Wedding Night: A Novel
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
It’s a game. Just a game. It doesn’t mean anything.
Even so, I’m feeling more irritable by the second. Why can’t I remember this stuff? And, more to the point, why can’t Ben? Isn’t he interested in the details of my life?
We’re sitting in the hotel garden with ten minutes to go before Couples’ Quiz starts, and I’ve never felt less prepared for a test in my life. Ben is lying in a hammock, drinking beer and playing some new rap song on his iPad, which really isn’t improving my mood.
“Let’s go again,” I say. “And, this time, concentrate. What shampoo do I use?”
“Head and Shoulders, extra strong for monster dandruff.” He smirks.
“No!” I kick him. “I told you. Kerastase. And you use Paul Mitchell.”
“Do I?” he says blankly.
I feel instant rage boiling up inside me. “What do you mean, ‘do I’? You told me you use Paul Mitchell! We have to be on the same page for this, Ben. If you say Paul Mitchell once, you have to stick to Paul Mitchell!”
“Jesus.” Ben takes a sip of beer. “Lighten up.” He turns up the volume on his iPad, and I flinch. Does he really like that music?
“Let’s do another.” I try to control my impatience. “What’s my favorite alcoholic drink?”
“Smirnoff Ice.” He grins.
“Funny,” I say politely.
No wonder he didn’t make it as a comedian. The bitchy thought comes from nowhere. Oops. I clench my lips together, praying my expression isn’t readable. I didn’t mean it, of course I didn’t.…
Richard would have made an effort. The even bigger thought flashes through my head like a powerful bird in flight, leaving me breathless in its wake. I blink at my piece of paper, feeling hot about the face. I’m not going to think about Richard. No. Absolutely not.
Richard would have thought Couples’ Quiz was ridiculous too, but, the difference is, he’d have made an effort, because if it mattered to me it would matter to him—
Like the time he did charades at my office party and everyone loved him—
LISTEN UP, STUPID BRAIN. Richard is OUT of my life. Right now he’s probably fast asleep on the other side of the world in some glossy San Francisco apartment block, having forgotten all about me, and I’m with my husband—repeat, husband—
“The Jeweled Path? Are you serious?”
“The Jeweled Path can’t be your favorite book.” He looks up from the paper. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I’m not joking,” I say, nettled. “Have you read it? It’s brilliant.”
“I wasted thirty valuable seconds of my life downloading it and skimming the first chapter.” He pulls a face. “I want those thirty seconds back.”
“You obviously missed the point,” I say, offended. “It’s really insightful if you read it carefully.”
“It’s a pile of new-age shit.”
“Not according to eighty million readers.” I’m glaring at him.
“Eighty million morons.”
“Well, what’s your favorite book, then?” I grab the piece of paper to see, but my gaze is halted. I clap a hand over my mouth in shock and raise my eyes to his. “That’s not how you vote?”
We’re staring at each other as though we’ve discovered we’re aliens. I swallow twice, then look at the sheet again.
“OK! Right.” I’m trying not to give away how disconcerted I feel. “So … so obviously we need to recap on a few basics. Voting preference we’ve covered … favorite pasta?”
“Depends on the sauce,” he says promptly. “Stupid question.”
“Well, I like tagliatelle. You say tagliatelle too. Favorite TV show?”
“Dirk and Sally.”
“Favorite episode?” I can’t help asking.
“Let me think.” His face lights up. “The one with the lobsters. Classic.”
“No, the wedding,” I object. “It has to be the wedding. ‘With this Smith and Wesson 59, I thee wed.’ ”
I watched that episode about ninety-five times. It was Dirk and Sally’s second wedding (after they’d divorced and left the force and been recruited back in season four), and it was the best TV wedding ever.
“No, the kidnap double bill.” Ben has sat up in his hammock and is hugging his knees. “That was epic. Hey, listen. Listen.” His face brightens. “We’ll do it as Dirk and Sally.”
“What?” I stare at him, puzzled. “Do what?”
“The quiz! I can’t remember any of this shit.” He waves my crib sheet at me. “But I know what Sally likes and you know what Dirk likes. We’ll be them, not us.”
