Poles apart, p.20
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       Poles Apart, p.20
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           Kirsty Moseley

  the floor, I looked down at Sasha as she emptied the contents of a ‘match the card’ game onto the floor. “Want to stay up here with Daddy, or come down and help me cook?” I asked.

  “Cooks!” she answered, pushing herself up as well but not letting go of the ‘tickle me Elmo’ toy that she seemed to be favouring. Sasha loved to help me cook. Usually, she had just an empty bowl and spoon to bang around with while I cooked, but it was good enough for her.

  As the three of us walked out of the room, Sasha’s chubby little hand slipped into Carson’s. He looked down at her hand in shock, and then the biggest, most spectacular grin stretched across his face. It appeared that Sasha had now accepted Carson into her inner circle, and he couldn’t have been happier about it judging by the look on his face.

  I WOKE TO THE SOUNDS of dramatic crying through the expensive baby monitors Carson had purchased. I groaned and pushed myself up, sleepily trudging from my room into Sasha’s. My eyes stung and my head ached. I hadn’t had much sleep last night. On top of the house and street being unusually quiet compared to my flat, I also didn’t like being in a different room to my baby girl. It felt wrong and was something that was going to take me a long time to get used to.

  From the sound of her cries alone, I already knew there was nothing wrong with her. You could hear the differences when she really meant it. This one was more a, I’ve-just-woken-up-and-am-already-fed-up-with-being-in-my-cot cry. I was used to this one early in the morning. Clearly Carson wasn’t, though.

  As I reached into the cot to pick up Sasha, he came pelting into the room in just a pair of navy, long-legged loungewear trousers which hung dangerously low on his hips. He still looked half-asleep as a worried frown creased his forehead. “What’s happened? She okay? Why’s she crying?” he asked, stepping to my side quickly and looking at her worriedly.

  I smiled at the concern I could see on his face. “She’s fine. She just woke up in a strange room, that’s all,” I said, elbowing him playfully in the ribs.

  He blew out a big breath, raking his hand through his messy hair and causing it to stick up at the front. “Ugh, that’s not a nice thing to wake up to,” he muttered, shaking his head.

  “You’ll get used to it,” I replied. As he stepped back and smiled at Sasha, picking up her dummy she’d dropped on the floor, I let my eyes wander over him. I bit back a groan of appreciation as the muscles rippled in his stomach and arms as he moved. My mouth watered with the strong urge to lean in and lick his chest while rubbing my scent over him like a cat. He looked damn fine in the morning. Better than I even dared imagine, actually.

  He looked up then and caught me mid-inspection of his body. A sly grin crossed his face. “You can touch it if you want,” he offered playfully.

  The blush crept up on me unexpectedly. “I’ll keep that in mind, thanks,” I replied, shaking my head and fighting to control the girlie giggle trying to escape my lips. He grinned that boyish grin, causing the dimples that made my heart stutter. “You want some breakfast or something?”

  He shook his head. “Nah, I think I’m gonna go grab a shower to wake me up.”

  The thought of a shower automatically made impure thoughts run through my head as I imagined the water trailing down his body, dripping off him. The shower in my room is plenty big enough for two… maybe I need a shower, too…

  I shook my head to rid myself of the dirty thoughts and blinked a couple of times when I realised I was standing in the middle of Sasha’s bedroom and not in a hot, steamy shower rubbing a soapy washcloth over Carson’s body. The disappointment hit me hard.

  AFTER BREAKFAST, I dressed Sasha and then left her playing in her cot with a couple of dolls, while I went for a quick shower and dressed myself for university today. Once ready, we both headed downstairs. Carson was sitting at the breakfast bar eating a cinnamon swirl left over from the day before. He was dressed in loose-fit jeans and a fitted white T-shirt, and his feet were bare. He grinned at us as we walked in.

  “Daddy!” Sasha cried excitedly, suddenly squirming in my arms. I set her down, watching as she hurried to his side and held her arms up to him. He laughed and hooked his hands under her armpits, hoisting her onto his lap. Immediately, she twisted and took his cinnamon swirl from his plate, chewing on it messily.

