Rituals of Love by Maggie McGuinness

My name is Martin, and I never sleep in pajamas. I wouldn’t want to be wearing pajamas when I have to run out into the street. All the neighbors would be gathered, lured away from their TVs by the shriek of smoke detectors and the wail of sirens. When my house burns down, I’d prefer to be fully dressed, so I sleep in a t-shirt and shorts or sometimes track pants, depending on the weather. My slip-on shoes, perfect for a fast exit, are always lined up by the door. I can’t sleep unless they are in their place.
Rituals of Love
Rituals of Love by Maggie McGuinness
I can’t sleep unless I do a lot of things. It’s a commitment to be prepared for potential disasters. I can’t sleep unless I know all the doors and windows are locked, so I check them – in the same order – three times before I go to bed. I have torches within easy reach for blackouts. I have a stockpile of tinned food ready for the day when anarchy and chaos rule. It’s not easy being prepared for everything, but I do my best. There was only one lurking calamity I had never thought to prepare for. Her name was Anna. When cyclone Anna hit, I had no emergency plan in place. Basically, I was stuffed. Anna moved into the house next to mine one early spring day when blossom fluttered from the trees like confetti. She knocked on my door and said, “Hello, I’m your new neighbor,” and gave me a bunch of daffodils and a dazzling smile. All I could think of for the rest of the day was her tangled blond hair and velvety eyes. It wasn’t until months later it occurred to me she had nicked the daffodils from my own garden. Women seem to like me. I’m not sure why; I’m a bit of a nerd really. But I guess I haven’t been hit too hard with the ugly stick. I’m tall and have all my own hair and teeth. I am told I have piercing blue eyes, but they have to do their piercing through reading glasses. I read a lot; it goes with the territory. I’m a writer of children’s books, which means I get to think up a lot of bum jokes. Kids like my books. Whether it’s because of my talent with the schoolboy humor or some common ground of uncertainty about the world, I’m not sure. My new neighbor seemed to like me. On day two of cyclone Anna, she knocked on my door again. “Excuse me,” she said. “You’ll think this is the oldest trick in the book, but may I borrow a cup of sugar?” “Umm, yes ... I mean no ... of course,” I stammered, trying not to stare at her honey-colored skin and the few freckles on her nose, which reminded me of those demure Mills and Boon heroines in the books my mother used to read. “Now that I have the sugar, I can invite you over for coffee,” she stated jauntily. “Eleven o’clock okay?” “Fine,” I said as though hypnotized. “See you then.” Meeting for coffee became a regular event. Anna made me laugh with stories of the bizarre happenings she seemed to attract, and I was fascinated by her unconventional beauty. She was an artist and her hands and clothes were usually flecked with oil paint. The morning coffee became afternoon tea, dinner and finally breakfast. We became an item, and when her vague house-sharing plans changed course next door, she moved in with me. I remember Anna once saying to friends that, “Martin refused to make love to me until he had set up the education fund for the inevitable love-child.” In reality, it was nothing like that like. I couldn’t wait to have her, and I steered her down the hallway and into my bed as soon as I decently could. That first time I remember thinking, as she smiled into my eyes, that if some calamity did happen and I dropped dead on the spot, I wouldn’t care a bit, since I would never be happier than I was at that moment. Of course, we were terribly unsuited. Her lack of organization drove me nuts. I stretched her patience like a big girl’s tights with my obsessive tidiness and insistence on lining up pantry items in order of size. I knew she played a game of calling out “Martin, come to bed,” in that voice, just when she knew I was in the middle of my nightly ritual of checking doors and windows. She wanted to test if she had the power to break the routine. She did. When I was touching her cool, smooth skin, nothing else mattered. But everything comes at a price, and the price I paid for Anna was in little pieces of my soul. A couple of months after I first steered her into my bed she disappeared with no notice, then returned a week later and waltzed in the door for morning coffee as though nothing had happened. “Where have you been? I was worried.” I frowned over my book. “Why? I can look after myself. I’m a grown-up.” “You didn’t tell me you were going anywhere.” “Why would I? I don’t need your permission.” She swung around to face me, hands on hips. “Well, no, but it’s basic consideration, isn’t it?” “Middle-class convention, more like it. Martin . . . when I’m here, I’m here. When I’m not, I’m not. You’re an extremely logical person. It can’t be that hard to grasp, surely.” “Don’t patronize me.”’ “Well, don’t suffocate me! I don’t belong to you and I never will.” “Are you going to tell me where you’ve been? What you’ve been doing?” “I might – I might not. I don’t remember signing the contract stating that you now own me. How much clearer can I be? We just sleep together, that’s all. You’ve got no claim on me.” “What about him? Does he have a claim?” “Who?” “The one who left those bruises on your arms. At least I know how easily you bruise. I’ve learnt to not hold you so tightly when we – as you say – just sleep together.” She walked out and slammed the door. If it was a victory, it was a hollow one. The times after that, I made a point of keeping my distance until at least the bruises had faded. Her bruises, that is – I think mine were permanent. But I couldn’t keep away from her for long. I knew she would leave one day for good. I tried to prepare, but when it happened I felt so lost I could barely breathe. Without her beautiful, maddening presence in my life, my careful structure of routines and patterns was as dry as dust, and I thought I would choke on it and die. It took a year before I could look at flowers and not want to stomp on them. Then one day, Anna came back. She burst through the door unannounced, carrying a pot of tulips and tipping a trail of dirt onto the carpet. She carried the pot awkwardly because she was holding a large baby girl on her hip. She plonked both parcels down on the floor and kissed me slowly. When we managed to separate our lips, I realized the baby was gazing at me and chewing one fist, causing a string of dribble to glisten in the sunlight. “She’s yours, Martin. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. Her name’s Daisy. Oh, and I brought you some flowers as a present.” We sat down and I stared at them both in shock. “Um, thanks.” My mind was in overdrive, and that’s saying something for me. “Lucky I got that school fund organized for the love-child,” I managed to mutter. “She’s so like you, it’s unbelievable,” Anna said. “She’s the only baby in the world who insists on a strict routine for nap times, and sticks to it all by herself. I can set my clock by her, just like I used to with you.” “I don’t nap.” I didn’t like the sharp tone to her voice. “You do everything to a schedule, just like she does. You write your shopping list a week in advance. And your ‘To Do’ list. You probably keep a list of all those lists you have to write. Trying to make you alter your plans takes hours of negotiation.” “I may have changed.” “You haven’t. You never will.” “You didn’t mind my lists all that time I housed and fed you – since you’re so free-spirited that shopping and cooking are beneath you.” “Don’t get bitchy, Martin. It doesn’t suit you. Why should I bother with those chores when I had you to do them? You like doing all that mundane stuff.” She flicked back her glorious blonde hair. She had me there. Not wanting to admit it, I changed tack, having noticed her child was trying to devour my beanbag. “Tell me about this baby,” I said. “She has a name. It’s Daisy. What do you want to know?” “I want to know how someone as impractical as you manages to look after a child.” “It’s hard work.” She frowned, creasing her forehead. There were lines around her eyes now. I realized she was older. “You look different.” “Different?” she snapped. “Of course, I’m different. I’ve been pregnant and given birth, both of which were horrific. I turned into a whale and then had an enormous baby wrenched out of me with a giant pair of salad tongs. I’ve been split apart and stitched back together. I’ve been crapped on, spewed on and continually drooled on. I’ve spent ten months wondering if I’ll ever get a decent night’s sleep again. While you, no doubt, have continued your peaceful, organized life-style – full of lists and uninterrupted sleep. So, I don’t need you to tell me I’m different!” Daisy dropped the bean bag and stared up at Anna with big eyes. She stuffed a bare foot in her mouth and slowly toppled over. “It’s not my fault you didn’t tell me!” I cried. “I would have helped. I would have gone through it all with you, if you’d let me.” “Yes, you would have. And we could have been one of those nauseating couples buying prams together and doing the ante-natal thing. No thanks. They make me puke the way they call each other mummy and daddy.” Daisy stopped chewing on her foot and looked from Anna to me as we glared at each other. Her cheeks were covered in dirt and I realized she had been snacking on the spillage from the pot plant as well. She crawled straight at me and heaved herself onto her feet by clutching my legs with drool-covered fingers. Once upright, she stared at me with vivid blue eyes, so like mine. “Ha!” she said, patting my knee with her wet, chubby hand. “Ha to you!” I replied. Without thinking, I reached down to swing her into the air and balance her feet on my knees. She shrieked with glee and her feet danced a tattoo like a bongo player on speed. We stared at each other with wide smiles. Gazing at her grubby face, I fell – like a love-struck fool – straight into the deep blue of her eyes. Anna stayed for a while in my house and in my bed. I still couldn’t resist her, damn it. Motherhood had made her more beautiful than ever. She wasn’t so perfect now and to me that made her even more desirable. I loved her new shape and the fact that I could grab handfuls of her soft flesh. Her breasts were heavy fruit warmed by the sun. We set up a bed for Daisy in the spare room. She wasn’t much trouble; I suppose a lifetime spent with cyclone Anna had made her self-sufficient. When Anna went out, Daisy crawled around my feet and happily munched on anything within reach while I worked. Luckily, my minimalist lifestyle meant there was not a lot she could devour, although there are still bite marks in the leg of the desk to this day. After a few weeks, Anna announced it was time for them to go. “Go where?” “Oh, I’m not sure yet. I’ve got some friends down on the Peninsula, so we might crash there for a while. I want to paint some seascapes around the back beaches.” “But who will look after Daisy while you’re painting?” “I don’t know, Martin. Whoever’s around – stop being so neurotic! There are other kids there, and someone will look after them. I won’t just lock her in a cupboard.” I had a sudden vision of Daisy crawling around the filthy floor