Ben’s stomach churned double-time when he saw the flashing Christmas lights in the front window. The scratches on his cheek started throbbing again. Beer reflux burbled up his throat as he fumbled and dropped the key. The door opened as he tried to get it in the lock again.
“You’re a shit, Ben.”
“And hello to you too, Annalise.”
“I’ve been waiting since 2pm.”
“I forgot, okay. I got a last minute contract.”
He pushed past her ignoring the newly festive lounge room.
“She’s gone,” Annalise called down the hallway after him.
He stopped and put a hand on the wall, but didn’t turn around. “What the fuck do you mean, she’s gone?”
“Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“It’s not that late,” he said and Annalise followed him into the kitchen and watched him slump into a seat. “I’ve been walking around trying to get my head together, all right? It’s been a fucking awful day.”
“Awful for who, Ben?” Before he could reply Annalise pulled out her phone.
“You could have called her. Or me!”
“I assumed she would be sleeping off jetlag. I’m home now aren’t I? I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“You never do.”
“Fuck you, Annalise.” He stood and the chair fell backward. “Forty-eight hours ago I had no idea this cluster fuck coming my way. Amber emailed from Changi airport with her flight details after three months of radio silence. Bet she didn’t tell you that, huh? She dropped off the face of the earth. No warning. No explanation.”
“What’s she supposed to do, apologise for getting cancer?”
“She could have told me. I was in love with her.” He sat on the edge of the table and dropped his head. His voice was quieter when he spoke. “I mean, still love her. She’s everything I ever wanted. And now she’s here and she’s dying.”
“So you left your dying girlfriend here and went to the pub.”
“I was at work. A few beers this arvo. I’ve been wandering around, trying to get my head straight. I didn’t ask for this.”
“You can’t do the ‘poor me’ act Ben. You’re a two-timing bastard. Look at your face.”
He put his hand to his cheek. “Helena was an accident, a one-night stand who just hung around. If I had known she was a psycho bitch—”
“You really are a piece of work.”
“And you are a sanctimonious, judgmental bitch who has no appreciation for the fact other people’s lives get fucked up sometimes.” The words slammed into the laminate doors and dropped like dead birds between them.
Annalise started to shake, hands clenched by her side. “Ben. You screw up and wail that it’s not your fault. You wail and you wait for Mum and Dad to pick up the pieces. Give you—”
“I was made redundant. Like that was my fault.” He snatched Annalise’s car keys off the bench. “And I didn’t give Amber cancer.”
Annalise blocked the door. “You can’t drive anywhere.”
He jammed the keys in her hand. “No, but you can.”
The next part of 24 will be available here at 12am.