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the long way home

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For the first time in a very long time, something works out. Aaron gets to own a business; a taxi business and the world doesn’t seem to collapse around him as he signs the dotted lines and pops open a bottle of champagne with Adam. 

His mum’s got him a stupid air freshener to hang in his car and right about now Aaron’s realising that it’s the only thing calming him down. For some absolutely insane reason, he’s nervous about getting his first customer and actually starting the whole thing going. Adam’s got Matty with him as they sit in the pokey portacabin they’ve brought and wait for any calls that could magically come through. And Aaron’s parked just outside of the shopping centre in Hotten just in case anyone wants to hop in. 

They’ve actually got a plan. They’re actually going to make this work. Aaron’s so sure of it it’s almost weird, it’s a strange messed up sort of feeling for him to actually lean into but he isn’t about to question it. No, instead he decides to stick the radio on and stroke his hand against the minty air-freshener like some loser. 

“Oi!” Aaron practically jumps out of his skin when he hears that Adam’s radioing in like some spy. He sits up straighter to listen. “We’ve got one!”

Aaron smiles, means it and it’s like they’ve caught a big fish or something. Then he frowns. “It’s not one of mine, is it?” And by that he means it’s not just one of the Dingles trying their luck for a free ride. God he really can imagine Charity doing just that, pulling up outside the shopping centre in town and asking him to drop her off home because her legs can’t carry her anymore. She’ll say it’s good for business. He’ll roll his eyes. It’ll be a whole thing and he knows it.

Adam puts him out of his misery and laughs. “Nah, an actual person.”

Aaron must look like such an idiot because he just smiles. It’s way too good to be true.

“You want the address then?” 

Aaron gets the address. It’s ten minutes away from where he is, some fancy office building which looks out of place in the centre of town. Aaron knows it, it’s why he’s confident when he pulls up thirteen minutes later and spots a guy walking towards the car wearing a grey suit. 

Aaron’s got a second to gather himself. He’s got a second to think about what he’s going to say to his first ever customer. He feels like an idiot for overthinking this, he feels like he’d be someone who’d make him in this situation. But he can’t help it. His palms are sweating, and he has to open the window.

“Uh.” Aaron opens his mouth, starts practicing what to say. He should have asked Adam for the guy’s name to double check. Shit. Shitting shit. “Um.” Aaron’s gone from being calm and confident to waving his arms about and trying to get hold of Adam. 

It’s too late though, because the guy approaches the car and then he’s yanking on the car door. Aaron turns and then presses a button to allow the guy in.

“Uh. Hi. I …”

“You’re late.” 

It’s the first thing Aaron hears. Two words. Blunt. Direct. To the point. All of that jazz. And it just about ruins his entire day. 

Aaron’s face drops and he gulps hard against the way the guy is staring at him hard. He’s got this stony jaw and these piercing eyes and Aaron can’t handle it. Instead, he looks away, eyes flickering back towards the satnav he has up and the phone in the holder for Adam to text him on.

“Yeah sorry, I didn’t …”

“You are Adam, right?”

Aaron sits up straighter. “What? No, I’m …”

The bloke leans out of the cab, looks more confused than ever and Aaron tries to get his mouth to open again so he can actually get the guy to where he needs to go. Aaron sort of wants to go back in time, start this all again because right now the guy looks so unimpressed it’s a joke. 

“I’m Aaron.” Aaron blurts his name out just as the guy leans out of the car. “I work with Adam, it’s our taxi business so …” He quickly picks his phone up and sees that Adam’s got round to texting him the guy’s details. “And you’re um … Robert.”

Robert freezes a little and then nods his head.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“Great.” Aaron sounds like such an idiot. “Get in, I uh … Home Farm right?” 

Robert doesn’t say anything for a second, he slides into the seat and shuts the door instead. 

Then Aaron turns towards Robert. “Right?”

“Well yeah I told your colleague that already. About fifteen minutes ago now, he said you’d be ten minutes.” 

Aaron thinks he’s imagining the hostility, being too paranoid or something. But no. Robert’s really just acting like a dick on purpose, and it’s only amplified by the fact that he’s going to Home Farm. The fanciest house around basically which means that he’s a certain type of person who should be able to drive himself around and not wait for cabs. 

“Look I’m sorry for being late, I didn’t even realise that …”

“Isn’t that the point? You didn’t realise.” Robert asks and Aaron suddenly wants to punch him. He really didn’t expect to want to punch their first ever customer in the face and yet here he is ready and waiting. 

“I’m here now.” Aaron shrugs. Then he turns the car on, and watches Robert click his seatbelt across himself. Thankfully Robert doesn’t have any comebacks for him, so they get going and Aaron relaxes a little under the fact that he knows where he’s going. 

The silence is bliss until they’re at a traffic light and Robert’s sighing his head off and looking down at some expensive looking watch. Aaron tries to ignore it; he’s doing an amazing job until the bloke is literally tutting and Aaron can’t help himself. 

“Problem?”

Robert looks like he didn’t expect Aaron to say anything. Aaron sticks his chest out and expects Robert to keep his mouth shut. The idiot doesn’t though. No. Instead he sits forward. 

“This is just taking longer than I expected.” Robert shrugs his shoulders and keeps this stony look on his face. “I thought I’d be where I need to be by now.”

Aaron frowns. He keeps telling himself to stay professional, so he forces a stupid false smile on his face. “I’m getting there as quickly as possible. I can’t exactly control the traffic lights.”

“Well, you didn’t need to come this way.”

“What?” Aaron frowns. 

Robert rolls his eyes and decides to behave like an even bigger dick as he stares out the window and doesn’t even bother looking in Aaron’s direction. 

“You could have gone down Bishop’s lane, skip the traffic and go straight on the country roads.” Robert says, like it’s obvious.

It takes Aaron a second to register what he’s saying and then he gets it. Of course he could have. Aaron’s been in the back of a taxi enough times to know that avoiding all the traffic like this by just going on that stupid lane is the most logical thing in the world to do. He’s been here so many times before and yet his brain’s just decided to switch off.

For some reason, he wants to blame Robert. Then he’s back telling himself that he has to be professional so instead he tries to reason with Robert, you know, appeal to the fact that Robert could be a decent bloke if pushed.

“Right yeah I know that.” Aaron says slowly. Then he taps the steering wheel and clears his throat. “My head’s a bit …” He takes one hand off the wheel and shakes it. Robert just stares at him. “It’s our first day, did Adam tell you that?”

Robert scoffs. “Seems pretty obvious now.”

Aaron turns around sharply so that he’s looking at Robert. He gives the idiot a second to take it back, to say sorry or even have the decency to look away but that doesn’t happen. Instead, Robert just stares at him. Aaron decides to look away a second later, for his own sanity, and focus on the road.

Aaron was looking forward to these country lanes and how different they are to the traffic in town. Aaron was looking forward to being his own boss and having long lunch breaks and his own music playing as he drives back and forth in peace. 
He didn’t expect to feel this tense, to have a twat in the back of his cab sighing and tutting and making everything worse. Aaron wants to kick him out. He really does.

The thing is though, he can’t. Every time he thinks about snapping, he’s got Adam in his head being his smiley dopey self and making him feel guilty. It’s not just his life he’d be messing up if he decides to lose it.

He’s not going to, especially not over some idiot in a grey suit and a gangly tie. No. He’s not going to lose it.

“Could you go any slower?”

And oh.

He’s going to lose it.

Aaron spins his head again. “I’m on a country road. Sort of can’t be Lewis Hamilton round here.” He says.

Robert sighs. “I’m just asking you not to drive like you’re half asleep.” He says. “Especially considering the fact that you showed up late.”

“Three. Minutes.”

Robert scoffs. “Makes a difference when you’ve actually got stuff to do.” He says. “So you could …”

“You could just shut your mouth and let me park up to the fancy Manor House. That could happen, that could be amazing.” Aaron doesn’t know how exactly to stop himself from being himself. As soon as he says it, he regrets it. As soon as he says it, he thinks of Paddy’s disappointed face, the way he’ll rub his bald head and turn pink and try to stutter out some words of wisdom.

Aaron slows the car down as he gets to Home Farm and has to crane his neck up to take it all in. For the first time since starting the whole journey, Aaron wonders what Robert is doing in a house like this. He wonders if he’s got some fancy meeting, if there’s a party there or something. The thoughts tick around in his head until he hears the car door slam and Robert get out.

“Oi.” Aaron yanks his head out. “You haven’t paid.”

“Paid? After your little outburst.” 

Aaron’s heart thuds in his chest and he hates himself for this, he hates himself for the fact that Adam’s going to ask him how his first customer went and he’s going to have to tell him that the twat didn’t even pay. The worry makes Aaron scramble out of the car and he’s suddenly face to face with Robert. He’s taller than he thought, and the sun is shining on his stupid face. He’s blonde, freckles flickered over his face and his hair sticking up in all directions.

Aaron doesn’t have the time to take him in, he doesn’t want to take him in either. He’s standing here like an idiot to try and tell Robert to stop being such a dick about things.

“Look. You wanted to get from A to B and I did that, you can’t just decide not to pay.” Aaron shakes his head as Robert rolls his eyes at him. “Oi, I’m speaking to you.”

“Is that how you’re planning on speaking to your customers?”

Aaron wants to punch Robert, he’s seething. 

“Customers? Like you’re ever getting in my cab again mate.”

“I’m not your mate.”

“Thank fuck you’re not, now pay up and get to your fancy pants plans.” Aaron spits. Then Robert’s eyes flicker up at the house and he decides not to move at all. “I mean it.”

Robert takes out his wallet slowly and Aaron takes a tenner from him as quickly as humanly possible before pushing the note in his back pocket and scowling. 

“I won’t say thanks.” Aaron says because he can’t help himself and he’s still a child really. 

“Yeah, and I won’t be booking again, or recommending. Don’t you worry.”

“Suits me fine.” Aaron looks up the house again and then gets back into his cab.  

 

-•-


“So. How was your first?” 

Aaron almost wants to put the phone down as he thinks of Robert, but Adam sounds so excited. 
“Fine yeah, got paid.”

“That’s always good.”

-•-

 

Two days later and Adam’s heard all about the nightmare passenger. In fact, most of the villages have because they’re basically all family. Chas wants to bar him from the pub, she wants all his details so if he ever shows up, she can show him the door. Moira isn’t the same though, in fact Moira takes a very dim view of the whole thing. Apparently, the twat could have reported them, it could have got very bad and they’re lucky that Aaron’s ‘hostility’ didn’t ruin the business already.

The thing is though, it’s all coming across like Aaron was the one in the wrong and he wasn’t. He really wasn’t.

It’s exactly what Aaron thinks about as he’s dropping some backpacker to the airport. He’s on his way back to the village when it happens, there’s country lanes and dips in the road and the weather is a nightmare. One minute he’s listening to the weatherman tell him it’s raining whilst it’s raining and the next minute, he’s hearing someone shout at him.

Aaron’s instinct is to stop the car. He’s sure he hasn’t hit someone but it’s raining, and the clouds are darkening, and he should just check before Moira gets any ideas about his behaviour. He gets out to check his car, that’s his main priority here, but then he looks up and sees that someone is standing only a few metres away from him.

And he’s soaking wet.

And he just so happens to be the idiot from before.

Robert. Robert, the idiot.

“Are you for real?” Robert’s shouting, waving his arms about like he’s been attacked, and Aaron just stares at him before he starts to connect the dots and understand. The bump in the road. It’s raining. He’s soaked Robert with his car.

“I didn’t see you.” Aaron says, because he really didn’t. It doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing if he did. Oh, he so would have done.

Robert scoffs, tips his head back and his stupid hair is wet against his forehead. He looks like a little boy; he looks like a spoiled little child who has just been told he can’t go out and play. Aaron tries not to laugh, he really does. In fact, he turns his head away and then Robert looks like he wants to kill him.

“Oi! I’m talking to you.” Robert keeps shouting, and Aaron’s just about had enough. Especially when Robert marches towards him and Aaron’s forced to push him back.

“You need to chill out. I’m warning you.”

Robert doesn’t know what ‘chill out’ means. It’s like he’s never heard of the flaming thing because instead of doing just that, Robert, the idiot, decides to wave his arms about a bit more and complain about meetings and his car breaking down and now he’s soaked through and doesn’t have time to change.

Robert’s life seems like a bit of a disaster and Aaron would pity him if he cared. He’d pity him if he didn’t have Moira’s nagging words in his ear telling him that if Robert was even more of a twat than he already is, he could have lost it all. Aaron stares at the idiot and can’t quite believe that his cab business was nearly ruined because of his reaction. Robert’s mouth is moving, he’s talking and talking but Aaron isn’t taking a word in until he hears ‘you’ll have to take me’ and that’s when he comes back to life again.

“What?” Aaron can’t have heard that right.

“Home. To change. I need to—” Robert still doesn’t look the slightest bit vulnerable, and Aaron thinks it’s insane. He thinks snotty business tie-wearing people like Robert don’t even know how to be vulnerable when it comes to stuff like this. They don’t know how to be normal either.

Aaron’s car splashed him. It’s really not the end of the world.

“To what?” Aaron starts saying. Robert takes too long to reply. “And why were you standing in a lay-by anyway?”

Robert huffs. He looks even angrier, and Aaron hasn’t got the time for it. “I just said. My car broke down.” Aaron rolls his eyes and starts walking in

Robert’s direction. “Where do you think you’re …”

“I’m a mechanic.”

“You’re a rude cab driver last time I checked.”

The rain is getting heavier. Robert’s getting shittier. Aaron just looks up towards the idiot and sighs. It’s like Robert can’t help but be a dick, like there’s something within him that just has to say that one extra little dig that will get Aaron hating him that little bit more. Aaron’s starting to wonder if it’s actually possible to loathe a stranger as much as he loathes Robert.

“You’re standing on the side of this road until someone’s stupid enough to help you mate.” Aaron leans in a little just because. “Last time I checked.” He adds. Then he’s turning and Robert is hot on his heels.

“So first you purposefully try to run me over and now you can’t even …”

“Run you over?” Aaron spins, and he’s shouting now. “I splashed you with my car. I didn’t see you considering it’s pissing it down.”

Robert rolls his eyes. “So, you really don’t think you owe me a ride home?” He looks like a lawyer, like he’s presenting evidence to a court of law or something and he just wants to get all the facts straight before he delivers his closing statement.

Aaron scowls. “For what?”

Robert scoffs. “For the way you were the other day, for how you’re being now.”

Aaron wants him so badly. “I just offered to have a look at your car. Are you insane?” Maybe Robert is insane, but so is Aaron for still being here, still enduring this absolute lunacy.

Robert looks back towards his car and Aaron takes it in for a second. It’s perfect. It’s everything that Robert isn’t basically.  

“Starting to feel like it actually.” Robert mutters and mumbles. “Look, let me spell it out for you. You need to drive me back to my house so I can change.”

Aaron scowls. “You’re not getting in my cab soaking wet like that.”

“Who made me like this?”

Aaron rolls his eyes. “Mother nature I reckon.” He pulls a face, smirks a little and then turns back to his car. “Have a nice life mate!”

Aaron’s smug, he really is. He’s smug because if Robert wasn’t a dick of course he’d give him a ride, of course he’d happily wait for him to change and then take him to where he’d need to go, of bloody course he’d give Cain a ring after checking the car himself and tell him what the issue is.

But Aaron’s not an idiot, so he won’t be standing here a second longer.

“Wait!” Robert shouts over the rain and Aaron turns.

“I’ll pay double.”

Aaron has Moira in his ear suddenly, Adam nagging him about the fact that the first few months are going to be a struggle in terms of money. And now Robert’s here, offering to pay double regardless of what the fare is. Something twists in his chest, and he hesitates before his phone is ringing and Adam’s asking where he is.

“Um, just outside the village.”

“Sound! Can you pick someone up or are you with someone?”

Aaron could say no, he could happily accept a ride with a boring not-a-dick person but Robert’s desperate and he’s going to pay exactly what figure Aaron comes up with.

“Yeah, I am actually.”

“Oh, no worries. I’ll take this one then, see you later for a pint yeah?”

Aaron breathes in. “Yep.” He grits out. Then he’s hanging up and Robert’s still standing there looking like a wet dog. He’s thinking of the money. Just the money. “Get in.” He shouts, and then he’s watching Robert walk towards him and then look back at his precious car. “Pass me your phone.”

Robert’s face is a picture. “You what?”

Aaron rolls his eyes. “My uncle owns the garage in Emmerdale, he’ll pick it up.”

Robert’s face changes. “You’re a Dingle?” He says it like it’s some Urban Legend sort of family. Aaron’s even more irritated. “You sure he won’t nick it?” Aaron’s jaw locks. The money, the money he’s going to get out of Robert is the only thing he can think of right now. “Joking. OK. Um …” Robert waffles a bit more and Aaron waits for Cain to take his car before he’s slamming the door shut and staring at Robert making the back of his car wet as the rain drips from his hair.

“Where to then?”

“Home Farm.” Robert says.

Aaron sighs. “Not the meeting. Where you live, you said.”

Robert has this smirk on his face. “Yeah um … Home Farm.”

And Aaron’s hatred for Robert manages to move up a level.

Later, when Robert emerges in yet another suit with an ugly tie, Aaron thinks of how rich Robert must be. He thinks about the fact that he lives in the poshest ponciest house around and that’s got to count for something, that’s got to count for a whole lot. Robert’s in the back seat again, he’s quiet for the first time in ages and Aaron knows peace until he’s dropping him into town, parking outside some high rise that shouldn’t be amongst the dainty country village shops and Robert’s getting out the cab.

Aaron goes to tell him to give him twenty-five pounds for his troubles and then Robert hands over fifty just to make Aaron feel even more like a peasant. He’s shocked but he doesn’t say anything, Aaron just nods and takes the money and watches Robert walk away. Aaron checks the time;

the whole ordeal has taken just under an hour and a half. Not bad. Not too bad anyway.
Aaron goes to start the car up again when Robert is back, tapping at the glass. Aaron rolls the window down and frowns.

“I don’t uh … have to worry about you knowing where I live right?”

For the first time since meeting the idiot, Aaron isn’t sure if Robert is an idiot or if he just has some sort of death wish.

“Why ‘cause I’m a Dingle?”

Aaron wants to ask why Robert knows that’s a thing, he wants to know if he’s ever strolled down to the village to see the real people and he’s stumbled across all the Dingles dotted around. He wants to ask but he doesn’t because he doesn’t care, and he wouldn’t want to spend any more time with Robert than he has to.

Robert hasn’t answered the question, he tilts his head though. “Well, it sort of cemented the danger.”

“Wouldn’t have got a cab licence if I was such a menace to society though, would I?”

Robert scoffs. “You Dingles have your way of getting out of things. Next you’ll be telling me you’ve never been to prison.” 

Aaron’s face falls and Robert laughs and then he goes to walk away again like he hasn’t just stumbled across something Aaron and Adam made sure not to be talking about to customers. For some reason or other, chatting about being criminals to the people who you are taking to and from places every day just didn’t seem like that good of an idea.

Aaron’s palms start sweating as he thinks of Robert writing a review now. It would start with Aaron basically telling him to shut up in the cab, then attacking him when he refused to pay, then trying to kill him on the side of the road and then on top of all of that, being a criminal. It would ruin him.

“Robert.” Aaron barks, “You’re forgetting my uncle’s got your precious car. So I’d shut up if I were you.”

Ah. Yes. Threatening Robert is very much the correct thing to do here. Aaron almost wants to kick himself as he watches Robert put his massive hand on the side of the car and lean into the open window.

“Is that a threat?”

This is where Aaron should retract it all, but he doesn’t. “No, of course it ain’t. Just a thought for you to consider.” He says, then he gulps hard, and Robert goes to turn away again. “Oh, and it was sixty.” Aaron can’t help himself, clearly.

Robert smirks, almost laughing like this is some big game. Aaron watches Robert go into his wallet again and then take out a tenner. “Of course.” He says, through gritted teeth and all.

Aaron nods and then Robert turns away again.

And that’s the last time Aaron ever saw Robert Sugden. In an ideal world anyways.

 

-•-

 

Aaron’s staring off into space; very much not think about driving any time soon. He’s just waved off an old woman who wouldn’t stop banging on about cyclists being on the pavements and swerving to the road. Aaron entertained her like he does with his mum, he nodded and hummed and then shoved her out as quickly as humanly possible. 

There’s a tap on the window and when he looks up, he sees some woman with two kids by her side asking if it’s OK for her to jump in. The short answer is no. It’s actually what he says, starts mouthing about picking someone up. He even mouths sorry and means it until he sees her jumping into the taxi behind. 

Aaron sighs, shifts down into his seat a little and thinks about what Adam would say about turning down business. They need the money; he isn’t stupid. It’s just that Adam has all the chat, so gets all the tips which more than makes up for Aaron’s shortness now and then. Aaron’s not sure how long you can talk about the impact of Messi on the footballing world without having a breakdown, but Adam seems to be doing just fine. 

The taxi rank Aaron’s parked up in is clearing and he looks at the time to see that the lunchtime rush hour of fools trying to get across town has calmed down. It eases something in him slightly, knowing he’s safe for at least half an hour. Aaron goes to grab his phone and then notices Robert of all people emerging from a fancy restaurant. Aaron almost rolls his eyes, seeing Robert in a suit isn’t anything new right now but he somehow manages to look more like a pompous prick today and it’s almost distracting because —

Aaron nearly jumps out of his skin as he hears a tapping on the window in a way no one is allowed to tap on the bloody window. Robert’s standing there, face like absolute thunder and yet this heaviness to his eyes. Aaron just stares at him until Robert’s rolling his eyes and motioning for Aaron to open the door. 

Aaron finds himself too shocked to do anything else but oblige like some twat. Robert climbs in with his dangly legs and Aaron spins to look at him properly. Robert’s doing that thing businessmen do when they’re angry; he’s pulling on his tie as hard as he can and then twisting it. 

Then Robert has the audacity to look up. “What?” 

Aaron’s blown away by how stupid Robert is, how he should have told him to piss off and driven to the nearest taxi rank to get away from him. He should kick him out but it’s a busy street and Adam would kill him.

Instead. 

“This ain’t a park bench for you, you know.”

Robert’s instantly showing his frown lines and he stops faffing with his tie. “What?” He says again, confused this time. “Look, can you just — take me to mine. You remember the way, yeah?”

Aaron’s jaw locks. “How’d you know I wasn’t waiting for someone?”

Robert scoffs. “You were staring into space.”

“You were watching me?” 

And oh. 

Oh.

Aaron didn’t mean for it to come out like that, seductive and almost seedy. Aaron’s not delusional, he isn’t about to say that Robert hasn’t got an attractive albeit annoying face but that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. No. He just meant that Robert must have been looking from a while before. That’s all. 

Robert decides to make it even worse. “Don’t flatter yourself.” He spits.

“It’s my lunch break. I was going to get a sandwich.” Aaron says. In other words: piss off. 

Robert raises an eyebrow. “Well get one after. I’m paying you more than …”

It’s the way Robert says he’s paying him that makes Aaron want to punch him in the face. Some things never change. Aaron zones out, pictures whacking Robert across the face and then when he’s back in the room he hears Robert tell him to start driving.

Aaron’s back straightens and he suddenly remembers one of the reasons why he hesitated with this whole taxi business. He didn’t want to be spoken to like someone’s paid personal driver. 

“Please would be nice?”

“Isn’t that what the whole transaction of money for a service is all about?” And Robert might have stormed out of a fancy restaurant but whatever the reason was hasn’t affected his dickheadedness. 

Aaron grips the steering wheel of the car with one hand and squeezes as he stares at Robert.

“Doesn’t mean you have to be a prat.” Aaron’s not even sure why he’s doing this, why he’s quite literally forcing an argument with someone who he can have out of his car in twenty minutes tops. But such is life. 

Robert raises his head like he’s hearing criticism for the first time. “Why? Everyone else is?”

Aaron raises an eyebrow and decides not to delve into the nugget of information. He turns the car on and spends some time getting out of the bay until he’s back onto the Main Street and following the cars around the long strip of road. As soon as the car is at a red light, Aaron turns a button and has music playing. He catches how Robert looks in the mirror and turns it down slowly, telling himself to disengage in any conversation.

Aaron does perfectly well. There’s a stretch of silence until Robert is sighing and huffing and puffing and then his phone is going off. Aaron catches his eyes in the mirror before Robert answers the phone and speaks quietly.

“I’ll tell you when I’m home.” Robert says, under his breath really. “No, they didn’t sign.” Robert pauses. “Why’d you think? Chrissie, your dad just set me up for what? The thrill of it? I know what would give him an actual thrill, how about an actual heart attack this time.” 

And oh. Aaron’s trying so hard to concentrate but the roads are emptying, and he has the time to hear what’s being said, and then hear it again in his mind. 

He nearly chokes. In fact, he has to bite down on his knuckles for a second to stop himself from laughing. 

Robert looks up at him again and then scowls.

“I didn’t need to be tested Chrissie.” Robert says, quieter this time. Then. “Why aren’t you surprised?” Aaron’s eyes flicker and he hears the way Robert’s voice changes. “You were in on it too?” Aaron feels something inside him jolt. 

For a second Robert doesn’t say anything, he just looks down and Aaron can see his leg bouncing up and down so quickly. It makes Aaron fuzzy as he turns to look at him. Robert looks up and there’s this silent exchange of something before Aaron dips his head again and clears his throat. 
The light is red, and the engine is humming low so Aaron can hear this Chrissie speaking down the phone. She’s making some excuses; she’s going on about trust and Robert looks like he’s getting sadder by the minute but for some reason he isn’t putting the phone down. 

“Um. Sorry mate, I found that thing you were looking for.” Aaron just blurts it out. Robert picks up his head and then frowns until Aaron’s staring down at the phone and nodding. 

“Um.” Robert’s eyes flicker. “I need to go Chrissie.” He ends the call and then stares at Aaron in silence. Aaron stares back like some loser and then the lights are changing and he’s looking ahead again. 

Robert keeps his head down and Aaron realises that he’s embarrassed by the phone call. It makes Aaron’s shoulders tense, and he feels the need to change the subject. He goes to speak and then Robert does. For a second Aaron expects a thank you.

“That was a private conversation.”

And Aaron’s back to hating him.

“Tense one n’all.”

Robert scowls. “It had nothing to do with you. At all.” He says, and he even shakes his head as he speaks. “You didn’t need to get involved.”

“I was trying to get you out of what looked like a shitty conversation.” Aaron snaps, he’s speaking louder than he needs to, but it makes Robert sit up straighter and actually listen. “I won’t bother next time.”

Robert does the world a favour and keeps his mouth shut. Aaron’s five minutes away, it’s blissfully quiet and he’s thinking of the fact that he’s determined to have Robert Sugden blacklisted from the taxi business. He’s not sure if that’s allowed, if that’s even a thing Adam would agree to but at this point, he couldn’t care less. He’s going to make an executive decision here and have Robert banned completely.

“Beats someone trying to get me out of their business.” 

It’s vague, completely and utterly vague, and yet Aaron still wants to know what he’s on about. 

“You what?”

Robert gulps hard and then closes his eyes. Aaron chooses to stare at him for a second, and then it’s like he can’t look away. Robert looks up eventually and it makes Aaron look back on the empty roads ahead. He takes in the green of the fields like he’s never seen them before and then he hears Robert clearing his throat.

“My girlfriend’s dad … he’s a dick.”

Aaron nods. “I reckon all dads are.” He turns to look at Robert and then stops. 

Robert looks at him, his eyes flickering slightly and Aaron’s sure that what he’s just said has touched Robert in some deep way. It makes this weird feeling race through Aaron, and he wants it gone.

“He faked a heart attack, ruined my mum’s memorial …” Aaron slows down, eyes flickering back to Robert as he scowls.

“He what?” Aaron shakes his head. “Why would he …”

“Same reason why that last hour of my life was a complete waste of time. Because he’s a dick. He wanted me to make a fool out of myself to all his old cronies, just to prove I was serious about his stupid business.”

“And your … um … your girlfriend knew about it too.” Aaron shouldn’t have started speaking, he regrets his words as soon as they leave his mouth.

Robert gives him this look like he’s just remembered that piece of information himself. 

“Sorry.” Aaron says amongst the silence. He really didn’t think he’d ever say that word to Robert but here he is.

“For what?”

Aaron shrugs his shoulders and he’s stumped suddenly about what he’s sorry for. “Don’t know. Ignore me.” He feels like an idiot, and he hates himself.

Robert doesn’t jump in to say anything, to tell Aaron that he accepts his pity or whatever it is that Aaron’s feeling right now. Instead, he just leans back against his chair and breathes out.

Aaron thinks it’s over until Robert speaks again.

“People just … why do some people always make you have to prove yourself to them?”

Aaron thinks of how his life has gone up until this point. Then he thinks about standing in a suit; looking up at a judge and feeling this need to prove himself. Then to his mum, and to his whole family. He gets it.

“Don’t know.” Aaron whispers and then he frowns. “You shouldn’t have to do that though you know.”

The last two words must get Robert’s back up because his face changes from vulnerable to pissed off.

“Yeah, I know.” Robert snaps, and then he does something absolutely unbelievable. “Sorry.”

Aaron’s neck snaps and he jerks the car forward. It makes Robert let out the tiniest hint of laughter before he sits straighter and goes back to his usual self.

“It’s alright.” Aaron shrugs, tries to stop thinking about the way Robert just laughed and smiled like a real boy. It’s the only thing running through his mind until he’s turning the corner and there’s gravel under his wheels which means he’s approaching Home Farm. 

Robert lets out a sigh as the car slows down to a halt. Aaron arches an eyebrow and turns his head back to Robert. For the first time, he isn’t wanting to physically chuck him out of his car. In fact, if Robert wanted to stay for a second or two, he wouldn’t mind. “I …”

“You’re not a park bench yeah. Sorry.” Robert’s gets up, all hasty with his movements and Aaron’s eyes flicker as he starts nodding his head over and over again. 

He feels his cheeks blush from embarrassment, from the way he very nearly told Robert to stick around if he wanted to. Aaron tilts his head up at the sky and doesn’t see a cloud in sight. He decides he has heat stroke or something. 

Aaron almost forgets that Robert’s in the car until he turns, and Robert’s face is way too close to his own. Aaron can’t hear a word and then he shakes his head.

“What?”

“Card. I’m paying by card.” Robert waves his debit card in his hand and then Aaron’s eyes follow Robert’s to the card reader. He hears the beep of the transaction and then hears the car door slam and Robert’s standing outside now. 

Aaron dips his head down, and he’s suddenly glad that Robert didn’t even bother to say goodbye. It’s great news.

Then there’s a knock on the window nearly giving him a heart attack and Robert’s waving a five pound note towards him. Aaron frowns, rolls down the window and then watches as Robert leans in and holds the money out to Aaron.

“For the sandwich I clearly deprived you of.”

Aaron’s heart thuds and he doesn’t say anything at all for a second. “It’s uh … past lunch now anyways.”

Robert just shrugs. “For me being a miserable prick then?”

Aaron’s eyes flicker and he takes the note from Robert. “That I can accept.” He says, because it rolls off the tongue and because somehow, he knows that it’ll make Robert smile. 

Fuck.

Robert nods his head and then walks towards his stately manor where his stately girlfriend plots with her stately dad about how to test him. 
Aaron shakes his head and tries to shake whatever this is out of him. It’s not his business, it never had been. Aaron nods, to almost reassure himself of that fact and then he backs away from the house. 


-•-

 

Aaron decides to take some time off because he’s been pulling his weight way more than Adam has and it’s something that’s starting to grate on him. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Robert is someone who he’s starting to hate more than he thought was even possible. It’s not even logical but he can’t get past it.

It’s why he’s in the dinky little portacabin office, half asleep as he waits for people to ring so he can actually do something worthwhile. The longer he’s in here, the longer he’s realising that Adam’s been having it way easier than he ever thought he did. Aaron makes a note of telling Moira when the phone goes, and Aaron jumps at the chance to answer it.

“Hello –”

“What are you doing on the phones?”

It’s Robert, and for some reason Aaron ducks his head like Robert is here, like Robert can see him. It takes a second for Aaron to speak, it’s like his brain doesn’t connect to his mouth and tell him to say something. Aaron knows what he wants to say, he wants to say that he’s on the phones because he’s trying to stay away from Robert.

He can’t say that though, it feels a little too mean.

Aaron goes to speak and then his heart thuds in his chest as he realises that Robert clearly knows his voice. That’s not weird at all.

“Aaron?”

He must have not been speaking for ages for Robert to actually say something else, say his name.

Aaron doesn’t know what to say. Again. Then something kicks in. “Who’s this?”

Robert laughs and it makes Aaron breathe in harshly. “Robert. Sugden.”

“Oh.” Aaron puffs his chest out. “So, I take it you want a cab?”

“Uh.” It’s Robert’s turn to be mute. Then Aaron hears someone’s voice in the background, and he freezes a little. “No. I – I’m fine.”

“Just calling to hear Adam’s voice then?” Aaron has no idea what he’s doing but he’s doing it. He’s speaking for the sake of speaking and he can hear Robert smile a little, then he senses that he’s stopped, and it makes Aaron gulp thickly.

“Yeah, it’s the highlight of my day.” Robert sounds confident again, for some reason it makes Aaron sink deeper into his seat. “Bye.”

“Bye.” Aaron whispers, then Robert’s gone, and he’s left wondering why he even called.

 

-•-

 

It’s been two weeks since Aaron has heard from Robert and so it’s been blissful and stress free and he’s gone back to actually finding the whole job an absolute breeze. It stays blissful until Adam’s telling him that he needs to go up to Home Farm and his whole face sours like he’s just ate a lemon, and he can’t get past it.

“Um I …” Aaron realises that he can’t tell Adam that he’s with someone, because he’ll only ask why he hasn’t logged in before now and where he’s going so that Adam can calculate prices and all that jazz. “Fine yeah.”

“Cheers mate, I know he ain’t your favourite person but Finn’s doing an airport dash so I couldn’t …”

Aaron suddenly feels about two years old and wants to tell Adam that he doesn’t need babying like that, doesn’t need to have Robert moved away from him. Aaron tells himself that he’s overreacting about everything, he tells himself that none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. It’s fine, it’s all fine.

What isn’t fine is the atmosphere he drives into when he pulls up to Home Farm. He sees a kid kicking the wall, beanie hat on and backpack over one of his shoulders. He looks like an actual devil and Aaron just sort of stares at him until he’s too weirded out and he looks away. Then seconds later, he sees Robert and him and the kid are arguing. Something suddenly clicks and Aaron sits there with the engine humming low, thinking about the fact that Robert has a kid. He doesn’t look old enough for the kid to be his but he could be, it’s possible.

Aaron chews his lip hard and tries his best not to stare but they’re clearly arguing and it’s clearly getting heated. The kid waves a hand out and then Aaron can hear a woman shouting from inside the house and it’s all going on until Robert looks up and Aaron just stares at him.

“Deal with him Chrissie!” Robert shouts and then he’s practically stomping towards the car.

Aaron breathes in before he’s unlocking the door and watching Robert slide in without saying a single word. Aaron nods, and then he looks back at his phone to see where Robert wants dropping off too.

“Dean and Marlde?” Aaron looks at Robert through the mirror and Robert’s eyes flicker. Aaron doesn’t know what to do until Robert is nodding.

“Yeah, that’s what I told Adam.”

“I’m just double checking.” Aaron says.

“Why? Does he usually get stuff wrong?”

And oh. Robert’s a prick again, a really big one.

Aaron’s almost thankful, because when Robert isn’t a prick, he’s actually a decent person and it makes Aaron actually be kind and he doesn’t want to do that. It’s like Aaron knows that doing that is going to be dangerous, too dangerous. Aaron should embrace Robert’s attitude, it’s better. This is way better.

Aaron decides not to answer him. He decides to just focus on the road and then Robert does something that makes Aaron hate him even more.

“Sorry.” He says, Robert says, he says sorry.

Aaron frowns. “Don’t need to say that.” He shrugs because it’s weird and Robert should just carry on being a prick. Aaron gulps hard around the silence and then his shoulders flatten down and he feels like he was too harsh. “That your son?”

And clearly, so very clearly, it’s the wrong thing to say.

“What?” Robert’s face is a picture, he’s back to scowling and frowning and making Aaron’s heart thud so hard in his chest.

“I just …” Aaron hates the way Robert makes him stutter, and stammer, for absolutely no reason. Aaron can admit now that Robert’s a little intimidating, he’s not too proud anymore. It’s the fancy suits and the big house and the way he just looks at him like he’s looking through him. It’s a lot to deal with. “I was a nightmare at that age too.”

“Too?”

Shit. Aaron clears his throat and realises that there’s a line and he’s gone and overstepped it for some insane reason.

“I just mean …” He doesn’t know what he just means, he just wanted to say something to make Robert’s shoulders relax a little. Why does he care about his shoulders? What is wrong with him?

