Imogen was making the bed when she saw Cherith and Henry coming up the garden path. Yesterday had been hard and she was hoping to have a day off. It seemed she was not going to get it. She went through to the sitting room and opened the French windows.
‘Hello.’ She stood in the widows and wondered what was going to be coming her way. Her father didn’t look like he was in one of his moods, but you could never quite tell. Her mother looked happy, properly happy, though.
‘Morning darling.’ Cherith threw her arms around Imogen and gave her a big hug.
‘Morning. What brings you here this early? Nothing wrong is there?’ She glanced from one to the other.
‘Not at all. We’ve come to say goodbye.’
‘We’re going back to London.’ Henry added. He was still not looking directly at his daughter.
‘That’s good.’ Imogen turned to Cherith. ‘Is it good?’
‘Yes it is. We’ve been talking and we’ve sorted a few things out. Let’s just say I think things will be a little different from now on.’ Cherith gave Imogen’s hand a little squeeze.
‘I’m glad.’ She turned to Henry. ‘Hello dad. Are you going to talk to me at all?’
Henry lifted his head and straightened his back. ‘I had a lot of thing I wanted to say to you young lady.’ He gave Cherith a sideways glance. ‘On reflection, though, I think it would be better if we put the past behind us.’
Cherith gave a forced chough.
‘Yes…well. There is one thing I do have to say.’
The two women stood in expectation while Henry fidgeted.
‘I’m sorry Imogen.’ He said at last. ‘I did not behave very well over the whole James thing. I made some bad decisions. I’m sorry if they have impacted badly on you, or made you unhappy at all.’ There, he had said his piece. He took a slight step back and waited.
‘Thank you dad, I appreciate that.’ She stepped forward and gave him a hug. He stiffened a little, but he put his arms around her shoulders.
‘So.’ Imogen said stepping back onto the patio. ‘Are you off today?’
‘In a minuet, yes. The car’s are all packed.’
‘Yes I suppose you’re going to have to travel in convoy.’
‘We are. And I’m leading.’ Cherith said with a smile.
Henry gave something that approached a smile. He wasn’t at all keen on the idea. He had an opinion on women drivers, which he decided might not be welcome right now. He would see how it went. He was going to have to see how a lot of thing went from now on. Cherith had said a lot of things over the past day, things that he was not at all comfortable hearing. He was feeling decidedly bruised. Still the verbal hand bagging had been good for him. Last night he had cried for the first time in fifty years, more probably. There was so much that he had been keeping back for so long. He told Cherith how much he had missed her and how scared he had been that she might not come back. He told her about the bullying he had gone through at school, something he had never told anyone before. He told her about creeping into Imogen’s room when Cherith was sleeping. In turn she gave him hell about his interference with James.
Imogen was the only one who had never given him a hard time about it. When he pointed that out Cherith had said it was because Imogen was scared of him. That had hurt. He knew there had been a distance opening up between him and Imogen, but to be scared of him? That was terrible. Had he really been such a bad father? All he had ever tried to do was protect her from things that might hurt her or cause her trouble. That was why he had to get her away from Rowena. His sister was too far beyond everything that he wanted for his daughter. He saw how close they were and he was jealous. But he was also scared for her. Rowena’s life looked romantic and appealing from the outside, but he had seen what their parents had been through, how worried they were for her. And she had died alone in the end hadn’t she? There were friends, but no one really special, no one whose life would be devastated by her death. He didn’t want that for Imogen. He wanted her to be loved and cherished and looked after. The trouble was he had gone about it the wrong way. He had tried to force all that on her rather that letting her find it for herself. He had never seen it like that until Cherith pointed it out. James kept going on about him selling Imogen, which he had taken great offence at. But Cherith had made him look at it from the outside. It had gone quite spectacularly wrong. He said he would put it right, but Cherith said to leave them alone. She said that the best thing he could do was apologise to them and let them get on with it. If they got back together it had to be their decision. If they didn’t then they needed to be there for Imogen, but only if she wanted them. He had to accept that his little girl had grown up now and had to make her own mistakes.
