Read When You Walked Back Into My Life Online

Authors: Hilary Boyd

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General

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BOOK: When You Walked Back Into My Life
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For a while they sat and ate in silence.

‘Mum said Fin’s back,’ Bel said, shooting a cautious look at her aunt.

Flora wished Prue hadn’t said anything. The more everyone talks about the man, the more real his presence becomes, she thought.

‘Yes. Well, he’s not back. I just bumped into him in the supermarket.’

‘Aren’t you going to see him? Mum seems to think you are. She’s going mental.’

Flora laughed. ‘She obviously doesn’t trust me to stay away.’

Bel was frowning. ‘But do you think you still love him?’ Fin and Bel had got on well. He wasn’t interested in relating to her as a child, but he would take her off swimming or to the park as soon as lunch was over – ever keen to escape confinement and social interchange – on the rare occasions he and Flora came up to London to visit the family.

She flinched at Bel’s question. ‘No … how could I?’ she said eventually.

Her niece watched her and waited, a worried look on her face.

‘I suppose maybe I still love the man who loved me back then,’ she added.

‘Wow.’ Bel frowned. ‘That’s complicated. But … maybe he still does love you. You don’t know.’

The television, put on pause, suddenly sprang to life and startled them both. Flora reached for the remote and turned it off.

‘I know people stop loving each other, but I don’t really understand how,’ Bel said. ‘I mean, if you have this intense feeling that takes you over like you can’t breathe … where does it go?’

Flora smiled and shrugged. ‘Where indeed.’

‘And can it come back at any time, if it’s been there once?’ Bel persisted. ‘What if I fell in love with someone now, and it didn’t work out for whatever reason? And then I met him again, say in twenty years’ time – when I’m old and married to someone else – why wouldn’t I, potentially, have the same feelings for him that I had before? It could be really dodge.’

Flora laughed. ‘You could. But mostly it doesn’t work like that. I suppose your feelings for the new person supersede the old love. Or the things that went wrong in the first place – the
anger and resentment and stuff – change your feelings. Kill them in most cases.’

‘Like with you and Fin.’

‘No … not like with me and Fin. We were happy, and then he left. There were no bad feelings to kill the love.’

‘So if …’ Bel paused.

‘It’s late and I’m really tired,’ Flora interrupted, before Bel could say any more. ‘I think I should get to bed.’

‘Yeah, sure. Sorry.’ Bel leapt to her feet. ‘Time to face the music about those dumb keys, I guess.’

Flora smiled and gave her a hug. ‘Good luck with that.’

‘If you hear Mum attacking me with a meat cleaver, you will come, won’t you?’

‘Only if you scream loudly enough. Your mum’s floor insulation is second to none.’


14 September

Flora could have turned north up Gloucester Road and gone to the Marks and Spencer on Kensington High Street for the groceries. She had done so before, and Dorothea loved the lemon mousse from there. But she turned right towards the arcade.

It was five days since she had seen Fin, and every day she struggled valiantly to dampen the volcanic emotions his presence had triggered. But, even in her most sensible moments, she couldn’t help feeling the tantalising breeze of hope. What if … what if … she asked herself in the silence of the early hours. And today she made a conscious decision to take one more look.

She spent longer than usual filling her basket. She
checked every aisle, lingered in the vegetable section, and was pleased that there was only one cashier on the tills so that the small queue held her up for a few moments more. But there was no sign of Fin and disappointment stung her, made her want to cry. As she walked dispiritedly back to Dorothea’s flat, she was aware of the dark shadow hovering at the edge of her brain like a gang of black figures ready to pounce. It frightened her.

When depression hit her a few weeks after Fin had left, she thought she had a physical illness, like flu or M.E. She had been poleaxed, literally unable to get out of bed. It had been three days before Sal, a friend from the hospital, had come round and persuaded Flora to let her in. She had taken one look at her and called the doctor. Flora remembered none of this, but apparently she had been taken into hospital for tests – her GP thinking too that she was the victim of a mysterious virus.

By this time Prue was in charge and had immediately arranged for her to come and stay at Cornwall Crescent. It wasn’t until weeks later that depression was finally diagnosed, then more time before the SSRI antidepressants kicked in and Prue felt she was safe to be left alone during the day. But even in her bleakest moments of despair and nihilism, Flora had never considered suicide. Just the task of getting herself dressed or preparing a simple meal had
seemed insurmountable; any decision – big or small – impossible.


