Making your mind up, p.19
Making Your Mind Up, page 19
Love and hugs,
Let him know what she thought? Let him know what she thought? It was all Cressida could do not to launch into a jig before throwing open the windows and bellowing Yessssssss! This must be how soccer players felt when they scored a winning goal in the Cup Final. Tom had liked her email! He hadn’t been scared witless by her initial faux pas and subsequent drunken ramblings. He’d even signed off with Love and hugs and…how many kisses? Six!
And he was inviting them to Newcastle next weekend—what could be more fantastic than that? Breathlessly Cressida pictured Jojo and herself traveling up together on the train, being met at the station by Tom and Donny, the four of them spending the next forty-eight hours in a whirl of fun and laughter, maybe even love and hugs…
OK, getting ahead of herself now. Talk about turning into a shameless hussy. But it would still be a brilliant weekend, and Jojo would enjoy it too; she was always up for a jaunt.
In fact, she’d leave a message on Jojo’s cell phone now, before finding out train times.
Next weekend. Fizzy with excitement, Cressida reached for the phone. Next weekend she’d be seeing Tom again. Yes!
An hour later Jojo texted her reply: Sounds great. Can’t wait. Travel up on Friday night? Love J xxxx.
Cressida kissed the phone. She’d known Jojo wouldn’t let her down.
* * *
The rest of her life might not be going according to plan, but Lottie was enjoying being a private detective. She hadn’t been able to trace the second name on Freddie’s list, Giselle Johnston, but since Johnston was her maiden name and she was now sixty-two, this was hardly a surprise. She had had more luck with the next name on the list. Fenella McEvoy.
“I’ve got her,” Lottie told Freddie, bursting into the living room of Hestacombe House and waving a sheet of paper in triumph. “Now you have to tell me who she is.” As he reached for the sheet of paper she snatched it away. “Before I give you this.”
Fenella. Freddie lit a cigar and smiled to himself. This was going to be interesting. “First you have to tell me how you found her.”
“Well, I wrote to the address you gave me and the man who lives there now called me back. He and his wife bought the house from the McEvoys twenty years ago. The McEvoys moved abroad, to Spain. But he heard on the grapevine a couple years ago that Fenella was back in Oxford, then last summer she walked past his house while he was out in the garden and they got chatting. She told him she was living in Hutton Court, an apartment block overlooking the river, and that she’d been divorced twice since leaving Carlton Avenue. So,” Lottie gaily announced, “I Googled Hutton Court and found a web designer who lives there and works from home. I rang and asked him if he knew a Fenella, and he said, ‘Oh, you mean Fenella Britton. She lives on the top floor.’ You know, I am brilliant.” Lottie looked suitably modest. “If I say so myself, I’d make a fantastic international spy.”
“And now she’s written back.” Freddie’s eyes were on the letter Lottie was keeping tantalizingly out of reach.
“She has. Your turn,” Lottie prompted.
“Some people have a moment of madness.” Puffing on his cigar and picturing Fenella as she had looked all those years ago, Freddie settled back in his leather armchair. “I had a month. I was with Giselle. Fenella was married. I couldn’t help myself,” he went on. “She was like a drug I couldn’t resist. We had an affair.”
“And I thought young people had morals in those days.” Lottie tut-tutted as she handed over the letter. “You know what, Freddie? You were a right little tinker. Who dumped who?”
“She dumped me. As you young people so charmingly put it.” Remembering how devastated he had been, Freddie smiled and tapped the ash from his cigar. “Fenella was a high-maintenance woman. She already had a successful husband. Basically I just wasn’t rich enough.”
* * *
Unlike Jeff Barrowcliffe who had been initially cautious, Fenella was overjoyed to hear from him.
“A voice from the past!” she exclaimed with delight when he called her. “Freddie, how wonderful, of course I’d love to see you again! Where are you living now? Near Cheltenham? Why, that’s no distance at all! Do you want to pop up here or shall I come down to you?”
As easy as that.
Putting the phone down several minutes later, Freddie wondered why it couldn’t have been that simple thirty-eight years ago.
