Rachel closed the front door behind her and instantly collapsed against it. She felt sick, and numb, and had no idea where to start with the myriad of thoughts that were swirling round her mind: Eddie, the school, Melissa, the pupils, the baby… She pushed herself away from the door, hoping the movement, the pacing, would chase it all away. She needed a break from it. For hours now her mind had been reeling; that jumble giving her a dull ache across her forehead. She just wanted it to go away. She wanted to go back to that morning, when she had woken up full of excitement for the end of the day, giddy at the thought of going away with Eddie.
That thought made her stomach churn, as each thought of Eddie did. She couldn’t shake the image of his face from her mind; the pain in his eyes as she told him it was over; the disappointment that had met her own as their gazes locked across the car park. But she couldn’t see any other way. It was easy, when Melissa had gone, to forget that Eddie had shared a relationship with her sister; to allow herself to admit to feelings she’d kept hidden; to finally let someone in. But Melissa’s return brought her back to reality. She had been fooling herself to think it would work. She should have known it was too good to be true.
Frustrated that, again, she couldn’t get her mind to focus on something else – something that didn’t make her feel like her world was falling apart around her and she had absolutely no control over it – Rachel walked into her kitchen and tried to preoccupy herself with making a cup of tea. Tea had always been her mother’s solution to everything. Maybe that was what she needed to attain a little clarity.
But, as she flicked the switch to turn her kettle on, images of the rubble that used to be the front of her school flashed across her mind. She saw herself standing in front of that JCB, felt her heart pounding and the helplessness flooding through her veins.
She leaned against the countertop, cursing her brain for refusing to give her even a moment’s peace. She didn’t need these constant reminders. She had assured the pupils and their parents that she would be in touch with them as soon as she had any news. She had watched the police oversee the securing of the site, she had given her statement about what had happened, and she had steadfastly avoided Eddie and Melissa. Then she had got away from there as soon as she could. But clearly she wouldn’t let herself forget.
She abandoned the tea-making, just managing to refrain from throwing the mug against the wall, which was what she felt like doing. Instead she moved across the kitchen to get some painkillers, hoping if she could get rid of the pain, it would take the cause with it. However, this too was not meant to be and the doorbell rang as she opened the cupboard door.
She let out a heavy sigh and hoped that whoever it was would just go away. But when it rang again, it occurred to her that it could be Philip: He would need to collect his things, and she knew he wouldn’t use his key under the circumstances.
She wiped at her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair, trying to look as unaffected as possible. Then she moved through her house to the front door, forced a small smile and opened the door.
It wasn’t Philip standing outside.
“Eddie…” she breathed upon seeing him standing there. His eyes still held the same sadness she had seen in them earlier, but he wore the look of determination that usually made her feel safe. But now, she didn’t think she could face him trying to fight this. “Why are you here?” she asked him.
“You know why I’m here. I can’t just accept this.”
She felt her heart breaking all over again, and instinctively pulled the door to her, leaning against it to make her less vulnerable. “Yes you can. Because you know it’s the right thing to do.”
He shook his head vehemently. “No, I don’t.”
“Eddie – ”
“If it was the right thing to do, it wouldn’t feel so wrong.”
“Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.”
“But this isn’t one of those times. We can make this work, Rachel.”
“How?... How, Eddie? Melissa is my sister – ”
“And how much contact do you intend to have with her?”
Rachel frowned. She hadn’t expected that question. “What?”
“You’re using the ‘she’s my sister’ argument, but you’re not planning to keep in touch with her, are you? Because that would mean seeing me and – ”
“I’ll be there if Melissa needs me,” she defended, despite knowing that he was speaking the truth.
“Which you know won’t happen. Because she’s taken all that she wants from you… Me.”
“That’s not – ”
Eddie stepped towards her and lowered his voice. “Rachel, Melissa has used you, she has manipulated you and she has lied to you. You’ve done everything you could for her and she didn’t care!”
“She’s still my sister.”
“In title only. Sisters don’t do this to each other.”
“So how can I do this to her?”
“You’re not doing anything to her. It was over with Melissa before anything happened between us. I made the mistake, Rachel, you shouldn’t have to suffer because of it.”
“Then let me go.”
That comment seemed to surprise Eddie and he didn’t respond straight away. Rachel offered him a sad smile and then stepped back to close the door.
“It’s that easy? I walk away and you’ll be fine?”
She stopped and looked past the door to him.
“Eventually,” she responded softly.
“Well I don’t think I will be.”
“Oh, Eddie, of course you will.” Rachel stepped forward, wanting to make him see that they were doing the right thing. “You’ll have the baby and Melissa – ”
“I don’t want Melissa,” he told her, taking a step closer so he stood above her now in the doorway. “She will never be anything more to me than the mother of my child… If you’re pushing me away to give that baby a proper family then don’t. With or without you, I will have the same level of involvement.”
