I was working in a discount clothing store when I first saw her. Going through the motions of another mundane shift, it was September, and a fresh new batch of recruits were being shown around the first floor. This is where I worked, on the homeware department. Consisting of maybe a half dozen faces, she stood out immediately. There was something about her; maybe it was how shy she seemed, or maybe it was her style of beauty, I’m not sure now, but from that first moment, I was captivated. She later claimed to not having remembered seeing me, and I don’t think we made eye contact, but from then on I sought her out every day. She was put on checkouts on the ground floor, and every time I walked past on my way out for a smoke, I would watch her as she served customers. Her hair was long and auburn, almost ginger, and it covered half her face. Each time I went back and forth, I hoped she’d notice me looking at her. I can’t remember if she ever did now, but I can recall the first time we spoke. After the store had closed for the day a few weeks later, we were heading down the stairs after clocking out. Walking in front of me, I plucked up the courage to ask her how she was doing. It was awkward, and not that much was said, but the fact that we’d interacted was enough. Saying goodbye, I made my way home feeling giddy and excited even though nothing had actually occurred.
A few days later, and I was on my lunch break in the staff canteen. Sat by myself, she came and sat down on the table opposite mine. I think she was reading a book, or she could’ve been looking at her phone. There was an uneasy atmosphere as we both sat there wanting to say something, yet we were too anxious to make the first move. In the end, it was she who broke the silence. We spoke about our favourite films, and I offered to lend her a few of my own of which she accepted. It was an opportunity to set a link in place between the two of us. I also told her she had ‘Autumn Eyes’, something neither of us would forget. The next day, I came in with a few films ready to give her after work, only when we were finishing, there was some guy waiting for her with a rose. Devastated, I berated myself for being so foolish. Trying to leave without speaking to her, she approached me and asked if I’d brought the films as promised. With the guy watching me over her shoulder, I gave them to her and quickly left.
That weekend, I convinced myself that I didn’t care and tried to forget all about her. Come Monday, I was in the warehouse when she approached me. The first thing she said was that the guy who’d been with her wasn’t her boyfriend, it was, in fact, her ex. He was a clingy dickhead who was apparently trying to woo her back. My heart exploded with joy. Brimming with confidence, I told her that I was going to draw her a picture of whatever she wanted. Not pausing for thought, she asked it to be of a rat. A few days later, and I came in with the drawing. Placed in an envelope, on the back of it, I’d written my phone number. Handing it to her as our shifts ended, I told her not to look at it until she got home. After a nervous few hours, she eventually messaged me. I still remember the way I felt even now. Chatting at work during the day, then messaging each other at night, we soon arranged to go on our first date. The following Friday, we went out for a meal. Only she didn’t eat anything. She was too nervous. She never ate in front of me on our lunch brakes either, although a couple of times I secretly watched her when she thought I wasn’t looking. I remember how we talked about our lives, where we’d grown up. I told her about the story I was working on. The one I’m still working on now. When we found out how old we both were, I nearly choked on my steak. She was younger than I’d guessed, and me older. Eight years older. Somehow it didn’t matter, though, it just felt natural. Later on, she came back to mine, and we watched a movie. I was on my best behaviour, and made no attempt to take things further. Instead, when I walked her back into town, and the two of us were stood outside the train station, I asked if I could give her a goodnight kiss. A light rain falling as our lips met, we kissed like we were in a movie.
From there on in, every night after work, we kissed from autumn through till spring. We became lovers easily. With her I was happy, and the moments we shared in the following months still fill me with warmth. The two of us were different, yet we went together unusually well. The age gap didn’t seem to matter. In fact, out of us both, it was I who acted like the younger one. Always mischievous, I would annoy her until she’d stop speaking to me, but in the end, we would always make up. Making love and spending entire days in bed together, she quickly became the love of my life. At the time I never quite realised it, yet now I know for sure. When we were apart, the days would drag, and I became irritable, but as soon as we were together again, the sun shone, and everything felt in its right place.
And then she fell pregnant. It was a Sunday morning when we found out. By this time, she’d moved back to her hometown as she was feeling homesick. The plan was that I’d move as well, but for the time being, seeing each other at the weekends was going okay. Walking through town one Saturday after coming up the night before, we’d gone inside some cafe for lunch when she complained about feeling unwell. So, just as a precaution, we went and bought a pregnancy test. I was certain there was nothing to worry about, so didn’t make much of it. In bed the following morning, she eventually went downstairs to use the test. When she reappeared, she showed me the result. Positive. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t ready at all. Sat there numb and not knowing what to say, the wind had been knocked out of me. In a daze, I knew that it couldn’t happen. It would be too difficult. Living conditions and money, material things we didn’t have. I was certain there was no other way. When she went home a few hours later, I continued to sit there not doing anything other than worry. I was too young, she even younger. It was just impractical; that was the main thing. And so my mind was made.
