Authors: Rachael Lucas
Tags: #Fiction, #General
To Ross, with love always
When angels fell, some fell on the land,
some on the sea.
The former are the faeries and the latter were
often said to be the seals.
‘If you’re waiting for me to get down on one knee, I wouldn’t hold your breath.’ Ian swigged his beer, wiped his mouth and nodded towards the dance
Kate took a deep breath. If they carried on much longer, she wouldn’t even
Ian, let alone love him. Why on earth couldn’t she pluck up the courage to say it out
‘Come on, you two, you can’t sit there all night!’ Emma swirled across to their table, glorious in a Grace Kelly-style wedding dress. She looked beautiful. Her
décolletage was covered – the dress was buttoned to the neck – and her arms were sheathed in lace, but the demure dress was having quite an effect on her new husband Sam. Arms
wrapped around her, he whispered into Emma’s hair and she giggled, raising her eyebrows in shock.
Ian stood up and pulled Kate into an awkward embrace. Shuffling round the floor, watching the other couples dance, Kate winced, thinking about the squabble they’d had that morning as they
got ready for the wedding. Ian had been furious at Kate’s untidiness, insisting on cleaning the entire kitchen before they left, just to make a point. The never-ending bickering was so
exhausting. They’d driven to the church in silence and had barely spoken to each other during the service, or the wedding meal. There was something about a wedding that brought out the worst
in both of them. It wasn’t helped by the well-meaning comments from winking friends that it must be their turn soon, or the questions cheekily asking what was stopping them from making their
way up the aisle? Kate shuddered at the thought.
Ian leaned closer, his mouth on her ear. ‘I think it’s over, don’t you?’
Kate stiffened, but carried on dancing, plastering a fake smile on her face.
‘What d’you mean, over?’ Her primary feeling was irritation that he’d decided to bring this up now, of all times. She swallowed away a wave of panic, imagining waking up
alone. Emma caught her eye and mouthed ‘You okay?’
Kate nodded at her friend, giving a tight smile. Faced with the prospect of singlehood, she suddenly felt quite small and abandoned. She squeezed Ian’s arm, trying to placate him.
‘We’re fine, aren’t we? Have I done something wrong?’
‘Come on, Kate,’ Ian ran his hand across her back, looking at her with a gentle expression. ‘You deserve better than this.’
She caught his eye. Lovely, sweet, ever so slightly dull Ian, who’d been her best friend and lover for the last five years. But what was the alternative?
‘I can’t be on my own.’
‘Look, it’s for the best. Believe me.’
Tears were stinging her eyes now and she tried to pull away. He held her closer, whispering into her hair.
‘There’s nothing left, Kate. You know it as well as I do. All we ever do is fight.’
‘That’s because you moan at me for leaving crumbs in the bed, and coffee cups on the bedside table,’ said Kate, looking at him and remembering the first disagreement
they’d had that morning.
‘And you moan at me for being boring and predictable. It’s as I said before. There’s nothing left, Kate. One of us needs to be brave and say it.’
‘It’s Emma’s wedding day, for God’s sake. Why now?’
‘There’s never a good time to say something like this, is there?’ Ian looked at her and shrugged, his mouth a resigned line.
Kate’s face in the mirror looked exactly the same as it had that morning. But the dark-brown hair, which had been blow-dried straight, had waved in the heat; her black
eyeliner was smudged beneath grey eyes in a freckled face; and her strapless top had slipped down so that she was showing far too much cleavage. She wriggled it back up and ran her hands under the
cold tap. Everything looked just the same from the outside, but inside everything was upside down and very wrong. She grimaced at her own reflection.
‘Darling, what’s happened?’
Just what she needed. Her mother’s concerned face appeared in the adjoining mirror. Emma and Kate had been friends since primary school, and her mother’s pride at seeing Kate’s
best friend married off was equalled by her concern that Kate herself was still unattached.
‘If he’s not made wedding noises after five years, darling, he’s not going to.’ Kate had heard this with increasing regularity over the last few months.
‘You’ll be thirty and unmarried at this rate, darling.’
As usual, hours after Kate had started to look scruffy, her mother’s blonde hair was still immaculate, her bosom safely encased in a blouse from Jaeger, and her concerned eyes scanning
Kate’s reflection for signs of – what? Could she actually tell? Was it so obvious?
‘I think Ian and I might have split up. No, scratch that. We
Kate’s mum stopped halfway through applying her lipstick, her mouth a startled O, and looked at her daughter in the mirror. Her eyebrows raised, she opened her mouth to speak.
‘I’m okay.’ Kate held up her hands in a gesture of protest. ‘In fact, I’m more than okay. Don’t say anything. It’s Emma’s day.’
‘Me? Say anything? Of course I wouldn’t. Now give me a cuddle.’ Elizabeth squeezed her daughter’s shoulder, not wanting to crumple her outfit. ‘And wipe those eyes.
All that crying has made your eyeliner run. We’ll talk about this later.’
She popped her lipstick back into her bag, taking a deep breath and giving a decisive ‘That’s enough for now’ nod. Kate scrubbed at her eyes with a piece of loo roll. Never
mind that her eyeliner was always smudged. Easier to smile and agree. She took a deep breath and returned to the bar.