  Carson laughed incredulously. “And here was me thinking you were excited to see me, when all the time you were plotting to steal my breakfast!” he teased, poking her in the ribs and making her giggle.

  I laughed at the adorable sight and headed to the fridge, pulling out butter and ham. “Okay if I make some packed lunch stuff for today?” I asked, turning back to Carson. He raised one eyebrow, and his jaw tightened. I sighed, already knowing what he was thinking. “Don’t ask permission, Emma; this is your home now,” I muttered, trying to do an impression of his deep, throaty voice.

  “Exactly,” he confirmed, taking a sip of his tea as he wrapped his free arm around Sasha, holding her securely on his lap as she ate his cake.

  I nodded, getting to work making lunch. “Don’t suppose you know the tube route to my uni, do you?” I asked absentmindedly. Today was my first day back there after all this blew up; I didn’t really want to be late because I was lost on the tube.

  “I can drive you,” Carson answered. “If you tell me what time you finish, I’ll pick you up after, too.”

  My stomach clenched at the kind gesture. “Are you not working today then?”

  “No, I called and explained the situation. I have a few days off. I can’t get out of the meetings I have scheduled this weekend, though, so I’ll be going away on Thursday morning and not coming back until Sunday night.”

  He was going away? “Oh,” was all I could think to say.

  “I’m going to Italy,” he continued.

  “That’s nice.”

  He cleared his throat. “You, er… want to come?”

  Come? To Italy? Hell yeah, I do! But it wasn’t possible. “I can’t. Sasha and I don’t have passports.”

  He frowned and nodded slowly. “Oh. Well, we’ll have to rectify that, I guess. Won’t get it sorted by Thursday, though.” He pursed his lips in thought. “Maybe next time I go away?” he offered.

  I shrugged noncommittally. Why would he even want us to go with him anyway? Surely he’d have more fun on his own living his single life than having his supposed-fiancée there and his two-year-old daughter?

  “I’ll get someone to rush you through some passports before my next abroad race. There should be enough time because I only race every other week, and next weekend is actually in England. I shouldn’t need to leave the country again for another three weeks, so that should be plenty of time for someone to arrange some passports for you two,” he mused. “Next weekend, I’m racing at Silverstone. It’s my favourite track. Maybe you could come and watch? You’ve never been to one of my races before,” he offered, seeming somewhat hopeful about it.

  I gulped, not wanting to go because I hated that he had a dangerous job, but also knowing I needed to go so we could show a united front. It wouldn’t look very good for him if I kept avoiding his races, and I didn’t have a single reason why I couldn’t go.

  “Um… okay.”

  “Great.” He seemed rather pleased with my answer.

  “JUST IGNORE THE PAPS. Say ‘no comment’, and remind them they’re not allowed to print pictures of Sasha,” Carson instructed as he gripped the steering wheel tightly, glaring out the window at the group of photographers that had followed us to my school from his house.

  “Okay,” I agreed, picking up my bag of books and swinging it onto my shoulder. As I gripped the door handle and pushed the door open, Carson placed his hand on my leg.

  “Emma?”

  I turned back to him, noticing he looked kind of nervous. “Yeah?”

  “Kiss me goodbye?” he requested, leaning over the middle of the seat toward me.

  I gulped and my eyes immediately dropped to his lips. Not actually needing to be tol
d twice, I closed the distance between us and crushed my lips against his roughly, kissing him fiercely. Deep down, I knew he only wanted this because the photographers were probably busy taking shots of us kissing in the car, but I actually couldn’t have cared less. With Carson’s lips against mine, nothing else mattered in the world. He moaned in the back of his throat and brought his hand up, gripping the back of my head and holding my mouth to his securely.

  Of course, I wasn’t the one to break the kiss because I never wanted it to end. Instead, he pulled back fractionally before kissing me again, softer this time. I smiled against his lips, loving the intimacy of the move. His nose brushed against mine in a little Eskimo kiss before he pressed his forehead to mine.

  “Have a good day,” he whispered.

  I couldn’t open my eyes. I was still lost within the bliss of his mouth on mine. When I traced my tongue along my bottom lip, I could taste him.

  “Mummy?”

