Read Another Love Online

Authors: Amanda Prowse

Another Love (7 page)

BOOK: Another Love
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‘Well, he should have. You have a fab set and great hair; you’ve got that whole Jessica Rabbit thing going on.’

Romilly laughed, loudly. ‘I think Jessica Rabbit was slightly more hourglass than me and definitely didn’t wear glasses, or cardigans.’

‘Rom…’ Sara placed her hand on her arm. ‘I always say there are a dozen people waiting to put you down and knock the confidence out of you, so don’t do it to yourself. You are a very sexy lady and you should celebrate it!’

‘You think?’

‘I know!’ Sara winked.

‘Would you like a drink?’ Romilly liked their new neighbour. She liked her very much.

Sara looked at her watch. ‘It’s nearly five o’clock and in my house it’s practically illegal not to have a glass of plonk at this time.’ She banged the countertop. ‘You and me are going to be great mates, I can tell.’

Romilly smiled and went to the fridge. She didn’t need an excuse for a glass of wine, but having someone to drink it with made a welcome change. David rarely shared a bottle with her any more. He’d embarked on a health kick a couple of years earlier and had become very conscious of what he ate and drank. He seemed to be always training for some marathon or other and watching his calorie intake was now second nature. These days he only drank occasionally and could be quite disapproving of Romilly’s daily plonk. It was the one thing they regularly clashed over.

It didn’t matter how many times she explained to him how everyone drank wine, literally everyone! The lady in the post office, the girl in the chippy, practically every parent at school and even her parents, he still made her feel guilty, casting tense glances at her when she reached for the bottle before, during and after dinner. And if she was being honest, she found his reaction unfairly censorial, irritating. It took the edge off her pleasure and encouraged her to act furtively.

It wasn’t as if she got rolling drunk or was too inebriated to function, it was just how she relaxed, how she shrugged off the stresses of the day. A harmless habit. If she didn’t drink half a bottle of wine in an evening, she couldn’t sleep. If she didn’t drink half a bottle of wine before a social event, she couldn’t go, because her nerves would get the better of her; and if she didn’t drink half a bottle of wine before Sylvia arrived, she simply couldn’t cope.

She hadn’t confided in her husband how the thought of a cold bottle of wine waiting in the fridge could get her through the most challenging of days. If she got caught in traffic, lost her keys, mislaid her handbag or struggled over some particularly troublesome data in the lab, all of these things could be eased by simply picturing the honey-coloured reward that awaited her at the end of the day. It was her only vice. She didn’t eat vast quantities of chocolate or takeaways and she had never smoked or taken drugs, all of which would surely take a far greater toll on her health than the odd glass of plonk.

The two women took up seats at the pine kitchen table and chatted and laughed as they polished off not one but two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. Romilly found her new friend hilarious, enjoying the raucous tales of single life and how Sara was making up for lost time after years of being stuck in a dull, lifeless marriage.

‘My husband was like the fun police! I can see that, now I’m out of it.’ Sara laughed. ‘He was like this big atmosphere hoover who came in and sucked the joy from whatever I was trying to do. I wasn’t allowed to have any fun! None at all. I feel sorry for his poor bloody dental assistant, who will have to put up with him, the miserable bastard!’

They were halfway through the third bottle when the sound of a key in the front door caused Romilly to sit up straight and narrow her eyes at the kitchen clock. It was 7.30; she had completely lost track of time.

David strolled into the kitchen, clutching his car keys and laptop. He was surprised to find the two sitting at the table in semi-darkness, leaning heavily on crooked arms and snorting laughter at each other’s comments. He flicked on the central light and eyed the stranger.

‘David! Hello!’ Romilly called out, shielding her eyes from the harsh bulb. ‘This is my new friend, our new neighbour, Swara…’ Her laughter rippled from her as she hiccupped. ‘No, no, it’s Swara!’ She beat the tabletop with her palm. ‘Swara!’ Again she tried and failed to get the name right.

Sara stood up and wobbled on her heels as she held out her hand. ‘Hello, Mr Accountant, I am Swara!’ She giggled, tilting her head in a coquettish manner.

David nodded, ignoring her outstretched hand. ‘Where’s Celeste?’

As if on cue, she ran into the kitchen. ‘Daddy!’ She flung her arms around his leg and looked up at him. ‘What’s for tea?’ she asked, her voice small.

‘You haven’t had your tea?’ He bent down.

She shook her head.

