The caller turned out to be Mike Chertsey, Project Manager for Ipfed, a global IT company that Shandy had been courting for months. Her pursuit had been relentless, manifesting itself in weekly telephone calls to find out if he required any staff. She had visited him several times, furnishing him with cheap confectionary and branded mugs and stationary bearing Seed’s emblem and telephone number. When that didn’t work, she arranged to take him for dinner to a Michelin restaurant in Mayfair. Eventually, she was invited to bid for Preferred Supplier status. She put her heart and soul into the bid. She lost it.
On the day she found out that the contract had gone to our biggest rivals, Bang Recruitment, she cried openly in the office. No one understood how she had lost. Titwank Lenny went with her – a rarity and a sign of how massive the pitch was. According to him, she had delivered it perfectly and done the company proud. Although not proud enough to prevent her being sacked.
If anyone was to undercut on price, then they would be making either a huge loss or weren’t planning on doing the work they had promised to. During the phone call with Mike, it sounded like Bang was guilty on both counts. In Mike’s words, it had all gone ‘tits up’ with Bang to the extent where he had utilised the get out clause in the agreement. As a result, the contract was now Shandy’s. Or, as it turned out, mine. When he found out that Shandy was no longer working for Seed, he seemed alarmed. Thinking that he was going to change his mind, I moved quickly, arranging to meet him that night to discuss strategy. As I had access to Shandy’s account, I spent the rest of the day going over the terms and conditions already agreed between them and researching the company he worked for.
I soon found all the information I needed in a folder labelled Ipfed. It even included an in-depth profile on Mike himself. Shandy was convinced he was gay. ‘The next time I meet him,’ she enthused, ‘I’m taking you. You can flirt with him. Get him on board. He’s just your type too.’
Before I left the office to meet him, I was given my brief from Lenny who couldn’t accompany me due to prior arrangements that he couldn’t cancel. ‘Anything he asks for, anything he wants, give it to him. I don’t care what it is. Just give it to him. Even if it’s a fucking kidney. Do not, under any circumstances, fuck this up. Understand?’
We met in a hotel bar in Soho, near to where the office was based and spent three hours discussing what needed to be done. He was easy company and we seemed to click, despite feeling slightly intimidated by his good looks at first. Shandy was right, he was my type: rugby build, perfect teeth and hazel eyes that looked like chocolate pools. He had a deep, husky laugh, which he was generous with. At eight o’clock, the lights suddenly dimmed. Mike met this with more laughter. ‘Ambient tone, anyone?’ he asked out loud as he raised his eyebrow. I giggled. I looked at him in the half light, keeping eye contact for a split second too long. Something intangible sizzled between us. I swallowed. Hard. He smiled and cleared his throat.
‘Enough about work,’ he said dismissively. ‘What about you? Tell me about you. If we’re going to be working with each other, it’s only right that I find out what sort of bloke I’m working with.’
‘There’s not a lot to tell,’ I said, trying to think on my feet. ‘Y’know, I’m er, just a normal bloke.’ He laughed again and threw his head back.
‘It’s like that is it?’
‘Like what?’ I couldn’t decipher the subtext of his conversation. I was out of my depth.
‘You know… playing hard to get.’ I felt myself blush like a school girl.
‘What? I’m… I’m not playing anything.’ My stunned reaction liberated more laughter from Mike.
‘Relax, you muppet! I’m just teasing. Now, do you fancy another drink?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I said, trying to remain cool. I looked at him again. A barrage of unspoken words flew between us.
‘Do you want to stay here… or?’ He looked out of the window and gestured to the bar across the road that had a rainbow flag flying proudly above its door.
As we made our way into the bar across the road, I looked at him and smiled.
‘Didn’t think you were the type to come to places like this,’ I said with a wink.
‘Right back at you,’ he replied with a glint in his eye.
‘Takes all sorts, eh? Anyway, my round,’ I said, ‘What can I get you?’
‘A pint of Stella. For now,’ he replied and I felt my stomach twist with lust.
Two hours and three pints later, we were in a taxi, heading back to mine where he screamed my name as I fucked him. Afterwards, he nuzzled into me and as he drifted off to sleep, he murmured that he had made the right choice.
