Authors: Elizabeth Forbes
Tags: #Novel, #Fiction, #Relationships, #Romance
A Cutting Edge Press Paperback Original Published in 2013 by Cutting Edge Press
Copyright © Elizabeth Forbes
Elizabeth Forbes has asserted her moral right to be identified as the author of this work under the terms of the 1988 Copyright Design and Patents Act.
This book is sold subject to the conditions that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published, and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The characters appearing in this book are fictitious, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd.
PB ISBN: 978-1-908122-58-2
E-PUB ISBN: 978-1-908122-59-9
E-Book production by Mousemat Design Limited
All rights are reserved to the author and publishers.
Reproduction in any form currently known or yet to be invented, or the use of any extract is only permitted with the written approval of the publishers.
The world of reality has its limits;
the world of imagination is boundless.
To darling Jamie
For being in my life, always
‘It’s like waking from a dream; the brief moment which divides fantasy from reality; the tenuous bridge of perception between the two. That’s when I think I glimpse something; and if I can only just hold on to the moment for long enough I’ll be able to understand everything that happened.’
‘And what can you remember, what do you see, in that moment?’
‘Mixed, incorporeal images that I can’t quite make out, save for their colours. I see colours. I see red; and blindingly bright white, and green . . . Yes, green. A green curtain, I think. A green curtain which separated me from my baby. I couldn’t see her, you know. I was awake. Flat on my back with a green curtain above my stomach I was listening for a cry. They handed her straight to Dan while they stitched me up. And he just kept hold of her. I asked him to give her to me, but he wouldn’t. You know he shouldn’t have done that, should he? He should have given her to me. If he’d only given her to me, right then, then everything would have been all right. All this . . . everything would have been all right.’
Memory can play strange tricks on you, but there are some things I recall so clearly it’s like a movie replaying in my mind, like the first time I saw her. I was sitting at the table on Sally and Patrick Priestley’s terrace chatting with my friend Amelia; a Sunday lunch party on a perfect summer’s day. I’d seen the car coming up the drive: a green convertible driven by a lone woman. I think they call it British racing green. It had a personalized number plate, ELI 40. Amelia had her back to the drive but I was watching the car, over her shoulder. The engine was so smooth that the sound of it was drowned out by the crunch of crushed gravel beneath the fat tyres. As the car door opened I saw the shoes. They were red; scarlet, shiny, blood-red and high-heeled. I remember thinking: how unusual. Sunday lunch in the country was usually fairly informal. And she was wearing bright red high-heeled shoes. Amelia was still chatting to me, but I was only half-listening. I was watching her. And then I noticed a lull in everyone else’s conversation as their eyes drifted, like mine. Even Amelia turned around, drawn by everyone else’s glances. She unfolded herself from the car in one fluid movement as if she’d practised to make it perfect. And as she stood up she smoothed her dress before ducking back in to collect her handbag and a small be-ribboned gift box. The box was shiny and the ribbon showy; not at all like the usual family-sized offering of Maltesers we were used to in these parts. Her dress was white, splattered with roses, sort of fifties style, with a belted waist and big skirt; tight over her bust.
‘Blimey . . .’ I heard Amelia murmur.
Sally, our hostess, was standing on the edge of the terrace at the top of the steps, and she called out, ‘Ellie, hi! You found us!’
We were all watching; all thinking, I imagine, the same thing: who
she? She walked up the steps and Sally kissed her on each cheek. She tossed her hair back like the girl in the L’Oréal ad. It was a rich, coppery-red colour. Not ginger or orangey red, more saffron I guess you’d call it. And red shoes. Brave, I thought. Sally brought her over to the table to perform the introductions.
When it was my turn I gave her a big smile and mouthed ‘hello’, but she barely made eye contact. Sally put her hand under her elbow and led her over to meet our men. I carried on watching her. I watched my Dan pause mid-conversation with Amelia’s William. I saw both Dan and William put on their best smiles, while Patrick placed a glass of champagne in her hand. Amelia muttered to me, ‘Who is she?’ and I shrugged.
‘Don’t know. No idea. Glamorous, though.’
‘Isn’t she? I wonder if there’s a husband.’
I laughed because that just about summed up what we were both thinking.
As Amelia and I continued to chat, I kept stealing glances towards her. She was smoking a cigarette, showing off her red lipstick and neat, matching fingernails. Patrick hates smoking but I noticed an ashtray had been found for her. And I noticed that Dan was smoking too, in spite of the fact he’d given up nearly five years ago.
Lunch was really fun, but for some reason I felt quiet on the way home. I’d been sitting at one end of the table, next to Patrick, in pride of place, I suppose. I wondered why Sally hadn’t put Ellie next to him, considering she was new blood. Sally was at the other end of the table, with Dan beside her, and then Ellie beside him. Sally was jumping up and down all the time, doing her hostess duties, leaving Ellie to chat to Dan. They seemed to be hitting it off pretty well; so well that after the pudding Ellie went outside to have another cigarette and Dan joined her, to keep her company. That was Dan for you: affable, easily led.
‘You’re very quiet,’ Dan said.
‘Me? No, just feeling relaxed after all that wine.’
‘Did you have fun?’
‘Yes. It was lovely. Sally’s such a good cook.’
‘Yes. Lucky Patrick!’
‘Very lucky Patrick. I only hope he realizes just how lucky he is.’
‘All that business sorted now?’
‘I think so. Sally hasn’t mentioned it for ages.’
‘Stupid bugger, more like. I hope you’d never be that stupid.’
‘God no – and have to buy you a new kitchen, like Patrick had to do? And besides, I think I’d go for a younger model, not some old dog I was at school with.’
‘Joke! Ouch . . . there’s no need to pinch me. Your nails are really sharp.’
‘Good. Anyway, what was she like?’
‘You know who, silly.’
‘Who is she?’
Dan shrugged. ‘A writer, on a retreat, she said. To work on her novel.’
‘Wonder why she’d come here? You’d think a retreat would be in the middle of nowhere . . . and we’re hardly that. Still, it depends what you’re used to.’
We’d stopped at the T-junction and Dan was checking the road. He didn’t respond. ‘So,’ I wondered aloud, ‘does that mean she’s here for a while?’
‘No idea.’ We were driving past the Gales’ barn conversion.
‘That’s where she’s going to be living.’
‘Really? Jules hasn’t wasted any time. It’s barely finished.’ I’d seen the carpet company’s van only a few days before.
‘The Gales never hang around where money’s concerned.’
‘No. But they work damned hard. I’d have made more effort to talk to her if I’d known she was going to be our nearest neighbour.’
‘I shouldn’t worry. You’ll have plenty of opportunity.’
‘No, silly. Does
have a husband?’
He looked at me sideways. ‘Now why would you ask that?’
‘Just curious . . .’
He lifted his eyebrows in a silent ‘wouldn’t you like to know . .
‘Well?’ I persisted.
‘As far as I know she’s separated, or divorced. Didn’t really take much notice, to tell you the truth.’
And that was that.
It was a hot day. I should have taken the roof down but I didn’t want to get my hair all blown about and arrive looking like I’d swallowed a cattle prod. Vain of me, perhaps, but first impressions do count, don’t they? Obviously I wanted to make a good one.
I was aware of them all watching me as I got out of the car. I’d bought Sally a really nice present because I was touched that she’d asked me. Probably trying too hard, but you know how it is. Anyway, everyone was really polite, introducing me and all the usual stuff.
I remember meeting Dan. I was glad I was placed next to him at lunch. It was good. I enjoyed it. I remember laughing. He was funny.