  I gulped. Sasha’s little voice brought me out of the little romantic haze I found myself trapped in. “Yeah, we’re going, beautiful. Say bye to Daddy,” I said, clearing my throat as I pulled back and smiled sheepishly at Carson.

  “Bye, Daddy!” Sasha chirped, already pressing at the button on her car seat to release her seatbelt.

  “I’ll be here just after three then, all right?” Carson said before twisting in his seat and playfully tugging on Sasha’s foot. “Be a good girl at nursery.”

  Carson had offered to have Sasha for the day today, but I had just felt it was a little too soon. Although she liked him, spending the whole day with her this soon would probably be a little awkward for them both. They needed time to adapt, and Sasha actually loved her crèche and her little friends who went there.

  As I helped Sasha out of her car seat, I swung her onto my hip and pulled up her hood so it covered her face. The paparazzi immediately started asking me questions and walking alongside me. I just stayed quiet the whole time, keeping my gaze firmly focussed on the door of the building, counting the steps until it would be over. Carson had already assured me they wouldn’t be allowed to set foot inside the building, some code of privacy or something schools and stuff had. They had to ask permission to set foot on campus grounds – and they wouldn’t have that.

  Once safely inside the building, I went to the next window and peeked out, seeing Carson drive off. I breathed a sigh of relief that it was over for a while. Hopefully by the time I came out of class at the end of the day, they would have lost interest and be gone.

  The nursery Sasha went to was a little colourful wing of the building, which was especially for students who had children. There were only two nursery nurses who worked there, and an assistant. They only had about twelve children aged between zero and four. This place was a godsend for me and the sole reason I applied here in the first place.

  As I stepped through the door, the two mothers I saw every other day – Katherine and Simone – both stopped talking midsentence and looked at me in disbelief. I forced a smile and set down Sasha, taking off her jacket and hanging it on her peg with her lunchbox before watching her run off to the kitchen/home play area to talk gobbledygook with her friend, Scarlet, just like every other day.

  I cleared my throat and walked up to the pair who now had their heads together, whispering and trying not to look at me. “Hi. Good weekend?” I asked politely. “Did you get that assignment done you were worried about, Simone?”

  Simone pressed her lips into a thin line and nodded. “Barely managed it.” She shared a meaningful look with Katherine and then turned back to me. “We should really go. See you around,” she stated, waving goodbye to the nursery nurse who had just stepped out of the bathrooms with one of the little boys from the crèche.

  I nodded, hating that they looked at me with so much distaste and didn’t even have the decency to try and disguise it. I had known both of these girls for over a year; Simone I knew for a year and a half. I saw them every day, laughed with them, chatted. They knew me. But yet they were now looking at me with distain and clearly couldn’t get away from me quick enough. It actually hurt.

  “Okay. Want to grab a coffee or something at lunch?” I asked, hoping I was wrong and they hadn’t read the papers, that they weren’t looking down their noses at me and I was just being paranoid.

  Katherine’s nose wrinkled unconsciously. “We’re busy, sorry.”

  Nasty bitch! So much for the common bond we’d made over the last year that she’d been dropping her little boy off for! “Oh, with non-lap dancers I suppose,” I muttered, nodding knowingly. She didn’t answer; she just shrugged, clearly not even feeling guilty. I sighed and turned away, walking over to Sasha. I already knew people would react differently to me today, but I wasn’t expecting it to come from people who actually knew me. I could hear them whispering behind me, but I didn’t look back as they left the room, letting the door swing closed behind them.

  As I got to Sasha’s side, I bent and kissed her cheek, listening to her prattle on to her best baby friend in a language I had no hope of deciphering. “Mummy has to go to her lessons now. I’ll see you later. I love you.” She broke her chatter long enough to kiss me back, and then was frying up some fake eggs in the plastic kitchen.

  When I got to the door of the nursery and twisted the safety lock to open it, the nursery assistant called my name. I stopped, turning and smiling at her. Hilda was a lovely, jolly, older lady who Sasha adored because she wasn’t afraid to get down on her knees and be silly with the kids. “Hi, Hilda,” I greeted.

  She smiled awkwardly. “Hi, Emma. Umm… Cindy would like a word with you,” she said, nodding over her shoulder. When I looked in that direction, I saw the two nursery nurses talking heatedly.