Having been awarded the contract, I realised that my targets would now be easily met for the next year, although that’s not why I slept with him. There was a connection – a real, emotional, ethereal connection between us. What we had together was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Up until this point, my love life read like something out of Freaks, Fuckwits, Fatties and Thieves: An Anthology. Mike was different. He amazed me. When I was with him, I felt indestructible. All the misery and heartache that dogged my life dissipated the second Mike walked into it.
We began to see each other, but it wasn’t without its difficulties: he worked long and unsocial hours and lived in Northampton, so commuted into London where he was based. We soon developed a pattern: he’d stay at mine from Tuesday until Friday morning and then catch the train home after work. There were occasions that he stayed over the weekend, but he needed his space and I needed mine, so for us it just seemed to work. Throughout our relationship, I was filled with euphoria, but if I thought about it for too long, my bliss would quickly evaporate. Mike was upfront with me from day one. He told me about his history, that his last relationship ended badly and that he’d lost everything. I knew that he’d had to move back in with his parents, who still didn’t know that he was gay. It was a generational thing, he said. I understood: my coming out had contributed, if not caused the death of my parents. I however, wasn’t so willing to self disclose. He knew my parents were dead, but I didn’t mention my brother and sister. As far as he was concerned it was just me. It was too painful to share and I was ashamed. I thought that telling him might reveal a side to me that he found he couldn’t love. I’d finally attained happiness. I wasn’t going to risk bursting my own bubble.
Back at work and upon landing the Ipfed contract, I became Lenny’s new favourite. Mike spent thousands with us, and when one project ended, another one soon began. The night before I died, I finished work early to meet Mike under the pretence of a client meeting. Rather brilliantly, we were able to court each other in luxury and put it on a company credit card. We ate at the best restaurants, we attended the best clubs. We had weekends away in five star hotels, all courtesy of my expenses account.
On this particular night, Mike seemed slightly different. As I approached the bar where we usually met, I saw him outside, pacing up and down and speaking animatedly into his mobile phone. As soon as he saw me, his expression softened and he terminated his call. We stepped inside the bar and he kissed me fully on the mouth, but soon pulled away. I ordered our drinks and took them over to the booth where he sat. His expression was troubled. He seemed distracted.
‘I’m not sure I can stay tonight,’ he said as his eyes darted around. ‘Something’s come up. Work. There’s been a fuck up.’
‘Oh. Okay. No problem.’ Rather than press him as to what the matter was, I remained meek. In truth, I was crestfallen. All I seemed to do when we were apart was look forward to the next time I was seeing him. He seemed to pick up on my upset.
‘It doesn’t mean I can’t come back for a bit. Shall we neck this and go now?’ He licked his lips and cocked his eyebrow. ‘Looking at you is making me really fucking horny.’
I sucked his cock in the back of the cab back to mine without any concern for the driver who was listening to an Arabic radio station and singing along whilst smacking his palm against the steering wheel in time to the music. Mike didn’t seem to care either. He grabbed my hand and whispered instructions to do what I was doing harder. Faster. Within minutes, he shuddered as his orgasm began to swell and he forced himself deeper into me. Gasping, he suppressed a satisfied groan as he erupted into my mouth. As his climax continued, his grip tightened considerably and that's when I noticed something hard digging into my fingers. His wedding ring. I swallowed his lust, released myself and was rendered speechless with shock.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked as he put himself away. I picked up his left hand and traced the outline of it with my index finger, stopping as I reached the gold band.
He immediately realised that he’d made a mistake by not removing it as he must have done every time before. We said nothing to each other as the car snaked through the streets of London. When we finally arrived into my road and the cab came to a stop, he attempted to offer an explanation. I remained mute: too stunned to take in the information he was giving me. It was only as I realised that I could never have him that I understood the true depth of my feelings. I never allowed myself to tell him that I loved him, or tell my friends that I’d found The One because I thought that by doing so would be to curse it. At that moment, I realised that I wanted it all: to live together, to have a Civil Partnership and a ridiculous honeymoon in Hawaii. I wanted to move to the suburbs and get a fucking dog. I wanted us to grow old and look after each other. And to think that it was doomed all along.
Inside the flat, we didn’t shout or scream. He spoke, whilst I remained dumbfounded that I’d never even suspected. He said that he was sorry, as though that made everything okay. He said that he didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt. Cliché after cliché tumbled from that beautiful mouth of his. His marriage was happy, but not enough, that he had managed to satisfy his other sexual cravings with internet porn until he met me, as thought all of this was my fault. I asked him to choose, but he said couldn’t leave his wife or his kids. Kids. Two of them. Barney and Thomas. One was three, the other eighteen months. His wife. Rachel. Same name as my sister, I thought bitterly.
