‘He would never have admitted it, Kate. He’s a madcap.’ I claim, thinking it’s probably me who’s the insane one—insane for being so damn stupid.
‘But only with you.’ Kate says.
‘Yes, only with me.’ I take a sip of my tea. She’s watching me, but not expressing her thoughts. She must have some.
‘Why would you ignore it?’ she asks.
I was dreading that question, but completely expecting it, and I’m wondering the same thing myself. ‘I have no idea.’ I feel so frustrated. I have no decent excuse.
Kate shakes her head, making me feel smaller. ‘I don’t understand you, and I certainly don’t understand him.’
‘He was as scared I’d run away.’ I mumble quietly. What’s my excuse for being so dim?
‘You’ve married him!’ She laughs. ‘Fuck me, Ava. What is wrong with that man? Hey, I know he’s a bit crazy but –’
‘A bit?’ I scoff.
‘Yeah, okay, understatement of the fucking century, but his way with you has always been so endearing to me. How much he loves you, frets, and protects you. We all know his behaviour is way past unreasonable, but it’s common knowledge that he’s never cared before. But stealing your pills? I didn’t think that man could shock me, but he’s outdone himself this time.’
‘He has,’ I muse, swirling my tea in slow, careful circling motions.
‘So if you knew, and he knew you knew, then why the big bust up now?’
‘He may have succeeded in his attempts.’
Kate chokes on her tea. ‘You’re pregnant?’ she coughs.
The words spike the dormant lump in my throat to swell, and before I can even think about controlling them, tears start streaming down my cheeks. I drop my tea to the table and cover my face with my palms… and I sob.
‘Oh, fuck! Oh shit!’ Kate’s chair scrapes across the kitchen floor and the next thing I know, she’s standing behind me with her arms wrapped around my shoulders. She actually hushes me quietly in my ear, like I’m a child who’s just fell and grazed their knee. I feel so stupid all of a sudden. Really, really stupid. Stupid for ignoring my suspicions for so long, stupid for not allowing the pieces to click sooner, and stupid for letting Jesse distract me from the enormity of his actions.
‘My period is due tomorrow. I know it’s not coming, and so does Jesse.’ I sniffle and Kate leaves me, hurrying over to a unit of drawers. ‘I’ve been ignoring it, which has frustrated Jesse, but I’m not ready for this, Kate, and now I just feel furious with myself and even more incensed with him. I let things pass sometimes, but this is taking control to a whole new level. I can’t let him do this.’
She hands me a tissue, and I set about wiping my nose as she takes a seat next to me. ‘I completely agree.’ she says. I can’t believe how relieved I am to hear her say that. I know she’s very fond of Jesse, and generally nothing fazes her, not even my husband in all of his challenging ways, but this has shocked her, and I’m so glad. ‘What are you going to do?’ she asks, ‘Make him sweat?’
‘Have an abortion.’
Kate’s mouth hits the table. It doesn’t help.
‘Kate, can you imagine what he’ll be like? He already smothers me, and I like it to a certain extent, but being pregnant?’
She scoops her chin up. ‘Oh God, Ava. You’ll send him to the loony bin.’
‘That’s not a good enough reason.’ I reply quietly. I know what this will do to him, but he hasn’t considered what any of his actions will do to me. I’m not ready for this, and he hasn’t stopped once to consider how I might feel. ‘It’s not just that, though. I have a career. I’m twenty six years old. I don’t want a baby, Kate.’
‘I don’t even know what to say.’
‘Just say I’m doing the right thing.’
She shakes her head a little. I need her to understand. ‘Okay.’ she says reluctantly. She doesn’t think it’s okay at all, but her willingness to halt any guilt trip is enough for me. I feel guilty enough already, although I shouldn’t. I need to regain control, and I can’t see any other way of doing it. I can’t have a baby.
‘Thank you.’ I whisper, picking up my tea and taking a shaky sip.
It’s Monday. I wake at the crack of dawn and cry silently to myself. I’m only delaying the inevitable. I need to see Doctor Monroe.
I exit Green Park tube station onto Piccadilly and stop for a few moments, absorbing the frantic rush hour blur of people. I miss this. I miss the chaos of the tube and walking the few blocks to my office—all of the hectic scrambling, the dodging of bodies and the loud voices, mostly shouting down a mobile phone. That, coupled with the screeching of cars and buses, the honking of impatient horns and the ringing of cyclist bells, all strangely bring a small smile to my face, until I get nudged in the back, and then ridiculed for keeping the frantic stream of pedestrian traffic from flowing. I snap out of my daydream and shift my feet into gear, heading for Berkeley Square.
‘Morning, flower.’ Patrick’s big body strides out of his office towards my desk.
I take my seat and swivel to face him. ‘Good morning.’ I need to fake chirpiness on a stupidly over-the-top level.
He perches on my desk, prompting the usual shriek of strained wood and my usual tensing in anticipation. It’s going to give one day. ‘How’s the blushing bride?’ He clucks my cheek affectionately and winks.
‘Perfect.’ I smile, laughing at myself and my ability to choose the most inaccurate word to describe how I’m really feeling. I could’ve said good, or fine, or great, but no… I say perfect. Perfectly distraught, that’s what I am.
‘It was a wonderful reception. Thank you.’
‘Oh, you’re welcome.’ I brush off my boss’s appreciation. ‘Where is everyone?’ I ask, desperate to divert the conversation from my shambolic wedding, and probably shambolic marriage, too.