“I wasn’t looking for advice.” Robert cuts him off and Aaron’s hands grip the steering wheel that little bit tighter before he breathes out and decides to keep concentrating on the road again. Just the road, because if he thinks about how much he wants to kick Robert out of this car, it’d probably crash.

Eventually, Roberts gets out of the car and Aaron scowls at him as he goes and it suddenly feels like they’re on this never-ending loop of hating each other, being cordial and then going right back to the hating each other bit. It’s exhausting, Robert’s exhausting and he doesn’t even know him.

Only he does now, he knows he works in this prancy office building, knows that he’s with someone who thinks he needs testing, knows he lives in the fanciest house for miles and has a kid. He knows more than he should, and it’s because he’s letting himself know.

He's losing the absolute plot.

 

-•-

 

Finn’s bagged himself a date. It’s making everyone in the village look at Aaron and ask why he isn’t dating and it’s the biggest headache in the world. His mum might as well hold out a stick and poke him until he tells her he’s getting married. He’s sick of it, so sick of it, which means that he’s decided to cover Pete’s shift and work on a Saturday night to watch all the drunk idiots stumble towards him asking to be taken to

Amsterdam.

Aaron’s parked up near the town centre and he’s watching a group of rowdy lads chanting something as they stumble into the next bar. For a second, Aaron wishes he could follow them. For a second, Aaron wishes he didn’t feel as alone as he did. The thoughts are enough to make him feel sick, so he gets out of the car and leans against it, tilts his head back and looks up at the starry sky above.

Finn and his stupid date. It circles back around in his mind and makes him give in, lean back into the car and get out the packet of cigarettes he’s had in there for ages. He pulls out the lighter as well, stares at it and then suddenly he hears shouting from behind him. Usually he wouldn’t care, wouldn’t even look back but then he hears the voice.

Aaron turns to see Robert, and he’s shoving at some other guy, pushing him hard and saying that it’s his dad’s ring and he gets to decide what happens to it.

“So that’s it? You’re jealous?” The other guy looks older, he’s got a beard and a beaten up farmer’s coat on. He also looks confused, then smug.

“What ‘cause you know deep down he’d have wanted me to have the ring more?”

Aaron’s eyes dart, and then he watches Robert try to swing, try to punch the guy and then he’s being thrown to the ground. Aaron drops the lighter and then starts running towards them, he isn’t even sure why, his legs are just doing all the work for him.

“Andy!” Some blonde woman is coming out of nowhere, dragging Andy away from Robert who is standing over him looking like he wants to do even more damage than he is. The woman looks up, looks at Aaron. “It’s … everything’s fine.”

Aaron looks down at Robert, he’s rolling around on the floor. “Clearly not.” He points to Robert and his heart does something funny as he hears Robert wince in pain.

“They’re brothers.” The woman says, “So no need to call the police or anything.”

Aaron nods his head slowly and then looks at Andy. “Pretty sure that’s his call.” He tilts his head down to Robert again. “He hit his head hard.” He looks up at Andy shaking his head.

“He’s drunk.”

“Yeah, and you punched him.” Aaron argues, he’s standing up for Robert for some insane reason. Maybe it’s because he knows him, maybe it’s because he heard what Andy said before Robert was flat on his arse.

The woman goes to speak, Katie according to Andy, and then she stops herself. Aaron stares down at Robert and then hears Katie saying that she doesn’t want him coming home with them and he thinks she sounds like a right cow.

“I’ll take him.”

That’s what Aaron says, those words come out of his mouth.

“What?” Andy frowns.

“I’ve got a cab, I’m a cab driver. I have …” Aaron turns, points to the cab and then looks back at Andy’s confused face. “He lives at Home Farm right?” Aaron tries to act casual; he tilts his head down to Robert again who is still complaining about the fact that he’s just been punched in the face. Andy eventually nods. “Think I’ve taken him before.”

Andy shrugs. “Do what you like, just make sure he doesn’t follow us.”

Aaron nods, and then he’s watching Andy just walk away from his brother as if he doesn’t know him, like he doesn’t care. For some reason, it makes Aaron feel offended.

“Like I would! Psycho.” Robert lifts his head and then he drops it again and Aaron realises that he really is drunk. Aaron crouches down towards him as Robert tries to get to his feet again. He places a hand against Robert’s shoulders, holds it down firmly to stop Robert from looking like even more of an idiot and Robert looks up at him with big wide eyes. Aaron stares back, notices that there’s a bruise forming already on the side of Robert’s face.

Robert just keeps staring and not speaking and Aaron just takes the opportunity to look around, and then up at the bar to the right which they all clearly spilled out of. He wonders how much Robert’s had to drink before he was punched in the face by his brother. For some reason or other, Aaron’s pretty certain that Robert’s not in the mood to let him know.

Robert’s still not said anything, and Aaron’s still touching his shoulder and it’s getting weirder by the second until Robert finally sits up straighter.

“Aaron?” Robert slurs, and then his head drops down towards his lap a little. 

Aaron shudders, “Don’t recognise my voice then?” He jokes, he’s joking. Why the fuck is he trying to joke here?

Thankfully Robert has absolutely no idea what he’s getting at, so he frowns and looks up. “What?” He mumbles.

“Never mind.” Aaron sighs. Robert just stares and then he’s looking at the hand Aaron has on his shoulder. Aaron clears his throat and then he’s finally pulling his hand away from Robert’s shoulder and standing up. He looks down at Robert and feels something twist in his chest. “Come on.”

He doesn’t want to touch him again; he wants to keep his distance.

“What?” Robert slurs out again, and Aaron winces as he watches him try to get to his feet.

“Well, your brother has pissed off so I’m taking you home.”

Robert finally gets to his feet and he’s practically swaying as he tells Aaron he can get home by himself.

Aaron scoffs. “You can hardly walk in a straight line, mate.”

“’M not your mate.” Robert spits out, and he sounds so disgusted that Aaron’s eyes flicker and he has to gulp hard against the words.

“I’m not trying to be your mate, just trying not to get you punched in the face again.”

“Why’d you care anyway?”

Aaron has absolutely no idea. “’Cause I can charge you what I like and you wouldn’t even know.” He moves towards Robert again. “Come on.”

“I don’t need your help!” Robert shoves at Aaron’s arm, and it should be enough to make him realise that he should turn back to his cab and leave Robert on his own. It should be, but there’s this tug again and Robert actually looks vulnerable and for some reason, that seems to be what matters.

Aaron’s feet seem glued to the floor. It’s like he can’t bring himself to leave.

“Are you deaf?”

And that’s what he needed to hear. “Suit yourself.”

Aaron marches back to his car, sticks a hand in one pocket and keeps going until he’s unlocking the door and trying his hardest not to stare at the way Robert is trying his best not to fall down the brick wall he’s leaning against.

He isn’t his problem.

He isn’t even his friend.

Aaron keeps repeating it until he sees that Adam’s been trying to get through to him about collecting some couple from a restaurant just down the road.

“Shit.” Aaron whispers, and then he’s ringing Adam, trying to get him to listen to the fact that he’s just dealt with an emergency idiot situation and that he’s on his way.

“You’re too late, they’ve gone.”

“Mate, I’m sorry, it’s just I had to deal with …”

Aaron hears this loud tapping against the window of the car and it’s enough to make him jump out of his skin. He’s ready to lose his absolute mind when he realises that it’s Robert. Aaron quickly comes to the conclusion that the universe won’t let Robert fade away into the depths of his memory. No. He’s got to be here, at ten at night, slamming on his car window like the drunk idiot he is.

“Adam I’m going to have to call you back.” Aaron puts the phone down and then sighs hard as he rolls down the window. “What?”

Robert stands a little straighter. “I need a lift home.”

“A lift? This is a cab service, not a favour. Saying that though, I don’t think many cabs are going to take you when you’re as off your head as you are.”

Robert tries to sober up as he straightens his back and Aaron sees his bare stomach for a second before his arms stretch down again. Aaron’s fucked. “I just need …”

“Some manners.” Aaron drums his hand against the steering wheel and then huffs. “Anything else you want?”

Robert looks like a little kid. “Look I’m sorry I shoved you.” He has the audacity to lean up against the car, stick his head in through the window.

“I’ve just had a rough day.”

“Yeah, I can see that.” Aaron bites his lip and then gives in because he’s an absolute loser. “Get in.” He says. “And don’t be sick.”

Robert drags himself in, moaning and groaning until Aaron tells him to put his seatbelt on if he wants to be going anywhere.

“Alright boss, I’m doing it.” Aaron hears the click of the seatbelt and then sighs. “Drive then!”

Aaron scowls. “There’s cars coming, so unless you want another black eye, I reckon you should just shut up.”

Robert tries to lean forward in the back of the car. “God, you sound like Andy.”

“The one who punched you? Yeah, I think I can relate to him a bit on that.”

Aaron finally steers out of the parking space and drives ahead.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know I watched you trying to punch your brother in the face over some ring.”

“He’s not my brother.”

“That woman said he was.”

“Adopted. He just wormed his way in and now he thinks he can just have my dad’s ring. Am I that invisible?”

Aaron shifts a little, because he wasn’t expecting that and then he sits up straighter than he was before. “He wouldn’t have been able to punch you if you were.”

Robert almost laughs, Aaron watches the corners of his mouth rise just slightly and then he’s dipping his head down again. 

“Where are you going anyway?”

“What?”

“You can’t take me home. Chrissie’s going to kill me.” Her name makes something jolt in Aaron’s chest. It’s a reminder that this drunk idiot is with someone, someone who probably loves him a whole lot. And Finn’s on a date. And Aaron’s alone. He’s just alone. He suddenly thinks of Ed.

“Aaron?”

“What? You think I’m just going to drive you around until your black eye fades.”

Robert groans again, like he’s a kid. “I’ll pay you, won’t I?”

Aaron could charge him a grand and Robert would probably not even notice, not even miss it. He suddenly hates him again; he hates the fact that

Robert makes him feel so twisted and torn inside for absolutely no reason.

“Not enough.” Aaron huffs, and then he’s parking up on the side of the road. “She’s going to notice the bruise.”

“I can spin it.” Robert sounds so confident, he’s a natural born liar then. “He’s the one that punched me.”

“Yeah ‘cause you tried punching him.”

“Yeah ‘cause he took my dad’s ring! He was his favourite and now – now he’s taking something else.”

Aaron arches an eyebrow and feels like he’s fallen into something a lot more serious than he thought. He sobers a little, straightens his back.

“So, it ain’t just about a ring.”

“He gets it all.” Robert lifts his head and there’s tears in his eyes. “What do I get?”

Aaron hears the engine; it sweeps through him and makes his chest feel tighter as he thinks of what to say. Robert isn’t a stranger; he isn’t this drunken mess who Aaron’s never going to see again. Robert’s a regular. He’s got connections, he’s bought him and Adam business. He’s someone Aaron knows, he knows him.

“You’ve got a job that gets you into fancy restaurants, a girlfriend, a son.” Robert frowns at him. “Yeah, I should have reversed that order or something but …”

“I haven’t got a son.”

Aaron doesn’t know what to say. His mouth gapes open and then he scowls. “But the boy I …”

“Chrissie’s little psycho.” 

Aaron’s not sure how to feel.

“He isn’t mine.”

“Chrissie is.”

Aaron says it and it comes out sour, and twisted, and he shouldn’t have this much of an opinion. He knows that. Robert looks at him through the mirror with his mouth parted and his eyes wide and for a second, he just stares. Aaron’s strong enough to look away when he does, he clears his throat and then breathes in.

“I’m sure she’ll uh … understand.” Aaron stammers his words out and suddenly wants Robert out of the car, out of his head too. “If she knows about you and your brother not getting …”

“She doesn’t give a shit Aaron.”

Robert says Aaron’s name and it makes things jolt. It feels like it’s suddenly so much more personal than it needs to be.

“And her dad doesn’t either.” Robert’s slurring his words, dipping his head down and then breathing in hard. “You know I probably speak to you more than I speak to her.”

Aaron wants to tell him to stop talking because it’s starting to make his chest hurt.

“That’s a bit sad then, considering all we do is argue.” Aaron can’t look up; he plays with his hands and bounces his knee up and down until he hears Robert unclick his seatbelt and try to dip himself forward. Robert ends up nearly falling flat on his face and Aaron has to shove him back. He hears him groan and he sighs hard before getting out of the driver’s seat and opening the back seat. Robert’s gangly self almost falls out and

Aaron has to hold him up for the second time tonight.

Aaron breathes in and pushes Robert into the car. Their knees touch as Aaron shuts the door and stares at Robert to see if he’s going to be sick.

“You don’t need to …” Robert tilts his head down again and Aaron holds at his shoulder.

“Don’t fall asleep, you just whacked your head again.”

“M’fine.” Robert whispers, and then he shakes his head. Aaron nods, goes to get back to the driving bit of his job because he’s never had the greatest bedside manner, but then he feels Robert’s hand against his arm. “Don’t – um …”

“I’m not going to tell your missus; I’m just dropping you home. You can walk to the door yourself I take …”

“Don’t go.” Robert mumbles it, head tilted down and Aaron freezes.

“What?”

“You didn’t need to be nice, but you were …”

“I’m just doing my …”

Robert suddenly has a hand against Aaron’s face and it’s like everything just stops.

“Robert …”

“You know I see you; I do. I see you … trying to be nice and I’m a dick but I …” Robert’s hand is still cupped against Aaron’s face and his eyes are wide and soft. “But you’re …”

“You’re drunk.” Aaron whispers, and he has to keep telling himself that because he can’t be here, like this, right now, with Robert.

Robert shakes his head and then that stupid hand he has on Aaron’s cheek starts stroking slowly. It’s too soft, too tender, too much but Aaron just lets it happen. For some reason he can’t do anything else. “You’re here, and you’re nice. You’re actually really lovely. Fit as well, despite – you know, always frowning.”

“Robert, I …”

Aaron tries to speak, to say anything that will make this seem less real than it is, but he doesn’t get to because Robert leans forward and kisses him gently on the lips like it’s the only thing he can do. Aaron thinks he’s losing the plot, like he’s slipped into some other world, and this is right, and this is good and so he kisses Robert right back like it’s the only thing he can do.

And it feels like it, it keeps feeling like it because Robert tilts his head up and then he presses his face even closer to Aaron’s and they’re kissing again. This time, Robert’s hand is around the back of Aaron’s neck and Aaron pushes himself further onto Robert until he’s practically on his lap and his hand slips under Robert’s shirt. Aaron searches Robert’s skin, eyes still closed as he keeps kissing Robert, and keeps kissing him, and keeps kissing him until Robert is suddenly jumping back like he’s been electrocuted.

Aaron’s lips are swollen, and he still has his hands against Robert’s waist as he tilts up and stares at him. For a second, for the most stupid second of his life, Aaron has the audacity to smile and think Robert will smile back. Robert doesn’t smile back. He looks absolutely terrified.

“It’s OK.” Aaron whispers, and he can’t help but be like this. He doesn’t know what else to do, what else to say, because this is Robert, and he can’t be like anything else. He knows that now. “Hey, it’s OK.” Aaron leans his hand up and places it against Robert’s face. He uses his thumb to stroke softly and then he watches Robert’s shoulders relax a little.

For a second, they just stare at each other in silence and then Aaron’s phone is ringing, and he stares at it resting on the headset. It’s Adam of all people.

“I just need to …” Aaron leans over, and suddenly everything is awkward as he picks up and Adam’s booming voice is in his ear.

“Mate I thought you’d been kidnapped.”

“What?”

“The car, it’s just in some lay-by.”

Aaron suddenly remembers the trackers and he has to sit up, run a hand over his hair. For some reason, he can’t even look at Robert. Their knees bump and Robert stays frozen, Aaron suddenly realises he hasn’t said one word yet.

“Uh yeah, the bloke I’m taking … we had to stop ‘cause he felt sick.”

Adam’s laugh nearly rocks the car. “Oh mate, that’s rough. Is it that Robert?”

“What?” Aaron clears his throat. “How do …”

“Don’t he live in the big house, you’re on your way there.”

Aaron finally looks at Robert. Regret. That’s the only thing he sees shining out of the bloke he would have shagged in the back of this car. Aaron can’t help but hate himself.

“Yeah – yeah I …”

“Sorry about that mate, I know how much you can’t stand him.”

There’s no other cars on the road, no one else around so Aaron hears him loud and clear. So, Robert hears him loud and clear.

“Uh …

“Oh, shit is he still in the car? Sorry.” Adam laughs hard, again. “Or he isn’t?” Aaron wants to crawl up in a ball and die. “Hello? Was he being a massive prick then?”

“Adam I … Aaron wants the ground to literally swallow him up, he wants to literally never see the light of day again right now because Robert is hearing everything, because Adam doesn’t know what volume control means and he also probably doesn’t expect Aaron to be practically sitting on Robert’s lap in the backseat.

“Even if he still is a massive prick, he’s bought those suit-wearing lot are way ain’t he? So don’t piss him off. Oh, but don’t let him be sick in the …”

“Adam I’ve got to go.” Aaron just hangs up, and he’s back to not being able to even look at Robert again.

“I …”

“I heard.”

Robert’s suddenly a lot more sober than Aaron gave him credit for because he sits up straighter and puts his seatbelt back on like absolutely nothing has happened at all. Aaron feels his heart sink a little. He’s not too proud to admit that, not now.

“Can you just take me home.”

Aaron didn’t know what he exactly expected to happen after he hung up, but it wasn’t this. He didn’t think it would be cold, and distant despite the fact that they’re sitting so close together. He didn’t expect to feel like he'd been punched in the stomach either.

Aaron nods, and then he gets into the driver’s seat and starts the longest journey back in the world. He can’t help but think about what Adam said, about how he said it, about what Robert heard or didn’t hear and the fact that it came across this way that he didn’t want it to. Yes, Robert is a massive prick but he’s not like that all the time. Aaron doesn’t hate him all the time either. He doesn’t. He really doesn’t.

The house seems even bigger as he pulls up to it, Aaron cranes his neck up to where the bedrooms must be almost to torture himself as he imagines Chrissie waiting for him.

Chrissie. A woman he hates without ever even seeing.

Robert can’t get out of the car fast enough; he slides his seatbelt off and then has a hand against the door. For a second, he doesn’t move and

Aaron wonders if it’s because he doesn’t want to go.

“It’s locked.” Robert says, and Aaron’s slapped back down to earth again.

Aaron clears his throat, tries his hardest not to let any of this affect him, tries not to think about the fact that Robert really did kiss him, and kiss him, and kiss him and let Aaron’s hands explore and –

“Gets unlocked when you pay.” Aaron gulps thickly, because he knows his voice is wobbly and he’s trying really hard not to let it show.

Robert doesn’t say a word. Again. He just fishes into his pocket and gets out his card. Aaron watches him because he can’t look away and then he’s punching in twenty quid and hearing the cheery sound of the machine beep as Robert’s card presses against it.

It’s such a tiny thing but it seems to last forever.

Just like before, when Robert was kissing him, and he was kissing him back and –

Robert pulls himself away from the moment, there’s this space between them and Aaron wonders whether or not he should say anything. It’d be weird if he didn’t, but it would be weird if he did. He doesn’t know how to start, what exactly to say so he just stares at the wheel of his car and Robert just doesn’t move.

Robert doesn’t move until there’s a light being turned on near the house and Aaron’s heart sinks as he imagines Chrissie standing there waiting for him, just greeting him by the door. It’s domestic, it’s almost sweet. Aaron hates it more than anything else in the world.

“Bye.” Robert finally says, only it’s said so quietly that Aaron wonders if he’s heard it or just imagined it. He should convince himself he imagined it, like before.

He could really do with convincing himself the man walking away, walking out of his sight, was just his imagination too.

 

-•-

 

Aaron feels like he’s dying. As in, he might give his mum a quick call and tell her he doesn’t want lilies at his funeral, and she shouldn’t wear that low cut black dress. His head feels like it’s about to fall off and the fact that Adam’s ringing him doesn’t make it any better. It makes him feel about ten times worse because Adam thinks the whole thing is hilarious.

“Wait, you’re hungover?”

Aaron doesn’t know why he’s got to spell it out, but apparently Adam needs him to.

“I just had a few drinks last night.”

“After you were out of the cab I hope.”

“What do you take me for?” Aaron scowls. Then swiftly stops. Even scowling hurts.

“An idiot who had a drunk idiot in the back of his car and thought hey why don’t I do the same?” Adam’s laughing again and Aaron’s stomach completely flips as he realises that he’s talking about Robert.

The fact that Aaron’s got to be here, sitting in the exact same car, staring at the backseat where Robert and him were, let’s face it, all the fuck over each other, makes him want to die. It makes him want to tell Adam to shove it because he’s very much due a day off any day now.
Adam’s still laughing when Aaron zones back into the conversation.

“Look, I hope he didn’t give you too much trouble.”

Aaron thinks it’s all ironic, this whole conversation. He’s almost certain that Robert’s given him much more trouble than he ever thought he would because now, Robert isn’t just a bit of a shit, now he’s a bit of shit that thinks it’s OK to kiss him and touch him and then piss off home. Not only piss off home but make Aaron drive him all the way there. In silence.

Aaron hates him even more than he did before.

“He was pissed.” Aaron mumbles. “But he did hear you, what you said. So, thanks.”

Adam gasps, dramatic as ever. “Mate. I didn’t even …”

“Think. Yeah, I know.”

“Well, what did he say?”

Aaron hates the fact that he has to crawl through his mind to remember considering he’s spent the entire night trying to forget. Robert pulled away, and then his jaw went all tense and he wanted to be taken home. That’s what happened. Robert was pissed, like he had the right to be.

“Nothing. It’s – it’s fine.”

Aaron can almost see the way Adam’s shoulders deflate in relief. “Oh. Good. So he didn’t drive you into a hangover then.”

Adam makes Aaron’s jaw tense, it makes him gulp hard and think about the fact that watching Robert walk into the house, into her arms, was the thing that made him drive to Tesco and pick up as many cans as he could without looking suspicious. He drank, and drank, and drank a bit more to forget.

It's worked in the past, the idea of just wiping something from his memory.

It didn’t happen though, yeah it was fuzzy for a second but actually kissing the idiot, actually feeling Robert’s hands on his face and hearing himself whisper quiet reassurance? He remembers it all too well, it’s like it's showing in HD every time he shuts his eyes. He wants to shatter it into a million pieces, but his brain won’t let him.

“Hello?” Adam’s still on the call, Aaron remembers suddenly and starts nodding his head along like he can see him. “You still …”

“Yeah.” Aaron clears his throat. “Um. No, it wasn’t him. I just …”

“I know what it was about.”

For a second, the tiniest second in the world, Aaron wonders if Adam does get it. He wants him to so badly because it’d be better than having to actually say the words out loud. Aaron knows he wouldn’t be able to form them anyway.

“You …

“It’s Finn ain’t it.” Adam says, and Aaron takes it all back. He breathes in, breathes out and decides to see where Adam is going with all of this.

“That date he went on.”

“You think I was jealous or something?” Aaron pulls a face. “It was just a one night …”

“I get feeling lonely Aaron.” Adam says it low and quietly, he says it like he’s walking over these very important yet very fragile little eggshells that keep Aaron at a distance from him. He’s also speaking straight from his heart which makes it all ten times worse. Adam’s been in dark, lonely places and Aaron gets that. He knows exactly what he’s getting at.

“Ad …”

“We sit in the back of our cars don’t we? And it’s like … like half the time we’re just invisible.” Aaron breathes in deeply and holds it for longer than he should before he breathes out and tries not to draw attention to the fact that Adam’s saying things that he knows are so true. “And we hear about their lives, where they’re going, what for, who with. We watch ‘em leave n’all. We just – stay.”

Aaron closes his eyes and watches as Robert walks towards his house, and his girlfriend, and his life and he’s just left behind like some idiot. Aaron keeps seeing it, like it’s on some loop in his mind. He opens his eyes, attempts to stop it and then he realises that he hasn’t responded to Adam and it’s all getting weirder by the second.

Aaron decides to laugh, because you know, that always helps. “Jesus Adam, that might be the deepest thing you’ve ever said.”

“Sorry mate I just … you know …”

“Like sounding like my mum?”

“Just as much as you like deflecting. Just trying to help.”

Aaron’s face drops and he’s suddenly so thankful that this is over the phone and not in person because Adam would be able to see through it all the way he usually does, he’d be able to tell instantly that there was something wrong.

Aaron bites down on his lip hard and then feels an ache in his head again. He closes his eyes and remembers the way Robert’s hand caressed the back of his head, stroked gently, looked at him as if he was in some sort of haze or something, kissed him.

“You know what would help, you could make sure I don’t have to take that Sugden anywhere again.”

That just comes out and Aaron doesn’t have the chance to really hear it before Adam responds with a laugh, and then he’s stopping because Aaron isn’t joining in. He means this.

“Wait, you’re serious?”

Aaron gulps thickly and opens the window so he can stick his head out and get some air. “Yeah, he pisses me off and the last thing I want is for him to complain and get us in more trouble.”

Adam surprises Aaron by sighing, blaming himself. “’Cause he heard what I said?”

Aaron bites his lip, thinks, no because he stuck his tongue down my throat and I had my hands under his shirt. “Uh, before that as well. He was blind drunk, mouthing off.”

“You shouldn’t have had to take him then.”

Aaron thinks about what would have happened if he didn’t, it would have been an easy night. He wouldn’t have ended up blind drunk and had a banging headache the next morning.

“Yeah.” Aaron looks down at his hands. “Look um, it’s not a big deal or anything. I just think if you uh … offload him elsewhere if he wants a ride, it’d be a good idea.”

“Yeah, sure man.”

Aaron nods his head and tells himself, very easily, that he’s never going to have to see Robert again.

 

-•-

 

The nights draw in, making it darker a whole lot earlier and it means that people demand to be driven to places more than they usually do. It’s also freezing which means that Aaron has the heating in his car on, as well as his puffer jacket stretched right around him. At the moment, he’s waiting for someone to do a little wave towards him and ask if he knows somewhere which is very obvious before they slide in the backseat and Aaron drives in a comfortable silence.

Aaron’s sure he’s found his footing now. He’s friendly when he needs to be, quiet when he wants to be and that’s all the job really entails. He’d say that about 99% of the time, he’s relaxed with everything. The only time he isn’t is when there’s a blond man walking towards the car and just for a stupid second, he thinks it’s Robert.

It's been weeks since he was last in the back of his cab and Aaron can’t quite believe how smoothly the whole thing has gone. Adam’s taken him once or twice, and he’s sure that the rude bastard Pete referred to once was the one and only Robert Sugden, but other than that it’s been blissful. If Aaron was being honest, he hasn’t even thought about him. If he was forced to be really really honest, he’d admit that sometimes he does, and sometimes he wonders if he literally imagined the whole thing.

The first few days after were the worst, because for some reason, Aaron imagined Robert demanding to be driven by Aaron or demanding to be told why he couldn’t have his usual driver and making a fuss because he was that sort of control freak. Every time Adam tried ringing, Aaron would tense, and he’d imagine that he was going to give him the address of Robert’s ugly offices or his posh house and mumble something about Robert wanting to apologise to him in person or something. Soon, those thoughts died away though and Aaron realised that Robert, and all his stupid self, was always going to be too proud to every say or do anything to confront what went on that night.

And that suits Aaron just fine. It really does.

 

-•-

 

The lights aren’t working near the train station which means that Aaron’s taking his break in one of the taxi ranks. He’s been forced to buy some sandwich from one of the stalls in the station and he knows he’s been overcharged for what it’s worth but he’s hungry and there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Aaron pulls up the train arrival times on his phone, notices that there’s more or less delays for every single one. He sticks his phone back in his pocket and smiles a little knowing that this break could go on for a while.

It's absolute bliss, unlike this sandwich which is more bread than bacon and the tomato looks like it’s been chewed up by an angry fox or something.

That’s what’s on his mind when he sees him. Robert. He’s coming out of the station; he has a small leather suitcase that he's dragging along his side, and he looks down at his phone. Aaron just stares at him, for a second, and then another second. Aaron breathes in, and then he looks down at his sandwich again because yep, it’s more interesting than Robert. It’s more interesting then –

There’s a knock on the window, a loud one, one that makes Aaron look up and he’s never wanted it to be a customer so much in his life. Unfortunately, the world is conspiring against him, so it isn’t. Instead, it’s Robert.

Aaron keeps staring at him, wondering what would happen if he just didn’t roll down the car window. If he just drove off instead. It would be so easy to do that, it would be hilarious to watch Robert’s stupid hand drag along the car for a second before it falls down towards his side again. Aaron wants to do all that, but for some horrible reason, he doesn’t. He clears his throat, sighs hard and then rolls down the window.

Robert looks at him with big round eyes and Aaron hates how he notices the fact that his face is so much frecklier than he remembers. He’s got a tan. He’s been on holiday then. The suitcase is a little on the small side though. Aaron stares down at it and then looks up again, tells himself to get an absolute grip over this.

“What?” Aaron asks. It’s a question, one that requires Robert to very simply tell him what it is he wants.

Robert gulps thickly like he’s swallowing a lemon. Then he finally speaks. “I haven’t seen you for a bit.”

Aaron has no clue what to say so he keeps quiet, waits until Robert says something else. When he doesn't, Aaron realises he’s either got to reply or stay in this silence that Robert has created. “Right.” He says. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“I’ve been uh … on holiday actually.”

Aaron chews his lip. “Am I supposed to ask you where or something ‘cause I’m not going to.”

Robert breathes in. “Not going to let me in your cab either I suppose.” Aaron’s eyes flicker a little. “Yeah. Adam said you were busy.”

Aaron imagines Robert strolling back in from wherever he’s been, calling up Adam and being confronted with the fact that he isn’t available.

“So, what do you want?”

Robert stares at Aaron, eyes beady and brow furrowed like he didn’t expect for things to go like this. Almost like he expected Aaron to have his door open, ready for them to what? Shag in the backseat. Aaron hasn’t thought about that, not for one single second. He doesn’t even know why he’s thinking about it right now but the more he stares at Robert, the more it’s on his mind.

“Since you don’t know yourself, you can lean away from the car and do one.” Aaron says, and then he presses the button to watch the window roll up.

“Hang on!” Robert shouts, there’s a kick of some sort of emotion in his voice there and Aaron’s startled by it, so he freezes. “I just … you blacklisted me or something?”

Aaron feels cold suddenly, he feels like he can’t quite breathe. “I don’t need to explain anything to you.”

“I’m just asking, look I know …”

Aaron raises his head, looks right at Robert and it clearly unnerves the twat because he stops speaking altogether.

“You didn’t say anything did you?”

Aaron’s eyes widen and then he clears his throat. “Like what?”

Robert knows, and Aaron knows, and this car knows what Robert’s on about but it’s like if they mention it, then it happened, then it was real, then it was something that they both can’t ignore. So, Robert continues to be a coward, because that clearly comes naturally to him.

“I ...” Robert tilts his head. “Me being drunk like that.”

Aaron bites his lip hard. Yep, he really is a coward then. “Robert just go.” He whispers, and then he drags a hand over his face. “Seriously.” Though when he looks up, Robert is still standing there. “I mean it, go.”

Robert nods his head slowly and then backs away before swinging forwards again. Aaron stares at his stupid face and imagines him on holiday, with his girlfriend. He imagines them somewhere hot, drinking champagne and watching the sun set and writhing against silk sheets. He imagines it being a spare of a moment thing, a shit-I’ve-just-nearly-fucked-my-cab-driver sort of spare of the moment thing. All this anger comes rushing up from nowhere.

“I’ll stay clear then.”

“You should have in the first place.” Aaron bounces his knee, gives himself away a little before sighing. “Just stay away from me yeah?”

Robert’s jaw tightens. “Yeah.” He says, and then he hesitates again, like he’s wondering whether or not he should say goodbye.

In the end, he doesn’t. In the end, Aaron’s grateful.

 

-•-

 
Aaron likes minding his own business, in fact, he would go as far as to say it’s one of his best traits. It’s great because it translates into the cab business brilliantly and 9 times out of 10, he actually forgets that there’s someone else in the cab with him. It’s becoming something that he only really notices when Robert is in here and it’s disgusting really. It’s disgusting because Aaron shouldn’t be able to pinpoint a particular twat who he behaves differently around but knowing that, knowing that it’s weird and disgusting, doesn’t make it any less true. And it really is true.

It's true right about now as well. There’s a woman in the back of the car that he’s picked up from a fancy salon after she waved her hand out quickly and give him a tight smile. She’s talking about dinner parties and Aaron couldn’t give a single shit about it. He manages to zone her out quick enough.

Aaron’s concentrating on the road, he’s concentrating on the fancy restaurant this woman wants to be taken to right in the middle of town and the fact that he could never ever afford to eat there on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon. It’s one thing he’s noticed since all of this started up; people spend money like they’re dying tomorrow. People decide to call a cab when they could have taken the bus or even walked. It’s like they don’t even think to, Aaron’s not about to mention it though, people being lazy keeps a roof over his head. Aaron’s in his own world when the woman speaks.

“How long have you been doing this then?”

Aaron wants to die. Instead, he mumbles something about it being a couple of months now and the woman seems to find it endearing.

“I don’t usually hail down cabs.”

Aaron’s starting to hope she kept that up.

“…. I usually take my car, but it’s felt a bit flat since yesterday.” The woman is speaking just to speak, Aaron’s used to this by now. “Almost spongey, it’s a bloody nuance.”

Aaron bites his lip. “Could be your brakes.”

“Brakes?”

Aaron breathes in, thinks of the fact that this woman could leave a good review and Adam could be even happier than his dopey self if he keeps this up. “Yeah.” And he asks her if it’s slower than usual over gravel. It earns him this kind smile and then she’s asking him how he knows. “Used to be a mechanic, tell them exactly what I just told you about the brakes and they shouldn’t charge you more than fifty quid to change it.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

Aaron nods his head, feels like he’s done his little good deed of the day and switches his brain off for ten minutes until the woman is speaking again.

“Change of plan, could you drop me to The Chestnut instead.”

And Aaron’s never heard of the place, his face must give it away because she laughs this awkward posh laugh and lets him know it’s only two minutes from the pretentious restaurant, she named in the first place. Aaron never realised there were so many about.

“Of course.” Aaron tightens his hands on the steering wheel.

“I’m meeting my boyfriend there; he changed his mind at the last minute.”

Aaron has to check that the woman’s not on the phone. Then he sits straighter as he sees her staring at him. “Right. Spontaneous.”

“Well, he is a bit.” The woman laughs but it doesn’t really meet her eyes. Not really. Then she smiles. “I think he just wants to impress. It’s his thing.”

Aaron arches an eyebrow and looks at her expensive clothes, her sparkly earrings. “You like being impressed?”

Aaron’s actually asking her a question. He’s lost the plot.

The woman looks caught off guard and pulls a face. “It’s always good to keep someone on their toes, isn’t it?”

“What even your boyfriend?” Aaron scoffs, and then instantly regrets it as he sees the look on her face. She looks insulted, it’s just what he needs.

Aaron goes to say sorry, to apologise for saying anything this whole journey, and then he stops himself because the woman beams and waves to someone outside and she tells him to stop the car.

Aaron pulls onto the side of the road, engine still running as the woman shifts in her seat and then leans her head out the open window.

“I thought we agreed for you to meet me …”

Aaron’s really good at minding his own business, but for some reason he turns and stares and then Robert is staring back at him. Robert’s staring right at him, mouth half open like he’s just as surprised as he is.

Robert’s got a suit and tie on, nothing new there then. He’s also got a big Prince Charming type smile on his face and Aaron looks away from him because clearly the look isn’t meant for him. It’s meant for –
Chrissie. His girlfriend.

As in he’s been in a cab with Robert’s girlfriend of all people.

For some strange reason, Aaron absolutely cannot look up. All he can think about is the fact that the woman is the woman who tried to trick and test Robert for fun, or for proof and now he knows she clearly delights in the idea of him impressing her. Aaron doesn’t like her. He has no idea why he has such an opinion but it’s a strong one. But that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that he’s also snogged her boyfriend, right where she’s sitting and if he were to tell her it’d cause more drama than he can get his head around.

Chrissie’s still beaming at Robert like he lights up the sky and Aaron’s heart twists as he thinks about her finding out, thinks about how her face would fall and her eyes would well up with tears and Aaron would be to blame.

Robert finally speaks, and he sounds like he’s stammering slightly, like there’s a ball of cotton in his mouth that he’s trying to talk around. “Yeah, I was … I was on my way.” He says slowly.

“What, you were walking?”

Aaron waits, the engine running through the silence as Robert doesn’t speak.

“Well yeah, could hardly take my car, could I? Not if I wanted to drink.”

“Never heard of a friendly cab service then?” Chrissie teases, laughs, probably flicks her hair too.

“I – I don’t mind walking.”

Aaron listens, it seems to roughly translates to: I didn’t really have a choice. Aaron wonders if Adam’s been busy all day, if they’ve had a sudden rush. The thought of Robert choosing to walk rather than be in the back of anyone else's car is ridiculous, it has to be.

