WHEN BILLY SAID BUT GRACE I LOVE YOU
I knew things were going to happen. I was seeing Martin at the time, but I didn’t love him. I’d been seeing him for about a year, and I always knew he was more serious about it than I was. It happened like this. Martin said he’d been asked through a friend of a friend if he wanted to play bass in a band. I could see he was excited about something. The covers band Martin was in had packed up a couple of weeks before. He asked me what I thought, if it was worth another go. He’d said when the covers band had packed up he’d had enough of it all, that it was too much hassle, that they were dickheads and he wouldn’t want to go through all that again. I told him lightning never strikes twice, and how would he know if it was a good thing or not if he didn’t give it a try. Strange how life works out. This is how I met Billy… We went to meet them that Friday night. The house looked a bit scruffy from the outside. Martin knocked on the door, and when it opened the first thing was the smell of cat wee. The second thing was this skinny lad with a cheeky smile. Hello, I’m Billy, he said. I liked him straight away. I sometimes joke with Billy that when I smell cat wee I always think of that first time we met. He introduced us to his girlfriend Sarah and his friend Tom. Sarah seemed nice. Tom looked a bit dodgy to be honest. Loads of bad tattoos and a sly grin. Billy and Tom were already half-drunk. We all sat round drinking and talking, listening to music. Billy made me laugh, dancing stupid to this weird hippy music. Then Billy, Tom and Martin got the guitars out and played for a bit. To be fair, it wasn’t very good, but it was fun all the same. We got drunk on cheap wine and vodka. Me and Billy talked to each other loads. Sarah kept giving me these funny looks. By midnight I was really drunk and felt sick. Billy helped me outside and held my hair as I threw up in his front garden. He told me he liked me, and then we kissed… Things happened quickly. Within a few weeks me and Billy were living together. A bedsit in town. Martin kept coming into work, bugging me about Billy, telling me I needed to be careful. It didn’t matter though, Billy told me he’d done some iffy stuff in the past, but I told him, I said, Billy, what’s gone is gone, and what matters now is now… Mum wasn’t very happy. She fell out with me a bit for moving in with Billy. She said I hardly knew him, and that I ought to take my time. I said But Mum, you and Dad only knew each other three months before you got married. Mum said, Yes, and look what happened there. I told her she needed to get over all that, that it was years ago when Dad left, and that she ought to get herself another man. She told me I was being stupid, that she was too old for such stuff, and anyway, this wasn’t about her, this was about me and Billy. Then she said there was something about Billy she didn’t trust. This is where we fell out. We’re okay now though, and she’s even started seeing a widower called Frank. My sister and brother aren’t crazy about it all, but I’m working on them.
It was tough at first in the bedsit. But fun. We didn’t have much money so we used to stay in, watch telly, listen to records and play board games. Billy said he was sick of all the mad stuff, and he wanted to settle down. He got a job at Halfords selling bikes. I knew he hated it, but he stuck at it to help pay the bills. He still played guitar a bit, just for fun, but he didn’t see Tom anymore, which I was quite happy about. Not that I’d choose Billy’s friends for him, but there was something about Tom I didn’t like. I think he was a bad influence on Billy. We stayed at the bedsit for about six months, saved up a little money, and put it towards a deposit on a house. We found a little two-up two-down we liked on the outskirts of Chesterfield, so we went to the bank and sorted a mortgage out. I’d started working as a secretary at a legal firm, and the money was better so we were doing alright. We got the legal fees a little cheaper too, which helped. We moved in on the first of September 1988. Mum was okay with me by then, but Billy still wasn’t getting on with his mum and dad. They’d had another big fall out and Billy had said some angry things to them on the phone one night. I know he can have a temper about him, but he’s always sorry afterwards. Billy said he used to drink too much too often, and it didn’t suit him. He said that any big problems he’d had in his life were when he drank too much. Sure, we have a drink now and then, like on Friday nights when we buy some wine and watch the comedy shows on Channel Four, but Billy doesn’t get drunk that much. There are times when we fall out a little though. We always make up pretty quickly, and making up is always good… The worst I saw Billy was last New Year’s Eve when he phoned his mum and dad up. Billy was shouting at his dad saying TELL ME YOU LOVE ME and he kept shouting SAY IT SAY IT, which his dad did do in the end. And then Billy’s mum got on the phone and Billy started shouting that she’d never loved him either, that he was a just a complication to her, a mistake, that she didn’t really want him in the first place… Billy was really down the next day. He often is when he’s had too much to drink the night before. I think he drinks too much sometimes because he’s hurting somewhere. I think he hurts because he doesn’t know his real dad. He’s said as much to me some nights when we talk.
Yesterday when I came home from work Billy had made a settee for us. The second-hand one that we’d bought when we first moved in had broken and we couldn’t afford a new one. Billy used the cushions off the old one, built a base out of scrubbed-up bricks from the backyard and covered it all in an old blanket with little elephants on it. It looked beautiful. I cried when I saw it. His mum and dad don’t seem to see this side of him. Billy can be really sweet when he wants to be. One night last week, I came downstairs to see what he was doing. It was late and he hadn’t come to bed. He was looking through the phone book. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was looking for his father. He looked empty. When he’s like that he has this look in his eyes like he can’t actually see me. I’m going to make Billy better. I’m going to love him and look after him. I think I want to marry him, have kids with him. He’s not a bad person like some people think. He just gets lost sometimes… That’s all.