  “What about? Is something wrong?” I asked, letting the door click closed behind me.

  Hilda cleared her throat, looking down at the floor as she shrugged. “I don’t know. She just asked me to ask you to speak to her if you came to drop Sasha off today. We weren’t even sure you’d come after… you know…” she said.

  ‘You know’. Yes, I knew exactly what this would be about. They’d seen the papers, and I was now about to be judged on it and my choice of profession. I suppressed my groan and nodded. “Sure, I have time quickly before class.” I didn’t actually have much time to spare, but I’d have to make time. I followed Hilda to the back of the room again, seeing Sasha still playing with her friend.

  Cindy looked up as I approached. She didn’t smile. Her eyes were tight, as were her lips which were pressed into a thin line. “Oh, Miss Bancroft, I’d like a word in the office,” she stated, waving her hand towards her poky little cubicle in the corner that constituted an office just because it had a desk and a telephone.

  The casual use of my title when she usually called me Emma alerted me to the fact this was going to be worse than I first thought.

  AS I STEPPED OUT OF THE NURSERY with a crying Sasha in my arms, I felt like giving up. Sasha was screaming and screaming that she didn’t want to go and that she wanted to play with Scarlet.

  Thankfully, my talk with Cindy, the stuck-up nursery manager, had lasted a fairly long time, so the paparazzi were gone by the time I made my exit with my wailing child. As Sasha was in full-blown tantrum mode at being unceremoniously booted out of her nursery, I winced as her flailing arm hit me in the face. Carrying a screaming, tantrum-throwing, almost-two-year-old was practically impossible, so I sat down on the nearest bench and pinned her on my lap, letting her get out all her frustrations.

  I had no idea how to explain to her that she wasn’t welcome at the nursery anymore because her mother was a dirty whore who danced for drunken men for money. Cindy had made out that Sasha no longer being welcome there was all to do with the photographers and reporters, and that it was a ‘safety thing’ and she needed to think of Sasha’s welfare along with the other eleven children who attended. But deep down, I knew it was more a prejudice thing against me and my job. The way she’d looked down her nos
e at me, and frowned distastefully when I’d perched on the edge of her desk, made that perfectly clear.

  “Sasha, please calm down and stop this,” I whispered, smoothing her hair away from her face and trying to wipe her tears. “Come on, you can come back another day and play with Scarlet.” Lie. That was a total lie. She wasn’t welcome back at all, apparently. “Sasha, come on. Please don’t make this any harder for me, please?” I begged, closing my eyes and pressing my face into her hair as I fought tears and a tantrum of my own.

  “Scar…” Sasha sobbed.

  A lump formed in my throat as she finally stopped struggling. “You can play with Scarlet another time.” I’d have to find some way of keeping that promise. Maybe I could somehow find Scarlet’s mother’s number and invite her over for coffee or something – so long as she didn’t think I was a dirty, gold-digging tramp, too. I kissed her forehead softly, wiping her tears from her face as she looked up at me with those big, blue eyes I loved to death. “How about we go to the park or something now for a little while?” I offered.

  I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone. In fact, all I wanted to do was bury this whole day deep into my subconscious and block it out, pretending it never happened. The dirty, waste-of-space feeling washing over me was almost too much to bear. All I wanted to do was go to bed with a whole litre of ice cream and watch old movies while I wallowed in self-pity. But, being a mother, I wasn’t afforded that luxury. Instead, I had to plaster on a happy face and pretend my heart wasn’t breaking as I took my toddler to the park to ease her disappointment.

  AFTER TWO HOURS IN THE PARK, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer because it was almost lunchtime. I needed to go home. The awkward thing about that was I wasn’t exactly sure where Carson lived. I knew the street name and the area, so it was just a matter of working out which tube lines I needed to go on to get there. After help from the train ticket guy, we finally worked it out, and I broke into my last ten pound note to buy a travel card.

  On the third train changeover, Sasha started yawning and her eyes started to droop. Fortunately, someone gave up their seat for us, so I hoisted her onto my lap and she was asleep before we even passed the next stop. That was good in one way, because I could
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