“Well come.” Chrissie scoots herself away from the window and looks across at Aaron. “Um excuse me, can we just have him come in. He’s my boyfriend, the one who wants to impress me all the time.” Chrissie says, a smile painted on her face for some reason or other and Aaron gulps hard again like there’s something stuck in his throat.

Aaron just stares, realises that he could tell Chrissie to get out for no apparent reason and drive until he was in a different country. You know, some things are possible. He should start doing crazier things because the thought of having Robert, after all this time, and Chrissie, after he’s kissed her boyfriend, in the back of his cab right now makes him want to be sick.

He doesn’t do anything crazy though, instead he nods slowly, and watches Robert open the door and slide in. Aaron should look away but instead he watches Robert’s hand sink into Chrissie’s as she squeezes down and smiles at him.

“Hi.” Robert decides to say, and then he waves, and Aaron absolutely hates him in a way he didn’t think he still did.

Aaron’s very much convinced himself that Robert was just some guy he knew, some idiot, some twat that he doesn’t have to be around anymore and yet here he is in the back of his cab. Only it’s different now, he isn’t drunk, and Aaron isn’t kissing him.

No, instead, Robert’s whispering about meetings and clients and he’s reminiscing about the holiday he had with Chrissie. Aaron’s trying hard not to listen, but he can’t help but pick up the fact that they were in Malta only two days after Robert’s attempts at getting his tongue as far as humanly possible down Aaron’s throat.

Aaron feels like an idiot in more ways than one. He feels less than and he doesn’t know how to stop it. The fact that Chrissie’s necklace keeps shining in the sunlight just makes it all worse. Then Robert kisses her cheek, and she laughs and kisses him back on the mouth and Aaron really really hates Robert. Aaron hates himself more.

“Apparently it’s my brakes.” Aaron hears Chrissie mumbling.

Robert arches an eyebrow, looks all impressed.

“Isn’t that right.” Chrissie leans over, and Aaron’s forced to look back and then he’s forced to nod his head and listen as Chrissie tells Robert that he was so helpful with his suggestions, that it’s lovely to have lovely people around.

Aaron wants to tell her a little about his life just so she can start being a snotty cow, just so he can be justified in hating her the way he does. She doesn’t though, in fact, when he pulls up to the restaurant and the sky starts to melt into a pink hue above them, she asks Robert to tip as she gets out of the car. Robert pays in cash; his hands hold Aaron’s for the smallest of seconds, and he looks like he wants to say something but doesn’t.

“Cheers.” Aaron mumbles, and then Robert is nodding his head.

“I … yeah thanks.” Robert says, Robert’s shy. Robert’s an idiot, Aaron decides.

It makes Aaron pull his gaze away, and then so does the way Robert’s hands fall naturally to the small of Chrissie’s back as they walk towards the entrance of the restaurant and Aaron’s alone again.

 

-•-

 

It’s a drizzly morning, the kind that makes it hard to get up in the morning, but Aaron pulls himself together and tries to put one foot in front of the other as he gets out the front door. The rain should be making things a whole lot busier than they are at the moment, he should have someone in the back of his cab telling him about their day like he cares.

Aaron’s almost thankful he’s alone though because he’s been in a foul mood ever since Chrissie was scooting over and allowing Robert to sit next to her. It felt like some sort of violation, felt like an attack that went right to the centre of his heart and twisted until he couldn’t breathe. It’s dramatic, it's completely dramatic but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

Now, the rain falls, and Aaron’s forced to turn the wipers on. He watches them tick backwards and forwards as he goes down country lanes and almost purposely avoids the city centre. Aaron never realised how lonely driving was until now, until he was watching the world go by around him and he was stuck in this little piece of metal. Sometimes it’s relaxing, sometimes it’s almost enjoyable and then there’s times like this where it’s pissing it down and everything feels worse than it really is. 

The rain grows heavier as Aaron turns a pointless roundabout in the road and then spots another car on the same stretch of road as he is. Aaron rolls his eyes, feels almost exposed for his idleness and decides to slow right down and wave the car on. The road’s large enough for it to happen smoothly, he indicates to the right and feels the rain steer him smoothly to the side.

The car behind doesn’t move at all though. In fact, the car slows right down like he’s mirroring Aaron.

“What the …” Aaron waves his hand out, but it doesn’t do a single thing. The car keeps at its slow pace.

Aaron rolls his eyes, suddenly turns the engine off and expects the car to finally get the hint and drive on but no, it’s never that simple. It can’t be.
Instead of things being as normal as normal can be, the car stops too. Dead in the road. Aaron sits up a little straighter suddenly and doesn’t know what to expect as he unbuckles his seatbelt and opens the car door to go tell whoever it is that they’re pissing him right –

And yes. Of course, the person who steps out of the car in front of him has to be Robert Sugden.

Aaron breathes in tightly and blames the rain for the way he shudders like a little girl. Robert doesn’t move, he does the whole cool, calm and collected thing as he slams his car door shut and walks towards Aaron with this look on his face.

“What are you playing at?” Aaron barks, because although he was hardly rushed off his feet, he’s working and Robert’s a dick he really is trying to avoid at all costs.

“Me?” Robert looks furious. “You’re the one who made some big song and dance about me and you staying out of each other’s way.”

“So, to hammer home that point, you follow me in your shitty sports car?”

Robert looks more offended than Aaron’s ever seen him before. It’s almost comical really. It’s also a lie, the bit about the car being shitty. It’s actually amazing but that’s so beside the point right now.

“First off, it isn’t shitty, and you know it.”

Aaron drags his eyes away from Robert’s and clearly gives the game away.

“And secondly …”

“Will you just get to the bit where you explain why you followed me here?”

“Yeah sure, as soon as you explain what Chrissie was doing in your car yesterday.”

Aaron’s shoulders flatten and he finds himself feeling even angrier than he thought he’d be. Fair enough, it must have looked a little weird for Robert but it’s not Aaron’s fault that Robert’s got his weirdly long fingers stuck in so many pies. Aaron tries to channel that energy into puffing out his chest and frowning at Robert, not giving him an answer until he’s well and truly ready.

“You wanted me to kick her out yeah?”

“I didn’t want her to be anywhere near you in the first place.”

Aaron takes issue with that, because he can’t not take issue. It makes him feel dirty, used, like he’s this germ that’s going to infect Robert’s precious girlfriend.

“So ban her from waving her arms about and calling for a taxi on the side of the road then!” Aaron shouts that, and Robert takes a step back a little. Then he’s stepping forward again like he’s just recharged his Let Me Be A Dick batteries. “You know how ridiculous you sound?”

“You could have said a million things, but no, you let her in your car and drove her round knowing that …”
Robert’s an absolute coward. So, he stops himself short.

“Knowing what?” Aaron decides to challenge him, take a step forward and stare right into Robert’s eyes. “Knowing what Robert?”

Robert gulps thickly, then his eyes flicker and he turns away from Aaron completely. “Just admit that you’re a hypocrite.” He says, and it’s basically a whisper but Aaron’s ears hear it, holds onto it tight.

“I didn’t know it was your girlfriend! She hailed and I stopped and let her in.” Aaron’s waving his arms about and then he suddenly tries to regain some composure by sticking them in his pockets and breathing in deeply. “What did you want me to do, ask her what her name is and if she’s got a thing for cheating lowlifes.”

And that does two things. It bursts that little bubble they were avoiding, and it also makes everything uglier, meaner, more bitter than it needed to be. Robert stands straighter and raises his head just a fraction as he looks at Aaron almost in disbelief.

Aaron’s not going to be a coward about any of this.

Robert gets the memo, or at least he pretends like he does. “That was a mistake.”

And that hurts Aaron in a way he didn’t expect, he doesn’t burst into tears, but something aches in his chest almost instantly. Then he’s wondering if he’s letting it show and he feels even more ridiculous than he thought was possible. Aaron wants to smack Robert, he really does.

“Was it really?” Aaron scoffs, and Robert squirms in a way that makes Aaron want to press harder on that wound he’s clearly created. “That’s what you’re going with then.”

“It’s the truth.” Robert whispers, and then he clears his throat and almost tries to start again. “That’s what happened. I was drunk, and I was … I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Aaron’s heart thuds. “So, you didn’t know what you were doing but you definitely know it was a mistake yeah?”

“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?”

Aaron huffs and there’s this anger again, seeping through him as he tries to keep calm and fails every single time. “No, I think I’m absolutely crazy to be standing on the side of the road talking to an idiot like you so move.” Aaron says that and then he pushes past Robert with a speed that nearly sends Robert flying. 

It’s amusing for a second, Aaron enjoys it for a second until he’s walking away, and he realises that he doesn't want to, and it makes him feel sick inside. 

“It was a mistake.” Robert repeats that, he says it like it’s the most honest thing in the world and Aaron realises that Robert can work himself up to believe anything if he sets his mind to it. “I – I was drunk and I …” 

“Thought I was Chrissie, is that it?” Aaron decides that he really does have the power to be as nasty as he likes with all of this because he’s just had to sit on it, he’s had to remember it all whilst Robert was sipping margaritas by a pool. “You know how insane you sound.”

“You know how jealous you sound?”

Aaron feels a kick in his stomach, and he dips his head down a little, tries to keep his emotions in check as much as he can. Jealous is probably the worst thing that Robert could have said, it’s probably the worst thing that he could ever think of hearing if he’s being honest. He remembers being tiny, his mum frowning at him in her high heels and telling him not to cry, not to be jealous because Daisy from school got to go to Disneyland and he didn't. He hated her for it, for making him seem small and silly. Robert’s right in front of him now, doing the exact same thing and Aaron’s flawed by how much the feeling feels the same. 

You kissed me. You would have done more if Adam didn’t ring. Then you got shit scared and went off on holiday because that’s what pretentious twats like you do. You run away and I’m left here like an idiot wondering what the fuck’s just happened.” Aaron breathes in and he watches the way Robert’s mouth is tilted open in quiet protest. “And then you swan back in, like nothing’s happened and think you have the right to have a go at me over not ignoring your girlfriend enough?” 

“Aaron …”

“And then, then you think you get to call me jealous? Jealous of what? You. Or your messed up relationship of convenience.” 

He’s done, the applause in his mind quietens down and Robert looks like he doesn't know what the hell has just happened. It’s almost like Aaron has stunned him into silence. It’s perfect.

Aaron savours it until Robert opens his stupid mouth again. 

“You have no idea about my relationship. No single idea.”

Aaron tips his head up and huffs. “Funny that, I reckon Chrissie doesn't either.” 

The smirk that spreads across his face is the thing that makes Robert put his hands on him, hold his jumper square in the chest and tighten his hands as hard as he possibly can. Aaron pushes back, eyes wide as he wriggles and manages to shove Robert back against his precious car. 

“Touched a nerve then?” Aaron hisses, and then he makes the mistake of dipping his head a little so that he’s leaning over Robert, right over him and then he’s staring down at Robert’s mouth and just waiting. 

It’s insane to be almost wishing for Robert to make a move. It’s like they’re playing a game of chess, it’s Robert’s move. It’s his move and the twat just lays against his car like he doesn't know what to do or say. Then he leans up, just slightly, and Aaron could lean down just slightly, and they could be kissing if they really wanted to but that doesn't happen because Aaron watches Robert turn his head away and the little game of theirs is over with.

“If this, is you trying to threaten me, you’re doing a shit job.” Robert says, after a few seconds.

“Oh, am I now?” Aaron frowns, and then he steps forward and almost smiles. “I think you’re forgetting that I’ve got something over you.”

Robert’s jaw tenses and that elephant comes thundering into the room again. “Like anyone would believe you.”

And Aaron’s a little flawed by the way Robert views them kissing in the back of his car. He’s treating it like something that the government is involved in. Aaron cannot work the idiot out and it’s the most frustrating thing in the world.

“Why would I have a reason to lie?” Aaron tilts his head. “I was sober you know, remember every word you said.”

That seems to rock Robert a little, his foundations crumble and it makes everything halt in Aaron’s chest. Robert looks caught out somehow, like Aaron knows something about himself that he doesn't. 

“You know … I see you.” Aaron decides to say that, decides to claw back through his memory and pull out the words Robert told him when he was holding his face and staring into his eyes that night. Aaron watches it take effect, watches Robert’s eyes twitch and his face fall and it’s clearly all too real for him to try and get his head around. 

Aaron doesn't know what he expects to happen next but Robert thundering past him isn’t what he wanted. Robert gives up because he’s a coward. Aaron watches it happen, stuck against the ground like he can’t move. Aaron decides to stop watching, he decides to stick his head down and wait until he hears Robert’s car revving away. He keeps waiting, and waiting, but it doesn't happen.

Instead, Aaron tips his head up and sees Robert hovering near his car. It’s almost like he can’t move, can’t bring himself to go. 

For a second, Aaron wonders if Robert’s going to come marching back towards him or something. 

“I’m warning you. Stay away from me and Chrissie.”

Aaron didn’t expect that. He feels like he’s been whacked across the head, like his vision is blurring, like he wants to push Robert to the ground and keep pushing. He also isn't sure how he can still manage to feel even the slightest bit disappointed in him. Aaron takes a second, and then another and he breathes in. 

“And I’m warning you. No actually, I’m promising you, if you think you can tell me what to do then I’m making sure your dozy missus finds out you were sticking your tongue down my throat before you got on that plane for your holidays.”

Robert does that pathetic thing with his jaw again, breathes in and then he’s finally getting in his car and pissing off. 

Aaron gets to breathe again.

-•-


The coffee is burning hot when Aaron takes a sip so he’s already in a bit of a shit mood. It gets worse when Adam decides to send him a text whilst he’s in the middle of driving a woman and her kid to the airport. The kid keeps kicking the seat and it feels like it’s going straight to his brain. Adam usually sends him a stupid emoji or a meme or something but this time it’s a little more to the point.

Call me when you’re free. Urgent.

It sounds as ominous as ever, it also doesn’t sound like anything Adam would normally say so Aaron gets the woman’s bags out the car, waves her off and then rings. 

“This better be as serious as that text made you sound mate.”

And Adam doesn't say anything, he doesn't laugh either. He just sort of sighs and Aaron is forced to sit up and take this a lot more seriously than he thought he had to.

“Ad?”

“Robert Sugden told me.”

Aaron’s heart thumps out of his chest and he doesn't know what he’s supposed to do about it. He just keeps thinking about whether Adam can hear it down the end of the line, if he’s aware of how he’s suddenly made him feel. Aaron’s silent, eerily so as he tries to imagine what Robert told Adam. It can’t be the truth, that sticks out in his mind. Then he second guesses everything, talks himself into thinking about the possibility of Robert doing something as insane as being honest. 

“Told you?” Aaron decides to say, decides to play it as safe as he can. “Told you what?”

Aaron can practically see Adam rolling his eyes. “He’s complained about you just like I said he would if you kept on at him.” His voice is louder than usual, and Aaron quickly realises that Adam’s pissed off about this in a way he never usually is. 

Robert complained. He’s complained? 

Aaron wants to kill him.

“What’s he said?”

“That he saw you yesterday, that you were shouting in his face and acting unprofessional. I thought you were staying away from him. I worked around the fact that you thought he was a prick.” Adam stops himself short, tries to regain composure or something. “What the hell were you thinking?”

For a second, Aaron wonders if Robert wants him to tell the truth. Robert had the audacity to threaten him, and now he’s actually gone through with it just because Aaron didn’t cower under his words. Aaron hates him, yes, he’s said it a million times in his mind, but he’s never felt it as much as he does at this moment. The feeling seems to take over.

“I – Ad I didn’t do anything. He – I had his missus in the car, and I drove them to where they were going. End of.”

“So why did he tell me to have a word with you?”

Aaron’s practically seething under the weight of how that sounds like he’s this little pet that needs to be put back in his place as quickly as possible. 

“Because he’s a bastard Adam.” 

“Yeah, I get how you feel about him Aaron, you’ve made that pretty clear.”

Aaron’s mouth falls open a little at that, then his head starts to feel fuzzy, and he rests his head back against the seat. The irony seems to smack Aaron across the face so hard it hurts. 

“I … I’m sorry OK?” Aaron whispers the words out over the phone, he drifts his gaze towards the window and then he breathes in slowly. “I’ll sort it.”

“What’s that mean?”

Aaron knows what it means, it means punching Robert as hard as he can in the face and hammering home the message that Robert doesn’t get to kiss him, then run away only to come back and be the biggest dick about it. Aaron’s never regretted a stupid kiss more in his whole life. That detail skates around in his mind, the way it’s all this big mistake. Aaron has to keep telling himself exactly that because sometimes he slips, sometimes, when Robert is right in front of his face, it doesn't feel like calling what happened a mistake is something that’s entirely accurate and that’s wrong in too many ways to count. 

“It means I’ll uh … make him not think he has to take this any further or whatever.” Aaron’s knee is bouncing up and down and he thinks about the fact that Robert would probably be that sort of smug arse who actually thinks he deserves an apology. 

Adam makes a small sound. “No – no you’re not speaking to him if that’s what you’re getting at. You’ll make it worse.”

Aaron rolls his eyes and thinks of how there’s little else he can do but punch Robert in the face over this, step up the blackmail, put him in his place, all that jazz. Adam doesn't seem to get that though, instead, Adam’s trying to put his size eleven’s down over all of this. 

“I mean it.”

“Yeah, and so do I. I’m not scared of some jumped up posh …”

“It’s not about being scared Aaron, it’s about him making this into a big deal and ruining our reputation just ‘cause you don’t know when to pipe down.”

Aaron sits up straighter, his eyes widen around the way Adam speaks and he doesn’t know what to say to that. “I said I’d sort it out Adam.” It’s what he settles on saying and then he’s hanging up and slamming the wheel of his car like he’s in some detective drama and he just can’t crack the case. 

It’s all dramatic. It’s all Robert’s fault too. 

 

-•-

 


Aaron waits until it’s dark outside so that he will be a proper stalker about it all. He keeps a black hoodie in the boot of his car just because and it comes to some sort of use now as he waits in his car and tries to stake out the big posh house, he knows Robert calls his home. 
The anger he feels over the fact that Robert has tried to ruin his business is the thing that’s brought him here, it’s also the thing that made him wonder whether he should just storm the castle and tell the poor cow Chrissie about what her boyfriend was up to a few weeks ago. 

Aaron hesitates though, he waits on the side of the road like some loser in the hopes that any car that passes will be Robert’s. The country lanes are quiet at this time of day, Aaron knows that all too well. It’s one of the reasons why this little plan of his is looking as confident as it is right about now. So Aaron waits, and waits and then he starts to nod off with his face pressed against his steering wheel because he’s just exhausted from driving around with as much anger as he has. 

Aaron wakes up half an hour later, the sky even darker than before and a crick in his neck and he blames Robert for every single wince and ache in his body as he pushes the car door open and tries to stretch his legs out. He finds himself looking up at the sky, staring at the crystal stars and the way the clouds stretch further than he can see in a single look. For a second, he’s almost forgotten about Robert being the most annoying man on the planet and then he hears a car coming down the country lane and he stares face to face with the Guinness world record holder himself. 

Aaron’s scowl is back, and he tries to be as menacing as humanly possible as he thunders towards the car and bangs hard on the window. Robert jumps, looks like a scared little kid for a second and then he’s pulling the door open and Aaron’s pushing him back against it. 

What are you …”

“You called Adam to complain? Do you just want me to ride up to yours and tell your missus?”

Robert’s face falls like he almost didn't expect Aaron to know. He’s such an idiot. “Well I don’t think the advice he gave you has really worked considering.” He tips his head down to the grip Aaron has on his shirt. “Let go.”

“No.” Aaron barks. “What are you playing at?”

“You threatened me.” 

“Yeah, and you kissed me, you. How is any of this my fault you psycho.” Aaron’s hands tremble slightly against Robert’s shirt, and he loosens his grip a little because he feels weak against all of this, and tired, and he really hates Robert so much. 

“I didn’t …

“You just want to ruin my business now too?” Aaron shouts, “‘Cause I didn’t roll over and let you treat me like shit.”

Robert squeezes his eyes shut like he’s in pain and Aaron’s forced to just stare at him with wide eyes. “I just wanted to scare you off.” He says. 

Aaron gulps hard, a frown forming on his face as he stares at Robert. “Well, you just made me want to punch you in the face.” He shouts. “I’m staying away and you’re still what? Messing me around for your entertainment or something?”

“I’m not doing that.” Robert suddenly looks so serious, and something shifts. Aaron lets go of Robert’s shirt, watches its crumbled state and then he takes this massive step back. 
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t drive to your posh pad and let Chrissie know you kissed me.” Aaron’s bold, shines bright under the starry sky in this way that makes Robert look like he’s going to wet himself. 

Then he looks assured, Robert looks confident as he leans away from his car and gulps like he’s swallowing down a whole load of emotions. “‘Cause you’re still here.” He whispers. “And I think we both know why.”

Aaron wasn't expecting that, he wasn't prepared for that, so his head spins and he has to gather himself whilst the silence descends. “‘Cause you tried to get me …”

“Here.” Robert blurts out, eyes shut tight before he opens them again. 

“What?” Aaron whispers.

Robert takes another step forward, and then another until his shoes hit against Aaron’s. “I just …” Robert looks tortured, torn. He looks exactly how he did in the back of Aaron’s car, and it makes Aaron’s shoulders melt down into nothing, makes a hand come up towards Robert’s chest just so he can hear his heart beating. 

There’s a thud, thud, thud and then Robert’s looking right up at Aaron. 

“I just wanted to know one thing.” Robert sounds more confident than Aaron’s ever heard him. It makes Aaron’s stomach spin, and his mouth opens to speak before Robert is pushing his mouth against Aaron’s and yes. 

Aaron gives right in. 

Robert kisses Aaron up against his car, Aaron sprawls out against the bonnet and there’s something so stolen about the moment. It’s this, panting and moaning and Aaron’s mouth on Robert’s neck until they’re both open mouthed and groaning together. 

There’s that, and then there’s Aaron’s hand cradling the back of Robert’s neck. He’s drawing small circles, counting freckles, and hearing Robert’s heartbeat. He’s acting in ways that make him want to be sick. Then Aaron’s thinking about this silence, the way it’s drawing out between him and making him think about the last person he’s touched like this. 

Seconds later, the cold air whacks against Aaron and he has to bring himself out of the situation. Robert reacts almost instantly; he shifts himself a little and Aaron moves off his lap as ungraciously as humanly possible. 

“I should go.” Robert speaks first. Aaron’s heart does something funny as he watches Robert stand up straighter and look everywhere but in Aaron’s direction. “I need to …”

“Are you OK?” And fuck, Aaron needs to stop doing this. He can hear it in his voice, the care, the softness. 

Robert freezes a little. “Yeah.” He says, in the least convincing way possible. He even shrugs a little, just to show how cool he is. Aaron sees right through it. “Yeah I’m …” He makes the mistake of looking at Aaron.

“It’s OK.” Aaron takes a step towards Robert, then he lets his hand dangle towards his and this dread sets in. Aaron realises that he doesn’t know what he’d do if Robert rejected the touch. He waits with bated breath until Robert almost sways his body into the space Aaron’s hand is, he brushes his back against Aaron’s palm and then he’s almost giving up everything entirely by moving forward and kissing Aaron square in the mouth. Aaron huffs in surprise and then he’s being pulled in closer by the waist.

“Robert.” Aaron leans back, and he doesn’t know what he wants to say but it has to be something, he has to say something doesn’t he? He thinks and thinks and thinks and then he’s saved by the bell. Or rather Robert’s phone ringing in his pocket, over and over.

Robert looks down, fishes it out and then his shoulders tighten. “I uh … I need to …”

“Robert wait.” Aaron’s mouth has a mind of its own. “You can’t just go.” 

“I need to.”

“Are you serious?” Aaron’s eyes dart a little, and then he watches Robert squirm against a reality he’s clearly trying to ignore. 

The phone keeps ringing. On and on and on. 

“I’ll … sorry Aaron.” 

“Robert!” Aaron calls out, like some absolute loser but it doesn’t change the way Robert climbs into his car and drives home like nothing’s happened. 

Again. 

 

-•-

 


Aaron thinks he’s dreaming. He runs a hand against the palm of his hand and pinches, thinks that he’s going to wake up in his bed and that he doesn’t have this shit to deal with. That’s what this is, just a bunch of shit that Robert’s left him to deal with. 

It’s been two days, and Aaron’s not heard a single word from Robert. He doesn't know if he should be surprised or not, he doesn't know if Robert’s going to tell Adam that he tried to kill him just so that they can see each other again. It’s weird, Robert’s weird and Aaron’s weirder for entertaining whatever this is. 

He’s on his break now, in the middle of town thinking about the fact that he knows where Robert works and could see him any second now. It’s the lunch time rush and he’s going to be hailed down any second, but he doesn't want to be. He wants to be here. He wants to see Robert and that makes everything in his mind ache. 

Aaron’s phone rings and it drags him right out of his own head as he answers and hears Adam’s voice down the end of the line.

“You alright?”

“Yeah.” Aaron lies, he lies because if he’s honest he hasn't slept for the last two days and it’s quite frankly ridiculous. “Just in town.”

“Listen I’ll just get to the point; I don’t know what you did or whatever, but that Robert called the office this morning and said he got it wrong.”

Aaron’s eyes widen under the weight of Adam’s just said.

“What do you mean?”

“As in, he said he riled you up, was having a bad day or something. Sounded almost like an apology.”

Aaron feels something sit firmly in his throat. It won’t budge and he feels like he can’t breathe against it. He wonders if this is another one of Robert’s signals and then he feels weird about the fact that Adam’s being used as some communicator for Robert’s weirdness. 

“Right.” Aaron says slowly and he convinces himself that’s the end of it until Adam questions what Aaron did to get that sort of response.

Aaron shouldn’t say: Stick my tongue down his throat and then wrap my hand around his dick in a lay-by. 

But. 

“Uh. Nothing, I just said I didn’t appreciate it.” Aaron lies, sort of, a little. 

“Well, it worked.” Adam sounds like he’s gearing up to apologise and Aaron tells him not to bother. “No but it’s true, we don’t do this job to get people chucking their bad days in our face right?” 

Aaron clears his throat. “Right, yeah.”

“And I’ll make sure he doesn’t get you driving him. I’ve already put a little star against his name, well organised me.” Adam does his signature laugh and Aaron tries to copy him, but it comes out weird. 

Maybe not having Robert in the back of his car again is still something that makes sense. Maybe it’s the way Robert wants it to be. But then maybe the fact that he made the effort to ring Adam, to take back the complaint means that he wants to be around him. 
Aaron’s head is full of maybes. He feels sick with it and his silence stretches out for Adam to pick up on.

“Hey, you alright?”

“That was the first thing you asked me mate.”

“You know what I mean.” Adam sounds firmer. “Since we’ve started this up, we hardly see each other and — and I want you to know that I’m still here if you need me.”

Aaron bites the inside of his cheek. “Yeah of course mate.” He thinks of the way his head is this mess, the way Robert’s on his mind almost all the time now and it’s frankly disgusting. He thinks and thinks and the silence stretches out so far that he needs to speak again. “Same with you. If you need to … chat about anything.”

Aaron thinks about the fact that he can’t remember the last time he had a pint with his best mate and talked about things other than where people were going and how far away, they were from picking someone up or dropping someone off. Adam seems to read his mind, suggesting a night out of their own which Aaron knows really means beers in the portacabin they’ve rented for cab bookings and pizzas ordered from the place on the high street. 

It sort of sounds like bliss until Adam circles back around to Robert by asking Aaron if he has any other nightmare passengers. 

Aaron’s heart thuds and he tries and tries to think of something to say before his mouth is just doing the work for him. “He ain’t a nightmare.”

And oh. It’s the wrong thing to say.

“What?” Adam laughs. “So why have I got a little star against his name then.”

Aaron breathes in. “I …” He shuts his eyes for a second. “Just don’t want to sound difficult.” He lies, awkward as ever with it. 

Adam doesn’t pick up on it though. “Mate you don’t have to worry about sounding difficult. Like I said, he told me he was the one who was out of order.”

Aaron nods like Adam can see him. “Yeah.” He says, then he stares out the window and listens to Adam blabbing on about a sheep giving him a funny look this morning. 

 

-•-

 


Aaron’s listening to fans on the radio talking about some big game that Hotten has coming up and thinking about the fact that him and Adam would have both been going if they weren’t as busy as they are right now. Finn’s on the payroll and Pete helps out as much as they can but it’s almost been non-stop lately and it’s making these little moments all the more precious. Aaron hasn’t got a customer, and the radio is on nice and low and it’s all just a little bit blissful. 

“Hey.” 

“Jesus.” Aaron stares up, almost jumps as he hears someone talking to him through the slightly opened window. He squints, and then recognises it’s Robert. The light of the sun is giving Robert almost a halo look. The absolute irony is not wasted on Aaron for a single second. 

Robert looks sheepish, tilts his head a little and then he stares up again. “I um … I …”

“Lost your tongue.” Aaron sits up straighter and then holds the wheel of the car a little firmer as he thinks about the fact that Robert’s tongue was everywhere. He needs to get a grip. “Look, I could say something about the weather, and you could nod and say bye. But l think you owe me some sort of explanation.” 

“Explanation?” 

Robert acts purposefully dense. Aaron rolls his eyes and then sighs hard. 

“You can’t keep kissing me and — and doing more than kissing me and then just pissing off. I’m not like that. I …” Aaron almost cringes over his words. “I don’t screw around.” He whispers. “So if it’s that you’re looking for then …”

“Let me in.”

Aaron stops mid flow to scowl. “What?”

“The car. Let me in.” 

Aaron just stares for a second and then he’s unlocking the door and staring through the mirror as Robert slides himself in. For some reason, Aaron’s nervous, like palms are sweating sort of nervous. 

“Can you drive somewhere?”

Aaron looks out the window and then turns his head so that he’s staring at Robert. “Where?”

“Just … just anywhere.” 

Aaron starts the car up in silence, then he starts driving in silence too and he expects Robert to start filling in the gaps, but he doesn't. Every now and then Aaron looks back and watches Robert sit there, seatbelt on and tie tight against him, and he wonders what is going on in his head in this. Eventually Aaron comes to the edge of the disused car park near the cinema in town, he parks his car and then turns the engine off.

“I’m not wasting anymore petrol.” Aaron’s blunt, to the point in a way that makes Robert almost cower.

“I’ll pay – obviously I’ll pay”. Robert shakes his head. “I didn’t mean it to sound like I … like I’m paying you for …”

“Robert, do you just want to get on with it?” Aaron says it like it’s a question but it’s not really one at all.

“The other night …” Robert speaks slowly, like he’s thinking so carefully about what it is he’s saying. “I just wanted to see you; I don’t know if that makes sense.”

Aaron’s heart thuds. “So you went to Adam for my attention?” It sounds like a game, like all of this is some big laugh.

Robert almost looks up and then he decides against it and settles on nodding his head instead. “But – look I don’t want to mess you about.”

“Well then what would you call this?” Aaron frowns. “You have a girlfriend, Robert.”

“That hasn’t stopped you.” Robert points it out, only it feels more like a dig, like he’s had that in his locker for a while just waiting to get it out and make Aaron look stupid. 

And it’s a point. It really is. 

Aaron’s known about Robert’s girlfriend since the start and it hasn’t stopped him, not once. He’s had her in the back of his car, and he’s been thinking about her boyfriend, and it just hasn’t stopped him. He thinks it’s because he didn’t like her to begin with, he thinks it’s because she thinks Robert needs to prove himself or whatever. He thinks so hard that he starts to realise that all of this is a real problem of his. Aaron shouldn’t care and yet it’s pretty clear that he does. 

“I’m single.” Aaron shrugs his shoulders and tries to keep focused. “I haven’t got anyone to answer to.”

Robert decides to keep his mouth firmly shut. Then he leans forward. “I’m not here to argue.” 

Aaron frowns a little because it’s sort of what they do best, it’s sort of what they’ve been doing since they met. “Then what are you here for?” 

Robert looks at Aaron with big round eyes that drag up and down and then up again. “What do you think?”

Aaron could easily say ‘fuck it’, could lean out, take hold of Robert’s stupid tie and drag him in to a kiss. But he doesn't, something stops him. Aaron’s sure it’s his heart. “Think you’re just answering my question with a question.” 

Robert takes his seatbelt off, leans forward and looks way too sexy for Aaron to really think about with a clear head. “Maybe you can guess.”

Aaron doesn't have the chance to guess because Robert holds a hand against Aaron’s chin, tilts his head back and then kisses him gently. Aaron squeezes his eyes shut because it all feels too tender, too soft, too warm and he doesn’t want that. He can’t want that. The thought spurs him on, speeds everything up and it’s how they end up kissing in his car for what feels like hours. 

Eventually Robert pulls away, eyes flickering gently as he stares at Aaron. “I quite like doing that.”

You quite like having a girlfriend too. 

The thought hangs in the air, it must, Aaron thinks. It has to be something Robert is thinking about right now, as he sits here with his hand against Aaron’s face and his lips bruised and bright. 

“What?” Robert whispers the words so gently. Aaron’s screwing his eyes shut again, he doesn't want to hear that. “Aaron.” 

Aaron’s eyes fly open, and he breathes out deeply as he watches Robert’s hand slip away from his face. “You said you were wrong, to Adam.” Robert frowns. “Why’d you do that?”

Robert shrugs. “‘Cause I don’t want you hating me.” Aaron rolls his eyes. “What’s that for?”

Aaron bites his lip gently. “Just have … no idea what you’re about.” He says, “And here I am, kissing you in my car. I’m mad.”

Robert gulps hard and then he raises his hand against Aaron’s face again. Aaron shouldn’t let him be like this, he shouldn’t let Robert be someone who he kisses, and pulls and pushes and snaps with. He shouldn’t have this. And yet he’s still here, he isn’t moving. It’s like every single time Robert’s got his hand against Aaron’s face, it makes everything else just disappear. Aaron leans away from Robert’s hand and then he sighs hard, before looking up and seeing that Robert almost looks scared.

“Maybe we’re all a bit mad.” Robert shrugs and then he shakes his head. “We don’t need to complicate this.”

“Is that so?” Aaron tilts his head.

“Not if we don’t want to.” 

“Because you’re … ‘cause you’ve got a …”

“Life yeah.” Robert shrugs again and he seems to sum everything up in such a simple way. Aaron’s almost flawed by how easy it sounds, how he instantly thinks about Robert’s job, and his home and his car and the way he probably has his beautiful girlfriend to thank for it all. Robert has a whole life. 

Aaron dips his head down and tries to think of something to say when Robert leans over towards him again, a hand plastered tightly against Aaron’s thigh. “Tell Adam you’ve changed your mind about banning me from your car.”

Aaron almost laughs, it feels like he’s betraying the part of him that wants to be taking all of this seriously, he wants to be telling Robert to do one, to get lost, to sort out his own head because he isn't being used. Aaron wants to say all of that, but he doesn't, because he can't, because deep down he doesn't want to. 

Robert looks right at him, and Aaron feels things just grind to a halt around him and makes him nod his head slowly. 

“I’ve got to go.” Robert whispers the words so delicately and Aaron’s under his spell in this stupid way. He needs to wake up from this, needs to stop his shoulders sagging in disappointment and his eyes drifting down in sadness. He needs to grow the fuck up. 

Aaron’s jaw tenses just a little and he pulls himself together. “Right.” He says. “I …”

“I’ll need a cab soon, I promise.” And Robert winks and then he’s kissing Aaron so hard, with so much, that Aaron’s almost dizzy from it. 

He doesn't speak, just watches as Robert tilts his head away and then gets out of the car and walks away. Aaron breathes in hard and tries to get his head around what the fuck just happened. 

 

-•-

 


“You doing anything this weekend then?”

Aaron’s not been listening to a word this guy has said, he’s been holding the wheel tightly and thinking about the fact that he’s not seen Robert in days. He’s also been thinking about the way everything around him seems to be stagnant, slowed right down as he waits and waits and –

“Nah, not much mate.” Aaron decides to say, because it’s better than admitting that he’s got absolutely no plans at all because he’s lonely. That sort of comes out of nowhere, that realisation, that exception. For a second, he thinks about going out, letting his hair down or whatever and having a sleazy one-night stand and then he thinks of Robert. His mind goes to Robert and it’s ridiculous.
It stays on Robert as the guy leaves and Aaron watches him embrace who he supposes is his wife. He watches them with this intense jealousy for way too long and then he’s hearing his phone ring and answering Adam almost instantly. 

“Mate, me and you are taking the night off tomorrow.” Adam says, like it’s a fact or something and Aaron sits up in his seat, sighs, tells him that he doesn’t think that’s a good idea. “We’re due a night off.”

“Ad, we’re taxi drivers. We don’t really get to sack it off on a Friday night.”

“It’s one night, a few hours. I’ve got it all covered alright, we just need to go and have some fun.” 

Aaron plays with his hands like a kid. “I don’t know.”

“You know what I know, you haven’t been yourself in ages and you’ve had to deal with shitty customers.” 

