Authors: Sue Moorcroft
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction
But, as Mrs. Zammit had forecast, Giorgio didn't reply. It was beyond belief that he'd ignore her -
! - like that. Impulsively, she took his bare arm, feeling the softness of the hair at his wrist. He must react to her touch, when such electricity used to crackle between them? 'Darling!' she whispered. He twitched, as if to shrug her off.
Her hand on his golden skin was a little dry and lined, and she felt a pang at not making more of an effort. Lately, she hadn't been taking care of herself, not as she used to. Hand cream and moisturiser hadn't figured in her routine. Her mirror this morning had shown her a woman who had been attractive but wasn't bothering, her face bare of make-up and her hair grown out of style and sliding over one eye like a Disney dog's.
Giorgio's flesh felt hot and unresponsive. Even when Judith increased her grip slightly, he remained silent. His face still. The silver that had brushed his hair lately glinted in the light.
Mrs. Zammit looked in balefully through the glass aperture.
Judith wondered whether Johanna had been to see her husband, or had simply signed what forms were necessary to allow her to stay away. Such a waste, when all the time Judith herself was aching to be by Giorgio's side.
'I'm sorry you were so badly hurt,' she murmured, voice catching on her grief. 'I should've stopped you diving without me, it was too soon. I can't sleep for guilt. Forgive me.' He still didn't look at her, but twitched more violently, as if he
wished she'd remove her hand but was too polite to say. Reluctantly, she dropped his wrist and backed off, her head flooding with images. Their love had grown behind closed doors, and the passion had been fierce. His lips at her throat, his body over hers...
Where had it all gone?
Mrs. Zammit opened the door sharply and entered the room, breaking the dream.
Slowly, reluctantly, Judith stepped out, passing silently between Giorgio's parents. The door closed heavily behind her.
Spinning, she fled. Numbly through long corridors. Down stone staircases of treads worn with age. Striding out into heat like the backwash from an open oven.
Cass materialised from behind parked cars, her face lined with anxiety. 'Maria and Agnello came early, I had no time to warn you in case she spotted me. Did she...?'
'You don't have to worry.' She'd been so thankful when Cass agreed to try and help her to see Giorgio that she'd tried not to think of what discovery of the flouting of Maria and Agnello Zammit's anti-Judith tendencies would mean for her.
Sagging against the wall on a surge of guilt, she closed her eyes. 'I hadn't realised quite how... You were right, I should've stayed away. I'm sorry I hounded you into this, Cass.'
Cass patted her shoulder. 'I told you, you expect something that can't be there; the old Giorgio, his old feelings. Trust me - far better to have the memory.'
Judith opened her eyes and gazed blankly at the china-blue sky. 'But how can I just write him off?' Straightening slowly, she hugged Cass, although she knew Cass shrank at public embraces. 'Thanks for helping me, even if it wasn't any use.' She choked out a laugh. 'But at least I know where I stand, now. That there's nothing left to wait around for.'
In a very few days, Judith had her life all shut down ready to leave. It wasn't in her to obey Maria Zammit and 'Go England!' But Malta just wasn't bearable now that she no longer had Giorgio, his smile, his love, the feeling of being alive in his arms.
Even though she'd loved her time here, adored the golden island set in the sparkling Mediterranean. The heat, the sea, the people. Even though Giorgio had once adored her. It was time to go.
On the flight back to England she was silent, ignoring the press against her knees of the seat in front, unable to bring herself to chat with the red-skinned tourist couple next to her who volubly mourned the end of their holiday. Instead, Judith dreamt out of the window, gazing at the clouds, the sea, mountains. Then, as they descended, at green and yellow fields and, eventually, the grey rectangles and roads that surrounded Gatwick airport.
It had to be bloody Gatwick, she thought. Luton, Stansted, East Midlands and Birmingham airports were all within an hour or so of Brinham, but the travel shop had only been able to get her bloody Gatwick on the bloody wrong side of London.