But within twenty-four hours, everything changed. I don’t know how, but the idea that I was going to be a father suddenly took hold of me and wouldn’t let go. To think that she was carrying my child. It amazed me. It was a wondrous thing the likes of which I’d never experienced. Looking into her eyes knowing that we had created life changed my entire outlook on things. For the first time, I was looking ahead. Visions of the three of us together made me excited to wake up each day. Spending my wages on baby clothes, the love we shared grew strong, as did our baby she was carrying. The summer months that followed were, and remain, the happiest of my life. Things were falling into place, in the most amazing of ways. Placing my hand on her belly as she lay in bed, I could feel the baby kick. It sent shivers down my spine, and seeing the happiness in her face; it made me feel blessed. She became the lover I’d always dreamed of, and soon she would be the mother of my child.
On a cold Monday morning in September, nearly a year after we first met, we went for our twenty-week scan. I wasn’t worried, the only thing on my mind was seeing the new scan photos. Sat patiently in the waiting room, I remember how easy everything seemed. She couldn’t go to the toilet, and I was teasing her because of it. Being called in a short time later, the nurse told her to lay down and prepared her for the scan. Looking up at the monitor, we both smiled when the baby appeared. It was bigger than it had been on our twelve-week scan, and just that little bit realer. Holding hands, we were proud parents of ‘Lumpy’. Gazing open mouthed, the idea that in another five months I would be able to hold this lump of joy made me feel incredible. Then came the words of the nurse. ‘There’s something wrong..’ At first, they didn’t sink in. I thought that maybe there was a fault in the equipment she was using, or that I’d misheard her somehow. But then she pointed out the anomaly.
Leaving the room, she left us alone momentarily to get assistance. I couldn’t believe what was happening; we were both stunned. None of it felt real. Within minutes, we were led to another room where we were told that the baby had a serious illness, Spina Bifida, and that the best thing would be to have a termination. Breaking down, I tried not to cry but couldn’t help it. Still holding hands, the tears wouldn’t stop from either of us. There was nothing that could be done. All those dreams shattered in an instant. So helpless. So frightened. After we had been lead to a room of our own, I had to phone her mum to tell her the news. When she answered, all I could manage were a few words before I broke down again. And I did the same when I had to call my own. Never have I felt so weak, yet I knew I had to be strong because she needed me to be so for her. Later that week, the procedure went ahead. I remember the room the two of us had been given for the evening and all the ornaments and letters on display of couples who’d been through the same heartache. I remember falling asleep and being woken up by her cries when her waters broke. All that followed remains a blur, but in the early hours of the morning, I finally got to see my daughter. She had her mother’s nose. We named her Bethany, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. When we got the taxi home from hospital, the two of us slept for the rest of the day curled in each others arms.
Not long after, we got engaged. We were together another year after this, but the fallout from losing Bethany took its toll. Moving back in with my parents, the plan had been for us to both get jobs then find a place of our own. But things soon got the better of me. Spending too much time by myself, the emptiness took over. I didn’t talk to her, and a distance grew between us. I was diagnosed with depression and didn’t want to leave the house. Even going to the shops at the bottom of the road was too much. She tried to get it out of me, but nothing came. My thoughts and feelings were nowhere. I drank to block it all out, not realising that if only I spoke the truth, so much pain would be avoided. But the truth never came, and in the November, after months of drifting apart, we separated. I remember reading a message she sent me. There was no emotion on my side; I couldn’t feel anything. The love of my life had slipped through my fingers, and I’d let her do so without a fight.
In the years that followed, we remained in contact, but only at arms length. The occasional messages were exchanged, and we told each other how we were doing. But that was it. I forgot the love I used to feel looking into her eyes, and the love I felt holding her in my arms. Those sensations of expecting a baby with her, although not forgotten, were somehow overlooked. Life moved on, and so did we. Months would go by without us communicating, and even when we did, it was nothing more than a casual greeting. We were both getting on with our lives, the memories we had created growing dim. All those yesterdays, their meaning lost.
One evening sometime after, the two of us met again. She was just how I remembered. Only more beautiful now. She had grown into a fine woman, so determined and passionate. The words coming freely, things were said that had been kept quiet for so many years. Looking into her eyes, I realised that of all the people that I’d ever met, she was the most important, and for years to come, she would continue to shape my life. She’s long gone now, yet the scars remain.