“It’s not that bad.”

“I was actually skirting ‘round that Robert Sugden actually. I know he was a nightmare, and I know he caused you a massive headache but …”

“He’s not that bad.” Aaron restyles his previous answer and then sits up straighter as he thinks of how that sounds. Adam jumps on it, laughs, asks if he’s being serious. “I just mean … uh ‘cause he apologised.”

“What you saw him?”

I did more than see him. 

Aaron buries that deep down and then suddenly feels this gnawing sense of guilt race through him because he doesn't keep things from Adam. 

They’ve always been close; it’s always been both of them together in one way or another and it’s always been something that means so much to Aaron. He can’t tell him about Robert though, even if he wanted to, Aaron’s pretty sure that he can’t explain it to himself let alone Adam. 

“Uh yeah.” Aaron bites his lip hard. “Centre of town ain’t the biggest place, is it?”

Adam doesn't say anything, and Aaron gets nervous for no real reason. “Nah, suppose not.” He says. 

Aaron should drop whatever this is, move on and be thankful that he had room to but for some idiotic reason he doesn’t. Instead, he keeps going. “Don’t need to blacklist him anymore either.” He gulps hard around the silence down the line. “We don’t need the hassle of re-arranging stuff for him, do we?”

“You sure?” Adam sounds like he’s hardly convinced at all. “You hated him a few days ago, and now you’re …”

Aaron squeezes his eyes shut. “Ad I’m not confessing my undying love for the bloke; I’m just tryin’ not to make our lives any more difficult.” He blurts it all out and doesn’t give himself time to think about what exactly he’s said. Then he waits and waits and eventually Adam grumbles out something and Aaron suspects that his mate doesn’t really care about it. 

Adam lets it drop, and Aaron lets it drop and then later Aaron’s on his way to meet Adam, have the night off, do everything that his mate banged on about doing but it’s stopped short when a number comes up on his phone that he does not recognise. Aaron doesn’t answer it because he’s not a weirdo and if it were that important, he’d have a voicemail in his inbox. He checks, sees it’s empty and then forgets about it until he’s getting another call and he’s giving in. 

“Hello?”

“It’s me.”  

It’s Robert. Aaron knows instantly but for some reason or other he tries to pretend like he’s confused because yeah that’s way cooler than smiling down the phone or sitting up on his seat and running a hand through his hair. 

“Who?”

Robert lets out a low chuckle. “Robert.” He says. “Are you busy?”

Aaron’s heart thuds hard. “I’m in my cab, if that’s what you're asking.” 

“I’m asking if you’re alone. Really.” Robert has this ability to sound sexy over the phone and it’s unfair and Aaron hates him all over again. 

“Well, I am. Really.” Aaron gulps hard, and then he’s breathing in hard and holding it for ages as he waits for Robert to reply.

“Can I see you then?”

Aaron breathes out, head fuzzy suddenly. “Yeah.” He whispers, and it’s his heart that says that. His head’s not even part of the conversation.

 


-•-

 


Aaron bails on Adam’s big night out for Robert. Aaron’s got a hand on Robert’s chest and he’s kissing him so hard that it almost aches and it’s dangerous to be like this but Aaron can’t really go anywhere else. Aaron picked Robert up in his car, and they drove to the edge of Hotten, parked up in some abandoned car park and stuck his tongue down Robert’s throat. 

They’re still here now, Aaron’s hand is cradling the back of Robert’s head and he’s moaning against him in this way he shouldn't be. Then Aaron’s leaning away, buckling himself back up and then letting out this deep sigh as he stares at how dark the sky is. He wonders how pissed Adam is, wonders if it’s going to be some sort of problem for them. He cares about that, he cares about Adam which is why he isn’t going to ruin things by telling him where he is now, and who he’s with. 

Robert presses a kiss to Aaron’s head, and it feels like too much for Aaron to think about. Aaron ignores it, pushes it down and tries to lean towards Robert again so he can start the whole thing up again. Robert’s still got his pants down, Aaron takes it as an invitation before Robert’s cupping his face and stopping him in his tracks. 

“Haven’t even said hello to me, not really.” Robert says, casual as ever.

Aaron twists his lip. “Thought giving you a blowjob could do that.” He says, and then he’s leaning up and kissing Robert hard on the mouth again. Aaron suddenly realises that the less they talk means the less time they have to know about each other, which means the less time Aaron has to feel things from Robert.

Robert’s phone goes and Aaron stares as he sees that it’s Chrissie. Robert almost pretends he hasn't seen it and then Aaron’s glaring at him. 

“Where does she think you are?”

Robert’s eyes flicker and he almost looks caught off guard. “Why does that matter?” He asks, like Aaron’s questioned him about why Pandas like bamboo so much or something. 

Aaron opens his mouth to speak and then decides against it. It probably isn’t any of his business, no, it really isn’t any of his business, so he’ll ignore it for now. He does, he ignores it and lets Robert drag him down so that he’s flat on his back and then his phone’s ringing again.

And it’s Chrissie again. 

Aaron stares up at Robert. “Your girlfriend’s ringing you Robert.”

Robert looks like a little kid, almost looks torn really. Aaron doesn’t know what to say until Robert leans towards his phone and declines the call. 

“Did you not even give her an excuse?”

Robert dips his head a little. “Why do you care so much?”

Aaron sits up suddenly. “‘Cause I’d rather know what lies you’re spinning. “Don’t really fancy getting caught fucking you by your girlfriend.”

“That won’t happen.” Robert says, but he seems so young and stupid, and Aaron doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say back to his little plea. 

“Whatever you say.” Aaron stares out the window, almost sulks a little and then Robert is making this little sound that’s drawing Aaron back to him. “What?”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t drag you here you know.”

Aaron’s eyes widen. “I know that.”

“‘Cause you’re looking like you don’t even want to be here.”

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be here.” Aaron says. “I was meant to have a night out and instead I’m getting cramp in the back of my car with …” Aaron stops as he sees the look on Robert’s face. “What?”

Robert plays with the hem of his shirt like an idiot and Aaron’s forced to just stare at him with wide eyes, waiting for him to say something. “Night out huh.”

Aaron frowns, confused by how tense Robert looks. “Adam reckons I need to get my leg over, stop looking like a moody arse.” 

Robert’s eyes flicker, Aaron watches as his long lashes bounce up and down but he keeps focused on the stupid hem of shirt and refuses to look up. 

“Aren’t I doing that?” Robert sounds offended, and Aaron has his little oh moment as he realises that Robert thinks he has the right to be jealous. It’s way more amusing than Aaron thought it would be. 

Aaron goes to speak and then Robert’s phone goes again, and it ruins whatever was going to happen next. Aaron was going to play hard to get, Robert was going to push and pull and then they were going to resume their little moment together until Robert has to piss off again. 

“You’re hurting my ears with all that ringing actually.” Aaron admits defeat, sits up, tucks Robert back into his jeans and ignores Robert’s little hissing at his touch. “Answer it, I can still make it to the club if you do one now.”

“Club?” It’s like Robert’s unable to hear the ringing, like he’s zoned out completely. 

Aaron nods. “Yeah, just said that didn’t I?”

Robert nods his head back. “But you just got your leg over.”

And there’s that jealousy again, Aaron doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want to think about Robert wanting to have his cake, eating it and then deciding to nab the recipe for it too.  

“And?”

It’s almost a challenge, a: go on, say you don’t want me to go then. But nothing happens actually, Robert looks down at his phone again, jaw all tight and annoying and then he’s answering the phone and looking straight at Aaron. Just because.

Aaron gulps hard, tries not to shove Robert out of his car as he listens to him lie and lie and then lie a little bit more before actually telling the truth.

“Yeah, well I’ll be home soon. Bye.” Robert puts his phone down and then just stares at Aaron like he’s deciding his next move. He could lean in, kiss him, drag him down on the backseats again but he doesn’t. Instead, he clears his throat and nods. “I’ll uh … let you get to that night out.” He puts his phone in his pocket and then he’s back to just staring at Aaron. 

Aaron nods, just a little and then he bites his lip again. “Let you get back to your girlfriend.”

Robert gulps, and then he’s getting his gangly legs out the car and slamming the door shut. Aaron watches him, runs a hand through his hair and then opens the car door to call out Robert’s name, Robert turns almost instantly, and it almost makes Aaron smirk. 

“You just going to walk back then?”

Robert shrugs. “Could call a cab.” 

“I’m right here.”

Robert tilts his head. “How much is it going to cost me?”

Aaron rolls his eyes and watches Robert walk back towards the car.

 


-•-

 


Aaron’s head bangs and there’s this ringing in his ears that he isn’t really too sure about. He’s sitting in his cab, eating a burger bigger than his head and trying to soak up all the alcohol from last night as little bits of memories start to take shape and make him groan. He went out, he remembers doing that. He remembers getting drunk and having someone up against the wall, kissing this bloke like there was no tomorrow and then stopping. 

He stopped because of Robert; they’d be absolutely no point in trying to pretend like that wasn't the case. It was all Aaron could think about as he had hands in his air and the beating of the music in his ears, bleeding and stretching in his mind. Aaron made excuses, got an early night, then spent hours staring out the window like a loser thinking of the fact that Robert’s got his hands stretched around Chrissie, holding her close as they sleep.

Robert has someone, Aaron’s got thin sheets and a ticking clock and way too much time on his hands. 

 

-•-

 


Adam says that he’s got a spring in his step which is weird considering Aaron hasn't seen him in two days. In fact, Aaron hasn’t seen anyone. He’s been in and out of this flipping car taking people to places, waiting to pick people up and then doing stupid amounts of small talk. 

He’s finally alone now, only Adam’s alone too which means he’s up for a chat. Aaron indulges him the way best mates ought to and then he’s wanting to hang up as soon as Adam talks about the other night.

Disappeared pretty sharpish you did. Adam’s got this little giggly voice on. 

“Stop sounding like a girl.”

“Oi. Stop sounding like a sexist mate.” Adam says, all seriously and then he’s laughing again because of course he’s got to be laughing again. 

Aaron rolls his eyes, and then he’s sighing hard when Adam presses on about the whole thing. “No, I didn’t go home with the guy, yes we did snog. Is that enough?”

“No. Not really. You were supposed to …”

“If you use the term, get my leg over one more time then …”

“Well, whatever happened worked.” Adam says, like he’s some guru or something. “‘Cause you’re not sounding all down anymore.” 

Aaron was sounding all down because of Robert, and now he isn’t because of Robert too. Aaron hates it, wants to run and hide when he thinks about the fact that his emotions seem to revolve around Robert and how much of a shit he’s being. 

“Leave it Ad.” Aaron says. 

“So, there is something to leave then?”

Aaron’s blushing, he’s actually blushing. He’s never been so embarrassed in his entire life. “Piss off.” 

“You are … happy right?”

Aaron’s nearly blown away by the question, he just stays frozen and doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say back. It’s the biggest question he could have been asked, and the fact that it’s coming from Adam of all people makes it harder to ignore. Aaron can’t just brush it off, can’t just decide to ignore it completely. He has to answer, has to say something. Like. Right now.

“‘Course I am.” Aaron sounds dead convincing, not. “As happy as I can be anyway.” 

Adam doesn’t say anything for a second. 

“You done grilling me then?”

Adam laughs again, a little less all over the place this time, heartier, considered. “Yeah mate, I’m done.” 

“Good, now go and drive someone somewhere.”

 

-•-

 


So, Aaron’s starting to think he’s dreamt up the bit where Robert and him would meet up, do things they shouldn’t be and then go their separate ways again because it hasn’t happened in nearly a week and it’s getting annoying. 

Aaron’s not a needy person, in fact, the thought of it makes him want to be sick but he soldiers on as much as he can in thinking about Robert not getting in touch. Another few days go by without a word until Robert’s standing by his office waving for Aaron to stop. It’s just gone six and the sky is turning purple and pink as Aaron pulls up and watches Robert dip his head and gesture for the window to be lowered. 

“Thought you’d died.” Aaron decides to stay.

Robert breathes in, almost laughs but then decides against it somehow. Aaron waits for him to open his mouth. “It’s been a stressful week.” 

Aaron nods. “Sounds thrilling.” 

“So’s what we could be getting up to.” Aaron wants to ask Robert if that’s worked before, him talking like an absolute sleazebag. Aaron would if he didn’t want to jump Robert right now, if he didn’t actually miss him a little, if he didn’t see that behind Robert’s smug face are tired eyes and something clearly bothering him. 

Aaron looks away because he’s seeing too much in Robert, much more than he should be seeing anyway. “I was just about to finish up for the day actually.” 

“Oh.” Robert dips his head. “Is that so?”

Aaron nods. “Yeah, I’m knackered.” He says, he gulps hard and then looks at Robert again. “You got any plans?” 

“Trying to make them actually.” Robert smirks again and yeah, he’s being persistent here and for some reason Aaron doesn’t know how not to be a little bit of a dick, play a little bit hard to get like he doesn’t want Robert right here and now. 

“How’s it going?” Aaron asks.

Robert rolls his eyes again. “You going to let me in then or not?”

Aaron does. Robert’s in the backseat of the car and then Aaron’s driving them to that disused car park again which is starting to feel a little less seedy. Robert doesn’t even wait for Aaron to turn the engine off before he’s surging forward and kissing at Aaron’s neck and suddenly everything seems to quiet right down in Aaron’s mind. 

It’s just this. 

Fifteen minutes later, Aaron’s leaning against Robert’s chest and trying to get his breath back as he looks out the window and up towards the sky. Robert kisses Aaron’s head, then down towards his shoulder and Aaron should tell him to piss off, to stop being so soft, but instead he closes his eyes around it like some sap. 

“Sorry it’s been uh … a while.” 

Aaron opens his eyes slowly, realises that speaking to Robert is easier when he isn’t facing him. They should keep doing things like this. Aaron saves the thought for next time they’re here, whenever that will be anyway. 

“Thought you’d changed your mind.” 

Robert scoffs, and then he bends his head a little and plants a ghost of a kiss over Aaron’s hair and it’s dangerous that. The way Robert doesn’t commit to doing it, but nearly does. He leaves Aaron feeling stupid, and exposed, and confused about how Robert would think changing his mind to all this is just a laughable thing. 

Aaron supposes that this has been going on for longer than they’d both like to admit. Robert kissed him, drunk, off his face, and then they danced around it and now they’re here. For a second, Aaron wonders what would happen if he said anything like this to Robert, if he were to ask him if he’s wanted him since he kissed him, since even before that. Aaron breathes in and then squeezes his eyes shut again. 

“Work’s been crazy, that’s all.” Robert squeezes around Aaron. “‘S not like I didn’t want to see you, the opposite actually.”

Aaron tries to ignore that.

“Crazy how?” Aaron’s way too polite for his own good sometimes, rarely, almost never. 

Robert takes him up on the offer of venting, in fact, he doesn’t shut up for nearly ten minutes and Aaron only listens when he mentions Chrissie and the fact that she was at one of his presentations on Thursday. It didn’t go well, she looked disappointed, they had a fight. Aaron feels Robert squeeze tighter around him as he speaks, and it makes him ache a little inside.

“Sounds like a nightmare.” Aaron tilts his head up and then turns a little so that Robert can look at him. “What?”

“Sorry for going on, should just tell me to shut up.” 

Aaron frowns. “It’s OK.” He whispers, and oh, he’s being all soft again. Robert smiles down at him and then they’re kissing again and it’s all so much that Aaron feels like he could melt. 

Eventually Robert leans away. “I wasn’t avoiding you.” He whispers.

“You already said that.” Aaron says, only it’s insane because it’s like Robert knows that he needs to hear it again for it to properly count. 

“I know.” Robert says, sounding a little more confident now. “Just uh … didn’t want you …”

“What?”

Robert can’t look at him now. “You – I mean with …” He shrugs. “I didn’t get to ask how your lad’s night out was did I?

Aaron sits up, the mood shifting just slightly. “About as good as your night in probably was.” 

Then they just stare at each other, straight into each other’s eyes and it’s like a game until Robert looks away. 

“Does she know where you are?”

“We don’t keep tabs on each other.” Robert says, like Aaron’s asking something so insane. 

Aaron bites his lip hard. “I’m just askin’, considering last time she was ringing you and …”

“Yeah, I had a dinner thing I forgot about.” 

“Sounds fancy.” Aaron says, “Fancier than this anyway.” 

Robert looks up and almost smiles. “I grew up on a farm you know.” 

Aaron didn’t know, Aaron shouldn’t want to know. It seems to explain things in a way he wasn’t prepared for, Robert’s always been trying to prove himself because of where he grew up and who he’s with. Aaron gets all of that now. “Farm boy then.” 

Robert looks disgusted. “Onto bigger and better.” 

Aaron sees something in Robert suddenly, he can’t put his finger on it exactly it’s difficult to avoid. “Does she know?”

Robert frowns. “That I grew up on a farm?”

Aaron frowns back. “What? No. That you … like men?”

Robert’s whole body seizes up completely. “Don’t remember saying I like you.” He jokes, kids, clearly tries to bury it.

Aaron doesn’t let him. “You know what I meant.” He says. “Are you … you’re bi?” He isn’t sure why he’s picked this moment, but he can hardly go back on his words now. 

Robert stares out the window. “Why’d you have to label everything?” He tilts his head, shrugs. “I’m straight to her, and I’m not to you.”

“Yeah, but what about to yourself.” Aaron asks. “You can’t even be honest with yourself?”

Robert looks like Aaron’s just punched him hard in the gut. He gulps down something and then shakes his head. “Enough with the heavy stuff yeah?”

Aaron feels cold suddenly and something shifts until Robert’s telling him that he has to go, that he should have left ages ago and there’s an excuse ready to fly off his tongue, but Aaron stops him.

“You don’t need to tell me.” He says, “We don’t owe each other … stuff, right?”

It’s a clumsy attempt to explain whatever this dynamic is, to apologise for trying to learn more about Robert’s sexuality, Robert does not resist. He just sort of stares and then slowly nods his head and that seems to be the end of it. 

 


-•-

 


Robert’s in a funny mood and Aaron finds himself getting caught up in it. It starts when Robert gets in the car, closes the door and then leans over to kiss at Aaron’s neck.

“Um.” Aaron gasps a little and then he’s swatting Robert away. “Get – get off, I can’t concentrate on the road.” He refuses to laugh, to lean back and close his eyes.

Robert moves away with a soft sigh. “I’m just saying hi.” He says and then Aaron’s looking at him through his wing mirror.

“What’s got into you?”

“Just had a good day.” Robert sticks his chin up and then leans over again to kiss Aaron.

Aaron huffs out a breath. “Would you wait until I’ve parked.” He whispers.

“No.” Robert takes his seatbelt off, leans over that little bit more and then he’s palming at Aaron’s trousers and Aaron grips tighter on the wheel. “I’m in a good mood, let me share that …”

Aaron rolls his eyes, turns down another country lane, right away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre.

“You’re acting weird.”

“I’m acting nice.” Robert smirks, and then he bites his lip. 

“Yep, which is weird.”

“Am I not allowed to be nice to you?” Robert whispers.

“Can only imagine how nice you’re going to be Chrissie.” Robert’s mouth is against Aaron’s neck, and he absolutely ruins the moment, but the thought just comes out and he waits for Robert to react. Robert does react, he pulls away from him slowly like he’s mentioned Lord Voldemort or something.

“Why’d you have to ruin the moment?” Robert asks, but it’s not really a question. He sounds absolutely pissed off and Aaron just tries to focus on the road and not how angry the question is making him. “It’s like you want to ruin things.”

Aaron scoffs. “Me ruining things?” He shakes his head. 

Robert slumps back in his seat and sighs. “I’ve been nothing but …”

“Nice yeah. You said.”

“And somehow that’s made you mad.” Robert scoffs.

Aaron rolls his eyes, “I just said what was on my mind, you being nice made me think huh imagine how nice he is to his …”

“Girlfriend yeah, which you know all about.” Robert says. “Sound pretty obsessed if you ask me.”

Aaron turns his head, grips the wheel harder. “You’re unbelievable.”

“I was trying to be nice.”

“Well, I’m sorry for not being able to overlook the fact that after you’re done with me, you’re going to be in bed with her.”

“Don’t – don’t make it seedy.” Robert almost sounds hurt. 

“What else is it?” Aaron shakes his head and then he’s looking straight ahead. 

“It just is. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to be here.”

“Oh wow. Thank you oh wise one.”

“There you go again, Mr. Sarcastic.”

“Better than Mr. Unpredictable.”

I’m unpredictable?” Robert scoffs, and then he lets out this dry laugh. 

“One minute you’re all over me, the next you’re obsessed with work and being all cold.” Aaron pulls a face and then he speeds up a little. “So sorry for …”

Stop saying sorry when you don’t actually mean you’re sorry.”

“Well, no actually I don’t. I shouldn’t be the one saying sorry for anything.”

“For bringing up Chrissie, again. She’s got nothing to do with this.”

“She’s your girlfriend. She’s – she’s everything else you have.”

“And I’m meant to apologise for that?”

“No, but you’re not meant to be a dick about it when –”

“When what?”

“When it’s all I see when I look at you sometimes!” Aaron’s eyes widen and he looks back at Robert, just to stare at him and read his expression. 

Robert looks guilty for a second, and then his eyes are widening, and his mouth hangs open and he pulls himself forward. “Aaron, look out.”

Aaron’s frozen as he turns slowly and sees a car driving on the opposite side of the road, right towards them. Robert takes over, he drags his body so that he’s steering them clear of the maniac and right into a tree. The impact of the hit makes the airbag burst and Aaron’s head pulls back and then slams right into it. 

The whole thing lasts only a few seconds. Definitely less than thirty. Aaron raises his head a little and then he’s suddenly petrified because he can’t hear any sounds coming from Robert. He’s too scared to turn his head, to actually look at Robert.

“Ro—Rob?” Aaron groans a little, and then he’s tilting his head just slightly and seeing Robert leaning awkwardly against the passenger seat. “Seatbelt.” He whispers, and he remembers Robert taking his off, kissing at his neck. He remembers Robert just wanting to touch him and he made it into an argument and now –

“Aaron?” Robert raises his head slowly and Aaron nearly bursts into tears like he’s five years old. His head aches and there’s clearly damage to the car but Robert’s talking and there’s this rush of appreciation for the idiot that Aaron can’t ignore. “Hey, ‘m not dead. I swear.”

Aaron tries moving his neck a little, turns right towards Robert. “You didn’t have your seatbelt on.” He whispers. “Why did you have to take –”

“Oi, your eyes weren’t on the …”

“Yeah ‘cause you were being stupid.”

“I wasn’t being stupid; you were being annoying.”

“Annoying?” Aaron wipes at his eyes. “We could have died.”

Robert goes to say something and then he’s leaning in and Aaron’s doing the exact same thing as they suddenly kiss. Robert leans his body up a little, and Aaron hears him groan in between kisses. Aaron must be shaking because Robert pulls his arms around him and holds him tightly. 

Eventually, Robert pulls away and Aaron just gazes at him a little. “You saved us.” Aaron says, like it’s only a fact he can say. Robert smirks and then his eyes dart a little as Aaron’s face crumbles. “I … I was sca…”

“Hey.” Robert shakes Aaron just a little. “We’re fine.” He smiles, and then Aaron’s nodding and kissing Robert even harder, like he wants to check that he’s still there. 

Aaron pulls away again. Then he tuts as he runs a finger against the cut forming around Robert’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“I just won’t tip this time.” Robert whispers and the way he leans his forehead against Aaron’s and whispers “It’s OK” means so much more than Aaron can say.

 

-•-

 


Aaron takes a week off because of his car and sits in the portacabin wriggling a pen against his upper lip as he waits for calls. 

Robert’s rang five times and Aaron’s not been smiling every time he realises that it’s him. No, he hasn’t been at all.

“What do you want this time?” Aaron’s eating a bacon sandwich and has his feet up against the desk.

“Very nice customer service.”

“Oh, you planning on reporting me to Adam again?”

“Wow, nice.” Robert says, and then he’s laughing and Aaron’s biting hard on the inside of his cheek to stop from doing the same. Robert rings, and they chat, and then he goes to a meeting or something and it’s never about actually wanting a cab. It’s just this, and Aaron’s letting it happen. “When are you getting your car back?”

Aaron sighs. “Couple of days.”

“Good. Been … a bit long since …”

“Since you’ve sat in the back of my car?”

“And reaped the benefits.” Robert whispers, and then Aaron hears a phone going off and it makes him suddenly aware that Robert’s just a work, going about his day, living his life and he’s deciding to ring Aaron for a chat. Just a chat. “Seriously though, are you OK to drive?”

Aaron frowns, and there’s this feeling sweeping through him. “’Course I am.” He says.

Robert nods, Aaron can sense it. “But if you weren’t … that would be OK.”

“I know.” Aaron tries to breathe in, tries to ignore how Robert sounds caring and concerned. Aaron’s fine, if his mum is asking. He’s OK if Adam wants to know. “I was a bit shaken but … that was only ‘cause of you kissing me so hard.”

He has to add the last bit or else it’s way too real.

Robert laughs again, and it sounds like it vibrates through his whole body. “Think I remember you kissing me like that, and you’re the one who didn’t have his eyes on the road.”

Aaron gulps thickly. “Yeah, I know. I’m …”

“I’m messing.” Robert says. “But you’ll be … alright yeah?”

Aaron gulps. “I’ll be OK.”

“OK.”

Aaron smiles. “OK.”

“O…” Robert’s cut off by the knock on his door. “I’m going to have to go. I’ll uh … yeah bye.”

 

-•-

 

“Considering you’re hardly a people person, what made you want to be a cabbie?”

Aaron just had his had around Robert’s dick, they’re very much trying to come down from their high and yet Robert is determined to ask interview questions. Aaron runs a hand up and down Robert’s arm and sighs. 

“Seemed like a good idea.” 

Robert looks up at him, clearly wants more than that.

Aaron sighs. “Me and Adam, we were struggling to find jobs and …” Robert’s eyes go all beady. “Yeah, we’ve both been inside.”

“Both?” Robert seems shocked. “Didn’t know Adam had it in him.”

Aaron rolls his eyes. “Well, I was inside ‘cause of him, I took the wrap for him. Ended up going on the run and then coming back to get him out of even more dodgy shit.” He sighs again and then looks down at Robert’s face. “What?”

Robert’s eyes flicker. “You just … sound like a really good mate.” He whispers, and Aaron’s not sure if Robert is genuinely touched or just turned on.

“Thanks?” Aaron says, and then Robert is holding his face and kissing him gently. 

“How long were you in for?” 

Aaron tilts his head at the question and thinks.

“Not long.” Aaron says. “It was … not the best obviously but as soon as I was out, I was thinking of what me and Adam could focus on. The rest is history.” Robert smiles faintly and then Aaron sinks a little lower in the backseat and skirts a finger across Robert’s hand. “You were my first customer.” He isn’t even sure why he’s telling him.

Robert frowns, looks up slowly. “What?” 

Aaron nods. “Was practising how nice to be and then you were …”

“An absolute dick.” Robert says, like he’s remembering it all. “I was going on about the time.” He shakes his head. “I didn’t …” He almost laughs and then he shakes his head and kisses Aaron hard on the mouth. “You were really hot, and I was caught off guard.”

Aaron’s heart thuds.

“That your excuse?”

Robert nods his head slowly and Aaron kisses him again.

 

-•-

 


“What did you do before being a cab driver?”

Robert’s trying to make small talk, second time in a row now, Aaron hasn’t got the slightest bit better but he’s trying here.

“Mechanic.”

“Oh yeah, you said when you fixed my car.” Robert sounds like he’s smiling but Aaron can’t see his face. Instead, he’s got his back against Robert’s chest and he’s doing his usual staring out the window thing and trying hard not to pant too loud as he tries to get his breath back. “Mechanic and a farm boy. Grounded ain’t we?”

“Grounded.” Aaron scoffs. “Have you seen where you work?

Robert doesn’t say anything and Aaron wonders if he’s offended him. Then Robert finally speaks and it’s quieter than usual. “It’s not really … me though.”

Aaron’s heart pounds hard and he tries not to look up towards Robert, he tries to wait and see if he’ll say anything else. 

“It’s uh … Chrissie’s family business. I work there.”

Aaron nods a little. “Before you were with her?”

“Yeah, I’m getting promoted soon though. Robert has a slight tremor in his voice and Aaron can’t help but press a hand against Robert’s thigh, run small circles until Robert speaks again. I’ve worked hard for it though you know, had to prove myself, keep having to actually.

“For what?”

It’s like the question is too hard to answer. Suddenly Aaron feels like Adam when he asked if he was happy. It’s too much and the moment seems ruined again, Aaron blames all this pillow talk they seem to be doing without the luxury of a mattress let alone a pillow. 

“I didn’t mean to step into any–”

“For my future, to keep exactly what I’ve got and to only keep getting more and more successful.” Robert’s answer seems to come straight off a pamphlet or something and Aaron wants to tell him that there are other ways to be happy, to be successful, which don’t involve proving yourself to people who are meant to love you. 

It steps way too high over the line they’ve got in place though so Aaron nods, and mumbles something about Robert talking enough for today before he kisses him and the fuzziness fades.

 

-•-

 

The traffic is one of the worst things about Aaron’s job. The sitting and the waiting and the beeping of cars who somehow are convinced that honking their horn is going to speed the whole thing up. It doesn’t, it just makes Aaron’s ears bleed and his head bang. 

The whole headache thing gets worse now, because one minute he’s staring at the car in front of him and the next he’s hearing a tapping on his window and turning slowly to see someone giving him this pleading little look. 

Aaron’s mouth drops open awkwardly because yep, it’s Chrissie. Chrissie White, yes, he knows her bloody surname too. Aaron freezes, just stares and then she’s gesturing to the backseat like she wants to get in and he can’t have that. 

Thankfully the traffic isn’t moving anywhere so Aaron does the sensible thing, he rolls down the window and kindly tells her that he’s on the way to pick someone up, that he can’t possibly take her and that she’s more than welcome to wait for another driver to be available. Only none of that sticks and Chrissie stands there looking put out somehow. Aaron suddenly wonders why she doesn’t have her own driver; he makes a mental note to ask Robert and then suddenly feels like that would be the worst thing in the world to do. 

Planting the whole get a driver idea into Robert’s head could make him very well do that, and then all of this, all of them, whatever it really is, would stop. Aaron doesn’t want it to, however meaningless and frail it all is anyway.

“Look, I’m really sorry.” Aaron isn’t, he isn’t sorry in the slightest. 

Chrissie nods, says she understands like she really has a choice and then Adam chooses to ring. Aaron picks up, hopes it’ll make Chrissie piss off, but she lingers around like some sort of bad smell.

“Hey, you’re free right?”

Aaron frowns. “Uh, I’ve got a uh … no I’m on the way to pick someone up actually.”

“Oh.” Adam says slowly. “Who?”

Shit. Aaron sits up, looks around and then clears his throat. “Uh Wheel. Will. Will something, can’t remember off the top of my head.” He clears his throat and then there’s just silence. Aaron just waits for Adam to say something like ‘no worries’ and then leave him alone but he doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. 

Instead, Adam tells him that he’s in the portacabin and he can’t see the booking. 

“Must have cancelled on you mate.” Adam says, and Aaron’s left staring at the wheel of his car like an idiot. 

“Must have.” Aaron mumbles and then he’s hearing Adam tell him that he’s got to hang up and he’s gone and Aaron’s left looking at Chrissie who has this awkward smile on her face. 

“So.” Chrissie smiles even wider. “Can I hop in?”

Hop in, hop into the backseat of the car Aaron’s shagged her boyfriend plenty of times, the car he plans to keep using to shag her boyfriend. It’s ridiculous, it’s insane. Aaron would drive off right now, pretend he couldn’t hear her or something as he speeds as far away from this mess as humanly possible. The traffic isn’t moving though, not even slightly. 

And oh, of course it starts pissing it down. 

Aaron breathes in, tries not to let her hear him sigh. “Where do you want to go?” He says, basically through gritted teeth. 

“Oh, just back to mine. Home Farm, you remember right?”

Oh. Boy.

 

-•-

 

The journey isn’t bad, in fact, it’s pretty decent because Chrissie’s on the phone for the majority of the time and the rain is chucking it down so it’s too loud for them even to try any small talk. Aaron tries to pretend he can’t hear what it is she’s on about over the phone but it’s hard when he hears Robert’s name. It’s like he can’t help himself. 

“He’s presenting something tomorrow dad, don’t you think he’s tried hard enough now?” 

Aaron breathes in again, attempts to not look so interested as he concentrates on the country lanes in this relentless rain. He keeps trying until he hears Chrissie speaking again, her voice suddenly cutting and direct. 

“No dad, listen, I’m not having this conversation again. I’ve been there and done that and guess what? It ended in disaster. I’m not going to rush into a marriage again just to suit you and your friends.” 

Aaron swerves the car just slightly and Chrissie gasps like he’s flung her against the windscreen. 

“S-sorry.” Aaron has to get out, because it’s the only thing he can think of saying. 

Chrissie frowns, she looks thoroughly pissed off but instead of saying so she just gives Aaron this tight smile and starts speaking on the phone again like nothing has happened at all. Aaron gulps hard and tries to stop how dry his mouth feels, and then he’s ploughing on, pretending like he hasn’t said a single thing. 

It’s none of his business. All of this is absolutely none of his business so he should just –

“Thank you so much.” 

The car’s stopped, Chrissie’s leaning over to the card machine with a hesitant smile on her face and Aaron realises that he’s properly zoned out for a while. The good news is he’s dropped her home. Home. Home fucking farm. 

“No worries.” Aaron punches in the number on his reader, hears the beep and then watches Chrissie slide out. She looks beautiful, Aaron wonders if she ever doesn’t, if she ever looks as rough as he feels right now. He must be coming down with something, that must explain it. 

It’s stopped raining now, Aaron realises as he watches her lean back into the car. She’s got bags with her; he should help her with them the way he usually does with customers. Aaron climbs out of the car in silence, his head still a little fuzzy as takes the bags in his hand. They seem to be endless, just like her thanks to him. 

Her gratitude is almost ridiculous considering. 
Speaking of. 

Aaron passes Chrissie the last bag from the car and then he hears Robert’s voice, and everything seems to stop.

“Someone’s been shopp…”

So, Robert sees Aaron. 

“Well, I had to have some retail therapy.” Chrissie says. “I had to fire one of the girls from the salon.”

Robert isn’t saying anything, Aaron isn’t moving. It’s all awkward but Chrissie doesn’t seem to notice at all, instead she keeps blabbing on and on and Aaron just wants to be able to leave. Eventually, Aaron raises his hand and tells her that he’s off. Chrissie just has to thank him again. She has to make it even more awkward. 

Aaron nods and then turns back to his car. He doesn’t even look in Robert’s direction, but he can feel his eyes on him, laser strength and everything. Aaron can’t bare it, he literally can’t bare it, so he backs out of their stupid gravelly drive way and shoots off down the country road. 

Aaron tells himself not to look through his mirror, not to stare, not to see. 

 


-•-

 

Aaron doesn’t see Robert until three days later and the only thing he can think about is Robert, and Chrissie and the fact that he probably loves her enough to want to marry her one day. He’s actually tossed and turned over the idiot, stayed up thinking about the fact that Robert’s this ambitious, driven person who is going to think marrying Chrissie is going to be like some sort of promotion, some sort of step up, step into something better. 

Aaron’s on his break. He’s staring down at a ploughman's that looks just about as tired as he feels right now, he’s poking at it like it’ll come to life any minute when he sees Robert walking past the car. Aaron’s first instinct is to hide. The first thing that comes to mind is: Marriage. 

Marriage. Married. 

It’s the next logical step, surely. Clearly. 

He’s not even sure why he thinks it’s such a big deal. It’s just a piece of paper, that’s what he’s always thought anyway but somehow it means something now. They’d be a team. Together. United. Aaron just has this feeling, and it won’t go away, it won’t stop. 

Aaron dips his head as low as it can go and then he’s sure he’s in the clear. He must be. He tilts his head up a little and then he slides himself back up and convinces himself to get an absolute grip on the whole situation. Suddenly he’s decided exactly what he’s going to do. When he sees Robert next, when he leans up against his car with that smug look on his face, he’s going to tell him to do one. Yeah, he’s going to say that he’s over whatever this is and that’ll be that. 

It’s all worked out; it all makes sense and then Robert’s standing by his car the next day asking if he can get in. Aaron’s jaw locks and he tries to say no, but it doesn’t seem to come out right. 

“You actually need to go somewhere or what?”

Robert gulps hard and he looks so serious. “I need a word.”

Aaron sighs, and he unlocks the car. He doesn’t drive off; he decides that he isn’t going to be wasting petrol over whatever Robert’s got to say. He’s going to be cool; he’s going to tell him that they should stop doing this, that it needs to stop, that it doesn’t feel nice sneaking around behind someone’s back the way he is. Not in the cold light of day anyway. It feels good in the minute, it feels great in the moment actually, but he can’t, they can’t. 

