'Mind if I join you?'
Robert looked up from the computer screen he was staring at to see Aaron clutching a mug of coffee & smiling hopefully at him. He looked uncertain so Robert nodded quickly & closed the laptop. He'd been sitting working in the cafe for half an hour & he was glad of the distraction.
'You alright?' Robert asked as Aaron sat in the armchair opposite.
'Yeah, you?' Aaron replied, but he didn't look fine. Robert thought he looked tired and there was a heavy sadness in his eyes.
'Mm.' he said. 'Must be tough, since Adam went. I bet you really miss him'
Aaron looked surprised. 'Well, yeah I do.' He sipped his coffee before he went on. 'D'you know what, Robert, you're the first person that's asked me about Adam since he left. Everyone else seems to think I'm just being a grumpy git...'
'Well you have got form...' Robert couldn't resist.
Aaron gave a little chuckle. 'Anyway, I kept meaning to say thanks for your help with that, you sorting out those alibis. You did a great job.'
'Yeah, no worries mate. I quite enjoyed myself actually.' He grinned.
Aaron smirked back. 'Oh really? So how long did it take you to come up with the idea of downloading 'Hot Chicks from Mars' onto Cain's phone?'
'About ten seconds'.
Aaron laughed. 'You're unbelievable, you.' he said in an amused voice. 'You should've seen his face when the coppers looked at his phone...'
Now it was Robert's turn to laugh. 'Yeah, I wish I had'.
'Where did you get that film title from anyway?' Aaron asked. 'Favourite of yours is it?'
Robert grinned again. 'Oh yeah. Can't get enough of those hot Martians...'
As they smiled at each other, Robert reflected on how good this felt. He hadn't thought he'd be able to laugh & chat like this with Aaron again, and it was a relief to have a normal conversation together. He was starting to think that maybe this 'friends' idea could work after all...
Later that day, Robert popped into David's shop to look at the ready meals as Vic was working that evening & he couldn't be bothered to cook for just himself. He was browsing the meals-for-one when he heard Alex's voice.
Robert was out of sight behind the shelves but couldn't avoid hearing the conversation between Alex and David as Alex paid for something.
' ...so things are going well with you and Aaron then?'
Robert gritted his teeth as Alex replied in a happy voice.
'Yeah it's going great, thanks. Actually I've been spending so much time round here, I've decided to ask Aaron what he thinks about us moving in together...'
Robert though he could actually feel his heart sink. He couldn't hear anything else as he leant against the shelves and waited for the fuzzy noise in his head to clear.
Then, when he felt capable, he hurried out of the now empty shop.
I've decided to make this 3 chapters in total, rather than 2, as I had another idea!
Robert sat on Victoria’s sofa and looked around him. A year ago, he’d been on the verge of moving into the Mill with Aaron and Liv. Now here he was staying in his sister’s spare room, effectively homeless, while Aaron was about to move another man, his new and perfect boyfriend into the Mill. He could never have imagined the way that things would turn out.
He heard the front door open and Victoria came in. ‘Flipping ‘eck it’s windy out there, I nearly lost my scarf…’ she looked at Robert. ‘Rob? You ok? You look fed up…’
Robert looked up at her. ‘Not really,’ he sighed. ‘It’s Aaron…’
Victoria rolled her eyes. ‘Isn’t it always?’ She sat down on the sofa next to him. ‘What’s happened?’
Robert swallowed. ‘I think… I think he’s going to let Alex move in with him.’ He sighed again. ‘I heard Alex talking to David yesterday and he said they were going to talk about it.’ He turned to face Victoria. ‘I can’t deal with it Vic. I just can’t stand the idea of them sharing that house, the house that was meant to be for us…,me, Aaron and Liv…’ he stopped as his voice started to tremble with emotion.
Victoria put a hand on Robert’s arm. ‘Oh Robert. That’s tough, I know, but it seems like Alex is going to be around for a while. I think you’re just gonna have to get used to it.’
Robert bit his bottom lip. ‘Yeah. I can’t complain about it, I mean I told him they should be together. I told them both. I just didn’t expect things to move this fast… Oh God.’ He put his head in his hands.
