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Authors: Patricia Fawcett

Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Family Life, #Fiction, #Marriage, #Relationships, #Sagas, #Women's Fiction

A Close Connection (3 page)

BOOK: A Close Connection
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She wondered what on earth Eleanor would be wearing. If the wedding was anything to go by, it would be something expensive and exclusive, but then Eleanor was lucky: she had a model figure, tall and slim and impossibly elegant with luxuriant dark-brown hair the envy of a woman half her age. Eleanor was a year older than she, but that was nothing when you looked as good as she did. Eleanor could, as they said, carry any look off whereas she had to be very careful that she didn’t look frumpy. Not having a daughter to give her fashion advice was a disadvantage but they had lost their lovely Lucy when she was thirteen and she did not care to dwell on that.

‘Here he is. About time.’ Alan had the bags out on the street, as Eddie reversed smartly into a gap right outside their front door. He got out and slammed the door, in danger of waking up the whole street as he announced that his alarm had not gone off and that he still had his pyjama bottoms on under his trousers.

‘Don’t make such a racket, Eddie.’ Paula shushed him, hearing every little sound magnified fifty times, glancing up anxiously at the curtained, darkened windows of the surrounding houses, as he and Alan got the bags into the boot and Eddie, oblivious, slammed all the doors shut, starting up the engine of the big old car with enough roaring revs to wake the dead.

Taking a final look at the street as they drove off, Paula wondered if she would ever set eyes on it again. In a short time, they would be up in the air on their way to Milan. Fifteen days was a long time and, as they turned the corner, she already felt a bit homesick.

A
BOUT THE SAME
time as her parents and parents-in-law were boarding their flight, Nicola Walker was getting ready to go to work. She was late and she was very cross. She and Matthew had had words last thing and although they still slept together in their king-sized bed, it was an uncomfortable night, both of them sleeping on the edge. They had managed a goodnight kiss, as chill as a block of ice-cream, but since then had been careful not to fall into the middle of the bed where they would end up in a cosy warm heap. The so-called master bedroom in the cottage was tiny, not really big enough for the bed let alone any other piece of furniture and living in what felt like a doll’s house was beginning to depress her more and more.

Out here in the back of beyond, it was pitch dark too when night came but uncannily not completely silent, with an owl hooting and hunting in the woods followed by a scary screech when it found its prey. The trees creaked and groaned, things – God knows what – scudded around in the bushes and what had once seemed such an idyllic home was now showing all its faults.

The roses round the door – yes, there really had been roses – and the pretty blossoms of the climbers that draped the outside
wall disguised damaged brickwork that Matthew really ought to have picked up. But, on the day they viewed, the sun was shining, the whoosh of the river as it swooped down in a mini-waterfall just below the bridge was delightful, the cottage garden was a riot of colour and she was wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Matthew had been less than enthusiastic and it was she who had insisted that this was the house of their dreams so she supposed, in all fairness, she could not blame him entirely. She had seen the programmes on television where they did a complete makeover in a matter of weeks, the transformation miraculous, and here they were, a year on, and they were no nearer.

She wanted to move out of this hellhole as soon as possible. They had talked about it but they could not afford it as Matthew had tried patiently to explain to her, but she was not going to let a small matter of finance put her off. There had to be a way. There was always a way. Some of their friends earned less than they did and they had fancier homes. Matthew was unimpressed by that, saying that they were probably head over heels into debt but although he was right, in a way, she was not going to be put off.

She wanted something bigger and altogether grander with a large garden and a terrace where they could sit out and entertain in summer, something rather like her parents’ house. She wanted her friends to ooh and aah about her home, to be jealous in fact. She wanted one of those gorgeous bright-blue Agas and a kitchen to die for instead of this cramped galley that would not be out of place on a narrowboat with their dining table in an alcove just off the kitchen so that your guests could see your every culinary move. She was a very messy cook and she did not want to be on show when she was working nor was it so easy to cheat with M&S ready meals when so many eyes were watching. So, in addition to the must-have list she had already compiled in her head, there must also be a separate grown-up
dining room. She had seen the very table she wanted already, oval and glass-topped and a bit pricey at just over £2,000 for the table alone but it was modern and edgy and the chairs that accompanied it were bright blue. Her mother would think it ghastly but she wanted to get as far away as possible from the boring traditional.