The first time he had seen Fenella McEvoy she had been in a leather shop in the center of Oxford, choosing a pair of gloves. Freddie, dropping in to pick up a repaired watch strap, observed her trying on one supple dove-gray kid glove and one satin-lined pale pink one. Aware that she was being watched, Fenella turned and waggled her fingers at him. “Which do you think? To go with a white suit.”
She was stunning, as dark and elegant as Audrey Hepburn. Confidence emanated from her like French perfume.
“The pink ones,” Freddie replied at once, and she had flashed him a mesmerizing smile before turning back to the assistant behind the counter.
“A gentleman of taste. I’ll take them.”
Freddie was already captivated.
Somehow they had left the shop together. As it started to rain outside, Fenella said, “Of course what I should have bought was an umbrella. I’m never going to find a taxi now.”
“My car’s just over there.” Freddie pointed across the road. “Where are you heading?”
“Not only a gentleman of taste.” Cheerfully, Fenella moved toward the car. “A knight in shining armor too. And what a beautiful car.”
“Not that one.” Slightly shamefacedly, Freddie steered her away from the gleaming Bentley and unlocked the doors of his own less than gleaming Austin 7, parked behind it. “Still want a lift?”
Fenella laughed at the dig. “It’s better than a bicycle made for two.”
He dropped her outside her house, an imposing Edwardian villa on leafy, upmarket Carlton Avenue. By this time he’d already learned that she was married to Cyril, who was fifteen years older than her. Cyril, it transpired, was something big in textiles.
“We’re holding a cocktail party this Saturday.” Fenella’s catlike smile was hypnotic, her tone confiding. “Seven o’clock. Would you like to come along?”
Freddie swallowed. He’d never attended a cocktail party in his life.
But he wanted to now, more than anything.
“The thing is, I’ve got this…um, girlfriend.”
Fenella’s smile broadened. “Good for you. What’s her name?”
“Yes, she is.”
“I meant her name.”
“But I’m sure she’s jolly pretty too. I couldn’t imagine you with an ugly girlfriend.” Touching his sleeve, Fenella said, “Come along to our party, Freddie. Bring Giselle too, if that’s what you want. I’d like to meet her.”
On Saturday night Freddie and Giselle had gone along to the McEvoys’ cocktail party and spent the evening feeling uncomfortable. The other guests, all older and intimidatingly well-to-do, had been polite but uninterested in socializing with a young couple so clearly out of their depth.
“What are we doing here?” Giselle whispered.
“I don’t know,” Freddie murmured back.
He found out twenty minutes later when, on his way back from the bathroom, he encountered Fenella on the staircase.
“She’s not right for you.”
“Excuse me?” Startled, Freddie was nevertheless aware of how close her body was to his.
“I can always tell. What are you doing on Wednesday evening?”
“Make an excuse. Come and see me instead. Cyril’s going to be away.”
“Of course you can. Eight o’clock. Oh, cheer up, Freddie.” Fenella regarded him with amusement. “Don’t look so shocked. You know you want to.”
And, hating himself but unable to help himself, Freddie discovered that he did.
Having thought that Giselle was the love of his life, the explosion of Fenella into his world came as a shock to Freddie. Giselle felt guilty about sex before marriage, and their infrequent couplings were marred by that. Whereas Fenella, already married, had no such compunction. On Wednesday night she seduced Freddie expertly and repeatedly. The sex was mind-blowing. Luckily Cyril was often away on business trips. He was a good provider financially, Freddie learned, but something of a flop in bed.
“You’re working too hard,” Giselle complained four weeks later when he told her, yet again, that he wouldn’t be able to see her that night.
“I know, but the boss needs me to close the deal. It won’t be forever,” Freddie promised. And he knew it wouldn’t. He and Fenella were meant to be together. Life without her was unimaginable. Hours later, in bed, he told her so and asked her to leave Cyril.
“Darling, how sweet.” Fenella ran her toes playfully along his bare leg. “But why on earth would I want to do that?”
