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Authors: Frankie Valente

Learning to Dance Again

BOOK: Learning to Dance Again
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Julia Robertson sat up in bed and watched her husband of twenty eight years get dressed. In all the ups and downs of their very ordinary marriage, today was most definitely an up. It was a day they had hardly dared to dream of just a few months ago, and the pleasure she took in seeing her husband getting ready for work was enough to make her overlook the fact that he had abandoned his wet towel on the floor in his usual absent minded way.

Duncan
was just doing up his tie when the phone rang. Julia reached over to the bedside table and answered it.

‘Hello,’ she said, instinctively turning to look at the clock. ‘Oh hi darling, how are you?

Julia grinned at Duncan and handed him the phone.

‘It’s
Jamie.’

Julia
got up and left Duncan to talk to their eldest son. She decided to take a quick shower. When she entered the bathroom she laughed at the chaos Duncan had left behind. Another wet towel was strewn across the floor, as was the cap from the toothpaste and two cotton buds. The toilet seat was up and the sink still contained shaving foam and fragments of hair.

‘Oh for heaven
’s sake,’ Julia muttered to herself, as she picked up the debris and cleaned the sink.

When she had finished in the bathroom she got dressed quickly, putting on a pair of
dark blue jeans and a white linen shirt. She glanced in the mirror and ran her fingers through her blonde hair, trying to minimise the dark roots and grey strands that were becoming far too noticeable around her temples. Somebody had once told her she looked like a young Lulu. Frowning at her reflection today, she didn’t think Lulu would be flattered by the comparison. She opened the wardrobe and pulled out a floral silk scarf and draped it around her neck, with the long ends of the scarf disguising her rather less than toned abdomen.

In the kitchen she found
Duncan dropping bread into the toaster, having somehow managed to leave a trail of crumbs all over the worktop.


You sit down; I’ll make your breakfast.’

‘You mean, stop making a mess.’

‘I never said that,’ she replied brightly.

‘It was implied.’

Nevertheless he took a seat at the kitchen table and sipped at his coffee for a moment then put it down, wrinkling his nose and staring into the mug as if he was surprised at the taste. Julia was busy buttering toast and didn’t notice his discomfort. She carried the toast and a jar of homemade marmalade over to the table and set it in front of him.

‘Thanks love,’ he
said quietly. He didn’t make a move to start his breakfast and Julia finally tuned in to his anxiety.

‘Don’
t worry; it will be great. I bet everyone’s missed you.’

‘Humph! Not man
y kids miss their maths teacher, I can assure you.’

‘B
ut I bet you’ve missed them.’

Duncan
looked up and grinned, his sea green eyes crinkling with delight.

‘I suppose I have. After moaning abou
t work for years on end, I can’t believe I’ve missed the little devils so much.’

He
picked up a slice of toast without bothering to put any marmalade on it, and took a bite. He chewed slowly for a moment then pulled a face.

‘I feel a bit queasy
. I never thought I’d be so nervous about going back to school.’

He disappeared upstairs to brush his teeth so
Julia helped herself to the uneaten toast from his plate, as it was clearly going to waste. She wandered over to the kitchen window and looked out, trying to judge what the weather had in store for the day. For the time being at least it was a day of fine sunshine, and the sea was sparkling joyfully in the distance. She decided she would go for a walk once Duncan had left for work.

‘Nice of Jamie to call,
’ Duncan said, as he wandered back to the kitchen, ‘poor lad’s been up all night at the hospital. He’s only got eight hours to get some sleep before he has to be back on the ward.’

‘It’ll be worth it.
And he’s young; he’ll cope.’

‘I know; b
ut sometimes I wish we weren’t so far away from them.’


Well that’s the downside of Shetland; when the bairns go off to University, sometimes they stay away. But we came back didn’t we? And I bet you anything they’ll both move back here once they have families of their own; if only for the free babysitting.’

‘Promise?
Anyway, what have you got planned today?’

‘You mean apart from cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing? I thought I might do something to escape
all the domestic drudgery and apply for that job.’

Duncan sighed, not wanting to rehash an earlier discussion about Julia’s
wish to go back to work now he was finally in remission.

‘Well it’s up to you, but I’m only going to
be at work for twelve weeks before the summer holidays start. It would be nice to have a really long holiday together this year; and you’re probably more in need of it than me.’

Duncan opened the fridge and took out the packed lunch Julia had made for him
the night before. As he put it in his briefcase he looked at her and smiled.


I’ve been thinking about that programme we watched about Sicily last night. We should go there this summer; just you and me. If there’s one thing cancer has taught me, you should make every moment count, and I think a second honeymoon is long overdue.’

‘We’ll see; although
I can’t imagine Jamie and Bryden wanting to tag along with us this year. Anyway, you’d better get going; you don’t want to be late for your first day.’

Duncan
glanced at his watch and frowned. Julia hugged him, almost pushing him over in her rush of affection.

‘Hey steady
!’

‘Sorry!
Have a great day; and let me know how you’re getting on.’

Duncan
kissed her quickly, but held her for a moment longer, then turned to go. Julia followed him out to the front door, feeling a peculiar groundswell of emotion, akin to when she had sent her sons off to their first day of primary school. As Duncan walked over to his car it seemed as if the years had melted away. He was now as skinny as he had been when they first started dating, when he was nineteen and she was eighteen. His hair was much shorter now, and almost completely grey, and as she watched him ease into the driving seat, she realised he was rather less agile than he used to be. But she found it hard to believe over thirty years had passed since their first date; and they were still together.  It was nothing short of a miracle.