After lying stiffly awake thinking about all this for what seemed hours, she finally drifted off to dream about it, only to wake early before the alarm went off and, with last night’s heated words retreating into her sleepy morning head, she relented a little, rolling towards the middle of the bed. To her annoyance, Matthew pretended to be asleep when he plainly was not and she was hanged if she was going to make the first conciliatory move. She wanted an apology which she might just deign to accept if it was a genuine attempt on his part.

But none was forthcoming.

‘Sod you, then,’ she said, making a big deal of sitting up and reaching for her wrap and getting up, banging her toe in the process as she often did on the bedpost, letting out a curse and shutting her ears to what sounded suspiciously like a muffled laugh from her husband’s apparently sleeping form.

Surprisingly it was their first major row and, up and about now down in the kitchen, it was stinging still, because, until you had a row with somebody, a proper one, you had no real idea how they would react, whether they would be steely-eyed and sullen or downright aggressive, giving as good as they got.

She had seen the latter reaction recently from a hotel guest who had quite simply ‘lost it’ and it had not been pleasant to see. On that occasion, the manager had to be called for and he had been his usual calm and controlled self, managing to calm the man down and offer an ingratiating and, in her eyes, humiliating apology which duly satisfied the guest.

Nicola knew she had not handled that situation well, in grave danger of losing it herself and telling the guy, hotel guest
or not, where to put his complaint, a complaint that was in her eyes totally unjustified.

‘Be careful, Nicola,’ Gerry Gilbert had said, taking her aside and giving her a not very happy look when the guest had departed. ‘I know that guests can be extremely difficult sometimes but you’ve got to learn not to react. You should know by now that one of the cardinal rules is never talk back.’

‘I do know that but …’ She was very nearly guilty then of arguing with the manager himself which would have done her no favours whatsoever and, aware that she had earned a black mark, it put her in a rotten mood for the rest of the day.

But that guest had been a stranger, the row quickly forgotten, and having a good old row with someone you loved was all a bit different with a new dimension added. Her mother and father did not row as such, certainly not full-blown yelling matches, but as she grew up she was often aware of an atmosphere, a peculiar sort of silence, and she quickly learnt that she was best out of the way on occasions such as that until the whole thing, whatever it was, blew over. It wasn’t until she was into her teens that she realized just what the silences had been about. It was a bitter blow too when she realized that her parents’ marriage was far from perfect. Her mother suffered in silence and her father took her very much for granted.

She had just discovered that Matthew was impossible to argue with, not with any degree of satisfaction, because he simply would not retaliate, much too chilled-out. In some ways, a good old slanging match, quickly over, would have been easier to deal with but he remained irritatingly cool and unmoved, voice level, whilst she felt herself getting hot and bothered, heard her voice rising, which meant ultimately that she was losing the argument as he sat there with a bemused expression on his face, trying in vain to calm her down. She had called him names, which she now regretted because it was so childish and she had sworn a lot too which he did not care
for, but then he could be annoyingly puritanical at times.

She could almost see herself, face contorted with anger, spitting out her words, flushed, with her eyes bulging, spittle escaping her mouth, a very bad look indeed so that, in the end, frustrated beyond belief that she was getting no reaction from him, she had no option but to storm out of the room and leave him to it. The sitting-room door was swollen with the heat and was sticking, at that, so it wasn’t as if she could slam it with any satisfaction. If he expected her to dissolve into ladylike tears then he had another think coming. She prided herself on being able to contain tears as her mother did and she really had no time for ‘weepers’. Weeping really was a very underhand way of trying to get what you want. Women who resorted to tears might actually get their way but they let the sisterhood down.

Now, remembering last night, she was sulking and Matthew, showered, shaved and dressed for work, was foolishly pretending that all was well, whistling as he made himself a full English breakfast, the complete cholesterol works, before sitting down opposite her. Sitting with her glass of orange juice and slice of toast thinly coated with some sort of disgusting good-for-you spread, she gave a disapproving sniff towards the bacon, sausage and egg on his plate but he took no notice.

It was hard work, however, sulking and although, just like her father, she did not think of herself as a morning person, she normally said
something
over breakfast. They always sat down at the table for they had agreed at the start of their marriage that they would try and sit down in a civilized manner to begin the day. Radio Two blared out a tune, something cheerful and completely inappropriate this morning, and at last she could stand it no longer. She was not a sulking sort; her temper flared and retreated as quickly as it came and even though she felt she was backing down she finally broke the silence.

‘All right, babe, you win. But if you think I’m going to
apologize just because you overreacted, you can think again,’ she began, knowing it was not the best opening, the prelude to another row if anything, but it was how she felt and he needed to know.

