Splitting The Difference by AL Bowden

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Splitting The Difference
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Inca sat rolling peas across her plate into undercooked cut green beans she had arranged like skittles. Nobody really noticed, not even mummy. Everyone, except Inca and Perth were concentrating intently on their lunch following Perth's outburst.
Inca missed daddy a lot, Perth did as well but wouldn't admit to it, in reality though it had hit him harder. As long as Inca had her dolls and a swing in the garden, she was more or less content anywhere. Mummy's new special friend, Paul, didn't make the same sound effects as daddy when he read her a bedtime story, but he tried and he always left the bedroom door ajar so a sliver of light could sneak in when he left. Daddy always forgot and in the darkness Inca sensed her toys moving, which scared her. At daddy's house, she slept half way down the bed in a ball under the duvet, where the toys couldn't get her, Inca knew you were always safe if you hid under the duvet.
Her brother, Perth, being almost twice her age at eleven and a half years old, wasn't so easily pleased. In truth, he didn't really dislike Paul, he was OK. Perth just disliked the way he was overly chummy, calling him mate, mock punching him on the arm and trying to play football with him, when in Perth's view he was rubbish at it.
Perth couldn't understand why mum and dad couldn't work it out, why they all couldn't go back to being a normal family. He tried to pointedly exclude dad's new girlfriend, but he had to admit she was quite nice, and it was difficult being mean to her. He tried to ignore his mum pinching Paul's bum, or going all girly gooey-eyed at him to get her own way. He'd bought some earplugs to block out the bumps and squeaks and groans coming from their room next door to his when they thought he was asleep, or just didn't care.
And they'd had to move now. Perth hated that. At his new school kids poked fun at his name and sniggered at him. It was different for Inca, everyone thought her name was unusual or mystical, but his name was plain stupid. The boys at his new school already had their own groups of friends, so he didn't fit in and found himself alone with a football most break times kicking it against a wall or playing keepy-uppy. He lived for the weekends when he could see his dad and his friends again, even though he was beginning to feel as though he didn't fit in with them now as well. Where did he belong? Things had changed again since dad had moved her in. Perth and Inca were not allowed to mention her name in mummy's house, so they couldn't even talk about how they felt. If anyone had bothered to ask Perth how he felt, he would have said his insides had been shaken up and put back in the wrong places. If there was just some routine, something tangible to hold onto, he might feel more settled. At home, if that's what it was, Paul was not particularly experienced in handling children and he had no idea what Perth was going through.
That's why the outburst had occurred. Perth had not wanted to return early from his dad's. He wanted to stay until Sunday afternoon, like they always did. He didn't want to come back and have a 'family' lunch with Paul's pathetic parents. He had considered organising a solitary sit-in and refusing to be moved, but he knew that wouldn't have worked. Someone would have picked him up and forcibly removed him. So now he sat sulking, arms crossed, food hardly touched, banging the sole of his trainer against the chair leg. Creating an atmosphere, he had decided, was a far more effective way of protesting.
Paul had gone to a lot of trouble to cook an impressive lunch. Perth's mum couldn't cook unless it came out of a freezer and just needed shoving in the oven or microwave. She said she never had time to cook. She was too busy keeping her attractive youthful looks. That was probably true and she did have an extraordinary collection of gunk. Perth thought some looked like Inca's nappy contents had, some smelled quite similar.
The protest had started fairly low level.
Perth prodded a soft orange heap with his fork.
'What's that?'He demanded, insolence dripping like treacle through his tone of voice.
'It's mashed roasted butternut squash.' Paul replied, smiling.
Perth immediately stated he didn't like it.
'You've never tried it,' his mother said.
Perth refused to eat it claiming it looked like dog pooh. Only he used a swear word instead, because Perth knew a sure-fire way to embarrass adults is to swear in front of people they are trying to impress.
'Leave it and don't fuss!' His mother, April, growled at him.
Perth made a show of jabbing his fork into the contents of his plate, studying it, tutting and plonking it down noisily. Although he was hungry, he was determined not to eat much. He hacked off a piece of peppered steak with the edge of his fork, chewed and swallowed then pretended to choke on it. Clutching his throat dramatically, Perth called Paul a particularly rude word for idiot and accused him of using too much pepper.

