Read Another Love Online

Authors: Amanda Prowse

Another Love (10 page)

BOOK: Another Love
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‘I like your cooking, Mummy,’ Celeste said.

‘Oh, Rom, did you hear that? She likes your cooking!’ David pulled a wide-mouthed face to make them both laugh.

‘And why not? I’m a good cook when I try!’ She laughed as she poured the hot, dark brew from the cafetière and placed it in front of her husband.

‘Do you know, Celeste, when I met Mummy, she could just about manage beans on toast. We lived off biscuits and crisps that she kept in a cupboard in her room. We were like a couple of little mice, nibbling away. It was horrible!’ He added milk from the jug to his coffee.

‘It wasn’t horrible, it was wonderful! I liked being a little mouse. I was totally preoccupied with studying. Cooking for you, me or anyone didn’t enter my head. In fact I sometimes think if I didn’t have to shop and cook for you two, I’d still live off biscuits and crisps and the odd bit of toast. I’d go back to being like a little nibbling mouse.’ She smiled.

‘Heaven forbid!’ David grinned at his wife, holding her gaze.

The last few days had been lovely. Back-to-normal lovely, with both of them making an effort to erase the horrible memory of that night when she had let them both down, being so sloshed she had lost her dignity and so drunk she had forgotten him. Neither wanted to go through that again. It had shocked them both for very different reasons.

He had banned all wine and spirits from the house and she had willingly agreed, wanting to do anything that would put them back on track. What wasn’t so easy to control was the desire for booze that had been ignited inside her. It was on a different level now. She found herself thinking about it more, wanting it more and taking the opportunity during her working hours to indulge, which meant she could keep it from her husband.

Romilly placed a glass of orange juice in front of her daughter. ‘I think we’ll walk to school. What do you think, Celeste?’

‘Yep, good!’ She nodded.


Romilly locked the front door behind them and clutched her daughter’s hand as they made their way down the drive. Sara drove past in the Merc with the top down. ‘Well, hey! It’s my partner in crime!’ It was the first time they’d bumped into each other since their night out.

Romilly nodded, embarrassed at the memory and mortified to be reminded of it in front of Celeste. She looked at Mrs Rashid opposite, who was sorting her recycling in her dressing gown, and felt a shiver of revulsion that they had brought their unsavoury behaviour to this quiet cul-de-sac in Stoke Bishop. A place where families lived, where people trimmed back their hedges and mowed their lawns, stopping only for a cup of tea and a natter, and where Mrs Rashid felt comfortable to be pottering outside in her PJs.

‘Where are you two girls off to? Need a lift?’ Sara ran her tongue over her front teeth, checking for lipstick.

‘Can we, Mum? Sara’s car’s got no roof on it!’ Celeste jumped up and down.

Romilly pulled her daughter close alongside her. ‘No. Thanks, Sara, but it’s rare that I have time for the walk and we can have a proper chat. Plus the fresh air will do us the world of good.’

‘Oh, a proper chat, my favourite thing. Well, enjoy your walk and have a great day, Celeste. Rom, if you can get a late pass, you know where I am!’ And without waiting for a reply, she pulled her large-framed sunglasses from her hair and placed them on her face before roaring off up the street and onto the main road.

‘What’s a late pass?’ Celeste asked as she skipped alongside her mum on the pavement.

‘What would you like for tea? If you could have anything, anything at all?’ Romilly was keen to change the subject.

It seemed to do the trick. Celeste immediately placed her finger over her lips, as she did when she was thinking, and hummed. ‘I like pizza or I like roast chicken and red jelly.’

‘Roast chicken and red jelly, eeuuw, on the same plate?’

‘No, Mummy!’ She laughed. ‘Or one of your pies.’

Romilly arrived home with the heavy carrier bags of supper supplies making her fingers cramp. Walking into the kitchen, she dumped them on the floor and noticed that the little red light of the answer phone was winking. With a trembling finger, she pressed play and stood back.

‘Romilly, hi, it’s Mike Gregson here. I think we need to talk, so do call me back. You have my direct line and my mobile number, or if it’s easier, call Marta and let her know when’s a good time and I shall endeavour to call you back when it’s convenient. Thanks, Romilly. Talk to you soon, I hope.’

She rushed forward and deleted the message, pressing the button again and again and only feeling content when she heard twice over that there were ‘no new messages’. She didn’t want David asking any questions.

