Down as Rain

I've been working on this on and off for ages. It started life as a short story, then became a radio play, and is now a short novella. I' plan to try to adapt it as a screenplay.

Down as Rain

“How’s it going with what’s his name, your student?”
“Andy; and he’s a mature student. Well, it’s still going. OK, I suppose, only...”

Jenny and Cassy were feeding bread to a raft of fat, disinterested ducks in the park close to the pub where they’d met for their traditional Sunday lunch date. As usual, Cassy was showing too much flesh for a forty year old, but just about getting away with it.

“Only?” said Jenny as she carefully tore a piece of crust into chunks
“Only as in maybe it’s just about run its course. Maybe I’ll become a nun. Either that or a lesbian.”

Jenny laughed as she tried unsuccessfully to hit the biggest duck on the head with the biggest piece of bread. “You don’t believe in God and I can’t see you giving up men anytime soon.
Cassy laughed too, a laugh that ended in her usual short, smoky cough. “I do believe in God; sometimes. But maybe not a nun - the clothes are a bit rubbish. And maybe bi-sexual would be a more realistic goal than gay. ”

Jenny threw the last of her bread in four rapid-fire staccato bursts before dusting off the crumbs from the palm of her hands as a young man in tight cycling clothes rode past on the path behind us. The man cast a sly look at Cassy’s backside as he did so, and Cassy, as though intuiting his presence, turned and smiled at him. Jenny smiled at her friend, knowing that she would never change her flirtatious words, and loving her dearly for it.

“Remember how some girls used to accuse us of being lesbians at school, just because we were always together?” said Jenny.

Cassy returned her attention to the circular lake, throwing the last of her own bread. “Yeah, well, as I’ve always said Jen’, if I ever did decide to bat for the other side, I’d definitely like you to be my first.”

Jenny turned and stepping up the grass incline, away from the lake. Cassy followed her and they both paused to deposit their empty bread bags in the overflowing metal mesh bin as the grass gave way to concrete.

“Your first? What about that night with Phil and what’s her name, years ago?”

Cassy sat down on the wooden bench and her best friend sat beside her.

“Sue. But I never did anything, not with her anyway. She was just a birthday present for Phil, basically.”
“I’m sure he was very grateful.”
“Yeah, so grateful that he dumped me for her.”
“Oh yeah, sorry, I forgot about that. Well, anyway if you and me went to bed together we’d never be able to stop laughing long enough to do anything.”
“No. And I do like men. At least the sex is really good with Andy. Maybe I’ll stick with him bit longer yet. Good sex is hard to come by.”

Jenny nodded. It had been nine months since she’d broken up with her daughter Amy’s dad. Since then there’d been no one. That had been by choice, more or less. She’d had offers, but she’d never been one for sex for the sake of sex. She still missed it though. She missed a few things about Steve, though she wouldn’t admit it to anybody but Cassy, and her therapist, certainly not to Steve; the cheating bastard.

Cassy had become silent, looking thoughtful. She’d been doing that on and off all day. She didn’t usually do thoughtful. And when she did, It always meant that something was wrong.

“You OK?”
“Yeah.”
“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“The Kids?”

Cassy had three children: Toyah was twenty three; Paul thirteen; and Sarah six. All of her children had different fathers. Jenny had Amy who was fourteen, by Steve; and twenty four year old Terrence by...we’ll come to the matter of Terrence’s father shortly. Jenny’s two children had been best friends with Cassy’s two oldest all of their lives, almost like siblings, although in the case of Terrence and Toyah there had sometimes been suggestions of something beyond a brother, sister relationship.

“No, the kids are fine.”

A long pause followed, the only sound was that of the ducks and the birds, the light wind through the trees and the faint shouts of a group of lads playing football way off in the distance. 

“I’ve got something to tell you, Jen’,” said Cassy at last.

Jenny’s heart sank. Cassy’s tone of voice told her that whatever was wrong with her had to do with her life rather than her friend’s.
“Yeah?”

Cassy withdrew a pink electronic cigarette from her handbag, sucked and inhaled deeply before letting out a blue-grey cloud of pungent vapour.
“Are you going to tell me or what? You’re worrying me now.” said Jenny.

“OK. I was thinking of not telling you, but I suppose I have to, now...”

She paused. Jenny looked at her intently. She fiddled nervously with her nicotine delivery device. At last she looked into her best friends waiting, expectant eyes.

“I’ve seen Liam.”

Hearing Cassy say that name was a shock. Jenny hadn’t thought of him in a long time. Well, she had. His memory had never gone away completely. But it’d been a long time since the thought of him had been accompanied by a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, more akin to a physical attack than a mental event.

“Liam as in Liam?”
“Yeah, sorry, Liam as in Liam.”
“You sure it was him? I mean, it’s been twenty five years. People change.”

Cassy nodded, staring out beyond the lake. “Yeah, I’m sure. I wasn’t at first, but I’ve seen him three times now. Once coming out of a house on Spark Street, round the corner from me; once shopping in the Tesco Extra, and then going into that same house on Spark Street again, all in the last week or so. I did some checking, online, and he really is living at that address. I wanted to be sure when I told you, if I told you. But he hasn’t changed that much actually. He’s older, obviously; but I’d still recognize him anywhere.”
“Wow.”

“Yeah I know. Like I said, I wasn’t going to tell you because I didn’t know how you’d react. But now he’s back, well sooner or later you’re going to bump into him as well. And it’ll be worse if I’ve seen him already and haven’t told you. I have done the right thing, haven’t I?”
Jenny nodded, staring straight ahead.

“Yes, of course, you’ve done the right thing.”
Cassy inhaled from her device again.

“So, what are you going to do?”

Jenny shook her head slowly.
“I don’t know,” she said.

***

Jenny hadn’t really wanted to go to that party twenty five years earlier in the first place. She hardly knew Beverly Curtis, so why should she want to help her celebrate her birthday? In the school hierarchy Beverly was one of the popular girls, with all of the arrogance and attitude that went along with that. Jenny and Cassy were in the middle group, not particularly beautiful or bright, but not ugly or dull either. They were happy that they were not down in the schoolyard gutter with the fat, the spotty, the spectacled, the smelly, the stupid and the badly dressed, but they were also forever conscious that they didn’t belong amongst perpetually cool girls like Beverly either.

They were in Jenny’s bedroom listening t Siouxsie and the Banshees. Cassy was smoking by the open window. Her hair was dyed black and her eyeliner and lipstick matched it.
“That stinks,” said Jenny.

“Yeah, sorry. I’m nearly done.”

“Good, ‘cos me dad’ll be up in a minute, doing his rounds. Not all parents are like your mum, you know.”

“Yeah, lucky you.”

Cassy threw her still smoking cigarette butt out of the window, as usual making sure that it landed in Jenny’s neighbour’s garden, before joining Jenny on the double bed. Both girls were wearing pyjamas. Cassy’s, of course, were black, whilst Jenny’s were red. Jenny liked Goth music as much as Cassy, but her sartorial style didn’t reflect that. The two of them had been having these weekly sleep over’s since they’d little. They took it in turns, one week at Cassy’s, the next at Jenny’s. “Budge up,” said Cassy, the bed creaking.