Eyes on one side of the table were trying not to meet eyes on the other side of the table. Meanwhile, Paul was struggling with an urge to reach out and knock Perth off his chair. The girl was a sweetie, but the boy, he could be a nightmare. Heaven knew he'd tried with him. If he'd realised the baggage April had he may have thought twice. He glanced at her, feeling the usual burning in his young loins. For a woman in her forties, she was incredibly sexy and still very sex-driven.
Then Perth let his cutlery crash onto his plate and sat back with his arms folded. April scolded him and Perth answered her back, scattering the F-word through his sentence for ultimate effect.
Paul's mother raised an eyebrow in Paul's father's direction and inhaled in a way that displayed her immense disapproval. The age difference between April and Paul was bad enough, she was nearly twenty years his senior. It was almost obscene. Now they had to contend with her unruly children, while April was contending with her unruly breast struggling to get free from an inappropriate dress for a woman her age.
'Perhaps we should go,' Paul's father said, placing his napkin on the table.
'No. No, please. Stay. I'm sorry,' April apologised. She turned to Perth. 'You, young man, and I, will have this out later. Now sit there and shut up or go to your room.'
Even the calming Amazonian rainforest music did little to soothe the situation. Perth was extremely pleased with himself. While his face looked like thunder, inside he was a ray of sunshine. As desert was served, except to Perth, the mood started to lighten.
Paul had made ice-cream cake and a rich chocolate sauce, especially for Inca. Inca insisted on digging her fingers into it instead of using a spoon, but because of her age, it was amusing rather than being construed as misbehaving. Besides, it was clear Inca hadn't meant to be naughty. In her eagerness to consume as much as possible in as little time as possible, she had simply worked out she could fit more in her hands than onto a spoon. It was endearing, and it took the heat off Perth as Paul's parents cooed over Inca and made 'sweetheart' comments about her.

Paul's parents passed up the offer of coffee and left. They had met April before and found her to be a little Bohemian, not their type of person at all. They couldn't understand what their son, with his university degree and well-paid job was doing with an older hippy-type woman with undisciplined free-ranging children when he could have any nice girl he chose. Charlotte, the orthopaedic registrar he'd been seeing previously, was far more his type. Albeit, she had been on the obsessive side, calling his office or mobile upwards of a dozen times a day, and leaving abusive messages if she couldn't reach him, but she was generally charming enough and they would have had beautiful, intelligent, disciplined children. And she had her own money. That Bohemian with her voluntary work and poorly paid charity job, earning her a pittance, was clearly siphoning off Paul's pot of money to fund lavish living for herself and her ungrateful churlish children.
Paul parents had suspected the Bohemian's children would be wild and unkempt. They had commented to Paul that their names were more suited to cats than children, and while the younger child was a sweet thing, the older had proved to be a disobedient brat. Paul's parents couldn't abide lack of discipline in children.
While they were again discussing this very fact in the car on their way home, April was chastising Perth and Paul was attempting to undress and placate a wailing Inca who wanted her daddy after having vomited most of the ice-cream cake she had gorged over the table cloth.
Paul, a twenty-four year old computer technician, had never really had serious or long-term relationships. Six months was about as long-term as he had experienced.
April and Paul had met in the city library. April liked to think they had reached for the same book and brushed hands, but in actual fact he had knocked a can of dandelion and burdock and it had spilled onto her lap. April had made a fuss and they had both got thrown out. Outside, she had swung her bag at him and caught him squarely in the groin as he turned to apologise to her.
Sat on a bench while Paul regained his breath and the ability to stand up straight, let alone walk, they laughed the episode off and an hour and an ice-cream later, April agreed to meet him for a drink.
Thus began the deception of April attending a weekly yoga class and several weekend yoga retreats. April's husband, Justin, termed her as high-maintenance. She was moody, fiery and difficult. She was very forthright about what she wanted and how, especially where sex was concerned. April was also self-centred and intense. Her plus points were her enthusiasm that swept you along, even if you didn't want to be swept, and her passion. Although she was extremely hard work, she was immense fun. Their marriage had always been tempestuous, but the kids had made it worthwhile putting in the extra effort. Besides, generally when April exploded it blew over quickly and everyone got back to normal, providing she had got her own way, or reached a compromise that weighed heavily in her favour.
Perth had been conceived on honeymoon and Inca had been conceived on their second honeymoon when trying to get their wayward marriage back on track after April's second affair and Justin's first. Trekking the Inca trail had been April's idea. Justin would rather have gone to Barbados or somewhere far less challenging with cocktails, long beaches and blue sea. He was surprised how much he had enjoyed it, but just a few short months after their return, April was unsatisfied again. Putting it down to her hormones, Justin ignored the regular outrage targeted at him.
When Inca was born, April was transformed. Serenity seemed to exude from her while she had total control over this dependent package, then Inca started school. April became depressed; she lost interest in her job, the children, her husband and the house. Perth attempted to wash his own clothes in desperation and flooded the kitchen. April hit him.
Immediately after, April had stormed out of the house and headed for the library. A place where she knew she would have to sit still and be quiet. She needed to force herself to do this. Then she met Paul.
Deception came easily to her. She told barefaced lies with virtually no guilty feeling. There had been no plan to the affair. It just happened. April had never talked about leaving Justin. They still had a fantastic sexual relationship. Then suddenly without warning, Justin had thrown her out telling her he knew about Paul.
Paul hadn't even thought about living with April, let alone her children. He couldn't remember agreeing to it. She just arrived and moved in. April wasn't a woman that would tolerate being questioned or refused anything. She decided the flat was too small and they had bought this house, Paul knew they couldn't really afford it.
Now, the smell of her saddened him when usually it made him lusty. Lunch had been disastrous because of Perth. He'd now given his parents ample ammunition. His mother would be firing quips at him for weeks to come. Paul sighed. He ached a lot these days. He put his hand up to manipulate the muscles on his neck and shoulders. A man his age shouldn't feel this tired. He thought about the bag he had packed and hidden in the airing cupboard after putting Inca to bed. He thought about where he might go with it. April nestled into him on the sofa, kissed his neck and ran her hand up his thigh. Sitting up, she eyed him in a way that she knew melted him.
'It's time for bed,' April whispered, smiling.
Paul didn't disagree. He decided he'd stay for tonight at least. Perhaps he'd feel differently tomorrow.

