As usual, Sunday started early, but I felt as though I’d slept well.Leon and I headed out to Georgio’s for our regular breakfast before spending the day doing not very much at all.Joel and I exchanged a few texts, nothing heavy, but it was nice to hear from him.In the afternoon I took Leon out to a gallery where there was a new exhibition I wanted to see.Leon was, predictably, only about 3 percent interested in this, but I try and make sure we go and do stuff like that anyway.I don’t want his only cultural references to be from shitty cartoons on the TV.I know, he’s only four, but I want to do the best I can, right?
Monday morning was the usual flurry of activity, and also mildly disappointing because it was Rachel I met on the playground and not Joel.
“Hey Connor!How was your weekend, huh?”
I could tell by her smirk that she knew all about it already.
“I think it was OK, thanks.I enjoyed it anyway.”
I guess I was hoping that she might confirm that Joel enjoyed it too, but she didn’t.
“So I hear that maybe Andre is having Leon over to stay Saturday night?”
“Really?Wow, news does travel fast doesn’t it.Is that the plan?We haven’t actually talked about it yet.”
I looked over to see Andre and Leon running after each other and laughing, and suddenly felt very protective.Would he be alright staying somewhere else?On his own?Without me?OK, so yes, would *I* be alright with it?
“Oh, sorry, I just thought…”
Rachel was interrupted by the bell ringing.Leon looked over and waved at me before going inside, and I realised that this was a much scarier proposition than I’d imagined it would be.
“Rachel, can I ask you something?”
“OK, it’s just…”. I looked around the playground, a couple of the other mum’s smiled at me on their way home.
“Actually, do you want to get a coffee or something?”
“Yeah, OK.Where do you want to go?”
“I know just the place.My treat.”
A few minutes walk and some pleasant enough small talk later, we’re sitting in one of my favourite little coffee places.An independent that’s just that bit nicer than the usual chains and with mis-matched furniture that somehow doesn’t annoy me by being too self-consciously ‘trendy’.We found a table and ordered our drinks, and cake, they do amazing cake.
“OK, so, firstly, and I know I’m being stupid, but I’m kind of worried about Leon staying over. He’s never been away from me since he moved here.”
“No Connor, you’re not being stupid, you’re just being a parent. But he’ll probably be fine.”
Rachel’s smile was genuine, and the undertone of patronising pity for the new Dad was only in my own head.
“But if he’s not… I can come back, it’s only a couple of hours, whatever time it is…”
“OK, of course. But try not to worry about it so much.”
“Yeah, I’m not so good at that it seems.”
There was a comfortable but brief silence as we both sipped our drinks.
“And the other thing?” Rachel asked?
“Yeah, so, is it unfair of me to ask you about Joel?”
“Yes, completely.So it will cost you.”
She obviously wasn’t being totally serious as she was smiling as she said it.
“Cost me what?”
“What do you want to know?”
“OK, maybe this is actually a bad idea.You’re going to tell him aren’t you?”
“Probably, so what is it?”
“I don’t know, can I trust him, is he serious?This is weird talking to you about this.”
“Fine, I promise I won’t tell him *everything*.So you think he’s not serious?”
“No, it’s not that, I just… I don’t know.If someone else is in my life, I want it to be stable and long term.I don’t want Leon having to deal with more than he has to.”
“Hmmm.And you?What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you serious?”
“Maybe.I mean, we don’t know each other that well really, but definitely maybe.”
I regretted starting the conversation and managed to move it away from Joel and me, and we spent a very enjoyable hour or so just getting to know each other more.Rachel had also been to the new print exhibition, and it was very easy talking to her, at least about things other than her brother and me.Eventually I headed home to the apparently endless tidying up and laundry that I knew was waiting for me before it was time to pick up Leon again.To think, I used to be a bit of a clean freak.That’s definitely not a sustainable position when you have a child living with you, and neither is having so much free time. I needed to take on some more work before I was facing a whole different, and more serious problem.
The week seemed to be dragging along very slowly, and by the time I met up with Helen for lunch on Wednesday I’d only seen Joel once, briefly, at school.We were messaging quite a bit though.
“So what’s new Con?And why do you look so tired?”
“I don’t look tired.Do I?”
“If you say so. How’s work?”
“A little too quiet, but hopefully I can change that soon.”
“And how’s the west end play going?Isn’t it opening soon?”
“Oh, all done, yeah, it’s opening this weekend actually.I had to get a new assistant, but I think I’ve found a great replacement in Kerry.She’s just, you know, she get’s it, she gets me, knows what I mean before I’ve even finished explaining.”
“Sounds great, so you’re going to the opening night?”
“Oh, no, I’ll get to see it eventually though.”
