Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Mulberry Gin the final chapters.

Chapter Nineteen.

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.’
‘I will.’
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.’
‘Ready then?’
‘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.’
‘That’s good.’
‘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.’
‘Oh Philip…’
‘It’s ok. I needed you to know before I went.’
‘I’m sorry.’
‘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.

Chapter Twenty.

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.’
‘Thank you.’

‘Hello?’ James answered on the second ring.
‘Hello James.’
‘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.’
‘Thank you.’
‘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.

The End.
That's it folks. Thank you for reading and for all your kind commnets.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Mulberry Gin Chapters 17 & 18

Chapter Seventeen.

The new office was better than James could have hoped. Already Flora had set everything up and it looked like they had been there for years. Clients were impressed and word had gotten round. Now he was having to turn people away. It was better than he could have dreamed. But it was more work than he had imagined. He got in at eight and left after midnight most days, at least at home he could collapse in a heap and have a nap if he needed to. Still Flora was proving to be a Godsend.
He yarned and stretched. ‘Go home.’ He called through to Flora.
‘In a minute, I want to finish this filing.’
‘It’ll still be there in the morning.’
‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’
‘Well I’m going. Will you lock up?’ He pulled on his coat and looked at his watch, one am. ‘Don’t stay to long.’ He told her, knowing she would take no notice and stay as long as she felt she needed to.

In the study he sorted through his post and flicked on the answer machine. He was enjoying himself so much he wondered why he hadn’t done it years ago.
There was nothing in the post of much immediate interest and he was about to dump it on the desk when he saw a cream envelope with a handwritten address. It was addressed to Mr and Mrs Lampress. He frowned and tried to recognise the handwriting. He turned it over and slit it open.
Inside was an anniversary card. It was from an old school friend of Imogen’s who had been at the wedding. James blinked hard and tried to make a mental calculation. He looked across at the date on the day’s paper. Shit. Tomorrow was their seventh wedding anniversary.
‘Fuck!’ He exclaimed. He had promised himself he would not forget it this year. Ok James think, what could he do? Nothing at this time of night, nothing would get there in time. He had intended being in Cornwall to celebrate with Imogen in person, he should have been there two weeks ago. This was not the way it was supposed to be this time. The whole point of setting up on his own was to have more time and be more flexible. He’d done it again. He sighed and slumped in the chair. All this effort to create a new James and what had really changed? When he had gotten Imogene’s last letter he was going to go straight down to see her. But he had set the wheels in motion for the new business and they had turned faster and faster. If her letter had just come a few days earlier, before he had sent out al those letters to clients. It was crap timing but it was no her fault, it was his. He should have put everything on hold, told everyone that he would be in touch when things were up and running. Instead he had let it all go to his head. It was a buzz having people come to you asking if they could be a part of something you were responsible for. Imogen had gone out of his head and he cursed himself. Well things really would be different now. Flora could look after things for a few days, he could divert everything to his blackberry. No he could turn the bloody thing off and concentrate on what mattered. What was the point of doing all this, why had he started this ball rolling in the first place? It was for Imogen, it was to show her that he had changed, that he was not in her father’s pocket. He wanted her to see that he was willing to make big changes, not prove that he was everything she seemed to think he was. If he forgot yet another anniversary then he would be doing the latter and that was the last thing he wanted. He got up and went upstairs. Pulling a bag out of the wardrobe he started packing.

The next morning he called Flora early and told her he was going away for a few days and that she was in charge. There was a funny squeaking noise from the other end of the phone but she said she’d be fine.
He was in Bond Street before the shops opened. He knew just what he wanted. As soon as he had made his purchase he was in the car and heading for Cornwall before anything could delay him.

Imogen was in the garden pottering around with a hand fork. Summer might be nearly over but the weeds didn’t seem to realise. Over the last few weeks she had gotten into a nice little routine, she knew it couldn’t last, but for now she was just going to enjoy what was left of the summer. Cherith was coming over for lunch. But before that there were weeds to deal with and she got down on her hands and knees and started stabbing the ground with her fork.
‘If you go on like that you’ll kill more than just the weeds.’ Rowena’s voice floated across the garden.
‘Well I’ve got to start somewhere.’ Imogen sat back on her heels and looked at the patch of border in front of her.
‘Very true, but it would be better to start with that bindweed over there.’
‘The white climbing things? But they’re so pretty.’
‘Maybe but they’ll strangle everything and choke it to death, a bit like your father.’
‘Why did you and he hate each other so much? I never did understand.’
‘Neither did I in the end. We were too different, he resented the fact that our parents let me get away with so much and that I escaped. I hated the way he clung so stubbornly to ideas that were fifty years out of date, and I was jealous that he had you as a daughter and I didn’t. It was so complicated and so very simple. The trouble was we never talked about why, we just got into the habit and kept it going. Don’t make that mistake Gin darling. I should have swallowed my pride and so should he, we should have made the effort to talk to each other.’
‘It was you who told me to have some fun and enjoy the summer.’ Imogen was indignant.
‘I know. But the summer is all but over now. Philip will be going home next week, you need to start thinking about your future.’
‘Yes I suppose so. But this is so nice. Pottering around, Molly and Eleanor popping in now and then, picnics on the beach. Why can’t it just stay like this?’
‘Because it can’t. It never does. Life moves on whether we want it to or not and it’s better to go with it than fight it.’
‘But you fought it. You hated your life so you changed it.’
‘That’s true, and so have you haven’t you? But sometimes change happens despite us, not because of us. You’ve had a lovely summer that you will remember for a long time. But this is one of those occasions when you have to say it was good but now it’s over and I have to move on. Don’t try and hang on to something that has finished, that’s the road to bitterness and regret. One thing my illness taught me was acceptance. Sometimes you have to accept things for what they are and let them be. The trick is to know what to accept and what to fight. If you accept that your holiday is over and now you have to face the rest of your life then you will be learning a skill that will help you for the rest of your life.’
‘Spoil sport.’
‘Say goodbye to Philip. Then talk to James. And get rid of that bloody bindweed before it takes over the whole garden.’
Imogen found the offending bindweed and started yanking at it. Rowena was right of course, she always was. The summer was nearly over and soon things would change. She knew Philip was going home and she knew she needed to talk to James about a divorce, but she had been putting it out of her mind. It was easy to stick her head in the sand and pretend things could go on like this forever. She would remember this summer for the rest of her life as a turning point, but also as a magic time that could never happen again. And she was scared. Scared that she would never feel like this again, that this was it. She was desperate to hang onto that feeling that she had never had before, happiness. Rowena had always told her that once you had found the secret to happiness then it was yours for life, but what if she was wrong? But it was true that she couldn’t halt time, things would move on with or without her. And it was true that she had to settle things with James. She decided to write to him again, her last letter had been rather formal and maybe a bit rude. It was only fair she gave him a chance to defend himself. Yes she would write to him again in the morning. But now she needed to get cleaned up, Cherith was coming over for lunch. Her mother had still not gone home. Everyday she said she might go tomorrow, and every day she changed her mind.

‘I called you father this morning but there was no reply. No answer last nigh either. He didn’t say he was going away again, but then our last conversation wasn’t overly friendly was it? I didn’t really expect him to call again. And I wasn’t going to call him, but I did say I would be back in a day or two and it’s been much longer. I felt guilty. Turned out I needn’t have bothered, he’s obviously taken himself off somewhere. Having a good sulk I should imagine. Never mind.’ Cherith raised her glass. ‘Anymore of that wine?’
‘We are not going to spend the whole afternoon drinking and getting squiffy again.’ Imogen said firmly as she filled their glasses.
‘Of course not dear.’ Cherith took a large mouthful.
‘Are you worried about him?’
‘A little. He’s not used to looking after himself and I worry what state the house will be in when I get back. I very much doubt Mrs Davis has been back.’
‘You are going back then?’
‘Oh yes. I just wanted to give him some time to think about things. Another day or two should do it. I’m not going to leave him if that’s what you’re worried about. Some people might say I should but I do love the old fool. By the time I get back he will have had a good rant to his pals, had a good sulk, and hopefully had a chance to miss me. Maybe I might get appreciated a bit more from now on. This taking control can be quite empowering can’t it?’
And bloody terrifying.
‘I was thinking I should get in touch with James.’ Imogen turned her glass stem around in her fingers.
‘It would be the grown up thing to do. I know I haven’t been very grown up this last couple of weeks but I will go back and I will face whatever there is to face. We have to. You left him and you need to take responsibility for that, just like I need to take responsibility for this little jaunt.’
‘Yes. I’ve been putting it off all summer.’
‘That’s only natural darling. You had a lot to think about. And you had your grief to deal with to. But if you have dealt with all that then you should take the next step. No one can blame you for what you did. Many people would have done it much sooner. Don’t feel guilty about not wanting to face unpleasant things, who does?’
‘But it would be better if I did wouldn’t it? And if I make the first move then I’m in control aren’t I?’
‘Quite right darling. But make sure you know what you want before you do anything. We both know James and how he will pick up on any weakness. But if you’re sure you know what you want then you should get on and sort it out, get it over and done with.’
‘Yes. I think I know what I want to do. I think I want a divorce.’
‘You think you want or you really want?’
‘I really want.’ Imogen bit her lip.
‘Oh darling I wish I could stay and be with you, it’s such a lot to go through on your own.’
‘I won’t be on my own. I have Molly and Eleanor.’ She hadn’t told Cherith about Philip and it seemed neither had Molly or Eleanor. There was a time when she told her mother everything, but that had ended a long time ago. There comes a time when you no longer want to tell your parents everything about your life however much they might want you to. Imogen knew Cherith would be a little hurt if she found out about Philip, but it was none of her business and Imogen didn’t want to have to try and explain. What she and Philip had was special to them and to share it would spoil it. One day she would be able to talk about him with other people, but not yet, and not to her mother. Although Cherith appeared to be quite broad minded Imogen knew she would not approve, and what would be the point of causing more upset?
‘I know. But you will keep in touch won’t you, you will keep me up to date? I am always there for you you know.’ Cherith reached over and gave Imogen’s hand a squeeze.
‘I know mum.’ She took her mothers hand and squeezed it back.

