He smiled, trying not to laugh. “Even now,” he said quietly, with adoration, “even after I’ve betrayed you like this, you’re such a funny girl, Pippa.”
I set my jaw. “Mark. Get the hell out of my flat.”
He winced apologetically. “It’s only that I’ve got a telecon at four with the Italians, you see, and I was hoping to be able to make it from the—”
This time it was my hand across his cheek that interrupted him.
Coco set down a mug of tea in front of me and ran a soothing hand through my hair.
“Fuck him.” She whispered this, for Lele’s benefit.
Lele loved motorcycles, women, rugby, and Martin Scorsese. But she did not, we’d learned, like her wife to swear in the house.
I buried my face in my folded arms. “Why are men such wankers, Mum?”
The Mum was for both of them, because it’s the one name they’d both answer to. It was confusing at first—shouting for one and having both turn to answer—and why, as soon as I could really speak, Colleen and Leslie let me call them Coco and Lele instead of Mum.
“They’re wankers because . . .” Coco began, and then trailed off, floundering. “Well, they aren’t all wankers, are they?”
I assumed she looked to Lele for confirmation, because her voice returned, stronger when she said, “And women can be wankers, too, for that matter.”
Lele came to her rescue. “What we can tell you is that Mark is definitely a wanker, and we all feel a bit blindsided by that, now don’t we?”
I was sad for the Mums, too. They liked Mark. They appreciated that he was halfway between my age and theirs. They enjoyed his sophisticated taste in wine, and his appreciation for Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke. When he was with me, he liked to pretend he was still in his twenties. When he was with them, he easily transformed into the best friend of fiftysomething lesbians. I wondered which version of himself he was with the faceless tramp.
“I do, and I don’t,” I admitted, sitting up and wiping my face. “In hindsight, I wonder if maybe Mark was so gutted about Shannon because it had never occurred to him to cheat.”
I looked up at their wide, worried eyes. “I mean, he didn’t even know it was an option until she cheated. Maybe it became a terrible option if you’re unhappy, but an option anyway.” I felt the blood drain from my face. “Maybe it became the quickest and easiest way to break it off with me?”
They stared at me, speechless as they witnessed my dawning horror.
“Is that it?” I asked, looking back and forth between the two of them. “Was he trying to end things, and I was just too thick to see it? Did he sleep with a woman in my bed to push me away?” I swiped my hand over my mouth. “Is Mark just a giant coward with a great knob?”
Coco covered her own mouth to keep from laughing. Lele seemed to give this question its fair consideration. “I can’t speak to the knob, love, but I would say without a doubt that that man is a coward.”
Lele cupped my elbow, guiding me with her solid grip to stand and follow her to the overstuffed sofa. She pulled me down beside her long, hard form, and within a breath, Coco’s soft curves were there, too, pressing her warmth into my other side.
How many times had we sat like this? How many times had we done this very thing, sitting huddled together on the couch as we considered the mystery of boyfriend behavior? We’d muddled through it, together. We didn’t always come up with answers, but we usually felt better after a good cuddle on the couch.
This time, they didn’t put much effort into hypotheses. When your twenty-six-year-old daughter comes home with man troubles, and you’re a lesbian couple married to your first love going on thirty years, there’s only so much to say other than Fuck him.
“You hate your job.” Coco massaged my fingers, humming in agreement.
“You know that’s why I came home for lunch that day to begin with? I’d felt like shredding my stack of spreadsheets and dumping Tony’s coffee over his head, and decided a good brew and some biscuits might set me right. The irony.”
“You could quit and move home?” Coco said.
“Aw, Mum, I don’t want to,” I said quietly, ignoring the way the suggestion of quitting sparked a tiny thrill inside me. “I couldn’t.”
I stared ahead of us at the tidy sitting room: the small television that was used more as a stand for Coco’s vases full of flowers than it was for its intended purpose; the nubby blue rug that used to be a minefield of hidden Barbie shoes; the meticulously stained hardwood floor peeking out beneath.
I did hate my job. I hated my boss, Tony. I hated the dull tedium of the interminable number crunching. I hated my commute, hated not having any good friends in the office anymore now that Ruby had left nearly a year and a half ago.
Hated how each day seemed to bleed into the next.
But maybe I’m lucky, I remembered. At least I have a job, yeah? And friends, even if most of them spend more time gossiping in the pub than anything else. I’ve got two mums who love me beyond measure, and a wardrobe that would make most women drool. Really, Mark was lovely sometimes but a bit of a slob if I’m being fair. Great cock, lazy tongue. Fit, but rather dull, now that I think about it. Who needs a man? Not me.
I had all that—a good life, really. So why did I feel like broiled shit?
I felt something inside me pop: a tiny burst of relief.