“What?Why ever not?”
“I kind of have a date.”
“What?This is ridiculous!It’s the official first night.Of your first west end show.Your work.In London.How can you even think about not being there?”
“It’s no big deal, I’ve seen rehearsals and I’ve not even been up there very much recently.Besides, it’s hardly even inthe West End, and it’s not even a big show…”
“Bollocks.You’ve been working on this for months!You have to go.I’ll look after Leon, or take him with you, there’s no way you can miss this Con.”
“Helen, honestly, it’s not a big deal.”
“I don’t know why you can’t see it.You are a talented young man, you should be proud of what you've achieved so far, and it’s just the beginning Con.”
“It’s different now, I’ve got Leon, things are different.”
“That’s a shitty excuse and you know it.”
“Stop being mean!”
“Well someone has to tell you.”
Maybe she’s right, Helen has never shied away from robust conversations with me, both professionally and personally.And suddenly, having for a long time conceded that I won’t be there, I couldn’t get rid of the idea of being at the opening night.A feeling that was dangerously close to pride was bubbling close to the surface, which I tried to push away.Helen was definitely right about one thing - why on earth should I notbe proud of such a great achievement? Maybe I should do something about that.
After school on Wednesdays now means only one thing, it’s football night.I fucking hate football.But Leon really likes going, so that’s where I am.And as usual, I’m mostly on my own, not talking to anyone, as I watch Leon play.I talked with a couple of guys there a bit more than I have before.It wasn’t any great bro-bonding moment, but at least I’m feeling slightly less isolated from everyone else there.Since Helen’s well intentioned lecturing at lunch I hadn’t been able to move past the idea, so when we got home I talked to Leon.
“Leon, what do you think about going to Andre’s on Saturday?”
His eyes lit up immediately.
“OK, good.And what about if you stayed all night there?”
“Yeah, if you went to sleep there.”
“Are you going to sleep there too?”
“Well… no, maybe just like a fun thing for you and Andre.And his mum, Rachel, she will be there of course.”
This obviously took some thinking about for him.
“Hey buddy, it’s alright if you don’t want to, you can go play all day and then we can come home like normal.”
“I’m not scared dad!”
“OK, well I didn’t think you were, I was just saying…”
“But where will you be?Will you be on your own?”
He’s so unbelievably adorable he makes my heart hurt sometimes.
“Me?Erm, no, I won’t be on my own.I might go somewhere different for the night as well, with Joel.”
“So you won’t be sad?”
“Sad?No, I promise I won’t be sad.You don’t have to worry about Daddy, OK?”
So it was settled, I think.Probably.Leon could stay over at Rachel’s.We talked about it again as Leon was getting ready for bed, and again after bedtime reading.But I think he’s kind of excited about it.I texted Joel to see if he was free to talk before I bottled out and changed my mind.He called me almost immediately.
“Hey Connor, what’s up?”
“Hi.Nothing, I’m good, but about Saturday…”
“Yeah, don’t worry, I’ve got it all sorted.”
“Oh, really?”I tried not to sound disappointed.
“Why?Oh, are you cancelling?”
“No!Well, not exactly.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m definitely not cancelling.It’s just, can we do something else?”
“But you don’t even know what I have planned.”
“I know, it’s just, I’m really sorry, I wasn’t going to go, but there’s this thing, and now I kind of really want to go, and you can come with me…”
“Do you like the theatre?”
“Yeah, I guess.”He didn’t sound convincing.
“And do you have black tie?”
I explained about the show and the opening night, and he seemed very happy to come along with me.
“Honestly Joel, you don’t have to, we can re-arrange for next week or something.”
“You’re joking? This sounds way more exciting!And I get to see your work and meet all of your fancy London theatre friends.”
“It’s just a play, there’s nothing too exciting about it.And the people… I’m basically taking you to a work thing.Sorry.”
“Whatever you say.But it sounds like a pretty big deal to me. It’ll be fun anyway.”
“OK, thanks.So, I’ll pick you up in the afternoon, then we can get dinner before we go to the theatre?”
“Errr yeah, sure…”
“Well… are you planning on us staying over?”
Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that.And now it was all I could think about.Is it bad to sleep with the guy on our first ‘proper’ date?Do I care that much about the answer?
“Good point.So, it would make sense, yeah.Although I’m still going to drive in case I need to get back for Leon.”
“Leon?He’ll be at Rachel’s won’t he?He’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he will.But still…”
“Connor, it’s fine.If we need to come back, then we can.So what time are we leaving?”
“Two?We’ll have plenty of time to check in and change then.”
“Great.I can’t wait.This is so much better than me taking you to Morello’s.”