They didn’t drink quite as much as they had the other night, but Cherith did have to call a taxi to take her back to Molly’s. Imogen was clearing up the plates and glasses when she saw Philip in the garden.
‘You can get arrested for loitering in this country you know.’ She called out of the window.
Philip grinned.
‘You can come in.’
‘I know, but I was hoping you would come out here. I was thinking about a trip to the cove.’
Imogen threw the dishcloth in the sink and went out, she didn’t need a second invitation. She knew this might be their last trip to the cove, and she wanted to spend as much time with him as she could.
They drove in silence, but it was a good silence. She no longer felt she had to say something, she was happy to just sit.
‘So when does your mum go home?’ Philip pulled a rug out from the boot of the car and handed it to her.
‘She’s still saying a day or two. She says she is going home, she’s making dad sweat a bit. I never put her down as a game player. But I guess if you’ve been living with the master for so long then something must rub off.’ They walked down the tiny path, well used to all the lose stones and pits by now.
‘So you’ll be here all on your own soon.’
‘Don’t. I’m going to miss you both so much. It’s been so nice having her here these couple of weeks. And I wouldn’t have had half as good a summer without you.’
‘Maybe I’ll be back next year.’
‘And maybe you’ll have met a nice girl and be off round India or somewhere by then.’ Imogen laughed. It was a joke but there was a lot of truth behind it. He would find someone his own age and by next summer Cornwall would be a long way away.
‘And what about you? What will you be doing this time next year?’
‘I honestly have no idea. The only thing I do know is that I’ll still be here, there is no way I will be going back to London.’
‘And what about James, will you be going back to him?’ Philip poured them both hot coffee from his thermos. He handed her her cup with a little smile. ‘If you say yes I won’t be upset.’
Imogen took the cup of coffee and smiled back. ‘At the moment I would say no. I’ve decided to write to him again and ask him to give me details of his solicitor. I also need to talk to him. I know I should call him, but I’m not going to do anything yet. Summer isn’t quite over.’
‘Four days and counting.’
‘Are you looking forward to going home? Silly question really, you must be.’
‘If you had asked me a few days ago I would have said that I didn’t want to go. But I do miss the family. I did think I might stay, but…well…’ He kicked himself, he wasn’t going to mention it. He wasn’t going to say anything that was going to make her uncomfortable.
‘But I fell asleep.’ She knew what he was thinking. She had been thinking the same. She smiled across at him.
‘And that was the best thing you could have done wasn’t it?’
‘I think so.’
‘To the future.’ Philip held his mug up in a toast.
‘To the future.’ She clinked her mug against his.

The traffic was horrendous. James pulled off at a service station and got the map book out. He was sticking to the motorway, he always used the motorway. Now he was wondering if he might not get there quicker if he went on the B roads. Usually the side roads with their tractors and mums on the school run drove him mad. But he was getting no where fast and a lot of blue flashing lights screaming past told him that it was not going to get any better. He thought about Imogen making this journey all those weeks ago. She would definatly have come off the motorway, if she had gone on it in the first place, she hated them. He remembered every time they went anywhere her face would change as soon as they hit the motorways. Any smile that was there would vanish and she would sit in silence until they came off again. Looking at the map he tried to work out what route she would have taken. There were several options that would take him through lots of lovely or strange sounding places. That wouldn’t do, he needed to get there before tonight. Just before he left he had gone on the laptop and found the names of a couple of hotels in the nearest town to Imogen. His previous experience of country hotels had not been good and he wanted to leave enough time to change his mind and find somewhere else if needs be. He knew that staying with Imogen was not an option. He knew the cottage only had one bedroom. Before he would have just turned up on her doorstep and expect to stay. Who was he trying to kid, he wouldn’t have gone down in the first place.

Henry pulled in to a lay-by and got his maps out. It had been so long since he was last down here and he was dammed if he could remember the way. He was sure he was in the right direction at least, but nothing looked familiar anymore. He wasn’t even sure he could remember the name of the village. He scanned the page until something looked familiar. He knew the sensible thing to do was to phone Cherith and ask her how to get there. It was the last thing he was going to do. At last a name sprung out from the map that he thought sounded right. Well it was worth a try. He took a swing from his bottle of water and wished it was Gin. If he was at home he would be settling down with a nice G and T about now. Well he had chosen to come so there was no point moaning. He was assuming that Cherith was staying with Imogen, or somewhere near. It was perfectly possible they had gone off somewhere on a girly holiday. He might be travailing all this way for nothing. It was a chance he had to take. On the mind numbing drive down the motorway a terrifying thought had occurred to him, what if Cherith had left him? It was possible that the reason she had not come home was because she had no intention of ever coming home. The thought made him cold. What on earth was he going to do without her? He started to feel sick, then he pulled over and was sick on the hard shoulder.
The last time he had been scared of anything was when he was at school. Every night he would start to get a little shaky about six o’clock. Soon it would be lights out and he would have the indignity of having his pyjamas taken by one of the older boys. Every night they chose a new hiding place, which meant he had to creep around the dorm in his underpants until he found them. Once they flushed them down the toilet and that flooded the bathroom. He was hauled up in front of the headmaster and, because it was his name on the offending garments, he got the blame. He had a good idea who was responsible but he dare not say anything. He hoped his silence would earn him some respect, and for a while it did. Then he made the mistake of telling someone he thought had become a friend that he was homesick. That night he found his pyjamas missing and it all started again. He decided that night that it was better not to tell anyone how you were really feeling, it was better to put up a bold frond and ride it out. The thought of loosing Cherith was even more terrifying than the thought of telling her how he felt, he had to crack the façade and tell her.
He wondered if he could actually say the words out loud. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. He tried again, a strangled whisper escaped. Taking a deep breath he tried a third time.
‘I love you.’ he said under his breath. That was better, but he needed to sound like he meant it.
‘I love you.’ That was better, try again.
‘I love you’ Much better, he was getting the hang of it now.
‘I love you!’ he shouted. ‘I love you Cherith March.’

The country roads weren’t as bad as James feared. So far he had only met one tractor. With any luck he should be there before dark. He wondered what was the best thing to do. He hadn’t given this as much thought as he should have. Should he check into the hotel and find Imogen in the morning, or should he just turn up on her doorstep tonight? It might be better to find the hotel first. Going to see her in the morning would give him more time to think about what he wanted to say, but maybe he should get the initial contact over and done with. What if she refused to see him? If he saw her tonight then at least he would know her reaction, then he could try again in the morning. And what was he going to say to her? Of course he might not get the chance. She might just shut the door in his face. Well he had come too far now, he had just crossed the border into Cornwall so he would be there in just over an hour, give or take a few more tractors.

‘Let’s go in the water.’ Philip said suddenly. He jumped up and tried to pull Imogen to her feet.
‘Do you never learn?’
‘I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.’ he whispered. ‘But hey it might be warmer this time.’ He added in a rather too bouncy tone.
‘You’re mad.’
‘And you’re coming with me.’ He grabbed her arm and pulled her down to the seas edge before she had the chance to protest again. She hung back as best she could.
‘This really isn’t a good idea Philip.’
‘A last blast before I go home. Come on!’
She looked at him jumping up and down like an over excited puppy and started to giggle, what the hell it was only water. She kicked off her shoes and took his hand. They leapt into the water with great screams and whoops. It was cold but it was exhilarating. They splashed around like seals. Her skirt would be ruined but she didn’t care, at that moment she didn’t care about anything. In a few days she was going to have to make decisions, and Philip was going to go home. Her mother to was going to be heading home and she was going to be left to live whatever life she decided upon.
A job was a possibility, not that she had any idea what she might do. She might take some evening classes, maybe take up painting or photography. There was so much she could do now if she wanted to. When she had arrived here having such freedom had scared her to death, now it excited her.
She had heard somewhere that it can be warmer in the sea in December than in summer, she had thought that rather stupid, but now she believed it. It might be fun but she was starting to shiver.
‘Enough.’ She said and started to wade back to the shore. ‘I’m bloody freezing.’ She ran across the sand to the car rung that was spread out with their picnic on. She swept everything off of it and threw it around her shoulders. She could see Philip still in the water, mad bugger, he’ll freeze she thought. She waved at him and signalled that he should get out. Eventually he started to wade towards her. By the time he was standing next to her he was shivering. Imogen pulled the rug from her own shoulders and wrapped it around his.
‘You really are mad.’ She said.
‘Maybe, but it’s something I’ll never forget. I don’t think I’ll ever be this cold again.’ His teeth were chattering.
‘I think we need to get you home and warn you up. I’ll drive.’ She bundled him back to the Land Rover and got behind the wheel. Basic gear box and no power steering, oh well it would be an experience. She took a deep breath and crunched it into gear.
Back at Mulberry Cottage Imogen went straight into the kitchen and put the kettle on.
‘Sit down and drink this.’ She thrust a steaming mug in to his hands and pushed him into the chair. ‘I’m going to have a quick shower and change while you drink that. Then it’s your turn. You can take those wet clothes off as well.’ She threw him her bathrobe. ‘You can borrow that for now.’ She tried to push the thought of Philip naked in her sitting room out of her mind.