He can’t be serious. Is he serious? A giggle rises out of me before I can help myself.
“I mean, we can’t do any worse, can we?” Ben adds. “I know everything about Sally. Test me.”
“OK, what shampoo does she use?” I challenge him.
Ben screws up his face to think. “I know this.… It’s Silvikrin. It’s in the opening sequence. What’s Dirk’s favorite drink?”
“Bourbon straight up,” I say without missing a beat. “Easy. When’s Sally’s birthday?”
“June twelfth, and Dirk always gets her white roses. When’s yours?” he asks, looking alarmed. “It’s not soon, is it?”
“OK, Dirk, it’s a deal.” I look up to see Nico approaching, flanked by Georgios and Hermes. The Three Stooges, as Ben’s started calling them. We’re in the most secluded, hidden spot in the garden, but even so, they managed to track us down. They’ve been hovering round us endlessly all afternoon, offering drinks, snacks, and even appearing with the most unflattering Ikonos-branded sun hats in case we were getting overheated.
“Mr. and Mrs. Parr, I believe you are entered for the Couples’ Quiz? It’s beginning in a few minutes, down on the beach,” Nico addresses us pleasantly. He’s changed into a jacket with glittery braid, which makes me wonder if he’s quizmaster.
“We were just coming.”
“Excellent! Georgios will assist you.”
We don’t need bloody assistance, I want to retort, but I bite my lip and smile.
“Lead the way.”
“Bring it on, Sally,” mutters Ben in my ear, and I stifle a giggle. Maybe this will be fun after all.
They’ve really gone to town. There’s a wooden platform set up on the beach, decorated with a skirt of red foil strips. Clusters of red-heart helium balloons are anchored at each side. A massive banner reads COUPLES’ QUIZ, and a three-piece band is playing “Love Is All Around.” Melissa is pacing about on the sand in her orange caftan, followed two steps behind by a sandy-haired man in Vilebrequin trunks and an aqua polo shirt. I assume he’s her husband, as they’re both wearing prominent badges reading COUPLE ONE, along with their printed names.
“Stella McCartney,” she’s saying furiously as we approach. “You know it’s Stella McCartney. Oh! Hi! You made it!”
“Ready to do battle?” says Ben, with a mischievous glint.
“It’s just a bit of fun!” she replies, almost aggressively. “Isn’t it, Matt?”
Matt is holding The Couples’ Quiz Official Question Book, I suddenly notice in disbelief. Did they bring that with them?
“Oh, we happened to have that,” says Melissa, flushing as she sees me register it. “Put it away, Matt. It’s too late now, anyway,” she adds to him in a savage undertone. “I really think you could have made more effort.… Hello! You must be the other competitors! Just a bit of fun!” She greets an older-looking couple who are approaching hand in hand, looking a bit perplexed by the whole thing. They have graying hair, coordinated beige slacks, and short-sleeved Hawaiian cotton shirts, and the man has socks on with sandals.
“Mr. and Mrs. Parr, your badge.” Nico descends and gives us our COUPLE THREE badges. “Mr. and Mrs. Kenilworth, here are your name badges.”
“Are you on honeymoon?” I can’t help asking the woman, who it turns out, is called Carol.
“Bless you, no!” She’s fiddling with her lapel. “We won this trip at our bridge-club auction. Not our kind of thing, really, but you have to show willing, and we do enjoy a quiz.…”
Nico ushers all six of us onto the platform, and we survey the audience, which is a middle-size crowd of guests in sarongs and T-shirts, with cocktails in their hands.
Actually this is quite fun. It’s just like it is on the telly. All of us women are led away to a nearby gazebo and given headphones which blast music into our ears, while the men answer questions onstage. Then we swap places and it’s our turn. As I write down my answers, I feel suddenly nervous. Did Ben stick to the plan? Did he really answer as Dirk? What if he chickened out?
Well, too late now. I scribble my final answer and hand in the paper.
“And now!” Nico says to an accompanying drumroll from the band. “Let us reunite our couples! No conferring!” The audience applauds as the men come back onto the stage. The men are on one side of Nico and the women on the other, and I can see Melissa trying to attract Matt’s attention while he resolutely ignores her.
