It was Sunday afternoon. Abigail was hiding upstairs with a book, and some chocolate she had found, lying forgotten at the back of the fridge.
Jane had cleared away the remains of lunch and was now snuggled on the sofa with a magazine. She flicked the glossy pages, absorbing colours and moods but not bothering to read the articles. It was one of those deliciously lazy afternoons, where no one could be bothered to do much, and nothing was urgent.
Christopher had spread his train set across the carpet and then gone to find his father. They were working together now, moving in easy silence, constructing the track. Painted trains, one missing a wheel, were pushed in a heap under the table as they joined the pieces to form a route. It stretched from the door to the opposite corner, circling a shoe and curving around a chair. It was decidedly unstable where it climbed to go over a rug and Jane doubted it was structurally sound. She was glad there were no passengers.
She watched Peter’s back as he bent to repair the track. The sun caught his hair, highlighting the few white strands. She knew every curve of his body, every crease of his face. The feel and smell of him were as familiar as her own reflection.
“This is what I want,” she realised, certain now of her decision. “This is secure, safe, familiar. I can be at peace here, with this man. It may not always be exciting but it lets me be who I want to be.”
She knew, deep inside, that her decision had been the right one. She might be ignored sometimes, though was probably not as invisible as she felt. Undoubtedly, they would argue and she would be hurt because Peter was selfish. But maybe everyone was selfish, some were just better at hiding it. Nor did he understand her fully. But he understood enough, and he did try—she knew that now. As she had evaluated their life together, forced herself to be fair, she knew that if she was to keep a tally of wet towels on the floor and late nights on her own, she also had to note the surprise gifts, the phone calls when he was away, the security of a husband who worked hard.
She still remembered their early days together, the thrill of seeing him. That excitement had worn away now, become mundane—but would it last forever with anyone? Surely in time, even the most exciting of lovers would become familiar. At the end of the day, she would be swapping a man with—another man, and they were not really so very different at the core.
As father and son played together, intent on their task and oblivious to her thoughts, Jane felt that her whole life had led up to this point. She was deciding to stay. It was her choice. She thought about the smell of Peter, the warmth of his body, the way they fitted together so perfectly when they snuggled. She thought about the shared experiences, how their eyes could say so much to each other, the times they laughed together. It was a lot to risk, a lot to lose.
Peter looked up, smiling to see her watching.
“I could kill for a cup of tea,” he said.
As Jane filled the kettle, her bag on the table began to vibrate. She scooped out her mobile phone.
One new message from Matthew’ the illuminated screen informed her.
She stood very still, not breathing. The timing was eerie. But she had decided. She was staying; she wasn’t going to mess with what she already had.
She pressed ‘menu’. She scrolled down to ‘messages’, selected ‘clean up messages’ and chose ‘all’. Obediently, the phone wiped all messages from its memory.
“I don’t owe him anything, not even politeness,” thought Jane. “He knew I was married; he knew what he was asking me to gamble, and if he’d really cared, he wouldn’t have asked.”
Slowly, Jane slipped the phone back into her bag. She would miss him, and for a moment, tears stung her eyes, her heart aching for what might have been and the savouring of those last wisps of memory of how he had made her feel.
But she knew she was right, knew that whilst this might not be perfect, it was the better choice. She switched on the kettle and pulled down a purple mug.
Outside, a bird began to sing, and Jane paused, watching as it fluffed its chest and warbled its song.
She did not notice the cat below the bush, preparing to pounce.
Jane pulled the shoe off the shelf. White satin, with a tiny bow—it would suit the dress. As she turned towards the fitting room, she glimpsed her reflection in one of the mirrors. Her hair was looking very grey, she hadn’t had time to colour her roots for ages. Not that it mattered, the hair appointment had been booked weeks ago, tomorrow they would turn it back to the brown of younger days.
The curtain parted, and Abigail stepped forwards. A beautiful, untouchable Abigail. The white lace dress fell to the floor in waves, a fish-tail train sweeping the floor. The bodice fitted her slim frame, a scalloped neckline revealing glimpses of shoulder.
She grinned at Jane and walked forwards. Her stride was not particularly princess-like, more a stomp as she struggled with the excess material. It reminded Jane of the girl she had been, the way her feet used to turn inwards, how her shoes were always scuffed. Unbidden, tears filled her eyes. It felt like yesterday, and now that determined girl was a young woman. But still her daughter, still a little girl in her heart.
“Do you like it?” said Abigail, noticing her mother’s rapid blinks and checking they were for the right reason.
“Yes,” said Jane. It was all she could say for a moment. She took a breath, and held up the shoes. “What about these?”
