The Distance Between Us
" Three years! ÖIn Canada!!" He exclaimed.
"Yep, Toronto, Canada"
"Why on earth do you want to go to Canada? Youíve got a perfectly good job here!"
"This is a better job, Iíll be medical director, itís just what I got into medicine for Charlie. Besides, I donít know why you are so surprised, I mentioned this months ago"
"As a possibility, perhaps, but you never said you were actually, seriously going to go through with it. I mean donít I get a say in this at all Baz?" He was furious now, how could she be so selfish? He asked himself.
"Of course you get a say, you can either come with us or not." It came out a lot harsher than she had meant it to.
"Well thatís awfully generous of you!" Charlie snapped back sarcastically.
"I would be mad to turn down an opportunity like this, surely you can see that?"
"All I can see is you putting your job before me, before our family Baz" Now it was her turn to feel hurt.
"Thatís not true. I want whatís best for all of us. And I happen to think that this is best for us. You commuting down to Holby, for your jobÖ " She let the words sink in a second before continuing "Öwas only ever supposed to be a temporary arrangement, itís not been easy trying to conduct a relationship with someone whoís never here!"
" Of course, I should have known that Iíd be to blame for all of this! And here I was thinking it was a joint decision." He didnít care if he was starting to sound petulant, he couldnít understand how she could be so unreasonable.
" We could start a new life, in Canada, put behind us everything that has happened in Holby over the years, Iíd be earning a lot more than I do now. You could retireÖ"
"Retire! Iím not even 50 yet, what the hell would I do all day if I retired?"
"Spend some time with your son?" She had meant it as a sensible suggestion, but Charlie took it as an offensive inference that he wasnít a good Dad. All the blood rushed to his face, his fists clenched, he was shouting now:
"How dare you judge me! How dare you try to run my life! There is no way on Godís earth that I am going to Canada, so if you want to go without me then just go! " He composed himself a little, gritted his teeth and making his way to the door, added in slow, low voice "I couldnít care less".
He didnít see her burst into tears, or hear her yell that he was a complete bastard. Stood in the street outside their house, he was too busy regretting what he had said to notice anything else.
Charlie wandered around Birmingham until it got dark. When it started to rain he took refuge in a pub and ordered a large Scotch. He knew deep down that drinking was only going to make matters worse, but at that precise moment he really didnít care. He liked the feel of it slipping down his throat and so ordered another. The barman asked innocently if it had been a tough day, Charlie gave him the Ďlookí he had perfected during his heavy drinking days that meant ĎPlease donít try to engage me in conversation, just keep the drinks comingí. It seemed to do the trick. Charlie stared absently at the bottom of the glass trying to figure out what to do next. Get totally legless, was the obvious suggestion. After the fourth drink he still hadnít come up with a better idea, so he stayed in the pub until closing.
How he made it home Charlie didnít know, but the front door locks had obviously proved too much of a challenge to his drunken state and he awoke as the sun came up, lying on his doorstep, feeling thoroughly disgusting. Tentatively he let himself in, trying hard to be quiet not only so as to not wake Baz but also to save himself from his rampaging headache. As it happened he neednít have worried about the first one. Baz was already awake; she had heard him come in and was standing in the doorway of the living room waiting for him.
"Where the hell have you been?!"
"As if you care" he grumbled, yesterdayís argument still in his mind. His head throbbed.
"Of course I careÖ" she could feel herself being dragged back into the fight, and decided to change tactics.
"Charlie we really need to talk"
Recognising the note of compromise in her voice, he fought back the urge to say something hurtful.
"I really need a shower and some coffee first" he said. He wobbled on the first step of the stairs. Instinctively Baz reached out to help him, and put her arm around his waist. It felt good, he noted, to have her hold him. Whether it was the effects of the alcohol, or simply the emotion of the moment, Charlie felt a lump come to his throat.
"I donít want to lose you again, Baz, I love you" his own honesty surprised him as much as it did her.
"I donít want to lose you either, my love" she whispered as she took him upstairs.
It took several cups of coffee and many hours of discussion before a compromise was reached, and neither Charlie nor Baz were sure that it was something that they could live with.
"Itís been hard enough only seeing you at weekends for the last 2 years, but only seeing you every few months for the next 3? Iím going to miss you"
Baz snuggled closer to Charlie on the sofa, and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Weíre just going to have to try harder to make it work"
"And run up huge phone bills!" She added.
"I donít want to spend that long away from Louis, Iím frightened heís going to forget who I am."
Baz smiled not realising that Charlie was absolutely serious.
"While Iím getting established there, you know, putting the house in order and everything, maybe it would be best if you kept Louis here. No point in making the poor boy go through more stress than is strictly necessary"
Charlie was still sore about the whole idea and it took all his self-control to stop him from saying ĎWell donít go thení. At least this meant he could spend some more time with his boy.
"I think you could be right" he agreed.
About three months had passed since that miserable evening, and in that time Charlie had astounded himself by how close he now felt to his son. It hadnít been easy at first to arrange his already hectic schedule to fit in a young child, but with the help of his trusty childminder he had somehow managed it. Now he was even more miserable at the prospect of handing Louis back to Baz and returning to an empty flat in Holby. It was a thought that he had done his best to put to the back of his mind, but he couldnít ignore it any longer.