Victoria rubbed his shoulder. ‘It’ll get better, Rob.’
Two hours later, Robert wasn’t feeling any better about the situation. He’d managed to drag himself to work for a while, but he was hungry. He headed to the café again to pick up some lunch.
He was walking towards the door when he spotted Aaron walking in the same direction. Robert pursed his lips and looked around for an escape route. He couldn’t face a conversation with Aaron right now, he might let his emotions get the better of him and embarrass himself. But Aaron had reached him and was smiling at him. ‘Hiya again’, Aaron said. ‘You here for lunch?’
‘Yeah’, Robert mumbled, and he opened the door for them both.
They both walked up to the counter and ordered sandwiches. ‘Wanna eat together? There’s a table over there…’ Aaron offered.
Robert hesitated. ‘Er… I should get back to work…’
‘Oh c’mon mate, I haven’t spoken to anyone all morning. I could do with some company for ten minutes or so…’ Aaron went on.
Robert didn’t know what to say. Being around Aaron was still painful, but he wanted to try and be a friend to him, in spite of the way he felt. It was clear that Aaron was content with them just being friends, so he decided he’d better try to pull himself together and get on with it.
‘Ok.’ Robert attempted a smile. The two of them sat at a small table on the corner of the café. They both got stuck into their sandwiches and neither spoke for a few minutes. Then Aaron said ‘So what’s new with you?’
Robert shrugged. ‘Only saw you yesterday. Nothing to report since then. What about you?’ He kept his eyes fixed on the table in front of him. He was afraid that Aaron might look excited as he talked about Alex moving in, and Robert would have to pretend to be happy for him.
But when Aaron spoke, it sounded as though he was frowning. ‘We had a good laugh yesterday, didn’t we Robert?’ he said. ‘I really enjoyed chatting to you, but you seem different today. What’s wrong?’
Robert finished his mouthful of sandwich as he considered what to say. It was no good. He’d told Aaron he was going to be a friend to him from now on, and friends didn’t lie to each other.
‘I…er, I overheard something yesterday, after I saw you,’ he began. ‘I was in the shop and Alex was talking to David.’
Aaron looked as though the penny had dropped. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘I knew you were upset about something…’
‘I’m not upset.’ Robert snapped. ‘It’s none of my business, is it?’
Aaron scratched his eyebrow. ‘What exactly did you hear, Robert? Was he talking about moving in?’
Robert looked at Aaron then, and nodded.
Aaron sighed. ‘Right.’ he said. ‘Well, ok, yeah. Alex did ask me about it last night.’
Robert thought he might actually throw up, but he didn’t want Aaron to see how bad he felt. ‘I’m happy for you’, he tried, forgetting that he wasn’t going to lie. ‘Look, I’d better get back to work…’ He stood up, leaving the rest of his uneaten sandwich on the table.
Aaron grabbed his arm. ‘Wait, Robert.’ He said. ‘Sit down for a minute.’
Robert reluctantly sat back in his chair and waited for Aaron to continue. Aaron looked him in the eye. ‘Alex asked me if I’d thought about us living together, and you know what Robert? It had never crossed my mind.’ He sighed. ‘It was a shock, to be honest. I mean, we’ve only been seeing each other for five minutes.’
Robert couldn’t help but let out a small sigh of relief, and although he tried to hide it, Aaron frowned at him suspiciously. ‘What, did you think I was going to move him in to the Mill by the end of the week?’ he said.
Robert looked away. ‘You know me better than that, Robert,’ Aaron went on. ‘Not really my style, is it?’ Robert didn’t reply.
‘Muppet’, Aaron muttered under his breath.
‘Alright, yes I was jealous’, Robert blurted out. ‘I’m sorry, I know it’s nothing to do with me, I just…’ he took a deep breath, trying to get control of his emotions. ‘It’s not easy, seeing you together, but I want to be a good friend to you, and I will be, I’m trying…’ He ran out of steam. He didn’t know what to say – what could he say honestly, when all he wanted was to be back with his beautiful husband? Robert had promised to step aside, he knew the best thing for Aaron was to be with a decent bloke like Alex. But knowing that didn’t stop him from wishing they could still be together.