We sat in silence for a while until he said that he needed the toilet. As he closed the door to the bathroom, I instinctively picked up his wallet and began to rifle through its contents. Behind the flap encasing his debit and credit cards, I found his driving licence. He didn’t live in Northampton after all. He lived three miles down the road. I didn’t notice the street, just the town. The penny finally dropped when I reached back into the wallet and withdrew the photos. I flicked through them as though they were playing cards. His kids in various guises. His kids with him. His kids with his wife, Rachel. At first I didn’t believe the image in front of me to be true. I looked again. I flicked further through the photos until I came across a headshot of her on her wedding day in all her glory. His wife, Rachel. My sister, Rachel.
‘What are you doing?’ He demanded. He was standing in front of me holding his hand out. ‘Give me those. You have NO RIGHT-’
‘Rights?’ I interjected, flabbergasted at his clumsy choice of words. ‘RIGHTS? What the FUCK do you know about RIGHTS?’ How is ANY of this RIGHT?’ My fury got the better of me. My voice trembled and I dissolved into a blubbering mess. He walked over to me, softly took his wallet and pictures of our families and tried to take me into his arms. ‘You don’t know what you’ve done,’ I said.
‘I know it’s a mess. We can sort it though. I promise. Let’s talk about it.’ But I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength or ability. A million questions span through my mind but I was rendered mute with shock. It was too much. I needed to lay down. Or throw up. ‘Do you want me to stay tonight?’ Mike asked. ‘Please. Let me stay. I can’t leave you like this.’
I didn’t say anything. I just got up and went to the bedroom. I undressed and collapsed onto the top of the bed. After a few minutes, Mike came in and did the same. We didn’t touch. We didn’t speak. I was numb. At some point, unconsciousness mercifully took pity on me.
When the alarm went off the next morning, the day I died, he wasn’t there. I turned off the alarm and fell back asleep, jolting awake with panic an hour later. As I scrambled to get ready I felt Mike’s absence. Whilst he often used to wake up and leave before I was even up, he would usually leave a jokey note or put a teabag in a cup ready for me to add boiling water and milk. Today there was nothing. I pulled on my trousers and noticed that the drawer in which he kept his things was slightly open. I walked over and I closed it, but saw that it was empty. I quickly scanned my living room. All trace of him had been erased. I tried to call him on the way to work, but his phone was switched off. I called his office, but was told that he was unavailable. I sent texts but never got a reply. He wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter. Now I knew why.
On my way into work, I was still too shocked to think. A year of being lied to. Of being double crossed. Of sleeping with my own sister’s husband. Of falling in love with my brother in law. I just tried to focus on the day ahead. Work. Normality. Distraction. Diversion. Avoidance. I wanted to fucking scream.
When I was finally given a working computer, I logged on and sighed as the PC took its time to load. In my head, I had started penning a letter to him. I needed to purge my thoughts. My questions required answers. My wrath needed a target. When the desktop screen loaded, I impatiently double clicked on my email icon. Twenty three new emails in bold type had come in since logging off last night. His was the first one that I saw. Sent at 8.06. The tone was formal, professional. Cold.
‘I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your hard work,’ the email said, ‘but due to unforeseen circumstances and in line with clause 4b, I regret to inform you that we are cancelling the contract with Seed with immediate effect. May I wish you all the best for the future. Regards, Michael.’ How clever, I thought; dumping me and the company in one email.
The desk phone broke my reverie. Charlotte was barking her orders down the line. ‘Lenny wants to see you in his office. Now.’ I only noticed that he’d been copied into the email after I’d read it for the seventh time, trying to decode a hidden message that plainly wasn’t there.
Old Titwank was unimpressed to say the least.
‘What the fuck did you do?’ he asked. There was no point saying anything, so I shrugged lots and kept quiet. There was nothing to say. I could hardly tell him why the company’s biggest account had been caught out and gone back to his wife, my estranged sister, taking his business with it. ‘Look at the state of you. You smell like an old boozer. You look like shit. It’s no fucking surprise you’re losing business rolling up to work like that. What else have you got on?’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked meekly.
