Making your mind up, p.42

Making Your Mind Up, page 42

 

Making Your Mind Up
 



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  “Oh yeah, and Dad called latht night.” Nat belatedly produced the other snippet of information they had to pass on—far less important than his bashed-out front tooth.

  “He did? At last.” Lottie heaved a sigh of relief. “Is he flying straight back?”

  Ruby shook her head. “He offered. We said there was no need. We’re OK without him now, aren’t we?”

  OK without Mario. OK with Tyler. Lottie silently digested this. A few months ago, it would have been more than she could have hoped for, a turnaround on Nat and Ruby’s part beyond her wildest dreams.

  But that was before Liana had arrived on the scene and installed herself back in Tyler’s life.

  “Sweetheart, I’ll be discharged from here soon. The hospital is lending me a wheelchair, but I’m going to be pretty useless at home. I’ll need help with everything.”

  “But we’ve told Dad he doethn’t have to come home.” Nat, chomping his way through her grapes as efficiently as a plague of locusts, said, “Anyway, we’ve broken up now. We can help you.”

  “Thanks, darling. I know you will.” Lottie stroked his tangled curls and wondered how she was really going to manage in a wheelchair. Piper’s Cottage had narrow doorways, and the bathroom was so small it—

  “You pig,” wailed Ruby, shoving the brown paper bag at Nat’s chest. “There’s only stalks left. You’ve eaten all the grapes!”

  “Don’t throw it at me. I’m allowed to eat them becauthe I’ve been to the dentitht.”

  Separating them with an outstretched arm, Tyler said calmly, “Ice skating. Yes or no?”

  Nat and Ruby looked at each other and subsided onto the bed.

  “You know, I’m starting to get the hang of this,” said Tyler.

  He looked so pleased with himself. Touched, Lottie said, “Handled like a pro.”

  Nat, giving Ruby a nudge, said, “But he thtill burnth everything he cookth.”

  Chapter 64

  “Here she is,” sang the nurse. “Lottie, you’ve got another visitor.”

  It was Friday evening, and Lottie was engrossed in an article in a magazine about a woman giving birth to twins in her bathroom when she hadn’t even realized she was pregnant.

  Looking up and seeing Liana standing there at the foot of the bed gave her much the same feeling.

  “You look awful.” Liana was taking in the yellow bruises, the hair in need of a wash, the bandaged wrist, and the plastered foot. “How are you feeling?”

  “Oh, um…better, thanks.” Lottie put down the magazine.

  “And smug, I should think.” Liana was smiling, but in a way that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

  “Sorry?”

  “Oh yes, that too. Sorry, but not sorry enough to put a stop to it.”

  “Put a stop to what?” But Lottie had already guessed what this was about. It was pretty self-evident that Liana was fed up with the fact that for the last six days she’d hardly seen Tyler.

  And in all honesty, who could blame her?

  “You know what,” said Liana.

  “OK, but there wasn’t much else I could do, was there?” Lottie did her best to sound reasonable. “I’m stuck in bed here and somebody had to look after Ruby and Nat.”

  “And guess who that someone turned out to be? My boyfriend.”

  Yikes. “Well, I’m sorry. But the doctors think I might be able to go home on Monday, so then we’ll be out of your hair.”

  “And where will you be staying? In that poky little cottage of yours?” Liana was a lady so she didn’t snort—would never snort—but it was a close-run thing.

  The cheek of it! Lottie, who loved her home with a passion, retorted, “Plenty of people manage to live in poky cottages and—”

  “So Tyler hasn’t told you then? That he wants to move you into Hestacombe House?”

  “What? No!”

  Liana’s knuckles were white as she gripped the metal rail at the foot of the bed. “We had the most massive row about it last night. He was most insistent, going on about the doorways being wide enough for your wheelchair and how he could turn the drawing room into a bedroom—any excuse he could think of, basically. So long as he’s got you under his roof. Anyhow, I told him I’d had enough. I said if you moved in, I’d be gone. And guess what? I’m gone.”

  Lottie was numb, too shocked to move or speak. Luckily Liana was on a mission to off-load everything that was on her mind.