“First question! What would your wife never go out without? Gentlemen, please answer clearly into the microphone. Couple One?”
“Handbag,” says Matt promptly into the microphone.
“And your wife said …” Nico consults the paper. “Handbag. Ten points! Couple Two, same question?”
“Fresh breath mints,” says Tim Kenilworth after some deliberation.
“And your wife said … Life Savers. Close enough.” Nico nods. “Ten points! And Couple Three?”
“Easy,” says Ben laconically. “She never leaves without her Smith and Wesson 59.”
“Is that a gun?” says Melissa, looking astonished. “A gun?”
“I never go anywhere without it.” I twinkle back at him.
“A gun?” persists Melissa. “Are you serious? Matt, did you hear that?”
“Next question!” announces Nico. “You have no food in the larder. Where do you head for a spontaneous meal out? Gentlemen, please answer again. First, Couple One.”
“Er … fish and chips?” says Matt uncertainly.
“Fish and chips?” Melissa glares at him. “Fish and chips?”
“Well, it’s quick, easy.…” Matt quails at her expression. “Why, what did you put?”
“I put Le Petit Bistro!” she says furiously. “We always go there when we want a quick bite. You know we do!”
“I sometimes go for fish and chips,” mumbles Matt rebelliously, but I’m not sure anyone hears him except me.
“Zero points,” says Nico sympathetically. “Couple Two?”
“The pub,” says Tim, after about half an hour’s thought. “I’d say we’d go to the pub.”
“And your wife said …” Nico squints at the paper. “Madame, my apologies, I cannot read your writing.”
“Well, I didn’t know what to put.” Carol looks perturbed. “We never do run out of food. We’d always have a soup in the freezer, wouldn’t we, love?”
“True enough.” Tim nods. “We make it up in batches, you see. Every Sunday during Midsomer Murders. Ham and pea.”
“Or chickpea and chorizo,” Carol reminds him.
“Or plain old tomato.”
“Whole grain and crusty white,” puts in Carol. “We do half and half, usually.…” She trails off into silence.
Everyone seems slightly stunned by this domestic catalog, including Nico, but at last he springs back to life.
“Thank you for your wonderfully thorough answer.” He beams at Carol and Tim. “But, alas! Zero points. Couple Three?”
“We go to Dill’s Diner now,” I say. “Is that what he put?”
“Sorry,” begins Nico, “but that is not the answer—”
“Wait!” I interrupt, as a relieved smile spreads across Melissa’s face. “I haven’t finished. We go to Dill’s Diner now, but we used to go to Jerry and Jim’s Steakhouse, until it was blown up by the mob.” I glance over at Ben, who gives an imperceptible nod.
“Ah,” says Nico, peering at the paper. “Yes. Your husband wrote, We went to Jerry and Jim’s till Carlo Dellalucci’s lot blew it up; now we go to Dill’s Diner.”
“Where’s that?” demands Melissa. “Where do you live?”
“Apartment Forty-three-D, West Eightieth Street,” we say in unison. It’s part of the opening titles.
“Oh, New York,” she says, as though she’s saying, Oh, the rubbish dump.
“Blew up, as in exploded?” chimes in Matt, looking impressed. “Was anyone killed?”
“Chief of police,” I say, with a terse nod. “And the ten-year-old daughter he’d only just met, who died in his arms.”
It was the finale to season one. Absolutely major telly. I almost want to recommend it to them all. Except that would slightly defeat the point.
By question eight we’ve covered season one, season two, and the Christmas special. Melissa and Matt are ten points behind, and Melissa’s looking more and more tetchy.
“This can’t be true,” she says, as Ben finishes describing our “most memorable day together,” which involved an armed siege, a police chase through the Central Park Zoo, and blowing out the candles on his birthday cake in a jail cell (long story). “I dispute these answers.” She raps on the microphone as though it’s a gavel and she’s a judge. “Nobody has a life like this!”
“Dirk and Sally do!” I say, trying not to giggle as I meet Ben’s eye.