' 'S tricky,' the Maltese clerk's dark eyes had been sympathetic. He knew, she'd supposed, half of Sliema knew Giorgio. 'Is short notice, is high season. Tricky.'
'It'll have to be Gatwick, then.' She'd sighed and tried to smile as she'd slipped her credit card onto the red and yellow plastic counter. She just must leave.
Once she and Giorgio had faced a list of problems threatening their happiness: Giorgio was younger than Judith, Giorgio was Maltese and Judith was English. Giorgio was Catholic, Judith was nothing in particular. Judith was divorced, Giorgio... well, Giorgio wasn't.
She closed her eyes, remembering his smile as he held her, kissed her, insisted that none of it mattered, it could all be managed, none of it was as important as they were.
And, in the end, he'd been proved right, in a way.
She fastened her seat belt over her sage trouser suit, chosen for the flight because it was loose and comfortable - although her entire wardrobe was fairly roomy, nowadays.
The plane went through an unhappy landing. The tourist couple became white and sweaty instead of red and sweaty as the aircraft yawed its way through bumpy air.
Watching England rushing up to meet her, Judith swallowed to equalise the pressure in her ears but felt no threat to her stomach contents, because she hadn't eaten. For the last two months weight had dropped away, her arms were like sticks on the blue plastic armrests.
The plane landed with a spine-jarring bump, engines howling into reverse. Finally, they were taxiing, stopping, passengers reaching up to empty their lockers.
The flight attendants flanked the exits to smile the passengers on their way.
Judith paused to prolong the last moments before she had to grapple with the realities of 'coming home' to England. 'Bumpy landing.' And then, making it into a joke, 'Ask the pilot if it's a plane or a yo-yo.'
The flight attendants smothered grins and murmured about wind and turbulent air.
Judith strode from the plane, shuffled through passport control and into baggage reclaim, her jacket thrown over one shoulder, passing the waiting-at-the-carousel time thinking about being back in Brinham.
She conjured up the leafy, hilly market town in Northamptonshire. She'd lived there all her busy life, looking as if she were going to make a career of being a single woman until meeting and marrying Tom McAllister.
After a marriage of nine years and then a separation, and a few months into the new century, she'd quit England, convinced of the need to strike out, to
. She wished she was now as convinced about coming home.
Molly and Frankie were waiting when she battled out through the green channel dragging a stubborn trolley piled high with unmatched suitcases. Molly, her elder sister, much smaller than Judith and becoming plump, her black hair sporting Morticia Addams-like streaks of silver and spilling down the back of her red coat. Molly's husband, Frankie O'Malley, hands on hips, eyes impatient under his dome of a forehead.
'Here she is!' Molly, although sounding pleased, still somehow managed to frown.
Frankie fished out his car keys. 'All right, Judith?'
Although Frankie took the trolley from her and Molly fell into step by her side, Judith noticed that there were no delighted smiles or hugs to welcome her home, no anxious enquiries. If she'd expected a demonstration of love, she was unlucky.
Once in the car and Frankie had navigated them through the rigours of the car park and the motorway approach, Molly turned within her seat belt. 'So, you're home for good?'
'Whatever good is.' From the rear seat, Judith craned back to look at the fat silver belly of a jet taking off over the M25, and almost wished she was on it.
'Where are you going to live? And what on?' Molly's eyes were full of elder-sister readiness to remedy Judith's problems by rectifying her decisions.
The plane above banked steeply, white now as its topside came into vision, and Judith fell into the younger-sister trap of self-justification. 'I shall live in my house. Uncle Richard's selling some shares for me, so that'll get me by for some time to come. I can't expect his property agency to pay me now I'm not actually working in it.' Richard was also selling her car for her, sub-letting her flat, and sending the last of her possessions on in crates.
Possessions. What did possessions matter? She'd lost Giorgio.
Her heart clenched.
