Authors: Jan Brigden
Rebecca stood in the dining room doorway observing him. He’d no idea of her presence, his attention fully on the images of Alpine Swiss chalets displayed on his laptop screen. Maybe he was about to whisk her away for a few days’ ‘clear the air’ quality time together. Unlikely, given everything he’d stressed to her about his work agenda. He’d already told her the Venice trip they’d been awarded would have to wait until November at best.
‘I’ll pack a fleece and a pair of Wellingtons then, shall I?’
She held the house keys out in front of her, gave them a little rattle, seeing his initial glare of annoyance when he turned round to face her, fade to one of mild regret, no doubt in memory of his words to her the night before about a work-free weekend.
‘I shall be mowing the grass and repairing the shed door at long last tomorrow morning, then taking my lovely wife out for a pub lunch, and on Sunday … well, we’ll take Sunday as it comes, shall we?’
Oh, how she’d wanted to believe him.
‘Greg, it’s twenty past two. You haven’t even changed out of your joggers yet. The Old Bell stops serving food at three.’
‘Yes, I know that,’ he said, clicking out of the website he’d been studying. ‘We’d be there if I hadn’t received a call from the boss an hour ago telling me that a ten-page client document we’d prepared to take with us to Manchester next week is wrong.’
‘Why didn’t you say something before? You knew I was upstairs getting ready.’
‘Don’t start, Rebecca, this is vitally important.’
‘Don’t start? It was
who said about not working this weekend. The first phone call you get, and that’s it!’ She didn’t throw in about him cutting the grass or about the wonky shed door – no point! ‘I wouldn’t mind, but you were looking at pictures of chalets when I came into the room.’
His phone began ringing. ‘I’m sorry, I need to take this. It’s the boss.’
Rebecca raised her hands in defeat, left him to it, and went off to change into her jeans and remove her make-up.
She decided to mow the grass herself, which proved quite thought-provoking. Alex was flying back from La Manga on Monday. Funny how he’d not once mentioned this Tyra woman to her in York. Or the photo shoot next week that Abi had told her about.
It really is none of your business, Rebecca.
A fact she respected but, due to the same uncharacteristic ripple of jealousy she’d experienced over Alex in York, one she couldn’t quite accept.
She switched off the lawn mower. Greg had wandered into the conservatory and was beckoning her in. What was that all about? Was someone at the front door?
‘I need you to do a quiz for this charity bash we’ve been invited to,’ he said, bundling her into the dining room, all bouncy and happy-faced.
‘What charity bash?’ Rebecca flicked several blades of grass off her jeans.
‘Up north. In a fortnight’s time. We’ll be staying over,’ said Greg, evading the main question. He shoved a list of requirements under her nose. On Torrison headed paper, she noticed.
‘From what Nina says, it’s fairly basic. Two dozen or so questions. She’s even given you pointers – few geography, few sport, few entertainment. Not too easy, but not so hard that no bugger’s got a clue. Sort of stuff you do with your eyes closed.’ He pecked her on the cheek. ‘What do you say? I need to let her know as soon as possible.’
When did all this come about then?’
‘Just now. I casually mentioned to her in passing at the conference that you’d done some quiz writing. She must have latched onto it because when I logged on a few minutes ago to send out a couple of work emails, I saw her request asking if you can help out with a quiz for the fundraiser.’
‘So she’ll be there then? At this charity bash?’
‘Yes, but it won’t be a problem. She’ll probably stick with her marketing cronies.’
‘And her other half, presumably?’
‘No. She’s single.’
’ Rebecca had wrongly assumed Nina was married.
‘Yes, split up with her partner a while back, so someone was saying.’
‘Oh, right.’ Something didn’t quite sit right with Rebecca, but she shrugged it off. ‘Okay,’ she said, running her eye over the printout in his hand. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
‘Good girl. If I could take it with me to Manchester on Monday, that would be great. Nina and her team will be there.’ He pulled a face. ‘Checking up on us, no doubt!’ She saw his eyes dart to his laptop. ‘So annoying that I’ve got to spend the whole day sorting stuff out, and that we won’t make lunch. This bloody flawed document is causing me all sorts of grief. I still need to make one or two phone calls about it. Looks like that relaxing Sunday of ours has gone out of the window now too.’
