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Say You Love Me
Ben Walker sets out to trace his father and discover the truth about his adoption in 1968. But the past holds secrets that his brother Mark is desperate to keep. Old hatreds between the brothers are rekindled and their adopted father is made to face his own guilt over the events of that spring of 1968. Say You Love Me explores how Mark took on the responsibility of the events in his childhood and how that feeling of responsibility stayed with him with disastrous results.
Mark said, ‘I’ve decided to go home.’ In the flat above their florist shop, Luke and Tony looked sympathetic. Carefully, Tony said, ‘When you say home, you mean…?’ ‘Thorp.’ ‘Because …?’ Mark bowed his head, embarrassed by their concern and the careful way they avoided the relevant words. There was a vase of lilies on the mantelpiece and their intense perfume filled the room and deepened the silence he seemed unable to break. He almost blurted out that he was too strange to be sitting here in their tidy living room, that didn’t they think he was polluting the very air they breathed? He was filthy after all – couldn’t they tell? His flesh crawled. He mumbled, ‘I just thought I’d go home – see Dad. A bit of a holiday, really.’ He thought how northern his voice sounded when he couldn’t be bothered. It was a sign of his depression: these slack, Teesside vowels. Luke and Tony exchanged looks and Mark tried to read their expressions, knowing he looked too hopeful. He wanted them to tell him not to go, and that it would all be all right to stay and do nothing. But their pity had become exasperation; he looked down at the glass of wine cradled in his hand. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘I’m afraid I haven’t been much company tonight.’ The two men were quick to deny it. Luke glanced towards the dining table, still littered with coffee cups and wine glasses, the plate of ravaged cheeses sweating and weeping amongst grape stalks and biscuit crumbs. All the other guests had left; only Mark outstayed his welcome. Mark thought of the woman who had sat across the table from him, a dentist with dark, clever eyes, good-looking enough. Luke and Tony had high hopes that he and the dentist would hit if off, hopes that were unspoken, but demonstrated in the way the two men became more flirtatious around them, as though some of their playfulness blue silk sofa. Tony’s arm stretched along the sofa’s back, his fingers dangling millimetres away from Luke’s shoulder. Such casual intimacy used to reassure him: here was love and respect and tenderness. Now it just seemed smug and condescending. He got up, surprising himself with the suddenness of his move so that he felt too big and awkward amongst the knick-knacks and artful arrangements of flowers. He downed the last of his wine in one swallow and knew that he must look rude, in too much of a hurry to leave. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I should go.’ would rub off on their awkward guests. The dentist was called Helen. She was the kind of woman he ought to like but didn’t; adding to his sense of hopelessness. Tony said, ‘Mark, why don’t you come and stay with us for a while?’ Mark thought about staying in Luke and Tony’s spare room, of waiting in bed, listening to the two of them preparing to go downstairs to work. Luke would sing; he sang often, the latest song by Madonna or Kylie, and Tony would nag him to be quick: they had deliveries to attend to, wreaths to assemble. The smell of their coffee would drift into his room like a gentle hint that he should get up and stop moping, although neither of them would use such a word as mope. Luke and Tony believed what he was going through was far too serious for the kind of stiff upper lip, grin-and-bear-it words his father would use. Suddenly he longed to be home, in his bedroom where the bright colours of the Persian rug broke the shadow of the plane tree that grew outside his window, only to remember that it had been days since he’d slept a full night in his bed. Lately he fell into fitful dozes on the couch, afraid of sleeping, of his violent, chaotic dreams. Tony said, ‘Listen, love, the offer stands. If you go home and find you can’t cope with all that family stuff, come back here and stay with us. Or one of us could stay with you. You’re not alone in this.’ Luke said, ‘Of course you’re not.’ I am alone, Mark wanted to say. Utterly, totally. He looked at the two men sitting opposite him on the china