It was just starting to get dark when James pulled up outside the post office. He wasn’t sure for a minuet if it was actually open. There were lights on, which was promising. James got out of the car and tried the door.
‘Hello?’ They might be open but they didn’t seem to be anyone there. You couldn’t do that in London, James thought, everything would have been nicked by now.
‘Can I help you?’
James spun round at the sound of the voice. From nowhere a large woman with very grey hair had appeared.
‘Oh hello…yes …um I’m looking for Mulberry Cottage.’
‘Oh yes.’ The postmistress folded her arms.
‘I’m looking for Imogen Lampress? She’s living there?’
‘That’s right. And what would you be wanting with Gin?’ She gave him a very hard stare that Paddington bear would have been proud of. She had been warned by Eleanor that Imogen’s father might be coming down to cause trouble. This one didn’t look quite old enough to be her father but he did look like one of those snotty London types that come down and raise house prices.
‘I’m her husband.’ James said bluntly.
The postmistress stared at him for a while. James knew she was trying to calculate if he could be her husband. It was something they had got a lot of in their early days together, people trying to decide if he was Imogen’s father, uncle, older brother or just a dirty old man.
‘There is an age difference, but I am her husband. Do you know where Mulberry Cottage is, please?’
‘Are you here to cause her any trouble? I’ve been told that her father might be wanting to cause her some trouble, they didn’t mention you.’
‘I’m not here for any trouble. I just want to talk to her.’
‘You’re from London aren’t you?’
‘Are you planning to buy a house round here?’
‘No.’ James said a little confused.
It was true that Rowena was a blow in, but she was different from the others. She came with no pretensions and no intention of trying to change anything. After a couple of years everyone forgot that she was from London and no one had bothered to ask where Imogen was from when she started coming down, they where both honorary locals. And as such they were looked out for. He didn’t look like trouble, and he was more polite than some of the others. She gave him another look up and down. She’d give him directions but then she would phone Eleanor and give her the heads up, just in case. Eleanor could manover the troops in no time.
‘Carry on through the village. When you’re clear out the other side look for a lane on your left. Turn into that. Then carry on down that lane until you come to the farm. Mulberry is just next to the farm yard entrance.’ She drew herself up to her full height, all five foot of it, to show him she was keeping her eye on him.
‘Thank you very much.’ He gave her his best smile in the sure knowledge that it would have no affect what so ever.

Imogen wrapped herself up in one of Rowena’s silk dressing gowns. Philip was in the shower so she decided to get some food organised and get his clothes dried. Rowena had a washing machine but no tumble drier so she draped Philip’s still damp clothes over the garden furniture on the patio. It was a warm evening so it shouldn’t take them to long to dry off. As she was spreading Philip’s shirt out across the chair she heard a car in the lane. She stopped to listen, it sounded vaguely familiar but it wasn’t Cherith’s. Her mother was having dinner with Molly and Eleanor tonight anyway. It wasn’t any of the farm vehicles. It must be someone visiting the Tregowen’s. She shrugged and went back inside and started rummaging through the fridge.
James walked up the long garden path and couldn’t help but be enchanted by the garden in the dusk light, it was quite beautiful. That must be the famous Mulberry tree, and there was the plague to Rowena, so he was in the right pace then. As he approached the patio he could see clothes spread out across the furniture, as he got closer he could see that they were men’s clothes. He frowned. He went up to the cottage and looked for a door. Finding none he tapped on the French windows that seemed to lead into a sitting room. Peering in he couldn’t see anyone, but there were lights on. He tapped again. A young man in Imogen’s white fluffy bathrobe appeared from a doorway and came across the room towards him. James glanced down at the spread out clothes and then back up at the young man. Something rushed through his mind that he didn’t like. He opened his mouth and then closed it again.
‘Hi. Can I help?’ Philip had opened the windows.
James looked him up and down, his mind whirring. ‘I’m looking for Imogen Lampress.’ He said at last.
‘Oh right. I think she’s in the kitchen.’ Philip looked James up and down, so this was James. He knew Imogen wasn’t expecting him, but he also didn’t want a scene so he stood aside and let James in. ‘I’ll go and get her.’ Philip went through to the kitchen.
Imogen was standing at the Aga singing to herself and stirring a pan of soup. She had pulled the kitchen door to so Philip could get dressed in private. So she hadn’t heard the knock on the windows or the voices.
‘Gin.’ Philip came up close behind her and whispered. ‘Gin what does James look like?’
Imogen jumped. She turned round quickly.
‘Why are you whispering?’ She whispered back.
‘What does James look like?’ he whispered again.
‘About your height, broad shoulders, short dark hair with a few grey bits, normally wearing a suit. Why?’ What a strange thing to be asking.
‘He’s in the sitting room.’
‘What!’ Imogen pushed past Philip and flew through the door. There he was, standing in the middle of the room looking awkward.
‘James. What are you doing here?’ she stood with her hands on her hips.
‘I drove down this afternoon.’
‘Oh.’ Imogen was suddenly aware of Philip standing just behind her. ‘This is Philip.’ She dropped her arms back by her sides.
‘We’ve met.’ James said flatly. He looked at them standing there, him in her bathrobe and her in some brightly coloured silk concoction.
‘I’ve obviously walked in on something. I should go.’ James said. He didn’t want to be seeing this but he couldn’t take his eyes off them.
Imogen didn’t quite know what he was talking about. Then she caught a glimpse of herself and Philip in the mirror standing there barely clothed, and realised what must be going through James’ mind. There was a split seconds thrill as she realised what he was thinking. James was turning to leave when she started to speak.
‘This is not…’ she stopped. Why was she justifying herself to him, he had barged into her home and she was about to apologise because he had gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. Sod him. If he wanted to put two and two together and get thirty-three then that was up to him. They hadn’t done anything to be ashamed off. James had been here less than five minuets and already he was making her feel guilty when she had nothing to be guilty about.
‘I’m staying at the ‘Royal Hotel’ in town. I’ll come back in the morning.’ He turned and left before his feelings got the better of him. He needed a drink. He had told himself all the way down that it would be better to get some sleep and come and see her in the morning. He had driven into town and passed the hotel with every intention of finding the car park. Instead he had sailed past and carried on to the village. It wouldn’t hurt to get his bearings and find out how to get to the cottage. Once he had been given directions he decided it wouldn’t hurt to physically find his way there. Once he was outside the garden gate he got out of the car and was propelled up the garden path by some power outside of his control. Now he was very definatly getting himself out of there as quickly as possible.

‘Are you ok?’ Philip guided Imogen to the sofa and sat her down.
‘How dare he? How bloody dare he? He wrote and asked if he could come and see me and I said no. Why does he never listen to me? Why bother to ask if he was just going to do what he wanted anyway? And why was I stupid enough to think he would do anything else? AAAAHHH!’ She thumped the nearest cushion.
‘He thought we’d been sleeping together, he thought he’d caught us after a romp. He did look really shocked.’
‘Don’t even try and defend him.’
‘I’m not. Good God when I realised who he was I wanted to hit him.’
‘I wish you had.’
‘No you don’t.’
‘Maybe not. Oh God.’ Imogen put her head in her hands. ‘This was not how it was supposed to be.’
Philip went to the phone and dialled Molly’s number.
‘Hi Molly I think Cherith should come over to Gin right away. James had just turned up.’
A few minuets later Cherith was flying up the garden path hotly followed by Molly and Eleanor.
‘Oh darling.’ Cherith threw her arms around her daughter.
‘Ok where is he, what’s he done and do you want me to hit him?’ Eleanor’s face was a thunderstorm.
‘I’ll make some tea.’ Molly hurried out to the kitchen.
While all this was going on Philip had sneaked out onto the patio and got dressed. He watched threw the windows and when he was sure Imogen was going to be all right he crept out of the garden and back to the farm. He wasn’t needed now and he didn’t want to cause Imogen any more embarrassment. He would drop by in the morning to make sure she was ok.
‘What happened?’ Cherith was sitting on the edge of the sofa holding Imogen’s hands.
‘I came out of the kitchen and he was just there, standing right there.’ Imogen nodded towards the middle of the room.
‘Bastard!’ Exclaimed Eleanor.
‘I thought you’d asked him not to come?’ Cherith said.
‘I had.’ Shock and anger had turned into exhaustion and Imogen flopped back into the cushions. ‘He says he’s staying at the Royal and he’ll come back in the morning.’ She closed her eyes. In a half hour her perfect summer had turned into a complete nightmare.
‘Well we’ll be ready for him.’ Eleanor was itching for a fight. ‘You hold him down and I’ll beat him around the head with my handbag.’ Despite themselves all four women burst out laughing at the image.

While a council of war was being held at Mulberry Cottage Henry was pulling into the Royal Hotel car park. It was getting dark and he had no intention of confronting Cherith tonight. He needed to sleep on it and decide what he was going to say. Impulse had never been his strong suit and this trip was quite enough for one day. The rest of his time here was going to be planned. After breakfast he would find out where Cherith was hiding out. But right now he wanted a large gin and tonic and a soft bed.
The hotel was a far cry from the ones he was used to in London. For a start you had to bring your bags in yourself. He dumped them down and banged on the bell. He looked at his watch, it was only eight o’clock, there should still be someone on reception. He thumped the bell again. A girl of about twelve popped her head out from around a door.
‘Can I help?’
‘Are you in charge?’ He looked her up and down and wondered what the world was coming to.
‘I suppose I am at the moment. What can I do for you?’
‘I need a room please.’
‘Of course sir. Are you alone?’ She glanced around.
‘It appears so.’
‘Right. And will you be wanting breakfast?’
‘Of course I will. And a local map. And an alarm call for seven. And no I don’t want papers, and yes I do require ensuiet, and I don’t care about a view.’
‘Right. Ok then. Um if you could just fill in this form please sir.’ London, you could always tell, leave their manners at the border, that’s if they have any in the first place. She kept a fixed smile on her face until he had signed his form and taken his key.
‘Is there someone who can take my bags?’
‘I’m afraid not sir. But there is a lift.’ She pointed towards the lift and gave him another clenched smile.
‘Huh.’ Henry dragged his case over to the lift. As the doors closed he could have sworn he saw James come in through the main entrance. He shook his head, he was tired, he needed Gin and sleep.