Now he watched his only child moving about what was now her house. She was so at home, so settled and he hated himself for stopping her from coming here. Maybe if he had let her keep coming then things would be different now. It was no good going down that path. You could what if all day. Whatever had gone before she seemed happy now, alone but happy. It was not the life he had chosen for her, but it was the life she had chosen for herself. He had to accept that. However much he might want to he couldn’t control everyone and everything. It was just a shame that it had taken seventy years to realise it. Maybe it was too late for him to be happy himself, but he could try his hardest to make sure Cherith and Imogen were.
They sat in the kitchen drinking tea and eating toast. Henry made no comment when Imogen set a pottery mug down in front of him.
‘So how did last night go?’ Cherith asked.
‘Quite well actually. He has changed. I thought his name might be poison at the moment.’ Imogen glanced at Henry.
‘I can’t say I’m happy at the way he had gone about this new enterprise of his. I might have been better if he had talked to me about his plans. But it’s done now. I’m sure, one day, we will be able to be friends again.’ He tried another smile.
‘Just don’t let him rush you into making any decisions you’re not happy with.’ Cherith said.
‘No. Not this time.’ She couldn’t help a quick glance at Henry.
Henry looked at his watch. ‘I think we should be getting on.’
‘Oh.’ Cherith looked at her own watch. ‘Yes I suppose we should. Oh darling are you going to be all right?’
‘I’ll be fine mum. Honestly I will.’ She could see the look on her mother’s face. ‘I know were you are.’
‘Call me whenever you want to.’
They stood up and went out to the patio. Imogen gave them each a hug.
‘I love you darling.’ Henry whispered into her hair.
‘I love you too dad.’ She whispered back.
She stood and watched them until they disappeared around the corner in the path. She stayed on the patio until she heard the gate squeak. She was glad they were going back to London together. When Cherith had first arrived Imogen had been worried it meant she had left him. She knew it made her a hypocrite, but she hated the thought that her parents might separate. It was ok for her to leave James, but somehow not ok for Cherith to leave Henry.
Ok, so now her parents were on their way home. Maybe she could have her peaceful day.
Well her day might have been quiet after Henry and Cherith left, but it wasn’t peaceful. She tried weeding, she tried ironing, she tried gong for a walk along the cliffs. Nothing worked. All day her head had been buzzing with confused thoughts. In the morning she was going to drive Philip to the airport and say goodbye to him, probably forever. That was going to be hard enough. On top of that there was James waiting at the hotel to call her. She said to give her a couple of days, she hoped, this time, he would respect that. Although he said he was happy to wait for her to be sure of what she wanted before she gave him any decision, she knew he was waiting. That made it more urgent. It might not be such a bad thing. It would make her think about it properly. But she was afraid of making the wrong one again. It was vital for both of them that they were both sure this time. A week ago she thought she knew what she wanted, divorce. But that had been a knee jerk reaction. It was what people in their part of the world did when they were unhappy. There weren’t many people she knew back in London that hadn’t been divorced at least once. She thought she had left her London mindset behind, but maybe it would never leave her. One thing Cornwall had taught her was to take her time. That was exactly what she was going to do.
She spent the day mulling over the various options. She could stay here and James could go back to London. She could go back with him and they could go back to the old life. She could go back with him and they could do as he suggested and move to the counties. And then there were the option Philip had suggested, that she go back to London but not back to James. She could rent a flat near his new office and come down here at weekends. And then there was another option that was starting to form in her mind.
The next morning she was up early. Philip’s flight wasn’t until three but they had to drive to Exeter. He was only flying as far as Heathrow from there, but it was quicker than driving. He wasn’t flying home to Australia until tonight, but their time together would end at Exeter. It was a long drive though and they needed to make an early start. All the extra security these days meant he had to be there in plenty of time before the flight.
‘Hi.’ Philip was bang on time. He stood on the patio with the cartoon-sized rucksack; one false move and he would turn into a beetle on his back unable to get up.
‘Are you ok with that?’
‘Oh yeah. This has been everywhere with me.’
‘As I’ll ever be.’
They loaded the rucksack into the back seat of the beetle; it wouldn’t go in to boot.
‘How was it with James?’
‘Ok. I was pleasantly surprised I have to say. He said a lot of things. I said a lot of things. We’re not there yet, wherever there is, but we’re on the way.’