‘Tell you what, why don’t we go up the Stoke Bishop chippy and you can have chicken nuggets? How about that?’

‘Yes!’ The little girl jumped up and down on the spot; this was a real treat. She ran towards the front door.

David hovered in the kitchen and glared at his wife. ‘It’s 7.30, her bedtime, and she hasn’t even eaten! I suggest you get yourself together while I get the food. We can talk later.’

He barely registered their new neighbour. As he ushered his little girl from the hallway and closed the front door behind him, a ripple of laughter followed him up the driveway.

Romilly waved Sara off, feeling a mixture of happiness that her new friend was only a couple of doors away and dread at the showdown she felt would inevitably come when David got back with Celeste. She decided to set the table for them, as a way of making amends. Wandering back into the kitchen, she gathered two white dinner plates from the cupboard. As she carried them across the room one of them slipped from her hand and shattered into tiny pieces on the ceramic floor tiles. Her grip loosened and the other quickly followed with a loud smash.

Romilly knelt down to retrieve the bigger shards and winced at the sharp bite of pain in her knees. It threw her forward, causing her to place her palms on the floor, and she instantly felt a similar sting in them too. Sitting back against the cupboard door, she stared at her palms; they were bloody, with fragments of white crockery embedded in her skin. Her knees were the same.

Without thinking, she ran her hand over her face and felt the slivers stuck in her hand scrape her cheek. She started to cry. Her hands and knees hurt, her face throbbed and her palms pulsed. She could feel the warm trickle of blood over her arm and wrist.

With her head hung forward, she sat on the floor and waited for David to come home. David, who could make everything better. A small part of her figured that if he found her tearful and bleeding, then he wouldn’t be quite so cross about her and Sara getting tipsy and forgetting to feed Celeste and put her to bed. At least that was what she hoped. She didn’t have to wait long; it was less than ten minutes before she heard the car pull into the driveway.

‘Mummy! We’ve got chips!’ Celeste yelled excitedly from the hallway.

‘David!’ Romilly called out weakly.

Her daughter appeared in the doorway and seemed to freeze. Her little chest heaved and she looked scared.

‘It’s okay, Celeste.’ Romilly smiled through her tears. ‘Can you get Daddy?’

Celeste didn’t move. Rooted to the spot, her eyes scanned the mess on the floor, darting between the broken china and her mum, who had blood streaked across her face and running from her knees where her tights were ripped.

‘What the f—’ David yelled over his daughter’s shoulder, remembering she was present before he swore. ‘Hey, Celeste, I tell you what, sweetheart, you go and eat your nuggets and chips in front of the telly, while I help Mummy, who has had a little fall. But she’s okay, aren’t you, Mum?’ He did his best to sound jovial, like it was all some sort of a game.

Romilly nodded her head. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Come on.’ David guided their daughter from the room.

‘I… I need tomato sauce, Daddy,’ Celeste murmured as she made her way to the sitting room, clutching her paper-wrapped supper and glancing back towards the open kitchen door at her mum, who sat slumped with her head on her chest.

David darted back into the kitchen. ‘For God’s sake, Romilly!’ he whispered through gritted teeth as he opened the cupboard by the kettle and pulled out the ketchup. ‘What on earth happened?’

‘I fell over,’ she managed.

‘Don’t move, love. I’ll be back in two secs.’ He rushed from the room, ignoring the crunch of their best china beneath the sole of his brogues.

Romilly began crying again. Sad that he had sounded mad but happy and guilty that he had called her ‘love’.

David switched on the other main light and bent down next to her. ‘What on earth have you done?’ He touched the point on her cheek where a scratch was bleeding.

‘I dropped the plates and they smashed and then I knelt on them and I’ve cut myself.’ Her tears came afresh.

‘Okay. Don’t cry, darling. It’s okay. Let’s try and get you cleaned up.’ His tone was level, kind.

He grabbed the dustpan and brush from the cupboard under the stairs and cleared the space around her. Then he filled the mixing bowl with hot water and a dash of Dettol. Setting it on the floor, he took off his suit jacket, looped it over the back of a dining chair and knelt down beside his wife. With a wad of kitchen roll dipped in the water, he dabbed at her cuts, beginning with the one on her face, which thankfully looked a lot worse than it was. Next he tended to her palms, removing the fine splinters of china as she winced, then mopping the wounds clean. He did the same with her knees. Finally, he cut strips from the sticky roll of fabric plaster and covered the cuts.