‘Oh, come on, darling, let’s not let this escalate any further,’ he said, smiling his first smile of the day, boringly correct as usual for they needed to put this behind them, also boringly unmoved as if he could smile his way back into her affections. ‘It was all heat-of-the-moment stuff and I forgive you,’ he added rubbing salt into the wound because she knew in her heart that she was the one who had taken umbrage and turned what had merely started off as an observation into a row.

‘You’ve got egg on your chin,’ she said, frowning at him as he wiped his chin with a piece of kitchen roll. Even though she had been up early they were now close to running late and she glanced at the clock, a wedding present, a big faux station clock that hung importantly from a hook on the roughly plastered kitchen wall. ‘Look at the time; we’d better get a move on.’ She hesitated a moment and then went for it because it would bother her all day if they did not settle this. ‘Although I honestly think you overreacted hugely, I didn’t mean to imply that your mother was thick and I’m sorry if you thought that.’

He said nothing but his smile faltered.

‘I didn’t mean for a minute that Paula was thick,’ she continued, pressing the point home. ‘I just said that she would find it difficult on the holiday keeping up with my mother. Socially and intellectually they are poles apart.’

‘There you go again. For goodness’ sake, Nicola, I never realized you were such a snob.’

‘You are so wrong there. And you can’t face facts. I’m not making a public announcement, I’m just telling you. Mother was privately educated, went to university, got her degree, taught for several years and speaks fluent Italian for one thing and there’s no surer way of feeling inferior than if you are
standing beside somebody who speaks the language and you haven’t a clue what’s going on.’

‘My mother may not have a degree—’

‘She doesn’t. And I didn’t mean anything by that either. Lots of very successful people don’t have degrees.’ She did not bother to add, though, that his mother was hardly the success of the century. Her patience was wearing thin and she felt the first surge of another bout of anger which would be a bad start to the day. She really needed to calm herself down. ‘Sorry,’ she murmured, putting her hand over his. ‘But you must not be so sensitive, sweetie. I like Paula. I like her a lot. She’s very sweet-natured.’

He nodded, managing a rueful smile at that.

 

She could murder the woman, she thought later, on the drive to work. She had told a lie, a white one, back there because sweet-natured was not the first thing that came to mind when she thought about her dearest mother-in-law. Well, all right, she was sweet-natured in that she was the sort of agreeable woman who didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody but that just made her boring as hell. Having an edge made people so much more interesting. Nicola liked people about whom you were never quite sure, people with a hint of mystery, maybe a dark side to them but she found open-natured people like dear Paula mildly irritating.

It was a complete surprise when they met. She had no idea what she had imagined, what sort of person she had conjured up in her mind but Paula was nothing like it. How on earth could such a sparrow-like nothing of a woman produce a son as dashing as Matthew?

Paula Walker was the sort of woman who made her cringe. She was too much of the little helpless woman, in every way, a bit wet, a bit inconsequential, the sort of woman who would be great as a film extra because she would not stand out in the
crowd. And she wore such nondescript cheap clothes, the sort that made her shudder; although that was just a matter of poor taste and she could be helped with that if she wanted.

So her first impression of the woman who was to be her future mother-in-law was a big disappointment.

Sometimes women like her, the petite variety, were little fireballs as feisty as you come, but that was not Paula and the way she looked up to Alan with that adoring gaze was not far short of nauseating. Did the woman have no opinion of her own? Did she have to defer to her man for every damned thing? Her own mother had an opinion about everything, sticking to it at that, even if she was wildly off the mark as she frequently was, and she was sure that she had only voted Lib Dem at the last election because her father always voted Tory.

You could bet your life that Paula would vote the same way as her husband and worse, would not consider anything wrong with that. Nicola had no idea how Matthew voted although she could hazard a guess but, although they never argued about politics or religion – taboo subjects, both – she really didn’t give a fly’s fart about his political leanings because he would never influence her.

The two leading ladies in her life were so far removed from each other it was almost comic. Poor Paula would die a thousand deaths if her mother subjected her to dining out in any of the exclusive dining establishments the Nightingales frequented, where she insisted on the best wine and so on, her mother in particular making the poor maître d’ work for his living. Matthew had told her about taking his parents out for lunch to a hotel over on Dartmoor and about how nervous his mother had been throughout, socially uncomfortable and not enjoying the ‘ambience’ one little bit, her anxiety managing to ruin things for him.

BOOK: A Close Connection
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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