…‘I told Saul I’d do as he asked.’ Perdita thought it best to slip that in while Luke and Gavin were distracted by the food.
‘I think,’ Luke said, ‘you need to tell us what you just said again as I don’t think I could have possibly heard right.’
‘I didn’t hear right either,’ Gavin said. ‘But if it turns out we did hear right, we’ll have to get you tested under the Mental Capacity Act.’
‘I’m here now because Saul said I could go if I promised to come back, and look after Violet.’ They gaped at her. ‘I’m moving in with Saul and Violet.’
‘Are you mad?’ Gavin squeaked. ‘They’re complete strangers – and you did nothing wrong. Luke, we need the number of a psychiatrist.’
‘Violet’s not a complete stranger.’
‘Caveman certainly is,’ Luke countered as he picked another sweet and sour chicken ball and poured over some sauce. ‘You know, we’ve always known you’re a bit different to other girls, and that’s fine, we are okay with different. But I don’t think we appreciated quite how different you are. And it’s a worry.’
‘Mike confirmed I’d done everything correctly. Nevertheless, I feel like I have done wrong, and I need to make amends having seen Violet broken like that.’
‘Violet’s bad choice and bad luck are responsible,’ Luke said. ‘Not you. What kind of a man is he, dragging you out of the store and lying to all those people? You don’t owe him anything. He owes you. There’s no need for you to go there. You could sue.’
‘Where would I get the money to do that? And what judge would look upon me sympathetically when he or she finds out what the root of the argument is about? Uh?’ She busied herself picking up a few extra slices of marinated lamb.
‘Why did you agree to his ridiculous terms?’ Luke asked. ‘I say that because I’m desperately hoping there’s more to this than loopiness.’
‘Because it suits me to. And I wasn’t a complete pushover.’ She repeated the conversation she’d had with Saul about wanting to be treated with respect and her thoughts on moving in.
‘What do you mean by… ‘ Gavin asked when she finished, ‘…he should never have invited a stranger into his home? Do you intend to bump them off?’
‘No, that would be illegal. Besides, I really like Violet. And I’m sure she really likes me. She looked delighted when we told her that I was going to move in with her.’
‘You’re a numpty,’ Luke said.
‘I have no job. It will solve my rent problem.’ But not the problem of the loan. She would have to phone Sister Margaret about that.
‘But you’d get another, easily,’ Luke assured her.
Perdita waved her chopsticks at the boys. ‘The passion isn’t there anymore and employers would pick up on it.’ She helped herself to some more lamb. So far, the boys hadn’t tasted any of it. She put her chopsticks down; she had to tell them. ‘Besides, I’ve been… pollinated.’
Luke and Gavin’s expressions were blank.
Perdita examined her hand. ‘Remember when you commented on my new clothes?’
‘Y-es,’ said Gavin.
Luke was looking into the middle distance with a slight furrow between his brows as though trying to recall something.
‘Remember I told you the reason I’d bought new clothes was because Violet had said bees are attracted to beautiful brightly-coloured flowers?’
Luke’s brow cleared. ‘You’re pregnant.’
‘Pollinated sounds nicer,’ she said. ‘Gentler.’
Gavin gawped at her. ‘Well, go and tell your GP you’ve been pollinated and see if she can make better sense of it than we could. You know, you’re not doing a good job of convincing me that you’re sane. And I’m not going to use that word. You are pregnant, Perdita, and you are going to have a baby.’
Perdita was finding it hard to breathe. ‘I’m not… This isn’t…’ Unpleasant sensations were star-bursting their way through her body. And tears spilled from her eyes. Nevertheless, she wanted the boys to understand, so she tried again. ‘What you said… Can’t be happening to me… Not married… All alone.’ She was drawing breath now like a croaky seal and worried the lamb would come back up and bleat at them.
‘Gavin, what you said wasn’t at all helpful,’ Luke admonished, as he moved closer and put an arm around her shoulders. ‘Perdita, can we take it that you’re not exactly happy with the situation?’
She nodded, hiccupped, found a tissue, dabbed her face and blew her nose, avoiding Gavin’s gaze.
‘Is calling yourself pollinated a coping mechanism?’ Luke asked.
‘I don’t know. All I do know is that what Gavin said is happening to me isn’t happening to me.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Gavin said.
‘Shall I come with you to your doctor to talk about it?’ Luke offered.
Feeling much more centred now, she took a deep breath, and that made her feel better still. ‘No need. All I had to do was show her the special stick I’d taken into the toilet with me to do the test, and she understood.’ Feeling that the danger had passed, she mustered up some inner optimism and smiled at the boys through blurry eyes.
‘Well,’ Luke said, taking his arm back, ‘we don’t want to give you any more panic attacks, so we will use whatever terminology makes you feel most comfortable, won’t we, Gavin?’
‘I’m not sure that losing touch with reality is a good thing though,’ Gavin commented. ‘We know you’re a bit different. I was just trying to help you be a bit more norm–’
‘Perdita is a bit different, and it’s something we love about her, isn’t it?’ Luke gave Gavin a hard stare.
‘Absolutely,’ Gavin said.
‘Now tell us,’ Luke encouraged, ‘how you have come to be… pollinated.’