  “So that’s it. Looks like you won.” Tilting her head to one side she said, “I bet you can’t believe your luck, huh? Because I’m telling you now, I sure as hell can’t figure it out. I’m the one who deserves him, you see. I’m beautiful, everyone says so. I’m a perfect size four. I’m intelligent and I’m always real nice to people. Everyone likes me. And my fiancé died, which means I’ve suffered enough. God knows, if anyone deserves to be happy, it’s me.”

  Her words sounded brittle, like dry twigs being snapped. Liana couldn’t comprehend the reality of rejection, let alone the possibility that she may have lost out to someone who weighed forty pounds more than she did.

  Unless—the unedifying thought crossed Lottie’s mind—maybe she hadn’t. Maybe Tyler, eager to get rid of Liana, was simply using her as a handy excuse.

  Lottie shuddered. God, how awful if that hadn’t occurred to her before she’d hurled herself into his arms.

  “I mean, look at you.” As if to illustrate the point, Liana indicated Lottie in her red robe, sporting the glitter-strewn Get Well badge Ruby had presented her with last night. “Your hair’s a mess. You eat carbs like they’re going out of fashion.”

  Lottie was unable to resist it. “I thought carbs were out of fashion.”

  But Liana’s sense of humor had never been her strong point. She shook her head and said bluntly, “I don’t mean to be rude here. It’s just that I truly don’t get it. I take care of myself; it’s as simple as that. I spend a fortune keeping my body in peak—I mean absolutely peak—condition. And you don’t.”

  “No, I don’t,” Lottie agreed.

  “May I ask you a personal question? Have you ever had a professional pedicure in your life?”

  Lottie looked at her toes, the Day-Glo pink nails varnished yesterday by Ruby with a lot of love and care, but maybe not that much accuracy.

  “No, I haven’t.”

  “And as for your wardrobe—you wear the most extraordinary outfits sometimes. You never coordinate your accessories…”

  “I’m sorry.” Lottie kept a straight face.

  “But nobody seems to mind! That’s what gets me! You’re a single parent with two young children…I mean, that should be a major turnoff in anybody’s book. And your last boyfriend was a drug addict, which doesn’t say much for your powers of judgment.”

  Stung, Lottie said, “Now hang on a minute, that’s not fair. I didn’t know about—”

  “Hey, no offense.” Liana held up her hands. “Don’t you see? There’s no need for you to defend yourself because it doesn’t seem to matter what you get wrong. Everyone forgives you anyway.” She paused. “Whereas I never do anything wrong and I take care of myself, and I spend more money on one pair of shoes than you spend on clothes in a year, but when it comes right down to it, for some reason, they still prefer you.”

  * * *

  It was fantastic to see Amber again, and even more fantastic to discover she’d brought along her hairdressing scissors. Since coming out of the hospital three days ago, Lottie had been getting used to maneuvering her wheelchair around the first floor of Hestacombe House. Now, showing off, she swung a bit too cavalierly into the sunny drawing room and scraped the knuckles of her left hand against the door frame.

  “You need a student driver bumper sticker. I can’t believe so much has happened in the last ten days.” Once the brakes had been applied, Amber fastened the towel around Lottie’s s
houlders and took out her comb and scissors. “You in the hospital, Nat and Ruby being looked after by Tyler. Do you know, when they met me at the bottom of the drive, they were speaking with just a smidgen of an American accent.” Smiling as she began Lottie’s long-overdue cut, she went on, “Imitation’s the sincerest form of flattery. If they’re doing that, he’s definitely won them over.”

  “He has. And Liana’s gone back to America.” Lottie gazed at the Christmas tree and listened to the comforting snip-snip of the scissors. The other reason she was so pleased to see Amber was because she was desperate for a girlfriend to confide in.

  “So it’s all systems go, you and Tyler together at last! About six inches or a bit more?”