“Who’re Dirk and Sally?” she demands at once, looking from face to face as though we’re tricking her in some new way.
“Our pet names for each other,” says Ben blandly. “And may I ask what exactly you’re suggesting? That we learned an entire set of fake answers especially for this competition? Do we look like tragic losers?”
“Come on!” Her eyes spark indignantly. “Are you telling me your first date was really at a mortuary?”
“Are you telling me yours was really at the Ivy?” he counters at once. “No one goes to the Ivy for a first date unless they already know they’ll be so bored they’ll need to do some people-watching. Sorry,” he adds politely to Matt. “I’m sure you had a great time.”
“Question nine!” Nico tries to get control of the situation. “Where is the most unusual place you have had … amorous relations? Couple Two, would you like to answer first?”
“Well!” Carol is growing pinker and pinker. “I wasn’t sure about this question. Very personal.”
“Indeed,” says Nico sympathetically.
“I believe the correct word is …” She pauses, wriggling awkwardly. “Fellatio.”
There’s an explosion of laughter from the audience, and I clamp my lips together so that I don’t join in. Carol gave Tim a blow job? No way. I cannot imagine that in a million years.
“Your husband put A cottage in Anglesey,” says Nico, grinning widely. “Zero points, I am afraid, dear lady. Although full marks for trying.”
Carol looks as though she wants to spontaneously combust.
“By ‘place,’ ” she begins, “I thought you meant … I thought …”
“Indeed.” He nods sympathetically. “Couple One?”
“Hyde Park,” says Melissa promptly, as though she’s a child in class.
“Correct! Ten points! Couple Three?”
I had to think about this one. There are a few options. I just hope Ben remembered the episode.
“The boardwalk at Coney Island.” As I look at Ben’s face, I know I got it wrong.
“Alas! Your husband wrote, On the district attorney’s desk.”
“The district attorney’s desk?” Melissa looks livid. “Are you kidding me?”
“Zero points!” Nico chimes in hurriedly. “And now we reach the climax of our quiz. All rests on the final question. The most personal, intimate question of all.” He pauses dramatically. “When did you first realize you were in love with your wife?”
An expectant hush comes over the audience, and there’s a low drumroll from the band.
“Couple Three?” says Nico.
“It was when we were tied together to a railroad track with a train approaching,” says Ben reminiscently. “She reached over, kissed me, and said, ‘If it ends here, I’ll be happy.’ And then she freed us both with her nail file.”
“A railroad track?” Melissa looks from face to face. “Can I appeal that?”
I beam at Ben and raise my fist in a victory salute. But he doesn’t respond; his eyes are out of focus as though he’s still remembering.
“Wait!” says Ben suddenly. “I haven’t finished my answer. That time on the railroad track—that’s when I realized I was in love with my wife. But the moment I realized I loved her …” He glances over at me with an unreadable look. “That was quite another time.”
“What’s the difference?” says Melissa petulantly. “Are you trying to wind us all up again?”
“You fall in and out of love,” says Ben. “But when you really love someone … it’s forever.”
Is that a line from the show? I don’t recognize it. I’m feeling a bit confused here. What’s he talking about?
“The day I realized I loved my wife was right here on the island of Ikonos, fifteen years ago.” He leans toward the microphone and his voice rises, now resonant. “I’d had the flu. She nursed me all night. She was my guardian angel. I still remember that sweet voice telling me I’d be OK. Now I realize I’ve loved her since that day, though I didn’t always know it.”
He finishes to silence. Everyone seems thunderstruck. Then a girl from the audience whoops appreciatively, and it’s as though the spell is broken, and applause breaks out, louder than ever.
I’m so gripped, I barely hear the others give their answers. He was talking about us. Not Dirk and Sally: us. Ben and Lottie. A warm glow has stolen over me, and I can’t stop smiling. He’s loved me for fifteen years. He’s stood up and said it in public. Nothing so romantic has ever happened to me, ever.
The only tiny, minuscule niggle is …
Well. Just a teeny point, which is that I still don’t remember it happening. My mind is blank. I don’t remember Ben having the flu, nor do I remember nursing him. But, then, there’s a lot about that time I don’t remember, I reassure myself. I’d forgotten all about Big Bill. I’d forgotten about the poker tournament. It’s probably buried somewhere deep inside me.