“Fat cow,” said Jenny. Cassy was bigger than Jenny, but mostly in the places boys liked. Cassy ignored the weight jibe and returned to the topic she’d begun a few minutes earlier.

“It’ll be ace. Their house is inside the cemetery,” she said.
“Whose house is inside the cemetery?”
“Beverly Curtis’ families house.”
“Why?”

 “I don’t know why, maybe it’s something to do with her dad’s job.”
“Why, what’s her dad’s job, a gravedigger or something?”
“I don’t know what his job is. I wouldn’t have thought gravediggers got given a house inside the cemetery though. I’m just saying maybe it’s something to do with his job, that’s all. Or maybe they got it cheap ‘cos of where it is, or maybe they’re Devil worshippers or something. It doesn’t matter why it is where it is, all that matters is that it’ll be fantastic, dead spooky when it gets dark and everybody’s off their heads.”
“So which cemetery is it?”
“The big one by the Attlee estate; do you know it?”
“Yeah, I think so. But it’s C of E. All of the dead people I know are Catholics, like us.
“Doesn’t mean we can’t go in though does it?”

“I suppose not.”

Cassy stretched herself out beside her friend, one hand behind her head.

“So, we going or not?”
“Don’t know yet. When is it again?”

“A week Friday.”

“OK, maybe. I bet Ian’s going to be there.”

Ian was in the year above them at school. He was a sixth former, tall and aloof, sporty and clever; a rare combination. Cassy had fancied the pants off him forever, for at least a month.
“He might be.”
Jenny laughed. “I knew it; and what am I supposed to do if you get lucky and up to God knows what with him?”
“Well, there’ll be loads of gorgeous lads there, won’t there? You’ll easy cop off.”
“Who says I want to ‘cop off’?”
“It’s about time you did.”
Apparently, according to Cassy, Jenny was the fifth form’s last surviving virgin.

***

 They’d been at the party for about two hours. As usual booze had loosened inhibitions and the space between groups until they’d all joined into one great sweating, swaying throng. Jenny was in the kitchen where three lads she didn’t know and didn’t fancy eyed her lecherously as they smoked and drank and engaged in crude banter, ignoring the mountains of cellophane wrapped food spread over the work surfaces. Cassy stuck her head around the door. She’d spent the past half hour draped around a guy called Chris who was in the year above them at school, the same year as Ian, the intended object of Cassy’s amorous intentions this night. Ian himself had been tongue wrestling birthday-girl Beverly Curtis since the moment he’d arrived, about ten minutes after Jenny and Cassy. Not long after that, the two of them had been spotted disappearing into an upstairs bedroom.

“Sorry for leaving you on your own,” said Cassy to Jenny.
“Don’t be; enjoy yourself. It’s good to see you’re over Ian.”
“Ian who?”
Jenny smiled. “I might get the last bus back to mine,” she said.
“OK. I might, you know, go somewhere with Chris. Let me know when you’re going.”
“I know, I will.”

Jenny had told her parents she would be staying over at Cassy’s, that was the plan, but Chris seemed to have rendered the plan superfluous

Before she left, Jenny decided to take a walk in the garden. She wasn’t drunk, just nicely tipsy on two glasses of cheap white wine and a can of weak lager. She’d never been a big drinker.

It was late summer, warm and dry and still light, a three-quarter moon separated from a dimming sun by an expanse of blue-grey sky. The Curtis’ garden was big and rectangular.

The lawn was flat and dotted with kissing, groping couples. A large wooden fence on either side of the shielded the house from the cemetery, from the dead world beyond, and ended in a metal spiked gate at the far end, the terraced and semi-detached sixties built houses of the Attlee visible through the gaps. The music grew gradually more muted the further Jenny from the house. By the gate, sitting on the grass, at the end of this journey and the beginning of a new and vastly longer one, sat Liam.

He was dressed in the then fashionable New Romantic style, the trace of make up on his face emphasizing rather than detracting from his masculinity. He was the most instantly attractive human being that Jenny had ever seen.

“Hi” he said, raising a newly constructed spliff to his mouth lengthwise, sealing it shut knowingly with his tongue. “Hi,” she said back, peering down at him, blushing inwardly if not outwardly.
“I’m Liam.”
“Jenny.”
He took off his jacket and placed it by his side on the grass, indicating for her to sit.
“Have a smoke with me?”

It wasn’t really like Jenny at all, but she found herself smoothing down her less than knee-length skirt and doing as the beautiful vision asked with barely a moment’s hesitation.
“Alright. Just a smoke though. Don’t get any funny ideas.”

He smiled. “I can’t promise I won’t get ideas, funny or not. But I can promise I won’t act on them. Not unless you really want me to.”

He sounded mature, wise for his years, which Jenny thought could be anywhere from her age to nineteen.

“Well, I won’t want you to act on them. OK?”

“OK.”

Jenny had never tried dope. Cassy had. Cassy was the first to try everything: smoking, drinking, drugs, and literally everything when it came to boys.

Liam struck a match and lit the joint, inhaling deeply, holding the smoke in his lungs before letting it out with a contented sigh that ended in a dazzling white toothed smile.
“Be careful, it’s pretty strong stuff,” he said, handing her the sweet, sickly smelling, smoking cone. As well as mature and wise, his voice also sounded educated and musical.
Jenny took a big drag and coughed. Liam laughed.
“I told you it was strong. Try again, only not so much.”
She inhaled again, more shallowly, holding the smoke in lungs, as Liam had done, as she’d seen people do in films and on television.

The conversation began to flow and take on a surreal intensity; the music from the house seemed closer than it had any right to be, so close that Jenny could feel it vibrating through the ground and through her body. Liam began to appear more and more God like as time, oh so slowly, passed. Jenny soon learnt that he was eighteen, that he’d come to the party with his friend Mark, but that Mark had ’got lucky’ leaving him all on his lonesome. He played guitar in a band called the Tin Cans. They used to be called the Tin Can Alley Cats, but decided that was a bit long-winded. He’d just finished the Sixth form and was a month away from leaving Grimsby to study Art in London. He was drinking orange juice as he ‘never mixed booze and weed’. He offered Jenny some. Her mouth was dry from the dope and she drank quickly, the taste like cold, liquidized sugar. He suggested a walk in the cemetery. She’d been half-planning to go there anyway, but hadn’t wanted to go alone.
“OK, but I’ll need to go soon; to get the last bus home.”
“That’s cool; and I need to use the loo first.”
“OK.”
 Most lads she knew would have said ‘have a piss’ rather than ‘use the loo’. Most girls too, including Cassy, including her, some of the time. She found his choice of words indescribably sweet and endearing.

Back inside the music was of a frightening, bone shaking volume and Jenny didn’t object when Liam took her by the hand and led her through the chattering, giggling, smoking, drunkenly swaying mass. She found Cassy sandwiched between Chris and the hallway wall, her arms tight around his back, her hands tightly clasped at the point where his buttocks began. She broke off momentarily from their clothed foreplay, glancing first at her friend and then at Liam as he began to climb the stairs towards the bathroom. She gave Jenny a twinkling smile from over Chris’ shoulder.
“Gorgeous,” she mouthed.
Jenny smiled back. “We’re just going to have a look round the graveyard.”
“Go for it girl!” she said as Chris turned his head briefly to look at Jenny before pressing himself into Cassy harder, re-establishing her attention.