‘I’ll bag up the grass cuttings, then, shall I?’
Greg squeezed her waist. ‘As I keep telling you. Won’t be forever.’
Rebecca had hoped they might replace their supposed lunch date with dinner, but with no sign of Greg logging off by seven, she ended up cooking them a shepherd’s pie.
By nine o’clock, he was face down on the sofa, snoring.
She picked up the printout of the email Nina had sent him regarding the quiz and took it upstairs, amused no end by the footnote: ‘Greg, to avoid any embarrassment on the night, please
that Rebecca verifies all answers online. Also, no questions about reality TV programmes please, as wouldn’t be fitting. Soap operas acceptable.’
Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Nina.
Within twenty minutes, Rebecca had finished it. The benefit of having several templates to consult.
She’d have loved to have shared the joke with Abi, but didn’t like to call her in case she interrupted anything. According to the text message she’d received from her earlier, Nick was popping round to ‘discuss’ things.
She stared at the monitor in front of her, summoning every scrap of willpower she had in her bones not to browse any Alex-connected news, Twitter-related or otherwise. She’d already seen sporting photos and updates on there, and already knew that Statton Rangers had won both their friendly matches, but wasn’t sure she could face seeing something about next week’s photo shoot. It was the thought of Alex travelling south, being so near to her. Had Kenny told him that Abi knew about it? Or that he’d mentioned this Tyra lady to her?
Why did Rebecca keep mentally torturing herself like this?
How long before this silly behaviour of hers stopped?
She took her address book out of her handbag, stole another look at the card Alex gave her. Terrified she might lose it, she programmed his numbers into her mobile phone contacts list, assigning them ‘A mob’ and ‘A home’ respectively.
She then printed off her Word quiz document, shut down the PC, and headed back downstairs, loneliness encasing her like a damp blanket.
All Greg could talk about when he first arrived home from his day trip to Manchester on Monday was how impressed Nina had been with Rebecca’s quiz questions. How she was looking forward to meeting Rebecca at the charity bash. How she and her colleagues would be back in Manchester with him that Thursday and Friday. ‘In a business capacity, of course.’
‘This charity do?’ said Rebecca, dolloping a generous helping of pre-prepared beef casserole onto his plate. ‘Where is it exactly? Only I was wondering if I could get away with wearing that halter-neck dress I wore to your mum’s birthday party. Or is it not posh enough?’
‘Are you being facetious, Rebecca Stafford?’
‘No, of course not.’ She sat down opposite him at the dining table. ‘I just don’t want to look underdressed.’
‘I could always treat you to something designer.’
Rebecca realised that she was supposed to look impressed.
‘As for the venue, well, you’ll have to wait and see.’ He picked up the salt shaker, giving his dinner a moderate dusting. ‘I’m sure you’ll love it though. It’ll be a networkers paradise, this event, and we’ll be right at the very heart of it. Can’t bloody wait!’
Rebecca watched him tuck into his food with relish.
I bet you can’t, Greg.
Given that Greg had invited half of his office to the coming weekend’s barbecue, Rebecca was relieved that it had provided her with something to focus on other than Alex.
How typical that she should pop in to see her parents, midweek, to find her sister Kim sitting at the kitchen table, drooling over a picture of him in some celebrity mag.
‘Top ten sexiest footballers,’ Kim purred, holding up said image of a bare-chested Alex, mid sit-up. ‘Fit, or what?’
’ Rebecca hollered, forgetting herself.
How could they have placed Liam Tyler, with his waxed armpits and cheesy megawatt grin, ahead of Alex?
, and look at number one. Some Argentinean centre forward with more hair gel on than the entire cast of
If her dad hadn’t distracted her with one of his bear hugs, Rebecca would have wrenched the magazine out of Kim’s hand, phoned the publisher and protested there and then.
Or that’s what she’d felt like doing.
Instead, she’d given a Gallic shrug as if to say, ‘Oh, well!’ and spent the next hour deflecting the usual sensitive Greg issues over a nice brew and a slice of Mum’s lemon drizzle cake.