“Look, Robert, I …”

“How much do you want?”

Aaron frowns, because at first, he doesn’t understand. He’s turned the car off, they’re just talking, and Robert’s not being charged. “The car’s off.”

Robert breathes in and then he lets out this little sound like he’s been wounded or something. Aaron just watches him until his head is raised and he’s looking right at him again and the air is thick with this silence. “You know what I mean.” 

“No actually, I …”

And oh, oh.

“You think I – I want money?” Aaron feels cold suddenly. 

Robert just sighs. “You had Chrissie here.” He says. “You took her to our home and then you – you took her bags. Were you going to unpack them in our bedroom too or what?”

Aaron just stares, and he wills himself to say something, but nothing seems to come out. He just sits there like a lemon as Robert goes on and he has to listen.

“So how much do you want?”

Aaron snaps his neck up and scowls. “I don’t want your money.” He snaps. “Why do you think I …”

“I don’t know, ‘cause you’re bored, you want to play with me or something.” Robert says. “Why else would you drive my girlfriend home?”

Aaron’s eyes flicker and he feels the blood rushing to his head as he stares at this idiot of a man, he’s got himself so wrapped up with. “‘Cause I own a cab you twat.”

“What and you couldn’t say no? Did we not go through this already?”

Aaron’s jaw tightens, so hard it hurts. “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” This anger seems to rush to the surface and there’s no real way of stopping it. “Get out.”

“Not until I know …”

“Know what? That I’m done with this? Well, you do now.” Aaron says it so quickly that he’s worried Robert hasn’t heard him and then he sees Robert’s face and he knows. He’s heard every last word and he clearly didn’t expect to hear it. Robert’s mouth is wide open, and then it’s shutting as Aaron stares at him. 

“You’re …”

“I could do without the hassle.” Aaron can’t look at Robert, he just can’t. “And the drama and the – the fucked up accusations that I’m trying to blackmail you.” He gulps hard, and then he’s staring at Robert as hard as he can. 

Robert just stares back and then he’s nodding his head slowly. “And I’m meant to just what? Believe that.”

Aaron’s eyes flicker and he balls his hand into a fist. “Believe what you like, just leave me out of it.”

Robert should get up and go, and yet he’s still sitting there. “All of a sudden?”

Marriage. 

Married. 

“You’ve just sat there accusing me of wanting your money ‘cause I didn’t leave your missus on the side of the road.” Aaron bites his lip hard. “Well guess what? I don’t want anything from you.”

It sounds harsh yet fitting and Robert doesn’t say anything. Aaron’s so thankful for it because he doesn’t have anything else to say. He’s even more thankful when Robert nods his head and leaves. 

The slam of the door is music to Aaron’s ears. It’s what he tells himself anyway.

 

-•-

 

Aaron’s never felt so good in his life. It’s like there’s been this massive weight lifted off his shoulders and he can breathe again; he can look back and realise just how insane he was for thinking that he was worth that little. 

It was the loneliness. That horrible little fact rears its ugly head and Aaron pushes it right back down again where it should stay. 

 


-•-

 


It’s getting colder, which means business is getting busier and it’s exactly the sort of distraction which Aaron has been after considering he’s officially back to being a miserable git. Apparently. 

It has not one single thing to do with Robert, in fact, if you asked Aaron, he’d have to think about who it is you’re referring to. He’d go: Oh, that Robert. That’s how it should be, that’s what Aaron’s telling himself anyway. Especially when he’s driving past Robert’s office, the big scary glass windows and the way it looks like it’s reaching the sky. There’s a taxi bay right outside, he watches hundreds of swanky idiots climb in, seemingly refusing to drive themselves around in the middle of autumn. Aaron doesn’t stay, he doesn’t park his car anywhere near because if he did, he’d see Robert and if he saw Robert, he’d lose all that progress he’s telling himself he’s made. 

And there has been progress, it’s been nearly three weeks, not that he’s counting, and he hasn’t thought about the idiot all that much. It’s natural that he would, but it doesn’t mean that he cares. He really, really doesn’t care in the slightest. 

Aaron’s almost ninety-nine per cent sure that he’s well and truly over Robert. He’s already aware that he’s well rid, already aware that things are starting to get a little too real, a little too much in more ways than one, so he's really proud. He’s almost there. He’s so sure of it. 

Ninety-nine per cent sure. 

 

-•-

 


One. Fucking. Percent. 

 

-•-

 


Aaron’s had to kick two teenagers out of his car for being sick all over the carpet. That’s how his Saturday night is going if you were to ask him. He passes over a pound coin to the bored looking teenager at the till and then sips on a can of coke as he waits for his car to be deep cleaned. The sky is pitch black as he tilts his head up and stares, thinking about the fact that tonight is their busiest night of the week and he’s missing out on earnings.

The thought scares him because he sounds like a proper adult with responsibilities and priorities and it’s too weird to bare right about now. 

His mum used to say if he keeps staring up at the sky, the world beneath will pass him by. It was all a bit poetic really, all a bit much and he’s sure she stole it from some women’s health magazine or something. But it stuck. It’s cemented in his mind, and he can’t stop thinking about it. The world seems to be passing him right by, and he’s letting it. 

“Sir, ready for you.” 

Aaron turns, takes the keys and thanks the man before heading off again. It’s just gone half eleven, he’s got plenty of time to make up for the lost hour and a bit. And he does really, he watches a group of girl’s pile in and sing about shots for half an hour before he’s welcoming in some young couple with their hands all over each other and then he’s wishing them a good night and deciding to park a few metres away from the club he’s watching people come out of. The sky is different now, Aaron pokes his head out and sees that it almost looks grey because the clouds have peeked through. Aaron’s suddenly itching to get out of the car and stare properly, so he does just that. He gets out, tilts his head and breathes in slowly as he watches the sky. 

He watches the sky, and he doesn’t get to see what’s going on below so when he hears the sound of a car door trying to be opened. Whoever is trying, keeps failing and Aaron usually couldn’t care less but the sound is pissing him off, so he takes his eyes away from the sky and then looks at what’s happening right in front of his face. 

There’s an idiot trying to break into his car right in front of his face. Aaron’s not going crazy, it’s actually happening. Aaron charges towards the man, decides to shout to see if that will scare him off but it doesn’t at all. Instead, the idiot tries even harder, and Aaron’s forced to yank at the stranger’s shoulders, turn him round and then –

Aaron’s sure he’s dreaming. In fact, he wants someone to slap him across the face so that he wakes up and he can stop seeing Robert’s face staring back at him. 

“Aaron.” Robert just says his name, he just says one word and it’s enough to make Aaron’s heart thud so hard in his chest that it makes him feel sick. 

Aaron’s holding onto Robert’s shoulders, he’s feeling him, touching him and it’s too much but he doesn’t let go. Instead, he decides to focus on the alcohol he smells on Robert’s breath which is a sure sign that he’s absolutely drunk. 

“What are you doing?” Aaron tries to whisper but he ends up shouting somehow and Robert winces a little against his words. 

“Knew it was your car.” Robert smiles, and it looks genuine. Remembered the number plate. 

Aaron’s eyes flicker. “That’s not stalkerish at all.”

Robert leans towards Aaron, and he must be drunk because he puts a hand against Aaron’s waist and leans his forehead forward against Aaron’s. “You taking me for a ride then?” Robert’s hands wander even lower, and Aaron jumps back a little, takes himself out of this little spell that he’s found himself in. 

“Go home Robert.” Aaron ends up shoving Robert against his own car and then he’s trying to move around the drunk idiot. 

“No – no Aaron.” Robert holds at Aaron’s arm and then they’re both just staring at each other like fools. “I … I’m sorry.” He almost sounds sincere. “Fuck, I’m …” He keeps holding on to Aaron’s arm, he squeezes down when Aaron can’t look him in the eye. “I just wanted to see you.”

Aaron just stares, he can’t speak. It’s like he doesn’t know how to, and he blames Robert’s sudden appearance for it all. Eventually, he gets a grip. “You’re drunk.” He whispers. “I …”

“I know you said to stay away. I know.” Robert frowns a little and his hold on Aaron’s arm softens. “But I … I just …”

“Had one too many in one of the bars around here then.”

Robert’s eyes flicker, and he looks so sad. “I saw your car.”

“So, you said.” Aaron is trying hard to be as together as he possibly can. “Thought you’d break into my car n’all.” 

Robert frowns. “Aren’t you even a little bit turned on by that?” He leans forward again, and Aaron moves away. He watches as Robert’s face falls. “I wanted to see you.” He says, so honestly it makes Aaron feel lightheaded. 

Aaron dips his head down. “Thought I made it clear weeks ago.”

Robert gulps hard. “So, you don’t want to see me?”

Aaron can’t look at Robert, he just dips his head down and then sighs. “I’m working.”

“That didn’t answer my question.”

“This might come as some massive surprise to you, but I actually don’t need to do what you tell me to.” Aaron shouts again, and then he’s shaking his head and sighing. “I don’t need this, Robert.”

“I think I need you.”

Aaron freezes suddenly. “What?”

“Everything’s … it’s all shit.” Robert whispers and then when Aaron tries to speak, he hears about a million girls running into one of the clubs. 

“Get — get in the car.” Aaron mumbles the words out and then he’s watching as Robert fumbles to open the door, then gives up and turns towards Aaron who pulls quickly and watches as the car door opens. Robert nods his head and gets in, Aaron hesitates before following him so they’re sitting next to each other, bumping knees.

Robert lets out this heavy sigh which seeks to race through him as he sits, drunk, heavy, feeling sorry for himself. 

Aaron folds his arms, keeps his hands crossed over and then plucks up the courage to say what’s on his mind. 

“You had a fight with Chrissie or something then.”

Robert looks up sharply, eyes wide and glassy. “‘S nothing.”

“You think I let you in my car so you can sit there and tell me it’s nothing.” Aaron scowls and then he’s sighing again. “Spill.”

“Why? You don’t care, you made that clear when …”

“Pretty soon after you accused me of trying to blackmail you.”

“I was scared.” Robert shouts, and then he’s looking absolutely terrified as he stares at Aaron and scrambles to take what he said back. “I — I haven’t done this before, not like … I haven’t — I’m sorry.”

Aaron looks down at his own lap. “It’s forgotten about anyway.” He shrugs. 

Robert goes to speak and then decides against it. Instead, he leans his head back against the seat and closes his eyes. “I’ll be out of your hair in a second.”

Aaron nods even though he knows Robert can’t see him, then he tilts his head. “Why’d you get pissed?”

Robert opens his eyes. “I didn’t get the promotion.”

Aaron thinks for a second, then frowns as he remembers a conversation. Robert seemed so sure of it all, of himself and now he looks almost like a shell of who that person was. Aaron wants to shake him, wants to tell him that it’s probably because Chrissie is waiting for a ring on her finger before any of that happens. 

“Oh.” Aaron gulps hard as he hears the sound of boys laughing as they walk down the street, the mood in here couldn’t be any different. “I’m sorry.”

Robert’s nose is bright red and Aaron suddenly wants to hug him. It’s a disease, it really must be, because Aaron was so nearly over this. He was so convinced. 

“It’s not your problem.” Robert whispers. “I’m just not good enough.”

“That’s not true.” Aaron hates how easily he can think that, say that out loud to Robert.

Robert scoffs. “Of course it is.” He frowns. “I put in all – all this time and effort and it doesn’t mean anything. And you know what’s the worst bit? Chrissie’s there there routine like she doesn’t know it’s her dad that’s making it all so difficult in the first place.”

Aaron’s jaw tightens. “Doesn’t that tell you something?”

Robert chooses to ignore him, to ignore it all maybe and Aaron lets them sit in silence for a second.

“I can drive you home.” Aaron says, “You don’t need to stumble out of here and get a cab.”

“Business not doing too well then?” Robert almost smirks and then Aaron’s rolling his eyes.

“Busiest night of the week actually.”

“I know, I was just …”

“Trying to be a smart-arse.” Aaron sighs and then he’s watching as Robert skates a hand close to his, then closer. “Robert …”

“I wanted to be with you.” 

Aaron ignores that, he has to try his hardest to pretend like he didn’t hear any of it. Instead, he just shakes his head and tries to listen to the sound of a woman singing a Spice Girl’s song completely out of tune as she struts down the road with her friend. Aaron’s really trying to pay attention to her when Robert’s hand slips into his, Aaron’s initial reaction is to squeeze down, feel Robert’s soft thumb glide against his worn knuckles but he can’t have that.

So instead, Aaron almost lunges backwards. 

“Robert, you’re drunk.”

“I’m myself with you.”

“You’re … you’re drunk with me. That’s what this is. And – and you feel sorry for yourself, so you’ve come to find me, little old Aaron to make you feel better about yourself but it’s not going to happen Robert.”

Robert seems completely stunned, and Aaron’s heart aches a little.

“I missed you.” Robert suddenly looks sober, like he’s been smacked across the face, and he’s woken up. “And I wanted to see you, but I couldn’t – didn’t know what you’d say so I drank, and – and psyched myself up to say that I’m sorry and I miss you.”

Aaron’s eyes well with tears for some stupid reason. “‘S just words Robert.”

“Words I’m saying to you.” Robert whispers. “And – and meaning. I mean it.” His shoulders slump down hard. “I’m not good enough, and I ruin everything, and I know that’s what you think ‘cause you’re really smart.”

Aaron almost laughs, he lets out this breathless little noise and Robert looks at him like he’s hung the moon or something.

“And fit, fuck, really fit and I don’t have to pretend with you. I don’t.” Robert dips his head. “I don’t want to have to pretend like that. I’m sorry, I’m talking so much but you’re not stopping me so I’ll …”

Aaron places his hand in Robert’s and everything goes silent for a second. Robert looks so small, and vulnerable and for a very dangerous second, he looks like Aaron’s. Like he’s his, and Aaron’s Robert’s and it’s just them in this car they’ve been in countless times. Only now the sky is darker, and the stars seem brighter, and Robert squeezes down on his head so tightly that Aaron’s feet start to tingle.

“Stop saying you ain’t good enough.” Aaron whispers the words like a promise. “‘Cause I think you are, and I’m never wrong mate.” He bites down on his lip and Robert breathes in before nodding his head slowly and bringing his forehead against Aaron’s.

“Can we stay here for a second?” Robert whispers, and he’s still holding Aaron’s hand as he closes his eyes. 

We can stay here forever. 

That’s what Aaron thinks. That’s the dangerous little thought circling around his head as Aaron realises that time does absolutely nothing about how he feels about Robert. He’d forgive him for anything he thinks, he’d probably do a load of stuff he’d call other people made for doing. But that seems to be what you do, when you’re like this, when you feel something, you really shouldn’t. 

“I missed you.” Robert says, again. 

Aaron listens, and then he feels this ache twist in his chest because he can’t say that back, it wouldn’t be right. Instead, Aaron nods his head and leans his forehead right down against Robert’s.

And yes, he’s well and truly fucked.

 

-•-

 


Aaron’s waiting for Ms Adams to get her bags, she’s got to be at the airport in half an hour and it’s very much not going to happen but Aaron’s not going to tell her that. Instead, he’s going to wait patiently as she runs back into her office building. She’s going on a business trip, Prague apparently. It all sounds fancy, but it won’t work out and Aaron doesn’t mind how much of a cynic that makes him seem. 

Sometimes things don’t work out, sometimes they do. 

Maybe it’s on cue that he sees Robert walking out of his office building. Maybe it has a tiny little thing to do with why Aaron’s put up with waiting for Ms Adams to sort her shit out for so long. Just maybe.

Aaron watches as Robert sees him and then he takes in this sharp breath as he notices that Robert’s coming towards him. He sort of looks like death warmed up and Aaron has to fight every single urge he has to ask if he’s doing OK after last night. 

Last night.

Aaron could have sworn it happened seconds ago; it feels so etched into his mind anyway. Robert dips his head, clearly wants Aaron to slide down his car windows and Aaron obliges because he doesn’t know how not to at this point. Aaron feels a blast of cold air and he squints against the sun as Robert stands there. Then he looks down and sees that he’s holding two cups of coffee. 

“You alright?” Robert asks, but he isn’t really asking so Aaron just nods his head. “I just wanted to say sorry for last night.”

Aaron feels this sudden sense of dread. He’s waiting for the inevitable ‘mistake’ line to rear its ugly head.

“Which bit?” Aaron tilts his head just slightly.

Robert can’t meet his eye, and all of this feels like torture. “Attempting to break into your car? Wasn’t my brightest move.”

Aaron nods. “You were pretty drunk.”

Robert stands straighter. “I promise that’s not a … um habit of mine.” He says, almost like he wants Aaron to have a good impression of him. 

Aaron almost doesn’t believe him. “You turning to alcohol when things are tough? It ain’t the answer.”

Robert gulps hard. “I know.” He says, and then he frowns. “Seem to turn to you n’all.” 

Aaron blushes hard.

“Chrissie’s never seen me drunk, I don’t … like how vulnerable I get.”

That nugget of information just sort of hangs in the air and Aaron’s a little speechless against it.

“You said you wanted to see me.” Aaron all but whispers the words out. “Do you remember that?”

“I remember everything.” Robert is suddenly confident, and Aaron’s stomach jolts a little. “I meant what I was saying.”

Aaron’s eyes widen a little.

“I have missed you.” Robert sniffs a little against the cold air and then gulps hard. “Think you’d be lying if you said you didn’t miss me. Not even a little.” He almost smirks and then it’s gone because Aaron doesn’t instantly mirror it. A beat passes and it’s almost too hard to bear. “I – you made things feel OK.” He says. “Kinda what you do.”

Aaron should take it as a compliment, he should bask in it, but he can’t. Not really. “When it all goes wrong. Mr. dependent. That’s me yeah?”

Robert frowns just slightly and then he shakes his head. “I know how that sounds.” He says. “But I just meant …”

Aaron closes his eyes for a second, remembers his forehead against Robert’s and the way it felt like no one else existed in the whole world. Eventually Aaron pulled away, eventually he had to and as much as he wanted to kiss Robert, hold him for the rest of the night and just say a massive fuck it to the whole entire messed up situation, he didn’t. He couldn’t. He had to drive Robert home, he had to watch him walk into that massive house and then he had to drive away. 

“I brought you a coffee. To stay thanks.” Robert leans out, and Aaron stares down at the cardboard cup. Aaron looks up, right into Robert’s eyes. “What?” He asks.

Aaron bites his lip hard, takes the cup and feels the warmth spread through his hand as he looks up at Robert with wide eyes. 

“Thanks for what exactly?”

“Listening. Being …”

“More than someone you sleep with occasionally behind your …” Robert breathes in, and Aaron decides to spare him. Instead, he sits back and lets out this small sigh. “Thanks for the coffee.” He says.

Robert nods, almost for no reason at all really and then he speaks again. “Don’t shut me out again.”

Aaron suddenly hates Robert again, well no, he can’t hate him which makes him want to hate him so much it’s hard to breathe. “You’re acting like I hold all the power here.” He shrugs his shoulders and wants to scream and tell Robert that it isn’t fair, that none of this is fair. 

Aaron holds his tongue, bites down hard instead.

“I don’t want to stay away.” Robert leans down into the car and Aaron forgets how to breathe. “Don’t make me, please.”

Aaron gulps hard and then he nods his head slowly. “What’s the point? You do what you want anyway.” He sounds annoyed on purpose, wants to make Robert sweat for a second and then he’s smirking and watching Robert’s shoulders fall a little. They both stare at each other with big round eyes and then Aaron hears the sound of heels.

“Oi, he’s mine!” It’s the woman, she’s missing her flight and yet she’s still running towards the car and trying to tell Robert to back off.

Robert smirks. “Looks like I’ve got competition. I’ll see you around.” He whispers, and he looks stupidly attractive, and Aaron’s caught up in it until he realises what he’s said. 

Competition. As if Aaron is Robert’s in any way. 

He’s mine.

Aaron closes his eyes, tries to think for a second about how stupid he’s being and then he’s remembering that he’s meant to be working. 

“Hello, can we get a move on?” Ms Adams waving her arms about and Aaron shakes himself against it, nods his head and then starts driving. 

 


-•-

 


“If you could be an animal, what would you be?”

Aaron’s got his back to Robert, against his chest as he sits with his eyes closed and tries to get his breath back. He’s caved, that’s what he’s calling this. He’s well aware that he can’t really stay away from Robert in any real way, and this is better than not having anything. 

Aaron’s sure he’s hearing things, sure it’s in his mind or something but then he tilts his head up and sees that Robert is clearly waiting for some sort of answer. Aaron laughs, right against Robert’s chest.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Just wondering if I should start thinking of what my favourite colour is too.” Aaron bites his lip and Robert looks almost shy until Aaron’s hand is against Robert’s face and he’s stroking his thumb backwards and forwards. 

Robert leans down, kisses Aaron slowly before leaning away again. “What is your favourite then?”

Aaron shrugs. “Probably blue.”

“Like your eyes.”

Aaron pulls a face and Robert pinches his side. 

“What? Your eyes are well blue.” Robert’s eyes flicker slightly, and Aaron stretches his body so he can kiss Robert again. When he pulls away, Robert is still staring right at him. “Stop staring.”

“No.” Robert says defiantly, he sticks his chin up and acts like a kid and Aaron rolls his eyes slowly. 

“You’re really annoying.”

“Yeah? Chuck me out then.”

Aaron rolls his eyes. “Don’t push your luck.”

Robert looks serious suddenly and it makes Aaron want to look away. “I won’t.” It sounds like a promise.

Aaron nods his head slowly. “Good. ‘Cause you’re on thin ice.” He’s almost half joking but Robert takes it as an opportunity to tell Aaron that he’s sorry for how much of an idiot he is. It’s all sincere, it’s all Aaron has the chance to hear for a second because it feels like everything else drowns out. 

Aaron leans up, kisses Robert gently. 

“You don’t have to keep saying sorry.” Aaron says. Aaron protects himself. Robert arches an eyebrow just slightly. “I meant what I said about us not owing each other anything. It makes it easier.”

Robert almost looks hurt.

“You get that right?”

Aaron waits for Robert to speak. Robert nods his head slowly and that’s all Aaron gets.

 


-•-

 


There’s this little routine thing going on that Aaron really tries to ignore for his own sanity. It starts with Aaron driving into the bays in the middle of the town centre which overlooks Robert’s fancy work office. Then Robert walks out, casual as ever, as he goes on his lunch break. Robert goes to the coffee shop opposite, buys two and then delivers one to Aaron with a soft smile and it’s all really, oddly, domestic in a way that doesn’t scream that they’re sort of having an affair. 

Today, Robert passes Aaron a coffee and doesn’t start banging on about how busy he is. Instead, he hovers by the car and looks awkward, and tense and Aaron lets him for a second before the silence is way too annoying. 

“What’s with you?”

Robert looks up. “Huh?”

“Your face.” Aaron squints up, through the opened car window as Robert stands there with a nervous look on his face. “You look …” He frowns and Robert sips his coffee slowly, then shrugs his shoulders. 

“It’s nothing.” Robert says.

Aaron rolls his eyes and then for the smallest of seconds, he wonders if it’s Chrissie and he doesn’t want to know. He can’t know about any of that. Aaron should sip his coffee, and stare at the shape of Robert’s arse as he walks back to his office and yet.

“You’re being annoying.”

Robert sighs, “I just … it’s …”

“Spit it out then.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

Aaron’s mouth sort of hangs open for a second, and because of this weird angle, he can’t really see Robert’s face so he’s just staring at a tie until he cranes his neck and sees that Robert looks serious. Aaron doesn’t know what to say for a second because the whole thing sounds ridiculous so instead, he decides to joke.

“Yeah. You at the moment.” Aaron pulls a face. “Although it’s kind of difficult with this angl…”

“You know what I mean.” Robert pushes the words out quickly and then stops when he sees the look on Aaron’s face. “I’m being serious.”

Aaron breathes in deeply. “Why’d you think I’m seeing someone?”

“Why can’t you just answer me?”

Aaron rolls his eyes. “Could you just – it’s a pretty random thing to say.”

“Not really.” Robert shrugs. “You’re the one always talking about us not owing each other anything.” He says, and then Aaron’s got to sit and listen to his own words used against him and he isn’t sure what any of this means. 

“So that means I’m seeing someone?”

Robert grips his coffee cup tighter, and Aaron tries not to laugh. “Well Adam seems to think you are.”

Aaron leans back, frowns slightly. “Adam?” He asks. “When did …” 

Robert shrugs again. “You were actually working for once and I was out with someone from work, Adam picked us up from the restaurant and …” His eyes dart a little. “Sort of overheard him saying stuff.”

“What stuff?” Aaron can only imagine how much rubbish Adam was banging on about. 

Robert gulps. “Dunno, just … you being up and down lately and then all happy. Something to smile about, someone.” 

And only Robert could be this thick. 

Aaron itches at his eyebrow. “I’m not seeing anyone.” He decides to put Robert out of his stupid misery. He watches Robert’s shoulders flatten and wonders how Robert felt when he heard Adam going on. He wonders if he was scared, worried, annoyed. Aaron wonders if he even has the right to be thinking about Robert’s reaction, if Robert deserves to have a reaction at all.

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.” Aaron rolls his eyes and then sighs. “Adam shouldn’t have been on the phone when he was working.” He decides to say. “I’ll have a word.”

“I’m not filing a complaint Aaron, I’m just saying …”

“Saying what exactly?” Aaron argues. 

Robert’s mouth opens and closes. He does it about two or three times before he finally speaks. “I just wanted to know if you were seeing someone. That’s all.” He almost shouts and then remembers when he is and reverts back to that straight back, serious businessman in a tie sort of schtick he likes. 

Aaron looks down. “Would you care?”

It’s this massive question. 

“Of course I would.” Robert’s reply comes quicker than Aaron expected it to. He isn’t prepared for it in the slightest and he’s sure he gasps. The sound of a bus going past saves him from complete and utter embarrassment. Robert’s eyes widen and then he shakes his head slowly. “‘Cause I … I … we’d have to be careful.”

Aaron’s heart thuds. Oh. “Careful as in …” Robert makes this gesture; it looks like he’s trying to say sex without saying sex and Aaron hates him for a second. “Says the guy with a girlfriend.”

Robert looks annoyed at himself; Aaron just stares up at him.

“I’m just saying.” 

“Just saying a lot today, aren’t you?” Aaron tilts his head to the side. “I’ll uh …” He clears his throat awkwardly. “Keep more con…”

“Me and Chrissie are always safe.”

“Yeah, I think I’m pretty much done with this conversation.” Aaron says quickly. “My coffee's getting cold.”

“Pretty weird way of thanking me for buying you one.” Robert squints, and he looks like he’s trying to look relaxed, easy going, and yeah, he’s failing. A minute passes and the air is thick. “You um … free later?”

Aaron’s eyes flicker and he nods his head slowly. “Could be.”

“I’ll need a cab.” Robert looks at Aaron like he wants to rip his clothes off suddenly. It’s a lot to deal with. 

Aaron doesn’t say yes, he just looks at Robert and drags his teeth across his bottom lip. Then he nods and Robert looks relieved, Robert looks like Aaron holds all the cards sometimes. 

Robert couldn’t be any further from the truth. 

 

-•-

 


Aaron has a word with Adam which turns into more of a shout. 

“I just want to know why you were discussing my love life in your car?” 

“I just happened to mention it. That’s all.”

“To who?” Aaron wants to die suddenly. “Don’t tell me it was my mum?”

Adam makes a sound, clearly disgusted. “Urgh do you really think I’d do that?” He asks. “It was Finn.”

“Brilliant.” Aaron mumbles down the phone and tells himself that it’s a good idea that they didn’t do this in person. 

“It’s only Finn.”

“Why did it even come up?” Aaron scowls, because the conversation he had with Robert is still spinning round and round in his mind and he doesn’t know what to do about it. If Robert wasn’t so stupid, he would have understood who was making Aaron happy or whatever. The thought makes Aaron’s throat close up. 

“We were just chatting, look I didn’t ....” Adam pauses. “Hang on, how do you even know?”

Aaron wants the ground to decide he’s had enough time on Earth so it’s time to be swallowed up. It doesn’t happen. Instead, he just stares, wide eyed, out at the people going about their business and he realises that Robert told him, Robert heard. Robert. Robert the guy Adam thinks he still hates. The guy that he should hate, sort of does. Robert the guy who he’s having an affair with. 

“Uh.” Aaron clears his throat. “I uh …”

“I think that posh idiot was in the car.” Adam says. “The one you hate.”

The very one. 

“Um yeah, he saw me parked up early and was just – uh being a bit of a twat. He bought it up, caught me off guard. I don’t know.”

Adam makes this little sound. “Oh.” He says. “Weird.” 

“Well it happened.”

Adam laughs. “Yeah, I’m not saying you’re lying.” He says. “Just saying.”

Aaron feels lightheaded and he rests his head against the seat of the car. “Rather you don’t just say anymore, it was well weird.” He says, and that isn’t a lie.

“Yeah say no more mate, sorry.” Adam says. Aaron nods his head like Adam can see him and then he gulps hard. “Bloody Sugden.”

Yeah. Bloody Sugden.

 

-•-

 


The sky is pitch black, stars twinkling brightly and Aaron’s kissing Robert in the back of his car. Only it doesn’t feel like he is because Robert doesn’t feel like he’s really present. Aaron leans away, scowls, and then watches as Robert finally looks like he’s in the car again. 

“Sorry I was miles …”

“Felt like kissing a dead guy.” Aaron’s dramatic but Robert doesn’t even seem to get it. He really is miles away. “You know I could be at mine rather than freezing my …”

“Yeah.” Robert smooths a hand against Aaron’s face and it’s suddenly difficult to breathe. “Sorry, I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

Aaron gulps loud enough for the noise to fill the space between them. “Like what?” He’s stupid for asking, it’s dangerous to ask, to know. 

Robert’s eyes flicker and he shakes his head. 

Aaron sighs hard and climbs off Robert’s lap with a thud because he isn’t letting this drop. He folds his arms over and then turns to Robert again. “Like. What?”

Robert blinks, then holds Aaron’s gaze. “I had ideas. I presented them at work in the hopes that if they were liked, I’d get that promotion I’ve been after but …”

“But it didn’t work out?” Aaron guesses. Robert shakes his head. “Why don’t you just tell Ch–your girlfriend?” He asks. “Doesn’t she have a …”

“What so use some good ‘ol fashion nepotism then?” Robert sounds angry and Aaron laughs, makes it ten times worse. “I’ve earned it.”

Aaron’s face falls. “I’m not saying you haven't.” He says slowly. Then he frowns. “But you can’t beat yourself up over it.” He says. “Maybe it’s not you, it’s them.” He shrugs and Robert just shakes his head. Aaron leans a hand over, squeezes down against Robert’s thigh. “You don’t need a promotion to prove yourself. You do get that right?”

Only Robert clearly doesn’t. Only Aaron can tell that the hand squeezing down on Robert’s thigh, the one there to make him feel reassured and seen and supported isn’t doing a damn thing. Robert just nods his head, but he’s gone again, and Aaron’s left wondering what Robert will do to get what he wants. 

 

-•-

 


The screaming baby leaves the car with his inept dad and Aaron gets to breathe again. His head bangs, more than bangs actually and he has to take a minute to stop feeling like there’s someone trying to drill a hole through his head. Then he’s off again, circling round the town centre in Hotten. Aaron has to wait two seconds before he sees Robert walking down the road with his head in some file. 

Robert doesn’t spot him, and Aaron feels like a needy kid when he slows the car down and waits for Robert to look up. Eventually he does, and Aaron doesn’t know what to do with the feeling which rushes through him when he sees Robert walk over towards him. 

“Hey, I need a ride.” Robert doesn’t even wait for a reply before he’s opening the door and piling in with his briefcase.

“Hello to you too.” Aaron mumbles, and he was expecting a little more considering he hasn’t seen Robert in nearly a week now.

Robert looks up, looks apologetic and then he’s leaning over and squeezing at Aaron’s hand. “Hello.” 

And Aaron melts. Against his better judgement, Aaron just softens and forgets all about the fact that Robert could easily forget him. 

“Hey.” Aaron’s face is bright red, he can feel it. Then he clears his throat and watches as Robert moves his hand away again. It feels like a loss, somehow. “Where you off to then?”

Robert looks through his file and says some fancy hotel and spa place that Aaron’s taken a few couples to recently. Aaron pulls a face and then sobers when he thinks of Chrissie waiting there for her boyfriend, thinks of being the one to drive Robert to her. Robert wouldn’t make him do that, surely. 

“Meeting a client.” Robert looks up, puts Aaron out of his insane misery. “Reckon if I get them interested, Lawrence has no excuse but to promote me. I mean he’d just look like an idiot if he didn’t.”

“Yeah. He’d look like the idiot.”

Maybe Aaron’s still thinking about the screaming baby, maybe he just isn’t having the best of days, but he can’t help but be sarcastic, can’t help but think Robert is moving hell and high water to be part of a business that doesn’t respect him despite the fact that he could clearly run it with his eyes closed. 

Robert looks up and frowns. “What’s that meant to mean?”

“What?” Aaron feigns ignorance. “Nothing.”

Robert won’t let it drop. “If you have something … something to say then …”

Aaron blows out a breath, decides that there’s no point lying. “Well. This Lawrence just sounds like an idiot. Like a massive, you’ll never be good enough for the business or my daughter sort of idiot. So, what’s …” He sighs. “What’s the point of going to all this effort when you know it won’t pay off?”

Robert’s jaw locks. “I don’t know it won’t pay off.” He says quickly, he doesn’t skip a beat. “Thanks for the confidence in me.”

“It’s not about not having confidence in you.” Aaron says, and the thought of making Robert think that hurts him way too deeply. “I’m just saying …”

“Leave it. Just start driving and leave it.”

Maybe he should, but there’s something just stopping Aaron from being able to. “Robert, you’ve been losing your head over this promotion for ages.” He says. 

Robert scoffs. “It’s my job. I’ve been working on my job.”

“You’ve been working to prove yourself to idiots.”

Robert shakes his head. “It’s not like that.”

“Yeah it is.” Aaron snaps, and he wants to shake Robert for being so eager to mean so much to people who clearly don’t give a shit about him. “You’re just too blind to see that people like that – they’ll never make you think you’re good enough.”

“That’s my girlfriend’s dad you’re talking about you know so I’d wind your neck in, especially about things you don’t understand.” It’s ugly, and mean, and Aaron’s eyes flicker against it. 

It’s difficult to speak considering Aaron feels like he’s been punched hard in the gut, but he tries because, well he’s an absolute glutton for punishment.

“‘Cause I’m just some stupid ex-con cab driver yeah?”

“You said it.” Robert’s eyes widen under his own words and then he stops himself short. He almost looks sorry, and Aaron drags his eyes away so that he doesn’t see. 

“Do what you like.” Aaron sounds so hollow as he speaks. “What do I know eh?” He shakes his head and then closes his eyes. “Get out as well.”

“What?”

“Get out, get Lawrence to drive you about to pointless meetings whilst you make a fool of yourself trying to get someone who doesn’t care about you to suddenly respect you. I’m done.”

It all just comes spilling out and Robert has the audacity to seem shocked. 

“Aaron …”

“I said I’m done Robert, so go.”

“You can’t just … say you’re done and act like you suddenly don’t care.”

“I don’t!” Aaron shouts and then he watches Robert’s face fall slightly. “I shouldn’t. So I don’t.” He’s talking like he’s five. He needs to get Robert out of the car, he needs to just drive as far away from this as possible. “And it’s not like you care anyway, you only care about some shitty promotion.”

“You think it’s just about a promotion. Are you serious?”

“No, I know it’s more than that.” Aaron sighs. I know you, you idiot. “And it’s sad, but I’m done trying to make you see that when all of this, all of … it doesn’t even mean anything.”

He might not be making all that much sense, but Robert’s eyes widen like he understands. 

“So why’d you care so much then?” And Robert’s angry? He’s actually angry. “Why not just drive me to where I want to go instead of trying to give me a lecture.”

“Because I’m an idiot.” Aaron snaps. “I’m a massive idiot for thinking that whatever I say would make …”

Make a difference. 

Make you understand. 

Make you want me. 

The last thought is buried so far down, and it makes Aaron feel sick. 

Robert dips his head down, and he doesn’t say anything for a second. “Why would it make a difference if we don’t owe each other anything?” He uses Aaron’s own words against him, and everything feels way too real suddenly. 

Aaron closes his eyes for a second. Then waits before he’s speaking again. “You’re right.” He bites his lip hard. “I should mind my own business.”

Robert looks up and nods quickly. “Yeah, you should.”

It hurts. It hurts absolutely everywhere.

“I will. Don’t worry I won’t be bothering you with my stupid opinions anymore.” Aaron feels determined to get it out, to let Robert know that he means it. He doesn’t know if he does, he wants to mean it, he wants Robert to just go away. “I won’t be caring anymore.”

“Stop being so dramatic.” Robert says, “It’s …”

“Just get out Robert. Just go.”