James stood at the reception desk for several minuets before he saw the girl standing there smiling at him.
‘Hello sir, can I help?’
‘Oh…um…yes. I made a booking this morning. Lampress.’
She tapped on the computer but kept one eye on him. Another suit from the city, and this one didn’t seem to know what planet he was on. She shook her head. He mother had wanted her to go to London to do a secretarial course, looking at this one and the one before she was glad she had said no. If this is what London does to you then you can keep it.
‘Yes here we are. You’re booked in for three nights is that right?’
‘I think so. I might need to stay longer, but I might not be staying. I’m sorry.’ James frowned.
‘That’s quite all right. Could you fill this in please?’ She pushed the form and a pen towards him. This one was strange. She was going to have to keep an eye on him.
James filled the form in automatically, they were always the same in every hotel all over the world. He had lost count how many times he had filled in his personal details and handed them over to all and sundry. He pushed the form back across the desk.
‘Thank you sir. Here is your key. Your room is on the second floor.’ She fixed her smile and waited for him to look up. When he didn’t she shrugged, no manners, none of them.
James trundled his case to the lift and got in. He stood staring at the buttons and couldn’t remember which one to press. Which floor had she said, third, second? He pushed the nearest button and hoped. He closed his eyes, and then wished he hadn’t, all he could see was Imogen and that boy. It was stupid to be jealous, he knew that, he hadn’t got a leg to stand on in that department after all. He leaned his head against the cold metal. He needed a stiff drink and a soft bed. And a lobotomy, what had he been thinking? She had said she didn’t want him here and he came anyway. He had wanted to surprise her on their anniversary. He wanted to tell her that it was all right. He wanted to hold her and kiss her and tell her that he was not the man she thought he was. Instead he had reverted to type and disregarded her wishes completely. He understood why she didn’t want him there at least. Whoever the boy was they were obviously having some kind of relationship.
The doors opened and he bumbled along the corridor. Eventually he found his room and let himself in. He looked around for the mini bar. He took his double whisky and sat on the end of the bed. It wasn’t unreasonable for her to have moved on. But he hadn’t expected it. But he had moved on, he wasn’t the same person he was three months ago, why should she be. He had been so excited on the way down. He was full of all the new plans he had that he wanted to share with her. Now he sat and sipped his whisky and wondered what the hell he was going to do.

Imogen waved her mother and her friends off and went back into the sitting room. She noticed that Philip’s clothes were gone and she suspected he had snuck away. She didn’t blame him. She started collecting cups and glasses and took them through to the kitchen.
‘Meow.’ Boris appeared from nowhere and started winding around her legs.
‘Hungry again I suppose.’ She bent down and stroked him.
‘Oh Boris what a bloody mess. All we need now is for dad to turn up and the nightmare will be complete.’
Well James was here now so she might as well get it all over and done with. She had wanted to do this on her terms for a change but that was not to be. She had felt sick when she saw him standing there, and for a moment she wasn’t sure if it really was him. He had changed, lost weight and let the grey grow out in his hair. It was a new suit to, not the normal crisp pin stripe but a softer linen in a pale camel colour, it suited him. And no tie, she had never seen him in a suit without a tie before, he looked quite hansom. But the fact remained that he had blatantly disregarded her wishes, again. Well this time she was not going to put up with it. When he showed up in the morning she would tell him that she wanted a divorce and that she wanted him to go home. She would be firm, there was no way she was going back to London and there was no way she was going back to that old life. He might have come down to drag her back, and there was a time when she would have gone, but not now.
Boris jumped up on the table and touched her cheek with his nose. Imogen absentmindedly put her hand out to stroke him. She was so sure this morning that this was what she wanted. A little cottage, big garden, cat, it was perfect. Now her old life had been slapped back into her consciousness. Although he was the last person she wanted to see there was something disturbingly comforting about his presence. With James she didn’t have to make decisions. She didn’t have to mow her own lawn, it was safe. It would be very easy to go back to London with him, to get the gold credit cards back out and settle back into obscurity. Or she could stay here and make her own decisions, mow her own lawn and have a life. If sounded a simple decision, one she thought she had made weeks ago. There was a part of her that liked being looked after, and once Philip had gone home who would there be to do that? Yes Philip had made her do things for herself but it was like learning to drive in a car with duel control, although you’re in charge there is always someone there to slam the breaks on if it looks like you’re going to do something stupid. Once Philip had gone she would be doing it for real, there would be no one there to take the wheel if she started to drift off in the wrong direction. Could she trust herself to know what the right direction was?
‘There’s always me.’
‘I know Boris, but you’re a cat.’ She stared. He didn’t really just say that did he? She shook her head. I need to go to bed, she decided. In the morning it would look different, everything always did.

The next morning Imogen was awake before dawn. She lay propped up on her pillows and waited for the light to start filtering through the open windows. She wasn’t sure she had had any sleep, she had tossed and turned so much that the sheet fell right off the bed at one point. Boris gave up about two and marched out into the garden in disgust. She had been given so many cups of too sweet tea last night by Molly that she didn’t think she would ever be able to face another cup; but now she longed for its comfort.
She took her mug out to the garden and went to sit beneath the Mulberry tree. This was going to be one of those days that stick with you for the rest of your life. She needed a plan. She dismissed locking herself in the bathroom, tempting as it sounded. Shopping would be good, there must be lots of things she really needed to get without delay, but she couldn’t think of any. The fact was she had to deal with whatever the day brought. She leaned back and felt the comforting strength of the trees trunk. If she closed her eyes she could see herself playing in this garden as a child. She was happy then, long before the confusion of adult life had taken hold. It was naive to think she could feel like that again, but this summer had brought her somewhere close. Now she had to go back to adult land and she just didn’t want to. Perhaps she had thought that moving here would mean an eternal summer holiday, no responsibility and no decisions, like so many others who move down here. But that was unrealistic and she knew she had to take hold of her future herself. Whatever was decided today would have implications for years to come. If she sent James home then that would be that, there would be no going back. She had to be very sure she wanted him out of her life for good before she did that. Leaving had been comparatively easy because there was always the option to go back. If she sent him away with demands for a divorce then going back was no longer an option.
‘Don’t shut any doors unless you know you can unlock them again.’ Rowena’s voice came across the garden on the morning breeze.
‘Meaning be sure of what you want before you make any decisions, and don’t let him bully you into anything.’
‘I just don’t understand why he’s here. I told him I wanted a divorce.’
‘You wrote him a rather short letter. He maybe wants to talk to you about it properly. Maybe he doesn’t want a divorce.’
‘I don’t see why. He didn’t want to marry me in the first place. I’m giving him the option to get out.’ Imogen drained her mug and put it down beside her.
‘Well you’re good for business for a start. A pretty young wife on his arm has never done any harm has it? And how many dinner parties have you had to play hostess to? You’ve brought him a lot of business over the years.’
‘I’m not sure that’s quite fair.’
‘Isn’t it?’
‘It’s true that I have done a lot of entertaining for him and gone to a lot of junkets with him. But it wasn’t just me, all the wives do it. Do you really think he was that cynical?’
‘You did once, remember? Why did you decide to leave? Think about it, what made you want to leave him? You were fed up with being taken for granted, fed up with being ignored, fed up with never having any say in anything you did. Christ he even bought your clothes! You’ve had a few weeks to distance yourself from it all, but don’t let yourself forget any of it.’
‘I know you want me to stay here. I know you’ve always hated James.’
‘Yes I have. But what I want is for you to do what makes you happy. I won’t pretend to understand if you decide to go back with him. But if that is what you really want, what you want, then fine.’
‘I thought I knew what I wanted. I thought I wanted to live here and carry on where you left off.’
‘But you’re not me. I never wanted you to just pick up my life and take it over. I left you all this to give you some options. If you had sold up and used the money to start a brothel in Jamaica then that would have been fine. I hoped you would choose to make a life for yourself here because I knew how happy it always made you to be here. But it has to be your life Ginny. Think about what you want, make your own decision, then keep that in mind when you talk to James. And you are allowed to change your mind. That’s what I mean by not shutting doors, allow yourself room to change your mind.’
‘I’ll try.’
‘Good girl. Now have a shower, put on your best clothes and get yourself ready.’
‘Ok.’ Imogen took a deep breath and went back into the cottage.

James woke and immediately wished he hadn’t had that second double whisky. He really didn’t need a hangover this morning. He reached over and looked at the clock, it was only seven. He groaned and flopped back against the pillows. It had taken an age to get to sleep, every time he closed his eyes all he could see was Imogen and the boy. He imagined them kissing, he saw them in bed and it had made him feel sick. By two in the morning he had given up on sleep and lay there staring at the ceiling. That was the last thing he remembered. He must have slept because he had just woken up, but it didn’t feel like it. He was very glad of the civilised British tradition of a kettle and coffee in the rooms. So many times on the continent he had woken in similar states and longed for a strong cup of coffee. He leaned over and flicked the kettle on.
The coffee was strong and tasted delicious, but it triggered something off in his delicate stomach. He just made it to the bathroom before last nights meal hit the toilet bowl. This was not the way it was meant to be. He had had a romantic vision of sweeping Imogen off her feet, of her falling into his arms. Instead she had been in someone else’s arms and he was sitting on the bathroom floor of a mediocre hotel throwing up. He needed to pull himself together. He needed a plan. Ok so things had not gone to plan A. There was no plan B but he was sure he could make one up. First of all he needed to shower.
As the hot water pelted him all over he started to think. Today was going to be important one way or another. He needed to be sure of what he wanted and of what he needed before he did anything else. Well he needed to know who the boy was for a start. Then he needed to know how serious their relationship was. Last night he had detected an accent and it was possible that he was just some kid on a summer working holiday. With any luck he would bugger off to wherever it was he had come from. His initial reaction was to hit him. He was proud of the way he had kept himself together, not that it had done him much good. Had Imogen noticed how controlled he had been? He hoped so. She had looked so angry, shocked and angry. What had he expected, that she would run into his arms? It worked in those daft films she liked watching. The trouble was that in real life not everyone had read the script. He should have tried harder to call her. He should have given it some proper thought. Well he didn’t and he hadn’t and he was here now so he should make the best of it. He would get dressed and have breakfast. Then he would take a drive over to Mulberry Cottage and calmly ask to talk to her. He would keep his temper and ask about the boy. Then he would ask her her plans before he told her his. One of the reasons she had left, according to Olwen, was that he didn’t listen to her. Ok he would listen to whatever she had to say to him, good and bad. He would take whatever criticism she had to throw at him; he probably deserved it. When she was finished he would tell her of the new business. How he had left Henry and started up on his own. He would tell her how sorry he was for the other women, how little they had meant. He would tell her about Mandy and how he hadn’t been able to stand her near him because she wasn’t Imogen. He would try and tell her he loved her. How did you say that to someone anyway, do you just blurt it out or do you hint at it and hope they pick it up? He had no idea and hoped he would know when the time came.

