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Authors: Sally Wentworth

Semi-Detached Marriage

BOOK: Semi-Detached Marriage
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Semi-Detached Marriage

Sally Wentworth




There was a queue at the check-out at the
supermarket, and Cassandra Ventris tapped her foot impatiently as she waited
her turn. Come on, get a move on, can't you? But the woman at the head of the
line was fussily packing her groceries neatly into her shopping bags as if she
had all the time in the world, whereas Cassie had to get home and cook the main
course for tonight's dinner party as well as do the table and get herself ready
before seven thirty.

She glanced again at her watch; it was almost
six now.

If that darned woman at the front didn't get
a move on she'd still be arranging the table when the guests arrived.

She'd meant to do it his morning, of course,
but there hadn't been time. No matter how organised she was, there still never
seemed to be time. At last the woman was paying and. moving away, and Cassie
gave a sigh of relief as the other two people in front of her got quickly
through and she was able to empty her own wire basket and hastily pack the
things in a couple of plastic bags.    

Outside the supermarket the February winds
made her shiver and she pulled her coat close around her, feeling the cold even
more after the warmth of the shop. Luckily she only had to walk a few hundred
yards to the flat and she hurried along, a tall, slim figure in her belted
black coat and high-heeled boots, the winds teasing out tendrils of chestnut
hair from the neat, upswept style she'd worn to work.

The flat was on the second floor of a largish
block in St John's Wood. From the outside the building didn't look very
attractive, but the flats were large and airy, there was ample parking and a
small square of grass and trees outside, and, most important of all, it was
conveniently situated on the outskirts of central London within walking
distance of an Underground station. Cassie didn't bother with the lift but
hurried up the two flights of stairs, trying to carry the shopping and fumble
for the bunch of keys in her bag at the same time. She found them, but had to
put down the shopping bags outside the door while she picked out the right one.
There were letters on the mat behind the door, but beyond stooping to pick them
up and put them on the hall table she ignored them; they would have to wait.

`Simon?' She called her husband's name in the
faint hope that he might have got home early, but the flat was silent, there
was no answering call. She hurried to the kitchen, dropping her coat on a chair
on the way, and hurriedly began to prepare the main course, rolling out a piece
of ready-made pastry in which to wrap the fillet of beef, putting it in the
oven and getting the vegetables ready to put on later. The first course and the
dessert were to be cold, and she'd cheated and bought them already made the day
before. It wasn't that she couldn't cook; she'd learnt the basics at school and
had taken an evening class course on continental cookery when she and Simon had
got engaged, but there just wasn't the time to mess about with long complicated
recipes. And besides, the practical side of her rebelled at spending hours
preparing a dish that would be eaten in about twenty minutes with nothing left
to show for it but a pile of washing up that would take another hour to clear.
Or at least it would done if she hadn't insisted that they lash out on a
dish-washer soon after they'd moved in.

With the meat cooking, Cassie was able to
give her attention to the rest of the flat. At least it was clean and tidy, she
could be sure that Mrs. Payne, their cleaning woman, had seen to that. Although
she had rather eccentric ideas about punctuality and was not above helping
herself to a drop of gin to keep out the cold or the heat, depending on the
season, she was an energetic worker and was indispensable in the smooth running
of their lives. Not that Cassie ever saw her very much, because she had always
left for work beforeMrs. Payne arrived and didn't get home until after she'd
gone. She was just an invisible good fairy who came twice a week and left notes
in prominent places if she needed anything—an arrangement that worked very well
so long as the gin didn't run out.

The flat was carpeted throughout in deep-pile
creamy white and had very modern furniture. The walls, too, were painted white,
but one whole wall in the living room was given over to bookshelves and racks
of records, and there were several pictures on the walls and lots of brightly
coloured and oddly-shaped cushions on the long, low settee. There was also a
big red leather chesterfield which Cassie didn't particularly like but which
Simon had insisted on bringing from his parents’ home. It was quite old and
rather scratched, and there were scuff marks on one arm because Simon always
put his feet up on it while he was watching television.

There were two bedrooms with a bathroom in
between, a kitchen and hall, as well as the like big living room which had the
dining table at the far end set into a bay formed by the windows overlooking
the square of garden.

In summer it was pleasant too look out at the
trees and you could almost imagine you were out in the country if it wasn't for
the hum of the traffic, but now Cassie pulled the heavy velvet curtains shut
and turned on all the lights while she put the mats and cutlery on the glass
topped table.