‘Sal’s in the stationary cupboard having a tidy up, and Tom and Victoria should be here by now.’ He looks at his watch. ‘Van Der Haus,’ he returns his eyes to mine, and I struggle to look relaxed at the mention of my Danish client’s name. ‘Has he been in touch yet?’
‘No,’ I load my computer up and jiggle my mouse to get the screen on. It doesn’t escape my thoughts that I’ve been given a deadline of today to inform my boss of Mikael’s revenge mission, but given my current state of affairs and the fact that I’ve left Jesse, I’m thinking my Lord will not be pressing me on this issue. ‘He said he’d be in touch once he’s back in the UK.’
‘Fair enough.’ Patrick shifts on my desk. I will him to at least be still if he insists on torturing the poor thing. ‘And anything to report on your other clients? The Kents, Miss Quinn… Mr Ward.’ He chuckles at his own little joke, and although I’m in turmoil with my new husband, I’m grateful for Patrick’s acceptance of mine and Jesse’s relationship. If there will even be a relationship after the next few days.
‘All great. Mr and Mrs Kent are in full swing, Miss Quinn’s work starts tomorrow, and Mr Ward would like me to commission the beds for the new rooms as soon as possible. They could take months.’
Patrick laughs. ‘Ava, flower, you don’t have to call your husband Mr Ward.’
‘Habit.’ I grumble. I could think of a lot of words I could call him at the moment.
‘You mean those lovely lattice style beds?’
‘Yes,’ I pull out the design from my drawer and present it to Patrick.
‘Stunning,’ he says simply, ‘Bet these will cost a few quid.’
Stunning? Yes. Expensive? Ridiculously. But Patrick doesn’t realise the benefits of these beds in a place like The Manor. To my big cuddly bear of a boss, The Manor is still just a lovely country retreat. ‘He can afford it.’ I shrug and take the design back when he hands it to me.
I’m happily filing the drawing away when the sharp cracking of splintering wood rings out through the quiet of our office, and I watch in shock as Patrick crashes to the floor with a look of alarm on his face. I don’t know why. He had it coming. My lap is littered with pieces of desk, and I’m eternally grateful that my legs weren’t tucked under it. They’d be broken.
‘Bloody hell!’ Patrick shouts, rolling around among the many pieces of broken wood and stationary that graced my desk, including my flat computer screen. I don’t know whether to jump up to help him or just laugh. A rip roaring giggle is bubbling in my throat, and it’s taking every modicum of power to hold it back. This is just too funny.
I lose the battle. A burst of laughter flies from my mouth. There is not a chance on earth Patrick is getting up from the floor without any help, but I doubt I’ll be of any assistance. He must weigh six times more than me. ‘I’m sorry!’ I chuckle, re-gaining control of my twitching body. ‘Here,’ I put my hand out to him and he reaches up to take it, his stretch straining his shirt buttons. It flies open, scattering buttons all over the office floor and revealing Patricks potbelly. This does me no favours, my earlier laughter returning full force.
‘Drat!’ he curses, keeping a tight hold of my hand. ‘Double drat!’
‘Oh God!’ I cry, bending over to stop myself from peeing my knickers. ‘Patrick, are you okay?’ I know he is. He wouldn’t be rolling around and cursing if he was seriously injured.
‘No, I’m bloody not. Will you control yourself and help me out?’ He tugs at my hand.
‘I’m sorry!’ It’s no good. I’m crying, mascara probably pouring down my cheeks. I throw all of my strength into heaving Patrick up from the floor, making quick work so I can get to the toilet. And I do just that when I’ve finally got him to his feet. ‘Excuse me!’ I laugh, running towards the ladies, passing a shocked looking Sal as I fly past the stationary cupboard.
When I’ve sorted myself out and composed my jerking body, I walk back into the office to find Tom and Victoria have arrived and Sal on her knees collecting up a million paperclips.
‘What happened?’ Victoria whispers.
‘My desk finally gave in.’ I smile, and try my hardest to keep the giggling fit from returning again. If I start, I won’t stop.
‘I missed it!’ Tom cries incredulously. ‘Damn it.’ He hangs his man-bag on the back of his chair. ‘Darling! How is the bride?’
‘Fine,’ I answer.
‘Oh yes!’ Victoria pipes up. ‘When I get married, it’ll be just like your wedding, except perhaps not at a se…’
I dart warning eyes to my ditsy work colleague, and she acknowledges her near error by snapping her mouth shut and hastily removing herself from the area.
I kneel down to help Sal. ‘It was beautiful, Ava.’ she muses dreamily. ‘You’re so lucky.’
Sal’s sweet words only enhance my gloom—until my phone starts singing from my bag. I glance across at it, sitting amid the chaos of broken up desk. I can’t speak to him. I’m a little surprised that it’s taken him until now to call me, and even more surprised he wasn’t so persistent last night. These signs are all an indication of one thing and one thing alone. He knows he’s pushed the boundaries. I can’t even imagine what he’s doing with himself, besides running continuous laps of the Royal Parks.
Sal looks at me expectantly, but I just smile and continue picking up paperclips and popping them in a pot. It’s only now I wonder why out of all the things we could be clearing up, we’re collecting the smallest things of all. ‘I’ll call him back.’ I say to Sal, while thinking how therapeutic this actually is.