“… you know it was on that picnic! You’ve always said so!”
Abruptly, I become aware that Melissa and Matt are still squabbling about his answer.
“It wasn’t on the picnic,” says Matt obstinately. “It was in the Cotswolds. But the way you’re carrying on, maybe I wish I hadn’t!”
Melissa takes a sharp breath, and I can practically see smoke puff from her ears.
“Which brings us to the end of our contest!” Nico puts in deftly. “And I am delighted to say that our winners are Couple Three! Ben and Lottie Parr! You win a special open-air couple’s massage and will be awarded the Happy Couple of the Week trophy at our gala prize ceremony tomorrow evening. Congratulations!” He leads an uproarious round of applause, and Ben winks at me. We take a bow, and I feel Ben squeeze my hand tightly.
“I like the sound of this couple’s massage,” he says into my ear. “I read about it earlier. They do it on the beach in a special curtained arbor with essential oils. You get glasses of champagne, and after they’ve finished, they leave you alone for some ‘private time.’ ”
Private time? I meet his eyes. At last! Ben and I alone on a beach in our own private space, with the waves crashing on the shore and glasses of champagne and our bodies slick with oil …
“Let’s do it as soon as we can.” My voice is thick with longing.
“Tonight.” His hand lightly brushes against my breast, making me shiver with anticipation. I guess we’ve abandoned the no-touching rule. We bow again to the audience and then head down off the platform. “And now let’s go for a drink,” adds Ben. “I want to ply you with alcohol.”
Turns out there are advantages to having a butler. The minute we say that we want a celebratory drink, Georgios swings into action, securing us a corner table at the posh beach restaurant, complete with champagne on ice and special lobster canapés brought down from the main restaurant. For once I don’t mind the fuss and bother as the butlers dance around us. It feels right. We should be fussed over. We’re the champions!
“So!” says Ben when at last we’re left alone. “Good day, as it turns out.”
“Very good.” I grin back.
“Two hours till our massage.” He meets my eyes, and his mouth twitches with a smile.
Two delicious hours of savoring the spectacular beach sexathon which is to come. I can cope with that. I sip my champagne and lean back, feeling the sun on my face. Life is just about perfect right now. There’s only the tiniest strain in my thoughts, which I’m trying to ignore. I can ignore it. Yes. I can.
No. I can’t.
As I sip my champagne and crunch salted almonds, I’m aware of a glitch in my mood. A weak point I keep trying to skate over. But I can’t fool myself. And I know it’s only going to worry me more, the longer I leave it.
I don’t know him. Not properly. He’s my husband and I don’t know him.
I mean, it’s fine that he votes differently from me—but the point is, I had no idea. I thought we’d covered so much ground over the last few days—but now I realize there are some gaping holes. What other surprises am I going to come across?
In recruitment, we ask the same basic question whenever we want to get to know our candidates quickly: “Where do you want to be in one year, five years, and ten years?” I’d have no idea what to put for Ben, and that can’t be right, surely?
“You’re very distant.” Ben touches my nose. “Earth to Lottie.”
“Where do you want to be in five years’ time?” I ask abruptly.
“Excellent question,” he says promptly. “Where do you want to be?”
“Don’t deflect.” I smile at him. “I want to know the Ben Parr official game plan.”
“Maybe I had an official game plan.” His eyes soften as they meet mine. “But maybe it’s changed now I’ve got you.”
I’m so disarmed by his expression that I feel my doubts melting away. He’s gazing at me with the most charming lopsided smile and a distant look to his eyes, as though he’s imagining our future together.
“I feel the same,” I can’t help blurting out. “I feel as though I’ve got a whole new future.”
“A future with you. Anywhere we like.” He spreads his hands. “What’s the dream, Lottie? Sell it to me.”