A horror of sudden doubts sent sweat bursting across her forehead. Should she have left? Perhaps if she'd persisted, sneaking in to see him, talking to him, forcing herself to his attention, perhaps she could've eventually made his eyes brighten beneath his thick brush of hair, regard her with the old love...
Molly's voice sliced into her thoughts. It was an anxious voice. Molly was good at what was known in Northamptonshire as 'whittling', or worrying too enthusiastically. 'How are you going to live in your house? What about your tenant?'
Judith shrugged impatiently, wishing Molly would stop making her think of practicalities. Time enough for that. Time. Loads of time, now. 'He'll have to go, I suppose.'
'Can you just get rid of him, on whim?'
Frankie flicked on the indicator and swung into the outside lane, rushing up behind an old Metro and flashing his lights. 'I think she can if it's for her own occupation. With notice. Might depend on the tenancy agreement. I'll find out if you want, Judith.'
Judith yawned and wondered if they'd leave her alone if she pretended to sleep. They were like a pair of healthy fish nibbling on a weaker one, searching out her wound. She didn't need Frankie to find out the terms of a standard assured shorthold tenancy agreement for her, she was well aware of both her rights and her responsibilities. 'I have to give him two months' notice, but I'm sure he'll respond to a cash incentive to look for somewhere quicker than that. Melanie found him for me when the last tenants left, he's a mate of her husband. We've e-mailed, he seems a nice bloke.' She didn't bother mentioning that she remembered him from her youth in Brinham. Remembered being fifteen when he was seventeen or eighteen, trying to get him to notice her. Lots of girls had wanted to be noticed by Adam Leblond.
Frankie snorted. 'Being a "nice bloke" don't mean much.'
She let her head rest against the window. 'Pity he's always been a good tenant, if only he'd been a bad one. Bad tenants only get notice of two weeks.'
Molly swung around in her seat, aghast. 'But you wouldn't have wanted a bad tenant, Judith! Friends of ours let to students, and they treated the house like a squat. Disgusting, honestly.'
Judith felt her shoulders move on a silent laugh, but didn't risk offending Molly by pointing out that her remark had been an attempt at grim humour. How had she ended up with such a sister? Now Molly was being all earnest about how Judith hadn't been there to take control if things had gone wrong, and that she, Molly, wouldn't have wanted to take it on, and Frankie was just too busy. Tom might've been persuaded, of course, if he'd been in a good mood, but it was a bit much to ask him now Judith and him weren't married...
Frankie swerved into the middle lane to overtake - or should that be undertake? - on the wrong side, making Judith's head tap uncomfortably against the glass. She shifted her position.
Molly grabbed the handle on the inside of the door as Frankie raced on to jink the car around a Land Rover. 'Of course, you're welcome to our spare room for as long as it takes.' She didn't sound exactly enthusiastic.
Judith shut her eyes. Molly and Frankie's spare room. Oh God. She'd tried not to think about it until now. Leaving the Giorgio-pain behind had been her priority, that last sight of Giorgio, so distant.
But now she considered Molly's spare room, a not-quite-a-double room with a single bed and a wardrobe full of old tennis rackets and one-man tents belonging to their son, Edward, remnants and reminders of his childhood that Molly refused to throw out. Edward was 33 now and lived in Scotland with a girl his parents scarcely knew. It was doubtful that he'd be off with the scouts any time soon.
Their house was one Frankie had built himself in the mid-eighties, steeply gabled and the window frames stained forest green. It always looked to Judith like part of a Tesco supermarket. A good big property, roomy, and, technically, with four bedrooms.
Of these, Molly and Frankie's enormous bedroom was the most impressive, an en suite bathroom
a dressing room. The other big room, over the double garage, was used as an office, and permanently strewn with paper and drawings of extensions. And then there was 'Edward's room', which Molly kept as it had been when he left it to go to university in 1989, the bed covered with a marbled blue quilt and the grey carpet vacuumed every week. Judith would've liked to be offered Edward's room because it was pleasant and spacious and had a bathroom. But it seemed the modest spare room was as good an offer as she was going to get.