The alarm call was right on time; Henry was impressed. He got out of bed and put the kettle on. While he waited he got the local map out and spread it on the bed. He located the town he was in and scanned the surrounding area. Mulberry Cottage would obviously not be marked but he remembered there had been a farm next door and that might be. If he could just remember the name of the dammed place. He scratched his head. There were only a couple of A roads out of the town. One of them must take him to the village near the cottage. He traced his finger along one and then the other. Finally there was a name that meant something. He started tracing along the B roads from the village. So many of them you would think it was the centre of the world. Well it had got to be there somewhere. Eventually he found what he was sure was the right farm. Next to it was a little brown square, which must be Mulberry Cottage. Good, now he could go and get some breakfast.

The dinning room was nearly empty and Henry saw James immediately. So he wasn’t seeing things last night. He gave a heavy sigh. He knew James would see him to and he knew a conversation of some sort was inevitable. All right then, there were things he wanted to say to James and now was as good a time as any. He squared his shoulders and walked into the room.

James looked up and couldn’t quite believe his eyes. It appeared that Henry was coming towards him across the dinning room, but that couldn’t be right could it? He blinked a few times but he was still there. Oh shit. This really was the last thing he needed. Who was this man, his evil shadow or something? Things whirled through his mind. Surely Henry hadn’t followed him for some kind of showdown. Not even Henry would do that. Maybe he had decided to try and drag Imogen back. Well if that was the case he had wasted his journey. There was no way James was going to let Henry get in the way this time. He sat up as straight as he could and watched Henry’s approach.
‘Good morning Henry. This is a surprise.’
‘For me to. May I join you?’
‘Please.’ James indicated the empty chair. When Henry was settled James decided to take the lead.
‘So what brings you down here?’
‘I could ask you the same question.’
‘But I asked first.’
‘Cherith is here somewhere. As I told you she has come down to see Imogen. She said she would only be a day or two, but she’s still not home. I decided it was time I came and found out what was going on. What about you?’
‘I’m here to see Imogen. There are things we need to talk about.’
‘Like your betrayal?’ First point to me, Henry thought.
‘Oh Henry please, you are the last person to talk about betrayal.’ One all.
‘This is not about the so called ‘selling’ of my daughter is it? That really is getting rather boring.’
‘I think that was just one of many wasn’t it? I may be guilty of betrayal but not of you. I think we are even don’t you?’
‘No I don’t. I opened many doors for you. Your career would not be half what it is if it wasn’t for me. And you repay me by taking some of my best clients and setting up in opposition.’ Keep calm now Henry, you’re in a public place remember. But he was starting to turn red, which meant loosing his temper was not far off.
‘I really don’t think I owe you anything. Most of those client you are claming for yourself would not have come to you if it hadn’t been for me. All I did was tell them I was setting up on my own. They made their own choice to join me. With Imogen gone your hold on me was gone.’
‘What about loyalty?’
‘Loyalty to whom? To you? To expect loyalty you have to show it Henry. When did you ever show me any true loyalty? You would have hung me out to dry the moment my magic touch wore off. I don’t think you even know what the word means.’
‘How dare you! I have always been loyal to my family and those who are loyal to me.’ Henry was clenching his teeth now.
‘Really? What about Allen? As soon as he lost that account you dropped him like a hot brick, he had been working for you for twenty years. And then there was Gerry. Ok so getting caught with a prostitute was not the best career move, but he had shown nothing but loyalty to the firm. You fired him. I could go on if you like. And then, of course, there is Imogen. You were so loyal to her that you called her a silly little bitch and moaned about how bad her leaving me would make you look. No concern for her at all.’
‘How I conduct myself is none of your business.’
‘No of course. You are quite free to screw up all on your own. But I had had enough of your warped ideas of loyalty and good business. Let alone your personal conduct. You nearly had me sucked in, but I saw through you just in time. A few more years and I would have turned into you. That thought makes me shudder.’
‘I will not tolerate being spoken to like that by you, or anyone.’ Henry spat.
‘Fine. But I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking. Please Henry, for your own sake, and everyone else’s, take a good hard look at yourself. Nothing I have done over the last few weeks has had anything to do with you. Believe it or not the world does not revolve around you. Or me for that matter. All though for years I thought it did. I did what I did for me and, hopefully, for Imogen. I’ve been given a second chance to pull myself up and start again. You should try it.’
‘I think I will have breakfast sent up to my room. Excuse me.’ Henry left quickly. He had a picture of a lonely old man sat in the corner of an old folk’s home with no visitors.