After Liam had returned, Jenny used the toilet and drank another glass of orange juice that Liam had waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Cassy and Chris were no longer in the hallway. Liam took Jenny’s hand again and led her once more through the living room and kitchen crowds.

Outside, the sky had darkened, adding to the macabre surroundings. A selection of party goers had spilled out from the house, small groups and couples standing and talking and drinking and smoking and kissing and exploring each others’ bodies between the gravestones. As Jenny and Liam walked in engrossed, comfortable silence, this human overspill thinned and seemingly disappeared. Suddenly a high pitched feminine squeal alerted the two of them to the incongruous sight of a couple openly and shamelessly screwing on an overgrown grave. The girl’s sandaled feet were splayed either side of a dirty, greying headstone as a pair of hairless, heaving male buttocks rose and fell in the moon-light. Liam laughed as Jenny looked away in disgust.
“Dirty bastards,” said Liam after they’d journeyed a short distance from the live sex.

“Yeah, that’s just wrong,” Jenny replied, though neither of them could resist a last glance backwards at the increasingly noisy, rutting couple.

In her semi-drunk, fully-stoned state, the headstones and the crosses and the straightness of the rows of graves seemed to take on a strangely designed quality; designed not so much to mark the passing of departed loved ones, but to remind those that are left of the transient, fragile brevity of life. This thought seemed to Jenny to be incredibly profound, as if she was really thinking for the first time. It was also more than a little bit frightening, as though for the first time she’d suddenly become truly and fully aware of her own mortality. Liam enclosed her hand in his as though, she thought, wordlessly intuiting her existential unease, making her feel safe through the mere fact of his strong male presence as they walked a circuitous route back towards the house.

“When I die,” said Jenny, “I want to be cremated; to be vaporized into the atmosphere until I come back down as rain to help the plants and the trees and the grass and the flowers grow.”
Liam laughed. “I told you it was strong stuff, didn’t I? You sound really stoned. I like that though, ‘Down as Rain.’ Maybe I’ll write a song called that.”

Jenny started to feel unwell and to need the toilet rather badly. Liam seemed to know this too without her having to say it out loud, and quickened his pace accordingly, the music growing louder as he led her briskly back though the stones and the crosses and the courting couples. The couple who’d been doing it on the grave were sat up now, smoking, arms entwined. They looked happy. 

Inside the house, the music seemed to be pounding inside Jenny’s skull, and the conversation and laughter of the revellers had taken on an insane and frightening character. She felt sick, as though the vomit was about to rise up from her stomach, exit her mouth and submerge the entire house under a tsunami of bitter, pungent puke. Liam’s arm was around her waist as they reached the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll wait for you here,” he said.

Jenny thought that she’d established control of her stomach as she climbed the thick, carpeted steps, each one a mountainous challenge for her comically heavy legs. But as soon as she found her way safely inside the impressively clean and spacious bathroom, her guts surged upwards towards her throat like a power ball ricocheting off a hard floor, causing her to collapse onto her exposed knees like a cartoon drunk, directing the contents of her stomach into a toilet that had recently been used, thankfully only for urine, but not flushed.

At this point, her mind seemed to separate itself from her body and she could see herself as if from above, as she heaved and choked acidic, bitty, fruity vomit into the yellow-green water below. Eventually, with nothing left but bile to expel, she forced herself upwards onto unsteady legs. She staggered over to the glinting white sink where she doused her sweating face and dishevelled hair with cold water, before swilling her mouth with the Curtis family mouthwash.

She felt tired; so tired that it seemed the most natural thing in the world to kick off her heels and lay herself down on the refreshingly cold linoleum.

‘Just a few minutes,’ I told myself, ‘just a few minutes rest and I’ll be fine. The music was pounding against her ear through the floor causing her whole body to shake. People were singing along down below: ‘Don’t you want me Baby’; ‘Come on Eileen’; ‘The Look of Love’; ‘Sexual Healing, baby!’

Everything from this point became hazy and unreal, like it was happening to someone else. As well as the singing, there was the constant murmur of voices, voices whose location it was impossible for her mind to pinpoint. They seemed to be close though, so close that Jenny soon convinced herself that they were in fact only inches away from her head, just the other side of the now ludicrously thin bathroom door. She started to pick out the odd word and phrase through cacophony: A male voice repeatedly saying her name as though it were a question; ‘Jenny? Jenny? Jenny?’ A female voice that she decided belonged to Beverly Curtis asking ‘How long has she been in there?’; another male voice, which she was convinced belonged to Ian, exclaiming to a chorus of giggling approval that he was ’busting for a piss’ and that he would ‘break down the fucking door‘ if the ‘silly bitch’ took much longer. Then came Cassy’s voice, a voice that Jenny would know anywhere, softly saying Jenny’s name, gently coaxing her, over and over, the reassuringly familiar sound gradually coming closer until it was inside Jenny’s head and drenched in echo, becoming sinister and scary and no longer reassuring.

Jenny had no idea how long had elapsed since she’d first staggered into the toilet: five minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes; an hour? She imagined a long line of people stretching across the landing and down the stairs to the front door, through the gate and into the cemetery, all jiggling with desperation for the toilet, all talking about her, some with concern, some with anger, some with mocking laughter and disdain. She could hear all of these things inside her mind.

 The jumble of voices temporarily hushed, replaced with the absolute certainty that she had to get up and leave the comparative safety of the bathroom. it was as if her very life depended upon it and, with a sudden surge of energy, on a mental count of three, I finally did it, leaping to her feet, smoothing down her dress, stepping back into her heels, and unlocking and throwing open the door, pulse racing with terrified anticipation.

 There was nobody there. Nobody that is, except for Liam, her Guardian Angel, whom she’d almost forgotten about, awaiting her at the top of the stairs. “Hi”, he said.
“Hi”, she somehow managed to reply. Her voice sounded weird, alien, as if she had never heard herself speak before. Liam was holding a glass of orange juice out towards her, his smile kind and welcoming. She had a sudden, crazy urge to tell him she loved him, but thankfully enough of her rationality remained to prevent her from doing so. Instead she took the juice and drank it down like someone who’d just emerged from a thirsty desert trek. She followed Liam as he turned and stepped towards a slightly ajar door. They stepped inside. Liam turned on a light. “You can be quiet in here for a while; rest; I’ll sit with you if you like,” he said.

There was a single bed. It looked inviting. Liam pulled back the crisp sheet and fluffy, colourful-covered quilt. Jenny kicked off her shoes and crawled beneath the covers.

***

She remembered nothing else until she awoke with a pain inside her skull so intense and piercing that she was afraid to open her eyes and face the hellish sensory overload that she knew sight would bring. When I finally did so, the clock radio on the bedside table told her that it was 5.15 in the morning. The empty glass next to it prompted her to remember where she was and how she had got there. All party sounds had ceased; all was quiet save for the feathered dawn chorus and the raspy, smoky husk of her own breath. She sniffed; she smelt of sweat and puke and recently decanted farts. She closed her eyes again, screwing up her face with hazy memories and self disgust.

