a long while to realise,” she said; “and then to accept, that you’re what’s best for her.”

Matt smiled but didn’t say anything. Then after a few minutes of silence, in which Claire could have sworn that she’d seen numerous different emotions cross his face, he seemed to compose himself. He opened his desk drawer and took out the divorce papers again.

“Do you want me to give them back to Charlie, tell her you won’t sign?” Claire asked him smiling.

“No,” Matt said taking a pen from out the front of his coat pocket and opening up the papers.

“What are you doing?” Claire asked sounding horrified as she watched him sign them.

“I’m giving Charlie what she wants in order to move on with her life,” he said with no emotion in his voice or trace of expression on his face.

“You’re divorcing her?” Claire asked.

“Well technically I believe she’s divorcing me,” he said still without the slightest show of emotion in either his voice or in his face.

“But I just told you that Charlie, your Charlie has her memory back. How does that make it okay to divorce her? You were having doubts, but now that she’s all recovered you want out?” Claire asked feeling both confused and angry.

“She’s made a choice, and I’m choosing to respect that. I also have someone in my life now that I need to consider. I think it’s best that Charlie never know that I know though. Once we’re divorced,” Matt said calmly; “I very much doubt that we’ll need to see each other again.”

“And you don’t care that she’s alone and miserable?” Claire demanded rising up from her chair.

“Charlie won’t be alone forever Claire, trust me. She’ll find someone who’ll make her happy, and he’ll be a lucky guy,” he said flatly handing Claire the divorce papers.

Claire grabbed them off him, picked up her bag from the floor, and headed over to the door. As she opened it, she turned back around to look at the man that she’d so evidently misjudged.

“I can honestly say that I’ve never hated you, until now that is. She seemed happy with you, but you really are a joke. I knew she should’ve stuck with Rich, but maybe when she finds hubby number two he’ll value her more than you do. Who knows I may even get along with him, it’ll help I suppose if he’s nothing like you,” she said irately before slamming the door behind her.

Claire walked down the corridor, but when she reached the bottom she forgot which way she was supposed to go to get out. She all but screamed at a passing nurse for instructions, and then felt momentarily guilty that she might’ve just made an innocent stranger cry.

She couldn’t believe that she’d risked her friendship with Charlie, but she’d done it because she’d believed that Matt would drop everything once he knew the truth. Yet he hadn’t, and now she felt like shit. Worse still, she was carrying Charlie’s divorce papers with no idea of how she was going to explain this to Charlie.

The only thing that she knew for sure was that she wasn’t going to tell her that she’d been to see Matt. Charlie had been hurt enough, and she didn’t deserve to know that Matt had chosen Emily over her. She deserved instead to believe as Claire had done before today. She deserved to believe that Matt would come after her in a heartbeat the moment he knew about her memory.





Matt

One of the lessons that Matt had found the hardest to learn when he’d been training to be a doctor, was how to deliver bad news to patients or to the families of a deceased, dying, or critically injured patient. Matt had struggled with this in his first year as a doctor, and he’d taken the emotional strains and stresses home with him.

Charlie had often sat up with him, and she’d let him talk himself out about patients he’d lost. When she’d been able to see that the emotions of his shift were too raw or painful for him to want to speak about, she’d just sit and hold his hand or lie in his arms. As time had gone on though, he had become immune to the reactions of his patients and their families. He’d supposed that he’d grown hard hearted in a way, but it was understandable to some extent in his profession he’d thought.

He’d learned to control his own emotions and not to let his face betray him by showing signs of concern, remorse, or sympathy. He’d found that his own emotion didn’t help the patients or the families of the patient, and he’d learned that many reactions would be prompted by his own. If he showed nothing, then often the reaction was either subdued or just one of silent shock.

As he sat there hearing the revelation about Charlie’s recovery his brain went into over drive. His first reaction had been one of relief. Finally his living nightmare could come to an end. He could get Charlie back, and his life could go back to how it had been before the accident. Yet as he’d thought this, he’d also thought about his betrayal of her.

He’d pictured the moment when she’d come to find him to share her news with him, and she’d found him in the arms of another woman. The thought had turned his stomach, and alongside this thought was the knowledge that if they were to get back together he’d have to tell her the truth about everything. He’d have to tell her about his affair with Emily before she’d moved out, his drug addiction, his drinking, and all the one night stands that he’d had after she’d left him.

Matt was terrified that when she learnt the truth about the man that he’d been whilst she’d been recovering, she’d no longer want him in her life. He couldn’t face the thought of her rejecting him, or of her looking at him any differently from how she’d always looked at him when she discovered the type of man that he’d been in her absence. He also knew that he needed to consider Emily. He couldn’t just abandon her. He owed her more than that. She’d saved him from himself when he’d been at his lowest, and she’d been by his side every day since then.

As the realities of the decisions that he needed to make, ran through his head like a series of headlines on the bottom of a live news report. He knew that he didn’t need Claire to see his vulnerabilities. Whatever reaction he gave her he knew that she would feed it back to Charlie, and he couldn’t bear the thought of Charlie thinking that he’d chosen Emily over her.

Matt knew that he needed to react so differently from anything that Claire could have been expecting from him, that he could be confident that she’d never tell Charlie what had been said between them. He never wanted Charlie to know that he was giving up a second chance to be with her, and he felt sure that if he could be cold, callous, and uncaring enough, then he could be certain that Claire would never tell Charlie that he knew the truth about her memory.

He knew what he had to do, and he’d deal with the ramification of his own emotions afterwards. He took out the divorce papers that he’d been sent and he signed them, and as he’d expected Claire had reacted angrily. Yet he’d refused to bite, even when she thrown Rich’s name at him, and when she’d stormed out of his office he knew that she’d never tell Charlie the truth. Once she’d gone though he felt tears stinging in his eyes and a numbness settle in his heart, but he knew that this feeling would pass and that later it’d be replaced with pain.

This was the most desperate that he’d been for drugs since Rich’s wedding, and he fought the urge to find something to take or to write a script for himself. He knew that he needed to talk to someone, but unlike all the other times when he’d felt like this and he’d turned to Emily he knew that this time he couldn’t do that. Right now, Emily was just about the last person in the world that he wanted to see.

He took off his white coat, and grabbed his black jacket that was hanging on the back of his door. He had to talk to someone or else he knew that he’d find something to take, and as he walked down the corridor he took his mobile out of his pocket and dialled the only number that he could think of.

“Rich? You in? Really need to talk to you if you are.” Matt said by way of message on Rich and Bex’s answer phone, hoping that they were in and just screening their calls as he knew they did.

“Matt?” Bex asked.

“Is Rich in?” He asked.

“Yeah,” she said; “he’s just in the kitchen making a cup of tea. Hang on he’ll be in in a minute.”

“Tell him I’m coming round,” Matt said hanging up and increasing the speed of his strides.

***

“What’s the emergency?” Rich asked as he opened the door to Matt.

“I don’t know where to start,” Matt said as he walked straight down the hall and into the kitchen.