“Because I love you!” Utterly bewitched, Freddie was taken aback by her failure to understand what was happening here. “We can’t just carry on like this. I’ll finish with Giselle. You can tell Cyril about us.”
Fenella giggled. “What?”
“You have to divorce him.”
“Heavens, he’ll be furious!”
“This isn’t about him,” Freddie said urgently. “It’s about us. I want to marry you.”
“And keep me in the manner to which I’m accustomed?” Gesturing around the vast tastefully furnished master bedroom, encompassing the wardrobes bursting with expensive clothes and shoes, Fenella said, “Freddie, be serious. Exactly how much do you earn?”
Being plunged into a barrel of ice couldn’t have shocked him more. Feeling his jaw muscles tighten, Freddie said, “I thought you loved me.”
“Oh, Freddie. I like you.” Fenella stroked his face. “Very much indeed. We’ve had fun together, haven’t we? But it was never meant to be serious.”
Freddie noted her use of the past tense. He also realized that Fenella had done this before, and that while she didn’t love Cyril, she had absolutely no intention of leaving him.
“I’ll be off then.” Feeling crushed, foolish, and miserable, Freddie slid out of bed and began hunting for his hurriedly discarded clothes.
Fenella nodded sympathetically. “Probably best. Sorry, darling.”
Freddie was sorry too. He’d betrayed Giselle, who truly loved him. And now he’d made a complete idiot of himself.
Dressed at last, he turned in the bedroom doorway and said, “I’ll see myself out. Have a nice life.”
“I will.” Nestled against the snowy white pillows, Fenella blew him a kiss and fluttered her fingers good-bye. Belatedly she added, “You too.”
Freddie sat in his car. It was over. Because he couldn’t afford her.
He just wasn’t rich enough.
Cressida sat down on one of the kitchen chairs with a bump. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. It was like opening a gloriously gift-wrapped present and discovering it contained a dead rat.
“No, that won’t be possible,” Sacha Forbes briskly repeated. “We’re away. One of Robert’s district managers is getting married in Kent and we’ll be staying down there for the weekend.”
Ringing to check that Sacha and Robert wouldn’t mind her taking Jojo with her up to Newcastle had been purely a formality. They’d never said no before, which was why it hadn’t occurred to Cressida for one minute that they might this time.
“And Jojo’s going with you?” Cressida fought to hide her rising panic. “It’s just that she didn’t say anything about a wedding.”
“Well, I’m sure I mentioned it. You know what young girls are like.” Sacha’s tone was careless. “Never pay any attention.”
“Although if it’s a work colleague’s wedding,” Cressida ventured out of sheer desperation, “she’s not going to know anyone else there, is she? Are you sure you and Robert wouldn’t rather leave her with me? Then the two of you can really relax and—”
“No, no, it’s too late for all that now. Robert’s boss is taking his noisy brats along and we promised him Jojo would look after them. Otherwise they’d cause mayhem.”
The unfairness of this took Cressida’s breath away. “But—”
“Cressida, she’s coming with us. We’re going to this wedding as a family. Now if you’ll excuse me, I do have some important phone calls to make.” Clearly implying that she’d spared Cressida more than enough of her precious time, Sacha said impatiently, “And maybe you could remind yourself that Jojo’s our daughter, not yours.”
The line went dead, but the pain inflicted by this last remark cut through Cressida like a Stanley knife, all the more acute because Sacha was right.
Tears filled her eyes as she realized she would have to apologize to Sacha and Robert. Apologize and grovel. It wouldn’t be a good idea to antagonize them. If they decided they wanted to stop Jojo seeing her, they could.
Two strong cups of coffee later, Cressida left another message on Jojo’s phone explaining about the wedding.
Then she emailed Tom, telling him they couldn’t make it this weekend after all. The fact that she could still make it was irrelevant; he had invited both of them so that Jojo could be a companion for Donny. The whole purpose of the visit was to make it fun for the children and to keep them happy. Turning up on her own would be like promising Donny a trip to Disneyland, then dragging him along to the dentist instead.