Aaron was looking at him sadly. ‘I said no, Robert, of course I did. I told Alex it was too soon.’ He paused. ‘But that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen. Both of us, if we’re going to move on, and stay friends, we’ll have to accept seeing each other with different people.’
Robert thought: I don’t want to see anyone else, not now, not ever. But he said to Aaron, ‘Like I said, it’s none of my business. You have to do what makes you happy, and I have to deal with it. I’m sorry for being a muppet…’
Aaron smiled. ‘Forget about it.’
Robert smiled back. At least this, being friends, was something, he thought. If they couldn’t be a couple – and he was in no doubt that they couldn’t – then at least he could still spend time with Aaron, chat to him, see him smile… That was better than losing him altogether.
The door of the Woolpack opened and Robert’s spirits lifted as he saw Aaron walk in. His husband always had this effect on him, although unfortunately Alex came in behind him, and Robert’s mood dropped a little. He wouldn’t show it though.
He was sitting at the bar holding a wriggly and whiny Seb in his arms as he chatted to Vic, who was working. ‘Alright?’ she checked with Robert, as Alex and Aaron sat at a table behind them. ‘Yeah, course.’ Robert lied.
A moment later, Aaron was standing next to him. ‘Hiya’, he said to Robert and Victoria. ‘Two pints please, Vic.’ Aaron turned to Robert. ‘How’s it going? Coping with the whole parenting thing?’
‘Yeah,’ Robert replied. ‘Actually he’s a bit grizzly today. Think he’s tired, he was up all night.’
‘Well you seem to have it all under control’, Aaron said, as he paid for his drinks and took them over to where Alex was sitting.
Robert was both touched and impressed by Aaron’s willingness to ask about Seb. He seemed to be taking everything in his stride, and was obviously coping with their separation much better than Robert.
‘Right, I need to go out the back and prep some food,’ Vic said and she disappeared. Robert knew that meant either Charity or Chas was about to take over behind the bar, neither of whom he had any desire to speak to, so he got down from his bar stool and took Seb over to a table. Seb was still grumbling, and Robert tried to calm him, swinging him gently in his arms, rubbing his back and shh-ing him softly.
After a while, it was clear that Seb wasn’t going to calm down. He started crying, a low groan at first, then suddenly letting out great wails of unhappiness. ‘C’mon sweetheart’, Robert pleaded. ‘What’s the matter, eh?’ He kissed Seb’s head, becoming increasingly desperate as the few other customers in the pub started looking over. He was aware of both Aaron and Alex glancing in his direction, and he wanted to get out of there, but he thought Seb probably needed feeding.
‘Alright, alright, let’s get you a bottle, shall we?’ he forced himself to speak softly, although he was feeling extremely stressed now. He tried to put Seb down in his pushchair, but as he let go of the baby, the screams grew even louder. ‘Ok, ok…’, Robert picked him up again, and held him in one arm as he used his other hand to search for the bottle of milk that was in his bag. It was firmly held in a pouch of the bag, and as Robert tried to yank it out while clinging on to Seb, he pulled off the lid, and suddenly the bottle crashed down onto the table, spilling white liquid all over it.
‘Bloody hell!’ Robert couldn’t help himself as he grabbed the bottle quickly, trying to rescue what was left inside it.
‘Let me help you.’ Robert looked up and Aaron was standing next to him with a handful of paper napkins. He picked up the bottle of milk and screwed the lid tight on to the bottle. ‘Here you go’, he said, handing it to Robert, then he started mopping up the milk with the napkins. ‘Er, thanks’, Robert said gratefully. He sat down and fed Seb the milk, relieved at the sudden peace and quiet.
When Aaron had cleaned up all the milk, he sat down at Robert’s table, and Robert noticed that Alex had gone. ‘What happened to Alex?’ he asked.
‘He had to go to work.’ Aaron said.
Robert finished feeding Seb the milk and Seb slumped happily against his arm. He picked him up and held him against his shoulder, patting his back gently to wind him. Aaron chewed a fingernail and looked away.