“‘Cause I’ve told you to keep out of my life?” Robert is so stupid it hurts.

Aaron’s shoulders drop and he just nods his head. “‘Cause this ain’t worth the hassle. I’m done.”

“You’re … you’re done? What’s that meant to even mean?”

“Should I spell it out for you?” Aaron snaps. “I don’t want to see you anymore, I’m over it. So get out.” Robert doesn’t move, Aaron’s heart thuds. “I said …”

“Yeah I heard.” Robert pushes the door open, then slams it shut as he leaves. 

He leaves. He goes. 

Aaron can’t help but watch him walk away.

 


-•-

 


It’s been two weeks. Two weeks since Aaron last heard Robert speak, two weeks since Aaron saw Robert’s stupid face and realised that he had to cut all ties if he was going to be able to keep sane. 

It’s been two weeks and Aaron’s getting better at pretending like he’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. 

What isn’t fine is the fact that he’s spending his Friday night chauffeuring his mum around town. Free of charge. Apparently, she’s going to pay him in pints. 

“Nice to spend a little time with you.” Chas says, she’s got a glittery top on, side parting and purple eyeshadow. She’s leaning over, big beaming smile on her face as she speaks. “You’re always working.”

Aaron turns the country lane, hears the click click of the indicator. “Still am.” He says. 

“Well, it’s just me ain’t it. So, you can talk.” Chas waves a hand out. “You’ve been a right grump recently.”

Aaron clears his throat. He hasn’t. He’s made such an effort not to draw attention to the fact that everything is absolute shit at the moment and will continue to be because Robert is the biggest idiot in the whole world. 

“No, I ain’t.” Aaron tries to sound a little chirpier. He looks at his mum’s face in the mirror and she looks completely weirded out. “I’m fine.” He says, and he wonders when people will stop wondering if he actually is. “Where am I dropping you then?”

“The Mexican place, I think it’s a little further.” Chas points out the window and Aaron keeps going until he sees a sombrero hat in the window of a restaurant. “Oh! That’s it.” He watches as his mum climbs out the car and waves him goodbye. 

For a second, Aaron watches her as she hugs her friends and cackles like some bloody witch. He’s glad she’s happy. Aaron tears his eyes away from the restaurant when he sees the couple right by the window, holding hands, smiling. 

Aaron can’t stand it.

 

-•-

 


The radio is hardly ever on in the car but Aaron’s alone, so he turns it up and listens to the weather forecast like he’s some old man waiting to see what days are good to go to his allotment. He’s having a slow day, one that makes him sit and think for way too long. 
He’s parked up in the middle of the town centre, engine off as he does some people watching. It’s a nice past time whilst he waits for someone to make a booking or for someone to wave their hands and ask if he’s free. Aaron keeps watching until he sees him. 
Then he wants to rip his eyes out. 

Robert’s there, looking completely normal, completely fine and he isn’t alone either. Chrissie is walking with him; she’s got her arm in his and she’s babbling away and Robert’s laughing, and Aaron feels his heart lurch forward.

Aaron can’t stop watching, can’t stop staring at Chrissie’s designer bag and her perfectly styled hair. He can’t bring himself to stop until Robert looks up and stares right at him with big round eyes. Aaron wonders what would happen if he got out of the car, marched towards them and told Chrissie the number of times he’s slept with her boyfriend. Maybe Robert thinks the same thing because he looks scared.

Aaron decides that he’s not going to be the one who looks away first. Robert keeps staring, keeps looking almost tortured and then Chrissie is shaking his arm and he’s smiling down at her and pretending like nothing has happened at all.

That’s how it should all be. Nothing.

 


-•-

 

Robert disappears off the face of the earth and Aaron’s grateful. He just doesn’t see him around at all and he wonders if he’s gone on holiday with Chrissie again, whisking her off somewhere nice to say sorry for being such a cheating lowlife. It’s something that Aaron shouldn't be thinking about and yet here he is, driving some old biddy back to hers after a big shop, and thinking about what Robert is up to. 

It’s nearly been a month. Four whole weeks since he told Robert to get out of his car. He’s only seen him once since then, once. 

Aaron knows he’s better for it, his head does anyways. It’s just about getting there with his heart as well. 

 

-•-

 


Aaron’s manning the phones in the office, feet up and laptop out as he watches some dodgy action film. The main character should have died about ten times considering the number of buildings she’s jumped off but he’s fighting fit. The phone goes right as the guns come out and the main character starts jumping over roofs again. 

“Hello?” Aaron tries his best to put his cheery voice on. 

It doesn’t work. He gets radio silence back which is more than strange. 

“Are you calling about a cab? A booking?”

Again, there’s just absolute silence. 

“Hello?” Aaron elongates the word as much as he can and then the line goes dead just like the small bloke with the machine gun in the film. 

It happens again an hour later, this time, Aaron doesn’t bother to say anything. He waits for whoever is trying to get through to say something. 

“Adam? I was wondering if I could make a booking for me and Chrissie.”

Aaron hasn’t heard Robert’s voice for so long that it makes his heart jump out of his chest almost dangerously. It makes him go completely silent as well and this time it’s Robert trying to get his attention on the phone.

“Adam?”

“He’s not here.” Aaron has to say something. The silence after he speaks is too hard to bear. Aaron suddenly realises that Robert had called earlier, then hung up when he realised who was going to be taking down his booking. 

A booking for him and Chrissie. 

“I …” Robert sounds so far away, Aaron doesn’t know how he’s meant to react, meant to feel but he can’t ignore the way his heart rate hasn’t returned to normal. “I’ll … when’s he …”

“Try again in an hour.” Aaron says, and then before Robert can say anything else, Aaron puts the phone down. He’s sure he hears the beginning of a sentence, hears his name being said but it’s too late.

Aaron stares down at the phone for what feels like ages and then runs a hand over his face and tells himself to get a grip.

 


-•-

 

Aaron goes nearly another two whole weeks without seeing Robert. He keeps himself busy and some days he doesn’t even think of him at all.

Some days.

 

-•-

 

 

“You can clock off early, no need to thank me.” Adam sounds smug and Aaron is instantly confused as he slams the door shut and blows on the coffee he’s picked up from the cafe across the road.

“What are you on about?” Aaron clicks on the heater in the car and leans back in his seat with the phone against his shoulder as he tries to listen to what his best mate is going on about. It’s too late for this, he’s been working since ten this morning and the fact that it’s nearly seven is making him want to crawl up in a ball and die.

Adam isn’t helping matters.

“Just call me a genie mate.” Adam’s laughing, of course he’s laughing, and Aaron squints to listen to where Adam is. He’s clearly not at the office. 

“I’ll be calling you something else if you don’t explain yourself.” Aaron snaps. “I’ve just got myself a coffee to keep me awake for the night.”

“Well, no need to.” Adam says. “I’m working tonight, call it a favour.”

“A favour?” Aaron sits up straighter. “Why would it be a favour?”

“‘Cause I’m sparing you obviously.” Adam gets into his car; Aaron can hear it. He can also hear how much he’s not getting to the point the way Aaron needs him to. “Maybe you can do Sunday, get all the football fans after they’ve lost the match. Although Hotten ain’t doing too bad any …”

“Sparing me from what? You don’t think I’m used to drunk idiots on a Friday night?”

Adam laughs. “Oh, you wish. They’re a breeze compared to engagement parties. So, you’re welcome.”

Aaron pulls a face. “You might be the most dramatic man on the planet Ad.” He shakes his head, laughs a little and then sighs. “I think I could’ve handled it but cheers.”

“Uh you bloody hate him, or you used to anyway.”

Aaron sips at his coffee and wonders if Adam isn’t making sense on purpose. “Hate who?”

“Sugden.” Adam shouts, like he’s finally realising that Aaron has no clue what he’s talking about. “Figured you wouldn’t want to drive him to his own engagement party considering how much of a dick he is.”

Aaron loses grip on his coffee, and it spills all over the car his, but he doesn’t even seem to notice. It’s like his brain can’t actually feel it because he’s too preoccupied with what he’s just heard. Robert’s engaged. He hasn’t seen him for a month, and in that space of time, he’s got engaged. 

Robert’s getting married. 

Robert, the person he kept telling himself was just someone he used to know, someone he used to care about, is getting married.

“You’re welcome then.” Adam jokes, because it’s so quiet, because Aaron hasn’t said anything in ages, he’s not been able to say anything. It’s like he’s frozen, and no words can form what his mind is thinking.

“Uh.” Aaron makes the mistake of looking at himself in the mirror. He sees that there’s tears in his eyes, his face is bright red and there’s absolutely no denying it now. There’s no denying how much it hurts. “What? Um yeah thanks.” He’s stammering like mad; he doesn’t know what to do. “He’s …” He breathes in sharply. “Getting married, to what’s her name? That …”

“White. Christine or something.” Adam sighs. “They’re having some bash at the town hall, and want some grand entrance, someone driving them in.” He laughs a little and Aaron tries not to draw attention to how much he feels sick. “Which is where I come in.”

Aaron imagines it, he has no idea why he’s imagining it all, but he can’t help it. “Right.”

“I mean, I don’t know why they can’t drive themselves, but she insisted.” Adam sighs. “So, I spared you that.”

Aaron feels sick. “I have to …”

“Yeah, you go, enjoy your night off.” Adam sounds so happy. Adam always sounds so happy. Aaron’s never felt so jealous of him before now. 

Aaron looks at himself in the mirror again, watches tears roll down his eyes. “Yeah mate, thanks again.” He shudders, then Adam hangs up and Aaron sits staring out the window for what feels like an eternity. 

It’s none of his business. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with him and yet he starts the car up and gets all the way to the town centre. He watches from the other side of the road as people walk through the main doors in tuxedos and long silky dresses and then he sees the sign. It simply reads: Robert and Chrissie, cursive writing and love hearts scattered around the board it’s written on. 

It’s perfect. It’s absolutely perfect and Aaron wants to destroy it. It’s the only thing on his mind until he sees him. He sees Robert climbing out of Adam’s car, he sees Chrissie in a long gold gown with her hair pinned back and a massive smile on her face. He watches Robert take her arm and walk with her towards the town centre, then an older man approaches them, kisses Chrissie on the cheek before leading the way into the building. 

Aaron cranes his neck to stare, to watch the pretty chandeliers twinkle through the windows. Then they disappear inside and Aaron’s stuck where he is, pounding his steering wheel because he has no right to hurt the way he is, but he can’t do anything about it.

But he can. Actually, Aaron can do something about it. It’s like he doesn’t even think before he’s climbing out the car, walking across the street and then staring up at the building. 

“Can I help you sir?”

Aaron must look absolutely deranged, he’s been crying and it’s clear to see. The man at the door has a suit on, grey hair and beady eyes. He must be a security guard. Robert’s that important now apparently. Aaron doesn’t know what to say so he just shakes his head, and then realises that he’s acting like a lunatic, so he turns the corner and sits on the steps leading up to the entrance so that he’s out of sight from the guard. 

Aaron sits where he is for what feels like forever. It’s freezing cold but he doesn’t seem to feel it, all that he’s focused on is the fact that he can hear music and laughter and celebration and he’s back to hating Robert for doing this to him.

It consumes him, makes him feel like he’s going to be sick if he doesn’t just –

“Aaron?”

Aaron spins around and then looks up to see Robert standing above him. He looks beautiful, Aaron hates that that’s what he thinks right now. He hates himself even more than he hates Robert.

“What are you …” Robert sounds like he can’t breathe, and Aaron looks away from him again. Aaron wipes a hand over his face and then stands up so that he’s face to face with Robert. “Aaron.” Robert just says his name, maybe because he finally sees Aaron’s face, the absolute state of him. 

“You’re getting married?” Aaron can hardly get it out. 

Robert has the audacity to look like he’s going to cry, like he’s the one who’s hurt here. “I …”

“Inside — inside there is your … your engagement party. This – this is what this is?” Aaron pushes the back of his hand over his eyes to stop the tears and then he shakes his head. “You’re marrying her?” It’s not even a question now. 

Robert looks down, he looks down like a coward and then he nods his head.

“You can’t even look at me, can you?” Aaron hisses the words out and then watches as Robert slowly raises his head and then nods again. 

“I’m … yeah I’m marrying Chrissie.” Robert whispers, he sticks a hand in his pocket and Aaron stares at his bowtie for what feels like years. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing?” Aaron doesn’t care that he’s crying now. “Proposing to her?” He shakes his head. “What …”

“She’s who I want to be with for the rest of my life Aaron.” 

Aaron breathes out unsteadily and something inside him breaks a little. “She’s the one who will get you a promotion, a leg up. That’s … that’s what …”

Robert steps forward, presses a hand against Aaron’s chest. “You have no — you’ve got no idea what …”

“Of course I do.” Aaron makes the mistake of looking up, looking right into Robert’s eyes. “I know you.” His chin wobbles and it’s like this dam breaks. “You don’t have to do this.”

Robert still has a hand against Aaron’s chest. He doesn’t move away. “I know I don’t.”

“Then why are you …”

“Because I love her Aaron.” Robert says it like it’s obvious. It should be obvious, it should be, but it isn’t. 

Aaron shakes his head, and it’s the faintest dismissal that Robert latches on to.

“Who do you think you are?” Robert’s jaw clenches and Aaron watches him change, morph into this angry person who has to protect himself. “I haven’t seen you in over a month and you …”

“You got engaged.” Aaron whispers. “You asked her to marry you.” He frowns slowly. “When you rang … you were booking …”

“Why do you care?” Robert comes closer, his voice is booming, and Aaron feels so stupid suddenly. It’s the million-dollar question. The one that’s been so clear from the start if Aaron’s being completely honest with himself.

Aaron can’t say it. He refuses to say anything. 

“You’re making a mistake.” Aaron tells him instead.

Robert sighs. “You don’t have any right to tell me that.” His jaw locks and he looks mean again and Aaron stares at him with wide blue eyes. “You kicked me out of your car and told me to go away over a month ago and guess what? I listened. So do the same. Go.”

“You don’t mean …”

“I’m getting married Aaron. To a beautiful woman and I’m so lucky. I’m looking towards the future, not – not the past.” Robert falters right at the end; his voice wavers and his head dips a little and Aaron can’t help but feel it punch at his stomach a little. “So go.”

Aaron bites at his lip, feels sick as he watches Robert lean away from him like he has to. It’s been over a month since he’s seen him, since they’ve been this close and yet it feels like absolutely no time at all. 

“Go Aaron.” Robert takes yet another step back.

Aaron nods his head slowly, finally gets his feet to move. “Congratulations then.”

Robert can’t look at him. “Don’t say things you don’t mean.”

“Yeah. I’ll leave that up to you.” It’s a fitting end, a parting word. Aaron breathes in again and listens to how wrecked he sounds. He’s devastated over something that isn’t his business. Aaron keeps thinking of that as he leaves, as he turns around and walks back to his car with tears still swimming in his eyes. 

Tears that Robert has seen. 

Aaron wipes at his face again before shutting the door of his car and starting up the engine. He shouldn’t look back, but he does, it’s almost like he doesn’t know how to stop himself and Robert is still standing exactly where he left him. He’s looking at Aaron’s car, just staring like he’s shocked Aaron is still a person, still someone with feelings and thoughts and —

Feelings. Too many stupid feelings.

For a second, Aaron wonders if Robert will walk towards his car the way he used to, ask for a ride, tell him that he’s only marrying Chrissie because he thinks he has to. Aaron imagines telling him it’s ok, he looks through the mirror and remembers holding at Robert’s face the first time they kissed. He imagines being there for him, not knowing how not to be there for someone he cares so much about. 

If only Robert moved closer. Instead, Aaron watches as Robert walks back into the building, slow as ever and then he’s disappearing again. Aaron sits where he is for ages, as the sky gets even darker and the cold air sets in so much that the heater hardly makes a difference. 

Robert leaves and Aaron suddenly gets the chance to cry. Like ugly cry. Like slamming the wheel of his car and hating the world sort of cry because him standing in front of Robert made no difference. Absolutely no difference at all.

You kicked me out of your car and told me to go away over a month ago and guess what? I listened. So do the same. Go.

Go. 

Aaron turns on the engine and drives.

 


-•-

 


“Mate, he was dressed like James Bond, it was so funny.”

Adam has a knack for babbling on. He’s doing it right now as Aaron sits in his car, waiting for someone to get their bags out of their house. Miles he thinks his name was. The point is, Aaron’s alone and Adam takes it as an opportunity to tell him all about how stupid Robert looked last night. 

Aaron wants the ground to swallow him up. 

“Sounds it.” Aaron mumbles out, and he doesn’t have anything else to say. He’s half hoping that Adam gets the hint. 

“Honestly. God knows why his fiancé said yeah.” Fiancé. His fiancé. Aaron dips his head, and his stomach rolls a little. “She’s so fit, and rich. That must have something to do with it.”

Aaron’s a glutton for punishment. “When did he propose?”

Adam makes this sound that tells Aaron he’s trying to remember. “Uh, about a month ago I think.”

Aaron frowns, and his eyes widen against what he’s heard. “A month ago?”

“Yeah.” Adam says. “Impromptu and everything, didn’t even have a ring.” Adam laughs. “You’d think a posh bloke like that would have a ring on standby but …”

Aaron stops listening because all of this is making it ten times worse. Robert proposed to Chrissie after their fight, after he told him to do one. 

“Anyways, what did you do on your night off?”

Cried on the steps of the town hall. Cried in front of Robert. Cried some more in my car.

“Nothing much.” Aaron’s got so good at lying, he’s calling it The Robert Effect. “Ordered a pizza and had an early night.”

“Ah decent.” Adam says, probably just to say. “Right, I’ve got some bloke trying to get my attention, so I’ll speak to you soon yeah.”

“Right, bye.”

Aaron sits, staring out the window, wondering how he’s supposed to stop thinking about Robert deciding to ask Chrissie to marry him on a whim, on a massive “Robert just go” whim. 

“Right, all set now.” Miles climbs into the car with a big smile on his face and Aaron forces out a smile back before driving on.

 


-•-

 


“Now, my darling, I think it’s best that you let it all out and then just move on. He sounds like a bloody nightmare. Am I allowed to say that on the radio? Well, who cares, he does. He’s been stringing you along and just because you’ve had the strength to let him go, doesn’t mean you can’t be sad. So no, you are not being unreasonable.”

Aaron listens to Vanessa Feltz dishing out relationship advice to a single mum from Birmingham. She’s got herself into a right state and she knows she shouldn’t still be hung up on the idiot she dumped a few weeks ago but now she knows he’s moved on, she’s inconsolable. Aaron listens to the woman’s voice as it begins to waver, and he pre-empts her crying by deciding to switch off the radio altogether. 

He feels like death considering he’s not slept a wink, considering he’s spent the night retracing every single interaction he’s had with Robert. He’s got to erase them all. Aaron’s realised that the only way forward is to completely delete Robert from his memory and he’s sure that’s got to start with blacklisting him from the cab business. Aaron knows Adam’s going to throw a fit over it, tell him that he’s being dramatic, but Aaron will put his foot down on it. He’ll make something up if he has to, force Robert to drive himself around town like an idiot rather than leeching off him and Adam. 

If Aaron wants to, he could even threaten Robert. He could tell him that Chrissie will find out everything if he tries to make things difficult. Aaron’s got it all worked out before he realises that Robert might already have the same idea, Robert told Aaron to go last night, practically told him to stay away so Robert will probably do the same. 

Robert doesn’t want anything to do with him because Aaron told him to go. Aaron started the chain he thinks, he was angry that Robert didn’t respect his opinion, so he told him to do one and Robert listened. Robert upt and left and he didn’t see him for over a month, and within that time, he’d really fucking listened. He’d done the ultimate ‘we don’t mean anything to each other’ thing in the world. He got engaged, engaged to be married to a woman who clearly doesn’t respect him, or love him, in any way she should. 

Aaron’s head spins with it all, and he can’t help but think and think and think until he’s being forced to snap out of it and drive some young couple to one of the old looking pubs just outside Emmerdale. His mind quiets down for a second or two when he’s listening to the couple chatting in the back of his car, it settles right down until they’re gone and he’s on his way back and he’s finding himself passing that little country lane. 

That little lay-by. 

No one’s around so he drives his car right into the space like a loser and turns the engine off. He wants to turn his phone off too, but Adam will jump to conclusions, think he’s died or something. He leaves it on, enjoys the quiet for a second and then there’s a car approaching, and he has to wipe at his face and wave the car on. 

The idiot doesn’t get the hint and Aaron’s forced to wind down his wind, stick his head out and tell the car that he’s not in his way at all.

“Oi, are you deaf or …”

No. Just Robert Sugden. 

Aaron pulls his head back into his car and goes to start the engine, but Robert gets out of his flashy car and walks over towards him. 

“One second.” Robert practically starts running towards him and Aaron fumbles to start driving but Robert has a hand on the opened window. “Aaron.”

“What do you want?” Aaron looks like he’s been crying, maybe that’ll be his permanent face from now on. 

“I didn’t expect to see you last night.” Robert explains, he waves his hands a bit and then he gulps thickly. Aaron stares at him, then down at his blue jumper and up at his face again. He doesn’t look like he’s got that post-engagement party glow. He looks rough.

“Figured. I mean why would your ex bit on the side be there right?” Aaron’s determined not to cry, he’s determined not to waver even once. He’s got Vanessa Feltz on his mind, which is probably the weirdest thing he’s admitted for a while. 

Robert’s jaw locks. “I want to know what you’re planning on doing?”

Aaron feels this punch in his gut out of nowhere. “What?”

Robert shuffles uncomfortably on his feet. “I thought you were there to – the security guard said it looked like you wanted to come in.” He gulps hard. “Is that true?”

Maybe. Sort of. “I don’t know.” Aaron decides to be honest for some insane reason. “I could have.” He shrugs his shoulders. “I just wanted to see your face; see you try to explain why …”

“Why I asked my girlfriend to marry me?”

“Why you asked her after I told you to go.” Aaron whispers the words out but it’s quiet, there’s no one around, Robert hears him perfectly. Robert’s shoulders drop slightly, and he looks confused. “A month ago, apparently. Convenient.”

“It’s got nothing to do with you.” Robert sounds desperate and Aaron feels like he has the upper hand which is mad. 

“Of course it doesn’t.” Aaron shakes his head. “Just a coincidence, right?”

Robert huffs. “Think what you like.”

“I’m not an idiot Robert.” Aaron snaps. 

“No, you’re just a wannabe gate crasher.” Robert snaps back and everything feels cold suddenly. “You told me to leave you alone and then you go and turn up at my engagement party? What were you thinking?”

Aaron sobers suddenly. “I wasn’t.” He whispers. “I shouldn’t have been there.” He admits.

“No, you shouldn’t have.” Robert breathes out unsteadily and then gups hard. “Didn’t stop you though.”

Aaron closes his eyes. “I just wanted to see it for myself.”

Why? You made it pretty clear how you felt when you kicked me out of your car.”

And oh, it really was because Aaron ended things.

“Really?” Aaron wants to punch him, he really does. He wants to tell Robert how stupid he is, how he only ended it because he cared way too much, he cared about him so much more than he should. Only Robert would take that as a green light to get down on one knee. 
Robert looks utterly confused. “What do you want from me?” 

Robert sounds genuine, sounds like he’s begging, and Aaron can’t help but feel something. Aaron suddenly can’t look at Robert in the eye, he just can’t. 

“Not a single thing.” Aaron tells him, then he gulps hard and breathes in before sighing. “I’m not going to tell her anything.” He says. “‘S not worth it, you’re …”

He is. He is worth it. If only Robert could see.

“You’re making a massive mistake, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me. So, I’ll stay out of your way, you stay out of mine.” Aaron runs a hand across his face and sniffs. “Get married, get that promotion. Keep living that life you think you want.”

“You don’t need to sound so bitter.” Robert says and then he sighs. “You don’t – you don’t know me, Aaron. What we had … it was nothing.” He shrugs. “You said that, you ended it, you told me to – to go and I did and now I’ve moved on and you think you have the right to try and tell me …”

“You’re right. I don’t.” Aaron feels exhausted suddenly. “I don’t have any right. And you don’t have the right to be here, like this, with me right now. Go back to your fiancé.” Robert’s eyes flicker like hearing Chrissie being called that is something he didn’t think was real. “Go back to your great little life and leave me alone.”

“As long as you promise to do the same.” Robert says.

Aaron nods. “You won’t be hearing from me anymore.”

Robert nods back. “Well good.”

“Great.”

“Perfect.” Robert says, with a massive fake smile on his face and then he turns back to his car and it’s final. 

It should be absolutely final. Perfectly final.

 


-•-

 

      Pick up from the airport by 5:30 ok?

Aaron sighs hard but tells Adam that he’s fine with that even if he can’t be arsed to drive all that way and then drive back but it’s his job at the end of the day. It’s almost like he’s growing up, accepting things. It’s strange. 

The drive isn’t actually too bad anyway. He gets there early and sits in his car for what feels like ages before he’s watching some guy walking towards him. He’s carrying a rucksack and a suitcase and Aaron gets out to help. Only because it’d be good to stretch his legs. 

The guy is grateful enough. In fact, he keeps wanting to chat and Aaron has to bite down the need to tell him he isn’t really a chatty sort of person. 

“You actually drove me to the airport like a week ago.” The guy says and then Aaron remembers. Miles. 

“Right yeah, good trip?” Aaron says, to be polite and because they’re sitting in traffic on the way back to his. 

“Uh. I was visiting my dad in South Africa.” Aaron doesn’t know what to say so he just nods. “He’s pretty ill so it wasn’t really a … holiday so.”

Aaron feels like an idiot. “Oh. Sorry.”

Miles shakes his head and sighs. “It’s OK. He’s … well he’s a bit better now.” 

Aaron nods his head, and they fall into a lapse of silence before Miles is talking again. 

“So how long you been in the cab business?”

“Not long.” Aaron says. “Me and my mate thought it’d be a good idea. Transport ‘round here is a joke sometimes.”

“Oh God yeah.” Miles smiles, easy as anything and Aaron keeps his eyes on the car in front of him. “You’re uh … a pretty chilled out driver.”

Aaron scoffs. “Thanks?” He questions and then Miles is laughing. 

“I meant it in a good way.”

And oh. Oh. Aaron looks back at Miles and suddenly questions whether he’s trying to flirt with him, or chat him up, or something. Aaron almost blushes and he wants the ground to swallow him up suddenly. The feeling stays until he’s pulling up to Miles’ flat and he’s getting his suitcase out the boot. 

“Thanks.” Miles says, and Aaron nods before taking him in a little for the first time. Miles looks like he works in tech, he’s wearing a tatty red jumper and some battered jeans, and his hair is a mess of curls but not bad. Not bad at all. 

The stab of guilt Aaron feels is ridiculous. 

“Look uh … I don’t know if this is a bit forward but … if you’re around for a – I don’t know.” Miles starts waving his arms about and Aaron smiles. “A drink or – a bite to eat or something.” Miles looks mortified because Aaron just stares at him. “God you’re not straight, are you?”

Aaron huffs out a breath. “Nah. Definitely gay.”

Miles’ shoulders fall. “Nice to know my gaydar works.”

“Didn’t know people still said that.” Aaron bites his lip, almost teases. “If you need a cab, you know where I am.” He nods his head and then walks back to the car. “Ask for Aaron, unless you want a farmer called Adam or a speccy kid called Finn.”

Miles does a stupid salute. “Roger that.” He says and Aaron almost laughs. 

It’s almost flattering until Aaron drives into the centre of town and passes where Robert works. Then he’s back to feeling empty.

 

-•-

 

The weather is shit, windy and rainy and so Aaron’s not in the mood already. It’s only aggravated by the way this fool is trying to tell him that he isn’t paying for his journey. Aaron’s fighting the need to lean over, yank the wallet out of his pocket and then toss him out the car. 

“It can’t be that much; you’re just adding numbers. You think I’m thick or something?”

And yes. Aaron really does think he’s thick but that’s beside the point right now. 

“You owe me twenty quid mate, so either cough up or …”

“Or what? Are you threatening me?”

Aaron breathes in and then sighs hard before he’s watching the idiot climb out of the car and think he can just walk away. 

“Oi, come back here you …”

Aaron watches the man turn around, sees him swing his arm and then try to punch but he’s so old and useless he can’t even manage it. Aaron ducks, and then has to fight against his instincts which tell him to punch the idiot in the face. Instead, he leans down, tries to get to the guy’s wallet instead because he’s getting paid double now. 

He doesn’t bank on the guy trying to tackle him for it. 

“So now it’s forty.” Aaron says.

“I don’t think so.” The man shakes his head and Aaron rolls his eyes a little against it all. The man tries to push past Aaron, almost wins because Aaron loses his footing and –

“I’ve called the police.” 

Aaron recognises the voice almost instantly. It’s Robert. Of course, it’s Robert. Aaron suddenly feels sick and not just because he’s fallen awkwardly back onto his car. It’s because he can hear Robert’s voice, and he knows he’s near, which means he knows that Robert has seen him all vulnerable, unable to deal with a stupid customer.

The man seems miffed, and then he seems scared because Robert approaches them. “I suggest you give him everything in your wallet.” He says, cool as ever. 

The man doesn’t even try to resist. Aaron ends up with forty pounds and fifty pence and of course Robert is the person who has to pass it over to him. Aaron looks down at the notes in Robert’s large hands and doesn’t want to gaze up, see the look in Robert’s eyes and guess what he’s thinking right now. 

“Here.” Robert says, and Aaron takes the money like some loser. He doesn’t want to thank him, so he doesn’t. Instead, he stays completely still. It only manages to make Robert react even more. “Hey, are you OK?” It makes something break in Aaron’s chest and he can’t look at Robert, can’t see the concern written all over his face as he tries to get Aaron’s attention. “Did he hurt you?”

Aaron has to look up then. “Don’t be stupid, he just didn’t pay up.” He says, and then he chews on his lip and stares down again. “Didn’t need any help. Certainty not yours.”

Robert gulps hard enough for Aaron to hear. “I was just …”

“Leave me alone.” Aaron says, and he can’t help the slight tremor in his voice.

Robert breathes right in. “I …”

“Everything dealt with?” It’s Chrissie’s voice, and then her face appearing from the side of the road that Robert’s clearly abandoned her on. 

Robert looks up, and his whole demeanour changes as he offers her a tight smile. “Yeah, I think so.”

Chrissie shakes her head. “My local hero.” She squeezes his arm. “Should be in the wedding invites.” She says, “Chrissie and the local …”

Aaron zones out for his own sanity and then spins so he’s getting back into his car before Chrissie can say anything else that’ll make him want to slam his head against his steering wheel. 

“Sa–safe journey then.” Robert stammers out, like a right weirdo and Aaron doesn’t say anything back to that, he just stares at Robert through the window and then starts up his car and drives away clutching the notes and listening to the fifty pence move around under the soles of his feet.

 

-•-

 


Aaron takes a week off and feels better for it. He goes down to London, stays at a mate’s house and generally sits on his arse all day, only this time he isn’t driving people around and wondering how interesting their lives are in comparison to his. He goes to Trafalgar Square and sees London Zoo and his mum tells him she missed him like mad when he drives back into Yorkshire on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. 

He thinks he’s sorted his head out until Monday rolls around and Adam tells him that Robert of all people showed up at the portacabin. Aaron has the phone attached to his shoulder as he listens. 

“Robert? Sugden?”

“The one and only.”

“What did he want?” Aaron bites back the need to roll his eyes. He’s too intrigued to pretend like he couldn’t care less. 

“Said something about Chrissie’s hen do. Checking dates.”

Aaron gulps thickly, and there it is again, that swirling in his stomach that makes him think he’s going to be sick. “Right.” He says. Aaron can only imagine if he was in the office instead of Adam, if he had to sort out dates for when Robert’s fiancé was going to have a party celebrating her upcoming nuptials. Aaron’s heart sinks suddenly as he thinks about him working that night. That’s obviously what Adam is poorly trying to explain, Robert’s booking some cabs to drive his fiancé and her posh friends about for the night and Aaron might just be the one to do it. 

Aaron thinks about refusing, straight up telling Adam that he can’t, that he won’t. But he knows it’ll only make things weird, only make Adam stupidly suspicious of everything and Aaron would rather suffer alone than let Adam in on how he’s feeling. It might be stupid, a counsellor might tell him to open up his heart, problem shared and all that, but he can’t do that. Besides, it was a problem. Past tense. Him and Robert used to be a thing, used to sleep together and then hold hands and ask each other stupid questions until there was a phone call or a close car or something was stopping them.

There was always something stopping them. Always.

“It’s in like a few weeks.” 

Aaron closes his eyes and nods his head like Adam can see him. “How – how many cars do they …”

“He reckons about two, didn’t really know all the details. He was clear on one though.”

Aaron stares out the window and sighs. “Yeah, what was that then?”

“That he didn’t want you driving.”

Aaron sits up straighter, and then his heart is pounding loudly in his chest because he couldn’t have heard that right. Robert’s put in a request that Aaron doesn’t drive, that Aaron isn’t working that shift. 

“He said that? Exactly that?”

“Yeah which is just great ‘cause now I’ve got to ask Matty if he can instead.”

Aaron doesn’t even know how he’s meant to feel. It’s relief first, and then he feels his chest tighten and he’s angry about it, he’s angry that the decision has just been taken out of his hands and Robert thinks he can dictate how his own business is wrong because –

Because he thinks Aaron’s going to tell her everything if he gets the chance. 

The thought only just crosses his mind, but Aaron knows it’s the first one on Robert’s twisted mind, the mind of a liar and someone who clearly can’t trust another living person. 

“Why are you just – bending to his will then?”

“Because he’s got the money Aaron, and he’s prepared to pay more if we turn the cab into some sort of mini limo and play all her favourite songs and …”

Aaron drowns out the sentiments and presses on. “He can’t just dictate to us who’s working when.”

“Yeah, I know that.” Adam says and he sounds frustrated. “What did you even do? I thought you said he was an alright guy.” 

Aaron cringes a little at that and then thinks about the altercation with the guy the other day, the way Robert tried getting involved and Aaron spat it back in his face and then Chrissie was there, and Robert was shepherding “He’s just … he annoys me. Winds me up.” He sighs hard. “It’s best I’m not working then actually.”

“Well yeah, not even like I can go back on it anyways. Made me swear you wouldn’t be anywhere near on the night.” Adam says. 

Aaron starts bouncing his leg up and down. “Whatever.” He mumbles.

“It’s not whatever Aaron, it’s …” Aaron hears a phone go. “I’ve got to get this; I’ll speak to you later.”

Aaron hangs up and then hits at the poor steering wheel which has been getting some battering lately. 

 

-•-

 


Aaron’s anger drives him to where Robert works and makes him wait outside with his engine off and his arms crossed. It’s nearly lunchtime, nearly Robert’s lunchtime and Aaron hates how much he knows Robert’s timetable, knows what coffee shop he’ll go and what he’ll order. It’s frankly disgusting. 

He only has to wait ten minutes until Robert is walking out, walking towards the traffic lights talking to a twat with a red scarf draped around him and his arms waving about like he’s saying anything worthwhile. Aaron won’t wait.

“Robert.” Aaron says, shouting out of his car window. Robert doesn’t hear him, so he shouts even louder, gets people looking and then suddenly Robert is charging towards his car.

“What do you think your pl…”

“Get in.”

Robert scoffs, almost laughing. “I’m at work.”

“You’re on your lunch break.” Aaron looks right up at him and then scowls. “So, get in.” He hisses. Robert’s eyes dart and then he gives in, getting in the car and slamming the door with a thud. 

“Well?” 

Aaron doesn’t give Robert the chance to buckle up, he just drives and keeps driving until they reach the little dip in the road on the country lane that he’s really not calling theirs. He grinds the car to a halt and then he’s breathing in deeply because he hasn't’ been alone with Robert like this in ages and it feels like too much to deal with. 

“Are you going to tell me why you …”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Aaron whispers, mainly towards his lap really and then he turns and looks at Robert. He really looks at him, sees Robert really looking at him back.

“What?”

“You told Adam not to put me on – on shift ‘cause of Chrissie’s hen do?” Aaron feels the anger rise again. “You decide when I work now n’all?”

Robert’s shoulders fall and he leans forward in his seat, makes Aaron lean right back. “No, I was …”

“Throwing your weight around. Thinking you can tell me what to do in case I decide to tell Chrissie the truth.” Aaron shakes his head. “You’re unbelievable.”

Robert scoffs. “That’s what you think?”

“That’s what I know.” Aaron shouts. “I’m gone for a week and …”

“Yeah London, Adam said.” Robert’s jaw locks. “Who’d you stay with? Adam said it was a mate.”

Aaron wants to throttle Robert sometimes, now is definitely one of those times. “Fuck you.”

The boldness shakes Robert into a silence that leaves both of them unable to do anything other than stare at each other. Aaron wants to hate him so much. He really does.

