Continued from Part Three…
Out of the blue, I got a message from someone in January 2018 asking if they’d just seen me driving around Lincolnshire. Given I was halfway up a mountain in New Zealand at the time, the answer was most definitely no. I didn’t recognise the number or the picture and wondered who it could be, given that everyone I knew in the UK knew I’d moved over here.
Turns out it was The Marine.
I’d actually pretty much forgotten about him; I’d deleted his number (and finally threw away the piece of paper I’d written it on) a year or so before, and I was in a new relationship and a new country. I’d moved on.
A brief chat ensued, which started sporadic contact throughout the year. I’d send pictures of New Zealand, and he’d often remark that he should visit. It went from a casual comment of “Looks amazing, I should go someday” to “I have some leave left in February, I should visit” to “I’ve booked my flights”, with me somehow ending up agreeing to be a tour guide and take him on a roadie for a week.
For the few months between him booking his flights and actually arriving, I had a few doubts. My friends had doubts. They knew how I’d felt back then, and didn’t want to see me hurt.
With him, I felt we might have been a case of right people, wrong timing. So what if it ever got to right people, right timing? How would I feel? But he had a girlfriend – although he never mentioned her on any of his messages. “What does she think of him flying to the other side of the world to spend a week in a campervan with his ex-girlfriend?” everyone asked me. “I don’t know. I haven’t asked him, and it’s not really any of my business. And besides, he’s not coming to see me, he’s coming to see New Zealand.” ‘Hmmm. Yeah right.” They weren’t convinced.
My workmates were definitely more excited than me on arrival day as we tracked his flights and enjoyed marine-themed memes and gifs, the piss-taking keeping any nerves at bay as the time to pick him up got closer.
Standing in arrivals felt different, even though it’s something I’ve done many times since I’ve been here. I twitched from one foot to another, but feeling strangely calm. The first thing I thought when he came through was “his hair’s got fluffy” and we had a hug. He wasn’t as tall as I remember, which is surprising given he’s 6’2″. I guess I’ve been spoilt since.
“Welcome to New Zealand.”
He talked non-stop after that. And I mean non-stop. I wondered if he was nervous. I wasn’t. I let him talk. Right then I didn’t feel anything other than I was catching up with an old friend who had no real active part in my present life. That very fact released me from any expectations or impact.
It wasn’t awkward, not in the slightest. Like we’d only seen each other recently, but yet we had a huge 4 year gap in our lives to fill each other in on.
The first day of our roadie meant several hours in the car with no escape. Benign tales of things we’d done soon turned into more deep and emotional chat about Back Then. If I’m honest, I expected we’d get to this point, but probably much later on and after a couple of beers. I hadn’t thought it would be so soon. I’m not sure I was ready for it.
We discovered we’ve both got a slightly different version of what happened when we split up, and he told me that he’d started seeing the girl he was now in a relationship with in the January of 2015. “What the fuck?” I was pissed off. “We were still together. You came to see me in February before we ended it properly. AND we saw each other in the July.” It cut a little deep.
“But I was only sleeping with her, I wasn’t going out with her then, that didn’t happen for another 6 months or so. You’d told me when you got to Cheltenham you wanted a new start, so I think I’d started to move on. I thought we were over.”
“Over but still seeing each other? You could have fucking waited. Or talked to me about it.” I tried not to sound bitter.
“Yeah I know.” He did seem genuinely contrite.
Silence filled the car. Truth was, it was in the past. What did it matter now?
As we continued to talk, he went deep. Told me stuff he never did back then. Clearly, he’d learnt some things about himself over the last few years. Much more aware of his own emotions and actions, it was an undeniable improvement. Damn it, it made him even more attractive. Because of course I was still attracted to him.
“Do you think this is a bad idea?” He asked me over a pie.
“Fairlie pies are some of the best on the South Island. Definitely not.” My attempt to ease any tension made him laugh. “Look, I don’t know.” I said. “If we all played by safe rules then no one would ever do anything. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how this will go. But I don’t feel awkward, it doesn’t feel weird and we’re here now. How do you feel?”
He paused before replying. “When you said it was over, those few times I saw you afterwards were like picking a scab. When I didn’t see you, I’d started to heal, then every time I saw you it reopened everything and hurt like hell. I’m not sure whether this could be like taking a knife and gouging a huge new wound.”
I was surprised at his new found ability to talk about any kind of feelings and wondered what this actually meant, but as I asked about his girlfriend, and what she thought of him visiting, he made it pretty clear he wasn’t here to rekindle anything.
To be continued…