 She began to check herself over physically. Her clothing was intact but skew whiff, displaced, as though she’d undressed then dressed again in a hurry. She felt a weak pain down below, and her hand strayed between her legs and inside her knickers in search of its source. She was sore. She was bruised. She felt swollen. She removed her hand and raised her fingers to her eyes for confirmation of what she already knew. In the dim morning light she could see that they were dotted with thin, watery blood.

Jenny lay there for a few more moments before she at last roused herself from the bed, found her shoes and carried them under her arm as she padded my way back into the bathroom to wash her hands and face and once more rinse her mouth. She applied feminine deodorant from the well stocked Curtis family selection and half-quenched her raging, sandpaper thirst with a long drink of cold water. She made her way down the stairs, still carrying her shoes so as not to disturb anyone, ears straining for signs of life. She could her snoring from somewhere and the sound of creaking bedsprings from somewhere else. She wondered if Cassy was still in the house. She wished for nothing more than to be home in the security of her own bed.

 She exited via the back door, through the garden where she’d first spotted Liam; through the gate and into a world that had taken on a misty, unreal, gothic character that in other circumstances she would have found appealing.

Jenny walked through quiet streets, her heels clip-clopping on the pavement. She was seen only by the occasional early morning driver, and a milkman who leered nauseatingly at her as his float kerb-crawled slowly passed. Her mind was blank, thought and memory stilled by a tiredness that, despite her recent oblivious state of unconsciousness, suggested she had not slept at all.

***

“That you love?” It was her mother, shouting down the stairs as Jenny entered her front door, her anxious enquiry  accompanied by her father’s animal-like Saturday lay-in snore.
“Yeah, don’t worry. I stayed over at Cassy’s but we had a bit of a row so I came back early. I’m just going to have a shower and go to bed.”
“OK love.”

She washed away the stench of the night before as best she could, and then just lay there on her bed, not sleeping, not thinking, as empty as a discarded shell as the morning gave way to the afternoon. Her parents had gone out at ten-thirty, out to visit her grandparents for the day, sparing Jenny the ordeal of their concerned questioning, as well as the traditional family, fried Saturday brunch. The single phone in the hallway rang frequently and unanswered from midday onwards. Cassy arrived at just after four. Jenny had known she would come. 

“Hi,” said Cassy brushing past Jenny at the front door, entering the hallway without waiting to be invited. Such was their friendship that there was generally no need. “I’ve been ringing you and ringing you,” she said as she bounded up the stairs en route to my bedroom.

“Sorry,” mumbled Jenny, following her

Inside the bedroom, Cassy had already kicked off her shoes and stretched herself lengthwise across Jenny’s bed. She was wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and had bare feet; her toe nails as black as her T-shirt, as black as her hair. Jenny was wearing her little girl pink, snoopy pyjamas.

“So, what you been doing all day, sleeping off a hangover, or snuggled up with the lovely Liam?”

Jenny said nothing and didn’t join Cassy on the bed. Instead, she sat on the chair by the window, her thinking chair, Cassy’s smoking chair. Cassy looked momentarily confused by Jenny’s cold, reticence but, as was her way, brushed this aside by continuing to talk.

“Come on, Jen’, let’s compare notes. You look awful. I thought I was bad. I was lucky I had what’s his name, Chris, to get me home. He sorted us a taxi after we’d, well you can guess the rest. We looked for you, but you’d gone. I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again. Nice guy and everything, OK for a one-off, but no. Not my type. So, give us the gossip then, about you and Mr. gorgeous. Still intact ‘down there’ are we, or did you finally given it up?

 Jenny started to cry, covering her face with her hand. Cassy looked confused again; and then she got off the bed and joined Jenny by the window, putting her arms awkwardly around her best friend as she sobbed into her shoulder. “Come on Jen’, what’s wrong, what’s happened? Tell your aunty Cassy all about it. You really did it with him; that’s it, isn’t it? I know the first time can be emotional. I mean, it wasn’t for me, I hardly even remembered it the next morning to be honest, but that’s what they say isn’t it, in the problem pages? At least yours was gorgeous. He wouldn’t have needed to ask me twice. You’re lucky, my first was horrible, Michael Regan, covered in spots with greasy hair and bad breath, standing up in his dad’s shed after half a bottle of vodka.”

Jenny stopped sobbing and detached herself from Cassy. Now she knew that she was going to tell her, that she was going to tell someone, a strange sort of calm took over her. She got up, walked across the thick carpet, and sat down on the edge of her bed. “That’s just it,” she said, looking down at the floor. “He didn’t ask me; not twice and not once.”

Cassy had that confused look again. She joined Jenny on the bed. “What do you mean ‘he didn’t ask’? You mean you’re upset because he didn’t fancy you? More fool him, your absolutely gorgeous you are. Loads of lads fancy you.”

“No, I don’t mean that. I mean he didn’t ask first before he... Or, if not him, then somebody else didn’t ask before...”     

Jenny couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence. Cassy was silent. The silence was ended by an intake of breath that was as short as it was sharp. “My God, Jen’, do you mean what I think you mean?”

Jenny leant her head against Cassy’s shoulder. “Yes, I think I do.”

 Cassy put her arms around Jenny. “Oh Jenny,” she said.

Jenny told her the whole story, what she knew of it, without sobs or interruptions, from meeting Liam in the garden, to waking up alone in that strange bedroom.

“This is terrible, really terrible. But you can’t be a hundred percent sure it was Liam, can you?” said Cassy once Jenny’s sorry tale had come to an end. “Not if you don’t remember anything.”

They were laid on their backs now, holding hands.

“Not a hundred percent, no. I mean, it could have been Liam, or it could have been someone else, someone who just came into the room, saw me lying there, and just…took his chances. But I know Liam was there, before I passed out. I remember him being there, so it’s more than likely it was him. He could have put something in my orange juice. I was so out of it, and I wouldn’t have got like that from a few drinks and a bit of dope. OK, I know I’d never tried pot before and he did say it was strong, but it can’t have been that strong, not so strong that I’d pass out unconscious and be so out of it that someone could have sex with me without me even noticing.”

 Cassy was silent again. There was no music or light on in the room and outside the open window the world was quiet, and darkening.

“Well, Liam or not Liam, whoever it was is a fuckin’ low life bastard,” she said at last.  

Not long after, the sky outside is completely dark, the still quiet bedroom now dimly lit by Jenny’s bedside lamp. Cassy is pacing the floor in her bare feet, holding a half-finished No.6 King-size between her index and middle fingers.

“You’ve got to tell Jen’, you’ve just got to; tell the police, or at least your parents.”

Jenny was in the thinking chair, looking at the stars through the wide open window. “Telling my parents and telling the police is the same thing. My parents will tell the police anyway if I tell them, that’s if my dad doesn’t track Liam down and kill him first.”

Cassy stopped pacing for a moment and took a big drag of her cigarette. “Your dad’s not like that,” she said. “Your dad’s a teacher.”

Jenny shrugged. She had to admit that the idea of her dad as a Charles Bronson style vigilante was a bit ridiculous, even though he did have a moustache. “Well, anyway, they’ll still make me go to the police.”

Cassy resumed pacing, but more slowly. “Well, they have to, don’t they? You have to. I mean, I know it’s a horrible word, but you’ve got to face it. You’ve been…”

Jenny interrupted quickly. “Please don’t say that word Cass’.”