She waited at the door a little longer until
Duncan turned his car around on the drive and then she waved him off, and blew him a kiss when he waved back.

 

Julia went in search of her iPad which she found charging in the lounge. During the last few months, when she had given up her job to look after Duncan, she had become addicted to Facebook. Duncan teased her about her obsession with what her friends were getting up to, so now she only logged on when he wasn’t around. She knew it was ridiculous. Her friends were people she saw all the time and she could pick up the phone and speak to any one of them whenever she wanted. But sometimes, during the darkest moments of Duncan’s illness, when they couldn’t be sure of the outcome, Facebook had been a source of distraction, amusement and comfort.

She updated her status:
Duncan’s first day back at school. There were times when we never thought this day would happen. We’re so lucky! Thank you everyone for all your support. We will never forget your kindness. Definitely having a big party to celebrate in a few weeks. XXX

She scrolled down to see if there were any snippets of news posted since she had last logged on. Unsurprisingly, since she had
taken a sneaky peek just after midnight, not much had happened. However, within a few moments she saw her status had received a few “likes” and Marianne had written:
Yay – so excited for him! Did you take a picture?

Julia
replied instantly:
Bugger – should have done! I could have put it on the wall with the ones of Jamie and Bryden on their first days at school.

She notic
ed Bryden had also commented: 
I was going to ring Dad this morning. I’ll maybe catch him on his mobile at lunch. Got to run. I’ll be late for Uni. XX.

Julia
clicked “like” on Bryden’s post, and then with an unusually strong burst of willpower she left Facebook to look at the local job vacancies website. She downloaded a job description and scrutinised it for the third time since Friday morning.

Damn;
Duncan was right. The Deputy Manager’s job at Nordheim would be a step back in her career and when she stopped to think about it, she wasn’t even sure she wanted to work in a care home again, at any level. The job she had most enjoyed had been working as a theatre nurse at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. But she didn’t really want to go back to nursing either. The trouble was she didn’t know what she wanted to do. This was the year she would turn fifty, and it felt like a huge turning point. However, she felt she had missed the boat in terms of changing career. Fifty felt too old to start again; and really, what else could she do?

She
switched off the iPad and flung it down on the sofa beside her. She was definitely not going to apply for the job. She would do as Duncan suggested and take the rest of the summer off and then make a decision. In the meantime, she had promised herself a walk on the beach.

 

Julia set off across the field heading to the tiny stretch of sandy beach that began where their half-acre of garden ended. She climbed over the wooden stile and marched along the well-worn path that humans and sheep used to access the shore. She stopped when she got to their bench; the bench Duncan and Jamie had carried across the field and cemented into the ground, so they would have somewhere to sit and enjoy the view.

Naturally
, other people used the bench too, and occasionally they would leave their mark, quite literally, in the form of carved initials or juvenile graffiti. Julia never minded much, although Duncan used to grumble about it; until Julia suggested they carved their own initials into the bench.

The
ir initials were still visible and she touched them for luck as she sat down. DR loves JR. Julia smiled, and then turned her attention to the sea. A fishing boat was steaming along between the mainland and a tiny island that looked close enough to swim across to; although the year-round sea temperature had so far acted as a deterrent to Jamie and Bryden, who often tried to egg each other into doing so.

Julia sat for nearly
an hour on the bench. Every time she thought about going back to the house to do something more useful, she reminded herself she should take advantage of the good weather while it was here. The balmy sunshine might not last the hour, let alone the whole day.

She was proved right, when a sea mist started to roll in from the south. First the island disappeared, and t
hen the sea. She turned to look at her house and that had vanished too. The temperature plummeted without the sunshine, and she reluctantly gave up her place on the bench and hurried back home.

She spent the next
half hour pottering about, doing a bit of cleaning, not that it had been very dirty in the first place. Both their sons were away in Edinburgh, with Jamie studying medicine and Bryden in the last few weeks of teacher training. The house was much easier to keep clean and tidy, even with Duncan doing his best to make up for their absence.

Before he was ill, when they had both been working full
-time, they had shared the domestic tasks pretty equally. But lately, it seemed it was now her sole responsibility. Not that she minded - yet. Duncan still tired quickly, and his doctor had told him to take it easy for a little while longer. Duncan had taken this as permission to be a lazy bastard, as he would often joke.

While Julia
swept the kitchen floor, she turned her attention to thoughts of her job situation, dithering again as to whether or not she should apply for the job. She concluded it didn’t matter whether she was the manager or just the deputy; she had finally had her fill of caring, although she knew it would be hard to voice that aloud. She wouldn’t want Duncan to feel guilty about his illness; he felt bad enough she had given up her job to spend time looking after him. It had been unspoken, but there had been an understanding this might be the final time they would spend together, so she had done it willingly.

But that was then. Duncan was
in remission and it was time to start enjoying life again. But how? What would she do with her time now? Money wasn’t exactly a problem; they owned their house outright, and the only significant drain on their money was supporting their sons at University, and since Bryden was in his final year their outgoings would reduce soon. Julia wondered whether she should make an appointment with a careers advisor, but at her age she felt too embarrassed.

The sun
reappeared and she went out into the garden. She often fancied she would like to work outside; but that was only on days like today when the sun was warm on her face. She bent down and pulled up a patch of weeds from the flowerbed and then stretched out on the grass which had dried up from the morning dew. It was peaceful in the garden. The only sound was the incessant warble of a skylark, and the distant hum of an outboard engine on a passing boat. On fine days like this Julia loved Shetland, and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world.

BOOK: Learning to Dance Again
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