Imogen was back out in the garden. It had taken her an hour to decide what to wear. She still had some of the designer clothes she had bought for herself. They did give her the look of authority, but they weren’t her anymore, and she was only keeping them for their labels. Then there were the jeans and T-shirts she had acquired over the summer, but they weren’t right for today. In the back of the wardrobe there was Rowena’s boho. Some of it was lovely but she needed James to take her seriously, and he wouldn’t in a tie-dye kaftan. In the end she had settled for a Boden tea dress and a pair of Mary Jane’s. She put her hair in heated rollers and put her ‘face’ on for the first time in weeks. Now all she had to do was wait. She looked at her watch, the first time she had worn it all summer. Nine o’clock, he would be here soon. She took out the rollers and brushed her hair, ready. When she heard the gate squeak she jumped up and smoother down her dress.
‘Wow!’ Philip stopped dead when he saw her.
‘Oh it’s you.’
‘Sorry. Shall I go?’ He started to turn around.
‘No! No I didn’t mean it like that. No I’m glad it is you. Do you think it’s too early for a glass of wine?’
‘I think it might be yes. I could go and put the kettle on?’
‘Oh no. I don’t think I could drink any more tea. I’ve had four cups already this morning.’
‘Not at all nervous then?’ He smiled.
‘Oh not at all.’ She laughed.
‘That’s better. Now come and sit down and relax.’
‘I know it’s stupid to be nervous; it’s only James after all. But I just have a feeling about today. I think it might decide the rest of my life. I need to be sure what I want to say to him. And I’m not.’
‘So let’s talk about it until you are sure.’ Philip sat down opposite her and took her hand across the garden table.
‘You must have better things to do.’
‘Not really. So come on then. What do you want to say to him?’
‘I want to tell him to piss off back to London. I want him to know how angry I am with him for being here. But I don’t do confrontation very well. I know what will happen as soon as I start to tell him how I feel. He’ll take over and tell me how I should be feeling. And I’ll end up agreeing with him because he’ll make me so unsure of myself.’
‘And how do you feel?’
‘I don’t know. I thought I did. If you had asked me yesterday I would have said I had found it. That this was what I want for the rest of my life. Then he turned up and spoilt it all. I’ve been sticking my head in the sand again haven’t I?’
‘A bit maybe. Was there anything about your old life you miss?’
‘Not really. Harrods maybe. Seriously though. People of course. But living here doesn’t stop me seeing them. I just never seemed to fit in somehow. I grew up there but it never felt like home. When I came down here I always felt like I was coming home. I had much more in London. Big house and all that. Some would say I was mad to leave it all. And I know there are people who would kill for what I have left behind.’
‘It doesn’t matter what everyone else might think about your life. If there are other people who want that kind of life then leave them to it. What do you want from life? I don’t just mean where you live.’
‘I want to be happy.’
‘And did your London life make you happy?’
‘There you go then. And did James make you happy?’ Philip already knew the answer to this one.
‘No. Well…sometimes. There were times when I thought we might be ok. He tried in the early days, sort of. I don’t think he ever was the way he was on purpose. He could be nice sometimes.’
‘But is that enough?’
‘I might have said yes once. But no it isn’t anymore. I need to tell him that.’
‘And you need to tell him what you want. I expect he’ll have all sorts of things he want to say to you. But stick to your guns.’
‘I should be flexible though shouldn’t I?’
‘Yeees but not at any cost. You have the right to decide what you want, how many times have I told you that this summer? If you want to stay here and make a life for yourself then you should. There is also the option of going back to London but not going back to James. If you feel you ought to give your old live another crack you could sell up here and buy yourself somewhere up there. Or you could keep this as a bolt hole and rent. You don’t have to decide today anyway. It’s unreasonable of him to expect you to decide anything without proper time to think.’
‘He’ll say I’ve had all summer to think about it. Instead I’ve been doing other things haven’t I?’
‘Ohh no. You’re not going to pin all this indecision on me.’
‘No I know. I have a lot to thank you for.’
‘You don’t have to thank me at all. You’ve given me a great summer.’ He gave her hand a squeeze.
‘Have I?’
‘It’ll take me a long time to forget you Gin.’
Imogen felt herself blush. She looked up and met his gaze. She didn’t need to say anything. The gate squeaked again and she sprang up.
‘That’ll be him.’
‘I’ll go.’
‘You don’t have to.’
‘Yes I do.’ He gave her a kiss on the cheek and went around the side of the house. He would cut through the hedge back to the farm.
Imogen smoothed her dress and patted at her hair. She felt like a little girl waiting to see the head master for a telling off. She could see the top of James’ head over the plants as he made his way up the garden path. Take a deep breath, stand your ground, remember the past and think about the future.
‘Hello James.’ She said as he came into view.
James looked up and stopped breathing. If she had ever looked so beautiful then he couldn’t remember. His heart leapt and he had to take a moment to steady himself.
‘Hello.’ It was all he could manage for the moment.
‘How are you?’
‘Fine. Fine. And you? You look well.’
‘Thank you. I am.’ This was worse than a job interview. They were being so politely formal with each other.
James kicked at a stone at the edge of the patio and looked around.
‘The garden’s beautiful.’
‘Thank you. It took a while to learn what was a weed and what was a plant.’ She smiled.
‘Shall I make some tea?’
‘Lovely.’ James said rather too quickly.
Imogen escaped into the cottage and headed for the kitchen. Leaving James to kick his stone around. This was going to be horrible. When she had seen him last night she had wanted to slap his face. Now her anger had lost its heat. She stood and rested her back against the bar of the Aga and waited for the kettle to boil. Out of the window she could see Frank bumping back to the fields. She wondered what James was doing out in the garden. She ran threw a long list of questions she wanted answered and tried to put them into some kind of order. Most important of all was his reasons for being here. Then she wanted to get the issue of the other women clear, how many, for how long and so on. She decided that that would do for starters, and anyway the kettle was boiling now. She got on and loaded a tray up with the tea things. She really didn’t want any more tea.
James was still standing on the edge of the patio when she came back out. He stood up straight and held out his hands to take the tray. Imogen let him. He stood back and waited while she unloaded and set everything out. Finally she tucked the tray away.
‘Shall we sit down?’ She indicated the chairs. James took the chair opposite her.
They sat in silence while Imogen poured their tea. She was going to have to get this going or they would be still sitting here making small talk at midnight.
‘Ok I’ll start.’ She said. ‘James what are you doing here?’
He was a little taken aback. Directness was not something he was used to from her.
‘I came to see you.’ He said simply, it was the truth after all.
‘Yes but why? Especially when I had asked you not to.’
‘I wanted to see you. It’s our anniversary. Seven years. I know I asked to come down and that you said no. But I couldn’t let this day pass without marking it.’
‘You’ve never bothered before.’ That was a bit harsh maybe, but it was true.
James flinched, he deserved that. ‘I know, and I’m sorry.’ What else could he say? Everything he had rehearsed in his head on his way down yesterday had deserted him as soon as he saw her standing there. All he wanted to do was hold her and kiss her. He knew that would definatly be the wrong thing, but the trouble was he wasn’t sure what the right thing was.
‘You did get my last letter didn’t you?’ Imogen asked.
‘Yes I did. That is partly why I’m here. There were things you said in it that I felt needed to be talked about face to face. I did try to call you, but I just seemed to keep getting the answer machine, and you never called me back.’
‘I know, I’m sorry. I thought I had said all I needed to in the letter. When I got your message I was surprised, I thought you would be glad. I didn’t think there was anything to talk about.’
‘Glad? Glad about what? You were talking about divorce. That’s a big deal Imogen, of course we need to talk about it. Why would you think I would be happy about getting divorced?’ He was stunned. She really did seem to think he would be happy to end their marriage.
‘To be honest I didn’t even think you would miss me that much.’
James was silent. He didn’t quite know how to answer.
‘I’m not going to lie to you. When I first realised what you had done I was angry. I got drunk a lot and missed meetings. I was angry that you had left without a word and I was angry that there was no one there to do all the things you used to do for me. I was sorry for myself and I didn’t think about you except to rant about the fact that you had left me with no clean shirts. I actually went out and bought a load of new shirts because I didn’t know how to work the washing machine. I was pathetic, I was a complete mess and not very nice to be around. I made Olwen cross several times, and your dad kept grinding his teeth at me. But things change, I changed. I started to think about things and then your letter came talking about divorce. That really did make me think. And I did start to miss you, properly miss you.’ James looked across hopefully.
‘For all the years we were together you never gave me any indication that you felt anything much for me. Even on our wedding day you were too busy with your business friends to dance with me. You got your secretary to send me flowers on our first anniversary but there has been nothing since, not even a card. You treated me as some kind of possession. How often did you ask me to change because you didn’t like what I was wearing? How many times did you tell me there were people coming for dinner, not ask me if you could bring people home for dinner? In fact I can’t remember you ever asking me anything. I’m a person James, with feelings, all I wanted you to do was acknowledge it.’ As she spoke she scanned his face for any sign of a reaction. James was wincing.
‘Olwen told me once that I should take the rod out from up my arse and stop thinking about things only in relation to how they affected me. She was right. I was selfish, arrogant, wrapped up in myself, all of that. Maybe I still am, maybe I always will be. There are all sorts of reasons why I became that person, some of which I will probably never even know about myself. I’m sorry for the way I treated you, but it was who I was at the time, I can’t change that.’ God this was hard. He had been doing a lot of soul searching over the summer, but no out loud.
‘I know. But I can’t change who I was either, and I can’t change how hurt I was. I can’t go back to that James.’ She looked directly at him, he was looking pale. This was obviously hard for him, but it wasn’t much fun for her either.
‘Nor do I. Your letter panicked me. I had convinced myself that you would be back. I decided if I didn’t think about the fact that you had left me then maybe you wouldn’t have. I’m sorry I don’t do things like this very well.’ He took a sip of his tea and shifted his weight.
There was another silence. James decided it was his turn to ask a direct question.
‘When I arrived last night there was someone else here.’
‘Yes there was.’ She had been waiting for this.
‘Who was he?’ He tried to keep his voice level.
‘That was Philip. He’s been working at the farm for the summer.’
She was obviously going to make him ask her outright.
‘Are the two of you in a relationship?’
‘You mean am I shagging him like you shagged God knows how many women? No, James I’m not. Whatever you thought you saw last night was probably wrong.’
Ouch! She may look like his Imogen but she didn’t talk like her. Well she had a right to be angry about the other women.
‘So what did I see?’ He asked calmly.
‘I don’t think that is any of your business.’
‘Please Imogen. I need to know.’ If this was the way he had made her feel over the years then he was truly sorry, she should have left him years ago.
‘We had been to the beach. Philip wanted to go in the sea and insisted I go to. We got very wet and very cold. I lent him my robe and hung his clothes out to dry while he had a shower. He had gotten changed while I was in the shower and I stayed in the bedroom. We are friends and nothing more.’
‘Thank you.’ He sighed with relief.
‘And what about you?’ She said quietly. ‘How many were there James? And how long did you treat me like a fool? I may have wanted to sleep with Philip, and I did want to. But I didn’t. Even though I had left you I knew if I let myself do it it would make me no better than you. I happen to have some respect for those vows we took. Even if it was all a bit of a farce. So tell me please James. How many and for how long?’ Her heart was pounding and she was starting to shake.
James nodded slowly. He had hoped this would come up later; after he had had a chance to redeem himself a little. Maybe if she was starting to warm to the new him, then she wouldn’t take it as badly as she was obviously about to do. He knew that if he stood any chance of a future with her then he had to be honest. He prayed it didn’t backfire.
‘About twenty and it had been going on long before I met you. It had always been an unspoken part of the job. If the wives were on side then you stood a better chance of getting the husbands to sign on the dotted line. I know how that sounds, and it probably was that sleazy. But at the time it seemed like no big deal. Everyone did it, still do I expect. I should have stopped when I married you, but it was never something I thought that much about. I was sure you would never find out.’
‘So that made it all right then did it?’ She was shaking now, and truing to hide it.
‘No. Well…yes at the time it did. It was a separate part of my life if that makes sense. It was so much a part of what I did that it didn’t occur to me to stop when I got married. I am so, so sorry Imogen.’ He ran his hands through his hair and looked down into his tea.
‘Did you give me any thought at all?’
James shook his head. ‘Not back then no.’ He couldn’t look at her.
‘So what changed? Did you suddenly develop a conscience?’ Imogen snorted.
‘Something like that. When you left I had no idea why. I honestly didn’t see any good reason why you would want to leave. Olwen told me a few things about myself that started to make me think. She can be very outspoken when she wants to be. I got angry with her to begin with. I didn’t want to hear. I didn’t think there was anything to criticise. I know, you don’t have to say it. She hinted that you might know about the others and that that might be one reason why you left. It made me feel dreadful. Then Mandy Colsanto turned up. Do you remember her?’
‘American, too much make up.’ Imogen wrinkled her nose.
‘That’s her. She kept asking where you were and I invented a bad bout of flu for you. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and turned up at home. I think she knew you weren’t ill and that there was something going on. She came on to me. I had been half expecting it. I thought it might have happened on previous visits. Anyway this time I couldn’t go though with it. She was standing so close that all I could smell was that dreadful perfume she wears. It made me feel sick. All I could see was your face and I just couldn’t do it. There was a time when it would have been so easy to take her up stairs, even in our house, although I have never done that before.’ he added hastily. ‘I had to get her out of your home, our home, before I vomited all over her. It was then that I realised just what you meant to me. Oh this is not really coming out right is it?’
‘I think it might be a good idea if you went now.’ Imogen said as calmly as she could.
‘Imogen please.’
‘No James. I want you to go. I need to think about this.’
‘Ok. But can I come back? Please. Let me take you out to dinner. We need to talk about this properly. I know you’re angry right now. And so you should be. But please let’s not leave it here.’
‘I think it would be better if you just went back to London and organised a solicitor.’
‘No, Imogen please. I have changed I swear.’ He begged. ‘Dinner tonight, please.’
‘I’ll meet you at your hotel at seven. Now please leave.’ She stood up to reinforce the fact that his time was up.
‘I’ll book a table.’ And he left.
Imogen stood for a long time without really knowing what she was doing or thinking. Eventually she started loading the tray with the tea things and took them into the kitchen. At the sink washing up she ran though what had just happened. She had been shocked when he told her how many women he had slept with while they were married. But than he had told her. There was a time when he would have tried to deny it and gotten angry with her for questioning him. He had changed. She could see that. Everything about him seemed to be different. He had listened to her for a start. And he seemed to be really upset by Philip. That was a surprise. Mind you he had a nerve to question her about Philip when he knew what he was guilty of. She wondered how much she could trust what he told her. He seemed to be telling her the truth. He looked embarrassed and awkward. And he did seem to be genuinely sorry about it all. Well we’ll see tonight, she thought.