Cassy stopped pacing again and took another drag of her cigarette. “OK. But it still happened. And that is…my God… that is massive Jen’.”

Jenny continued to stare out of the window and was silent for a long time. Finally she spoke: “It doesn’t have to be,” she said.

Cassy walked over and threw her still burning stub out of the window, in the general direction of next doors garden. “It doesn’t have to be what?” she said.

“It doesn’t have to massive.”

Fact is, as the evening had progressed, whilst talking to Cassy, Jenny’s thoughts had become more and more clear. At first, when she’d arrived back from the party and until Cassy’s arrival, she’d felt numb. Then the tears had come. Now, if anything, her main emotion was one of determination, a determination not to let this one event, this one piece of scum, whoever it was, dominate the rest of her existence.

“What do you mean ‘it doesn’t have to be massive’” said Cassy, perching herself on the edge of the bed. “It is massive Jen’. It just is. Huge. Like the biggest thing that’s ever happened to either of us.”

 Part of Jenny suspected that Cassy was starting to get off on the drama of it all, and she mildly resented her for this. Jenny turned towards her, away from the window, keeping her voice even. “I know, I know. But it’s only huge if I let it be huge. Why can’t I just ignore it and walk away, pretend it never happened, if that’s what I choose to do? It’s my life, and I like my life. I don’t want to face all sorts of questions about my none-existent sex life. I don’t want my private bit to be physically examined. I don’t want sympathy and I don’t want people saying I was ‘up for it’ because I had a short skirt on and was drinking and smoking dope. The mad thing is, I would have been up for it, if he’d asked me. Liam I mean, if it was Liam. I mean, I fancied him, you fancied him, he could have anyone, so why did he have to…anyway, it’s too late now. It’s happened and I can’t change that. But it’s up to me how I deal with it. I just want to carry on being me, carry on growing up. I want to go to more parties and have boyfriends, decent boyfriends who prefer a girl to be conscious when they have sex with her. I want to go to university and have fun and decide what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to travel and have adventures. I know it’s big, being raped. Yeah, I know I said the word, raped. I’ve been raped. I know that and you know that and Liam, or whatever bastard did it to me knows that, but the rest of the world doesn’t have to fuckin’ know it. I don’t want to be a victim for the rest of my life, and I’m not going to be. Why should I let that scum dominate the rest of my life?”

Jenny had shocked herself with the clarity of her argument. She’d shocked Cassy too. “And suppose he does the same to some other poor cow?” she said after detaching another cigarette from the packet.

Jenny looked away from her. “Then I hope she reports him and he goes down for life, or she tells her dad and her dad’s a Kung Fu expert rather than an English teacher, and he goes around and smashes every bone in his fuckin’ body. But it’s not going to be me who makes that happen. Sorry, but it’s just not.”

Cassy said nothing, looking down at the carpet. The sound of Jenny’s parents arriving home, signalled by the familiar, metallic turn of her dad’s key in the lock, made it vital that Jenny drew matters to a close. “Please promise me you won’t say anything,” she said. “Not tonight, not ever. Not to anyone.”

Cassy nodded slowly, “Of course, I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you want. I think you’re wrong, but it’s not up to me, is it?”

***

Cassy kept her promise, as Jenny knew she would. She also did a bit of digging in the immediate aftermath of the party.

It turned out that Liam’s second name was ‘Cross’, and that he lived on the Attlee estate, not far from Cassy’s house. The friend called Mark he’d mentioned at the party was Beverly Curtis’ cousin. That’s how Liam had got an invite to the party in the first place. Mark played drums in Liam’s band, the Tin Cans. He had a reputation as a bit of a stud; a lot of girls claimed to have been with him, which wasn’t very surprising as he was both good looking and in a band. No one said anything particularly bad about him, apart from one girl who’d ‘dated’ him a couple of times, a girl called Sam who Cassy knew vaguely from the estate who said he was ‘a bit of a creep; not as nice as people think he is.’ She declined to elaborate. This could of course have been nothing more than a case of a teenage girl scorned, but it still went into Jenny and Cassy’s mental file of evidence for the prosecution.

Cassy even saw Liam once, by the shops on the estate, smoking with a gang of his mates. She said he leered at her, though without any sign of remembering her from the party. She gave him the dirtiest look she could manage and walked on. After that brief encounter, there were no more sightings. The word on the street was that Liam had gone away to Art College, just as he’d told Jenny he planned to do that night.

Gone, but for Jenny, never to be forgotten. If nothing else, the baby growing inside of her, the baby that would grow into her beautiful, unconditionally loved son Terrence saw to that.

*** 

It was three days after Cassy’s revelation in the park and Jenny’s head was more full of Liam than it had been in years. She was talking to Counselling supervisor Tom. All therapists are required to have a fellow professional whom they can off-load to. Without it Jenny knew she wouldn’t be able to cope with her chosen profession, with the psychological and emotional demands of dealing with other people’s problems day after day. Tom had been her Supervisor for two years. He was fifty, and good looking in a dishy older man kind of way. Jenny knew virtually nothing about his private life, or his private opinions. She didn’t even know if he was gay or straight. It was better that she knew nothing about him. A therapeutic relationship works best when the therapist adopts the role of an empty vessel, a blank mirror with which to reflect back the true feelings of the client.

They were facing each other in his office, their knees almost touching. It was a sunny afternoon, but the blind on the high window was drawn against the outside world. A fan was white-noise-whirring gently in one corner. The room smelled subtly of lavender incense.

“We’ve talked about it before, of course,” said Tom, “but it’s probably a good idea for us to go over it again now; for you to speak out loud how you felt when you found out you were pregnant. Because that’s the key to your decision here, isn’t it, the existence of Terrence?”

He was right of course. If Jenny hadn’t got pregnant, if she hadn’t had Terrence, then she would have probably have just ignored Liam’s renewed presence; either that or simply taken out some relatively petty and gratuitous revenge on him, exposed him as a teenage rapist in a crowded supermarket perhaps, and then moved on with my life. The fact of Terrence and his likely parentage somehow called for a more subtle approach.

“Yeah he is, because Liam is his biological father, well probably, almost certainly. Before, I could put that out of my mind, kid myself that it wasn’t the case, or that it didn’t matter if it was the case or not. But is it right that they could pass each other in the street and neither of them know?”

Tom looked at her intently, kindly. “A lot of women in your position would be fine with that,” he said.

“Yeah, I know. Cassy certainly would. But I’m not so sure. Terrence is an adult now. All he’s ever known is that he was the result of a one-off. He’s never pushed for more than that. He practically regards Steve as his dad. I mean we were together fifteen years, from when Terrence was eight. We might have broken up, but Steve has been a great dad, to Terrence, he always treated him the same as he treated Amy, his own child. But Terrence must wonder. Probably he just never speaks it out loud, out of respect for me, and you and me both know, as psychologists that unanswered questions always rise to the surface eventually. I’d hate it if he really did start pushing, and I had to lie to him and keep on lying. He’d end up resenting me.”

“He’s always known he was wanted,” said Tom.

“Oh, yeah; there was never any doubt I was going to keep my baby. That much is true, and Terrence knows that. Maybe it was just Catholic guilt, but it was my Catholic guilt, my decision. I could never have had an abortion. It wasn’t easy, but I got through it, with my parents support; and Cassy’s. I’ve no regrets on that score.”