‘Yes. The idea of divorce is on hold for now anyway. He’s still here though. I don’t know how long he’s staying. I told him I needed a couple of days.’
‘He’s not putting any pressure on you is he?’ Philip frowned.
‘No. Don’t worry I’m not falling for that again. I’ve listened to you. I’m going to think about it and then talk to him about it, then think about it some more.’
The check in was deserted when they got there and they had plenty of time. They decided to go a get coffee. It was a delaying tactic. They both new that as soon as he had checked in he would have to go through security to the departure lounge, never to be seen again. Exeter was a small airport and a private goodbye was not going to be an option. Instead they sat in the little coffee shop and watched the slow drip of people arrive and take their place in the queue.
‘You’ll have to join the queue soon.’ Imogen nodded to the ever growing line of people snaking around the check in desks.
‘I will. In a minuet. I want to look at you for a bit longer first.’
Imogen felt herself blush. She still hadn’t got used to his openness.
The moment came and Philip got up and grappled with his rucksack. They wandered over to the queue and joined it. She moved along with him and watched as he eventually handed his documents over to the nice girl behind the desk. This was it then, he really was going. All summer this moment had been hanging over them. Now it was here it wasn’t anything like she had been imagining. He stood at one side of the check in desks with his turtle shell rucksack. Security was just a few steps away.
‘This is it then.’ She said.
‘This is it.’
He slipped the rucksack off his back and pulled her to him. He kissed her. She slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him back.
‘I’m going to miss you so much.’ He said at last.
‘I’ll miss you to.’
‘I haven’t told you this because I didn’t think it would be helpful. I’ve fallen in love with you Gin.’
‘It’s ok. I needed you to know before I went.’
‘Don’t be. I knew you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it if I told you before. And I didn’t want you to feel guilty. I’ll never forget you. Even if I end up married with a dozen kids there will always be a part of me that will be yours. Promise me that if you ever need anything you’ll call me. I’ll fly back anytime. Call me anyway, now and again?’
‘Of course I will.’ She felt the tears pricking at the back of her eyes.
‘Make him deserve you.’
‘I will.’ The tears were running down their cheeks now.
‘Goodbye Imogen Lampress.’ He hugged her close and breathed in a last scent of her.
‘Goodbye.’ She wiped her eyes and watched him disappear through security. He would be here a couple of hours yet, but as far as she was concerned he was gone. There was nothing to hang around for, no point in trying to wait and watch his plane leave. She turned and went back to the car.
Imogen lay in bed and watched the curtains hovering in the breeze from the open windows. It was the end of September but it was still just warm enough to sleep with the windows open. She could never do this in London. Even though they lived in the suburbs at the end of a long drive, it was still too noisy. She tried to remember the last time she had heard a siren. It was weeks ago. She was in town doing some shopping when an ambulance screamed past. It had made her jump and she stopped and stared as if she hadn’t ever seen one before. Back in London they were so common you just stopped hearing them.
Now she lay there and listened to the silence. There were the birds, the rustle of the trees, the swish of the curtains and Boris purring, and that was all. She closed her eyes and wished her life was as peaceful. Yesterday she had said goodbye to Philip, today she would have to call James. It wasn’t fair to let him dangle there in that hotel. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the future. If she imagined herself in a years time where was she and what was she doing? She couldn’t imagine herself back in London, but she couldn’t imagine James living here either. This wasn’t a house for more than one person. She was only in her mid twenties, there was every possibility she would soon want children. There was no way she could raise a family here with only one bedroom. Maybe she could extend, but that would kill the character of the place. There was another option she had been mulling over, but she wasn’t sure James would go for it. She screwed her eyes up. This was all so far in the future and so vague. It wasn’t helpful to think like this. She needed to focus on the next few weeks.
A lot could happen in a year. Things she could never plan for. Rowena always told her to go with whatever was flowing, to only bother worrying about things you can change. They were clichés but they were also true. What did she want right now? That was what she needed to think about. Whatever decision she made she couldn’t be sure it was the right one, no one ever does. Only time would tell her that. She had taken a big chance walking out and coming here. That could have gone very wrong, but it hadn’t. She had been so happy this summer. She had learnt a lot about herself and about what she wanted in life. She wanted to carry on being this happy. Then James had appeared to threaten that happiness, or so she had first thought. As soon as she saw him she thought the rug was about to be rudely pulled out from under her. It was true he had given the edge of the rug a little tug, but so far it was still there.