Abigail wrinkled her nose. “They’re a bit high,” she said.
Jane smiled. “I remember when all you wanted were high heels,” she said. “Do you remember the shopping trip when you were little and you lost your shoes?”
“They were stolen, actually,” said Abigail, smiling too. “Can you unzip me?”
Jane followed her back into the fitting room and helped her daughter out of the wedding gown. It was heavy, and very white, she hoped her hands wouldn’t leave a greasy mark. A shop assistant fluttered around, telling Abigail she looked lovely, no alterations were necessary, did she want to take it today? They would box it for her.
When she was dressed in jeans again, she followed Jane to the racks of shoes and started to look.
“It’s only a couple of weeks away,” said Jane, “you really ought to have sorted shoes by now.”
“I know,” said Abigail, “I thought it would be easy. No one will really see them anyway under the dress, I could wear trainers…”
Suddenly serious, she turned to Jane. “Mum, am I doing the right thing?”
Jane looked at her. “Wearing trainers? No.”
She realised her daughter was serious and stopped. “What do you mean? Are you having second thoughts?” She started to think about the cost, how she would tell Peter, what their friends would say.
Abigail shook her head. “Not about Simon, no—I know I love him and want to be with him. But the whole marriage thing. Lots of people just live together, it feels like a lot of fuss…”
Jane sat down on a plush red sofa. Abigail had wanted a wedding for as long as she could remember. She had loved choosing the stationary and the dress and the venue. This was not about the wedding. She waited.
“I mean,” said Abigail, sitting beside her, “what if I can’t do it? What if I am making promises that I can’t keep? The whole ‘until death us do part’ bit—well, that’s a really long time isn’t it! We might change. I know you and Dad have always been happy, but in a way, that makes it harder. What if I’m not made the same, what if I’m not the ‘til death us do part’ sort?”
Jane reached out and took her daughter’s hand.
“Yes, she said, “it is a really long time. And sometimes you will wonder what the heck you’ve signed up for. But it’s a decision. Really, love is a decision. I don’t think there is one ‘Mr. Right’ who you have to look for until you find him, I expect I could’ve been happy with a whole host of people. But I chose your father. And sometimes it was difficult, sometimes I regretted that decision, but I chose to stay. Feelings change, people change, you have to decide what you want and stick with it. And yes, you will both change. But if you spend enough time together, you will change together. It’s about choosing to move through life as a unit, not two separate people. We can’t control what will happen, our health, the economy, politics. But we can choose whether we will face what comes on our own, or with someone else. You have chosen to be with Simon.” She smiled. “It’s not a bad decision, I think.”
“Did you ever wonder?” said Abigail. “Did you ever regret marrying Dad?”
Jane thought a thousand thoughts.
Then she squeezed her daughter’s hand and smiled.
“More than once! But that’s what I mean about it being a decision. Feelings are very unreliable; they come and go, and come again. Sometimes you have to stick it out, but then the love and happiness come back, and you’re glad you stayed.”
She turned, looked her daughter full in the face.
“Marriage isn’t easy Abigail. But it is worth it. I wouldn’t be without your father for all the world.”
Abigail nodded. “Come on, we’ll be late and he’ll moan.” She bent and kissed Jane’s forehead. “Thanks Mum.”
Peter watched as they walked towards him. Abigail was talking, racing ahead, full of decision and purpose. Jane walked next to her, listening. He watched Jane’s walk, how she still walked well, even as she had aged.
“I still love that woman,” he thought to himself, “she is the world to me.”
He thought about all the times he could have walked away, the years when money was tight, when the kids were too demanding, when life just seemed like one long treadmill. And he knew there were other women who would’ve taken her place. Women who smiled a bit too often, were slightly too attentive, suggested drinks after work when no one else would be there. There was even one who had sent him photos of herself, like they had some bond outside of the office. He’d had to put a stop to that, ask for her to be transferred. It was all a bit awkward.
But he’d never considered being unfaithful to Jane. She was his life, his home, the place he escaped to. As he watched her now, with her grey roots and chubby belly, her middle-aged body and lined face, he felt so full of love. It was weird really, watching their kids grow up, Abigail about to be married herself, him thinking about retiring. But Jane was there, the person he had wanted to come home to every day for the last thirty years.
“Funny thing, love,” he thought. “You can’t really explain it, but it really does make for a happier life.”
He stood up as the women approached the table.
“I just hope,” he thought, “that Abi’s as lucky in her marriage.”
I hope you have enjoyed the novel. If you would like to buy a copy for a friend, it is available from an Amazon near you.
Now, which book will you read next..? UK Link Here!