Making your mind up, p.30

Making Your Mind Up, page 30

 

Making Your Mind Up
 



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  “Right.” Lottie nodded. Thanks to Nat and Ruby, it was true.

  “Liana’s a fantastic girl. She met Curtis at a party two years ago. It was love at first sight for both of them, and when he introduced her to me I could see why. They were perfect for each other.”

  “Were you jealous?” said Lottie. “Did you wish you’d found her first?”

  “No, nothing like that.” Tyler shook his head firmly. “I was just glad Curtis had found himself a girl I got on well with. I didn’t secretly lust after her. She was Curtis’s girlfriend. I wouldn’t even consider her in that way. And Liana didn’t either,” he went on before Lottie could ask another bad-taste question. “We liked each other, enjoyed each other’s company. Nothing more than that. When Curtis told me they were getting married I couldn’t have been happier. He asked me to be his best man. If they’d had children, I’d have been a godparent.” There was a pause.

  “But that never happened,” said Lottie.

  “No,” Tyler agreed, “because Curtis died fifty years before he was supposed to die. You can imagine the effect that had on Liana.”

  “On you too.”

  “It was worse for her. Curtis was her whole life. She was in a desperate state.” The pencil between Tyler’s fingers was tapping faster now. “We spent a lot of time together. I did what I could to help her through those first months. She could talk about Curtis, knowing I’d understand. But we were just friends, nothing more. It was purely platonic.”

  Lottie looked at his left foot jiggling away. “Until…”

  “Until one night four months after Curtis had died. Out of the blue, Liana asked me if I thought she’d ever meet anyone and be happy again. I told her of course she would, she was a beautiful girl with everything going for her. Then she started crying and I wiped her eyes,” said Tyler. “That was when she started kissing me.”

  It was horrible, hearing something you had absolutely no right to object to, but feeling sick with jealousy anyway. “And you kissed her back,” said Lottie.

  “It was one of those weird situations I’d never expected to happen.” Tyler was gazing out of the window. “We got a bit carried away. I honestly hadn’t thought of Liana like that before, because in my mind she belonged to Curtis.”

  Lottie knew she shouldn’t ask, but keeping quiet had never been her forte. “You slept with her.”

  Tyler nodded, his jaw taut. “I did. We didn’t stop to ask whether it was a good idea. Of course, by the next morning I’d realized it wasn’t. Liana was still grieving for Curtis. The last thing she needed was to jump into a new relationship. We were friends and we didn’t want to risk spoiling that for the sake of some crazy rebound relationship that would only end in tears. It was too soon for anything serious.”

  The pencil flicking between his fingers abruptly flew across the desk, hitting Lottie just below her left nipple. Ouch.

  Tyler smiled briefly and said, “Sorry. Anyway, we talked it through and Liana agreed with me. Neither of us wanted to spoil what we already had. So that was it, we put it behind us and carried on as if that one night had never happened. And we did the right thing.” He shrugged. “Because it worked. We’re still friends.”

  And she still looks like Kate Moss, Lottie wanted to shout at him. It was no good; this was all way too romantic for her liking. Liana had arrived for an indefinite period and was sharing Fox Cottage with Tyler which, let’s face it, had only one bedroom.

  Moreover, eight months on from the loss of her fiancé, Liana wasn’t looking exactly prostrate with grief.

  * * *

  Jojo was down by the lake taking photographs of the swans when she heard footsteps behind her.

  “Don’t mind me,” said Freddie as she turned around. “Snap away.”

  Jojo liked Freddie. “It’s for my school geography project. I’ve got to map their path of migration from the Russian Arctic tundra to here. Dad lent me his digital camera. It’s great. You can take as many pictures as you want and you never run out of film.”

  Her bag of bread crusts lay on the ground next to her feet. The swans, eyeing the bag greedily, swam back and forth like celebs impatient to be snapped by the paparazzi.

  “Why don’t I take a photo of you feeding them?” said Freddie.