‘Thanks for that.’ Robert said. ‘That was a bit of a nightmare…’ ‘That’s babies, I suppose…’ Aaron said quietly. ‘Actually Seb’s really good,’ Robert went on. ‘He’s generally a quiet and placid little thing, I’m lucky really.’ They sat in silence for a moment as Robert kept patting Seb’s back, and soon, he saw that Seb had fallen asleep. ‘Thank God for that’ he said. ‘Right, I need to go to the bog.’ He stood and lowered Seb into the pushchair again, but as he did so, the baby opened his eyes and started grumbling again. Robert picked him up and he was quiet.
Robert looked at Aaron and held Seb out towards him. ‘Would you mind…’ he started, but he didn’t get any further. ‘No way, Robert.’ Aaron spoke with a sudden flash of anger. ‘What are you playing at? I don’t mind helping you, but no way am I holding your baby…’ Robert stared at him in shock. He hadn’t expected Aaron to react like this. Hadn’t he moved on with Alex? Surely he wasn’t still upset by Seb’s presence? ‘S…sorry’, he stuttered. ‘I didn’t think you’d mind…’
‘Well I do mind’ Aaron said. He sighed, and when he spoke again, he seemed to have calmed down a bit. ‘You know how you freaked out the other day at the idea of Alex moving in? Well, the idea of looking after your son freaks me out. Robert, this time last year, we were a family, you me & Liv, and after we got married, I thought we’d be together forever. But now you’ve fathered a child with another woman. That’s a lifelong commitment that I’m shut out from. Seb’s a lovely baby, but he’s just a reminder that you slept with her – you slept with her Robert, after all those promises you made me….’ Aaron’s voice was shaky and as he looked away, Robert thought he could see tears pricking the corners of his eyes.
Robert was dumbfounded. He knew that it had been tough for Aaron when the baby was first born, of course, but he Aaron was happy in a new relationship now, and he’d moved on from Robert. Hadn’t he?
‘I didn’t… I thought…’ he tried but Aaron interrupted, ‘Look, I’d better go.’ He stood up and zipped up his jacket, then looked back at Robert. ‘Sorry’, he said abruptly. Then Aaron turned and left the pub.
Robert sat for a moment, thinking, then Vic came out from behind the bar. ‘Everything ok?’ she asked. ‘I thought I heard Seb crying.’
‘He’s fine now, although I can’t put him down without him crying, and I really need to pee.’ Vic sat down and took Seb in her arms while Robert finally went to the toilet. When he came back, he told Vic what had happened with Aaron.
‘So Aaron didn’t want to hold Seb?’ Vic asked. ‘Why not? I reckon he’s pretty good with kids.’
‘Maybe’, Robert explained ‘but not this one. The thing is Vic, I thought Aaron had moved on with Alex. I really thought he’d got over everything that happened with us. But when he spoke about Seb and Rebecca… he was so upset, Vic. He’s still hurt by it all.’
Vic handed Seb back to Robert. ‘Well you know why, don’t you?’ she said. ‘He’s still got feelings for you, just like you have for him.’
Robert frowned at Vic. ‘I don’t think so. He’s found a better option now – Doctor Alex.’
Vic rolled her eyes. ‘Are you crazy?’ she said. ‘Have you met Alex? I mean he’s good looking and nice, I suppose, but where’s the excitement? Aaron always loved that about you, the unpredictability. There’s no passion with Alex, anyone can see that. You’re such an idiot sometimes!’ She sighed. ‘Anyway, I’ve got to get back behind the bar, I’ll see you at home later.’ She stood up and went off to the kitchen.
As Robert finally managed to put Seb down without waking him, he couldn’t make up his mind about what his sister had said. On one hand, he was upset by Aaron’s anger, his stress and his emotional response to Seb. Robert hated the idea that Aaron was still suffering because of what he’d done. But on the other hand, if Aaron still felt so emotional about the whole situation, if he hated being reminded of Robert’s betrayal, didn’t this mean there was still something there? All at once, Robert knew Vic was right – Aaron still had feelings for him, just as he did for Aaron.
Maybe there was some hope for the future after all…
After immersing myself in lots of 'sad Robert' fics, I've decided my next one will be a happier one...