“Are you sure about this Pauline.” The concern in Pete’s eyes made her heart contract with affection.
“I am. It’s fine.”
The Dales were glorious in early autumn. A great sweep of sky brushed the horizon and high in the blue was the dark pinprick of a Merlin or maybe even the precious Falcon. It was magical and it was still home.
The agent in France had assured her that all was in order and the work on her holiday homes could begin in her absence and “Madam must not worry but must get well soon from her accident.” It had been too complicated to explain and so a vague story of a fall had sufficed.
“Go over the top will you Pete.”
“That’ll take us past the place where the accident happened.”
“Yes, that’s the point. I want to lay the ghost. It’s just a road and a ditch.”
“You astound me, you really do. You are so sensible and grounded. You’re tough as well. The doctors said at least ten days in hospital and it’s barely a week.”
“Well, it’s true what they say, though it’s a cliché and all. The things that didn’t kill me – well I don’t know that they made me stronger but they certainly made me realise that I can cope with stuff.”
“Bloody hell you certainly can. Does he know you’re coming today?”
“George. Yes, I called him to confirm yesterday.”
“Are you still sure you don’t want me to come in with you. If he was to hurt you after all you’ve been through…” Pete lifted a hand from the wheel and reached to squeeze hers where it lay in her lap.
“Oh he won’t. One thing that has never been surer is that. He will never hurt me again.”
They drove in silence for a while. Though she had insisted on her release from the hospital Pauline still felt fragile. The pain of careless movement would cause her to draw in a sharp breath.
“Afterwards, will you call me?”
“I will. Don’t worry. I’m okay now and I have to do this. Everything that went wrong, it all happened because I wasn’t doing this right.”
“Oh, that’s just mumbo jumbo. It would have happened no matter what. You did what you had to do and the rest of it was out of your hands.”
“I believe, it was because what I was doing was wrong. I shouldn’t have been sneaking away like that. ”
“I’m worried about you.” She smiled at his words.
“That’s nice Pete but you know, I think that all the bad things that could happen to me have happened now eh.”
“God, I hope so. Listen I’ve got my phone. Any problems, any hint of a problem, call me and I’ll be there.”
“I know, I know you will.” She pointed now out of the window to the place just ahead of them. He slowed the car.
“Look there’s the ditch, the corner. See I told you, it’s just a road and a bend.”
She smiled at him but, inside her heart leaped and her stomach coiled. Here was the start of it all. She made a sudden decision. “Stop, stop here. I’ll get out. I’ll walk from here.”
“Here. No, you can’t. Bloody hell Pauline how much do you want to put yourself through.”
“I’ll walk from here Pete.”
“You amaze me you really do.”
“Oh go on. You with what you do, but thank you it’s nice to hear.
“Kiss me.” He drew into the side of the country road, bare yards from the scene of the accident. A dark stain still bore witness to the sacrificed sheep. He turned off the engine. He leaned and drew her into his arms and kissed her deep and long then drew back to gaze into her eyes.
“You truly do amaze me.” The only response she could give was a smile, for her heart was full and emotion choked her throat.
“I know we can’t be together Pete. Not really. Not in the normal way, but we can make it work can’t we.”
“I believe that you can make anything work, if you have decided to. Call me.”
“I will.” She stepped from the car and blew a kiss through the window as he drove past. She strode on in the reverse direction to that she had come only short weeks before.
The garden was already a little overgrown and the windows needed cleaning. She sighed looking around at the early neglect. How sad it all was, how very sad.
She would not ring the bell. George was not going to open the door to her standing on the step like a naughty child. She had her key and as the door swung inwards he was standing in the hall. It amused her that he was dressed formally, his shirt roughly ironed but his silk tie knotted precisely. The sight of him painted a smile on her lips despite all that had happened.
“Come in. I was in the lounge. I’ve made tea.” As she passed through the hall she glanced into the messy kitchen. The thought of the work that would be needed to restore it to its former pristine state lowered her mood and she sighed.
George had already thrown himself onto the settee and he turned as she stepped through the door.
“I’m glad you’re back. I was worried and then the call from the hospital upset me. They wouldn’t tell me much, just that you had been involved in an incident.”
“No, I asked them not to tell you too much. I just wanted to come back myself without too much fuss.”
“Yes, of course you did. I’m glad, glad that you’re here. Look – I know we’ve got some issues Pauline. Things to work out. I’m willing to give it a go, I owe you that at least. I’ll even go to counselling, if that’s what you want. I can’t promise to change completely but yes, we should both make an effort.
“It’ll be good to get back to normal. Now you’re back we can settle down again.”
She gazed at her husband. Looked at his dark hair shining in the afternoon light, his figure still trim and his good looks barely touched by the years. Her heart saw the young man she had married, the dashing groom standing beside the flower-decked altar.
Her eyes were drawn to his hands, resting now on his lap. When they met she had loved his hands. Manly hands, strong and sure. Hands that had held hers and slipped the ring onto her finger.
She remembered them curled into fists flying at her in fury or slapping at her in anger and she leaned towards him and wrapped her arms around the grey cushion curled on the sofa.
She gathered up the sleepy feline and without a backward glance she walked from the room. Pausing in the hall to stow Samson in his carrier, she strode on and out and into the sunshine.
Carefully she climbed into her car. She’d done it. She’d left George. Honestly and openly with her head high and back stiffened with resolve.
She’d taken the cat.