‘I mean, what else are you billing? What other business have you got on? You must have more than just Ipfed? What have you been doing for the last year? For fuck’s sake.’ An enduring silence followed. ‘How many warnings have you got?’ Lenny asked curtly.
‘Better pull your finger out then, lad. You’ve got a week. If you don’t hit your target, you’re out. Now get out of my sight.’
I walked out of his office, picked up my jacket and walked purposefully towards the door.
‘AND WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?’ Charlotte obviously knew the score and was being her charming, sympathetic self. I stopped, put both hands either side of my desk and leaned over towards her.
‘Charlotte, why don’t you just FUCK OFF?’ I bellowed and left the office for the last time, slamming the door behind me.
I got home at seven o’clock, having walked the streets in a daze for hours before stopping at the bar we used to go and consoling myself with several drinks. I looked around my flat, which now felt sullied in the absence of Mike. I pictured him with my sister. I wondered if she suspected anything. I thought about the sons he told me about. My nephews. I thought about the lies that I readily believed. I realised how stupid I must have seemed. How desperate and eager and pathetic I was.
I suddenly felt oppressed by the silence in my flat. Without realising, I’d come to think of it as ours. I really did think that the day would come where he’d move in. I had plans. For a year, I had watered my dreams only to suddenly find that the flowers would never grow. I was bereft. Too upset to cry.
Thinking of my sister, I felt myself harden. Anger took over. Things got thrown. My phone also died that day. I tried to ring him again, only to be told that he was unavailable. When his secretary asked if I wanted to leave a message, I said, yes, please tell Mike that he’s a fucking lying cunt. Rather than hang up, I threw my phone at the wall and watched it disintegrate as it took out the clock that Mike bought me from Camden for my birthday.
It was at that point that I decided that my sister needed to know. And I was going to tell her. I didn’t care if it made her hate me more. I was used to it anyway. I don’t know if it was loyalty or spite that carried me along. She had to know and she had to know now. I got up and marched towards the door.
It was dark outside and the cold evening exposed my breath. In my haste, I’d neglected to put my coat on. I buried my hands deep into my pockets and pulled my shoulders forwards to try and trap what little body heat I had. I picked up the pace to keep warm and told myself that I’d soon be there. I knew where I was going. It wouldn’t take long. In my head, I started formulating my speech.
I stepped into the road, giving a cursory glance as I went. Nothing. I didn’t see the motorbike coming. I say motorbike, it was a moped. A pizza delivery moped. Thinking back, I heard a buzzing noise, but it was lost against the sound of the night and the rage swimming in my head. It came out of nowhere. I looked up and saw the bike as the bike saw me. The lad riding it swerved to miss me, but this made things worse as I jumped into its path. The delivery box on the back hit me in solar plexus, sending me flying. Time seemed to slow down. My thought processes were interrupted when my head slammed onto the side of the kerb. It must have looked like one of the hard hitting Green Cross Code adverts that I used get told off for sniggering at.
I never felt any pain. I could hear the pizza lad screaming that it wasn’t his fault, that I just ran out onto the road, that neither of us stood a chance. A bystander was trying to calm him down, but with zero success. At that point, I wanted to tell him that it was okay and that he wasn’t to blame, but I couldn’t do anything. I don’t know if my eyes were open or not. I couldn’t see properly – I was aware of lights, but it was like looking at something completely out of focus. The lad was becoming hysterical, screaming and wanting to know if I was going to be okay.
He was told not to touch me, that the ambulance would arrive soon. In the distance, I could hear the sirens that got louder as they cut through the evening sky. Soon after, the paramedics arrived. There must have been a group of people standing by at this point, because they were being instructed to stand back and give me some air. The paramedic spoke down a radio as my injured form was relayed to a hospital. Male. Late twenties. White. Severe head and possibly back injuries. Loss of blood. I was put on a stretcher and carried into the ambulance where I was attached to various machines. I could hear my heart beat. I could sense the manic activity surrounding me. Panic washed over the medics as the machines started to make worrying noises. I flat lined. I was given an electric shock to my chest and that’s when I first saw the blue that awaited me. It was just a flash. A pretty blue current, sucking me in. Suddenly the voices above me were back. They were losing me, apparently. It was no good, someone said. As I was carried away on a deep blue wave to the gorgeous abyss that awaited me, I heard the last words ever spoken in my presence: ‘We’ve lost him. Time of death eight forty eight.’