While she worked she played back the cassette
on the answer-phone, listening to the messages. There was one from a local firm
with an estimate for new fitted wardrobes in the main bedroom, and another in
her mother's terse voice issuing an invitation cum command to visit them on her
father's birthday. Cassie smiled when she heard it; her mother hated speaking
to the answer-phone machine and it had taken ages before she'd been persuaded
not to ring off and keep trying until she found them at home. But then she'd
realised how useful it could be when she wanted Cassie to do something she
might not want to without being able to argue back, and had consented to use
the device. A third call was from her dentist confirming the time of an appointment,
and then Simon's familiar voice, crisp and authoritative, even though hurried:
`I'm sorry, darling, but something's cropped up and I may be later getting home
than I'd hoped. Should be able to make it, though, if all goes well; I'll phone
you if I can't, of course. Don't forget to put the wine to chill, if I'm not
there on time. 'Bye, darling. See you.'

Cassie's brows drew into a frown of
annoyance. Not again! Lately it seemed as though every time they made
arrangements to entertain or to go out Simon was kept late at the office.
Still, as he'd pointed out, she'd known when she married him that his job as
troubleshooter for a large industrial concern would be very demanding, keeping
him late to try and solve problems over the phone or, if there was an
emergency, sending him almost anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. And
just now his company was having some trouble with a new oil terminal they were
building in Scotland, and Simon had his hands full trying to deal with it.
    The clock in the hall struck the hour and Cassie hurriedly
checked on the roast before going into the bathroom for a quick shower, turning
the radio on so that she could listen to the music on Radio Two. She dressed
and made up again quickly, brushing her long chestnut hair and arranging it
with deft, practiced hands by parting it in the middle and taking a lock back
from either side and fastening it at the back, like a girl in a Pre-Raphaelite
painting. A long-sleeved crushed velvet dress in deep red and soft, delicate
make-up that emphasised her eyes increased the illusion, but Cassie only wasted
a second on a critical look at herself in the mirror before hurrying back to
the kitchen to put an apron over her dress while she did the vegetables and put
the wine to cool.

As she did so she beard Simon's key in the
lock and he called out to her as he hurried through to the bedroom. Cassie
glanced at the clock on the cooker seven twenty-five. With any luck the guests
would be a few minutes late and she would have enough time to arrange the
flowers she'd bought on the way home.

She had just finished and placed the
centrepiece on the table when the bell rang. Taking off the apron, she threw it
into the kitchen, took a last glance at herself in the mirror in the hall as
she smoothed her dress, then opened the door with a serene, welcoming smile, as
if she had had all the time in the world.

The first couple to arrive were Sue and
Christopher Martin, as Cassie had guessed they would be. They hadn't been to
the flat before as Sue had only begun too work at Marriott & Brown's, the
big London department store where Cassie was a fashion buyer, a few months ago,
although their friendship had developed straight away. Also the couple were
younger and were newly married, so weren't sure enough of themselves to arrive
more than a few minutes late.

Cassie took their coats and led them into the
sittingroom, accepting the pot plant they'd brought for her and their
compliments on the room with genuine pleasure. She had met Christopher Martin
only once before, at the store's annual Christmas party, and he seemed nice
enough, quite good-looking and about her own age of twenty-four.

`What would you like to drink?'

`Have you got gin and tonic?'

`Yes, of course. How about you, Christopher?'

'Oh, make it Chris, please. Christopher
always sounds like something from a child's nursery song: you know,
"Christopher Robin went down with Alice" or something. Hardly my
scene at all. I can't think why my mother chose the name. I always wanted to change
it, but everyone insists on making me stick to it.'

He said it rather brashly and Cassie wondered
whether he did it to draw attention to himself or just to make himself appear
older. 'Chris, then. What would you like?'

'Vodka, please.'

'Anything with it?'

No, just as it comes.'

Cassie moved to the drinks tray to pour it
and handed it to Chris just as Simon came into the room, and immediately
Christopher Martin seemed very young and gauche, an overgrown schoolboy by

Simon crossed to her side and slipped an arm
roundher waist as he bent to kiss her, his eyes smiling down at her.

'Hi there.'


He had changed into a dark blue velvet jacket
that sat well on his broad shoulders and there was a matching bow tie at the
neck of his crisp white shirt. He looked casual and yet elegant, and no one
would have guessed that he had arrived home to shower and change only a quarter
of an hour ago. Neither of the Martins had met him before, because he had been
away at the time of the Christmas party, and it gave Cassie a smug little glow
of satisfaction as she saw Sue's eyes widen as she took in his tall, athletic
figure and the dark, saturnine handsomeness of his features. They had been
married for three years and dating for almost a year before that, but Cassie
still got that thrill of pleasure when she saw another woman's eyes light with
envy or admiration on seeing him. She introduced him and went to get him a
whisky and soda while he sat down in an armchair and talked to the Martins.

Cassie handed him his drink and perched on
the arm of his chair. He leant back, his long legs stuck out in front of him
and crossed at the ankles, completely at case. Cassie put a hand on his
shoulder and he automatically lifted his free hand to cover hers, playing
absently with her fingers while he drew

BOOK: Semi-Detached Marriage
4.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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