  Jojo reached for the camera when he’d finished. “OK, my turn now. You sit on that rock and I’ll get a picture of you with the lake in the background. No, sit on the rock,” she repeated as Freddie took a couple of steps in the wrong direction and gazed blankly past her. “OK, if you’d rather stay standing I’ll—oh!”

  Without uttering a sound Freddie had slumped to the ground. Jojo let out a whimper of fear and raced over to him. His eyes were half open, his lips were gray, and his breathing labored. Terrified he was about to die, Jojo dropped to her knees and shouted, “Help!” before grabbing handfuls of tweed jacket and hauling Freddie onto his side into the recovery position.

  There was no one else around and she didn’t have her phone on her. “Mr. Masterson,” Jojo croaked, cradling his head and praying she wouldn’t have to try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. “Can you hear me? Oh no…please, somebody help…”

  A dribble of saliva slid from the corner of Freddie’s mouth. He was making robotic chewing movements now. Her heart pounding, Jojo shooed away the swans who had waddled out of the water and were clamoring for attention, peering down at Freddie and wondering when the hell they were going to get fed. Oh God, should she stay with him or run and get help? What if he died while she was gone? What if he died because she hadn’t?

  Never had the sound of running footsteps been more welcome. From being gripped with panic, Jojo felt weak with relief when she saw that a grown-up had come to take charge of the situation. Tyler Klein, wearing jeans and with his blue shirt flapping open to reveal his chest, skidded to a halt at her side and said, “I heard you shouting for help. What happened here?”

  “He just…went a bit funny,” stammered Jojo. “Then he fell over. I put him on his side and he was making funny noises with his mouth. And his breathing was kind of shallow…”

  “Good girl, well done.” Tyler was taking Freddie’s pulse, checking that his airway was clear. “Looks like he’s starting to come around now.”

  Oh, thank God. “Shall I go phone for an ambulance?”

  “Hang on, I’ve got my cell phone in my pocket.”

  “Don’t call the ambulance,” Freddie mumbled, rolling onto his back and opening his eyes. Focusing with difficulty on Tyler, he said weakly, “It’s OK, it’s happened before. No need to go to the hospital. I’ll be fine now.”

  “Well, we’re not going to leave you here,” Tyler retorted. “You can’t just crash out and expect us to carry on as if nothing’s happened.”

  “Help me up then. I suppose I’d better come clean.” Ruefully Freddie said, “It was bound to happen sooner or later.” Then he turned to Jojo. “Sorry about that, sweetheart. I must have frightened the life out of you. Is your camera OK?”

  “It’s fine.” Jojo smiled and realized she’d been trembling. “I’m so glad you’re all right. I thought you were going to die.”

  Freddie patted her arm, then turned back to Tyler. “You could give me a hand if you like, help me back to the house.”

  * * *

  Lottie was in the office on Monday morning, opening the mail, when Tyler came in.

  Without preamble he said, “I know about Freddie’s illness.”

  “Oh yes?” Lottie carried on slitting open envelopes in order of interest, dealing with the most boring ones first. If Tyler was bluffing, she wasn’t going to be the one to give the game away.

  Game. If only it was that.

  “He collapsed down by the lake yesterday afternoon. I took him back to the house afterward. He told me about the brain tumor.”

  “Oh.” Lottie looked up, a lump forming in her thr
oat. Somehow the fact that Freddie had told someone else made it all the more real.

  “And how long the doctors are giving him.” Tyler shook his head. “He should be having treatment. I know why he’s chosen not to, and I can kind of understand his way of thinking, but it’s hard to accept that this is really what he wants to do.”

  “I know. But Freddie’s made up his mind and you have to respect that. What kind of a collapse?” Lottie said worriedly.

  “Some kind of minor epileptic attack. It was the third one apparently. He’s going to take some pills prescribed by his doctor to try to stop it from happening again.” After a pause Tyler went on, “So now I know why he told me I could buy Hestacombe House after Christmas. You can imagine how that made me feel.”

  “Out with the old, in with the new.” Lottie shrugged and opened the next letter. “If Liana’s still around I’m sure she’ll be pleased. At least then the two of you won’t be so cramped.”

