FREE TO LOVE by Carol Edwards

     ‘Go after him, Liz!' Sally said, as John closed the door quietly behind him. Liz sighed. 'It's too late.'
      'It doesn't have to be.' Sally sounded concerned. 'Does it?'
      Liz put her hot drink on the table in front of her. She wasn't one for drinking coffee usually - it was Sally who suggested it might do her good, particularly after last night's episode.
      She stood up and paced the room, avoiding the bare window. But something inside her made her look. She caught a glimpse of John walking up the path. He was carrying a holdall, and that beloved school bag of his was held tight around his back.
      Her voice trembled. 'But it is too late... especially now.' She turned to face her best friend. 'Besides, he's 16, he's old enough to...'
      'Fend for himself?' Sally stood to Liz's level. 'He's still a kid, he needs you more than you think.' Liz shrugged her shoulders. 'Perhaps I will have a sip of that coffee.' She gave Sally a pitiful look. 'But I could do with something a bit stronger.'
      'Do you think that's wise?'
      'Under the circumstances, yes,' she said, walking towards the drinks cabinet.
      She poured herself a scotch. 'Well it's not every day a son leaves home, is it?' She put the full tumbler to her lips and peered over it. 'It's not easy, you know,' she said, attempting to justify her means.
      She felt a twinge of conscience. Most of last night was a blur but she remembered telling John she'd be glad to see the back of him.
      Sally gently took the drink from her. 'I'm sorry Liz, but we need to talk.'
      She led her back to the settee and sat close by. 'Forgive me for being blunt, Liz, but face the truth, John didn't leave home, you threw him out!'
      Yes, Sally was plain speaking, but Liz could take that. In fact she needed shock tactics to realise just what had actually happened. And Sally was the only person, of late, that understood Liz to bring about a sudden blow to her clouded head.
      Liz lurched forward. 'But it was OK for my mother to throw me out... and I was pregnant for God's sake!'
      She thought then, about how unfeeling she'd been when John broke the news that he'd finally found a flat. 'But I can't move in until next week,' he'd said, eyes wide, voice wavering. His kind brown eyes had looked so sad.
      But it was her eyes that flashed green and red, bloodshot, glared into his. If he'd been hoping she'd say, "stay", he thought wrong.
      Liz sighed. 'There's no wonder he couldn't face me before he left.'
      'Why do you say that?'
      She wanted to tell Sally it was because the emotional turmoil would have been too much for him... because she knew about that. But she just shook her head and said nothing.
      Sally put her arm round her. She understood.
      But Liz moved uncomfortably, her eyes shifting to the drink; tempting it was, the full glass of "gold", sitting there on the open cabinet. She moved to the edge of her seat, but Sally made a barrier with her arm.
      Liz retaliated again. 'Look, I fed John, I clothed him, I sent him to school... he's not my responsibility anymore.' Liz knew she'd left out that vital something. You know, that "Iovey-dovey" stuff that allows humans to survive emotionally, and she was aware Sally knew too.
      Only, her warmth came from the contents of what she poured into a glass. Oblivion was an easier, uncomplicated way to live a life among others.
      Without it she'd be expected to give of herself, and what the heck did she have to give? But John was her only son. Surely she could be spurred out of her apathy to think about his inner thoughts, feelings.
      Sally frowned. 'If you ask me, I think you're harbouring bitterness towards your mother. And to be honest Liz, it's making you hostile... and it's John who's taking the brunt.'
      Liz jolted. Tears welled up in her eyes and once more she said nothing. Her mind had already wandered to the times she felt she had the right to be angry, especially the time John's father had dumped her. It was when he discovered she was pregnant. These days she managed to smile in others' company, but she often moaned, and there was always that noticeable sadness behind her eyes. It was indoors, though, that mattered the most, where yes, John had suffered the brunt of her ill temper.
      'It's that stuff that's hindering your getting on in life,' Sally said, pointing to the drink. 'Let's face it, where's it got you?' Her voice was firm but caring. 'I mean, you're on the verge of losing your job, your friends are fast disappearing... and now John's gone...'
      The lump strained Liz's throat. She trembled, still fighting those nagging emotions; ready to break down the barriers she'd held up for so long.
      But the fear of changing her way of life held her back. That's why her eyes shifted to the cabinet again. She was desperate to numb her feelings. Moreover, images of John flashed across her mind. He'd be alone. He'd be afraid. For his well being, would she be able to find the strength to uphold a challenge?
      'You can get through this, Liz. Give yourself a chance. Give John a chance.'
      Liz changed the subject. 'It's about time I got myself out of this lot,' she said, pulling at her worn jeans and sweater. She turned to face Sally as she led the way upstairs. 'Will you come and help me choose?'