“You think you have the – you think you ever had the right to know my business?” Aaron feels tears well in his eyes, hot, frustrated, tears and Robert’s shoulders tighten a little around it. “What is this?” He whispers. “Why can’t you just leave me alone, let me move …” Robert’s eyes widen a little under what was nearly said and Aaron’s grateful he was able to shut himself up. “You don’t have any right to tell me when to work.”

“I was just trying to …”

“What? Intimidate me? Make me feel even smaller?” Aaron shakes his head. “Why not just hire a limo company?” He’s not letting Robert speak, he’s not letting him say anything that’ll change his mind. “Do literally anything else.” He says. “More fun to rub my nose in it though, right?”

Robert looks so offended it’s a joke. “Are you mad?” He says. “None – none of this is fun.”

“So you swanning into the office, you didn’t hope I’d be there so you could let me know that Chrissie’s having her hen do?”

Robert shakes his head, looks horrified by the accusation. “No.” He says. “No, I was …” 

“Trying to control everything.”

“I was trying to spare you.” Robert shouts, and he’s waving his arms about and looking like he’s been caught out or something. 

Aaron scoffs, “Spare me?”

“I didn’t want to – I didn’t want to make it harder for you so …”

“You could just not marry her in the first place.” Aaron blurts it out and then wants to evaporate. He can’t believe it, literally can’t believe that he’s just said that out loud because it makes it sound as if Aaron would be happy if Robert didn’t get married, glad even. Robert’s eyes are wide and heavy and Aaron gulps loud enough for Robert to hear amongst the quiet. 

A car passes and Aaron shrinks a little before shaking his head. “Forget I – forget I said that.” He says. “I didn’t mean it like …”

“Aaron.”

No one’s ever just said his name and made Aaron feel so much before. He can’t look up; he can’t look at Robert. He just can’t. Aaron keeps his head right down and then he can feel the ghost of Robert’s hand gently moving towards his and he doesn’t even have the strength to move back.

“Don’t.” Aaron whispers, seconds later. His senses come back to him, and he shakes his head. “Just don’t.” He sniffs.

Robert’s phone goes off, of course his phone goes off. “I’ve got to go.” He says. 

Aaron nods.

Robert climbs out of the car and Aaron stays exactly where he is. 

 


-•-

 


Chrissie’s hen do comes and goes. Aaron spends the night in some club, kissing a stranger and then going home with him because it’s better than thinking about how the night is going. The guy lays flat on his back, panting hard and stroking a hand over Aaron’s arm and then he goes and ruins in. He says he was meant to be celebrating his mate’s stag do.

Aaron wonders when Robert’s is. 

He wonders how close it will be to the big day.

 


-•-

 


“Are you in a good mood or not?” 

Aaron was in an OK mood before he turned off his engine and answered Adam’s call. Now he’s just suspicious. 

“What do you want?”
 
“Do you have a customer?” Adam asks. 

Aaron sighs. “Nope.” He says, “Just parked up in the centre of town, why?”

“My mum needs help at the farm, some nightmare with one of the …” 

“You want me to pick someone up for you?” Aaron wants to get to the point as quickly as possible. “Is that it?”

Adam laughs. “Mate you'd be a life saviour, if it were anyone else, I’d just say there’s been an emergency, but she’s used us before and the last thing I want is Robert complaining before her hen.”

And oh. Aaron’s stomach flips.

“What?” Aaron just needs it all clarifying before he loses his mind. 

“Chrissie White, from one of her salons. Her car is at the garage and …” Aaron doesn’t hear anything else, his mind is just laser focused on the fact that he has to drive Chrissie White around town. Again. 

“Ad, I …” Aaron tries his hardest to think of something plausible, but nothing comes out of his mouth in time. Adam says he’s a lifesaver and then he’s gone, and Aaron has to sit there thinking about Robert all over again.

Adam sends him the postcode and Aaron drives there as slow as he possibly can before realising that the quicker, he gets there, the quicker he can drop her wherever she needs to go and then wipe the journey from his memory. He pulls up to the salon and watches her standing outside with an umbrella blowing slightly in the window and an older man standing next to her. They’re both talking and at first, they don’t notice Aaron so he has to roll down his window. 

“Chrissie?”

“Ah.” Chrissie smiles, puts her umbrella down and then she’s shimmying her way into the car. The man follows her in and takes her umbrella as he does her seatbelt. “Thanks dad.”

And that clears up who he is. Not like Aaron’s interested.

Aaron ignores them as best he can, but then he realises he needs to know where they’re going. When he hears her say “home”, it turns his stomach, and he suddenly wonders if Robert’s home. 

“You know, Home Farm.” She says, just to twist the knife. 

Aaron nods. “Yep, I know it.” He says and then he starts driving, tries his best to concentrate on the road and not listen in on what Chrissie and her dad are talking about. He’s doing pretty well up until he hears the word ‘wedding’ and his ears perk up a little. 

“I think it’s about time you get used to having him around dad.” Chrissie sighs, seems weary against what she’s saying. “He’s going to be my husband.”

Her dad scoffs. Aaron appreciates how he makes it sound ludicrous. 

“Equal partners.” Chrissie presses on. “That’s what it will mean.”

Her dad scowls. “In the personal sense, not the business sense.” 

Aaron’s head pounds suddenly and he thinks about how Robert thinks this is a clear path towards a promotion, towards something bigger and better for him and Chrissie’s dad doesn’t seem to think so. In fact, he’s very much starting to think he’s against the whole idea.

“Dad, not this again.”

“It’s my business Chrissie.” Her dad hisses. “It’s a family run business.”
“And he will be family.” 

Aaron feels sick suddenly, but he fights through it, concentrating on the roundabout ahead.
 
“He isn’t getting his hands on the business; he isn’t getting any shares or any …”

“He’s fresh blood dad.” Chrissie says. “And he’s proved himself, proved that he’s useful so …”

“What a charming way to speak about the one you love.”

Chrissie doesn’t say anything for a second or two and all Aaron can think about is how messed up the situation really is. 

“It is mutually beneficial.” Chrissie speaks like she’s talking about a business deal, not a marriage. “At least it will be when he gets promoted after the wedding. Which is happening.”

“You don’t have that authority Chrissie.” Her dad says, cool as ever. 

Aaron can’t help but catch a glimpse of Chrissie in the mirror, watch her shrink a little. 

“Dad …”

“Do you love him?”

Aaron’s hands tighten against the wheel as he waits for Chrissie to answer the important question. She doesn’t though, he waits and waits and then he looks up at her and realises that she’s nodding her head a little, then shaking it and then she sighs. “What’s love dad?”

She doesn’t love him, and he doesn’t love her and they’re doing this stupid dance because they think they’ll both get something out of it. It’s insane. Aaron shouldn’t care but he can’t just ignore how insane this is. 

It’s all Aaron needs to hear.

 

-•-

 


Aaron’s bitten his nails right down whilst he’s sitting right here in his car thinking about what to do about what he heard Chrissie say. Robert’s not getting his hands on the company, and Chrissie doesn’t even love him so the whole thing is pointless. 

It’s starting to rain outside, Aaron watches water slide over the window of his car. He pays attention to the noise, wants it to drown out what he’s thinking. 

Maybe he should leave, move on for good and take pleasure in Robert ruining his own life the way he will. Maybe he should be smiling, shoulders relaxed, and eyes closed as Robert’s world crumbles. Maybe that’s what should happen. If Aaron didn’t care, he’d happily watch. But he does care. A trip to London hasn’t changed that, neither has the ring Chrissie’s wearing and the way she’s calling Robert her fiancé. No, it hasn’t changed a single thing. 

The rain grows heavier, and Aaron feels trapped here, stuck in his car as the world goes by. 

He turns the engine back on.

 

-•-

 


Robert usually finishes work early on Fridays. Aaron knows this because he used to tell Adam the traffic was mad between four and five in the afternoon, so he’d not really be able to pick anyone up. That would be when he was with Robert. Aaron closes his eyes, remembers for the smallest of seconds before opening them again and watching Robert walk out of his office building.

Aaron reads the clock in his car. 4:13. He’s even earlier than Aaron expected. 

Robert doesn’t head towards the traffic lights the way Aaron thought he would, instead he hovers around the front of the building for a few seconds adjusting a scarf Aaron’s never seen him wear before. He looks like an idiot, but Aaron almost wants to smile. Then he feels sick, there’s this stab right in his stomach and he contemplates driving away. Robert looks up at him though, they make actual eye contact and it’s enough to make Aaron feel a little braver. 

Aaron rolls down his window just a little and it’s enough for Robert to come walking towards him. He looks like he’s trying to be annoyed but Aaron can see right through him. Robert comes right up to the car and his body language is all stiff and unnatural as he shrugs. 

“What?” Robert says. 

Aaron gulps hard, so hard that he feels like he can’t breathe for a second. “I need a word.”

Robert scoffs. “You said you …”

“Yeah, I know what I said.” Aaron says quickly, because if he doesn’t start speaking now, he doesn’t know if he’ll have the bottle to carry on. “So obviously this is … serious.”

Robert’s whole demeanour changes, his shoulders soften right down, his eyes widen, and he edges closer towards the car. “But you’re OK?” It’s a question, almost like a prayer and Aaron’s heart thuds in his chest. 

Aaron doesn’t say anything for a second and then he slowly comes back to himself. “Yeah.” He says.

Robert breathes out slowly. “So what is it?”

Aaron bites his lip. “I …” He dips his head. “Could you just – get in the car.” He says.

Robert hesitates. “You usually tell me to get out when I do, then I’m forced to walk back by myself.” Aaron would laugh if he didn’t feel so hollow. Robert sighs hard, then looks back at his office. “Can you leave your car here?”

Aaron nods after a second. 

“Come up to my office.”

Aaron’s hands are sweaty suddenly. It feels too personal, too intimate. It’s a part of Robert that he hasn’t ever seen before. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Robert’s eyes flicker. “Chrissie isn’t here.” He says. “If you don’t want to …” He frowns. “Bump into her.”

“I already did.” Aaron admits.

Robert frowns even more. “What?” His jaw clenches and Aaron gives in, gets out the car and locks it. “When did …”

“Just lead the way.”

 

-•-

 


Robert’s office is bigger than Aaron anticipated it being. It’s also pretty empty. There’s a glass desk, and a leather chair and a coffee machine in the corner of the room. There’s not picture of Chrissie anywhere. Aaron walks around in circles for a few seconds before getting to the large glass panelled window and he nearly loses his bottle when he sees how high up they are. Then he spots his own car. Robert has an absolutely perfect view of where he always parks his car.

“When did you see Chrissie?”

Aaron turns, hands stuck in his pockets as he sees Robert by the door. They’ve not passed many people thankfully, but Aaron can still hear someone talking outside, murmuring something about setting up a new account for someone. He’s droning on and Aaron’s caught up in the fact that this is the first time he’s been alone with Robert like this, not in a car, or on a lay-by, but actually standing opposite him with other people within distance. 

Aaron’s mouth gapes open a little. “Today.” He says. “And her dad.”

“Lawrence?” Robert asks and Aaron shrugs. Then Robert starts pacing. “How did you bump into them in your car? Unless your car literally hit …”

“I took them home from one of her salons.”

Robert’s eyes widen. “Why would you do that?” He asks, and his suppose is genuine and unnerving and makes Aaron feel like some sort of stalker. “You’re the one who keeps banging on about staying out of each other’s way and then you …”

“I was covering for Adam.” Aaron says slowly. Robert shakes his head. “I owed him considering he covered for me at your engagement party, and Chrissie’s hen.” That seems to shut Robert up a little, for a second. 

“And that’s … that’s what you wanted to tell me.” Robert has a hand on his hip and Aaron stares at his red scarf until Robert’s dragging it off with a sigh. “Well thanks, but …”

“It’s what they were saying.” Aaron whispers, and his hands turn clammy in his pockets.

Robert looks surprised, his eyes dart a little and then he shakes his head. “What are you talking about?”

Aaron breathes in. “She doesn’t love you, Robert.” 

Maybe there’s better ways to do this, maybe not in the middle of his office on a cold Friday evening but Aaron hasn’t got any better ideas. Robert scoffs, that’s what his reaction is.

“I think you should leave.” Robert whispers. 

“Robert, you need to listen to me.” Aaron walks towards Robert and starts to think about how mad he might be looking right now. “I’m not lying.”

Robert shakes his head. “I haven’t seen you in – I’ve been getting on with my life, I thought you were doing the same and now you’re …” He genuinely looks confused, angry, sad even and Aaron tries his hardest not to cry. “Chrissie loves me, I – I love her. We’re getting married in a we…”

Aaron’s heart jumps and he feels unsteady. “A week?” He whispers. “Is – is that what you meant?”

Robert stopped himself, and he looks like he regrets ever even starting the sentence now. “Yes.” He says, and he sounds so formal and weird, and Aaron wants to shake him. 

“She’s marrying you ‘cause it looks good for the business.” Aaron tells Robert. “That’s what she said.” Robert shakes his head. “Her dad asked her if she loved you, straight up and she hesitated, she shook her head and then she asked him what love even means.” Robert’s eyes flicker and maybe it registers because he goes quiet. “What does that tell you?”

“That you were eavesdropping on a conversation.”

Aaron’s balled over by how much Robert’s keeping his emotions in check. “You know if you really loved her, you’d be a mess after hearing that.” He whispers.

“And you’re an expert on love and relationships?”

Aaron snaps, pulls his hands out of his pocket and waves one. “Just be real for a second. Just for a fucking second Robert.” Robert just stares at him in shock. “She doesn’t love you; this is just some weird marriage of convenience, but you don’t have to do it.”

Robert rolls his eyes. “Not this again.” He sighs, makes Aaron feel two feet tall. “Aaron, just go.” He opens the door, and Aaron should walk right through, but he doesn’t.

“Her dad isn’t making you part of the business.”

And that makes Robert listen, he closes the door and then stares at Aaron.

“What?”

“You heard me.” Aaron puffs his chest out and tries to stay strong. “He isn’t making you part of the board, or even giving you a promotion. You marrying his daughter isn’t changing anything. He doesn’t want you anywhere near it.”

Robert’s mouth opens and then closes again.

“Shouldn’t be a problem though, right? Because you’re not marrying her for that.” Aaron bites his lip hard. “You love her, right?”

Robert looks too shocked to speak, eventually he looks up. His face is bright red as he shakes his head and for a second Aaron thinks he’s admitting that he doesn’t love her. Then he opens his mouth. “Why should I believe a word you say?” He decides to just completely disregard it all.

Aaron’s shoulders fall. “What?”

“I’m supposed to believe you’re here to just what? Give me the heads up?”

Aaron scowls.

“Someone who – who’s told me countless times to leave them alone, to stay out of their way.” Robert says and Aaron just keeps shaking his head. He didn’t know what he expected but it wasn’t this. “Someone who hates me is meant to be looking out for my best inter–”

“No but someone who loves you is!” Aaron shouts, and everything just seems to stop. It’s raining outside again. He feels trapped again.

Robert just stares at him; Aaron watches him through a blurry vision because he’s crying. He’s crying because he’s tried his hardest not to say it, not to admit it and now he has and Robert knows. 

Aaron breathes in sharply and feels faint. “I …” He gulps hard. “Don’t marry her Robert.” He might as well make a massive fool of himself whilst he’s at it. He might as well say everything he wants to say rather than live with regrets and what if’s. “You think you’ll be nothing without them if you leave but … that’s not true.” He whispers quietly. 

You could have me.

Aaron isn’t brave enough to say that out loud.

“You don’t have to do this.” Aaron’s almost begging now, and he decides to stop, decides to get his act together. Aaron wipes at his eyes and then clears his throat. 

Robert hasn’t said anything. He hasn’t said a single word.

It feels so loud that Aaron’s ears ache.

“But I can’t make you do something you don’t want to. It’s your life.” Aaron moves a hand across his nose, sniffs a little and then he watches Robert breathe in, hitch a breath, try to say something and then fail. “I promise you; this is the last time I’ll try looking out for you.”

Robert still doesn’t say a word.

Aaron walks towards the door, and Robert doesn’t move an inch. “Robert, move.”

Robert looks up, right into Aaron’s eyes. “Aaron, I …”

There’s this hope blooming in Aaron’s chest. He wants to kiss Robert; he hasn’t kissed him in so long. He hasn’t touched him in so long. 

Robert clears his throat, breaks the spell as he looks down and moves out the way. “Look after yourself.” He says and Aaron would have preferred if he stayed silent. 

 


-•-

 


Aaron’s disappeared to clear his head more times than he can count. He goes to Scotland for the weekend, manages to clear it with Adam, and spends the time staring out at fields and being grateful for the fresh air around him. He likes it so much that he contemplates moving up here permanently. His cousin Debbie has a garage she’s running, spare bedroom for when her daughter Sarah comes up and stays which is rare now, she’s a teenager with her own life to lead. He could stay there; he could be happy there.

Adam calls him on Sunday evening, just as Aaron’s watching the sun set over the hills. He wants to know if he’ll be able to do an eight A.M airport drop off. Aaron tells him he can, in spite of how much he aches thinking about going back, he says he’ll be there.

 


-•-

 

The wedding must be a few days away. Aaron doesn’t want to think about it, so he decides to throw himself into work in the next stage of his Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms. It’s better than what he’s previously done, this won’t cause any damage that anyone can really see. 
He’s not had a break today; he’s picked up a coffee and a muffin and been sipping and picking at them both throughout the day, but his stomach still rumbles. It’s fine though, so is the way his vision is slightly bleary from tiredness. He’ll survive. Aaron’s somehow convinced himself he only needs to get through the week. Right up until Sunday. Robert will be married by then, that’s when any hope will be dashed. 

Aaron’s so certain of it. 

 

-•-

 


Weddings usually happen on the weekend. Right? It’s what Aaron’s thinking about as he sits waiting for someone to flag him down. Thankfully he isn’t left alone with his thoughts for much longer, Aaron watches someone waving their arms about like he’s driving away from them and then they come closer to the window.

“Hey.”

Aaron frowns at the friendly attitude and then realises that the man speaking is Miles, from ages ago. Miles. “Oh, hey.” He starts the engine up and the noise is loud enough to make him completely miss what Miles is saying to him. “Shit, sorry. I didn’t hear …”

Miles laughs so easily; he looks like he doesn’t have one single care in the world. Aaron envies him so badly. “I said, it’s been a long time since I last saw you.”

Aaron gulps hard. “Yeah, yeah it has.” He nods, feels stupid for some reason. “Where’d you want to go?”

Miles smiles. “Home.” He says, and then he tells Aaron his address and climbs into the car. “I’ve been really busy with work.” He says, like he wants Aaron to know. 

“What is it you …”

“I work in IT.” Miles says and Aaron smirks. “What?”

Aaron shrugs. “Kinda guessed.”

“Well, I’m also a musician on the side.” Miles tells Aaron, it makes Aaron raise an eyebrow. He didn’t expect that but now he can suddenly imagine Miles in some indie group, playing the guitar and doing little “oh ohs” to the music. 

“You should come along, when you’re not driving people around.”
Aaron goes to turn around, to actually look at Miles. He goes to say fuck it and then he looks at the way Miles is staring out the window.

“Sorry mate, he’s already taken.” 

Aaron follows Miles’ eyes and then sees Robert standing by the window with his mouth half open like he’s catching flies. Aaron gulps hard, wonders if Robert heard Miles asking him on a date. That’s what it was, it was a date.

Already taken. The fucking irony.

“You’ve not moved yet.” Robert sounds so angry suddenly, and Miles laughs awkwardly because he clearly doesn’t know how to react. 

“I’m with a customer.” Aaron tells Robert, only he doesn’t really even look up at him. He clears his throat to do something about the silence. 

“I need to …” Robert stares at Aaron like he’s trying to reach inside his soul. Aaron’s heart thuds so loudly. 

“Like I said, I’m with a customer. You can call the office if you need a cab, Adam can help see if a driver is available.” 

Robert’s head drops and he looks like a kicked puppy. He looks like Aaron felt when he was being dismissed out of his office after he more or less told him he loved him. Aaron can’t bring himself to feel sorry for him, he can’t bring himself to care about what Robert might be trying to tell him. 

“OK.” Robert whispers, and then he backs right away from the car. Aaron watches Robert walk away. Then watches as he gets to the end of the road, takes out a pair of keys and then gets back into his own car. He didn’t need a lift. He just wanted to –

“– the music is kind of alternative, but we like …”

Miles talks about music the whole way home. Aaron doesn’t listen to a single word.

 


-•-

 


Friday nights are hell at the best of times, add in a football match and it’s enough to make Aaron want to quit his own business. There are dozens of fans asking for a ride in their drunk stupid sorry states and Aaron has to bat his hand and tell them to do one as he tries to drive through into Hotten and away from the crowds. 

At about half nine he manages to get a normal couple, coming back from dinner wanting to be dropped off to a bar fifteen minutes away. Aaron bites his tongue against how lazy they are and accepts the money that’ll be coming his way as he drives ahead. The bar is called the Tipsy Cow and it seems just the right amount of posh for the couple. He watches them pay, then get out and walk arm in arm towards the bouncer at the door. 

He wouldn’t want to be him tonight. In fact, he’s almost grateful that his job involves kicking people out and getting their money whilst he’s doing it. It’s a very criminal way to look at a fairly normal job but Aaron has to keep it exciting. 

Adam calls just as he’s about to head off, he asks where he is and then starts making all these weird noises and telling him that he should turn the car around. 

“What are you talking about?”

“That’s where …” The line cuts out, Aaron sits where he is, absolutely confused until he hears chanting from the bar. 

“He’s getting married! He’s getting married to the boss’ daughter! Married to the boss’ daughter! He’s getting married to the boss’ daughter!”

Aaron’s stomach flips as he sees Robert being carried out of the pub, he’s clearly pissed. He’s clearly having his stag do. Aaron wants to disappear but if he moves now, Robert will surely see him. He stays where he is, almost frozen as he spots Robert drinking straight from a bottle of champagne. 

Aaron wonders if Robert’s brother has shown up, if he even invited him, if he’ll show his face for his wedding. Then he doesn’t care, then he tells himself it doesn’t matter, that it isn’t his business. It works until he remembers that Robert tried to speak to him a couple of days ago. 

The chanting from the pricks Robert works with dies down as they go back inside. Adam rings him back and Aaron lets it go to voicemail, he doesn’t need to hear what he already knows. He doesn’t need reminding at all. Robert and his friends are gone so Aaron decides to leave, he drives off and heads back to the centre of town. He waits for what feels like ages until a group of girls’ pile into his car and want to go to Blue Electric. Aaron closes his eyes, tries to work out where it is and then he sighs hard. 

It’s on the same strip of road as the Tipsy Cow.

“That alright babes?”

Aaron turns to the girl whose fake eyelashes look like spider legs. “Yeah, course.” He drops them off all in one piece, can’t actually wait for them to get out considering they’ve been singing Little Mix songs the whole journey. They get out one by one, only the last girl has managed to get her heel stuck and all the other girls make out like she’s dying until Aaron gets out to help. He pulls and she falls onto his chest, flutters her lashes. “I’m gay.”

All the girls groan in unison and then they’re waving him off. Aaron waves at them, a little amused as he leans against his car and watches them join the long line forming outside the club. 

“Girls and guys wanting a piece of you then.” 

Aaron spins, nearly jumps out of his skin as he sees Robert standing on the opposite side of the road. At least he can stand upright. Aaron takes him in, checks him over to see if he’s going to be OK and then he turns to get inside his car.

“Where you going?” Robert follows him, Aaron’s whole body tenses. “Hey.” Robert’s drunk, so he doesn’t care about personal space, and he puts a hand on Aaron’s shoulder. 

Aaron pushes him off, acts like Robert’s burned him. “Get off.” He whispers, and Robert makes this sound like he’s wounded. “Go back inside, enjoy the rest of your night.” He’s being as bitter about it as humanly possible, but Robert doesn’t seem to get the hint.

Robert frowns and he sways a little. “‘S that what you’re going to do?” He tries to scowl. “With that guy? Little Ed Sheeran, does he play a guitar?”

Aaron’s totally lost until he thinks of Miles. “Go away Robert.”

“How comes I always have to go away but when you want to talk, I have to listen?” Robert tilts his head. “Hm?”

“You’re going to make a scene.” Aaron looks around the crowded road, then back towards Tipsy Cow. “Your friends are going to …”

“My friends?” Robert laughs but it sounds so sad. Then he leans against Aaron’s car and shakes his head. “I just wanted to see you.”

Aaron tries his best to stay strong. “Don’t say that to me.”

“Don’t you want me to be honest?” Robert stares right at Aaron, and then he nearly loses his footing and Aaron fights against himself not to lean out, help him. Robert steadies himself. “Things are spinning.”

Aaron chews his lip. “That’s what happens when you drink.”

Robert laughs, it’s genuine this time. Aaron makes him laugh; he shouldn’t be thinking like that.

“I have to go.” Aaron says, he’s nice to even tell him he’s leaving and not to drive off with Robert still leaning like an idiot on his car.

“No please don’t.” Robert moves his hand so that it’s placed over Aaron’s. 

“Robert, it’s your fucking stag do.” 

It seems to make Robert sober up a little. His eyes turn glassy, and Aaron can’t look at him when he’s like this because it only makes him want to hold him and tell him it’ll be OK when he knows he can’t. He can’t. Robert nods, and then he touches his head. He stumbles again, just slightly and Aaron tuts. He hates himself as he leans into his car and opens up a water bottle. 

“Drink this.” He passes Robert the bottle and then shakes his head before telling Robert to move and opening the car door for him. “Sit there.” He’s talking to him like he’s a dog and Robert’s taking it. 

Aaron stands outside, tells himself that he’ll let Robert sober himself up a little and then tell him to do one. He’ll wait out here, facing the club. That lasts about ten seconds when he hears some bloke being sick on the other side of the road and he’s had enough. He climbs back into the car and Robert looks up, a little startled.

They’re completely alone again. Aaron doesn’t know why he’s nervous, but he starts playing with the hem of his jumper.

“Sobered up a little yet?”

Robert nods. “Sorry.” He bites his lip. 

“Seen you worse.”

“I meant for … my office.” Robert says, and Aaron’s blood turns cold. He doesn’t know what to say. He keeps his mouth closed. “I was such a dick.”

Aaron keeps his head down. “I don’t want to speak about it.” He says, because if he doesn’t speak about then it’s like it didn’t happen. 

Robert nods his head and there’s a lapse of silence again. “I didn’t even want a stag.” He admits. “The boys from work, they – thought it’d be a good idea. Loads of money behind the bar, drinking, laughing, being happy.” His eyes glaze over a little. “I invited Andy.” 

Aaron tries not to sound too interested.

“He ignored my invite, completely.” Robert stares out the window. “But Vic said she … she said she’ll be there ... at the wedding.” Robert looks up. “I shouldn’t be telling you this. I’m so sor…”

“Don’t say you’re sorry.” Aaron closes his eyes. “Just go and have your stag do and get your suit ready or whatever.” 

Robert closes his eyes. “Then you can go see that … that guy. What’s his name?”

Aaron looks at Robert, and there’s jealousy though, it’s burning so bright, and Aaron wants to shake him. “Miles.”

“Miles?” Robert tries out the name on his tongue and then wrinkles up his nose. “Funny, like you drive miles in your car. You drive for miles. Miles.” He breathes out. “‘S perfect. I hope it works out.”

Aaron shakes his head. “No, you don’t.”

Robert frowns, and then he sits up and leans forward. Aaron stares right at him. “You think I don’t give a shit about you.” He says, like a statement. “‘S wrong.” He leans a hand out and touches Aaron’s face, it’s delicate. Aaron could close his eyes; let it all just happen but he’s stronger than this. 

“You chose her Robert.”

It’s the most honest Aaron has been, the most explicit he’s been really. The warm hand Robert’s had on Aaron’s face falls down slowly. 

Aaron bites his lip. “You’re marrying her, despite everything.” His chin wobbles and he has to hold it together. “Despite everything.” He says again.

“You don’t understand.” Robert keeps shaking his head.

“What is there –” Aaron stops himself. “I don’t want to understand, I just want ...”

“No one wants who I am.” Robert drops that little grenade, and it manages to make everything slow down. Robert hates himself, that much is clear. “Chrissie wants to move back to London. Lachlan’s weird, the kids don’t like him here. Andy’s done with me.” He drops his head. “I said I’d think about it.”

Aaron looks down at his lap.

“But I’m going to say yeah, we should. After the wedding.” Robert says. “I’ve booked a honeymoon, Morocco.” 

“Why are you telling me this?” Aaron feels himself becoming more and more wound up as the seconds go by, as Robert stays as close as he is right now, and he’s forced to listen to all his plans. It’s like Robert’s capable of flying high, skirting close to the sun and Aaron’s had his wings cut.

“So you know I won’t be bothering you anymore.” Aaron huffs, Robert frowns. “What?” 

Aaron leans his head against the seat and sighs. “Seems like all we do is think we’re bothering each other.” He turns to look at Robert. “The wedding’s on Sunday?” He knows, he’s guessed but it’s almost like he wants to hurt himself just that little bit more.

Robert nods. It starts raining outside, the wind picks up a little and Aaron hears a group of women giggling from outside the club. 

“Think you’re sober enough now.” Aaron says, which roughly translates to: Get out. 

Robert takes the hint, slowly but surely, he gets out of the car. Aaron’s chin wobbles a little and he breathes in sharply as the door slams. 

“Robert.” Robert comes back towards the front of the car, leans a hand against the hood and stretches down. 

Aaron could tell him he loves him; he could tell him that he doesn’t want him to go to London and start a new life. He could tell him he’d have him, he’d be with him, proper, real, if he wanted to. He’s too scared to say it though, too scared to wait for the reaction.

“Don’t be sentimental when you go. Don’t say goodbye or anything. I …” I couldn’t handle that. Aaron closes his eyes. “Just don’t do that to me yeah?” He dips his head. Then he looks up at Robert, he looks like he’s going to cry. “Promise me?”

Robert bites down on his lip. “Promise.” He whispers. Then he leaves, he turns and walks back to the bar. Aaron waits until he’s disappeared before he slowly drops his head towards the steering wheel and cries like a baby, like he’s had the life ripped out of him. He only stops when he sees that Adam’s calling him. 

“Mate, you OK?”

Aaron sniffs, tries to wipe at his eyes like Adam can see him. “What?”

“It cut off before.” Adam says. “I was going to say it was Robert’s stag near where you were.” 

Aaron closes his eyes. “Yep. Yeah, I thought I saw him.” He gulps hard. “I’m taking a break; I’ll get back to it in a …”

“Are you alright?” Adam sounds serious suddenly and Aaron sighs hard.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” 

Adam scoffs. “You sound like …” Like you’ve been crying, Aaron knows it’s on the tip of Adam’s tongue. “Do you want me to take over?”

“I’m not incapable.”

“You’ve been down recently.”

“When aren’t I in your eyes?” Aaron snaps, he runs a hand across his face. “I don’t need checking up on every five minutes Adam.”

“Mate …”

“Just leave me yeah?” Aaron says, and then he hangs up and he’s alone again. 

 


-•-

 


Aaron stews on Saturday, he makes sure to spend the whole day out of Adam’s company because he’s too proud to say sorry even though he knows he owes his mate an apology. He just can’t admit to it just yet. So he’s stewing on it and it’s working until lunch passes and he hears someone approaching his car.

For a second thinks it could be Robert and he jumps out his skin a little, gives this big wide eye expression.

“Only me.” Adam appears, almost out of nowhere and Aaron doesn’t know whether to be relieved or not. It must show in his face. “Weren’t expecting me or something.” He says, almost like it’s a question only it isn’t.

“Clearly not as stubborn as me.” Aaron mumbles, just to give an answer really.

Adam leans his hands against the car and sighs. “Thought I’d be someone else?”
“Why’d you keep saying that?” Aaron asks and Adam just stares at him. “Look, I’m sorry for snapping last night. I … I didn't have a great night; the traffic was bad, and I had these girls in the …”

“Would you just stop lying?” Adam sounds so annoyed, more annoyed than Aaron’s heard him in ages.

“What?” Aaron says, because there’s not a lot else, he can think of saying.

Adam doesn’t say anything, instead he just opens the car door and sits in the back where the customers do and then he leans forward.

“I know.” Adam says, and he sounds so guilty. His face looks it too, all twisted and tortured. 

Aaron frowns. “What are you on about?” 

“You. You and Robert.” Adam blurts out, and Aaron doesn’t know what to say for a second so he just scoffs. He tries to put Adam off. “I know Aaron.”

“What is there to know?” Aaron even puts a smile on his face, tries to appear as happy go lucky as humanly possible.

Adam looks so uncomfortable suddenly. He places his hands together and then unfolds them slowly. “You want me to spell it …” He snaps a little and Aaron’s still smiling, still sort of laughing and thinking that Adam couldn’t possibly know. “You’ve been having an affair.” He says. “Or he has, with you. He’s been seeing you. When he’s with someone else and it’s made you act up and down for ages and he’s getting married tomorrow and he was with you on his stag night.”

And OK, Aaron’s face falls at little. He gives it away. 

“It’s not what it …”

“Don’t lie.” Adam whispers. Then he sighs hard. “Please, just tell me I’m not going mad here.”

Aaron closes his eyes. “It’s over now.” He admits, it’s the most honest he’s been to Adam in months. “I swear.”

Adam shakes his head. “I knew it.”

Aaron frowns, brings a hand across his stomach and looks at Adam. “How?”

Adam leans forward. “I thought I was seeing things. I thought you hated him.” He looks confused as his hands around. “You were acting weird, distant. I reckoned it was either ‘cause you were up to no good or it was ‘cause of a bloke.” Aaron doesn’t argue against the logic. “You wouldn’t do anything daft though, not being on a suspended sentence.” He sighs. “So it was a bloke.”

Aaron dips his head.

“Robert was the one messing with your head.” 

That’s one way of looking at it.

Aaron chews his lip. “When did you …”

“Know?” Adam fills in for him. “The way you reacted when I said it was his engagement party made me think there was something you weren’t telling me. But I thought it was just on your end, something you’d get over.” He keeps moving his hands around. “But then he came to the portacabin, I told him you were in London ‘getting up to no good’, I was just messing but … he looked bothered. Like really bothered.” He shakes his head. “Then last night, you were crying last night, on the phone.”

Aaron closes his eyes. “It’s over Ad.”

“So why were you with him on his stag do?”

“It wasn’t like that.” Aaron snaps. “You don’t know anything.”

“Yeah ‘cause my best mate didn’t bother to tell me.” Adam snaps right back, and he looks hurt. 

Aaron breathes in. “You think I didn’t want to?” He whispers. “You think it’s been nice to just keep all this shit to myself?”

“Well, you didn’t have to.” Adam says. “You could have told me.”

“Then it’d be like it was all true.” Aaron isn’t making sense by the look on Adam’s face. He closes his eyes. “It’d be like admitting what it meant.”

Adam gulps. “What did it mean?”

Aaron runs a hand over his face. “What’s the point of doing any of this, it’s over with now.”

“He meant something to you.” Adam leans forward again. “You wouldn't be like this if he didn’t.” He stays quiet for a second. “He still does?” Aaron looks at him. “He still does mean something.”

Aaron closes his eyes, almost refusing to answer him. “Ad, don’t.”

“Just talk to me.” Adam says, and then he leans over and places a hand on Aaron’s shoulder. 

“I can’t.” Aaron’s chin wobbles and he loses it. “I can’t do this; we can do it next week.”

“What’s next week?” Adam asks.

“He’ll be gone then. Chrissie wants to go down to London, he said he’ll make it happen.”

“And that’s what you want?” Adam tries coaxing out of Aaron. “Right?” 

Aaron looks out the window. “What I want doesn't come into it.” He says. “It doesn’t matter, trust me.”

“What’s that mean?” Adam’s full of questions. Aaron just wants it to be over, so he decides to be really really honest.

“I told him not to go through with it. Stood there, like an idiot telling him that marrying her ain’t going to give him what he wants.” Aaron sniffs. “Her dad won’t promote him, and she doesn’t even love him. I tried telling him it’s not a good idea, but he didn’t want to hear it.”

Adam makes this small sound. 

“Then I sort of accidentally, kinda admitted that I loved him.” Aaron looks right out the window now. “But he was just silent. Completely silent.” He rubs a hand over his face again and thinks of last night. “He was drunk last night, and he was saying rubbish, so I told him to go and he did. Went back to his stag.”

The air between them is stretched just a little as Adam clearly thinks of what to say. 

“I’m sorry mate.” Adam’s hand is back on Aaron’s shoulder. “I didn’t realise that …”

“That I’m an idiot who gets himself into stupid situations?” Aaron tries his hardest to make light of it. “Yeah, you did, remember I was on the run for you?”

Adam laughs but it’s hollow. Then he just stares at Aaron. “I really just thought you hated him.” He says, like he wants Aaron to know. “Last night confirmed everything. Only last night. If I had known, then …”

“You did help, I don’t think I could have handled the engagement party in the town hall.” Aaron sighs. “You calling me, saying I need to pick them up from Home Farm, me going there and realising what they were all dressed up for, realising they were engaged. It …” He gulps. “I’d told him to do one, before he asked her.”

