Janet Pywell ellie BravoWho to tell, how to tell them, when to tell them…

In the office the following morning I make fresh coffee. The croissants are still warm from the deli. My hands are still shaking from yesterday. I hear Maria’s footsteps on the stairs and I wait holding open the kitchen door but she ignores me and walks past and so I follow her into her office.

“I’m sorry! I should have told you,” I say. “It wasn’t fair that you found out that way.”

She removes the jacket from her light brown suit, walks past me and into the kitchen. I follow in the trail of her familiar and invisible Chanel perfume, conscious of the muffled sounds downstairs of the tekkie team arriving to work: Siobhan and Stuart are talking, Liam barks a quick laugh and John coughs.

I close the kitchen door behind us.

“Maria, please don’t be angry with me.”

“It’s nothing to do with me. It’s not my problem.” Her voice is strong and firm.

“Don’t block me out. I thought we were friends.”

“Friends? That’s funny, so did I!” She slams the fridge door. “But I wouldn’t treat my friends like this.”

“I couldn’t tell you,” I whisper.

“Why? You know everything about me. I tell you about Lily and about Michael, and my problems…”

“It’s not the same.”

“No, you’re right! It’s not the same. It’s fine for you to lie.”

“No…” I push the hair from my face. “Not everyone understands.”

“Is that the best you can do?” Her angry eyes challenge me.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like? To have to hide your feelings every day, to pretend you’re someone you are not?”

“Don’t look for sympathy. It’s been your choice!” She slams the kitchen door on the way out.

I follow her into her office keeping my voice hushed.

“I understand what I did was wrong. There is no excuse for my lies when I pretended that Kat was a man but it was the easiest thing for me to do. I didn’t know you well enough to tell you the truth. I don’t know how you would react. I’ve never told anyone. Not even Auntie Annie,” I sigh. “Maria, I’m truly sorry. I value your friendship and I really want to talk to you about this.”

She sits at her desk sipping from her mug, The World’s Best Mum, her generous lips are set firm.

I sit opposite her. “I didn’t want to tell anyone, especially in Belfast. At first, I was too upset. Then to explain to a happily married heterosexual woman with a loving daughter that my lifestyle isn’t quite as conventional as theirs, well, it just got harder and harder…” I pull my hair into a ponytail.

“If you can’t speak and trust your friends then who can you trust?”

“It’s just that…” I massage my temples.

“I deserve the truth. Not some made-up stories!”

“I know, I know, but everyone pretends they accept the gay lifestyle until it comes to family values or someone they know. Even though Civil Partnerships exist there’s prejudice out there. We still live in a very homophobic society. Gay people are judged and defined by their sexuality, not by their love. There’s a stigma attached! Look at John, for example, look at his reaction. It’s malicious, so please don’t tell me he understands…”

“It’s not John I’m thinking about and it’s not about you being gay either,” she pauses then lowers her voice, “It’s the fact you didn’t tell me. You didn’t trust me–”

“But I–”

“How do I know who you are? How does anyone know who you are?”

“It’s difficult to discuss my feelings with anyone.”

“Well, Kat obviously doesn’t feel the same way. She told John, a complete stranger on a Sales Seminar!”

“Kat is different to me! When I met her and we spent our first Christmas together, she got drunk and told my family on Boxing Day over dinner. Believe me, I didn’t get a choice. Jenny and Richard have been brilliant but my mother thinks it’s like a dose of flu and I’ll get better and be over it soon.”

“Bird flu?” she says, and her glare turns into a weak smile.

“I know I have hurt you…”

“You’ve really pissed me off.”

“Maria, I couldn’t tell you because I was frightened…”

The phone rings.

I lean forward, across the desk.

“Leave it,” I plead.

Our eyes lock and when it rings again, Maria picks it up.