She paused, and then continued as another thought occurred to her. “And the other thing is that Liam, if it was Liam, should know that there were consequences to his actions. Physical consequences as well as psychological consequences.”

Tom nodded. There was a long silence. It wasn’t oppressive, just a supportive space in which the two of them could gather their thoughts. Out of this space, grew something new.

“You know,” Jenny began hesitantly, “I’ve never told you this before, never told anyone, not even Cassy. But the first thing I did when I realized I was pregnant was to go out and have sex. It was with a lad called Colin who I knew vaguely from the next road to ours. I got talking to him in the local café and just invited myself back to his for coffee. He knew exactly what ‘coffee’ meant. Neither of us even drank coffee. Not many teenagers did, then. His parents were at work and we did it on his single bed. We didn’t use protection. I told him I was on the pill. He must have thought all his Christmas’s had come at once. It didn’t last long, but it was nice, and it served its purpose. He came sniffing around a couple of times after that. I gave him the brush off and then decided I’d better say something before I started to show. So I just told him I was pregnant but not to worry, it was nothing to do with him. He looked shocked and relieved and didn’t bother me again.

“I think I just didn’t want to have a baby and my only experience of sex to be forced-sex, unconscious sex. I think it helped me. If I’d left it too long then sex could have become a big issue for me. As it is I’ve never had a problem with that side of my life, never had a problem with men in general. I know you’re not all bastards.”

Tom smiled his kindly, wise, attractive smile. “You’ve done brilliant. To go through something like that and not let it dominate your life is amazing.”

“Thanks, yeah. I think it kind of made me grow up fast, almost instantly, emotionally. I’d never really been that reflective before. Teenagers aren’t, are they? Not until something big happens. Liam made me into a therapist.  As you know, when I did my Masters I did my dissertation on Somnophilia, on men who are turned on by having sex with, or at least the thought of having sex with women who are sleeping. I mean, I don’t know if Liam is or was into that. But that’s another reason for meeting him, to know him better, to understand him. That night at the party has defined me, but what place does it have in his life? Maybe he doesn’t even remember it. Or maybe he has been wracked with guilt all these years. Or maybe I was the first in a long line, in which case I was wrong not to report him. I’ll take responsibility for that. Maybe he’s been in therapy, or in prison. Maybe he just put it down to a one-off teenage indiscretion and never looked back. Maybe he’s spent his life attempting to exercise his demons through his art and his music. Maybe he really did write a song called Down as Rain about me, and it turned out to be his masterpiece.”

“Down as Rain?”

“Yeah, it’s just something I said that night, at the party. Liam said it was a great name for a song.”

Tom nodded again. “The other possibility, of course, is that it wasn’t Liam at all; maybe you’ll be looking for answers from the wrong man.”

“Yeah, maybe. I’ve always been open to the possibility that it wasn’t him. Although…I’ve always thought Terrence had a look of Liam about him, although that could be imagination; Cassy says it is. And to be honest, Liam’s face is just a shadowy blur to me now; has been for years. Then again, Terrence is in a band just like Liam; DNA and all that. But yeah, maybe it’s not him, though it just seems so unlikely that someone else came into the room that night and… anyway, I’ll know when I meet him. Don’t ask me how I’ll know, but I’ll know.”

Tom was looking at her intently again, holding eye contact. “It sounds to me like you’ve already made your decision,” he said.

***         

 The actual mechanics of meeting Liam emerged through a wine fuelled discussion with Cassy in Jenny’s back kitchen. Jenny was sat at the table cradling her drink. Cassy was sat by the open back door, smoking.

“I thought you were on the electronic ciggy’s now?” said Jenny.

“I am, mostly; I forgot to charge it up.”

Jenny nodded and took a sip of her drink. “I’m like that with me phone…anyway, what do you think I should do, about meeting Liam?”

Cassy took another drag and discarded her cigarette into the garden “Mm, what about not meet him?”

Jenny shrugged. “We’ve been through that, and that’s not an option. I’m not really sure why it’s not, but it’s not. So, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how.”

Cassy joined her at the table and picked up her own nearly empty wine glass, draining it with a single drop. “What about just walking up to him outside the Tesco Extra or something and saying ’excuse me, you probably don’t remember me, but my name is Jenny and I think you raped me at a party twenty five years ago. You got me pregnant and we have a twenty four year old son. Can we go somewhere to talk?’”  

Jenny smiled. “Well, there’s something to be said for the direct approach; any other ideas?”

Cassy nodded briskly. “Yeah, I have, I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot; and what I’ve come up with is: why not write him a letter. You can post it to that house I’ve seen him coming in and out of. He must be living there.”

“And say what, all that stuff you’ve just said about him raping me at a party a quarter of a century ago?”

Cassy shook her head, her eyes looking sadly at the empty glass. “No, you’re going to have to be a bit coy, a bit sly. Just say something like ‘you probably won’t remember me, but we met years ago and I have something important I’d like to discuss with you.’ Don’t say too much, keep it vague. Give him a false name, but make sure it’s a female false name. A guy would never agree to meet another guy from a letter like that, but a girl’s name will get him intrigued, no guy can resist a mystery woman. He’ll be going through all the women he’s ever shagged, wondering which one might be desperate for a repeat performance.”

Jenny shook her head doubtfully. “Or which one he got pregnant, or which one he raped.”

Cassy shrugged again, toying with the stem of her glass. “Maybe, maybe; but he’ll still have to know. The not knowing would drive him mad.”

“OK, sounds feasible. But what next, I give him my phone number or email?”

 “No, no way. Just tell him a date and a time and place where you’ll meet him. Better make it somewhere public. I’ll go with you, if you like.”
“OK. I’m liking it so far; I think. Except, what if he doesn’t show?”
“Well, If he doesn’t show, he doesn’t show; we’ll cross that bridge if and when; we’ll think of a Plan B. But I’m betting he’ll be there; I mean, what man could resist a rendezvous with a mystery woman from his past?”

It was a good plan; if Cassy knew one thing, it was the psychology of men. It took Jenny a couple of days to muster the courage and find the right combination of words, but she stuck more or less to the brief Cassy had given her, concluding the letter with “… I will meet you in the beer garden of the Minstrel’s Hat pub at three in the afternoon…’ and she gave a date one week on from the writing of the letter. She hand wrote the letter, figuring that this personal touch would be more likely to pique his interest than clean lines of computer generated type. She marked the envelope for the attention of Mr. Liam Cross, and posted it to the address that Cassy had given her. The Minstrel’s Hat was just around the corner from Spark Street, almost in the centre of the Attlee estate, so he was bound to know it. It also had a beer garden which Jenny had visited a couple of times with Steve. If she was to meet Liam, she would prefer it to be outside.

She signed the letter ‘Beverly’.              

***    

It was a dull, drizzly, though humid day, and, apart from Jenny, sipping her ’Grande’ cappuccino at a round wooden table sheltered by a large stripy parasol, the concrete ‘beer garden’ was completely empty. As agreed, Cassy was waiting inside the pub with her mobile at the ready, should her friend need her.