Her heart thudded and she felt the beginnings of a headache. Her hand shook as she unloaded the ready-to-roll pastry, chicken fillets, leeks and tub of cream onto the work surface. She put the shopping away and emptied the dishwasher. Glancing at the digital clock display on the cooker, she noted that it was 10.15.

Romilly ran the vacuum cleaner over the bedroom floors and folded the linen from the tumble dryer. She was considering what should be her next chore, undecided between watering the tubs in the garden or cleaning the bathroom, when the phone rang. Without too much thought, she sat on their bed and answered it.

‘Romilly, hello, it’s Mike Gregson here.’

she mouthed. Dr Gregson was her boss. She felt her stomach drop, making her feel sick. She hadn’t expected him to call again so soon.

‘Hi, Mike, how are you?’ She concentrated on keeping the quiver from her voice, tried to sound normal.

‘I’m good. Very good, thanks for asking, but the reason for my call is that I am more concerned with how you are.’ He was a kind man and his tone was one of genuine concern. She pictured his eyes crinkling at the sides as he spoke.

‘I’m great, apart from this bug that I emailed Marta about. Still not over it, I’m afraid, and I didn’t want to give it to anyone else.’ The lie caused her cheeks to flame. She removed her spectacles and wiped the sweat that had gathered at the corner of her eyes.

‘Yes, I was sorry to hear that.’

There was a pause while both considered where to go next, each wondering whose line it was. Both knew that she lying, which made it all the worse. It was Mike that finally drew breath.

‘The thing is, Romilly, I’m a little worried about you.’

‘Oh, there’s no need, really. I’m sure I shall be right as rain in a few days or so.’ She swallowed, trying to strike the right note between jovial and poorly, willing him to end the call with a cheery goodbye.

There was another awkward pause.

‘I am fond of you, Romilly. We all are. You are an absolute asset to the team.’

‘Thank you.’ Her voice cracked.

She thought about the day last week, early afternoon, when Tim had cornered her in the lab. ‘This is really awkward, Rom, and you know we’re mates, right?’ She’d nodded. Yes. Yes, she knew that. ‘But have you been drinking? I’m embarrassed to have to ask you…’ Her denial had been swift and emphatic; she had switched to aggression, the first form of defence. ‘I’m sorry, Rom,’ he’d said with a look of utter mortification, ‘this isn’t easy for me, it’s just that…’
She’d snapped, daring him to disclose more. ‘You’ve made a few mistakes recently and that’s okay, we all get tired and stuff happens – do you remember how I mucked up that batch of samples shortly after Phoebe was born and I was just too tired and you helped me? That’s what it means to be part of a team, isn’t it. We all cover for each other. But…’
Again she’d barked at him, her eyes narrowed. ‘Warwick has asked if he can switch to a new mentor and I think that’s probably a good idea. He’s noticed, in fact I’ve noticed too, that you smell of booze sometimes and you don’t really seem that with it.’ She pictured Warwick’s open face, keen to learn, and she closed her eyes, humiliated. She hadn’t been sure Tim would raise his concerns with the powers that be, but clearly he had.
Thanks a bunch, Tim, you bastard.

Mike drew her back to the present. ‘You truly are an absolute asset, but I need you to be safe, Rom.’ He spoke slowly. ‘I need to know that things are okay with you, especially as you’re working in a hazardous environment. You understand that, don’t you?’

She closed her eyes and spoke to the darkness; it was somehow easier than with their wedding photo staring back at her. Images from that incredible day flashed into her head – the beautiful brooch he’d given her, the girl she had been, the feeling of absolute wonder that David Arthur Wells wanted to marry
. ‘I do.’

‘Good. That’s good. I am here as and when you want to talk to me. You have some close friends here, you know, friends who care very deeply about you.’

She knew this was his way of saying don’t be mad at Tim.

‘But first and foremost I have to think about safety, everyone’s safety, not just yours. Do you understand where I’m coming from?’ His voice was firm but warm.

‘I do.’ She nodded. From now on she would need to be a lot more careful.

She made her way down to the hall and headed straight for the cupboard under the stairs. Opening it, she stared at the shoe rack, crammed with trainers in various stages of decay, boots, rollerblades, sandals and flip-flops. It was their little family, represented in so many bits of footwear. Stepping forward, she took her right wellington boot from its slot and tipped it upside down. The bottle of Chardonnay slid from its dark hiding place.