      '... That green dress looks nice, the one I always say suits your auburn hair.' Sally reached the landing to find Liz hesitating behind John's bedroom door. 'On the other hand, that red...'
      'I can't remember how long it's been since I stepped foot in there,' Liz said, unsure whether to allow herself in. Sally paused... 'I'll come in with you, if it'll help.'
      Liz nodded in response. Gingerly she turned the handle and peeped round the door. When she crept inside, tears stung her eyes again, as she breathed in John's scent.
      Matchbox cars, still in their boxes, lay in neat rows against the wall. She had no idea he was keen on cars. And all this time it seemed he'd been collecting them. Leaving them behind meant he may not have gone for good... But Liz suddenly noticed drawing pins left in the wall, plus torn bits of wallpaper, giving telltale signs where his posters had been. He wouldn't come home, not without her say so.
      She walked over to his bed. She noticed how neatly he'd made it up. And there under the small window frame she recognised the desk and chair.
      'I remember when John first brought these home,' she said. Sally was sitting on the bed. 'I'd lashed out at him while he was doing his homework on the kitchen table, he'd been in my way.'
      She swallowed hard. 'I can still see him, struggling to collect his books and pens as I forced him out.' mf... She stroked the table. 'He saved up for this you know, from his paper round money.'
      At that moment Liz became aware she might have shattered John's dreams of becoming a linguist.
      'How could I have denied John?. He desperately wanted to further his studies. He pleaded with me to let him stay on at school.'
      'Like I said earlier, Liz, it's not too late. It's still the holiday; he could start back in September... but first you've got to concentrate on getting him home.'
      Liz sat on the bed. 'September was the month he was born...' She smiled wistfully. 'I remember that day so well - a little bundle he was, helpless and vulnerable. I promised to take care of him and I'd held him so close... it was just the two of us.'
      But there was a sudden fear of losing him that made her distance herself from him. It was her safeguard from being hurt.
      Yet now, here she was, facing an unbearable pain. But she was glad. She didn't want to ignore or stupefy with alcohol, that ever-present ache - the ache that could only be the intense and powerful love for her child... crying to be set free.
      She was beginning to feel that perhaps love wasn't so dangerous after all. She came to understand you didn't need mountains of courage to give or allow yourself this warm affection at all...
      She fell into Sally's arms, able now, to let go of all that emotional pain. Huge sobs of hurt poured out. Cries of pent up anger released itself.
      Remorse for John, the misery he'd suffered - how she wept with regret for that. She rested in her friend's embrace, until the physical pangs had subsided. She felt refreshed then, but weak with inner relief... This sudden whirlpool of emotions signified she could not go on living by obscure rules made up from fear and lack of trust in humankind. And for a second she visualised openings to restyle her life, dauntless of the unknown.
      Uplifted, she rose to her feet. 'I'll get the dress.' She smiled. 'I have a purpose now - a resolve to find my son.' She thought back to when she was a child. 'Somehow, Sally,' she said, standing by the door, 'I don't think I feel so angry with my mother anymore... does that make sense?'
      Sally nodded. 'Yes it does...'
      Downstairs, she became excited but panicky - would she conquer that challenge? And John? She'd have to face him, explain, and put things right, someway.
      I'll get help, she thought. But that meant getting involved with people. And what did her mother always say? 'You don't need people.'
      She stood erect, defiant now. Of course she needed people. She had to learn to trust someone, she couldn't fight this battle alone... and she wouldn't, not anymore.
      She walked towards the glass and picked it up. 'Follow me,' she said to Sally, as she headed for the kitchen. After she poured the liquid down the sink, she slammed the tumbler on the table then took a huge sigh. 'I can't believe I did that.'
      She shuddered, surprised at her own voice, her own principles, her innermost beliefs... her own mind. 'Good for you,' Sally said, punching the air.
      Liz walked through to the hall. She was tingling with nervous excitement as she checked herself in the full-length mirror. She crossed her fingers and looked into Sally's eyes. 'Wish me luck.'
      Her friend grinned and her eyes twinkled as she fussed over Liz, straightening her collar and moving strands of hair from her face.
      A few seconds later she opened the door to leave. 'Don't forget, I'm only a phone call away... but I only want to hear good news... OK?' 'You will, I promise. Oh and Sally... thanks.'
      As Liz closed the door behind Sally she noticed a piece of paper beside the telephone. It was John's forwarding address!
      She held the paper to her chest for a moment and closed her eyes, relieved. Then quickly, she put on her jacket before hurrying out of the house.
      She walked up the path with expectancy, trusting that when she returned home, John would be with her, his school bag over his shoulder. That would be a start.

ENDS © Carol Edwards