“Tea,” Rich said.

“Got anything stronger?” Matt asked.

Rich pulled out two bottles of beer from the fridge.

“I just had a visit from Claire at the hospital,” Matt said flatly.

Rich nearly choked on his beer and coughed. “Oh yeah, what did she want?” He asked nervously.

“To talk about Charlie,” Matt said. Yet he was eyeing Rich suspiciously. He always knew when Rich was hiding something, and right now he could see that Rich was hiding something. He looked as guilty now as he had when they’d been sixteen, and he’d turned up at Matt’s house to tell him that he’d asked Charlie to go to the cinema with him on a date.

“What about Charlie?” Rich asked trying to sound surprised but sounding more interrogatory.

“I think you know,” Matt said suddenly feeling like he was the last one to find out a secret just as he had been back then.

“What did Claire say?” Rich asked apprehensively.

Matt knew that Rich was in on it instantly, and he said accusatorially; “I think you already know what she said.”

“We agreed not to tell you. We thought it was for the best,” Rich said defensively.

“The best for who?” Matt demanded.

“For you,” Rich said.

“How do you know what’s best for me?” Matt asked loudly as Bex came into the kitchen to see what was going on, and what was causing the raised voices.

“We were there mate. We watched you go through six months of hell. We watched your life crumble around you,” he said; “and then after Charlie left we watched you completely fall apart.”

“We watched you put it about,” Bex added; “and take anything that made you not have to face reality. We watched as Emily picked you up, cleaned you down, and put you back together again.”

“What you know as well?” Matt asked disbelievingly.

"I thought you were happy with Emily mate. If I’d have thought for the slightest moment that you weren’t,” Rich said; “I’d have told you.”

“When did you find out?” Matt asked.

“What?” Rich asked nervously.

“How long have you known Rich?” Matt asked.

Rich avoided looking at Matt and said; “a while. Claire showed up here about a week after Charlie went to London. She wanted to tell you then, but I persuaded her not to.”

Matt stood thinking for a second and then said; “so you knew at the wedding?

He already knew the answer. He just wanted confirmation to add things up in his head.

Rich and Bex both nodded.

“That’s why you were so nervous when you told me that she’d arrived? That’s why you were so emotional when she was talking to you at the end of the night?” Matt asked piecing it all together.

“It was just really good to see the old Charlie again,” Rich said. “Sorry,” he said more to Bex than Matt.

“When Nick and I thought we’d seen some sign of recognition in Charlie’s face during my speech,” Matt said; “you lied to me.”

“I was trying to protect you,” Rich said.

“Come on Matt, you know he was only trying to do right by you. It shouldn’t matter anyway. You’ve moved on with your life, and you’re happy with Emily aren’t you?” Bex asked.

Matt looked at her, but he was unable to answer.

“You’re not happy?” Rich asked him.

“I get by,” Matt said.

“What the hell does that mean?” Bex asked irritably.

“Emily’s nice. She’s caring you know, and she looks after me. Am I happy? Yeah I suppose so, sometimes. Do I love her? Erm, maybe! But is it anywhere near what I had with Charlie? No, it doesn’t even close. Do I still think about Charlie? Er, yeah, pretty much constantly actually. Can I imagine a bright and happy future with Emily? No. Do I owe her one? Absolutely I do,” Matt said.

Rich and Bex looked at Matt, and then at each other.

“If Emily wasn’t in the picture, would you get back together with Charlie even after everything that’s happened between you?” Bex asked.

Matt gave her a look which said that surely the answer to that was obvious.

“Okay,” Bex said in response; “then you have to end things with Emily. Being with her out of guilt or some skewed sense of gratitude isn’t right, and it’s not fair on her either.”

Matt looked at Bex like it was the first time that he’d ever met her.

“Hidden depths,” Rich said reading Matt’s mind and Matt nodded in agreement.

Bex smiled and said; “ha bloody ha. I’m not always a scatterbrain, but it is a convenient role to play most of the time. It gets me my own way.”

Rich smiled at her, and then turned back to Matt and said; “look, you never need the answer about what you should do to come from me. You always know what you need to do. It’s just that you’re usually too scared to do it, so you wait. You waited in school and got pissed off that I asked Charlie out first, and now you’re doing it again. Go home, face Emily, and then go and get Charlie back.”

“It’s not that easy,” Matt said.

“No it’s not. You’ve got to break one girl’s heart, and then tell another about how bad you’ve been. Telling the truth hurts Matt,” Bex said.

“No. Well yeah what you just said obviously,” he said; “but I signed divorce papers.”

“When,” Rich said sounding shocked.

“Does it matter?” Matt asked sounding and looking obviously embarrassed.

“Matt. Focus. Try solving one problem at a time. Emily’s the first problem. You can worry about Charlie later. I’d also try getting Charlie back in your life again, before you start worrying about the fact that you’re getting divorced. Plus, I reckon nothing says I’m sorry quite like a second wedding!” Bex said smiling.

Matt smiled broadly and kissed Bex fully on the lips.

“Oi,” Rich said; “that’s my wife!”

“Now you know how we always feel when you do that to Charlie,” Matt said winking at Bex and slapping Rich on the shoulder. He walked down the hall, but then stopped and turned back to look at them.

“What if Charlie doesn’t want me back when she knows what I’ve done?” Matt asked.

“Then you know,” Bex said with a note of finality in her voice.

Matt nodded and left the house.





Emily

Things since the wedding hadn’t been right between her and Matt. He was drifting away from her and she didn’t know what to do to get him back.

When he’d first come out of rehab it had been easier. He’d depended on her, and he’d allowed her to take care of him. He’d leant on her at work, and at home. She’d become his plus one to all of his work events, and to all of his friend’s parties and dinners. She’d sat next to him and she’d felt proud of the recovery that he’d made, knowing that she’d been an integral part of it. She’d played the waiting game and she’d got her reward for doing so, but she could see that there were other vultures out there vying for her position.

Matt was incredibly handsome, and being a doctor had made him even more of a prized catch. Yet he’d been married for so long, and he’d been so obviously in love with Charlie, that he had created some kind of an invisible field around him that other women had seemed to respect. He’d flirted with them and they’d flirted back, but they’d always known where to toe the line.

Since she’d been in his life though, it was a different story. She hadn’t managed the level of respect that Charlie had earned, and women everywhere were no longer toeing the line. Most in fact were now blatantly crossing it. Even when she was stood next to Matt holding his hand, women would slip their number into his pocket at work events or boldly kiss him on the lips.

She’d tried to talk to him about this, but he had been defensive and had said that he didn’t encourage it. He’d shied away from making any kind of commitment to her, and she hadn’t wanted to force the issue. She was happy to be his girlfriend, live in his house and share his life, but she needed a way of keeping his attention.

Her worries had been further intensified at the wedding. She’d seen the way that he’d acted around Charlie, and the way that he’d watched her, and she’d known that if he ever found out the truth about Charlie’s memory he’d be off like a shot. Then she’d be all alone again.