  “Thanks for that.” The look Tyler gave her indicated that he wasn’t fooled by her flippancy for a second. “But I’m worried about Freddie being on his own. What if he has more blackouts? How’s he going to manage if anything else goes wrong?”

  “We’re sorting that out. Freddie knows what he wants to happen. It’s under control,” said Lottie, her gaze skimming over the address at the top of the letter she’d just unfolded. “In fact…”

  “What is it?” Tyler looked concerned as she scanned the contents of the letter. “What’s wrong?”

  Upset on Freddie’s behalf, Lottie clumsily pushed back the swivel chair and rose to her feet.

  “Sorry, looks like everything isn’t under control after all. If it’s OK with you I’ll go over and see Freddie now. There’s something he needs to know.”

  Chapter 47

  Freddie couldn’t fault any of the nurses who had cared for his beloved wife Mary during her time in the hospital. They had all been cheerful and efficient. But Amy Painter had been special; she was the one he and Mary had most looked forward to seeing.

  When she came on shift Amy’s dazzling smile lit up the ward. She was always ready with a sympathetic ear or a naughty joke, whichever was appropriate at the time. Her bleached blond hair was cropped short, her blue eyes were by turns sparkling and compassionate, and she never failed to brighten Freddie’s day. If he and Mary had been blessed with a daughter, they would have wanted one like Amy. She was the most perfect, funny, generous, and caring twenty-three-year-old you could wish for.

  Freddie still had the letter she’d written to him after Mary’s death. She had attended the funeral too, and wept until her eyes were swollen and red. And four months later she had sent him a postcard from Lanzarote, just a few cheery lines telling him that she had left Cheltenham and was enjoying a vacation in the sun before starting work at a hospital in London. The message concluded: Dearest Freddie, still thinking of you. When I grow up I want to be as happily married as you and Mary. Love and hugs, Amy xxx.

  He’d kept this postcard too; it had meant a lot to him. And when he had received the news of his own condition from Dr. Willis and it had been necessary to consider his future, such as it was, Freddie had known at once who he wanted to take care of him in his last days.

  He wasn’t completely selfish; he was aware that Amy had her own life to lead and that such a degree of disruption was asking a lot of her. But that was the great thing about having money. She could name her price and he would happily pay it.

  Now, looking at the expression on Lottie’s face, Freddie sensed that all wasn’t going according to plan.

  “I spoke to someone at the hospice who used to work with Amy,” Lottie said. “Officially they’re not supposed to pass on personal details, but I explained about you wanting to see her again and she gave me Amy’s mother’s address. Her name’s Barbara and she lives in London. So I wrote to her.” Pausing, Lottie held out the letter she’d opened in the office. “And now she’s written back.” Reluctantly she said, “I’m so sorry, Freddie. Amy’s dead.”

  Dead? How could someone like Amy be dead? Feeling winded, Freddie reached across the kitchen table for the letter.

  Dear Lottie,

  Thanks ever so for your nice letter about my daughter. I’m very sorry to have to tell you that Amy was killed in a car accident three years ago. She had volunteered to work in a children’s hospital in Uganda and was loving her time there. Sadly a jeep overturned and Amy was thrown out. I’m told her death was instantaneous, which has been a comfort to me—although I’m sure you can understand that the last three years have been hard to bear. Amy was my whole world, and I still find it hard to believe she’s really gone.

  I hope this news won’t upset your friend too much. You say his name is Freddie Masterson and his wife’s name was Mary. Well, I remember Amy telling me about them. She was so very fond of them both and envied them their long and happy marriage. My beautiful girl always got fed up with her boyfriends after a couple of months and dumped them, so it was always her big aim in life to find someone who didn’t get on her nerves or bore her rigid!

  Anyway, I’m waffling on. Sorry to have been the bearer of bad news. Thanks again for your letter—it’s lovely to know that Amy hasn’t been forgotten and is fondly remembered. That means so much.