  Lottie was taken aback. Hey, talk about coming straight to the point. “Um, I haven’t had—”

  “I mean six inches when it’s curly. If you straightened it out it’d be longer than that.” Amber reached over and held up a length of Lottie’s hair. “See? Boiiinngg, like a spring! It’s grown so fast I think you could do with at least that much off.”

  “Fine, go ahead.” Lottie pulled an eek face. “Sorry, you don’t want to know what I thought you were talking about.”

  “I know exactly what you thought, you trollop. And now you’ve happened to mention it, why don’t I make that my next question?”

  “You can ask, but I can’t tell you.”

  “Rotten spoilsport!” Amber grabbed a handful of hair. “Hang on; let me just hack off this huge chunk of—”

  “I’m not being a spoilsport,” Lottie said hastily. “Tyler and I aren’t together like that.”

  “Oh. Sorry. Doctor’s orders, I suppose. If you’ve just come out of the hospital you can’t start—”

  “I mean, Tyler and I aren’t together in any way. He’s my boss. I’m his employee.” Lottie blinked as a snipped bit of hair landed on her eyelashes. “And that’s as far as it goes.”

  Amber stopped cutting and moved around to look at her. “Seriously?”

  “Seriously.”

  Amber’s face was a picture. “But…why?”

  “I don’t know!”

  “Has he said anything?”

  “No!” wailed Lottie.

  “Have you asked him?”

  “Nooo!”

  “Do you want me to ask him for you?”

  “Nooooo!”

  “OK, OK, don’t burst my eardrums.” Amber was frowning. “But I thought he was crazy about you.”

  “So did I!”

  “And the only thing stopping you being together was Nat and Ruby hating him, except they don’t hate him anymore. And Liana and Seb are out of the picture now, so everything should be…well, all systems go.”

  “Exactly.”

  “So why isn’t it?”

  “Truthfully?” Lottie hated having to say the words. “I think he’s changed his mind.”

  “Why?”

  “Because Tyler doesn’t hang around. If he was going to say anything, he would have said it by now. He’s had a million opportunities, but he just hasn’t done it. The way he’s treating me, it’s like we’re brother and sister. He’s helping me out by letting us stay here, but it doesn’t mean anything.” Lottie fiddled with the heavy strapping on her wrist. “Basically, I think he was crazy about me, but that was months ago and now those feelings have worn off. Like buying the best pair of trousers in the world and loving them so much you never want to take them off.” She paused. “Then a few weeks later you realize they aren’t that flattering after all.”

  Amber said robustly, “Well, I can’t believe you haven’t tackled him about it.”

  Lottie couldn’t either. It wasn’t like her at all. But there was so much at stake that she was terrified to make any kind of move in case it all went horribly wrong. “I just can’t. Anyway, look at me.” She indicated the cast on her foot, the still spectacularly bruised wrist, and the wheelchair. “It’s not as if I can pounce on him, is it? Wrestle him to the ground and force him to change his mind? And at least if I don’t say anything I’ll still have some pride left.”

  “So how long will you stay on here?” Amber resumed cutting.

  “Only a few more days. As soon as the wrist’s better I’ll be able to get around on crutches. Then we can go home.” Keen to change the subject, Lottie waved her hand. “Anyway, enough about me. How’s it going with you and Quentin?”

  “Oh, fine! As good as gold! I’ve been rushed off my feet at work but he never complains.” Amber said fondly, “I got home at ten o’clock last night and he’d cooked the most amazing roast dinner, can you believe it?”

  “Mario would never have done that,” said Lottie.

  “I know. That’s the difference between them.” Amber’s turquoise-and-silver earrings swung from side to side as she shook her head. “Quentin’s so thoughtful. And trustworthy. He’s so…caring, do you know what I mean? All he wants to do is make me happy.”

  Lottie said, “Yes, but does he make you laugh?”

  “If you start on me”—Amber pointed the business end of the scissors at her—“I shall run down to the office and ask Tyler why he hasn’t made a pass at you. I’ll tell him you looooove him and that you want to—”

  “I’m not starting!” Lottie hurriedly raised both hands in surrender.

  “Promise?”

  “Promise.”

  “Good.”

  “There’s just one tiny thing I want to mention, if that’s allowed.”

