The café had finally started to quieten down after what had been an unusually busy day and Carla couldn't wait until she could spin the sign on the door to closed; she didn't mind at all helping Roy out, but her feet were now really starting to ache and she couldn't wait to get upstairs and kick off her shoes. A few customers still lingered, there was the faint hum of conversation as two women in the corner sat nursing their coffee cups, no doubt dissecting some drama or other just out of earshot. Switching off the grill she absentmindedly started to wipe down the units, smiling at the thought of the evening which lay ahead. It was nothing exciting really, just a quiet one in the Rovers, but it was the first night this week that Peter wasn't working and she couldn't wait to spend some quality time with him. She was also clinging to the hope that Roy's afternoon trek to see some rare bat or other would turn into an overnight trip, it had been weeks since she'd last had the place to herself, and with Peter still living at his dad's, opportunities for time alone were far too scarce. They really needed to work on their living situation, maybe she'd bring it up again later, start making some firm plans.
She heard the café door open and silently cursed the timing as she made her way to the counter, glancing down to check her phone as she spoke, barely hiding her annoyance.
"We're closing up so…"
"Can I just grab a cappuccino to go please?" That voice was oddly familiar.
Her response caught in her throat as she glanced up and realised why. Dominic.
"Carla, of all the greasy spoons in Manchester. You work here?!"
What was he doing here? She suddenly felt nauseous, how could this be happening, she hadn't seen him in years, since they were practically kids. No wait, that wasn't right, she must have seen him. She grabbed the counter for support, not trusting her legs to support her. It almost felt like seeing a ghost or being in a dream, none of this made sense.
"Hey are you alright? Do you need to sit down?" he went to move around the counter towards her as she struggled to regain some sort of composure.
"No I'm fine, it was just a surprise that's all, how long has it been?"
She tried to control her breathing as she took in the man standing across from her. She would have recognised him anywhere, his chiselled jaw, the unruly dark curls that he had spent his childhood trying to form into some semblance of a hairstyle, now worn shorter and peppered with grey, matched by his closely cropped beard. She had fancied him at school; he had that glint in his eye, the cheeky chap, always in trouble, a bit rough around the edges. Not that you would guess that looking at him now; smartly dressed in a pale shirt and black jacket. But hang on she remembered him like this, older as he was now, so she must have seen him fairly recently. This didn't make sense.
She saw a flash of concern as he returned her gaze, "well it was last spring wasn't it, do you really not remember? How about you get me that coffee and we can have a proper catch up?"
"No, I'm not sure that's a good idea, like I said, I'm just closing up. Hang on I'll make it to go."
She needed him to leave, she didn't want to go back to their last meeting; it had begun to dawn on her why it was all so hazy, and it was certainly not a conversation she wanted with practically a stranger.
But he wasn't a stranger was he? At least he hadn't been that night. She could feel the fog beginning to clear, the memory returning. She had thought she had dreamt it. In the unit in Carlisle while she was recovering she had such vivid dreams, she had been certain it was just another one, clearly it wasn't.
"Please Carla, talk to me. Last time I saw you it was all so strange, I did want to get back in touch, check you were OK, but had no idea how to contact you. What did happen?"
Maybe she did owe him an explanation. If only she had one.
"Ok, five minutes, and then you'll go?"
"If that's what you want then yes, of course. I actually have a date in about twenty minutes, the last thing I expected this evening was this!"
"Yeah me too." She took a deep breath as they both sat down at one of the tables, weighing up how much to disclose. "OK total honesty, I was going through something back then, so my memories are pretty hazy. It's not something I want to go over again if I'm honest."
"Yeah me too, I was going through something as well I mean. Do you really not remember? I was clearing out my mum's house, back on the old estate. She had just died, and I was a bit of a mess myself to be honest. I couldn't believe my eyes when you appeared, it was a proper trip down memory lane to tell you the truth." He paused, waiting for her to interject, but Carla stayed silent, so he continued." I invited you in for a drink or three, and then I guess one thing led to another. When I woke up you'd gone, just like that and I didn't see or hear from you again. I had started to wonder if I imagined the whole thing actually, and then I walk in this random café tonight and here you are, large as life. Why did you run that night? I wasn't that much of a disappointment, was I?"
Carla was almost in a trance. She did remember that night, well snapshots of it. Them drinking whiskey, her helping him drown his sorrows, trying anything to forget hers. He had felt familiar when everything else felt so terrifying to her. She remembered wanting to be close to him, the need for human contact. She had instigated it, a lingering kiss, her hands exploring his body. Then they were in bed, bodies intertwined; the sex was almost frantic, she was desperate to escape from her mind, block out everything else. But it didn't work. As she had lain next to him afterwards, listening to the soft breathing as he slept she had felt nothing but self-hatred and confusion, the need to get away. After that her memories blurred again. She looked up, Dominic was still staring at her from across the table, awaiting a response that she didn't feel able to give.
"I think you should go now. I've got a lot to do, and it's past closing, besides, didn't you say you had a date?" She could hear her voice wavering, betraying her as she tried to hide her distress.
"Carla, look I didn't mean to upset you. Maybe we could meet for a coffee next week or something?"
She shook her head, guiding him to the door.
"I really don't think that's a good idea. It was a one, off, best forgotten all round."
"OK, if that's what you want. You take care though yeah?" He smiled kindly before turning to leave.
"Yeah, you too." As the door swung shut behind him she felt an equal mixture of relief, shame and dread. None of this was his fault, she was sure of that. He was collateral damage, left in her wake, as so many men were. Still, she didn't want to ever see him again; and if he had any sense he would leave what happened in the past where it was better for both of them.
Her phone flashed with a message from Peter.
Just on my way back babe. See you in 10 x
Oh God, Peter. How could she have done this to him? The feelings of disgust for herself that were always lurking just below the surface were back with a vengeance. She always ruined everything didn't she? Maybe she shouldn't tell him. It would be kinder after all. He would remain in sweet oblivion even if that wasn't an option for her now. No; if there was one thing the last year had taught her it was that bottling things up was never a good idea, and anyway, she owed him honesty after all he had done for her. She would have to find a way to tell him for both their sakes.
And she knew it couldn't wait. She needed to do it tonight.
A/N I'm trying to decide whether to write chapter 2 (the confession) from Peter or Carla's perspective, or a mixture of both. I'm currently swaying towards Peter, please feel free to leave a comment with any thoughts on which you'd prefer...