Ian was holding forth about something in a corner, with a collection of their male friends. He looked at Kate, a questioning eyebrow raised, still concerned for her well-being. She knew he was
right. They’d been treading water for the last year, clinging to the wreckage of their relationship. His sudden announcement was the lifebuoy they’d both desperately needed.
‘We’ll talk later,’ she mouthed at him. He raised his head in a half-nod of agreement. Kate turned to the bar and was swallowed up by the crowd. Five minutes later she emerged,
wobbling on her unfamiliar heels, carrying a tray of gin and tonics. Checking that no one was looking, she ducked behind a pillar, knocked back a couple and returned – her smile superglued on
– to the dance floor.
They made it upstairs at 2 a.m. Kate took off her makeup. Ian brushed his teeth beside her, avoiding her eye in the mirror. They didn’t talk, but wove in and out of each
other’s way with the familiarity of routine. He folded his suit, neatly. She dumped her dress on the chair, topped with the tangled mess of her tights, complete with knickers caught up
inside. They climbed into bed naked, out of habit. He looked down at their bodies and pulled a wry face. Together they pulled up the covers.
Ian was asleep in seconds. Kate lay awake, the room spinning slightly. The trouble was, she thought, that habit had characterized their relationship for so long they’d forgotten to notice
that nothing was left. Ian rolled over in his sleep, draping his arm across her waist. She picked it up to move it, thought better of it and curled into him for the last time.
‘No, Mum, I don’t want to move back home.’ Kate shifted the phone from one ear to the other and rolled her eyes. She was standing in the garden, contemplating
her half-dead herb bed. Not much point in salvaging any of it. In fact it was a rather unfortunate metaphor for the state of her relationship. ‘I have no idea where I’m going. Emma and
Sam have said I can stay in their spare room.’
Kate lifted up a snail shell to see if anyone was living in it. Empty. Perhaps she could move in there.
‘And what would it look like? “Hello, have you met my daughter, Kate? She’s twenty-six and lives at home with us. Oh, and she doesn’t have a job, or any prospects.”
I’d feel like something out of a Jane Austen novel. And I’d end up with you trying to marry me off to a vicar.’
No room for a dog in a snail shell, Kate reminded herself, and after all this time spent living with Ian, who was allergic to anything small, cute and fluffy, she was determined that a dog was
part of her future. Who needed men? A dog and some cats would do. And maybe some sensible shoes and a tweed skirt.
She placed the shell back in the flowerpot, realizing that she hadn’t a clue what her mother had said.
‘Mum, listen. It’s not Ian’s fault – it’s not anyone’s fault. We should have split up after university, instead of taking the easy option. He’s taking
over the lease, and we’ve sorted all the money – it’s fine. I need to pack. Call you later. Love you.’ Kate made a kissing noise down the phone and cut her mother off in
‘You off somewhere nice, love?’
Alan-from-next-door looked up from his begonias as Kate hauled her suitcase out of the garage.
‘Visiting friends.’ She couldn’t face explaining.
‘Ooh, lovely. Have a nice time, duck.’ Alan looked happy enough with the reply.
Standing on the front path, she looked up at the house as if for the first time. A red-brick semi on an executive estate, the house was perfectly pleasant and inoffensive. ‘Usefully
situated on the outskirts of Cambridge, with easy access to public transport and motorways,’ the letting agent had told them – but after four years it still didn’t feel like home,
and she wasn’t sad to leave. The house was soulless and sterile; or perhaps, thought Kate, looking at Alan and Barbara’s sweet cottage-style garden next door, it just echoed her
feelings. Turning around the little cul-de-sac, she saw happy piles of colourful welly boots and ride-on toy cars outside the door of no. 23. Veronica-from-across-the-road had obviously returned
from the stables, because her little 4x4 was parked in the driveway and the lights from the kitchen window were glowing.
She shook herself and headed back inside. Looking at the now-empty kitchen worktops and the spotless steel appliances, she felt a rush of relief. No more battles between his desire for
minimalism and her never-ending piles of clutter. When they’d first met, he’d found her untidiness as endearing as she’d found his order. ‘Opposites attract,’ they
used to say, smiling at each other. But that was five years back, in their final year of university, when Kate, desperate to create a sense of home, had moved into a tiny little basement flat with
Ian. It made her feel safe and secure, being part of a couple. KateandIan. IanandKate. When the occasional doubts about their brother-and-sister-style relationship popped up, or she wanted to eat
crisps in bed just to annoy him, Kate put them to one side. Nobody had a perfect relationship, did they?
When the subject of buying the house came up, though, Kate couldn’t shake off the sense that things really
right. She couldn’t bring herself to sign a mortgage
and tie herself to the house for the next twenty-five years. Surprisingly, Ian didn’t seem that concerned – maybe he, too, had realized that their relationship was more a convenience
than a grand passion?
She placed her much-loved Dualit toaster, bought with her first pay packet, into the packing box, showering crumbs everywhere. Then she stuffed her cookery books down the sides along with an
assortment of sharp knives, a box of scented tea-lights, some photo frames and a wonky, completely useless, leaky clay vase.
She taped up the final box and surveyed her work. Ten packing crates weren’t much to show for a five-year relationship. Funny, she thought, at twenty-six she’d still never lived
alone. She’d gone from home to halls of residence at Edinburgh University, and finally, when she and Ian graduated, they’d moved in together, more from force of habit than from any
great desire. Now she would be lodging with friends, like a student again.