At least she’d managed to last out until Wednesday.
Greg had been up and out on Thursday morning, Manchester-bound again, leaving Rebecca on barbecue-planning duty. She’d ordered most of the food and drink online this time, having learned valuable lessons from Pearl’s birthday party.
Abi texted her mid-morning to say that she and Nick had sorted a few things out and were hopeful of a good outcome.
‘And the sun’s shining too,’ sang Rebecca to herself, putting up the ironing board in the lounge to press a couple of her sundresses.
If she hadn’t played that Paul Weller CD again, she’d have been fine. ‘Wishing on a Star’
had wormed its way under her skin, the pull of wanting to hear Alex’s voice fiercer than ever.
Why hadn’t he told her he was coming to London?
Could it be that he didn’t find out until after they’d all left York?
As fast as one notion passed through her mind, another counteracted it.
What right did she have to question him? She shouldn’t even be thinking of him in that way.
She unplugged the iron, fresh images of York plundering her mind, infusing her senses, out-muscling her denial, the sting of the crappy weekend she’d spent with Greg chucked into the mix, bringing tears to her eyes.
She looked across at her mobile phone on the mantelpiece.
Do it, Rebecca. Text him, or you’ll never know.
For all she knew, Alex could have finished the photo shoot and be on his way back up north. Or be in the midst of it in some fancy studio somewhere. All she had to go on was what Kenny had told Abi about Alex flying down midweek and staying in his flat.
She snatched up her phone, the feeling in her stomach akin to the feeling she’d had when Alex had first spoken to her, when he’d walked up that staircase towards her at Hawksley Manor.
She accessed her contacts list. Did she have the nerve to text him on the pretence of wishing him good luck for the photo shoot?
She highlighted one of his numbers: ‘A mob’ letting her finger hover over the call button, safe in the knowledge she could clear it from her screen in a second.
Why, when your brain told you not to do something did some outside force compel you to defy it?
She watched in horror, as the word ‘calling’ flashed up.
Disconnect, you fool!
Terrified that Alex might have already answered it, she pressed the phone to her ear to check.
Her heart crashed against her breastbone.
Floundering, as the beep sounded, she stuttered: ‘Er … Hi, Alex, it’s Rebecca. Hope you’re well. Abi told me via Kenny that you’re at a photo shoot in London. I just wanted to say, don’t forget to say cheese.’
Where the hell had that come from?
Oh, well, it had some relevance.
Within seconds, her phone beeped. Message from ‘A mob’ – ‘
Can I call you?
Rebecca fumbled to type the word ‘Yes’.
Almost immediately her phone rang.
‘Rebecca?’ His tone rested somewhere between surprise and amusement. ‘I’m back at Kenny’s flat now. The photo shoot was all over by eleven. I’m kicking my heels, really, until my agent picks me up later on today. He’s got a couple of meetings in the West End first. We’re flying back together from Heathrow. How are you?’
‘Fine thanks,’ she said, the golf-ball sized lump in her throat giving her voice a slight tremor. ‘I shouldn’t have bothered you. I was going to text you, having spoken to Abi, to wish you good luck, but my finger slipped.’
‘On the call button,’ she said, cringing.
‘Oh, right. Well, anyway, you’re not bothering me. I’m glad you called. Kenny told me he’d seen Abi. How was your trip back from York?’
‘To be honest, I slept most of the way,’ said Rebecca, a sense of relief enveloping her that he sounded genuinely pleased to hear from her. ‘Was it just you they wanted for the photo shoot, or the whole England team?’ she asked, switching the conversation, concerned she might crumble if he asked her what she’d been up to since York.
‘Three of us. The other two are London-based. It was easier for me to fly down last night in case of any delays.’
‘Did you have to wear make-up?’
‘Er … a little bit, yeah.’
‘Oh, dear!’ She covered the mouthpiece to muffle her giggling, the easy banter between them bolstering her confidence.
‘Where are you?’ Alex asked.
‘At home. I should be swatting up on some course notes, but it’s such a lovely day out there, I might take myself off to the local park for a couple of hours.’
‘Battersea Park?’ He gave a hopeful sounding laugh, then a short sigh. ‘