Flora was hardly back from the shops when the bell rang.

‘Simon Kent,’ said the voice over the intercom, and she let the doctor in.

‘Hi, Flora.’


‘I’ve just popped in to tell you I’ve booked an x-ray for her stomach. The appointment should come through in the next week, I said it was urgent. I think we need to check out the pain she keeps complaining about.’

‘So you don’t think it’s just wind?’

‘It might be, but it seems too localised. And you say she’s not constipated.’ He paused, dropping his black case on the floor by the wall. He was dressed in a dark-grey suit and tie today, although often he wore chinos and a casual jacket. ‘Nothing else to report?’

Flora shook her head. ‘She seems better than usual, less tired. We’ve been up to the park a lot, which always perks her up.’

She and the doctor had taken a while to become friends, both wary of the professional nature of their situation. But when their patient had been very ill with a bladder infection a few weeks back, he had developed the habit of dropping
in to check on her – his surgery was just around the corner – on his way to or from another visit. Flora liked Simon Kent. He made her laugh, and they had gradually developed a sort of soundbite friendship based on the few minutes together as he came and went. But they never met outside the workplace, and she knew virtually nothing about his private life.

‘Not being funny,’ he said, looking at her questioningly, his head on one side and a slight frown on his brow. ‘But you look a tad gloomy today.’

‘That obvious is it?’ She gave him a rueful smile.

‘Not that it’s any of my business.’

His gaze didn’t waver and Flora found herself blushing. Dr Kent sometimes had a very direct way of looking at her with his dark, intense eyes that she found disconcerting. He was handsome – not with Fin’s assured confidence – but quietly good looking: thick dark hair, strong cheekbones, very long dark lashes around his brown eyes, a slim, fit physique. He was one of those men who, although always friendly, was often in a hurry, but would then suddenly stop and just be there. And in those moments, she had a sense that she could confide in him, tell him anything, although she never had thus far. But today she felt fragile and lacked her usual self-control.

‘If you really want to know,’ she said, ‘I bumped into an
old boyfriend – well more than a boyfriend really – in the supermarket a few days ago, and I can’t get him out of my head.’

He gave a small frown. ‘Well, you know what they say. Getting back with an ex is like eating a Mars Bar again and expecting it to have morphed into a Twix.’

She smiled. ‘Do they say that?’

‘All the time.’

‘And do you think “they” are right?’

‘My experience is limited to one. But if she’s anything to go by, I’d say spot on.’

‘OK …’ She waited for him to explain, but he didn’t. Instead, he said, ‘Perhaps you need diversion.’

‘Like what?’

‘Well, I was thinking a bit of ballroom dancing?’

Flora laughed. ‘Yeah, sure. That’d do it.’

‘Friday night any good?’

‘You’re serious?’

The doctor looked awkward now, his face suddenly clouded. ‘Not a date or anything. I didn’t mean that. There’s a gang of us go most weekends to a place in Earl’s Court. It’s fun, gives you a chance to let your hair down. You might enjoy it.’

It was Flora’s turn to be embarrassed. ‘Thanks, but I can’t dance.’ She remembered the last time she’d had to, at a
friend’s wedding. ‘I just shuffle about pretending I’m too cool to try any harder.’

‘Know the feeling. But you don’t have to be able to dance. A couple are full-on Fred Astaire wannabees, but the rest of us are just muddling through, having a laugh.’

Flora didn’t reply for a minute. Part of her wanted to go, wanted, as Simon said, to divert her thoughts, even for a few hours, away from Fin McCrea. But they were work colleagues … it might be awkward.

‘I’m afraid I can’t do Friday,’ she said.

‘OK,’ he replied with a quick smile. ‘Another time, perhaps.’

She nodded. ‘That’d be good.’


Flora couldn’t wait to get Dorothea into bed for her nap that afternoon. She herself felt much more tired than the old lady seemed to be. As soon as she was settled, she went through to the kitchen and made her own lunch: toast and cheese and a tomato. She took her plate and a cup of peppermint tea through to the sitting room and sat down on the sofa with a sigh of relief. I should have said yes to Dr Kent, she told herself as she munched her toast. She hardly ever got out these days; usually she was too knackered after a twelve-hour shift to even consider it. And given that it took time to change and get ready, then to travel somewhere,
and she only got off work at eight, the evening was almost over. But I could have made the effort, she thought. He was only trying to be nice.