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Inca sat rolling peas across her plate into undercooked cut green beans she had arranged like skittles. Nobody really noticed, not even mummy. Everyone, except Inca and Perth were concentrating intently on their lunch following Perth's outburst.

Inca missed daddy a lot, Perth did as well but wouldn't admit to it, in reality though it had hit him harder. As long as Inca had her dolls and a swing in the garden, she was more or less content anywhere. Mummy's new special friend, Paul, didn't make the same sound effects as daddy when he read her a bedtime story, but he tried and he always left the bedroom door ajar so a sliver of light could sneak in when he left. Daddy always forgot and in the darkness Inca sensed her toys moving, which scared her. At daddy's house, she slept half way down the bed in a ball under the duvet, where the toys couldn't get her, Inca knew you were always safe if you hid under the duvet.

Her brother, Perth, being almost twice her age at eleven and a half years old, wasn't so easily pleased. In truth, he didn't really dislike Paul, he was OK. Perth just disliked the way he was overly chummy, calling him mate, mock punching him on the arm and trying to play football with him, when in Perth's view he was rubbish at it.

Perth couldn't understand why mum and dad couldn't work it out, why they all couldn't go back to being a normal family. He tried to pointedly exclude dad's new girlfriend, but he had to admit she was quite nice, and it was difficult being mean to her. He tried to ignore his mum pinching Paul's bum, or going all girly gooey-eyed at him to get her own way. He'd bought some earplugs to block out the bumps and squeaks and groans coming from their room next door to his when they thought he was asleep, or just didn't care.

And they'd had to move now. Perth hated that. At his new school kids poked fun at his name and sniggered at him. It was different for Inca, everyone thought her name was unusual or mystical, but his name was plain stupid. The boys at his new school already had their own groups of friends, so he didn't fit in and found himself alone with a football most break times kicking it against a wall or playing keepy-uppy. He lived for the weekends when he could see his dad and his friends again, even though he was beginning to feel as though he didn't fit in with them now as well. Where did he belong? Things had changed again since dad had moved her in. Perth and Inca were not allowed to mention her name in mummy's house, so they couldn't even talk about how they felt. If anyone had bothered to ask Perth how he felt, he would have said his insides had been shaken up and put back in the wrong places. If there was just some routine, something tangible to hold onto, he might feel more settled. At home, if that's what it was, Paul was not particularly experienced in handling children and he had no idea what Perth was going through.