“I’m pushing you away because I can’t do this… I can’t be the woman who stole the father of her sister’s baby.”
“You know it isn’t like that.”
“But that’s what it’ll look like.”
“And who’s looking that you care about?”
“I’m the Head Teacher of – ”
“Who used to be a prostitute. They know that. They accepted that you have a past, they – ”
“And look what I’m doing with my present.”
“Hey!” Eddie raised his hand and gently stroked her cheek. “You’ve done nothing wrong!”
“That’s not how parents and governors will see it. It’s not how the staff will see it. And the pupils shouldn’t have to deal with all the gossip – ”
His hand slipped down to rest on her shoulder. “Rachel, no one involved in that school is going to judge you for this. You have just given them hope as they stood looking at the rubble of what used to be the front of their school. They have been through so much with you that they have a level of respect for you that will not be shaken that easily.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes I do…. Stop trying to protect everyone else and think of yourself for once.”
“I am thinking of myself.”
“Not of people’s opinions of you, Rachel. Do what will make you happy.”
“Eddie, please, just leave it,” she implored, shrugging his hand away. “This is the right thing to do. We need to just accept that.”
“No. No, I won’t accept it. This is tearing me apart Rachel – ”
“It’s tearing me apart as well. Is that what you want to hear? I love you so much, and I can’t bear this.”
“Then we can make it work.”
“We can’t! You know what Melissa is like. If you stay with me she’ll go. She’ll disappear and you’ll never see your baby.”
“That’s what you’re really worried about. It’s not about how it would look, or what people would think. You’re trying to protect me.”
“I know Melissa. She admitted that she came to get you back… She doesn’t want me to have you.”
“She doesn’t get a say.”
“I can’t let you take the risk. She will disappear, Eddie. And you know how good she is at that.”
“I’d find her. If the police didn’t find her first… And Philip would never go along with – ”
“And what if she leaves Philip behind again? What if she hasn’t been to the police?”
“And what if seeing you standing in front of a JCB has made her realise that she doesn’t want to lose her sister?”
“But we don’t know… Like we don’t know any of it. What if she wouldn’t disappear? What if you and I are supposed to stay together?”
“Eddie – ”
“It’s all conjecture, Rachel. And a hypothesis doesn’t always turn out to be right… The only thing that is certain here is that I love you… And I’m not giving you up based on a lot of things that might happen.”
She shook her head. “It’s too big a risk.”
“No it isn’t. If we do this your way, there is no chance at all that we end up happy together. If we do this my way, there’s a fifty percent chance that we end up happy together. I know which one I prefer.”
Rachel couldn’t help a small smile. “Never argue probability with a maths teacher.”
“So you admit that I’m right?”
She raised her eyes to meet his. “I’ll admit that your way sounds better than mine.”
“So can we try this my way?”
“I still think you’re risking too much.”
“It’s my decision, and you’re worth it…” Eddie smiled. “And whatever happens, we’ll deal with it as it comes. Rather than running before we even know if there’s anything to run from.”
Rachel still had her doubts, but she noticed the pain in her head had subsided, and it did feel better to know that she was facing the future with Eddie, rather than without him.
“This probably won’t be the last time I try to pull away,” she admitted. “When it comes to my personal life, running’s always been a hobby of mine.”
“I’ve noticed that,” Eddie smirked, causing Rachel to smile shyly.
“Can we really do this?” she asked him, quietly.
He took both her hands in his and looked her directly in the eyes. “Yes we can.”
“It’s so complicated – ”
“We’ll work it out… Together.”
Rachel smiled, and leaned forward to rest her head against Eddie’s shoulder. His arms moved to hold her and for a moment they just stood in silence before Rachel said, “Thank you for coming to talk me round.”
“A good deputy will always tell you when you’re wrong,” Eddie teased.
Rachel laughed against him, then pulled back to look up at him. “I may still be right.”
Eddie shook his head. “No scenario that has us apart is right.”
“About Melissa,” she clarified when he misunderstood.
“I told you, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We can speak to Melissa. Try to make her see sense.”
“It won’t be easy.”
“No,” Eddie agreed, “Probably not… But I don’t care. I won’t give up on us, Rachel. And I’m not going to let you give up.”
This time his determination did make her feel safe. If he believed they could do this, then she would try: Because she really hadn’t liked the alternative.
She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. When he responded, she wrapped her arms around him, relishing the feeling that she had so nearly denied herself. He backed her into the house as he continued to kiss her, and she laughed against his lips.
She felt as if a weight had been lifted from her, and as she thought through everything else that had happened that day, she realised that the true cause of all her earlier pain had been ending her relationship with Eddie. Everything else didn’t look as daunting now that they were together again.