When they’d come back to Birmingham she’d been even more attentive to him than she had been before, and she thought that she was being the ideal girlfriend. She had a career, and she worked alongside her man. She kept their home clean and tidy, she cooked for him and looked after him, and she made love to him whenever he wanted. She would also often treat him to other sexual favours at work, determined not to give him any reason to wonder or stray.

She could play the long game she thought, and hopefully with the wedding over her biggest threat had passed. Charlie was completely out of his life and he had no idea about her memory. She was his life now, and just the other day when she’d been in his office at work hadn’t she seen divorce papers in his drawer? If she continued to be patient, she knew he would eventually commit to her.

Matt had been married for over a decade, and aside from a string of meaningless one night stands she was the only woman that he’d been with since Charlie. She knew that he was the type of man who liked to be in a committed relationship, and she felt sure that if she continued to play everything right he would make her his wife eventually.

She was sat on the sofa watching the news when Matt came in through the front door, and she leant up on her elbow and looked at the clock on the wall.

“I thought you were on duty till six?” She asked surprised to see him.

“Yeah I am,” he said distractedly. “I had to leave, but I’ve got my pager on me.”

“Oh okay,” she said lying back down; “everything okay?”

He didn’t answer, and she watched as he took off his jacket and hung it up. She followed him with her eyes as he walked over to sit on the coffee table in front of her, and she felt suddenly nervous. He had his work face on. He was calm and composed, and she knew that he was about to deliver bad news to her. She’d seen this look on his face at the hospital many times before.

She tried to distract him before he could say anything. She sat up quickly, and put her hands on either side of his face and kissed him. He pulled back from her, and he lightly took her hands from his face and placed them gently in her lap.

“I need to talk to you,” he said calmly looking at her and waiting for her to meet his eyes.

Emily looked up into his incredibly handsome face, and into his beautiful hazel coloured eyes, and she tried to smile brightly.

“Okay,” she said as positively as she could.

“I owe you so much. You’ve watched out for me, and supported me, and I know that without you I’d have probably lost my career,” he said putting his hand to her face and softly stroking her cheek with his thumb. “You’ve kept me on the straight and narrow since rehab, and you’ve been the best girlfriend that I could ever have asked for. But I feel like I’m not being fair to you.”

“Yes you are,” she said putting her hand to his face now and stroking his cheek with her thumb.

“Emily. I want to break up,” he said calmly. But she noted that his tone had a note of finality in it.

Her hand dropped from his cheek, and she could feel a lump rising in her throat and tears tingling in her eyes. “Why?” She asked.

“Both people in a relationship need to feel the same way about each other, and that’s just not the case here. You’re bringing far more to our relationship than I am,” he said; “and in truth I just feel too indebted to you.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way,” she said crying now. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said. “I should feel indebted to you, and I always will be indebted to you, but I can’t base a relationship on that.”

“Don’t you love me?” She asked through her tears.

She watched his face for signs of the answer that she was hoping for. His was after all a face that she’d studied like she’d studied for exams at school. She had seen him go to hell and back, and she felt sure that she knew his emotions better than even he did. She knew deep down that he didn’t love her, but she had hoped that he could learn to. That would have been enough for her.

“I’m sorry Emily,” he said taking her hands in his; “but I don’t.”

Emily dropped her head, and she felt her tears pour down her face with more urgency than before.

“Please Emily,” he said wiping her tears away with his thumbs; “please don’t cry.”

“Then say you love me,” she said desperately.

He looked into her face, and for the first time she saw his composure falter. She saw that his face was filled with guilt as he said simply; “I can’t.”

“Is it because you can’t love me? Or because you can’t love anyone other than Charlie?” She asked as she looked into his striking hazel coloured eyes.

He sat silently for a minute, and she knew that he was calculating what he considered would be the impact on her of his answer either way.

“Any man in his right mind should love you. You’re generous, you’re caring, you’re beautiful, and you’re giving in lots of different ways,” he said smiling his cheeky smile at her.

“So why don’t you? Why can’t you?” She asked refusing to return his smile.

“My heart got so badly broken,” he said; “that I’m not sure I’m capable of loving anyone anymore.”

Emily now felt terribly guilty. She’d been so consumed with her feelings, and her desires about being his girlfriend, that she’d never really considered the impact on him of losing Charlie. Yet now that she thought about this that was ridiculous. She had after all witnessed that carnage.

She’d seen the drinking, the drugs, the women, and she’d thought that they were all just short term coping mechanisms. She’d believed that he’d eventually move on with his life, but it was clear to her now in a way that it hadn’t been before that he hadn’t. She looked into his face again and she realised that not only had he not moved on, but that he didn’t even seem to want to try.

“I love you,” she said knowing at last what the right thing to do for him – the man that she loved, and Charlie – the only friend that she’d ever known, was.

“I know,” he said looking guiltier now than he had before.

“I’m not saying it to make you feel bad. I just want you to know that I love you, and that’s the reason why I’ve been keeping something from you,” she said not letting her eyes drop from his.

He looked at her, and she saw him scrutinising her face.

“A while back I had a visit from Claire,” Emily said. To which she saw Matt’s head drop momentarily. Yet when he looked back up at her, she noticed that all traces of guilt that had previously lined his face had gone. He looked like his conscience had just been wiped clean.

“She came to tell me something about Charlie,” Emily continued feeling confused by what she was seeing in Matt’s face.

He put his hand gently back to her face, and he kissed her lightly on the lips and said; “Claire is, and always has been trouble. Whatever she told, it would’ve been a lie.”

Emily watched him get up and put his jacket on. “Where are you going?” She asked him.

“I really ought to go back to the hospital and see out my shift,” he said.

“Should I not be here when you get back?” She asked.

“I’m going to take a couple of day’s annual leave. I need to get away to clear my head,” he said from the back door. “You’re welcome here for as long as it takes you to find somewhere new,” he said sincerely. She then watched him walk out of the house and close the door behind him.

Emily raced to the door and opened it, and she ran to catch up with him. “Matt,” she called.

He turned round and looked at her quizzically.

“If it was as you say most likely a lie then you won’t care,” Emily said; “but I need to tell you.”

Matt stood there waiting patiently, and Emily composed herself.

“Charlie has her memory back,” Emily said.

She waited for Matt’s reaction. She had expected him to either be relieved or to be furious with her for not having told him sooner, but he seemed nonplussed.

“As I said,” he said; “Claire’s nothing but trouble.”

He walked away and Emily watched him go, and as she walked back inside the house she felt confused. She sat down again on the sofa and replayed the conversation that they’d just had in her head, but still she couldn’t fathom out what his nonchalant response to her revelation about Charlie had meant.

She got up to make a drink, and as the kettle boiled it came to her. Matt had never trusted Claire, and Claire had never liked Matt. It had been a lie. Claire must’ve told her what she had in an attempt to sabotage their relationship. Well the plan hadn’t worked. Their relationship had ended because Matt couldn’t commit, and he’d known that she’d wanted and needed him to.

Emily walked back into the living room and sat down on the sofa again, and as she did she looked at the one photo in the room of the two of them together. It had been taken at Rich and Bex’s wedding, and she couldn’t help but get up and walk over to it. Matt had his arm around her and they were smiling, but where she looked genuinely happy she saw that he looked distracted.

She’d wanted him to love her desperately, but he hadn’t and now he’d left her. She was all alone again, and as this realisation hit her she began to cry once more.





Matt

He hadn’t been able to get anyone to cover his Sunday shift for him, so he’d stayed on Rich and Bex’s sofa on Saturday night. During his Sunday shift he’d managed to arrange cover for his shifts on Monday and Tuesday, and he was already scheduled to have Wednesday off. He’d also called Claire, and after she’d ranted at him for five long minutes he’d finally been able to explain the reason for his call. He’d told her that he’d broken up with Emily and that he was coming down to see Charlie tomorrow. He’d wanted to know where she worked, and how to get there.

Claire had quickly forgotten that she’d hated him, and that she’d been furious with him, and she’d given him all of the information that he’d needed. It had also transpired from their conversation that she still had the divorce papers that he’d signed. So he’d arranged to meet her to pick them up before going to see Charlie, but when she’d asked him why he’d wanted them he’d said that it was difficult to explain. It had been, but largely because he hadn’t known why he’d wanted them.

Matt had sat on the train from Birmingham New Street to London Euston feeling like a school boy again. He’d felt excited, but at the same time agitated. He’d found the journey incredibly tiresome, and the train had seemed to stop at every single station between Birmingham and London. He’d kept running through in his mind what he might say to Charlie when he saw her, but everything had seemed contrite and overly articulated.

He’d tried to make some notes, but that had seemed a bit ridiculous. What was he going to do he’d thought? Find her, sit her down, and give her a speech from his pre-prepared notes? He’d wondered if he should just kiss her, or maybe the first thing he ought to do was confront her about her memory. Yet maybe he should deal with that last he’d thought, or maybe he should just skip that part entirely and just tell her that he wanted her back.

Every which way he’d thought about talking to Charlie the conversation seemed fraught with issues, and he was terrified about how to approach the subject of his drug addiction. He’d felt irritated and he’d begun banging his fist against his head trying to think of the best way to deal with that, but he’d stopped when two businessmen in seats nearby him had stared at him.

When he got off the train at Euston, Claire was there waiting for him as promised. He gave her his overnight bag, which she’d agreed to take back to her flat for him, and she handed him his divorce papers which he put into his satchel styled shoulder bag that he was keeping with him.

“Matt, you need to relax a bit. You’re looking dishevelled and it’s not very you,” Claire said putting her hand on his shoulder and smiling.

Matt looked at her and knew that he was feeling incredibly anxious.

“Look,” Claire said; “I’ve got you an underground ticket already. You need to go down the escalators and get onto the northern line bank branch going south. Get off at London Bridge and take this,” she said giving him a hand drawn map. “When you get off at London Bridge, follow this map. If you get lost, honestly, you’re either blind or an idiot, but if you do just ask someone for Hays Galleria. Okay?”

Matt nodded, putting the map in the back pocket of his jeans.

“I’ve asked Charlie to meet me outside her offices at five. She’s agreed, but I had to twist her arm a bit as she doesn’t normally leave work much before seven. I figured this would give you guys longer to chat though. Also it’s a Monday night so the bars around there won’t be too busy. Plus it’s a nice day,” she said; “so if it is busy around there you should be able to sit outside and talk.”

Matt was taken aback by how much thought Claire had put into all of this and he said; “thanks.”

Claire laughed and said; “nice person remember?”

Matt smiled and Claire rolled her eyes at him.

“There are loads of places to eat or to get a coffee down there too, so you should be able to keep yourself occupied till five. If you haven’t got a book or a paper or anything, there’s a WH Smith over there,” Claire said pointing towards the back of the station.

“I’ll be fine,” Matt said.

“Okay, well then I guess I’ll see you later. Hopefully,” she said crossing her fingers and smiling at him before kissing him on the cheek.

Matt watched Claire disappear into the crowd, and once she was gone from sight he headed for the underground.

It only took him twenty minutes to get to where Claire had said Charlie’s offices were, and he looked at the postings of all the businesses in the building to make sure that he was in the right place. He spotted the name of the firm that Claire had told him that Charlie was working for, and satisfied that he was where he was supposed to be he walked into the nearest pub and ordered a pint of shandy.

He took his drink from the bar and went and sat at a table in the window where he spent the next quarter of an hour people watching. He then went and got another pint of shandy and decided to do some work. He pulled out some notes from his bag, and he set about trying to keep himself busy.

At a little before five, Matt left the pub and went to wait outside Charlie’s offices. He was feeling nervous, and he could feel that his hands were clammy and his stomach was doing back flips. It also wasn’t helping that as he stood waiting, watching the streets getting busier with the earliest part of the rush hour beginning, he kept getting bumped into and he thought that there was a good chance that he might miss Charlie. Yet as he thought this, she stepped out of the doors to her offices.

She was wearing a tight fitting grey pinstripe dress. It had a round neck, and the hem was just above her knee. Her hair had grown since the wedding but it still looked well styled, and he thought that she looked stunning as she swept her fringe out of her eyes as she looked around for Claire.

Matt smiled as he noticed the trainers that Charlie was wearing. She’d never have sported trainers with her work clothes in Birmingham, but she’d obviously adapted to the London commuting shoe attire. He walked over to her, and watched her reaction as she saw him.

“Hi,” she said obviously surprised at seeing him.

“Hello,” he said smiling.

“What are you doing here? I mean it’s just a bit weird to see you here,” she said.

He knew that he’d completely thrown her. He could also see that she was unsure of what to say, and she kept anxiously looking around for Claire. He guessed that she was hoping that Claire’s appearance, would give her the well needed excuse that he felt sure that she was looking for to be on her way.

“Claire’s not coming,” he said making her look at him with even more surprise than before.

“How do you know I’m meeting Claire?” She asked at the same time as being jostled by a harassed looking business man.

“Do you want to move somewhere quieter?” Matt asked; “and then maybe I can explain.”

“Okay,” Charlie said. Yet no sooner had she spoken than she was jostled again. This time though by a couple of tourists wearing I love the London Dungeons T-shirts. Matt laughed and Charlie rolled her eyes and said; “tourists!” She then smiled and asked; “pub or coffee shop?”

“I’ve been sat in a pub around the corner most of the afternoon. Want to head there?” He asked.

“Okay,” she said again.

Matt led the way, but as they walked there wasn’t any conversation between them and he couldn’t help thinking that their encounter was already off to a bad start.

“Drink,” he said once they were inside the pub and they were stood at the bar.

She nodded and said; “I’ll have a white wine spritzer. Soda…”

“Water not lemonade,” Matt finished for her smiling. He knew what she drank.

“Back again?” The barman asked him, and Matt nodded and smiled and said to Charlie; “want to grab a seat and I’ll bring them over.”