That's why the outburst had occurred. Perth had not wanted to return early from his dad's. He wanted to stay until Sunday afternoon, like they always did. He didn't want to come back and have a 'family' lunch with Paul's pathetic parents. He had considered organising a solitary sit-in and refusing to be moved, but he knew that wouldn't have worked. Someone would have picked him up and forcibly removed him. So now he sat sulking, arms crossed, food hardly touched, banging the sole of his trainer against the chair leg. Creating an atmosphere, he had decided, was a far more effective way of protesting.

Paul had gone to a lot of trouble to cook an impressive lunch. Perth's mum couldn't cook unless it came out of a freezer and just needed shoving in the oven or microwave. She said she never had time to cook. She was too busy keeping her attractive youthful looks. That was probably true and she did have an extraordinary collection of gunk. Perth thought some looked like Inca's nappy contents had, some smelled quite similar.

The protest had started fairly low level.

Perth prodded a soft orange heap with his fork.

'What's that?'He demanded, insolence dripping like treacle through his tone of voice.

'It's mashed roasted butternut squash.' Paul replied, smiling.

Perth immediately stated he didn't like it.

'You've never tried it,' his mother said.

Perth refused to eat it claiming it looked like dog pooh. Only he used a swear word instead, because Perth knew a sure-fire way to embarrass adults is to swear in front of people they are trying to impress.

'Leave it and don't fuss!' His mother, April, growled at him.

Perth made a show of jabbing his fork into the contents of his plate, studying it, tutting and plonking it down noisily. Although he was hungry, he was determined not to eat much. He hacked off a piece of peppered steak with the edge of his fork, chewed and swallowed then pretended to choke on it. Clutching his throat dramatically, Perth called Paul a particularly rude word for idiot and accused him of using too much pepper.



Eyes on one side of the table were trying not to meet eyes on the other side of the table. Meanwhile, Paul was struggling with an urge to reach out and knock Perth off his chair. The girl was a sweetie, but the boy, he could be a nightmare. Heaven knew he'd tried with him. If he'd realised the baggage April had he may have thought twice. He glanced at her, feeling the usual burning in his young loins. For a woman in her forties, she was incredibly sexy and still very sex-driven.

Then Perth let his cutlery crash onto his plate and sat back with his arms folded. April scolded him and Perth answered her back, scattering the F-word through his sentence for ultimate effect.

Paul's mother raised an eyebrow in Paul's father's direction and inhaled in a way that displayed her immense disapproval. The age difference between April and Paul was bad enough, she was nearly twenty years his senior. It was almost obscene. Now they had to contend with her unruly children, while April was contending with her unruly breast struggling to get free from an inappropriate dress for a woman her age.

'Perhaps we should go,' Paul's father said, placing his napkin on the table.

'No. No, please. Stay. I'm sorry,' April apologised. She turned to Perth. 'You, young man, and I, will have this out later. Now sit there and shut up or go to your room.'

Even the calming Amazonian rainforest music did little to soothe the situation. Perth was extremely pleased with himself. While his face looked like thunder, inside he was a ray of sunshine. As desert was served, except to Perth, the mood started to lighten.

Paul had made ice-cream cake and a rich chocolate sauce, especially for Inca. Inca insisted on digging her fingers into it instead of using a spoon, but because of her age, it was amusing rather than being construed as misbehaving. Besides, it was clear Inca hadn't meant to be naughty. In her eagerness to consume as much as possible in as little time as possible, she had simply worked out she could fit more in her hands than onto a spoon. It was endearing, and it took the heat off Perth as Paul's parents cooed over Inca and made 'sweetheart' comments about her.