She wanted to believe he had changed as much as he seemed to. She wanted to believe they could find a way forward. If he could show her, prove to her, that he was a different person now than there might be a future for them. There would have to be conditions, there would have to be a safety net this time. It would be only too easy for James to get caught up in this new business and for things to go back to the way they were, whatever his intentions. She would have to make it clear to him that she wasn’t prepared to go back to that.
Well it was all very well laying here thinking about it. She needed to get up and do something. Boris objected when she moved the leg he was lying on. He stretched and jumped off the bed. Imogen followed him into the kitchen.
‘We’ll have breakfast first Boris. I’ll call him in a bit.’
‘Good, we agree then.’ She got them both breakfast. She took hers into the sitting room.
After a while Boris wandered through and gave her a look.
‘I know. But I’ll shower and get dressed first. I’ll call him then.’
‘You know it’s amazing how we seem to think the same things.’ She wandered into the bathroom and showered. Then she took her time deciding what to wear. Boris came and jumped onto the bed.
‘Meow.’ He sounded more forceful this time.
‘Yes I will call him. I said I will and I will.’
‘Meow.’ Boris jumped off the bed and went and sat by the phone.
‘Oh you’re subtle.’ She laughed.
Eventually she was dressed and back in the sitting room.
‘Look.’ she said to Boris. ‘I’m picking up the phone.’
Boris sniffed and went out into the garden. ‘I’ll give you some privacy then.’
‘Hello?’ James answered on the second ring.
‘Hello. How are you?’
‘Fine thank you.’
‘Good. That’s good.’
‘I was wondering if you were busy today?’
‘Not busy at all.’ He was sitting in his room staring out of the window. He had been waiting for her to call all morning. He had been up at six, dressed and ready by half past.
‘Would you like to come over for lunch? About one?’
‘I’d love to, thank you. Can I bring anything?’
‘Some wine if you like, you always choose good wine.’
‘Thank you. All right then. I’ll see you at one.’
‘See you later.’
The patio table was set. Imogen had found Rowena’s best linen in the cupboard and given it an iron. It was lovely, pale blue with pink roses embroidered all over and matching napkins. She had got the best glasses out and given them a wash, and the best china. She spent the rest of the morning cooking. Now there was a chicken roasting in the oven, a salad waiting to be dressed and syllabub in the fridge. She had even been to the village and got some Stilton, which she hated, because she knew it was James’ favourite. He was bringing the wine, so there was nothing more to do but wait. She rather wished she had got the wine, then she could have a couple of glasses.
The gate squeaked. Here we go.
‘Hello.’ She smiled as he came around the corner.
‘Hello. You look lovely.’
‘This is for you.’ He handed her a box with three bottles of wine in it. ‘I thought I’d bring a selection.’
‘Lovely, thank you. Come through.’ She took the wine through to the kitchen.
‘It’s a nice little place isn’t it? Cosy.’ He looked about. It was tiny, very different to their London house. He tried to imagine himself there.
‘I love it, really love it. I always did. When I was a little girl I used to imagine what it would be like to live here myself.’
‘And is it what you imagined?’
‘Oh yes.’ She took the wine out of the box. One red, one white and one sparkling. ‘Which one would you like?’
‘I’ll leave that up to you.’ James said deflated, if she loved it here that much then what were his chances of getting her to leave.
‘We’re having chicken so I’ll open the white.’ She poured them both a glass. ‘So how’s the hotel?’
‘Not bad. It’s in a lovely spot though, isn’t it? Nice views.’
‘Yes it’s a nice town. Getting very popular with second homers. House prices there have gone though the roof.’
‘I can see the appeal.’
‘But it doesn’t appeal to you?’
‘It could do. If there was a reason for me being there.’ He looked across at her, his eyes pleading.
‘Lunch is about ready. Would you take the salad out while I deal with the chicken?’
‘Sure.’ James sighed and took the bowl she offered him.