In fact, staying here in Hestacombe this coming weekend was going to feel a lot like one endless trip to the dentist.
* * *
What a shame, Tom emailed back from work twenty minutes later. Donny would be so disappointed. Of course, he added (hastily? politely?), he was too. The following weekend Donny was involved in a seven-a-side soccer tournament, but how about the weekend after that?
Checking the calendar, Cressida discovered that this was the weekend she had volunteered to help out at the local hospital’s Autumn Fair. She was down to run the raffle in the morning and the book stall in the afternoon. So much for good deeds being rewarded.
Cressida could have wept. It was just as well she didn’t own a cat; if she had, she would have kicked it.
* * *
Fenella gave a little cry of delight and held out her arms to Freddie.
“My darling, just look at you—all silver-haired and distinguished and more handsome than ever! Oh, it’s so good to see you again!”
Freddie’s head was aching so badly it felt as if his brain were being squeezed in a vice, but if anything was capable of making him forget the pain it was the sight of Fenella in a pink and yellow summer dress and floaty matching scarf. Her dark eyes glowed. She still wore her hair in a gamine Audrey Hepburn crop, and her legs were as slender and spectacular as ever. She was sixty-three, Freddie reminded himself. If he hadn’t known that, he’d have put her at midfifties.
“And it’s wonderful to see you.” Bending his head and breathing in the fresh, flowery scent of her perfume, he gave Fenella a kiss on each powdered cheek. “Thank you so much for coming. Please, let me take care of that,” he added as she unfastened the clasp on her handbag and pulled out a purse. “It’s the least I can do.”
Freddie paid the taxi driver, tipped him a tenner, and said, “If I’d known you were catching the train I’d have met you at the station.”
“Maybe I was worried you might pick me up in that terrible old Austin 7 of yours.” Fenella’s ga
Freddie knew he was behaving like an eight-year-old teased by his peers for not having a bike, then getting a brand-new one for Christmas and not being able to resist riding up and down the street, showing it off. Forty years ago his lack of money had meant Fenella hadn’t taken him seriously. Since then he had done well for himself, but the slight had always rankled like an itch beneath the skin. Seeing her again and showing her what she’d missed out on completed a kind of circle; he was a sixty-four-year-old man careering up and down the street, ringing his bell and crowing, “Look at me on my shiny new bike.”
They had lunch in the conservatory and caught up with each other’s lives. Fenella was full of admiration for the house, and Freddie told her how he had built up his property business. In turn he learned that she and Cyril had divorced after twenty-three years of marriage.
“He took early retirement, and we moved to Puerto Banús. Being married to someone who’s working nonstop at least gives you time on your own,” Fenella confided. “Once Cyril gave up work there was no escape from him. It drove me mad. He drove me mad. He wouldn’t even take up golf or serious drinking, for crying out loud! Well, I couldn’t stand it. So we broke up and I got involved with Jerry Britton.”
Freddie wondered whether her involvement with Jerry Britton had preceded the breakup of her marriage to Cyril.
“Who played plenty of golf and practically single-handedly kept the bars of Puerto Banús in business,” Fenella continued wryly. “But he was great fun and he made me feel young and desirable again. After twenty-three years of being married to Cyril that meant a lot, I can tell you.”
“And you married him.” Freddie couldn’t resist asking the question. “Was he wealthy?”
Fenella smiled sadly and said, “Oh yes. I may have been in my late forties, but I still hadn’t learned my lesson. Jerry splashed his money about like nobody’s business, and I loved it when he splashed it out on me. All my life I’d needed the comfort of financial security. I was a silly, shallow woman. I can see that now. Jerry turned out to be a complete and utter bastard, of course. I’d never been so miserable. He was sleeping around. He started belittling me in front of all his friends…it was just a nightmare.” Putting down her knife and fork, she said sadly, “And the thing was, I knew deep down that I deserved it. This was my punishment for being so shallow and mercenary all my life. I’d deserved my comeuppance and now here it was in all its glory.”
by Jill Mansell have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes