Decision made, deed done. Everything could go back to normal now and his family need never find out. So why didn’t he feel lighter? Why did he feel so troubled, sorry and guilty?
Adam dressed and went downstairs at the usual time, put the kitchen TV on and rummaged around in the cupboard for cereal. He sighed. He wasn’t hungry but he knew it would be noted and there would be questions if he didn’t eat, so he chose one of Millie’s kids’ cereals for a change. There was something comforting about the primary colours and child-friendly design. The jolly little shapes tinkled brightly in his bowl. Same stool at the breakfast bar, same morning news programme, same thumping, voices and watery bathroom sounds from above.
He looked down at his phone, thinking of Jess. He started to text her. ‘Hi. So sorry. Can’t stop thinking about you. Hope you’re ok?’
He didn’t send it.
They’d promised each other. No more texts. No one must know. He turned his phone off and turned his attention to his cereal. He forced in a couple of mouthfuls and looked up at the TV.
This was deep. He knew in years to come he would still feel scarred. He would carry what had happened forever and possibly never get to share it.
‘Don’t talk to me. Don’t talk about it,’ she’d said. ‘It hurts too much. I know we’ll see each other around the place but I’d rather we kept away from each other. Please?’
So that’s what they’d done. Or tried to do. He tried to block it and pretend it had never happened. But when she didn’t come in on Friday he knew why and he ended up looking it up on the Internet at lunchtime.
At eight weeks of pregnancy a six-week-old foetus is about one point six centimetres long… He got out a ruler and looked at one point six centimetres.
All weekend he’d thought about her bravery, her pain, his shame. This shouldn’t have happened.
He clenched his fist and thumped his forehead with his knuckles. ‘Awww Jess,’ he whispered, ‘I’m such an idiot. I’m so sorry.’
He forced himself back to the here and now. Life had to go on for them both. Separately. He looked at the time. He had a bus to catch in fifteen minutes and there was still three quarters of a bowl of cereal to negotiate. The multi-grained shapes floated soggy and lifelessly in the off-white swamp.
One point six centimetres…
He began to feel his chest heave and stomach lurch with an unfamiliar combination of sorrow and disgust and he swallowed hard to control it. He had to stop himself crying. He mustn’t cry in front of Millie whom he could hear bumping down the stairs now, chattering incessantly to her mother.
‘Morning love.’ A woman’s affectionate hand ruffled his hair and then she kissed the top of his head. Adam grunted and stared at the TV as he knew would be expected of him. But Millie, clever Mille, had spotted the difference.
‘That’s my cereal. He’s eating my cereal!’
‘That’s okay, Millie,’ said her mother, ‘there’s plenty left.’
She sat opposite Adam, blocking his view of the TV and examined his face. ‘What’s up love? Not hungry? C’mon. It’s me. I always know when something’s up.’
‘Oh… um… they were just talking about road accidents a minute ago and it made me think about when Cookie got run over.’
‘Bless him – the daft dog. But he was fifteen Ad’ and that’s a good old age for a dog, you know?’
She sighed and patted his hand. ‘It’s so sweet that all you have to worry about is our old dog. Oh – to have that innocence back again. Just school and mates. No commitments or worries at all, you lucky so-and-so. Long may it last. So cheer up young man and tell me what you’d like to do for your sixteenth birthday.’