After carefully replacing the boot, she nipped into the kitchen and took a knife to the seal, carefully unwrapping the strip of plastic and twisting off the cap. There was no point in pretending: she didn’t reach for a glass or even a mug but simply put the bottle to her mouth and tipped her head back as she lifted it. The familiar thrill of placing the hard glass against her lip hadn’t dulled. The wine slipped down her throat, giving her an immediate, sharp jolt of euphoria and relief that tingled along her spine and fired out along her limbs. She smiled and closed her eyes, feeling instantly better. It was like the very best medicine.

Pausing, she thought about Tim’s interrogation and Mike’s slightly condescending tone. What was it to do with them how she lived, what she drank? It was up to her. Taking up the Chardonnay again, she polished off the plonk as she stood in the middle of the kitchen. Then she inhaled deeply, letting the feeling of bliss wash over her, before rinsing out the bottle and replacing the cap.

Pulling on David’s gardening shoes that were at least three sizes too big, she carefully carried the bottle out into the street. The Rashids’ car wasn’t in their driveway; they’d probably gone to the supermarket or over to their son’s to babysit. After a quick glance up and down the road, Romilly hurried across the block-paved driveway of the house opposite, lifted two empty jars of pasta sauce, a bottle of olive oil and an old jam pot, before stowing the empty wine bottle at the bottom of the box and replacing the items so no one would notice. Back inside the house, she ditched David’s shoes, cleaned her teeth, gargled with mouthwash and turned up the radio as she danced round the kitchen to Absolute 80s, feeling a huge sense of relief that all was now right with the world.


David walked through the door at half past six.

‘Wow! Something smells good.’ He smiled at the sight of his wife busying in the kitchen and Celeste setting the table for supper. ‘I rather like you not working, if this is what I get to come home to every night!’ He winked at his beautiful, academic wife, knowing that a week of staying home and playing the domestic goddess would have her climbing the walls. He grabbed her around the waist and kissed her cheek and then her mouth.

‘Yuck!’ Celeste yelled from the table.

‘You wait till you get a boyfriend and then marry him, you won’t think kissing is yuck then.’ Romilly laughed.

‘Mum’s right,’ David said as he slipped off his jacket and removed his tie.

‘I’m never going to have a boyfriend and I’m never going to get married!’ she shouted.

‘You don’t know that!’ Romilly snickered as she cut the pie and drained the tender-stem broccoli.

‘I do, because boys are horrible, they won’t let you play football even though you are better than Billy and Hamal and they call you Celery even though your name is Celeste, which is nothing like celery, which I don’t even like.’

Romilly and David stared at each other, torn between wanting to laugh and wanting to reassure their little girl that boys could be a bit daft at times and that when she found her voice and her confidence, she wouldn’t mind being called Celery so much. They settled on a conciliatory, ‘Oh, darling!’ and a hug.

David and Celeste picked up their cutlery and exchanged comments on how lovely their supper looked, while Romilly popped into the garage and returned with two chilled bottles of Spanish lager. David watched as she popped the lids and set one by his plate and another by her own.

‘Beer on a school night?’ He laughed, wary of spoiling the atmosphere. ‘Not sure if I want one actually.’ He concentrated on forking a tender chicken chunk into his mouth.

‘Don’t be boring, David, it’s only one beer! I thought it would go nicely with the pie. If you don’t want it, leave it.’ She sighed. The truth was that if he didn’t have one, she felt that she couldn’t either and this made her anger flare.

David picked up the cool, slippery bottle and held it up towards his wife. ‘You’re right, it’s only one. My training can wait. After all, I’m eating pastry and cream, how much harm is a beer going to do?’ He clinked the neck of the bottle against hers and they both sipped.

Dinner was a success. David and Celeste had cleared the table and stacked the dishwasher while Romilly soaked in the bath. With their daughter now sound asleep, the two turned off the main light and switched on one bedside lamp before slipping beneath the duvet. David opened his arms as Romilly removed her glasses, placed them on the bedside table and wriggled up to him before laying her head on his chest. He held her tight, running his fingers through her beautiful Titian locks. ‘Your hair will always fascinate me. It was the first thing I noticed about you.’

BOOK: Another Love
9.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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