A tinny, muffled voice came over the speaker system, breaking into his thoughts.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at Toronto International Airport, the local time is 4:30pm, please be careful to take all of your belongings with you when you alight the plane. Thank you for flying Canadian Airways, I hope you enjoy your stay here."
They had been travelling all day. Charlie was exhausted, he looked down at the sleeping infant beside him wondering whether to try to wake him, or just carry him off the plane. He decided on the latter. With his coat and holdall on arm and Louis cradled under the other he made his way down the long corridor to collect their luggage. There was no problem in collecting their bags from the huge carousel and as Charlie piled them onto the trolley he was lost in his thoughts:
What am I going to say to Baz?
What will she say to me?
Itís been weeks since we last saw each other; will she have missed me?
Or grown used to me not being around?
As he exited into the arrival lounge he turned to a more practical concern:
What if sheís forgotten sheís supposed to meet us?
Of course his last worry was completely unnecessary, as he walked towards the centre of the room, he caught site of her familiar figure. At the same instant she noticed him, and their eyes met. She was every bit as beautiful as he remembered and he couldnít help grinning at her. She smiled shyly back. For a moment they just stood staring at each other, like something out of a cheesy movie, but instead of running toward each other arms outstretched, and embracing, Baz slowly, awkwardly even, moved towards him.
She noticed Louis, asleep on the trolley, cosy amongst the bags. Bending down, she stroked his hair, as if to assure herself that he was really there, and not just a figment of her imagination. Then she straightened and looked back at Charlie.
"Hi" she said.
"Hello love!" he responded, and held his arms out in a gesture that she should move closer for a hug. She did. Charlie wrapped his arms around her waist and motioned to kiss her. She jerked her head to one side, directing Charlie to her cheek rather than her lips. He tried to convince himself that she wasnít being cold towards him. She pulled further away and let his arms fall back to his sides.
"This is Brent Cummings" she directed her gaze toward a young man on her right. Charlie hadnít even noticed anyone was there until that point. He looked this new man up and down. He was in his early 40ís with thick sandy coloured hair, short at the sides, longer and wavy on top. He was dressed in pretty much the same clothes as Charlie: boots, jeans, fleece, jacket, but somehow managed to look a lot smarter.
"Heís a doctor at the hospital. Brent, this is my husband Charlie." Baz continued.
"Good to finally meet, Heard a lot about you!" Charlie wished he could say the same.
"Yeah, pleased to meet you too" Charlie replied diplomatically wondering what this man was doing at this reunion. Baz obviously saw her husbandís bewilderment, so elaborated.
"Would you believe it, Iíve only had this new car a few weeks and already itís packed upÖ"
"Probably got scared when it saw your driving!" interjected Brent. Charlie knew his wifeís driving had always been somewhat erratic, but that was no excuse for this stranger to make a joke out of it, he made an effort to look offended on her behalf. Baz however did laugh, and nudged Brent playfully before carrying on:
"Anyway, Brent very kindly offered to drive me out here to collect you, it wouldnít have been very practical to come by public transport, not with all that!" She looked back down at the trolley, and smiled warmly at her son.
"Did he sleep all the journey?" she enquired.
"Are you kidding! He was a little monster most of the time, he only settled when the ĎPlease put your seat backs and tray tables in their upright and locked positionsí announcement came on!" Charlie did his best air stewardess voice, and the other two laughed.
They had started their way out of the airport, and were approaching a large green car. Brent started unloading the luggage into the boot. Baz lifted Louis carefully into the back seat of the car, and gestured for Charlie to follow.
"You know I get car-sick when I ride in the back" she said apologetically as she slipped in to the front. Brent got into the driving seat beside her and started the engine.
Soon they were on the motorway, Charlie settled back to enjoy watching the scenery fly by. It was difficult to carry off a conversation with someone in front of you so Charlie had given up, besides there were a lot of things that he wanted to say to her, and somehow it didnít feel appropriate in front of this other guy. Baz and Brent, however, chatted like they had known each other all their lives. It was quite a long trip and Charlie was surprised that Brent was so keen to help after knowing Baz such a short time, it had taken him a whole day of badgering before he got Josh to agree to drop him and Louis at the Holby terminal.
Eventually they arrived at the house. Charlie had seen pictures of it, and read the estate agents report, but nothing had prepared him for the grandeur of it. It was a huge wooden building in the suburbs, 3 storeys and a basement, a medium sized front garden with a porch, and, Baz told him, a huge garden out the back for Louis to run around in.
"Wow!" He couldnít help exclaiming, "A long way from humble beginnings, huh!"
He looked round at her, then realised that there had been nothing humble about her beginnings at all. Her family had always had money. The first time he had seen her flat all those years ago it had seemed like a palace compared to his own dingy bachelor pad. He suddenly felt quite inadequate, like he had done the first time he had met her mother; a proud conservative woman, who clearly did, and Charlie suspected still does disapprove of his working class roots. Baz had long been the major breadwinner of the family, but at least their house in Birmingham had been chosen, bought and decorated as a couple. This place was clearly Bazís.
