Authors: Jane Green
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #General
here are only so many hours Grace can stay away from home.
Her husband’s car is still in the driveway when she pulls in, her heart sinking at the sight. As if she should be surprised. Where did she think he’d be going at six o’clock in the evening? It was the triumph of hope over experience, she thought to herself.
Luck is not on her side today. It wasn’t on her side this morning when she woke up to hear a door slamming downstairs and her husband bellowing her name, and it isn’t on her side now.
Although perhaps it is, she thinks, gingerly pulling up alongside his car and steeling herself for whatever might meet her inside. Perhaps his mood will have changed. Perhaps he will be the loving, attentive husband the rest of the world sees, as long as they don’t get too close.
After almost twenty-five years of marriage the only thing that Grace is ever able to predict is the unpredictability of her husband’s moods. He can throw his keys at the wall in a rage, then reappear twenty minutes later with a sunny smile, as if nothing had happened, as if Grace hadn’t spent the prior twenty minutes quaking with nerves.
He can throw his keys at the wall, followed by a vase, followed by rageful venting that
might be, is all Grace’s fault. That Grace has somehow screwed up.
This morning, Grace heard the door slamming downstairs before she had even opened her eyes. She was woken up by the noise, sat bolt upright, heart pounding, realizing that Ted was in one of his moods. Terror flooded her body for a second. Sometimes, when this happens at night, she locks herself in the bathroom and runs a bubble bath, flooding out his anger with the water from the tap. She has learned that if she removes herself, he will frequently take his rage elsewhere, distance allowing it to simmer before disappearing. But if Grace is there, if he sees her, she becomes an unwilling victim of a predator who will not leave her alone until he is sure she is completely destroyed.
He doesn’t mean it, she thinks, when he is back to being kind, loving, appreciative. He has terrible mood swings, which is part of what makes him a creative genius. I should be grateful, she says to herself. If Ted weren’t allowed to be this kind of person, he wouldn’t be able to write the books he does, wouldn’t be the success he is.
I mustn’t take it personally, she tells herself all the time, even as she feels her ears ringing with stress.
Her ears were ringing this morning, in bed, as she heard him downstairs. They always ring when she is frightened. She read somewhere that this is a symptom of anxiety, and one she has had as far back as she can remember. She has a theory that it helps drown out the noise of whoever is raging at her – her mother, her husband – but isn’t sure that’s why it happens.
This morning, moving quickly, she pulled on yesterday’s jeans, a clean T-shirt and vest, and slipped down the back stairs, carrying her clogs in her hand so as not to make a sound before softly walking out the back door.
Ted heard her car start, as she knew he would, and she wound her window down as he came tearing out of the house.
‘Sorry!’ she called as she reversed, pretending she hadn’t noticed his face contorted with rage. ‘Early start. I’m hugely late. See you later!’ She waved a cheery hand out the window and zipped up the driveway, her body flooding with relief.
Her mobile phone buzzed. She turned her head, the ringing in her ears starting back up, an automatic response to her husband’s name flashing on her screen. She wouldn’t answer, never answered when he was in this kind of mood, but nor would she divert, for then he would know she was diverting him, which would infuriate him still further.
She pressed the top button to turn off the volume, waited until the call went to voicemail, then turned the entire phone off, knowing she wouldn’t turn it on again until Ted was back to normal.
Please let things be back to normal now, she thinks, hoisting the shopping bags into the house and onto the kitchen table. She has been out all day. First to work, then filling the rest of her afternoon with errands to keep her out of the eye of the storm.
The house is quiet. Ted must still be in the barn, which is a good thing, as it means he is writing. Work helps him to focus his mind elsewhere, and hopefully,
, enable him to gather his equilibrium.
Grace puts the tomatoes in a bowl on the counter, the milk in the fridge, sliding the kettle onto the range to make tea. She once loved this house so much, this rambling antique on the banks of the Hudson River. That very first time they saw it, she knew she had found a place to call home.
Sprawling, peaceful, filled with nooks, crannies, and charm, the house has low ceilings and French doors that open onto lawns that lead gracefully down to the water.
She loved this house, before Ted’s moods had the ability to discombobulate her in the way they now do. Back in the early days, Grace would laugh at him, would wander off, letting his insults roll off her back, happy to play with their daughter and wait for things to pass.
But the years have taken their toll, his rages lasting longer, gradually grinding her into the woman she is now – the same Grace she has always been, with a ringing in her ears, a quickening of her heart, an overwhelming urge to run far, far away.
She used to fight back. She doesn’t anymore. She withdraws into a well of pain and resentment, removing herself as she did today, or hiding in her bathroom, the one room that feels safe.
Now, so often, the rest of the house she loved feels like a prison.
