After an hour of crying, Nick-the-man announced he needed to go for a drive.
That had been five nail-biting hours ago. Steph sat at her kitchen table, staring at her mobile phone.
Nick – call me. WTF r u. She sent the third text in five minutes.
The front door opened. Steph grabbed her car keys. “Mum?”
“I need to go out.” Not wanting to explain, Steph kissed Mum on the cheek. Mum stank of booze. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Nick’s missing. I’ve left a note telling the kids you’re in charge.”
Mum’s mouth opened but Steph left the house, still in her slippers, before Mum could raise any objection. She trawled the streets. The new blue LED lights frustrated her.
She parked outside The Royal where Nick played darts. Nick’s car in it usual spot and she let out a huge breath of relief. He’d need a lift home. She used her blue badge to park near the door. Her fibromyalgia hurt worse than usual and she limped into the pub. “Have you seen my husband, Nick?”
A new barmaid shrugged and checked the clock. “He left an hour ago. Have you two had a fight? He seemed awful upset.”
Steph shook her head. “No. But I need to find him. Do you know where he went?”
The barmaid shook her head. “Sorry.”
On her way out the door, Steph sent a text to Mum. Is Nick home yet?
The response came before Steph returned to her car.
No. R U OK?
Steph responded with: Yes. Sleep tight. But then she sent Nick another message: Please. Where are you?
She drove. She checked her phone. Drove some more. Checked her phone – again. In a tired haze she drove to Stefan’s house; he and Chris lived in a smart town house opposite the ornate parish church. She parked outside and leaned on the steering wheel. Steph didn’t even know why she’d come here, but she needed help.
A knock made her jump.
Stefan looked at her.
She opened the window.
He wore his funeral expression on his face. “I think you’d better come in.”
“Nick? Is he OK?”
Stefan responded with a sage nod.
Stiff and sore, and having forgotten her coat, she’d frozen. Impersonating a ninety-year-old in the aftermath of a 10K race, Steph eased out of the car. The black railings alongside Stefan and Chris’s path provided her with support as she waddled up the path and into their hallway. Elegant with Stefan’s photography blown up and framed. They’d fusedStefan’s love of the chrome bachelor pad with Chris’s fondness for the interior of stately homes.
Men talking and delicious food smells drew her to the kitchen at the end of the hall. Cream gloss units lived alongside Chris’s pride and joy, an eight seater polished oak table.
In his pyjamas Chris sat at the table. Next to him sat Nick-the-man with red and puffy eyes.
A feeling that she didn’t know Nick any more replaced the natural desire to hold him and to comfort him. “Hey.” She stayed at the door. “I came to find you.”
Stefan placed a bottle of brandy with two glasses in the centre of the table. “Get drunk. Chris or I can take you home later. Do you want us to leave?”
Nick shook his head. “Don’t leave me. She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t want me any more. I need help to talk to her.”
“She wouldn’t be here in her slippers and without her coat if she didn’t want you.” Chris placed a muscular hairy arm round Nick. Chris’s big brown eyes turned to Steph, and he indicated for her to sit on the other side of Nick. “You need to talk,” said Chris. His deep voice took on a commanding tone.
She wasn’t sure he’d aimed the censure at herself, or Nick, or both.
Those seal-like eyes, that had wooed Stefan so many years ago, were hard to resist, but she didn’t want to be the one to give in first. Not again. She was done being a doormat. “He doesn’t want to talk to me. He’s made that clear.” Her lips pursed, and she fought the tears as though she was Joe Frazer taking on Mohammed Ali. No way would she let Nick see any weakness. Hours of worry evaporated and Steph was pissed, more pissed than she’d been at any point in their marriage. If she moved closer to Nick, she might hit him. She turned her head, so she wasn’t looking at Nick. “I can’t get anything right. I’m not even allowed to know what the other woman is called.”
Silence. Nobody spoke. Boredom made Steph sneak a peak.
Stefan nodded to Nick. His head jerked in Steph’s direction.
Nick stared into his cup and ignored the cues that Stefan tried to give him.
Stefan said, “Come on, Steph. You need to get this sorted.” He walked round the table to stand in front of her. “I’m going to do what your husband should be doing.” He wrapped his arms round, and her held her tight. His familiar musky deodorant, an aroma of safety, broke her defences, and the tears came, soaking his shirt. “You and Nick must talk. Chris and I will be in the living room. Holler if you need us.” He whispered in her ear, “Be gentle with him. Nick nearly killed himself tonight. Instead he thought of you and came here. He’s a mess.” Out loud he said, “Steph and Nick, you’re the best straight couple I’ve ever met. For God’s sake talk to each other and move forward with this together. Tell him you love him whatever his gender.
"Best Possible Taste" is very loosely based on real life events.