Brent was taking the bags indoors now, Baz, holding their son, put her hand gently on his arm,
"You going to stand out here all day?" He broke from his musings, and followed her indoors.
The inside of the house was exactly how Charlie had imagined it to be. It was expensive looking, but tasteful; and functional for a working Mum and a small child. He could see she had put a lot of thought into it and understood why she had wanted Louis to stay in England until it was done.
Brent popped his head out of the kitchen door
"How díyou want your coffee Charlie?" he asked.
Charlie was taken aback, Brent obviously knew his way around Bazís kitchen, and theyíd been through the door five minutes and he was already making himself at home. Just how close are you two? Charlie thought bitterly, but he resisted making a big deal out of it, supposing that it was only natural for her to make new friends in his absence.
Over the next two hours Charlie felt he learned Brentís entire life story. He had worked all over the world in his career, including a stint some years ago in Manchester, and it was hearing that Baz hailed from Birmingham that had got the two of them talking in the first place. When they realised that they lived only a few blocks away from each other they had become firm friends, he had even helped her with some of the redecoration. Brent seemed like a nice guy to Charlie and, he pondered, under different circumstances they might have even been friends themselves, but his clear closeness to Baz disturbed Charlie. He resented this other man stealing in and taking his rightful place in her life. The whole conversation revolved around the two of them, with Charlie barely getting the opportunity to say a word. At first he was glad of this as the flight had made him drowsy, but as the evening wore on it was becoming more infuriating.
At the next break in the conversation, Charlie announced that he was tired and needed to go to sleep.
"Iíll show you to the bedroom" Baz got up and led Charlie upstairs.
Charlie shut the door behind them.
"Charlie, what are you doing?"
"Is it so strange that I should want five minutes alone with my wife after not seeing you for so long?"
"Charlie, we have company!" she tried to get around him, but he was blocking the way.
"You could always tell him to leave, surely he would understand that we want some time together?" Her eyes darted around the room trying to avoid his pleading gaze.
"You do want us to spend some time together?ÖDonít you?" She looked uncomfortable.
"Baz, youíre starting to scare me" He went to touch her face, but she backed away.
"CharlieÖ." She wasnít sure how to continue, "CharlieÖ Itís not that I donít want to be with you itís just thatís itís been a long time andÖÖ" She trailed off again.
"And?" He could feel a heaviness in his chest, and a sick feeling in his stomach.
She didnít respond, she knew what it was she wanted to say, she knew that she didnít feel the same for Charlie as she used to, she just didnít know how to tell him. Her life had changed immeasurably in the last few years, and in the last few months particularly. Up until she had taken this new post she had always spent her time, striving for something more, to be someone better, to have the perfect life she had dreamt of when she was little. Now she felt that she had that. She had everything she ever wanted here in Toronto; the only thing she missed was Louis. That was what she wanted to tell him, that she still cared about him, maybe even still loved him, but they had become so distant of late, emotionally as well as geographically, that when he wasnít around she didnít miss him. And now that he was? She didnít know what to say to him.
Charlie was still looking at her, trying to read her thoughts and cutting off her escape route. She had to say something, but she didnít want to do it like this. She had always intended to tell him how she felt when he visited, but she wasnít sure she was ready yet.
"A lot of things have changedÖ.. Iíve changedÖ.YouíveÖ.YouÖ.We.. God, Charlie I canít do this!"
"Do what for heavens sake!" He knew he wouldnít like the answer.
She reached forward and put her hand to his cheek, it was as warm and soft as she remembered. He let her leave it there a moment before bringing his own hand up to clasp it. She tugged it away again.
"I still have feelings for you, very strong feelings for you" Charlie felt the tears well up, stinging the backs of his eyes, he tried to blink them away.
Every second she dragged his out for was like a lifetime of torture to him, she could see that, and had no desire to hurt him. She took a deep breath.
"Charlie IÖI think we should get a divorce" There, she said it. In the same moment she felt a huge relief and crippling agony. She began to cry.
Charlie couldnít bear to look at her, and moved away. He had sensed for some time, a lot longer than he cared to admit, that this might happen but hearing the actual words was much worse than anything he could have imagined. He felt he should ask her why, plead with her to give their marriage another chance, but the awful realisation hit him that it wasnít going to work. The longer they tried to stay together the more they were going to end up hurting each other, and even though he couldnít help but be angry at her for giving up on him, he knew she was right. And that pain was more unbearable than any other.
He turned back to look at her, tears rolling down both of their cheeks. There was one thing he had to ask, but the tears almost choked him:
"Are you?Ö Have you?Ö.Brent?"
"No Charlie!" She said without hesitation "I wouldnít cheat on you" He found it impossible to take any comfort from that statement under the circumstances, and wasnít sure he believed her anyway.
"But the way you are together? The way you talk to each other? You seem so close" he sobbed.
"Maybe thatís just because there is such distance between us" she said softly.
Baz leant forward and kissed Charlie. It wasnít passionate, the way it once was, but it was tender and honest. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again she was gone.
Alone again with his thoughts, he sat down on the bed, and cried himself to sleep.