Cherith was pacing up and down Molly’s sitting room. She had asked Imogen to call her as soon as James left. It was nearly lunchtime. He must have been and gone by now. When the phone rang she jumped. She could hear Molly’s voice and was almost sure it was Imogen. Eventually Molly came into the sitting room with the phone.
‘It’s Ginny.’ Molly handed Cherith the phone.
‘Hello darling. Are you all right?’
‘Fine mum. He’s gone.’
‘Was it very awful?’
‘Very. Still at least it’s over for now. He wants to meet again tonight for dinner.’
‘Can I come over?’
‘Yes please.’
A few minuets later Cherith and Imogen were sitting at the garden table.
‘So.’ Cherith said. ‘Do you think you’ll be able to sort things out?’
‘Right now I don’t know. He dose seem different. I asked him outright about the other women and he didn’t try to deny it. He said that he had slept with about twenty women, all wives of clients, since we’ve been married. He was quite honest about it all. He said he was very sorry and that at the time it was just business.’
‘Bastard! Oh darling I’m so sorry.’
‘It’s not your fault mum.’
‘So what now?’
‘I don’t know. He does seem different. I think he has changed. I just wish I knew whether I can trust what he’s telling me.’
‘Are you going to see him tonight?’
‘I think so. I’m curious.’
The sound of the gate squeaking made both women turn around. Imogen thought it must be Philip coming to see if she was ok. She wanted to introduce him to Cherith. It was only fair really. She got up and went to meet him. As she stepped off the patio she stopped dead and went very pale.
‘Mum. I think you should come over here.’
‘What on earth’s the matter darling?’ Cherith hurried over.
Imogen pointed to where Henry was coming up the path.
‘Oh good God.’ Cherith groaned. ‘What on earth is he doing here?’
Henry looked across the garden and saw Cherith and Imogen standing as if they were waiting for him. Although he was still angry with Imogen he had to admit she looked better than she had for years. And there was Cherith. He was so relived to see her.
‘Hello Cherith.’
‘Henry. What the bloody hell are you doing here?’ She stood with her hand on her hips and a face like thunder.
That was a bit much. The least she could do was be pleased to see him.
‘I could ask you the same question. You were supposed to be home ages ago.’
‘I don’t remember making any promises.’
‘You said two days. You said you would be gone two days.’
‘And I decided to stay a little longer Henry.’ She gave him a look that dared him to challenge her.
Henry harrumphed and kicked around at the gravel on the path.
‘Well seeing as you’re here you might as well come and sit down.’ Cherith gave a little half smile. She was going to enjoy this.
‘Hello dad.’ Imogen had been hanging back behind her mother, but now she stepped forward.
‘Oh…yes…hello.’ He looked across at his daughter. There was a lot he wanted to say to her.
‘Did you know James was coming? Have you two cooked all this up between you?’ Cherith said. She kept her eyes steadily on him. Years of experience had taught her to tell instantly when he was lying. He had a way of sliding his eyes slightly sideways.
‘No. The first I knew of it was when I saw him this morning at breakfast.’ His eyes stayed where they were.
‘You mean you’re staying in the same hotel?’ Cherith tried to keep the amusement out of her voice.
‘Bloody nightmare. We have not been on very good terms lately.’
‘Oh?’ Cherith raised an eyebrow. It must be serious if Henry had fallen out with his blue-eyed boy.
‘He’s left the firm! Can you believe it? He’s gone and set up on his own. Cheeky sods taken half my best clients with him too.’
‘Good for him.’ Cherith said.
‘Cherith!’ Henry‘s mouth flapped like a stranded Haddock.
‘Oh for goodness sake Henry. It was only a matter of time before he did something like that. He’s too good at what he does to stay working in a time locked place like yours. I know you built it up greatly after your father, but you’ve been standing still for years. James took things forward for a while, but there’s only so much he can do.’
‘What about good old fashioned loyalty?’ She seemed to be echoing everything he had been hearing over the last few days. It seemed everyone was suddenly against him. He had hoped she would back him up and he could get back to normal. Now it seemed things would never be the same again.
‘Loyalty is like respect Henry. To get it you have to earn it.’
‘And what is that supposed to mean?’
‘The letters Henry.’
‘Oh indeed.’
Imogen decided to leave them to it and crept into the house.
‘You broke into my desk.’ Henry tried to sound indignant.
‘Don’t change the subject. You knew very well how I felt about you and you knew how scared I was of loosing you. You kept those letters hidden and made sure you never gave your feelings away. You played games with me all our married life and that is unforgivable. You used those letters as a way of controlling me. And it worked to. For years I was so unsure of your feelings for me that I was willing to do anything to keep you. And how much did you love that? When I kept loosing the babies I was convinced you were going to leave me. I was sick with fear. You stood by and watched me go through that and never said a word. I’ve herd of manipulation Henry, but you take the biscuit.’
Henry was silent. What could he say to all that? Everything she had said was true. He would like to say that he hadn’t done any of it deliberately, but that would be a lie. He knew how much she had loved him when the first married. And he knew how insecure she was. He used that to his advantage and quickly discovered that it was possible to get his own way in everything simply by acting a little cool towards her. As soon as she thought he was in any way displeased with her she would give in and go along with whatever he said. Now he saw how hurt she was, how angry she was. Whatever he might be he was nothing without Cherith. Had he pushed his luck too far this time?
‘I’m sorry.’ He said eventually, his red face turning very pale.
‘Is that it? Is that all I get? Well in that case I think you might as well go home Henry.’ Cherith started to rise from her chair.
‘No. I mean…I don’t want to.’
‘And you always have to have what you want don’t you?’
‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
‘So what do you mean?’ Cherith raised her eyebrows and leaned back in her chair.
‘I want you to come home with me. I need you to.’ He was turning very red, but this time not from rage. He twisted around in his chair and looked down at his feet.
‘I’m sorry?’ He blinked hard.
‘Why do you need me to come home? You have Mrs Davis to come in and clean for you and you have your club to go to for you meals. You have endless staff at the offices to do all your running around. And you can well afford to pay someone to come in and do you laundry and any other little jobs. You really don’t need me at all.’
Henry screwed his face up and clenched his fists. He was going to have to say it.
‘I love you.’ He whispered.
‘I’m sorry Henry did you say something?’ She couldn’t help it. She had heard perfectly well but his discomfort at having to say it was priceless.
He took a deep breath and lifted his head to look her in the eyes.
‘I love you Cherith.’
‘Well done. Now we’ve got that clear shall we go and find some tea?’ Hard as she tried Cherith couldn’t take the grin off her face. They had been married thirty-five years and that was the first time he had ever said that to her.

Chapter Eighteen.

James sat on the edge of his hotel bed and ran his hands through his hair. This morning had not gone well. He wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting. He knew he had changed but he had somehow imagined her to have stayed the same. That was stupid of course. She looked so beautiful, so much like the girl he had married. But she had grown up. She had found out a lot about herself over the summer, that was obvious. When he had decided to come he was sure he would be able to talk her around. She would be impressed with his new business, his new look and his new attitudes. Now he was worried that she was really serious about a divorce. It was one thing to talk a client out of going with another firm; he could do that all day long. But talking your wife out of divorcing you, that was going to be a challenge.
He took the ring box out of his jacket pocket. The eternity ring that was sitting there in the window of one of the jewellers in the Burlington Arcade now sat in his hand. He had got her engagement ring from there, and their wedding rings. Now he’d gone back to buy a white gold band encrusted with white diamonds. He hadn’t asked the man how much, just handed over his card, whatever the price Imogen was worth it. Now he cringed at how corny it all was. What did he think he was going to do with it? Did he think that she would take one look at it and fly into his arms and forgive him everything? He still had a lot to learn if he thought that an expensive bauble would be enough. It was all he had ever done after all, throw money at her. This morning she had made it clear that what she had wanted, needed, from him was respect and consideration. If he gave her the ring now it would make him look shallow. It would make him look as if he hadn’t been listening to her at all. He put it away in his pocket. There may come a day when he could present it to her, but that time was a long way off.
For now he had to get through dinner. There was still so much he wanted to tell her. He prayed she would let him. He had a horrid feeling he was going to end up with his dinner in his lap and his wine poured over his head. Maybe this morning was it. Maybe she had gotten her anger over and done with. Maybe she never would get over it. And maybe he couldn’t blame her for that. He had a lot of ground to make up and a lot of grovelling to do. But there had to be a limit. Even though he deserved her anger he wasn’t going to take it forever, he couldn’t. If she couldn’t get over it, if he couldn’t get her over it, then he would have to admit that it really was all over. Thinking like that made him shudder and he pushed the thought away. He had to try and be positive.
At least the boy, or Philip as he now knew him to be, wasn’t going to be an issue. There had obviously been something between them, but he was glad that it didn’t seem to be serious. Friends she had said, but he knew the look on Philip’s face when he let him in that night. She might not be in love with Philip, but Philip was in love with her. And he had seen the look of horror on Imogen’s face when she saw him standing there. They may not have had anything to feel guilty about, but she had felt guilty none the less. He hoped that that was a good thing. He hoped that that meant that there might be some hope for him. She had said she still had respect for their wedding vows, which was encouraging.

He looked at his watch. It was only four o’clock. What was there to do in a small seaside town at the end of summer? He would go out and find out. This place obviously meant a lot to Imogen and it wouldn’t do him any harm to find out why. He put his jacket back on and went out into the afternoon sunshine. It was very beautiful. Just opposite the hotel was the little harbour. Fishing boats bobbed about in the water and their rigging clanked and jangled. He bought himself an ice cream from the kiosk on the harbour side. Sea gulls screeched over his head and eyed up his cornet. Everything was starting to close down now. A couple more weeks and it would all be over for the year. The schools had already gone back and the streets were quite. A few retired couples wandered around, like him killing time before dinner. Soon the locals would reclaim their town again, until Easter.
After the second turn around the main streets he went back to the hotel. If he took a shower, a long shower, and took his time getting changed then the time might not drag too much.

Imogen opened the bottle of wine and poured herself and Philip a glass.
‘It didn’t go well then?’ He asked.
‘I don’t know how it was supposed to go really. Do these things ever go well?’
‘Probably not.’
‘Anyway we’re holding round two over dinner. I wanted him to go, but he asked, begged actually. And he had a real bee in his bonnet over you. It upset him seeing you there last night. He put two and two together and got five, serves him right. Oh listen to me, God what a bitch.’ She put her head in her hands and screwed her eyes up.
‘Not a bitch. Just someone who’s been hurt.’
‘I’m really going to miss you. Who’s going to hold my hand once you’re gone?’
‘You don’t need me to do that anymore.’
‘I’ll still miss you.’
‘I’ll miss you to.’
‘What time‘s the flight?’
‘Three in the afternoon. Uni starts in three weeks and there are things I need to do before then. And I should spend some time with the olds before I go. Uni’s a hundred miles away so I’ll be living in.’
‘No sleep or proper food for a while then.’
‘Probably not. Mum’ll want to feed me up before I go. It’ll be good to see them all.’
‘You must miss them?’
‘Heaps. More than I thought I would, but not as much as I’m going to miss you. Sorry, not helpful.’
‘Nice though.’ Imogen smiled. It was a nice feeling to think he was going to miss her, but she hoped he wouldn’t miss her too much.
‘So tonight. What’s the plan?’
‘I don’t think I have one. I’ll see what he has to say. I’ll say what I need to say. And we’ll take it from there.’
‘That sounds like a plan to me. I’d better go. You’ll want to get ready. Can I come and see you tomorrow? And can I ask a favour?’
‘I should think so.’
‘Could you give me a lift to the airport?’
‘I should think so.’ Imogen bit her lip as she watched him leave.