  Already suspicious, Amber narrowed her eyes. “What?”

  “Mario rang me yesterday. He hasn’t slept with anyone while he’s been on vacation. Not one single solitary girl. He just hasn’t wanted to,” said Lottie.

  “That’s what he says.”

  “But it’s the truth, because he doesn’t need to lie to me, does he? In fact,” Lottie pointed out, “I’d have been a lot happier if he had been sleeping with girls, as many as he liked, because I’m starting to worry about him. Mario’s never been celibate before. You know, I really think you—”

  “Don’t say it!” Amber tapped her on the head, quite painfully, with her metal comb. “I don’t care what you think. I’ve got Quentin and he makes me happy, thank you very much.”

  “Do you mind? I’m an invalid.” Rubbing her head, Lottie belatedly remembered the golden rule: never annoy your hairdresser halfway through your own haircut.

  Maybe Amber didn’t mind that Quentin didn’t make her laugh.

  Chapter 65

  As each new delay had been announced, every other passenger had become increasingly bad-tempered. Now that they were home at last, their collective mood improved. The plane had landed nine hours late, but they were finally back in Bristol and thank God for that.

  The exception was Mario, who basically wasn’t bothered either way. As far as he was concerned, the airport was as good a place as any to pass a bit of time. Apart from seeing Nat and Ruby again, what else did he have to look forward to?

  Nothing at all.

  Oh well. Hauling his case off the luggage carousel, he wheeled it through the milling crowds and made his way toward customs. Even hiding bottles of spirits in your luggage and sneaking them through the Nothing to Declare channel was no fun anymore now that you were allowed to bring back as much as you wanted.

  Bloody EU.

  The glass doors slid open, and Mario found himself in the arrivals hall, decorated for Christmas and still busy despite the fact that it was past midnight. A couple nuns were sitting at a café table drinking tea from a flask, groups of returning travelers were being greeted with cries of delight by friends and relatives, and there was a girl sleeping on a bench with a woolly hat on. At first glance, Mario experienced a cattle-prod jolt of recognition because beneath the woolly hat she had blond hair like Amber’s, but he was becoming accustomed to these jolts now. Several times
a day on vacation he would glimpse someone in the distance and think for a heart-stopping moment that it was Amber.

  This one was wearing Amber-type clothes, which was what had captured his attention: short ruffled purple skirt, pink glittery sweater, and rainbow-colored hat and scarf. She was wearing pink cowboy boots, Mario observed, knowing perfectly well as he moved toward the bench that it wouldn’t be her, but needing to prove it to himself nevertheless.

  It was her.

  Oh God, it was her.

  Mario forgot to breathe. He gazed down at Amber, peacefully asleep with her head resting on one arm and her sequined handbag clutched to her chest.

  What was she doing here? If she was waiting for bloody Quentin, he’d…well, he’d… Oh Jesus, was this really happening, or was he still asleep in the departure lounge in Palma?

  Reaching out, Mario touched her shoulder and gave it a tentative shake. When Amber’s eyes opened, he snatched his hand back as if she were a growling pit bull.

  Terrific, very manly. And what was he supposed to say, now that he’d gone and woken her up?

  “Off on vacation?” Mario couldn’t believe he’d just said that. Pathetic or what?

  Amber looked at him. “No.”

  “Oh.”

  “What’s the time?”

  He checked his watch. “Half past midnight.”

  “Of all the planes in all the world,” said Amber, “you had to be on that one.”

  Mario didn’t allow himself to hope. “It was delayed. We were supposed to be here nine hours ago. There was a fault with one of the engines, then they thought they’d fixed it, but it turned out they hadn’t, then it was finally fixed, but we missed our next slot for takeoff.”

  “That’s typical of you,” said Amber.

  Still not daring to hope but compelled to ask the question, Mario said, “Have you been waiting here since three o’clock this afternoon?”

  “No I have not.” Amber pulled herself into a sitting position and took off her hat. She waited a couple seconds, then added, “I’ve been waiting here since six o’clock this morning.”

 
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