Her mobile rang and she dug it out of her uniform pocket, swallowing her mouthful before speaking.

‘Rene, Hi.’

‘I need to have a word with you about something, Flora.’ The high-pitched voice on the other end of the phone sounded anxious as usual. ‘Is Dorothea asleep? Can I drop round now for half an hour? I don’t want her worried.’

‘Of course. See you in a minute,’ Flora replied. What else could she say to her employer? But she was thoroughly irritated at having her break interrupted. She wondered what Rene wanted to talk about. She made it sound terribly important, but then everything was a drama with Rene.

Dorothea’s friend made her customary whirlwind entrance. She was around sixty, Flora thought, small and very thin, with wild sandy-grey hair wisping around her long face like an overbalancing halo. She dressed invariably in a denim skirt or jeans, with a pastel T-shirt (perhaps also picked up as a bargain in Edinburgh Woollen Mill) topped with a sleeveless, navy padded body-warmer and sensible lace-ups. She had been friends with Dorothea for over thirty years. They had met at an art class, both pupils of a man
they called ‘the Maestro’ – Flora had no idea what his actual name was – who apparently took them for sketching trips to France. When Dorothea had begun getting a little frail, Rene had offered to take over some of the paperwork and bill paying, and it had eventually led to her having Dorothea’s power of attorney.

‘How is she?’ Rene whispered, before dashing through to the sitting room and closing the door behind them with exaggerated care.

‘Good, I think. She’s seems quite bright today,’ Flora told her.

Rene sat down on the sofa and gestured to Flora to do the same.

‘I wanted to talk to you without Dorothea overhearing.’

Flora nodded.

‘Has she said anything about Mary to you?’

Mary Martin was the nurse who worked almost every night, refusing to take time off because she said she slept most of the time and didn’t need to. Bel had developed a dramatic theory that she didn’t actually have a home, and that during the day she wandered from café to café, or sat on park benches until it was time to go on duty again.

‘No one,’ Bel insisted, ‘would want to stay in that dingy old flat every single night otherwise.’

‘They might if they needed the money, like me. Anyway,’
Flora had added, ‘she’s always banging on about her cat, Millie, so she must have a home somewhere.’

‘No, why?’ Flora asked Rene now.

‘Well, I came over for tea on Saturday, as I usually do. Pia went across the road for some cakes while I had a nice chat with Dorothea, and I took the opportunity to ask her how she was and if she was happy.’ Rene paused, giving Flora a glance laden with significance. ‘She said yes at first, then she looked towards the door, as if she was worried to say anything else. I told her we were alone but she still seemed nervous. When I pressed her, though, she eventually said, “The nurse … is sometimes a bit cross with me.”’

Rene pursed her lips and looked wide-eyed at Flora.

‘Are you saying she meant Pia?’ Flora asked. ‘Because I can’t imagine she’d ever be unkind to Dorothea. She wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ she added, in support of the gentle middle-aged Filipina woman who did weekends.

‘She wouldn’t tell me,’ Rene went on, smoothing her hands over her denim skirt. ‘But as you say, it can’t be Pia, surely, and certainly not you. She absolutely adores you. I was wondering about Mary.’

‘Oh, come on, Rene! Mary’s been working here as long as I have. If she was abusing Dorothea, surely she’d have said something before now. And they seem really fond of each other.’

‘Well …’

‘We had that Australian girl for a week when I was ill in the summer and Pia was on holiday.’

Rene frowned. ‘Would she remember that far back?’

‘Maybe she’s confused, or she hasn’t had a chance to say anything before.’

Dorothea’s friend nodded slowly. ‘Maybe … but what do you think of Mary … as a nurse?’

‘It’s hard to say. We don’t actually work together, just hand over at the beginning and end of shifts. But she seems like a good person to me.’

‘So from what you see, Dorothea gets on with Mary alright?’

‘Yes, absolutely fine. Mary has some bizarre ideas, like fish making Dorothea pee more in the night, but I’ve never seen her be anything but kind to her.’

BOOK: When You Walked Back Into My Life
2.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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