She jumps as she sees the barn door open, Ted emerging, his glasses in his hand as he runs his fingers through his hair. She squints through the window, reading his face, his mood, bracing herself not for fight or flight, for neither is an option right now, but for the third option: freeze.
Ted sees her through the window, his expression changing, as Grace holds her breath, to a smile. Relief floods her body as he waves a jaunty hand, slowly making his way up the path. She is close to tears as she raises a tentative hand back at him.
Thank you, God!
She goes to the fridge to pour him a glass of wine, the ringing fading in her ears, wondering how on earth life ever got so hard.
n the beginning, when she first met Ted, it felt as if she had fallen into the kind of life that only happened to other people, and usually only in movies. It was a life she determined to enjoy while it lasted, convinced it wouldn’t last long, for Ted could have had his pick. There were always women more exciting, more glamorous, more beautiful than she.
Ted Chapman. One of the rising stars of the literary scene, the thinking man’s Grisham; a writer of clever political thrillers that straddled both the literary and the commercial. When Grace met him, he had only published three books, three books that had been huge, and the publishers were doing everything they could to keep him happy, knowing they hadn’t paid him enough, aware that every other publisher was circling now that he had come to the end of his book deal, concerned they could no longer afford to pay him what he would doubtlessly demand of his next contract.
He was speaking at the annual sales conference, joining the publishing team’s table for dinner. Grace, only twenty-two and an assistant cookbook editor, was stunned she had been asked to join the table, more so when she discovered she was seated to the right of Ted Chapman.
Assistant cookbook editor was not nearly as glamorous a job as it sounded, and it was unusual for a lowly assistant to go to the sales conference, but her boss had demanded, and when her boss made demands, she had no choice. Perhaps he understood these were the perks that made the job worthwhile: going to publishing dinners, meeting famous chefs – Jacques Pépin and Julia Child. She met them. And they talked to her as if she were an equal! The perks made it all worthwhile.
Ted Chapman was not often seen in the office, and when he was, he seemed frightening. Dark and brooding, he had the kind of aura that made you want to stare, made you want to please him.
Grace had arrived early to the dinner, had allayed her fears during the cocktail hour with two glasses of cheap white wine, and by the time they took their seats in the banquet hall next door, her fear of Ted Chapman was tinged with intrigue. She sat, shaking, at the table, wondering why she had been given such an onerous and terrifying seat.
‘Gracie will charm him.’ Grace looked up to see Bill Knight, the publisher, toasting her across the table with a wink. ‘Right, Gracie?’
Of course, thought Grace. ‘How could he even think of leaving when we have such talented and delightful people working for us.’
Grace forced a smile, feeling sick. She was here as bait. And there was no way to leave. She would have to do her job, charm Ted Chapman, and then perhaps,
, look for another job.
Ted was the only empty chair at the table. He was too nervous before public speaking to sit at a table with other people, explained his editor. He needed quiet, but would join them afterwards.
Oh God, thought Grace, her heart sinking. How pretentious. The excitement of meeting him was beginning to pall, the whole evening starting to feel like a huge mistake. How ironic, she thought, that this morning she’d flown around her apartment, trying on dresses, tipping her makeup into her bag so she could get ready for this event, exhilarated at meeting someone whose work she adored. Now she would have given anything to get out of there.
Grace had no appetite, unusual for her. She was a cookbook editor because she loved food. Coming to New York, she was amazed at how few girls her age knew how to cook. She had learned to cook at university, going home to her roommate Catherine’s house where Catherine’s mother, Lydia, was so thrilled to have an eager student, she sat her at the kitchen table for hours and taught her everything she knew.
She loved creating, loved cooking and loved writing. What better place to put all those skills together than working for a publisher in the cookbooks division, and where more glamorous than New York?
She hosted impromptu dinner parties all the time. Two folding card tables – one she had, one she had found on a street corner one afternoon – served as the dining table, with long wooden benches that had been made out of planks of oak by a handy ex-boyfriend.
Grace would throw cloth over the tables, fill jam jars with flowers and line them down the centre. The food was inexpensive, and back then, in those early days in New York, frequently had an English bent.
Her co-workers delightedly cooed over toad in the hole and treacle tart, as Grace dreamed of one day writing a cookbook of her own.
At the event dinner, the waiters started to hand out the plated food. Wilted salad followed by a dry chicken breast in a mushroom sauce. Grace took a few bites before pushing the food aside, bored with the empty seat to her left, the man on her right – another author – too busy talking to other people at the table to pay any attention to her.
A tinkling of spoon on glass, and the CEO of their company stood up to introduce their keynote speaker. To a whirl of applause, Ted Chapman appeared through a side door, tall, much taller than Grace had imagined, as he strode up to the podium, notes in hand, shaking the CEO’s hand and murmuring ‘thanks’, before turning to face the audience, clearing his throat, and pausing to take a sip of water.