  Yours,

  Barbara Painter

  * * *

  The apartment was on the tenth floor of a modern council block in Hounslow. Now that he was no longer allowed to drive, Freddie had hired a car and driver for the day. Climbing out of the car, he told the driver to return in two hours.

  Then he entered the building and rode up to the tenth floor in the graffiti-strewn lift.

  “This is so strange,” said Barbara Painter, “but so nice at the same time. I can’t believe you’re here. I feel as if I know you.”

  “Me too.” Freddie smiled and watched her fill their teacups. The apartment, not much to write home about from the exterior, was warm, tidy, and welcoming on the inside. The living room was bright with cushions and paintings, and there were framed photographs of Amy on every surface and at every stage of her life.

  Barbara saw him looking at them. “A couple people have told me I’m turning the place into a shrine, but they’ve always been there. I didn’t suddenly put them out after she died. Her father took off before Amy was born, so it was only ever just the two of us. Why shouldn’t I have photographs out of the person I loved most in the world?”

  “Exactly.” Freddie didn’t know how Barbara Painter could bear to carry on. The unfairness of it all was beyond him. When there were muggers and rapists and mass murderers in the world, why did a girl like Amy have to die?

  Barbara, reading his mind, said, “You just take it one day at a time. Force yourself to get out of bed every morning. Try to have something to look forward to, however small and insignificant it might be. Oh God, listen to me, I’m starting to sound like a counselor.”

  “Did you go see one?”

  She pulled a face. “I did. Not for long. I swept all the papers from her desk and told her to fuck off.”

  “So long as it made you feel better,” said Freddie with a grin. Barbara was a plump, motherly woman in her fifties with dark blond hair, bright eyes, and a subversive sense of humor. Since his arrival over an hour ago, they had exchanged reminiscences about Mary and Amy, talked about his brain tumor, and struck up quite a rapport.

  “And then she got down on her hands and knees and picked up every last paper herself,” Barbara went on. “Told me it didn’t matter a bit! My God, I couldn’t believe it—I was like the Princess and the Pea! I could have scribbled all over her face with a felt-tip and she’d have let me do it. Wouldn’t that have been a laugh? I could get away with anything. Oh look, you’ve finished your tea. Can you manage another cup?”

  “Thanks.” Checking his watch, Freddie saw that it was time for his afternoon dose of medica
tion. Taking the bottle out of his inside pocket, he struggled for a few moments with the childproof cap before shaking a carbamazepine tablet into the palm of his hand. Then, because his head was pounding, he added a couple of painkillers.

  “That was a bit tactless of me,” said Barbara, “talking about having things to look forward to. How long did the doctors say you probably had?”

  “A year. Ish.” Freddie appreciated the straightforward approach. “Well, that was back in the summer, so more like eight or nine months now.”

  “Amy would have been so flattered to think you’d wanted her to take care of you. So what will you do now?”

  Freddie shrugged and swallowed the pills, one after the other. “Advertise, I suppose. Hold interviews, try to find someone I can bear to have around. Something tells me I’m not going to be the most patient of patients.”

  “You mean you’re a belligerent bugger. I’ve dealt with plenty of those in my time, let me tell you.” Barbara looked amused. “When Amy was looking after your wife, did she ever happen to mention what I did for a living?”

  “Not that I can recall.” Shaking his head, Freddie said, “Why? What were you, a nightclub bouncer?”

  “The cheek of you. Take a look at that photo over there on the board.”

  Freddie obediently rose from his seat and went over to the corkboard, where several unframed photos were randomly pinned amid the cab company cards, scribbled reminders, and phone numbers. One of the photographs was of Barbara and Amy laughing together, listening to each other’s chests through stethoscopes and wearing matching uniforms.

  “You’re a nurse?”

  “I am.” Barbara nodded.

  “Where are you working?”

  “Nowhere. I retired in March.” She paused then said, “And been going mad with boredom ever since.”

  Freddie was almost afraid to ask the question. “Would you consider taking care of a stroppy bugger for a few months until he kicks the bucket?”

  “If you shout at me, would I be allowed to shout back?”

 
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