“Morello’s?Ha ha - there’s no way you were going to spend that much on dinner for a first date!”
The pause was just a breath too long to be nothing.
“Sure, well, it can wait for another time.I’m looking forward to the weekend already.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Which was frustratingly true.On Thursday I texted Helen to tell her that she had won, and I was going, which seemed to please her.As much as I try and play it down, it is a big deal for me, even if I’m no longer able to take as much time out of my week to get work like it again.I kept checking out with Leon about the whole staying overnight thing, and he didn’t seem at all bothered by the idea, just excited, which was actually helpful to know.I was definitely worried about being away from him way more than he seemed to be.I guess it helps that Leon has gotten to know both Andre and Rachel quite a bit, and Rachel seems to have made it into the list of people that Leon is happy to talk to.
When I got in from the school run Friday morning I finally got around to checking my dinner jacket.No matter how many times this happens, I found myself yet again realising that I really should get stuff like this cleaned immediately after wearing it, not 6 months later when that stain has totally set in.What even is that, curry?Oh yeah, it might be, we went out after the last party, I think.So I ended up paying extra at the dry-cleaners, but at least I was going to be ready on time.
By Saturday morning I was a bit of a mess.Why am I feeling so nervous?What could possibly go wrong?I’m just taking this totally amazing guy on our first proper date to a totally inappropriately ‘serious’ event which just happens to be my professional high point to date.Yeah, no pressure at all Con, you got this.
“Leon, please, come on!I don’t think you you need to re-arrange all of those dinosaurs right now, we need to get ready!”
I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at him.I’m sure I should add the word ‘yet’ there, but my frustration was probably coming through a bit.He was supposed to be choosing a couple of things to take with him for he and Andre to play with, but instead, his room was covered in bloody dinosaur figures because, and I quote ‘they didn’t like being in the box’.I’m getting pretty good at working around Leon, so as he sorted out the dinosaur problem, I packed him clothes, pyjamas, and all the stuff he might need.I definitely packed too much stuff.He finally chose what toys he wanted to take with him, and we were ready to leave.
“OK, so, we have to go to the garage to get the car.”
“Because I’m going to go out today, remember?But don’t worry, I won’t be far away, and I can always come back if you want me to, OK?”
“Yeah buddy, me and Joel are going to see a play, the one I’ve been doing the drawings for.”
He smiled, which I took as a positive response.It was actually slightly further to walk to the garage than it was to walk to Rachel’s house, but I was running short on time so it seemed better to pick it up now.Then I could drive straight over to pick up Joel.The car was a total extravagance, and completely impractical now I had Leon.As much as he loved it, we hardly ever drive anywhere.But at times like this, it’s worth every penny.It’s a classic from 1970, the kind of thing that you can hear coming way before you can see it.We parked outside Rachel’s and she was out of the house before I’d closed the car door.
“Oh my god, Connor, what is that?”
“Erm… it’s a car.”
We exchanged cheek kisses, I’m not sure when that started.Leon was already dragging his bag into her house.Andre came to help but was instead just staring silently at the car.I guess it does look pretty cool.
“But… what is it?”
“It’s a Lotus Elan and it’s older than I am.”
“I had no idea.”
“Well it’s not exactly practical for the school run is it.”
“Ha ha, no, maybe not.Is it really yours?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“And you’re driving all the way in that?”
“Rachel, you’re sounding like my mother.It’ll be fine.”
“If you say so.Are you coming in for coffee?”
I locked the car up and beeped the alarm - a distinctly 21st century addition.Andre and Leon were already making plans for the day and night ahead as I made sure Rachel had my number, and the hotel number, just in case.
“Connor, it’s going to be fine.Is this the first time you’ve left him with someone?”
“Yeah, I guess, I just… sorry, I know it’ll be fine, I just worry.”
“I know.Give me a call later, and tonight if you want, so you can check in with him.”
“Thanks, I will.”
“So you should get going.Don’t tell him I told you, but Joel has been ready since about seven this morning!”
“Ha ha - thanks, that helps.And I won’t say a word.”
I went to find Leon for one last reassuring goodbye.For me of course, not for him.
“Leon, I’m going now, OK buddy?”
I think I got about four seconds of attention from him before he went back to playing with Andre.OK then.
“I’ll see you in the morning then, yeah?Have fun.”
Wow, he didn’t even look up.He’s definitely less anxious than I am.
“He’ll be fine Connor, and I promise, I’ll call you if there are any problems.”
Rachel had come to find me, perhaps just to push me out of the door because I wasn’t sure I would have done it on my own, date or no date, I hated leaving him.
As usual, thanks for reading, and feel free to like or comment in whatever way you choose. Until next time...