She nodded again, and then walked over to the table that he’d just indicated to with a tilt of his head. He followed her with his eyes until she sat down, and then he turned his attention back to the barman and ordered the drinks.

He sat down in front of her and put the drinks down. Charlie sipped hers, but looked at him cautiously as she did.

“So, which question do you want me to answer first?” He asked trying to give her the cheekiest smile that he could muster, which he knew had worked because she smiled straight back at him.

“Where’s Claire?” She asked still smiling.

“Okay,” he said; “well that I actually don’t know, but I do know that she asked you to leave work at five. I spoke to her yesterday and saw her earlier, but it was always the plan that I’d be meeting you from work.”

“Since when did you and Claire plan anything, or even chat for that matter?” She asked him quizzically.

“Yeah, we haven’t exactly been the best of friends over the years have we?” He asked.

“You think?” Charlie asked sarcastically.

“No, but then neither do you apparently?” He asked deliberately trying to sound mystified by this.

He saw Charlie start to panic and he knew that he’d caught her off guard, but he felt guilty for playing with her like this and he decided to tell her right away that he knew about her memory.

“I know that you’ve got your memory back,” he said.

“What?” She asked clearly trying to feign confusion but looking as guilty as sin as she did.

“Let’s just say that your best friend and my best friend are both useless at keeping secrets,” he said smiling if only to try and lighten the moment.

“When did you find out?” She asked, but she was looking at him so guiltily that he was starting to feel guilty for making her look at him this way.

“I found out on Saturday,” he said.

Charlie looked lost for words, and the awkwardness and tension between them continued to mount. Matt was actually starting to think that their silences were becoming audible.

“I’m not angry or upset with you,” he said reaching out to touch her hand.

She looked from his hand, which he’d put on top of hers, to his face where she met his eyes head on. “I didn’t want you to know,” she said sounding apologetic.

“I know,” he said.

The silence surrounded them again, and it was clear to him that she had no idea what to say to him. Then he wasn’t sure that he knew what to say to her either.

“I’ve broken up with Emily,” he said.

“That’s not what I wanted. I’m so sorry. I could kill Claire and Rich,” she said.

“Please don’t,” he said smiling. “I quite like my best friend, and yours is finally starting to grow on me. Plus I’m glad they told me. I’m glad I know.”

“But I’ve ruined your relationship with Emily,” she said guiltily.

“Erm no,” he said smiling at her; “I’m not sure you can take the credit for that.”

“Oh,” she said. She then smiled cheekily and asked; “did she get fed up with the terrible conversation, laziness around the house, and poor standard of sex?”

Matt burst out laughing and said; “in a nutshell.”

“No seriously,” Charlie said no longer smiling. “Did you end things before or after you found out about my memory?” She asked looking intently into his eyes again.

“After, but,” he said holding up his finger to silence her before she could say anything. “The relationship hadn’t been working since it’d started. I don’t love Emily. I never loved her. I’ve never got over you,” he said sincerely.

“I’m sorry that I walked out on you,” she said.

“I’m not,” he said honestly. “If you hadn’t then you might never have gotten your memory back.”

He guessed that Charlie was conceding this point, because she just shrugged in response.

“I’m sorry that I was such a rotten husband to you when you had no memory,” he said.

“Please don’t say things like that,” she said putting her right hand on top of his. “It was a rotten situation, and you did the best that you could. The best that anyone could have done, but I didn’t know how to be around you and I pushed you away. God, Matt, if it had been the other way around I don’t think I could have coped with you not knowing me.”

He felt a huge wave of relief. It seemed that all of the guilt that he’d felt about how he’d handled those six months after she’d come home from the hospital had suddenly gone. To hear her say that she didn’t think that she’d have been able to cope had the shoe been on the other foot, seemed to have him in some way absolved him of his guilt about how he’d been with her. He no longer felt as torn apart as he had done just minutes earlier. She didn’t hate him, and she didn’t blame he thought happily.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said.

“What for,” he queried.

“For trying for as long as you did,” she said.

The guilt rebounded and hit him squarely in the chest again. This was it he knew. This was the moment where he had to come clean with her about everything, and he could only hope that she’d still be this understanding towards him then.

“Charlie,” he said pulling his right hand out from between the two of hers; “there are some things that I have to tell you, and when I’m done you might not feel the way you do now.”

“Okay,” she said. Unfortunately he heard the hesitancy in her tone, and he could see the look of uncertainty in her eyes. Yet he took a deep breath and began.

For the next however many minutes – he didn’t know how long it was, he talked and Charlie listened. He told her everything without limitation. He told her about the one night stand that he’d had with Emily the night before they’d slept together and she’d left him, and about all the other women that he’d been with after she’d gone. He talked openly about his relationship with Emily, and how had it not been for her he may have overdosed. He told her about how he’d continued to treat patients despite being high, and how he could easily have killed someone.

He was honest with her about his drinking, his drug addiction, and about how low everything in his life had gotten. He explained to her about hitting rock bottom, and how he’d pushed everyone away to the extent where Emily had been the only one able to help him. He told her about rehab, and he explained why Emily had had to move in with him when he’d come home.

When he finally finished talking he looked into her face, and he waited for her to respond. Yet she didn’t, and there was silence between them for more than four minutes before Matt was unable to stand it any longer. He reached for hands and said; “Charlie, please say something.”

She pulled her hands away from him, and she refused to look up at him as she said; “I don’t know what to say. There’s just so much going on inside my head right now.”

“Tell me,” he said.

“I’m angry with you for turning to drink and drugs. I thought you were better than that, but I feel guilty that I drove you to that. I’m feeling jealous, and hurt, and betrayed, but I’m also really annoyed with myself. What the hell have I been doing? Why haven’t I been sleeping around? I feel badly for Emily, and not just for the way you’ve treated her but because of all the horrible things I’ve thought about her. Mostly though, I just feel guilty. I feel unbelievably guilty. How did I cause so much damage?” She asked desperately before finally looking up into his face.

“The drink, but mostly the drugs, was stupid and I am better than that. But please, please don’t for a second blame yourself. I did it and the guilt lies with me. As for the other women I don’t know what to say, except to say that you have no reason to feel jealous of them. Selfishly though,” he said; “I’m glad that you haven’t been sleeping around,” and he smiled at her.

Charlie didn’t return his smile though, and despite feeling like he’d just blown everything he said; “you’ve got nothing to feel guilty about when it comes to Emily. She’s my cross to bear and I will, but you need to know that I love you and I’m willing to do anything to make things right between us. I want you back Charlie.”

He reached for her hands again, and he felt devastated when she pulled them away from him once more.

“You really think we can go back?” Charlie asked him sceptically.

“No,” he said. “But I think with our history, and the way that I feel about you, there’s a chance that we can move forward.”

Silence resumed, and Matt felt his heart breaking. They were done. There were just too many truths for Charlie to cope with. Yet Bex had been right about one thing, at least now he knew.