As is almost always the case when you haven’t seen someone in a long, long time, a part of Jenny expected Liam to have not changed at all; to still be wearing the same Eighties clothing with the same subtle application of make up on his youthful face. Her rational self, of course, knew that this was ridiculous, and worried that she would not in fact recognize him at all. The plan was that Cassy would first alert her with a text, should see spot him first.

Another part of Jenny hoped that Liam wouldn’t show at all. She’d already decided that if that happened, then that would be that. There was no plan B.

He appeared at two minutes before the appointed hour, emerging through the back door of the pub, carrying a pint of orange juice, curiously scanning the empty tables before spotting Jenny sitting alone. He walked over with an air that combined apprehension and confidence in more or less equal proportions. Jenny eyed him nervously. Her phone bleeped. She glanced at the message. ‘He’s here,’ it said.
“Beverly?”

Over the years, her memory of him had become indistinct, impressionistic, reduced to a series of blurry broad-brush strokes; his good looks rendered incongruous by a sinister smile that she knew full well was a later invention of her mind. But even without Cassy’s text alert, even in a room full of similarly dressed, similarly aged males she would have known it was him.

He was still trim and darkly handsome; still had those same intense, marble-black eyes; still the same close-cropped but definitely intact hair. Of course, like Jenny, like Cassy, like everyone of similar vintage, there were a few lines around his face. He wasn’t Peter Pan. But if he’d spent the past twenty five years tortured by guilt and self-recrimination, then it certainly didn’t show in his appearance.

“Yes,” lied Jenny, in answer to his opening query.
“Liam,” he said extending a clean, delicate hand. He was clearly a stranger to manual labour.
“I know,” she said, not taking his hand, merely acknowledging its presence with a nod whilst wordlessly indicating for him to sit. He did so, pulling out the chair opposite, placing his drink on the table, his nerves visibly increasing in response to the cold, apparent disinterest of Jenny’s greeting.

She hadn’t fully worked out how she was going to play this. She was relying on her Psychotherapy training and basic sanity to see her through, without attempting to foresee every possible eventuality.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” she said, impressing herself with the even confidence of her voice. Liam scanned her face with his eyes.
“No, I…”
“And even if you did, I wasn’t sure that I would recognize you after all this time.”
“No, I…”

 “You have no idea who I am, have you?”
“No, I…well, no…Beverly you said, in your letter, and just now. Beverly…”

He waited for Jenny to fill in the gap. Jenny said nothing, keeping her eyes upon him, unblinking. It felt good to have the upper-hand, to see him squirm. Liam continued, floundering.

“You do look slightly familiar, but no, I…I don’t know who you are, no, not really.”

Jenny kept her voice calm.

“That’s OK. It’s been a long time. Twenty five years to be exact. You were drinking orange juice the last time we met too: had a couple of spliff’s before you set off, did you?

Liam looked shocked, even a little afraid. “I beg your pardon?”

She shrugged, almost enjoying myself. “’Never mix the booze and the weed’, isn’t that what you said, way back when?”

It was his turn to shrug.

“How old are you now Liam?”
He was still searching her face, trying to work Jenny out, trying to remember. “Well, I’m not sure it’s any of your…”

He stopped abruptly and looked on the verge of doing a runner. Jenny pre-empted this by chipping in quickly. “Forty three isn’t it?”

A trace of a smile flickered across his face. “Well, yes it is actually. Look…”
“That would make you eighteen when we last met.”
“OK.”
“I was fifteen.”
“OK.”
“Fifteen, Liam.”
He was growing visibly impatient now, even a little angry. Perhaps he’d envisaged this meeting as the chance to rekindle a long forgotten passion, the afternoon maybe turning into a night spent in his bed back at Spark St. This fantasy was fading rapidly.

“Yes, fifteen, you just said,” he said. “Now, can you please tell me what this is all…”
“Shall I try to jog your memory a bit?”
 “It might be a good idea, yeah.”
Jenny’s phone bleeped again. She looked at the message impatiently, somewhat annoyed at the interruption. ‘U OK,’ it said. She rapidly thumbed a simple ‘OK’ and hit ‘send’, efore quickly returning her full attention to Liam.

“OK then, sorry about that. Here goes: Do you remember a party inside the Catholic cemetery on the Attlee estate, not far from where you’re living now, not far from Spark Street?” He was visibly shocked that Jenny knew where he lived. He was visibly trying t keep himself together, though his hand shook noticeably as he took a sip of his drink, his face almost a parody-mask of thought. “I do actually, sort of, vaguely. It was a friend’s cousin’s party.”
“Yes. It was Beverly Curtis’ party.”
He put down his drink. “That’s right, Beverly Curtis, Paul’s cousin. Yes; I remember; sort of.” A light bulb seemed to come on, his eyes shining almost in triumph. “You’re Beverly Curtis!”
Jenny shook her head. “No, I’m not Beverly Curtis.”

The light went off again. “Oh.”

“I’m not really called Beverly at all.”
“OK.”
“I lied about my name. “
“OK; and do you have any intention of telling me why, and who you are really?”
“Yes, I do. My name is Jenny.”

He studied her closely, his face looking as though he was trying to recover a dream. If he did remember the party, then he showed no sign of connecting it with any misdemeanour on his part.

“You do look kind of familiar. Jenny, you say? And we met at Beverly Curtis’ party, the one in the cemetery, back in the late eighties?”
“Yes.”

He took another shallow drink. He smiled for the first time and Jenny briefly remembered why she’d found him so attractive, that night. She forced the thought away as Liam resumed. “Look Jenny, I’m sure you’re a very nice woman and everything, but this whole thing is starting to freak me out. Are you going to tell me what it’s all about, before I go mad?”
Jenny nodded, took a sip of her now cold cappuccino.

“OK. We met in the garden. I’d gone for a walk. You were smoking a joint. You gave me some and we talked. You told me about your band. They were called the Tin Cans.”

He looked shocked that she knew the name of his band, but more shocked-intrigued now, rather than shocked-scared. Jenny continued. “We went into the cemetery. We saw a couple having sex on a grave.”

Suddenly, the light came on again, this time a hundred times brighter. “And you got sick!”

Jenny’s pulse was racing at the connection of the moment, her voice in severe danger of cracking. By almost superhuman effort, she kept control. “Yes, I got sick.”

He nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “Yes, now I remember you. We talked and you got sick. You had to go inside to use the toilet. Yeah, Jenny, wow…We were both there with friends who’d got off with other people. But I still don’t understand why…”

Her eyes fixed his; her simple words a concealed weapon. “Yes, I went upstairs to use the toilet. Then, what happened next? You take up the story, Liam; because I really don’t remember much.”

From looking excited, he reverted to looking confused and scared. “Well, I don’t know. This is…I remember you were in the toilet a long time. I could hear you being sick. I was worried. I waited for you. I think I gave you a drink. Then you went to sleep it off, and I left. I considered contacting you, afterwards. I liked you. But I didn’t have a number or anything.”
Jenny shook her head.

“Yes, you did give me a drink. But I didn’t go somewhere to sleep it off, it was you who took me somewhere.”
“Did I?”
“Yes; into one of the bedrooms. Then the next thing I knew it was a quarter past five in the morning.”
He looked worried now. “OK.”
“You had gone. Everybody had gone.”
“OK.”
She paused, gathering herself. He was looking at his drink. She waited until he looked up, until eye contact was resumed, and then she let the words fly like arrows, hard and straight and even.