Supporting her gently under her armpits, he helped her stand, then guided her up the stairs and towards their bedroom.

‘Come on, one more step,’ he coaxed. ‘Nearly there.’

Romilly flopped onto the bed, turned her face towards him and began to sob. ‘I’m sorry, David. I broke two of our wedding plates. I’m sorry.’

‘It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. It doesn’t matter.’

‘Matters to me…’ She sniffed.

‘What matters a lot more is not getting Celeste off to bed on time and forgetting to give her her supper.’ He sighed and his jaw tightened. ‘I thought you’d learnt your lesson on that front, after… after that day at your parents’, with Russian Viktor and the Pimm’s.’

‘Oh, David, I’m so sorry. I promised it wouldn’t happen again, and I never meant it to. I promise I didn’t.’

‘Daddy!’ Celeste’s voice came chirruping up the stairs. ‘The telly’s gone all fizzy. I want to watch my programme?’

‘Just a tick!’ he shouted. ‘I’ll bring you a glass of water when I come back up, Rom,’ he said as he made for the door.

As Romilly lay there listening to the distant chatter of the two people she loved most in the world, images from that horrible episode with the Pimm’s kept galloping into her head. It was summer and the whole family had spent the day in the garden at her parents’ house. Everyone was in high spirits. Carrie was running around the garden in her shorts and T-shirt, her arms outstretched like a child impersonating an aeroplane. ‘My Holly’s home!’ she yelled. She ran up behind her sister and lifted her off the ground, spinning her round with her legs in the air. It mattered little that they were in their twenties; when they got together after any time apart, they reverted to their thirteen-year-old selves.

‘Put me down, Car!’ Holly screamed, thumping her sister’s locked wrists. ‘Help me! Rom, for God’s sake, help me!’

Romilly had chuckled and remained anchored to her seat. She winked at David and smiled at Dr Miguel, who laughed nervously. It was the first time the doctor had seen the twins together; he was trying desperately to impress Carrie’s family while also working out what his role was. He shouldn’t have worried, however. Spending an hour showing an interest in their dad’s greenhouse, and downing two helpings of their mum’s trifle was enough to guarantee just about anyone Carrie’s hand in marriage.

Holly’s latest beau, Viktor from Russia, had made a fierce bucket of Pimm’s. As soon as Romilly sat down, he’d ladled a generous measure of fruit and booze into her glass. She had sipped away throughout the afternoon, accepting Viktor’s frequent refills, which he offered in lieu of making conversation in his limited English.

‘Darling, I don’t think you want any more of that.’ David pointed at her glass.

‘What? It’s only like fruit and lemonade, there’s nothinginit, spoilsport!’ She rolled her eyes in his direction.

David glared at the meaty Viktor, waiting for an opportunity to have a word with him out of Romilly’s earshot. It might have seemed funny to get her plastered, but she had a little girl to look after and it was him that would have to pick up the pieces later on. The chance never arose, however, as Romilly stuck close to Viktor and his generous ladle all afternoon.

It was only as evening loomed, when she stood up to join her sisters and her mum in an impromptu dance on the lawn, that Romilly realised just how much she’d drunk.

‘Oh, now she gets up to help, when I’m no longer in danger! Come on, Rom! She’s had her jiggle juice, David, and she’s ready to party!’

Holly screamed her laughter at the exact moment that Romilly’s legs gave way. She had tripped on a divot that would not have troubled sober legs. Stumbling forward, Romilly ploughed into her mum, who had a rather sleepy Celeste in her arms. Romilly sent Pat tumbling to the left, and as she fell, she dropped Celeste with a hard thump on the ground.

The little girl screamed, as much in shock as any real pain, the soft grass and mud having cushioned what could have been a very nasty impact. David leapt from his deckchair, casting his beer to one side as he scooped up his daughter, kissing her face and shushing her quiet while he stroked her hair. ‘It’s okay, darling, you’re fine,’ he repeated, over and over. ‘You’re okay.’ Dr Miguel checked her over. Seemingly nothing was broken, but a giant egg-shaped bump was growing on her forehead, topped with a purple bruise.

Romilly lay on her back with her arms cruciform, looking up at the twilight clouds, watching them float overhead as mayhem reigned around her. She could feel the weight of David’s angry stare, her mum’s acute embarrassment and the twins’ hysteria as they flapped and squawked in panic. Viktor’s loud, inappropriate laugh cracked the air like thunder.

BOOK: Another Love
2.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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