The restaurant at the hotel was almost deserted. James sat at the table and fiddled with the napkin. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this nervous. He hoped that was a good sign. He also hoped he didn’t blow tonight like he nearly had this morning. He looked at his watch again. Five minutes had passed, was that all? He looked around and tried to find something to focus on. He was just about to give in to temptation and order a large whisky when he saw Imogen arrive.
‘Hello.’ James stood up and went to help her with her jacket.
‘Thank you.’ She handed it to him and he handed it to the waiter.
‘Is this all right? We could move nearer to the window?’
‘This is fine.’
‘Good…Good. Shall we sit?’ He pulled her chair out for her.
‘Thank you.’
‘Can I get you a drink?’
‘White wine please.’ He hadn’t already ordered? She raised an eyebrow.
‘Can we have a bottle of white wine please? And the menu.’ He said to the waiter.
‘You haven’t looked at the menu yet?’
‘No. I thought I’d wait for you.’
‘I know. I’m sorry I used to do that. It was rude. You choose whatever you like. Have three puddings if you want. And I won’t say anything about garlic, or too much alcohol, or shell on prawns.’
‘Thank you.’ Better and better, she couldn’t help smiling.
When the waiter returned with the wine James indicated that he should let Imogen try it first. And when he came back to take their order he let her order first and said nothing when she ordered salmon mouse followed by roast cod, in fact he said he would have the same.
‘This is lovely.’ He said.
‘I thought you said never to have fish with fish.’
‘I used to say a lot of thing that turned out to be complete rubbish.’
They ate in silence for a while. It wasn’t exactly that there was an elephant in the room, more like a few small hippos.
‘I’m sorry I threw you out this morning.’ Imogen said at last. ‘It wasn’t the most grown up thing to do.’
‘You were angry. I knew you would be when that subject came up. To be honest I was hoping it wouldn’t. Still it’s out there now isn’t it? How did you know?’ He had been wondering all day.
‘I didn’t, not for sure. It was something that came to me.’ How was she going to explain that her dead aunt had given her the idea? ‘I was sitting in the garden thinking about it all. I realised how easy it would be for you. It was not long after I met Philip. I admit that I was thinking of him a lot in the way a married woman shouldn’t think about another man. We did kiss once or twice, but that was as far as it went. It made me think how you would feel if you found out. Then I started to put two and two together. I realised that it was very likely you had been cheating on me for years. It suddenly seemed to make sense. There were a few odd phone messages. A few strange comments from your colleges and a lot of the wives were over friendly with you. I dismissed it at the time, or decided not to admit it to myself.’
‘I’m sorry I caused you so much pain. Please believe me, I was never cheating on you in the way you’re thinking. I never had an affair. I never had a relationship with another woman. It was sex, just sex. And not even for pleasure. Oh this makes me sound like such a creep. I hate what I used to be. I wish I could change it, make it go away. But I can’t. I really am so, so sorry Imogen.’
Imogen sighed. What more could be said on the subject? He had admitted it all and apologised. She had let him know how angry she was and he had taken it and apologised again. There would really be no point in dragging it out any further. It would take a long time before she could forget it, if she ever did. And it might be a while before she forgave him completely. But she had been nearly as bad. Philip had been a big temptation which she had nearly given in to.
‘Shall we agree to just let it be? I accept that you’re sorry. I think I believe you. I think it would be better if we try and get beyond it.’
‘That sound like a good idea to me. I was shocked when I saw Philip in your bathrobe. But I believe you when you say there was nothing between you. I appreciate that you didn’t give in to your feelings, it means a lot.’
‘Ok then. Shall we have pudding?’
Imogen decided that, nice as they all sounded, she could only manage one desert. Eventually she went for a dark chocolate mouse with raspberries. James, who never usually had sweet things, went for a lemon fool.
‘I have a bit of news actually.’ James said.
‘Oh yes?’
‘I’ve parted company with your father and started up on my own.’
‘I know. I was surprised I must say. I thought you two were inseparable.’ She heard Henry saying something about it to Cherith that afternoon.
‘Perhaps we were for a time. But I didn’t like the way he behaved when he found out that you had left. He was so wrapped up in how it was affecting him and the business. I admit I thought the same way for a while. Anyway he kept on and on at me. I deserved some of it. I was turning up late, and not very well turned out. But after a while I looked at him and realised how much I was turning into him. Sorry, I know he’s you father.’
‘Don’t be sorry. I know exactly what he can be like. And I have to say I was starting to wonder if I hadn’t, in fact, married my father.’
‘Point taken. Why did you never tell me any of this when we were together?’
‘Would you have listened?’
‘Probably not.’
‘And anyway I probably couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have known what to say or how to say it. And I would have been terrified of your reaction.’
‘Was I really that bad?’
‘Looking back, no. At the time I was scared of my own shadow. I had you on one side and dad on the other. I didn’t stand a chance. I needed to get away from everything, not just you. I was drowning. I had so much and I felt so guilty that I wasn’t happy. I tried to blame you and I tried to blame dad. The truth is that if I had been a different person it would all have been very different.’ Imogen scraped the bottom of the dish and wondered if there was any chance she could fit another one in without being sick, no better not.
‘We should never have gotten married should we?’ James said. The lemon fool had been fantastic and he wondered why he had never bothered with desert before.
‘No. At least not when we did. I knew what dad was up to you know. I knew I was part of some kind of bargain. Back then I didn’t know how to say no to him. Mum never did. Rowena always did and it led to some dreadful rows. I couldn’t bare the thought of his disapproval. I saw how he would let it fester. If I upset him once he would never have forgiven me.’
‘I was greedy. I can’t tell you how many times over this summer I have cursed him, and me, for using you like that. I’m going to spend all night saying sorry aren’t I?’ James tried to raise a smile.
‘You don’t have to apologise, but it’s nice that you feel you can. And I have to as well.’
‘What on earth for?’
‘For not being everything you were expecting. I wasn’t the kind of woman you should have married.’
‘Is that what you thought?’
‘Most of the time.’
‘Oh Imogen. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I mean that I wasn’t the sort of man you should have married.’
‘Would you have asked me if it hadn’t been for dad?’
James went quiet. He knew he had to be truthful, even if it got him nothing but a slap in the face.
‘To be honest I probably wouldn’t even have asked you out. Not because I didn’t like you.’ he added in a hurry. ‘But you were much too young for me. I thought you were very pretty though.’
‘Thank you. I think. Dad made you ask me out didn’t he? I’ve always known, deep down. I knew he was behind it all long before Rowena said anything.’
‘Yes he did. I could say that it was all my own doing. But he did make suggestions yes.’
‘And he offered you promotions in exchange for being nice to me?’ Imogen saw the look on James’ face. ‘Please James.’
‘Yes he did.’ James hung his head. ‘Oh bloody hell. I’ve been over this in my head a hundred times, and I’ve had it out with Henry. But sitting here with you in front of me, shit.’ He ran his hands through his hair.
‘I’m not angry, not any more. I was when I first got here. Everything that had been building up over the last few years came flooding out when I was finally on my own. I’d never let myself think about it all while I was in London. I’ve been over it again and again. Molly has and opinion, Eleanor has an opinion, Rowena had an opinion. It seemed everyone did except me.’ She smiled a thin smile. ‘When I did start to think about it I did get angry for a while. That’s over now. I expect he made it all sound so attractive, wrapped it all up so that it seemed like the best thing all round. Am I right?’
‘Something like that. He said I would be taking a great weight off of his mind. If we were married then he knew you were being looked after. He said that you weren’t very strong and that he worried. Then he said that, of course, if I were part of the family then I would always be given first refusal on any promotions that might come up. And that as his son-in-law it would be perfectly natural for him to hand everything over to me in time.’
‘He’s good. You have to hand it to him. He told me how much I needed looking after and that you would be good for me. I think there might have been some truth to it. Mum lost two babies before I came along.’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘Not many people did.’
‘I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse. He sold you to me Imogen. And I bought you.’
‘I suppose you could put it like that. That’s how Rowena saw it. She tried very hard to talk me out of marrying you.’ She caught the waiter’s eye and ordered coffee. She saw the look of surprise on James’ face.
‘Sorry did you not want coffee?’ She asked.
‘Yes I do. I was just…’
‘Surprised that I did it without asking you or waiting for you to do it?’
‘Yes. You’ve changed.’
‘I hope so. For the better?’
‘I think so. I think we both have.’
‘You certainly have. No tie for a start.’ She indicated his open necked shirt that he was wearing under his linen jacket.
‘I had a clear out when I started up on my own. I decided I needed a new look.’
‘It suits you.’
‘Thank you.’
‘So how’s the new business going?’
‘Better than I could have hoped. Flora has come with me. I had so many phone calls asking what I was up to and could they be part of it. Henry’s spitting. I didn’t poach anyone though, whatever he says. We’ve just moved into a new office, brand new, all shiny chrome and glass. The house is a mess though, paper everywhere. I had no idea how much time it would all take. Some days I didn’t bother going to bed. I wanted to come down two weeks ago, but it all got a bit much. Then I realised that I was putting work before you again. I called Flora and told her she was in charge and got in the car. I’ve even turned my phone off.’
‘Imogen come back with me.’ He reached over and took hold of her hands. ‘Please come back to London with me.’
Imogen shook her head.
‘Sorry. Of course you want to think about it all. And so should I. Ok, no pressure. But if you want to I’ll put the house on the market. You can choose where we live. If you don’t want to stay in London then we can move to the counties. I could work from home part of the week.’
‘I don’t know James. This is all a bit too soon. A few days ago I was convinced we were going to get divorced. Now you’ve thrown all this at me and I need to think about it. And you need to think about it. I’m not the same person I was James. You might decide you don’t really want me back after all.’
‘I’ll never think that. But you’re right. Let’s call it a day for tonight. You know where I am.’
‘Yes.’ Imogen got up and the waiter brought her coat.
‘Can I call you in a day or two?’
‘In a day or two.’