“And I had been raped.”

Liam’s jaw almost hits the table. “What?”
“I said that I’d been raped, as in penetrated sexually without first giving consent. I went to the party as a fifteen year old virgin, and left it as a fifteen year old rape victim; a pregnant fifteen year old rape victim, actually.”
Liam was shaking his head. “My God; and you think that it was me who…”
“Raped me? Yes.”

He picked up his drink, and then put it down again without drinking. His hand was shaking more strongly now, like an alcoholic before his first drink of the day. He reached into his pocket and took out a packet of cigarettes, a packet of Moore’s, what Steven, and Terrence, would call a poser’s cigarette. “Do you mind if I…” he started to say, before realizing the ridiculousness of asking Jenny’s permission in such circumstances. He took out one of the long, thin, brown tubes and lit it with difficulty with his Zippo. He took two deep, needy drags before speaking in a voice that was hesitant and on the verge of breaking. “Look, if that happened to you…”
“It did happen to me.”
“Then I’m really, really sorry. That is disgusting; way beyond fucking disgusting. But it wasn’t me, OK? You have to believe me. I would never, ever, ever do anything so…disgusting. Not then, not now, not ever. OK?”

His manner was not at all as Jenny had expected; not at all that of a cornered rapist. But then, is there a template for how a cornered rapist would behave? For the first time doubts flickered, doubts that had lain suppressed in the shadows of her sub-conscience for a quarter of a century. She ignored them as though they were unwelcome guests, for now. “I had a son,” she said. “His name is Terrence. He’s twenty four now.”

Liam didn’t reply, just shook his head slowly as retro-eighties synth’ music began to waft ironically towards them from the interior of the pub. The doubts surfaced again, stronger than ever. It wasn’t just a mental doubt, it was a doubt that began in the pit of her stomach and radiated outwards through every cell in here body. “Do you have children, Liam?” she said weakly, the hardened, feigned ice-queen exterior of earlier all but gone.
“Yes, I do actually, two; a boy and a girl.”
“Same as me.”
“OK.”

“How old?”

“Sixteen and eleven.”

“And you’re married?”

“Not anymore.”

“Same as me.”

It was in this moment that the doubt transformed itself into the shocking certainty that she’d been wrong; a long time wrong. It wasn’t so much anything he’d said, or even his manner of saying it, though both of these things came into it. She’d had told Tom that she would just know; and, in this moment, she knew.

She looked down at the table as her voice disintegrated into a series of uncontrollable sobs. Liam looked as embarrassed as any man confronted with the emotion of an unknown woman. Jenny fought for control, and gained it.
“It wasn’t you who raped me, was it?”
He shook his head.

“No.”

He handed her a tissue and she cleaned her face as best she could. They talked some more, at first hesitatingly, and then more freely. Jenny texted Cassy that her presence was no longer required. Their conversation moved inside as the rain increased in volume and intensity and the afternoon humidity gave way to an early evening chill. Their tongues were further loosened tongues by drinks stronger than coffee and orange juice. She asked him to tell her everything he remembered about that night. His recollection was hazy, but he remembered the two of them meeting in the garden, and their walk around the cemetery. He remembered the couple having sex on the grave, and Jenny getting sick; and, when it came to what happened in that bedroom, his memory was at least better than Jenny’s.

“You were out of it, really out of it. I regretted giving you the dope, ‘cos it really was strong stuff, almost like the skink these kids today get wasted on; and you obviously weren’t used to it, especially on top of booze you’d had. I remember thinking it was a pity, because I did like you, and I was hoping we might… get to know each other a bit more. I remember I covered you up and tucked you in a bit when you got in the bed, and that was that. I left you to it. I left the party and went home. It’s horrible to think that someone came in after that and…”

“Yeah.”

 He said that he’d thought of her often over the next days and weeks, then less so, and then, as he departed for a new life as an art student in London, not at all. “You just move onto the next thing, don’t you, at that age?”

“Yeah, except I couldn’t, not really.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, I…jumped to conclusions. I should have confronted you at the time; I would have known, then. But…I didn’t; and I’ve not done too badly really. I have two beautiful children; a job I love; a marriage that ended but I don’t regret. I’ve made a life, but it’s always been there; what happened.”

“Of course.”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t be burdening you with all this; it’s nothing to do with you.”

“No, but I don’t mind, really I don’t mind.”

“Thanks.”

“So, what are you going to do now?”

Jenny downed her Vodka and orange. “Do? Just carry on with my life, I suppose. It’ll be difficult though, because, in a strange way, believing it was you who did it, made things easier for me. At least I had a name and a face. Now, I have nothing, just some shadow who came out of the darkness, took what he wanted from me and then just disappeared, forever. Because I’ll never know now, will I?”

“Liam shrugged, cradling his pint. “I suppose not, no.”

There was a lengthy silence, broken by Jenny. “Can I ask you one last thing, then I promise I’ll stop, talk about Coronation Street or our favourite movies or something?”

Liam smiled. “Of course.”

“Ok, my last question is – did you ever write a song called Down as Rain?”

Liam’s smile broadened, his eyes registering surprise. ”Down as Rain?”song title.

“Yeah, it was something I said to you, in the cemetery, something about when I die wanting to come back down as rain and help the flowers grow or something. I was really stoned. You said it was a good song title.”

Liam nodded, still smiling. “It was, it is; and I did write it.   I even recorded it, on a cassette, on my own not with the band. Probably still got it somewhere, I’m a real hoarder for stuff like that.”

Jenny was smiling now. Liam was nodding to himself as if grooving to music that only he could hear. “I’m just trying to remember how it goes. The chorus was something like, and don’t worry I’m not going to sing it, something like ‘When I die, I’m going to come down as rain, to wash away your pain, something, something, something, and every time you forget me, I’ll come down as rain again.’ Shit, isn’t?”

Jenny laughed. “No. it’s…well maybe a little bit, but I’d probably need to hear the music.”

“That was shit too.”

***

Jenny and Cassy were in the park, on the bench, looking out at the circular duck lake. “I love the way the babies swim in formation behind mum,” said Jenny.

“Yeah, really sweet; but they’ll fly the nest, or at least swim the neat, soon enough. Just like people.”

Jenny knew exactly what she was saying.

“Yeah, but my two will be first. Terrence has already gone more or less. He’s practically living with flighty Tina now.”

“No girl will ever be good enough for your Terrence, not as far as you’re concerned.”

“Of course not, I’m his mum.”

“Yeah. When they were kids I thought there might be a chance he and your Toyah, might have…”

“Ugh, too weird. We’d have been each other in-laws, or something.”

“Yeah, well, weirder things have happened. Speaking of which, you haven’t said much about Liam.”

“No, well, there’s not much to tell.”

“That sentence sounds like it should end in ‘yet’.”

“Yeah, well, maybe.”

“But you are seeing him now?”

“Why do you make ‘seeing’ sound like a euphemism?”

“Because it usually is.”

“Yeah, well, in that case I’m not ‘seeing’ him.”

“Yet?”

“Maybe ‘yet’, maybe not.”