Adam frowns. “Why?”

Aaron shakes his head. “Don’t matter, it was just … a stupid argument. But he asked her to marry him.” It’s like he still can’t quite believe it. “And he is marrying her. It’s happening.” 

“It doesn’t have to.”

“Short of kidnapping him Adam, or burning down the venue, think it will.”

“But you don’t want it to.” Adam sounds like he’s five.

“Doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.” Aaron shrugs, and he chews hard on his lip. “It’s all my fault anyway.”

Adam looks confused, it’s a normal look for him. “How’d you work that out?”

Aaron rubs a hand across his face. “I should have cut ties ages ago. The first time we argued, not the eighty-fifth. If I did, I wouldn’t be caring about it. I let it go on.” He shakes his head. “I let myself …”

“God, you really love the idiot, don’t you?” Adam sounds annoyed, and sympathetic at the same time. It’s a talent really. Aaron nods his head, slow, steady. “You won’t be able to handle it if he gets married.”

Aaron scoffs. “Thanks.” He says sarcastically. “You’re supposed to tell me he ain’t worth it, that I should forget him and that I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, but I know you.” Adam says, and then he sighs. “When you love … you put everything into it. Him being in London isn’t going to make the feelings go away.”

“Well then what will?”

“Confronting them.” Adam reasons, all grown up suddenly.

“I have!” Aaron shouts. “I stood in front of him like an idiot and told him not to marry her, that he wouldn’t be alone if he didn’t and guess what? He just stood there, staring like I was speaking in a different language.”

“Maybe he needed time to digest it.”

Aaron rolls his eyes. “He had yesterday when he was in my car sobering up. He said no one would want the real him.” He feels this ache in his chest as he says it. 

“Sounds … deep.” Adam says after a second.

Aaron nods. “Like Chrissie’s pockets.” He mumbles before sighing. “Honestly, I’ll get over it.”

“Healthily?”

Aaron’s neck almost snaps. “I’m not cutting.” He says. “I’d never … Adam I’m fine.”

Adam takes his word for it; he doesn’t ask any follow up questions. Instead, he just leans right forward again and lets out this deep sigh. “Would you want to be with him?”

Aaron feels struck by the question, mainly because it feels so out of reach and therefore so pointless to even consider. He shrugs a little, unsure and then he’s terrified. “We’d ruin each other.” He says, gravely. “Think we really would.” 

Adam clears his throat, and it manages to ease the heaviness of what Aaron’s just said. “Don’t he make you happy?”

Aaron doesn’t even need to think about that answer. But he can’t answer it either. “Why do you care? It’s done with, over. Finished.” He bites his lip hard. 

“You’ve been happy over the past few months, then sad, then really happy.” Adam gulps hard. “I just want you happy mate, even if it is with an idiot like Sugden.”

Aaron’s eyes flicker, and he feels this warmth spread through him. “Thanks mate.” He says, and then he shakes himself out of it. “But it won’t be with him.”

Adam lets it go.

 

-•-

 

 

Sunday arrives. Aaron doesn’t know why he’s almost offended that it does, that it’s here, that he actually has to face the day. It doesn’t help that Sundays are the slowest, which means that Aaron is going to be stuck in his cab watching the world go by. Adam’s told him not to work but Aaron knows that sitting at home will make it all ten times worse. Aaron’s decided to camp out as far as he can from Home Farm which means having to be plonked in the middle of town.

There’s a game on, 12 o’clock kick off. Hotten at home. Aaron would rather be anywhere else in the world. Then he thinks about Robert and Chrissie’s wedding. Yeah, he’d rather be here right now, staring down drunk idiot’s chanting at half eleven in the morning. Aaron’s hoping they lose so that they can all piss off as early as possible.

Focusing on football is actually helping, Aaron decides to get the matches up, predict the scores and then the scorers and it’s fine until there’s some couple trying to get his attention. They look absolutely desperate and Aaron winds down his window to take pity on them. 

“Yeah?”

“Are you available? Our driver can’t take us, and we need to be at this wedding soon.” The woman is wearing a beautiful dress, the man has a tux on. They look absolutely ridiculous amongst the sea of Hotten fans. 

Aaron registers it for a second and he nearly asks them where the venue is, but he doesn’t have to. The woman thrusts an invitation into his hand and Aaron feels sick. Chrissie and Robert … cordially invited … 13:30 … Cherry Manor House …

Aaron keeps staring at it, like if he blinks, the invitation will evaporate. It’s right in front of him, right in his hands, and he could go if he wanted. He would have a perfectly good reason to. Maybe he’d see him, maybe he’d look Robert in the eye and get that sort of closure over everything. It could be what he needs. 

But he could see Chrissie, could see Robert standing there in his suit looking excited, looking like he can’t wait. That would break him, that would destroy Aaron in a way he wouldn’t be able to come back from. 

“Well?”

Oh. The couple.

“No.” Aaron says. “I … sorry I’m waiting for someone. Doing a pickup.” 

The woman looks devastated, the man just gives a tight nod of the head and then moves to the cab in front of Aaron. Aaron’s still looking at the invitation when the woman clears her throat and looks at it.

“Oh sorry, yeah.” Aaron passes the invitation back. “Have – hope it’s a …”

The woman follows her partner and Aaron shuts his eyes, slams the steering wheel of the car until it hurts, and he stops. He tells himself to get a grip and then all he can do is think about how close the wedding is and how much he can’t just ignore it and –

“Hey, room from a little one?” 

Aaron shakes himself just in time to look up and see Miles leaning in towards the car, backpack on and a smile on his face. Aaron doesn’t know what to say, he just stares and then Miles asks if he’s waiting for someone. 

“Uh. No.” Aaron says. “I’m not waiting for anyone.”

“Great.” Miles says, and then he gulps hard. “So, I can …”

Aaron nods and then Miles is in his car and he’s not alone. Maybe this will make things better, having someone with him as the time ticks on and everything focuses right in on the fact that Robert is getting married, going on honeymoon, and then moving to London. Aaron’s already seen him for the last time, for some reason, that seems to shake him in a way he wasn’t prepared for.

“– there’s about a million fans around. I mean, I wouldn’t mind but it’s a Sunday, should be a lot calmer than this.”

They haven’t moved yet, because Aaron hasn’t asked him where he wants to go but that hasn’t stopped all this chatting. Aaron hums, then nods.

“Can’t believe you have to work on a Sunday too, when do you have a day off?”

Aaron blinks quickly, tries to shake himself out of his own head once again and he turns to look at Miles. “Don’t really have one, it’s early days, we can’t really afford days off.” He’s sort of lying, because he sort of knows where Miles is going with this. “Um, where am I dropping you off to?”

Miles reads out an address.

“The cafe?” Aaron asks and Miles nods along happily. Aaron’s heard of the cafe before, it’s a hipster sort of place, he’s pretty sure cats just roam around like they own the place. 

“Meeting a mate.” Miles says and Aaron gives him a tight smile before starting up the engine. 

It’s only fifteen minutes down the road, Miles is just being lazy, or he just really wants to be in Aaron’s company. The thought makes Aaron’s head dizzy and it doesn’t stop until Miles is talking to him about the last time he was in the cab, what he was trying to ask him. 

“About you seeing my band, remember?” 

Aaron gulps hard. “Yeah, I …”

“And that bloke interrupted.” 

That bloke.

Aaron’s heard thuds in his chest and Miles just won’t stop talking.

“He seemed a little narked.” Miles laughs. “It sort of uh … changed the mood.” He says and then he leans over. “When you do have a break, or a … a moment or something. It’d be good to … you know get a drink. Instead of just talking about getting one.”

Aaron pulls up at the cafe, and then turns to look at Miles. 

“You’re not interested.” Miles concludes, from the silence. Aaron doesn’t know what to say. It’s like there’s not even enough space in his head to think about anything other than –

“It’s just … it’s not a good time.” Aaron says. “‘M not having the best of … days.”

Miles frowns. “Oh.” He says. “Anything I can …”

“I’m not over an ex.” 

Aaron didn’t expect to be so honest; it’s just stumbled out of his mouth before he could even think about it.

“Oh.” Miles says, again. Aaron supposes there’s not a lot else he could say.

“He’s getting married. T—today. In like … an hour.”

Miles’ eyes widen a little. “Oh.” He runs a hand over his face. “I need to stop saying that.”

“It’s OK.”

Miles pulls a face, then leans forward a little. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be nice, honestly I don’t …”

Aaron doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve Miles or anyone else on this planet thinking that Robert is his ex, that they were together, like they had something and then it ended, and Robert moved on. It’s not the truth but it’s close enough. 

Miles puts a hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “I know you might not want to hear this but … everything happens for a reason.” He shrugs. “And you’re great, you really are.”

Aaron scoffs. “I’m really not.”

“Oi, I’m a paying customer. I’m always right.” He whispers. 

Aaron tries to smile, and then he’s leaning over, pressing his lips against Miles and then leaning back again. “Sorry.” He says.

Miles almost smiles. “I’m all for rebounds but that was pretty shit.”

Aaron gulps hard. “I just …”

“Wanted to feel something else?” Miles is way too understanding here and Aaron has no idea what to do. Eventually Aaron nods. “Didn’t help though, right?”

Aaron shakes his head. “I’m a mess.”

“Because of your ex?” Miles asks.

Aaron goes to speak and then stops. “Just me. I’m just …” He sighs. “Not going to bother you with anything else.” He gulps. “I’m sorry for kissing you.”

Miles pulls a face. “Squashing your face against mine for a second?” He shakes his head. “My pleasure.” He says before waving out his card and tapping it against the reader. “I um … I’ll see you around maybe. Take care yeah?”

And then Miles leaves. Aaron watches him go in, watches him greet his friend, sit, chat. There’s a cat eyeballing him from the window, that’s Aaron’s cue to leave.

 


-•-

 


Time doesn’t stop. In fact, it speeds up and Aaron wishes it wouldn’t. To make matters ten times worse, he spots his mum in town and she asks for him to wind his window down so they can have a chat. It’s the usual, they don’t see enough of each other, she’s a little worried about him, he looks tired. Aaron entertains it up until the moment Chas mentions his love life. 

“Is this about a bloke?”

Aaron thinks of how Adam eventually got there, and how it might be a matter of time. For a second, Aaron just lets himself be honest. 

“There was a bloke, it was why I was …”

“Even more grumpy?” Chas tries to joke but she looks so concerned. “And you’re alright now?”

Aaron gulps hard enough for Chas to hear. “Getting there.” He says. “I just didn’t want to worry you. That’s all.”

Chas smiles. “That’s what I’m here for silly.” She might as well lean over, squeeze his cheek. “Why don’t you come over for your tea tonight.”

Aaron’s got the night sorted, he’s getting absolutely wasted on his own and maybe ordering a pizza somewhere in the middle.

“Maybe.” Aaron says, which Chas knows is a no, “Depends if we get any bookings, you know.”

Chas nods. “OK love, well have a good day.” She smiles at him, and it’s like her feet are stuck to the ground because she doesn’t move until he waves her off. 


-•-

 

13:32 P.M

Aaron closes his eyes and sips at his coffee. He can imagine the guests piling in, Robert waiting at the altar with a grin and a tux on and looking ready to spend the rest of his life with Chrissie. 

It’s happening right now.

Aaron tries not to be sentimental. He tries to be level-headed and not let his heart rule his head and all that jazz, but it doesn’t really work out that way. Instead, he finds himself driving towards the lay-by, turning the engine off and shutting out the world. 

There’s no sound around him but the sound of feet against the lane, it’s distant enough for Aaron to ignore for the moment so he does. He closes his eyes for a second, keeps them closed and then suddenly he hears the sound of his car door being yanked open. 

Aaron jumps, turns and then sees Robert sitting in the back of his car. Robert. Robert sat in the back of his car in a tux.

“D–drive. Please drive.”

Aaron’s brain short circuits, he can’t think of a single thing to say because Robert is sitting in his car wearing a tux and he’s supposed to be getting married. 

“What are …” Aaron’s mouth is dry, and his tongue feels heavy in his throat like he’s having an allergic reaction to Robert’s presence. It’s pretty accurate. “You’re meant to be getting married.”

Robert nods, he keeps nodding and he looks like an absolute mess. His hair is sticking out everywhere and his face is bright red. “I know, I know.” He closes his eyes. “I – can you just drive?”

Aaron thinks Robert has officially gone mad. “No.” He whispers. “Are you – you think I’m driving you to your wedding?” He shouts, and he wants to punch him.

Robert scowls. “What? No.” He whispers, and his eyes glisten a little. “No, anywhere but Cherry House OK? Anyw–” He looks down and then he’s running a hand over his face and Aaron realises that he’s trying not to cry.

“Robert?” Aaron can’t think of anything else to say. He leans over, just a tiny bit and then Robert looks up. “What’s …” He gulps hard and Robert is silently begging him not to say anything yet. Aaron nods slowly. “OK, I’m … I’m going.” 

He turns the car around, drives them through the centre of town and keeps looking at the time. It’s nearly two. There’s this ache in his chest as he tries to understand what this means. Robert is silent, doesn’t say a single word, until Aaron parks up at a country pub and watches Hotten fans pile out. 

“Must have lost.” Aaron whispers, because it’s on his mind and he has no filter suddenly. “It’ll be quiet.” He half turns towards Robert. 

“I – I just need a second.” Robert tells him, like he hasn’t already had twenty minutes of complete silence.

Aaron nods his head and then tilts it back on his headrest. “The wedding ain’t happening I take it?” It’s phrased as a question but Aaron’s sure he knows the answer. They’d be no other explanation for what is happening right now.

Robert looks up, and his eyes are red raw. Aaron’s seen him broken before, but never like this. It makes his heart physically ache and he has to sit up straighter to make it stop.

“I …” Robert gulps hard. “I ran. I couldn’t …” He shakes his head. “I couldn’t do it.”

Aaron thinks he’s hearing things. “What?”

“I couldn’t go through with it.” Robert looks up. “I couldn’t marry her.” He whispers. “And yes, yes I was running away.”

“Like a kid.” Aaron blurts out. Robert scowls at him. “Sorry.” He says, and then he dips his head down. “She found out?”

Robert nods.

Aaron’s shoulders fall. “I – I didn’t tell her.” He says. “In fact, I could have been there, and I made sure I wasn’t.” Robert frowns. “Some couple wanted a lift and I told them to do one ‘cause I didn’t want to be anywhere near the place.” He explains.

“I know you didn’t tell her.” Robert says. “Because I did.”

Aaron’s face drops, just slightly. “What?”

“I told her I was having an affair, said it was – it was with a bloke.” Robert looks like he’s going to be sick. “And she …”

“Wisely told you to do one.” Aaron feels this anger rising up within him. “And there I was, like some idiot, swooping you up.” He bites his lip until he feels it might bleed. “Driving you away from all your shit.” 

Robert looks caught out, looks a little devastated. “No please … hear me out.” He whispers. 

“Hear you out?” Aaron closes his eyes. “What am I doing?” He asks himself more than Robert. “What am I doing here? Why – why am I helping you?”

Robert shakes his head. “Look, I know I deserve you kicking me out of this car and never seeing me again. I know, but …”

“But what?” Aaron rubs a hand over his face, and he can’t handle any of this. He’s been psyching himself up for this day for so long now and this was not meant to be happening. “I don’t want you here, go – go get married and make a prat out of yourself.”

“No.”

“What ‘cause she doesn’t want you?” Aaron screws his face up. “And here I am. Second choice.” He shakes his head. “Second best.”

“You’re not.”

Aaron laughs, mainly because it sounds ridiculous. “That’s all I’ve ever been in this.”

“Stop saying …”

“You said you were having an affair, like it’s still going on?” Aaron almost just realises.

Robert breathes in tightly. “Are you telling me that’s not true?”

Aaron stares at Robert. He can’t look away for a second. “You’re unbelievable.”

“I know I am.” Robert sounds almost disappointed in himself. Aaron stares at his bow tie. 

“You should have kept running.” Aaron says. “Kept being a coward.” 

Robert bites his lip; his eyes are shiny again. “But I saw you.” He says. “You were there, you … don’t you think everything happens for a reason?”

Aaron’s eyes flicker, of course that manages to shake him.

“I’m going in there for a pint.” Aaron points to the pub. “When I get back, I don’t want you here.” He goes to get out, pulls the door open.

“Chrissie still wanted to go ahead with it.”

Aaron freezes a little, he breathes in and then slams the door shut. “What?” He asks.

“She said she didn’t care. She – she said that my timing wasn’t great but …” Robert gulps hard. “Chrissie convinced her dad to let me in the business so if she went back on it now, she said she’d look stupid.”

Aaron tries to work out what that means. He looks at Robert’s stupid bowtie again. “She was going to marry you ‘cause of her pride?”

Aaron thought he heard it all. He really had.

Robert just stares at him a little blankly for a second and then he shrugs his shoulders. “I … yeah I guess.”

“And you …”

“I said no. I said – I told her I don’t love her because I don’t.” Robert says. “I don’t think I ever have.” Robert says things like it’s all just rushing into his mind and spilling out. “She was – she was standing there, all done up and telling me how it all could be, and I didn’t want it. I – I wanted you. Want. I … it’s you.”

Aaron’s eyes turn glassy with tears and it’s like he’s imagining this. It’s like this is all some insane dream and he can’t get passed the feeling that stretches through him. This is all way too good to be true. “I don’t believe you.”

Robert frowns, he looks absolutely stunned. “What?” He whispers, his face tightens a little. “Why would I …”

“Lie? Because you’re you?” Aaron says, and he wipes furiously at his eyes. “Don’t really need much. You’re desperate, she’s dumped you and I’m here.”

“No.” Robert shakes his head quickly. “No, I’m here ‘cause I left her.”

Aaron rolls his eyes.

“Aaron, I chose to walk away. I couldn’t do it.”

Aaron feels his hands shaking. “You keep saying that.” He whispers. “Had some sort of epiphany?”

“Kind of.” Robert blurts out. “I woke up, and Chrissie was pampering herself in one of her salons and I just wanted you. I thought of you. Not her. I missed you.” He leans a hand towards Aaron.

Aaron moves away as quick as he can. “Don’t.” He looks away. “You can’t just do this.” He shakes his head.

“I know I’ve messed you about.”

“It’s your wedding day.” Aaron hisses. “And you’re … you’re here saying … saying that …”

“I love you.”

Aaron’s hands suddenly feel numb, and he holds in a breath for what feels like hours. He didn’t expect that, maybe he should have, maybe it was all leading to this.  

Robert looks shocked, looks like he’s scrambling to think of something else to say because the silence between them is so unbearable. “And ... I think you love me too. I think we love each other, and I don’t want to – I can’t marry someone else knowing that. I can’t pretend anymore.”

Aaron feels tears roll down his eyes. He’s not a romantic but he did imagine this moment when he started to fall hard for Robert. Maybe a month or two ago this would have been like a fairy-tale coming to life, Robert literally bolting it from his own wedding to tell Aaron he loves him.

There’s this darkness now and it’s like his heart refuses to skip a beat.

“I can’t love you.”  

Robert’s face falls. “Don’t say that.”

“You have … you have no idea.” Aaron shakes his head, stops himself from saying how hard this has been for him and how much he’s ached over it all whilst Robert’s carried on living his life. “You’re sat there, in your wedding suit telling me all this …” He sighs. “You promised.” He dips his head and squeezes the hem of his jumper. Aaron closes his eyes for a second, remembers cold air rushing through the window as Robert bent down and said he wouldn’t do what he was doing right now, that he’d just go.

Robert frowns, and then he remembers. “I know.” He whispers. “I know I did, but I had – I had to tell you, I just …” He closes his eyes. “Aaron, I had to tell you.” He leans out his hand again, his finger stretches, and he strokes Aaron’s knuckle so slowly. “Please don’t tell me I’m too late.”

Aaron blinks slowly. “Get married Robert, do what you set out to do.”

Robert sounds so frustrated, “I don’t want to do that, I want …”

Aaron’s eyes widen. “I don’t want who you really are, remember you said that?” Robert looks like he’s been punched in his stomach. “We’d ruin each other. I wouldn’t be worth …” He wipes his eyes. “It wouldn’t be worth any of it.”

Robert looks horrified and it makes something ache in Aaron’s chest. “Now who’s lying?” 

Aaron stares right at Robert. “I kissed Miles today.” 

Robert’s face falls again, he keeps looking so shocked like he has the right to.

Robert’s jaw tightens. “Tell me you don’t love me.” He says. “Tell me and …” He dips his head. “I’ll go.” 

Aaron feels his heart thudding, and wonders if Robert can hear. 

Yes, of course I love you, you idiot.

Robert kisses him, Aaron kisses him back. Robert hugs him, Aaron’s arms are tight around Robert’s neck. Aaron drives, keeps going until the sun sets and they bask in the orange light. 

“I don’t love you.”

The world seems to collapse right in front of Robert’s eyes. “I don’t b…”

“You were out of my head the minute you said you were leaving.” Aaron has a hand against his temple. “I’ve wiped it, it’s … it’s over Robert. You were meant to be getting married.”

Robert closes his eyes and when he opens them again, all Aaron can see is this ache there. “So, you can just switch it off?”

Aaron nods tightly. “The way you did every time you went back to your bed, with her.” He breathes in and wonders if it’s the same thing, if he’s right to say that. “Nothing’s changed. It’s … over.”

“You don’t mean it.”

“I do.” 

Aaron needs to say this, needs to be strong. The alternative is too scary to think about. 

Robert’s chin goes. “You…” He frowns. “Aaron –” He leans his hand out again, and Aaron can only stare at his bowtie. Robert’s sat here, finally admitting everything Aaron has known for so long and all Aaron can do is focus on his stupid bowtie.

“I need you to go.” Aaron says. Robert’s eyes are big and wide. “I need you to forget me like you promised.”

Robert breathes in, and his feet seem stuck to the floor of the car because he doesn’t move an inch. He just stays where he is. Then he nods his head and leans forward and does something that makes Aaron feel like he’s melting. Robert brings a hand against Aaron’s cheek, strokes gently and then he tilts his head up and kisses Aaron’s forehead.

Aaron closes his eyes around it, and then leans his hand up to hover over Robert’s arm,

“I’m sorry for everything.” Robert whispers, then he drags himself away and Aaron stares at the space between them before Robert is getting out of the car and walking away.

 


-•-


“Mate, Robert’s wedding … it didn’t happen.”

Adam’s late to the news, in fact, he only knows about it because there’s a ton of guests calling because they didn’t bring cars. They clearly thought they were in for a fun night. Robert’s ruined that.

“I … I know.”

“What? Uh how …”

“Robert told me.” Aaron’s arse is numb from sitting outside this country pub, he’s actually not gone inside yet despite how much he needs a drink right now.

Adam doesn’t say anything for a second, and he’s clearly in shock. “You’ve seen him?”
“Adam, he told her everything.” Aaron realises he’s crying as the words rush out of him. “He told her and she …”

“She told him to do one?” Adam guesses.

Aaron closes his eyes. “He said she still wanted to go ahead with it. But he just … he ran away, said he couldn’t.”

“Sounds like him, running away.” Adam makes this sound. “He ran to you?”

It sounds way more romantic than it should be. Aaron’s silence seems to speak volume.

“So, they’re happy tears then?” Adam doesn’t even sound angry.

Aaron frowns, and then he wipes a hand over his face. “What?”

“You’re with him I take it?”

“No.” Aaron says. “No, of course I’m not.” He breathes in and suddenly wishes Adam was sitting next to him rather than on the phone. “I told him to do one.”

“Right.” Adam says, after a long bout of silence. 

“Why are you saying it like that?” Aaron scowls down the phone.

“I just …” Aaron gulps against Adam’s silence. “He didn’t get married.” He says. “He came to you.”

“I just happened to be on the side of the road Adam.”

“But he didn’t marry her.” Adam reiterates the point that’s been spinning around Aaron’s head for hours. “Doesn’t that tell you something?”

“What, that he loves me? He already said that Adam and it’s made everything ten times worse.”

“How could that make things worse?”

“Because I’m terrified, that’s why.” Aaron has to breathe in, gather himself. “He’s … thrown it away, everything he wanted, and he wants – he just wants me.”

“Sounds pretty good to me.”

Aaron wipes a hand across his face. “Until he realises that he’s made a massive mistake.”

“He already has.” Adam says. “By asking Chrissie to marry him. He’s trying to change that now though.”

“Why are you sticking up for him?”

“Because he’s got bigger balls than I thought he did.” Adam sighs. “I didn’t think he had it in him.”

“Neither did I.” Aaron admits, mainly to himself. Then he shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter though.” He insists. He has to insist. “I’ve … I’ve got to get over it.” He says. “I have, I have got over it.”

“Now you’re just being annoying.”

“I’m being realistic.” Aaron says. “It wouldn’t have worked.” He shrugs his shoulders. “So why pretend it would have?”

Adam stays silent, Aaron thinks he’s won him over. Then. “I don’t know, ‘cause you love him?”

Aaron closes his eyes, wraps his arms around himself so that he’s smaller. “Yeah, OK I do.” He says, because unlike before, there’s no need to deny it now. Robert’s always going to be someone he loves, despite everything and knowing that, being so clear about how true that is, is the most terrifying thing imaginable.

Mate …” Adam says, all soft and sweet.

Aaron bites through, turns sour. “But he’d get bored. I know it.”

“Of you? Are you insane? You’re – you’re amazing. You know if I swung …”

“Stop talking Ad.” Aaron says quickly, and then he sighs hard and watches as the sky turns from a baby blue to a pastel pink. Aaron wonders where Robert is, if he’s still walking the streets or if he’s run back to her. 

Robert could have run back to her. Aaron practically told him to, practically screwed all the hope Robert had about them into a little ball and threw it in his face. 

“Can I start speaking again?” Adam asks.

Aaron sighs and then he’s running a hand over his face. “Could I have the night off?” 

“Of course.” Adam says. 

“Might have tea with my mum.” Aaron says. He doesn’t want to be alone. “Entertain her worry.”

“OK.” Adam says. He sounds unsure. “Well, you clock off when you want, and uh … keep your head up.”

Aaron nods like Adam can see him. Adam goes to hang up the phone.

“Ad?”

“Yeah.” 

“Do you think I did the wrong thing?” Aaron bites his lip and plays with the hem of his jumper whilst Adam clearly thinks about what to say.

“Only you know that.” Adam sounds all philosophical, Aaron hates it.

 


-•-


“Here have some vegetables love.” Chas adds some peas to his plate, Aaron stares down at it and tries his hardest to eat the Sunday roast in front of him. “Marlon’s made it for you, so … it’s perfectly safe.”

Aaron nods, tries to smile. “Thanks.” He picks up his fork and then places it down again. “I’m just not that …”

“What’s happened?” Chas has a hand over his. “Is it this bloke?”

Aaron feels like he’s going to be sick. “I don’t think I’m good enough.” He blurts it out so quickly. “So I push people away, even if they don’t want me to.”

Chas looks like she’s going to have a breakdown. Her arms are around his body so quickly as she hugs him. “Where’s this – love, don’t be so …” She squeezes the life out of him. “You are so brilliant; you have to know that.” She says. “Anyone would be … so lucky to have you.”

Aaron thinks about how alone he usually is, how he likes it that way because it’s easier than being with someone and watching it all go wrong. It’s always been that logical in his mind, always.

“I mean it.” Chas pulls away so she can look at her son. “Don’t you dare try to ruin your own happiness.” She warns, and Aaron’s a tiny bit scared of her when she’s looking at him like this. 

Aaron thinks of Robert, and there’s this ache in his chest which won’t go away. He just knows it won’t go away.

“Sorry for being dramatic.” Aaron wipes at his eyes before any tears start to roll down his face. 

Chas lets out this little laugh. “Don’t be silly.” She says. “Now, tell me about this bloke?”

Aaron sighs and then suddenly his phone is ringing and it’s Adam. “You alright?”

“Um. No actually. I’m not – I – there’s an emergency at the farm and I know I said you could have the night off, but it won’t take long.”

Aaron’s shoulders droop. “Well, where’s the pickup?”

“I’ll give you the directions, just leave now yeah?”

 

-•-

 


Aaron should have bought a coat considering how cold it is. The heating in the car is on full blast as he rubs his hands together and turns down yet another country lane. He’s being led to some fancy hotel, one that Aaron hasn’t ever set foot in. 

When he’s outside, Aaron rings Adam and tells him that there’s no one waiting for him. Adam doesn’t say a word down the line and Aaron quietly seethes. 

“Oi, can you hear me or …”

“Look up.” That’s not Adam’s voice. Aaron raises his head slowly and sees Robert standing right in front of his car. He’s not wearing the stupid bowtie anymore. His hair is still a mess but at least he’s got a coat on. Albeit battered and brown. Every single thought just comes rushing to Aaron’s mind and he doesn’t know what to say for a second.

“Where’s Ad…”

Adam shows his face, gives Aaron a sheepish look as he stands next to Robert.

“He helped me, don’t take it out on him.” Robert says quickly. “I just needed to speak to you.”

Aaron rubs a hand over his face for the millionth time today, determined not to cry. “We – we already did.”

“I can’t let you give up so easily.”

“Give up?” Aaron scowls and Robert looks at him through the window, eyes wide. “There’s nothing to … to give up on.”

“Please. Please let me in the car.” Robert says, and Aaron looks over at Adam. He watches his best mate nod his head slowly and he closes his eyes against it. 

“Fine.” Aaron unlocks the door and watches Robert walk towards him. The door slams shut and Adam nods at Robert before disappearing. “You got my best mate involved?”

“He got himself involved actually.” Robert insists. “Reckons I’m not completely insane for thinking you might love me.”

Aaron chews the inside of his mouth. “Doesn’t change anything.”

Robert’s sat opposite him in the front of the car for the first time ever. Aaron feels Robert’s hand against his knee. “Of course, it does.” He says and then he holds his hands together, looks so serious suddenly. “I’m sorry I took so long to … to be able to …”

Aaron chews on his bottom lip like he does when he’s nervous. “To what?” He shakes his head. “Change your mind about me?”

“I always … I’ve always felt …”

“Felt what?”

“I think I’ve felt this way since the beginning.” Robert whispers. Aaron’s heart twists inside his chest. “But you … we didn’t owe each other anything, that was like your motto.”

“And Chrissie White was like your girlfriend. Then fiancé.”

“I know.” Robert shakes his head. “I’m just blaming you, I’m just – I’m just saying …”

“You’d get bored. I know it.” Aaron blurts it out so quickly.

Robert’s face falls. “You could end up seeing what I’m actually like and … and hate me.”

“I already know what you’re like.” Aaron snaps, and then he gulps hard. “I know you. I shouldn’t have said what I did before.”

Robert almost smiles. “I know you do.” He says and Aaron realises he’s only just played right into Robert’s hands. 

Aaron closes his eyes. “You were meant to be getting married today.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

Aaron snaps his head up. “How can you be so … how can you pretend like you just don’t care?”

“Because in the grand scheme of things, I don’t.” Robert argues. “Because me not getting married isn’t the worst thing that’s happened today.” He says, and then he drops his head. “You said you didn’t love me, and you told me to go and it …” He gulps so hard. “It was like everything just stopped.” 

Aaron stares at him with big round eyes. 

“Chrissie more or less said the same thing. She stood there, in her wedding dress and said it didn’t matter because she didn’t love me, but we would make it work.” Robert looks up. “And I didn’t feel anything.” He whispers the words and then gulps hard. “And then you said it and it was … Aaron, I just really love you and I’m sorry for not being brave enough to tell you before. Like when you were in my office, and I just …”

“You didn’t say a word.”

“Yeah, because I was scared.” Robert leans his hands out, tries to hold Aaron’s.
Aaron lets Robert, just for a second. “Yeah, imagine how I felt.”

“I’m sorry.” Robert says again. 

Aaron brushes tears away. “It doesn’t matter.”

Robert makes this sound, looks terrified suddenly. “Why? ‘Cause of Miles?” He stares right into Aaron’s eyes. “Is that … you and him …”

Aaron rolls his eyes, gives up with a shake of his head. “There’s no me and him.” He whispers, then he turns to Robert and sees the frown on his face. “I just … I wanted to get over you.”

Robert’s shoulders drop in relief and then he squeezes at Aaron’s hand. “Don’t you care that – that I’m in love with you?”

Aaron keeps his head down. Robert loves him, he keeps saying he loves him. “Do you love her?” 

“Chrissie?” Robert asks, like he needs it clarified. “No.” He says it like it’s so easy to admit. There’s no hesitation there at all. “I … I don’t, I’d never even given myself a chance to think about if I did or didn’t before you.”

“But you could have had the business.”

“But it would have meant not having you.” Robert explains, like it’s all completely logical. Aaron looks up at him. “What?” Robert whispers.

“You say it like it’s all simple.” Aaron frowns.

“It can be.” Robert seemingly decides, right here, right now.

Aaron looks over at him. “You’ve … you’ve not come to terms with who you are. You’ve not worked it all out.” He says. “I mean how can you have? This time yesterday you were marrying her, and she was never knowing that you like blokes so …” He bites his lip hard. “You’re not comfortable even ad…”

“I do.” Robert whispers the words so quietly. “Like men too. Stuffs happened, family stuff that’s … it’s not easy for me to shout it from the roof tops sometimes.”

Aaron’s heart thuds. “Rob.” He has a hand against Robert’s lap. “I didn’t …”

“I want to tell you everything.” Robert tells him. “I – I will.” His head dips. “I know I’ve messed you around. And if I wasn’t a selfish dick, I’d let you go, ‘cause I know you deserve better.”

“Don’t say that about yourself.” Aaron says, almost annoyed.

“It’s the truth.” Robert shrugs. “I’m got no job, no place to live and I’m pretty sure my sister thinks I’m mad. You deserve better but I …”

Aaron’s heart skips a beat. He leans over and holds Robert’s face in his hands before kissing him. Robert reacts, he leans so far over that Aaron’s back connects to the car door handle and there’s a loud slam filling the air.

Robert pulls away quickly. “Sorry, I didn’t …”

“Shut up.” Aaron whispers, and then he’s smiling into a kiss, he’s letting himself smile into a kiss and it’s Robert and everything seems absolutely surreal for a second. Robert pulls away again. 

“Does this mean you …”

“You’re serious, about us? About their being an … us?” Aaron closes his eyes, like he’s too scared to find out. Robert places his forehead right against Aaron’s and nods so Aaron can feel it. “You’re not just saying that.” Robert shakes his head roughly and Aaron opens his eyes, laughs a little.

“I just want you.” Robert looks terrified of Aaron’s reaction, “I promise.”

“You don’t keep all your promises.”

“I will from now on.” Robert says. “It’s … it’s just you. Just you, always.” He whispers. “If you’ll have me.” Aaron’s heart thuds as Robert strokes a hand across his cheek and then stops. “It’s OK.” 

Aaron huffs out a laugh and then he closes the space between them and kisses Robert again.

“I’ve got a room here.” Robert says, and Aaron smirks a little. “And everything I own in it.” He pulls away just a little and Aaron watches his eyes bounce around his face to check his expression. “I want you to come in with me.”

“You do, do you?”

“Yeah.” Robert nods, and then there’s a hand snaked around Aaron’s waist. “Everything else can wait.”

Aaron thinks about the mess Robert’s life is like at the moment, thinks of helping him get back on his feet, facing things together, being some sort of team. It makes his heart skip a beat.

Aaron leans his forehead against Robert’s again, and then kisses him gently. Then he sees Adam sticking his thumbs up just outside the window with this massive grin on his face as he runs past. Robert laughs, right into Aaron’s chest and Aaron’s hand runs through Robert’s hair as he mouths a “thank you” to Adam. 

“What are we waiting for then?”

Robert nods and then leans right over and takes Aaron’s keys out the car. “Want to take you for a drive first.”

Aaron huffs. “What?”

“See the stars or something, just you and me. And I want to drive … for a change.” Robert looks so in love with him. Aaron allows himself to really see it.

“I love you.” Aaron has always been bad at saying how he feels, letting his words out to the person he wants to hear them. He doesn’t know why he’s so nervous, but he is because he hasn’t actually said it, he’s implied it and denied it, but he’s just said it now and Robert’s looking right at him.

“I love you.” Robert whispers, like it’s too precious to say any louder. 

Aaron can’t believe how they’ve got here, he keeps thinking about it as Aaron tells him to swap places with him, and then Robert’s driving them out of the carpark and down tiny country lanes. Aaron stares up at the stars, then right towards Robert. The moon is high in the sky, and it basks Robert in this glow that manages to take Aaron’s breath away. He was meant to get married today, and Aaron was meant to move on and yet they’re here and it feels so right it’s almost scary. 

Robert leans out, pulls Aaron’s hand in his and then squeezes before lifting their hands up and kisses over Aaron’s knuckles. 

Aaron closes his eyes with a soft smile on his face and lets Robert take the wheel.