Lunch was more relaxed than she had thought. James used to be so formal on these sorts of occasions. It was why she had made such an effort with the table. Instead he was leaning back in his chair, his ankles crossed, still no tie. And no jacket today either. His shirt was still expensive and properly pressed as were his trousers. And his shoes were still the hand made Italian ones he had always favoured, but he had a more laid back look about him now.
‘That was fabulous. You always did know how to roast a chicken.’ He stretched and laid his napkin on the table.
‘Thank you. I’ve got some Stilton as well if you’re interested?’
‘Better and better.’
Imogen took their dishes into the kitchen and made coffee. Looking through the open door out to the garden she could see him sitting there looking about. He was tapping his foot against the table leg and twisting the end of his napkin around in his fingers. She loaded the tray and took it out to him. As soon as he heard her coming he stopped tapping his foot and put the napkin down.
‘I’m sorry Imogen but I have to ask…’
‘I know,’ she interrupted him. ‘I have been doing a lot of thinking.’
‘So have I.’ He sat forward. ‘I know what you said about us changing, that I might not want you now. But I haven’t been able to think about anything but you since the other night. I…I love you. I promised not to put pressure on you, and I won’t. But I need you to know that I haven’t changed my mind, I’ll never change my mind about you.’ He looked across at her expectantly.
Imogen was stunned. He had said it, actually said it. And he sounded like he meant it.
‘I’ve been thinking about us a lot too. I‘m not going to lie to you James. I‘m not sure I can say the same, but I hope I might one day. I love it here and I don’t want to move back to London, not permanently. I know this is not big enough for more than one person to live in comfortably. It would break my heart to sell this place though.’ She looked around the garden to the Mulberry tree.
‘I’d never ask you to do that.’ He was disappointed. He hadn’t expected her to fling herself at him, but there was a part of him that hoped she might. Still she hadn’t dismissed him or laughed at him.
‘I’ll put the London house on the market as soon as I get back. I’ll buy something out of town, you choose. I can get to London quite easily from lots of nice places. Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds.’
‘Do you have to be in London?’
The question threw him.
‘Well yes…I mean the business…the office is in the city.’ He frowned.
‘I know but do you have to be there all the time? You said Flora was holding the fort this week. Can she not take on more of the day-to-day stuff? I mean how much of it do you yourself actually need to be there for?’ The other option, the one that had come to her the other day, had been going around and around. Now she needed to know if it really was an option. If it wasn’t she wasn’t sure what else was left.
‘Well…’ James sat and thought. ‘There are actual face-to-face meetings of course. Phone calls. Emails to deal with, but I can do those anywhere. And the meetings can be done anywhere if you think about it. As long as I have a lap top and a web cam.’ A thought was forming in his mind. ‘I could set things up so that I only needed to be in the office in person one or two days a week.’ He was getting excited as his thoughts started to gain shape. ‘I could take someone else on to help Flora. There’s lots of new technology around these days.’
‘So really you could work from anywhere in the country and go back to London now and again?’ She prompted.
‘Yes. Yes I could. If I sold the house I could buy somewhere else anywhere. I could buy something around here. And I bet there’s somewhere in town I could rent as an office, if I needed one.’
‘I expect so.’ She smiled.
‘Would you…’ he paused.
‘Yes?’ It was her turn to lean forward.
‘Would you think it a good idea for me to look around for somewhere here? Do you think you could find somewhere you liked that wasn’t this place? I could live there and maybe keep a little flat in the city for the odd couple of days a week.’
‘It would be a lot of travelling.’ She prompted. She needed him to be sure.
‘True. But it would be worth it if I could be near you. We could, maybe, spend some proper time together, see how we get on? It might even be possible to relocate down here. Eventually.’ He had a huge grin across his face when he thought about this new plan. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? These days it was perfectly possible to run a business without being in the office eight hours a day five days a week. As long as he kept himself on the radar. Could it work?
‘I think that all sound like the start of a plan.’
‘I think you might be right.’ He saw them walking on the cliffs, finding new, special places. He knew that if he took things slowly he could win her back. She was obviously keen on the idea of him spending more time here. It might be tempting fate, he knew, but he dared to think that one day he might, after all, be able to put that eternity ring on her finger.
That's it folks. Thank you for reading and for all your kind commnets.