‘Oh, Lu, I’m sorry,’ she says, gentle now. ‘It’ll happen soon, I’m sure it will.’
I dash my hands across my eyes and put the stick down on the floor. ‘Yeah, I know.’
When Oscar comes home just after eight, I’m in my pyjamas drinking a glass of wine at the kitchen table. He eyes the wine, then raises his eyebrows. ‘Is that wise?’
The coolness to his tone suggests he’s still in the same frame of mind as when he left on Sunday.
I shake my head. ‘I thought I might be pregnant, but I’m not. I did a test. I must just be late, it happens.’
His expression softens as his eyes search mine. ‘Are you okay?’
I’m not sure how to best answer his question truthfully. ‘I don’t think I am, no.’
I wait while he pours himself a glass of wine and sits down at the table. He looks done in; I wish I could just make him some dinner and offer to run him a bath, but my heart won’t let me back out of the decisions I reached on the bathroom floor after Sarah rang off.
‘Did you accept the job?’
He stares into his wine glass. ‘You always knew I was going to.’
‘Yes.’ I nod slowly. ‘It was the right thing for you.’
‘But not for you?’ he asks. He doesn’t sound angry or cool any more. I think he’s starting to realize that this conversation has the potential to devastate us both.
I sigh, and a tear slides down my face. ‘No.’ I swallow hard, hating everything about this situation. ‘I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking I might be pregnant, and trying to work out what to do if I was.’
He watches me, silent.
‘And then I did the test, and I wasn’t pregnant, and all I could think was thank God. Thank God I haven’t had all of my choices taken away from me.’
I’ve shocked him. I hate the words falling from my mouth, but honesty is all I have. ‘I don’t want to move to Belgium, Oscar.’
He’s scanning my face, as if he’s looking for traces of the woman he loves. He hadn’t truly considered saying no to the job before this conversation, I realize. He’s banked on me falling into step in the end.
‘We can’t love each other from different countries, and what happens if I do fall pregnant? I don’t want to be here on my own with a baby five nights out of seven.’
‘It could work.’ He drags his chair round the table until his knees touch mine. ‘I know it’s not ideal but we can make it okay, Laurie.’
‘Oscar, it isn’t just about the job, it’s about so much more than geography,’ I say, being as gentle as I know how to be. I look at his beloved face, and I can’t quite believe we’re falling apart like this. He’s been my safe harbour for a long time. ‘God, you’re such a lovely man. I’ve never met anyone like you and I know I never will again.’
‘We made vows,’ he says, frustrated. ‘For better, for worse. We promised each other.’
‘Our lives are headed in two different directions,’ I say, holding his hands in mine. ‘Yours is leading you along a path I can’t follow, Oscar. And that isn’t your fault or mine.’
‘But I love you,’ he says, as if it’s a magic phrase that trumps any other.
I don’t know how to express myself without hurting him more. ‘Oscar, you’re the best husband anyone could wish for. You’re kind and you’re funny and you’ve given me so much more than I can ever give you back.’
‘I never expected you to.’
‘No. But you do expect me to move to Belgium, or else live here on my own most of the time,’ I say.
Consternation furrows his brow. ‘I hoped you’d realize it’s for the best,’ he says. ‘I thought I’d come home tonight and you’d have come round.’
I sigh, because I know he hasn’t even entertained the idea of saying no to the job. It’s a done deal, and all of the decisions are now mine.
‘I’m not going to come round,’ I say. ‘I’m not just being obstinate. I don’t want to move to Brussels.’
‘But you know that turning the job down isn’t an option for me,’ he says, and a part of me is glad. I don’t want him to offer to give up the promotion he’s earned. Not that he’s offering, and in a way that makes the next thing I need to say a little easier.
‘I didn’t realize how unhappy I’ve become until I looked at that blue line,’ I say, bereft. ‘I didn’t know.’
He’s got his face in his hands, and I feel like the most stupid, wretched, ungrateful woman in the world.
‘So that’s it? You won’t come and I can’t stay?’
‘Or I can’t come and you won’t stay,’ I say, challenging his blinkered viewpoint even though I know he’ll never try to see it my way. His life is firmly on track and that track now leads to Brussels, with or without me. He finds it utterly unfathomable that I’m not cock-a-hoop to jump aboard the train, and it serves only to make me even more certain that we’ve come to the end of the line. No more living life at half-mast; the lights have gone out on our marriage. Back in Koh Lipe, our love blossomed beneath a string of flickering fairy lights wrapped around the railings of the beach shack. Here in London, the life has been slowly choked out of it under the glare of Lucille’s oh-so-sophisticated lamps and the relentless weekly monotony of Heathrow’s runway lights. I realize now that Oscar hasn’t changed at all. He was always this man, but Thailand, and me, for a while maybe, made him feel like he could be someone else. He tried a different life on for size, but in the end he’s gone full circle, because this life, the one he’s living right now, is the one that fits him best.
‘I’m so sorry, Oscar, I really am.’
‘Me too,’ he whispers. ‘I’m sorry too, Starfish.’
I look away, upset because I know that’s the last time I’ll ever hear him call me that.
A sigh racks his body, as if it’s wrenched from him. ‘If you’d been pregnant, do you think you might have come with me?’
I genuinely don’t know what to tell him. Perhaps that I’d have felt trapped into it and forced to give it a go. I don’t say it; it’s too bleak.
I lean forward and hold his head in my hands, my lips pressed to his hair. He wraps his arms round me too, and the familiar smell of him makes me cry uncontrollably; the cologne he’s always worn, the shampoo he uses, the scent of his days and my nights and our love.
I follow Amanda silently through her apartment; I say silently because I’ve just removed my Converse – this is a strictly no-outdoor-shoes kind of place. There’s even a trite sign and rack just inside the front door in case you forget. I don’t mind, exactly. No, that’s a lie. It gets right up my nose; I find it pompous when people insist you take off your shoes. It’s not an Amanda-centric complaint though. It sets my teeth on edge whoever does it.
We’re in her sleek white kitchen, which as a general rule sees very little in the way of food preparation. Amanda has many wonderful points, but her cooking skills aren’t legendary. She freely admits it: she’s a master of the microwave, a mistress of sushi home delivery and the queen of the Edinburgh restaurant scene – so why would she want to peel onions herself?
‘I have,’ she says, opening the fridge to pour me a glass of white.
‘Should I be scared?’
She arches her eyebrows at me. ‘You should be terribly complimentary and grateful, Jack. I’ve burned my finger for you.’
I watch her as she moves around the kitchen, holding the pre-prepared pack of green beans at arm’s length so she can read the microwave instructions on the back.
‘What’s on the menu?’
I don’t know why I’ve asked, because I know the answer is fish.
‘Cod,’ she says. ‘I’m baking it with lemon and parsley.’
‘Did you blow the dust off the oven before you used it?’
She rolls her eyes at me and I laugh.