“France?” I say tentatively. “A farmhouse in France?” I’ve always fantasized about moving to France. “Maybe the Dordogne, or Provence? We could do up a house, find a real project.…”
“I love that idea.” Ben’s eyes are sparkling. “Find a wreck, turn it into something amazing, have friends to stay, long lazy meals—”
“Exactly!” My words tumble out, mingling with his. “We’d have a great big table and wonderful fresh food, and the children would help make the salad.…”
“They’d learn French too—”
My question halts the conversation for a moment. I’m holding my breath, I realize.
“As many as we can,” says Ben easily. “If they all look like you, I’ll have ten!”
“Maybe not ten.” I’m laughing in relief. We chime perfectly! My worries were unfounded! We’re totally on the same page when it comes to life choices. I almost want to get out my phone and start finding old French properties to drool over. “You really want to move to France?”
“If there’s one thing I want to do in the next two years, it’s settle myself down,” he says seriously. “Find a lifestyle I can love. And France is a passion of mine.”
“Do you speak French?”
He reaches for the paper dessert menu, produces a pencil, and scribbles a few lines on the back, then turns it to show me.
L’amour, c’est toi
La beaute, c’est toi
L’honneur, c’est toi
Lottie, c’est toi
I’m enchanted. No one’s ever written me a poem before. And certainly not in French.
“Thank you so much! I love it!” I read it through again, bring the paper right up to my face as though trying to inhale the words, then put it down.
“But what about your work?” I’m so desperate for this plan to come true now, I can’t help pressing him, just to make sure. “You couldn’t leave that.”
“I can dip in and out.”
I don’t even know quite what Ben’s work consists of. I mean, it’s a company which makes paper, obviously, but what does he do? I’m not sure he ever explained it properly, and it feels a bit late to ask.
“Have you got someone who could take the reins? What about Lorcan?” I remember Ben’s best friend. “He works with you, doesn’t he? Could he step in?”
“Oh, I’m sure he’d love to.” There’s a sudden bitter twist to Ben’s voice, and I take a mental step back.
Yikes. I’ve obviously touched a nerve. Not that I know the details, but Ben’s manner instantly evokes a background of tense meetings in boardrooms and slammed doors and emails regretted the following day.
“He’s your best man,” I say cautiously. “Aren’t you best friends?”
Ben is silent for a few moments, preoccupied with some thought or other.
“I don’t even know why Lorcan’s in my life,” he says at last. “That’s the truth. I turned round and there he was. Just there.”
“What do you mean?”
“His marriage broke up four years ago. He went up to Staffordshire to stay with my dad. Fair enough; they’d always been friendly, since we were at school together. But next thing, Lorcan’s advising my dad and getting a job in the company and running the whole bloody show. You should have seen him and my dad, striding around the place together, making plans, leaving me out completely.”
“That sounds awful,” I say sympathetically.
“It all came to a head two years ago.” He gulps his champagne. “I just upped and left. Went AWOL. I needed to sort myself out. It freaked them so much they contacted the police.” He spreads his hands. “I never told them where I was. After that, they behaved as though I was some sort of fragile nutcase. My dad and Lorcan were thicker than ever. Then my dad goes and dies.…”
There’s a rawness to his voice which makes my skin prickle.
“And Lorcan stayed at the company?” I venture.
“Where else would he go? He’s got a cushy number. Nice salary, cottage on the estate—he’s sorted.”
“Does he have kids?”
“No.” Ben shrugs. “I suppose they never got round to it. Or weren’t into them.”
“Well, then, why don’t you quietly get rid of him?” I’m about to suggest a legal firm I know which specializes in tactfully exiting staff, but Ben doesn’t seem to be listening.
“Lorcan thinks he knows best about everything!” The words come shooting out in a resentful stream. “What I should do with my life. What I should do with my company. What advertising agency I should employ. What I should pay my cleaners. What grade of paper is best for which … I don’t know, desk diary.” He exhales. “And I don’t know the answer. So he wins.”
“It’s not a question of winning,” I say, but I can tell Ben isn’t paying attention.
“He once confiscated my phone in public, because he thought it ‘wasn’t appropriate.’ ” Ben is burning with resentment.
“That sounds like harassment!” I say, shocked. “Do you have an effective HR head?”
“Yes.” Ben sounds sulky. “But she’s leaving. She’d never say anything to Lorcan, anyway. They all love him.”
Listening with my professional hat on, I’m aghast. This all sounds like a shambles. I want to get a piece of paper and start a five-point action plan for Ben to manage Lorcan more effectively, but that’s not exactly sexy honeymoon talk.
“Tell me,” I say instead, my voice gentle and coaxing. “Where did you go when you went AWOL?”
“You really want to know?” Ben gives me a curious, wry smile. “Not my finest moment.”
“I went to have lessons in comedy from Malcolm Robinson.”
“Malcolm Robinson?” I stare at him. “For real?”
I love Malcolm Robinson. He’s hilarious. He used to have this brilliant sketch show, and once I saw him live at Edinburgh.
“I bought them anonymously at a charity auction. It was originally a weekend, but I persuaded him to extend it to a week. Cost me a fortune. At the end of the week, I asked him to tell me, straight up, if I had any talent.”
There’s silence. I’m already cringing inside at his expression.
“What—” I say at last, and clear my throat. “What did he—”
“He said no.” Ben cuts me off, almost tonelessly. “He was blunt. Told me to give it up. Did me a favor, really. I haven’t cracked a joke since.”
I wince. “That must have been devastating.”
“It hurt my pride, yes.”
“How long had you been …?” I trail off awkwardly. I don’t know quite how to phrase it. Luckily, Ben gets the gist.
“And you just gave up?”
“I thought they might notice I’d stopped doing gigs and ask why. They didn’t.” The hurt in his voice is unmistakable. “I didn’t have anyone else to … you know. Tell stuff.”
Spontaneously, I reach for his hand and squeeze it tight. “You’ve got me now,” I say softly. “Tell me stuff.”
He squeezes my hand back and our eyes are locked. For a moment I feel totally connected to him. Then two waiters come to clear our canapé plates; we release hands and the spell is broken.
“Strange honeymoon, huh?” I say wryly.
“I don’t know. I’m starting to enjoy it.”
“Me too.” I can’t help laughing. “I’m almost glad it’s been so weird. At least we won’t forget it.”
And I mean it. If we hadn’t had all the bedroom disasters, maybe we wouldn’t have had this drink and I might never have found out these things about Ben. It’s funny how things work out. I entwine my leg around Ben’s under the table and start working my toe up his thigh in my signature maneuver, but he shakes his head vigorously.
“No,” he says shortly. “Uh-uh. Can’t stand it. Too horny.”
“How on earth will you survive the couple’s massage, then?” I tease him.
“By telling them to keep it to ten minutes flat and then leave us alone in utter privacy,” he replies seriously. “I’m prepared to tip heavily.”
“An hour to go.” I glance at my watch. “I wonder what kind of oil they use?”
“Change the subject from oil.” He looks strained. “Give a man a break.”
I can’t help laughing. “OK, here’s a new subject. When shall we go and visit the guest house? Tomorrow?”
I’m half excited, half terrified about visiting the guest house. It’s where we met. It’s where the fire happened. It’s where my life changed. It’s where everything happened. All at one little guest house, fifteen years ago.
“Tomorrow.” Ben nods. “You have to do cartwheels along the beach for me.”
“I will.” I smile at him. “And you have to dive off that rock.”
“And then we’ll find that cave we used to go in …”
We’re both hazy-eyed and smiling, lost in memories.
“You used to wear those tiny tie-dyed shorts,” says Ben. “They drove me wild.”
“I brought them with me,” I confess.
“You didn’t!” His eyes light up.
“I’ve kept them, all this time.”
I grin wickedly back at him, feeling my desire rocket. Oh God. How am I going to wait an hour? How can I fill the time?
“I’m going to let Fliss know how we got on.” I reach for my phone and type a quick text:
Guess what? WE WON!!!! All going brilliantly. Ben and I make a fab team. Totally happy.
I can’t help smiling as I type. She won’t believe her eyes! In fact, I hope the news cheers her up a bit. She sounded hassled before. I wonder what’s going on. On impulse, I add to my text:
Hope u r having a lovely day too. Everything OK?? L xxx
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