Gavin’s eyes were close to popping out of his head. ‘You don’t have a boyfriend. How on earth did you manage it? You don’t strike me as a one-night stand woman.’
‘Oh, I’m not a one-night stand woman,’ she said. ‘But it was just the once.’
Luke rolled his eyes.
‘I didn’t know it was only going to be the once. Men don’t book the next session until after the first, do they? I understand that now.’
‘Session?’ Gavin exclaimed. ‘It’s not therapy.’
‘Tell us what happened,’ Luke urged.
She took a deep breath. ‘It was at the last work conference. I bought the clothes especially for it because a man whom I had a crush on was going there. He’d never noticed me before. But this time he did. Straight away. I was waiting for him at the bar – it’s where he always goes when he’s down from his room after dropping off his luggage.’
‘You were staking it out? The bar?’ Luke asked.
‘Yes.’ She shifted uncomfortably. ‘He told me I was beautiful, and he couldn’t understand why he’d missed noticing someone as beautiful as me.’
‘You are beautiful,’ Gavin said. ‘We could have told you that. You don’t have to go and sha–’
‘What then?’ Luke asked.
‘He spent all evening with me.’ She couldn’t meet their gaze. ‘And then I spent all night with him.’ Scrunching her face in embarrassment, she added, ‘But he was upset with me. In the morning, he’d already left. When I went down to breakfast, he was chatting to another woman. And at lunch time, he sat with a second woman. He didn’t even glance my way.’
‘How did someone as sweet as you upset him? Did you laugh at the size of him? Rubbish his technique? Tell him it was over too soon?’ Gavin asked.
Feeling a fiery heat in her face, she suspected she looked like a bottle of tomato ketchup. ‘I didn’t tell him my number.’
‘Your… number? Phone number?’ Gavin asked. ‘If you refused to give him your mobile number then of course there wouldn’t be a second “session”. How could there be?’
She shook her head. ‘He told me off afterwards for not telling him that he was my first… but he didn’t tell me whatever number I was.’
Luke rubbed his jaw with his hand and only briefly glanced at Gavin. ‘You were a virgin? And he didn’t like it?’ Luke asked.
‘No. He didn’t.’
‘Perdita,’ Luke said, ‘he’s a creep. He just used you.’
‘Next time,’ Gavin said, ‘let’s hope it’s with a man who appreciates the gift of virginity.’
‘What are you talking about? She can’t be a virgin again,’ Luke snapped. ‘Although, next time, I too hope it will be with someone who appreciates you, Perdita. Loves you even.’
‘How did a creep like him get you preg– pollinated?’ Gavin asked.
‘Yes,’ Luke said, ‘what happened about the… er… pollen?’
‘He thought I was on the pill, and I thought he was using… something.’
Luke shielded his eyes with his hands for a moment.
‘It’s called a condom, Perdita.’ Gavin was shaking his head.
When Luke glanced up again, he was wearing an expression of disbelief. ‘You didn’t think to check? Didn’t you feel that he wasn’t wearing one?’
‘How is it meant to feel?’ Perdita knit her brows with the effort of trying to recollect how it had felt when Tony had entered her. But all she could recall was the shock of having something plunged into that private place and how bewildered she’d felt right up to the finale of uncomfortable piston thrusts. All else seemed to have escaped her notice.
Gavin said, ‘You didn’t touch him, did you?’
‘Touch him? Well, of course I touched him.’
‘Down below,’ Luke said. ‘Did you hold him, touch his private parts?’
‘Of course not!’ Then, more softly, she said, ‘Was I meant to?’ The stunned expressions on both their faces told her the answer. ‘I haven’t done it before. I wasn’t expecting to do it, and I wish so much that I hadn’t,’ she wailed. ‘And now I find I didn’t even do it right.’
Luke and Gavin shifted closer and put brotherly arms around her.
‘Didn’t you have any sex education?’ Gavin asked.
‘Yes,’ she said, nodding enthusiastically, ‘I know all about stamens, pollen, stigmas, pistils and ovules.’ She plucked some more lamb from the dish and then boldly picked up the container and scraped the remainder into her bowl. Luke and Gavin had hardly touched their food.
‘I mean human sexual education,’ Gavin said.
‘Oh. Kind of. In biology, we were told to read the section on sexual reproduction ourselves.’
‘Did you?’ Luke asked.
‘Yes. I also know all about the sperm, the ovum, fertilisation and the embryo.’
‘It sounds purely from a scientific point of view.’
‘In our school,’ Gavin commented, ‘we had bananas–’
‘Our school was more into oranges,’ Perdita said. ‘More vitamin C I think.’
‘That’s not what I–’
‘No practical information was given, was it?’ Luke said as he raised his eyebrows at Gavin. ‘It couldn’t have been.’
Miserably, she shook her head. Catholic education clearly had drawbacks.
‘What are you going to do?’ Luke asked.
‘I meant,’ Luke added firmly, raising an exasperated gaze to the ceiling, ‘about the… pollination.’
‘More to the point, what’s he, the man you, erm, with… going to do?’ Gavin asked.
‘I don’t know.’
‘You have told him?’ Luke asked…