Paul's parents passed up the offer of coffee and left. They had met April before and found her to be a little Bohemian, not their type of person at all. They couldn't understand what their son, with his university degree and well-paid job was doing with an older hippy-type woman with undisciplined free-ranging children when he could have any nice girl he chose. Charlotte, the orthopaedic registrar he'd been seeing previously, was far more his type. Albeit, she had been on the obsessive side, calling his office or mobile upwards of a dozen times a day, and leaving abusive messages if she couldn't reach him, but she was generally charming enough and they would have had beautiful, intelligent, disciplined children. And she had her own money. That Bohemian with her voluntary work and poorly paid charity job, earning her a pittance, was clearly siphoning off Paul's pot of money to fund lavish living for herself and her ungrateful churlish children.

Paul parents had suspected the Bohemian's children would be wild and unkempt. They had commented to Paul that their names were more suited to cats than children, and while the younger child was a sweet thing, the older had proved to be a disobedient brat. Paul's parents couldn't abide lack of discipline in children.

While they were again discussing this very fact in the car on their way home, April was chastising Perth and Paul was attempting to undress and placate a wailing Inca who wanted her daddy after having vomited most of the ice-cream cake she had gorged over the table cloth.

Paul, a twenty-four year old computer technician, had never really had serious or long-term relationships. Six months was about as long-term as he had experienced.

April and Paul had met in the city library. April liked to think they had reached for the same book and brushed hands, but in actual fact he had knocked a can of dandelion and burdock and it had spilled onto her lap. April had made a fuss and they had both got thrown out. Outside, she had swung her bag at him and caught him squarely in the groin as he turned to apologise to her.

Sat on a bench while Paul regained his breath and the ability to stand up straight, let alone walk, they laughed the episode off and an hour and an ice-cream later, April agreed to meet him for a drink.

Thus began the deception of April attending a weekly yoga class and several weekend yoga retreats. April's husband, Justin, termed her as high-maintenance. She was moody, fiery and difficult. She was very forthright about what she wanted and how, especially where sex was concerned. April was also self-centred and intense. Her plus points were her enthusiasm that swept you along, even if you didn't want to be swept, and her passion. Although she was extremely hard work, she was immense fun. Their marriage had always been tempestuous, but the kids had made it worthwhile putting in the extra effort. Besides, generally when April exploded it blew over quickly and everyone got back to normal, providing she had got her own way, or reached a compromise that weighed heavily in her favour.

Perth had been conceived on honeymoon and Inca had been conceived on their second honeymoon when trying to get their wayward marriage back on track after April's second affair and Justin's first. Trekking the Inca trail had been April's idea. Justin would rather have gone to Barbados or somewhere far less challenging with cocktails, long beaches and blue sea. He was surprised how much he had enjoyed it, but just a few short months after their return, April was unsatisfied again. Putting it down to her hormones, Justin ignored the regular outrage targeted at him.

When Inca was born, April was transformed. Serenity seemed to exude from her while she had total control over this dependent package, then Inca started school. April became depressed; she lost interest in her job, the children, her husband and the house. Perth attempted to wash his own clothes in desperation and flooded the kitchen. April hit him.

Immediately after, April had stormed out of the house and headed for the library. A place where she knew she would have to sit still and be quiet. She needed to force herself to do this. Then she met Paul.

Deception came easily to her. She told barefaced lies with virtually no guilty feeling. There had been no plan to the affair. It just happened. April had never talked about leaving Justin. They still had a fantastic sexual relationship. Then suddenly without warning, Justin had thrown her out telling her he knew about Paul.

Paul hadn't even thought about living with April, let alone her children. He couldn't remember agreeing to it. She just arrived and moved in. April wasn't a woman that would tolerate being questioned or refused anything. She decided the flat was too small and they had bought this house, Paul knew they couldn't really afford it.

Now, the smell of her saddened him when usually it made him lusty. Lunch had been disastrous because of Perth. He'd now given his parents ample ammunition. His mother would be firing quips at him for weeks to come. Paul sighed. He ached a lot these days. He put his hand up to manipulate the muscles on his neck and shoulders. A man his age shouldn't feel this tired. He thought about the bag he had packed and hidden in the airing cupboard after putting Inca to bed. He thought about where he might go with it. April nestled into him on the sofa, kissed his neck and ran her hand up his thigh. Sitting up, she eyed him in a way that she knew melted him.

'It's time for bed,' April whispered, smiling.

Paul didn't disagree. He decided he'd stay for tonight at least. Perhaps he'd feel differently tomorrow.

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