“I love you so much that I was making myself be happy for you and Emily. I wanted you to be happy, and I didn’t want to risk hurting you again. But now you’re here, and you’re asking me if I think we have a future? I’ve been hoping for this every day since my memory came back, but maybe... I think maybe there’s just too much water under the bridge,” Charlie said looking into his face reproachfully.

“Is it the drugs? Is it the other women? Or is it Emily that you can’t forgive me for?” Matt asked her, but she didn’t answer him. “Charlie,” he said hoping that she’d at least look at him again; “I need to know.”

“It’s all of it,” she said making him feel like his heart was being torn in two. “It’s none of it,” she said which made the pain immediately subside.

“You can forgive me?” He asked her hopefully.

Charlie looked at him and it was clear to him that she was between two minds, but as he sat watching her she shocked him by suddenly getting up and picking up her handbag and walking out of the pub. He grabbed his bag and followed after her, and outside they were right on the riverside and the wind was blowing.

“Charlie!” He called as he caught up with her.

She stopped and turned to face him. “Matt, I can’t. I just can’t do this. I’m sorry,” she said.

He could see that there were tears in her eyes, and feeling braver than he felt he said; “answer me one question.”

Charlie nodded.

“Do you still love me?” Matt asked

Charlie looked into his eyes and nodded again. He pulled her to him and kissed her. He kissed her like it was the last chance that he’d ever have to kiss her, but as she pulled back from him he looked at her with uncertainty.

“That’s cheating,” she said before smiling at him.

“I’m never going to beat a solicitor in an argument,” he said smiling.

This time she pulled him towards her and kissed him, and for just a minute they both forgot where they were and what had happened between them. Yet when she finally pulled away again, and he looked at her with a smile on his face, he saw that she looked anxious.

“What?” He asked.

“I have to tell you something,” she said apprehensively.

“I thought there hadn’t been anyone else?” He asked as he felt his stomach twist into a knot at the thought of her with another man. It didn’t help though, that the man that he was now visualising her with was Rich.

“One,” she said guiltily; “but let’s just say that it was a terrible judgment call on my part. Damn tequila!”

She looked at him, and smiled almost nervously. He couldn’t help but smile back at her, yet he also shook his head and said; “right, that’s it. No more tequila for you, ever! It clearly makes you lose control of your senses, and do things that make me feel like shit. First Rich,” he added irritably; “and now whoever this guy was.”

“No more tequila for me,” Charlie agreed shaking her head from side to side as she spoke.

“And I swear Charlie,” he said; “we’re going to have what we had before and then some. If our friends thought we were sickeningly perfect before, then they haven’t seen anything yet.”

“Let’s just take it one step at a time shall we,” Charlie said.

“I love you,” he said. To which he felt relief run through him when Charlie smiled at him.

“I never get tired of hearing that,” she said; “and it’s been a while since I have.”

Matt laughed, and she took his hand that he offered to her. They began to walk together, but instead of returning to the pub that they’d just come from they headed towards London Bridge tube station. They’d decided to go back to the flat that Charlie shared with Claire in Clapham.

The tube though was uncomfortable, and it was so crowded that Matt was almost on top of Charlie. It was making them both self-conscious, and he knew that their conversation was just the start of them getting their relationship back on track. He knew that he had a lot of making up to do to if he was ever going to get Charlie to feel comfortable with him, and to trust him again the way that she once had.

Matt knew that it would take time and he couldn’t rush it. He certainly didn’t want to expect too much of her too soon. He knew that when they slept together again, she’d have in the back of her mind everything that he’d just told her. It was likely that they’d both be haunted by his past mistakes for a while to come, but hopefully what they had was strong enough for them to overcome all of this.

He’d made such a mess of things he thought, and he only hoped that he could make her see that he could be the man that she’d married again. If of course she was willing to let him.





Charlie

She opened the front door and called out as she normally did; “Claire, I’m home!”

There was no answer and Charlie walked into the flat, and she heard Matt close the door behind them. She went into Claire’s room and saw a note on the bed.

Charlie,

I’m staying at Adam’s for the night. I figured you guys would need some space. Tell Matt that his bag’s in your room, and remember don’t over think it!

Love ya,

Claire.

Charlie walked out of Claire’s room carrying the note. “Apparently your bag’s in my room,” she said curiously to Matt which made him give her a sheepish smile.

They sat down on the sofa, but things seemed awkward between them. She was sat at one end and Matt was at the other, but she couldn’t help thinking that the atmosphere seemed strained given their earlier reconciliation. She had hoped that the air between them had been cleared, but that really didn’t seem to be the case.

The awkward silence continued to linger, and as the minutes passed their conversation remained broken and sparse. Charlie was starting to feel nervous, and a growing sense of unease was creeping up on her. Maybe they couldn’t move forward she thought. Perhaps the revelations that they’d each confessed to one another before they’d come back to the flat had actually ended their marriage, and hadn’t as they’d both hoped re-ignited it.

“I can’t stand this,” Matt said suddenly.

“The silence,” she said taken aback, but equally relieved that he was clearly feeling the same way that she was.

“Yes,” he said looking at her.

“I know. I was just thinking the same thing. It’s weird isn’t it?” She asked.

He nodded. “Maybe we just need a drink,” he said getting up and walking over to the kitchen.

Charlie put her head in hands momentarily when Matt walked into the kitchen, and she felt terrible for not having offered him one sooner. They’d now been back in the flat for about forty minutes. “Sorry,” she called; “I should’ve offered you one.”

“No worries,” Matt called back. He then called; “Charlie?”

She got up and walked over to the kitchen. “Yep,” she said as she put her head round the door.

“Where do you keep the tequila?” He asked with a perfectly expressionless face.

Charlie wasn’t sure who’d made the first move but suddenly they were kissing, and as their kiss intensified Matt pushed her ruggedly against the fridge. When his kiss moved to her neck she was surprised at how ragged her breath was. She ran her hands through his hair, but as she did she felt his kisses stop. She opened her eyes, and she saw that he was looking at her intently.

“Are you okay?” She asked him.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he said. “Don’t ever leave me again.”

She felt completely overwhelmed, and she took his hand and led him into her room.

Charlie took off the jumper that he was wearing and cast it to the floor. She then undid his shirt and threw that to the floor as well. He smiled as she undid his belt and jeans, and he kicked off his shoes. He kept trying to kiss her, but she would only allow a peck on the lips before pulling back from him. She wrenched down his jeans, and then with a lighter touch lowered his boxers to the ground. He stepped out of his pile of clothes, and Charlie pushed him down onto her bed.

She watched him lying on the bed, and she smiled at him whilst finishing what he’d started. She lowered the zip on her dress to the base of her spine, and then she stepped effortlessly out of it before casting it to one side. Matt smiled appreciatively, and she undid her bra and let it fall from her body before lowering her thong to the floor.

Charlie walked over to the bed and lay down next to him. His arms were welcoming, and she put her left leg between his. She heard him moan lightly as she kissed his neck and ran her tongue lightly across his collar bones. She gently ran her left hand over his chest and stomach as she kissed him, but as her hunger for him grew her hand soon found its way further down his body.

When he could no longer bear the excitement that her hand and lips alone were inducing, he rolled her onto her back and she felt the exhilaration of his familiar touch on her body which made her writhe and scream. Yet when she too could bear touch alone no more, she manoeuvred him beneath her and suppressed a smile as she felt him slide inside her.

She moved astride Matt with increasing vigour, and as the intensity of her orgasm began to overwhelm her he rolled her onto her back again and she felt his weight upon her. She dug her nails into his shoulder blades as she wrapped her legs tightly around him, and she screamed with pure delight as he too let out an intense groan of satisfaction.

Later, as Matt lay between her thighs with his head the same level as her breasts, they chatted for hours about their lives. Matt told her about what had been going on with Rich and Bex, with Rach and Ben, and with Nick and his new girlfriend. In turn, Charlie told him all about her life in London. She told him about her job and the people that she worked with, and she talked to him about Claire and Adam and about how happy the two of them were together.

“Look at the time,” Charlie said only just noticing having glanced at the clock on the bedside table.

“Nearly half two, do you want to go to sleep?” Matt asked moving so that she could get up.

“No,” she said sounding shocked at his suggestion; “and where do you think you’re going?”

He grinned at her before repositioning himself where he had been, and she spent the next few hours in complete and utter bliss. Matt re-explored every inch of her body as she did his, and when they weren’t making each other scream with delight they were making each other laugh out loud.

Matt regaled her with the story of Rich’s stag night, and she cringed when she heard that he’d told the boys about her last minute phone call confession to him before their wedding.

She told him about the re-discovery of her memory, and he frowned disapprovingly at the part about the games shed and the reason behind her fall from Claire’s window. Yet he also stroked her face when she told him about the image that she’d had of him holding their baby when she’d been trapped, and when she’d started to think that they couldn’t get her out of the car.

At six thirty she got up to have a shower, and she was still adamant that she was going to work. “I just need coffee,” she said to Matt; “I’ve done all nighters before.” She then laughed at the look on his face. “I was referring to work all nighters,” she added.

He smiled, but also looked more relieved than she knew he would’ve wanted to let on.

When she came out of the shower and into the bedroom in just her towel, Matt pulled her back onto the bed and she didn’t care about time. Yet now at 8am she was madly dashing around, whilst Matt sat in her bed looking dishevelled and gorgeous and was openly laughing at her.

“Charlie. Give me your phone,” he said.

“Why?” She asked.

“Phone,” he said.

She dove into her handbag and pulled it out.

He indicated that he wanted it, and she threw it to him.

“Work number? Hmm, under work I take it?” He asked rhetorically, and he was already dialling before she could even nod.

“Hi. Good morning. I’m calling from Charing Cross hospital. I need to speak to someone about Charlotte Grayson,” he said pausing as Charlie assumed one of the receptionists was talking. “Yes. I need to apprise someone of her medical status, and the fact that she won’t be in the office for a few days,” he added before pausing again as the person on the other end of the line spoke. “Oh I can speak to one of the managing partner’s,” Matt said pulling an oops face at Charlie.

Charlie was mortified, and she felt like she’d been frozen to the spot. She was also staring desperately at Matt. He was going to get her fired she thought.

“Yes, good morning, my name’s Dr Richard Taylor,” Matt said smiling at her. She smiled back at him in spite of herself, but this only made him wink cheekily at her.

“I admitted Ms Grayson late last night with gastroenteritis,” he said pausing as the other person spoke. “I won’t be releasing her for at least seventy two hours, and then I’ll be recommending bed rest for at least two to three days,” Matt said. He then started nodding at whatever the person on the other end of the line was saying.

“Yes, I can certainly do that for you. I can also fax a doctor’s certificate to you as well if that’s a requirement,” he said and then waiting for the response. “Oh okay that won’t be required,” Matt said winking at Charlie again. She breathed a massive sigh of relief. “Not a problem. Thanks, goodbye,” he said wrapping up the call and handing the phone back to her.

“I can’t believe you just did that,” she said; “and did you just guess at the name of a hospital?”

Matt laughed and said; “no, but what I want to know is why you’re still dressed and not naked and back in bed with me?

Charlie smiled and undressed and got straight back into bed with him, but as she did she said; “you’ll have to be careful with me, doctor’s orders.” She then smiled cheekily.

“Hey! I’m the doctor,” he said rolling on top of her and kissing her neck; “and I’ll be the one making the orders.”

“It’s not Ms Grayson in the office by the way,” she said from beneath him.

Matt looked up from her neck and into her face, before saying somewhat confusedly; “er, okay.”

“It’s Mrs,” she said smiling and running her left hand softly down the side of his face; “it always has been.”

He looked into her eyes and then suddenly got out of bed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked concerned that she’d said too much too soon, and she watched as he pulled some papers out of his bag.

He began walking back over to the bed with them, and he said; “we’re divorced.” He then handed her the papers.

Charlie took them, looked at the pages with their signatures on, and then she pulled the papers apart and began ripping them up. Matt watched her with a confused look on his face, but she just smiled. Once the papers were in neat quarters, she threw them into the corner of her room.

Matt looked at her questioningly.

“Just because we signed them, it doesn’t mean that we’re divorced. They would’ve needed to have gotten back into the hands of the solicitors,” she said.

“We’re still married?” Matt asked sounding less than happy about this.

She felt her smile falter, and she wondered if perhaps she’d acted rashly. Maybe he’d wanted to get divorced.

Charlie nodded at him and then said quickly; “we can always resign some papers if you want to get divorced? After everything that’s happened, it might still be for the best. Then we can think about starting completely afresh,” she added trying to sound positive and like she wasn’t upset.

Matt knelt down in front of her, and she could feel his eyes piercing hers and searching for the answer to something that he was yet to ask.

“What do you want to do Charlie? I’m the one who’s screwed up. I’m the one who’s broken all of our vows. Do you want to get divorced and then see if you can ever trust me again, or do you still want to be my wife?” Matt asked never once allowing her to look away from his eyes.

“I ripped the papers up. What do you think I want?” She asked him smiling.

Matt didn’t say anything in response, but he instead continued to look into her face. She could see that he looked like he was on the verge of tears, and so she gently put her left hand to his face and stroked his cheek with her thumb.

“I love you so much, that not being with you since I’ve had my memory back has hurt me every day. I stayed away though because I thought you were happy. I hate what’s happened since my accident. I hate what you did after I left, but I don’t blame you. Plus it’s in the past now, and I just want to be with you forever like we always intended. So I want you to stop looking down about the fact that we’re not divorced, okay?” She asked smiling and leaning forward to kiss him.

He pulled away from her and closed his eyes, and Charlie felt her heart sink.

Matt opened his eyes and took her hands in his. She went to say something, but he gently put his forefinger to her lips. She looked into his eyes, and she saw the same fiery determination that she’d seen in them when he’d kissed her for the first time.

“I’ve loved since you were six and I was seven. From the moment that I clumsily stuck that plaster onto your knee I was infatuated with you. I loved you all through school and university, and marrying you was without doubt the best day of my life. But when I saw you in front of me outside the hospital, when I had your chart in my hand, my heart stopped and I could barely breathe. I,” he paused but she knew not to interrupt him.

“I thought that I was going to lose you,” he said pausing again. “I was so relieved when you finally woke up. But then you looked at me, just like you’re doing now, and you didn’t know me. You looked at me like I was a stranger, inconsequential to you, and I felt like my heart had stopped beating again,” he said.

Charlie stroked his face.

“I tried to pull myself together so that I could be there for you. I was sure that I could love you enough for both of us. I was sure that I could remember well enough for both of us. But I couldn’t,” he said before his voice trailed off.

Charlie could see tears in his eyes, and she felt her heart melting.

“Please,” Charlie began to say. But Matt again touched his forefinger to her lips, and she could see that he was set on telling her what he was trying to.

“I blamed you. At times I think I even hated you. But it wasn’t your fault, and in rehab I finally accepted that it wasn’t mine either. It was just a terrible accident, and the fallout of it is what tore us apart. I felt relieved when you left, and I no longer had to look after you. I didn’t have to pretend to everyone, and to myself, that you were the same person to me. But up until that point you’d been in my life every day for more than a decade, and when you left I fell apart,” he said embarrassedly.

“I was weak Charlie. Without you I was nothing, and I couldn’t get through the days or nights alone. Everything I did,” he said; “the drugs, the women, Emily. I’ll regret it all forever. What I did was like spitting in the face of everything special we’d ever had. I wanted to forget you. I think I wanted to be a man that you wouldn’t have wanted to know had you recognised me.”

“Matt you don’t have to tell me all of this, I,” Charlie said before his look silenced her.

“I’d conned myself into thinking that life had moved on, I’d moved on. My life felt normal again. I wasn’t happy the way that I’d been happy with you, but I was no longer despairing. So when I went to Rich’s wedding, I hoped that I’d see you and not care,” he said pausing again and looking momentarily away from her eyes and face.

“But then I saw you, and for the first time since the day that you’d woken up I felt my heart beat with excitement again. The only thing that kept me from throwing myself at your feet and begging you to take me back, was the thought that you still only remembered the six months that we’d had together after the accident. Why would you ever want to come back to the me that you’d known during that time?” He asked her, but she knew that it was a rhetorical question.

Matt looked lost in his own train of thoughts for a minute and she could see the pain in his face and eyes. “I’ve always been jealous of Rich, and it isn’t that I don’t trust you or him. It’s just,” he said sounding embarrassed again; “he’s always had a part of you that I can never have.”

She looked at him and smiled. Matt may not have been her first she thought, but when she’d had no memory he was. Yet she knew that telling him this now wouldn’t give him any comfort or solace, especially given what had happened straight after, in fact she knew that telling him this now would only make him feel worse.

“When I saw him hugging you that night, all of my old jealousies and insecurities from when we were teenagers had my stomach in knots. I wanted to tell him to get away from you. I wanted to tell him that you were my wife not his. But then it hit me. You weren’t. We weren’t together anymore, and I started to panic. I thought about the next time that we might happen to meet. You’d probably have moved on with your life,” he said; “and I’d have to meet the man who you’d moved on with.”

“Matt,” Charlie said. Yet again his look silenced her.

“You’d be happy. You might even have his children. He’d hold your hand, touch your face, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to cope. The only thing that stopped me going out and finding a pharmacy that night was the hope that there was still a part of you I knew. I thought that if you were moving on you’d divorce me first. I told myself that until I got papers I didn’t have to worry,” he said; “and it was that thought that kept me clean at Rich’s wedding.”

He looked at her, and she saw the shame in his face.

“I was so desperate to keep you in the dark about my memory,” Charlie said despairingly; “so certain that you were happy with Emily, that I nearly drove you to drugs again?”

“No,” Matt said firmly. “I nearly drove me to drugs again. It’s my addiction, and they’re my actions, and I take the responsibility for what I do.”

She smiled again, and then asked him; “did rehab teach you that Mr Grayson?”

Matt returned her smiled and said; “yes actually Mrs Grayson, it did.”

Charlie felt her stomach do a little flip when he called her Mrs Grayson, but settle just as quickly when she saw that his eyes still looked sad.

“When I got the divorce papers I knew we were over. It was confirming everything that I’d feared. You’d met someone and you were moving on. It seemed to explain why you were so easy going at the wedding; with me, with my parents, and with Emily. I knew I had to sign them, but I wanted to make you wait. I didn’t want to let you go. I didn’t want you to marry someone else,” he said.

“So why did you sign them? You said it was after you knew the truth?” Charlie asked.

“When Claire told me about your memory. The guilt I felt was so intense that I thought I was going to go crazy. You and Harry had come to find me to tell me this amazing news, but it was too late. I’d moved on,” he said. “There was another woman in your place, in our home, and in our bed.”

Charlie flinched at his words, and he said quickly; “I’m sorry. I just meant that if the situation had been reversed I’d have been crushed. I felt worthless and completely undeserving of you.”

“That’s why you signed?” She asked, and Matt nodded.

Charlie sat thinking for a minute, and she was starting to feel angry. She didn’t know why, but she could feel it bubbling up inside of her. “Why did you come to London?” She asked him, and it was Matt’s turn to look shocked and hurt. She could also see that he was at a loss for words.

“Well why? Did you just suddenly decide that you were deserving of me after all?” She asked, and she could hear the anger in her own tone.

“No,” Matt said defensively. “Charlie,” he said making her look at him. “I just realised that I had to try and get you back. My life isn’t the same without you. I’m not the same without you. I love you.”

“I love you,” she said feeling her anger subside, and she felt a tear run down her cheek.

“Marry me?” Matt asked wiping her tear away for her.

“What?” She asked sounding confused and then adding; “we’re not divorced.”

Matt smiled at her and said; “I know, but I don’t care. Marry me?”

She laughed and said; “we’re already married.”

“Charlie, marry me?” Matt asked for the third time, and he kissed her.

“Matt,” Charlie said putting her hands on either side of his face; “listen to me. We’re already married. I’m already your wife, and I have been for a long time.”

“Then let’s get remarried,” Matt said. “I want everyone to know that you’re my wife.”

“Who doesn’t know?” She asked laughing again.

“Charlie,” he said; “my knees are starting to hurt, and you’re not giving me an answer.”

“You’re really proposing?” She asked, and she looked at him seriously for a minute.

Matt nodded, but before he could say anything else she got up and ran over to her handbag. She opened it and took out her purse. She smiled to herself, and then walked back over to the bed and sat down in front of him again. She saw Matt looking at her confusedly, and she smiled at him before opening her purse and pulling out her engagement ring that she’d been keeping in there since having taken it off. She handed the ring to Matt, and she saw him look at it and smile.

He looked up at her, and still smiling he said; “Mrs Grayson, will you marry me?”