of some hippy household. A group of older kids pushing past her – ignoring her – with Daisy sitting alone and forlorn, chewing on something disgusting like a dead cockroach . . . “She’d better stay with me,” I blurted out. Anna looked at me, expressionless. “Are you serious?” “Of course. She’ll be fine. I’ll see that she has her naps on time.” “I’m sure you will,” she said, and only the faint twitch of the corners of her beautiful mouth made me realize she had planned this all along. That was six years ago. We’re a team now, Daisy and me. A family. Anna comes back from time to time, messes up the house, throws our routines into chaos and takes off again. “She’s tho unorganized,” Daisy lisps at me through her missing front teeth, her freckled face gathered into a little frown. “That’s just her way, Daze. We’re different, you and me.” “But Dad! She’s a pain! She doesn’t write shopping lists so we run out of milk, and she forgets to pick me up from Chloe’s place, and she sleeps with no clothes on. What if the house catches fire?” “Well, she’d just run outside starkers and not care a bit, and old Mr James across the road would have a really good perve, I should think.” “Dad! You’re gross!” “You started it.” “I did not!” “Did so.” “Did not.” Like all our mock arguments, it ends with me doing silly Karate Kid hand movements and her doing fake karate kicks, and then we chase each other around the room saying “Ha! Grasshopper!” and laughing so hard we have to flop over on the couch and clutch our sides until we can breathe again. I love our silly arguments. Of course, it was tough going during Daisy’s babyhood. I didn’t know much about teething or pureed pumpkin, but I learnt fast. The ladies at the local mothers’ group tripped over themselves to help. Daisy and I spent many an enjoyable hour at their playgroups. ‘The Girls’ became my good friends. I never became involved with any of them. I wouldn’t do that. And to be honest, I had no need. With Daisy by my side I was a veritable chick magnet. Women flocked from all directions to cluck over her gleeful smile and chubby cheeks. Once they learned I was a single dad . . . well! I was ‘in like Flynn’, as the saying goes. I’ve had plenty of female company over the years; nothing live-in though. Daisy and I are perfectly happy – just the two of us. We have our own routines. Fatherhood has cured me of my more extreme habits. Life with a baby in the house was so exhausting, I didn’t have the energy to keep up all that repetitive stuff. I learned it was more fun playing with Daisy anyway. Perhaps my desire for order was satisfied by those repetitive rhymes and games that little ones adore. Rituals of love are much nicer than rituals of anxiety – Daisy has taught me that. She’s taught me everything, and I can’t imagine life without her. I’ve taken the precaution of being granted full, legal custody by the courts. I may be eccentric, but I’m not stupid. Soon, when Daisy’s old enough, I’ll explain everything to her. Then I’ll have to tell Anna about the vasectomy I had years before we met; back in the days when I thought I could never manage being a father. The biological thing doesn’t matter – it’s just a detail. Of course, if Daisy wants to know more when she’s older, she’ll have my full support, but it won’t change anything for me. I’ve been her father from the moment she drooled on my knee, when I dived without hesitation into the deep blue pools of her eyes. Our names are Martin and Daisy, and we never sleep in pajamas. We wouldn’t want to be wearing pajamas when we have to run out into the street. Our slip-on shoes, perfect for a fast exit, are always lined up by the door. Every night I check they are there and, when I look at the two pairs of shoes lying side-by-side, I silently thank that other blue-eyed man. ### Thank you for reading my story. If you liked it, I’d really appreciate it if you wrote a quick review. To keep in touch with my latest news, follow me on Facebook or visit my website. I’d love to hear from you. Best regards, Maggie McGuinness ***NEWS FLASH*** My first full-length novel has been published. Planet Single is available at your favorite retailer now! Read on for a sneak peek . . . Connect with me: Facebook: www.facebook.com/MaggieMcG99 Website and Blog: http://maggiemcguinness.com/ Smashwords author page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/maggiemcg About the author: Maggie McGuinness lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has two teenage children and an Australian cattle dog called Missy. With the help of Smashwords, she’s hoping to live the dream (that is, spend less time editing other people’s writing and more time doing her own). Maggie is a Zumba fanatic, extreme gardener and chocolate connoisseur. She is also an online dating tragic, who has been on 97 first dates over the past 10 years or so. (That’s right, 97! Crazy, hey?) She has stalled a bit on the dating front these days, being too busy writing and editing stuff, but is still hoping to get to first date #100. Will she make it to a century? Stay tuned! Read Maggie’s Smashwords interview at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/maggiemcg Planet Single – Sneak peek! About Planet Single Bad kissers, sexy sales reps, charismatic conmen and dashing detectives – welcome to life on Planet Single! Being single again makes Katerina feel like she’s on a different planet. If only she’d had time to gather a few essentials, like a guide book, some fancy lingerie and a much thicker skin. Things have certainly changed. Was looking for love always this complicated? Kat sets off on a quest to rediscover herself and her lost libido, which went missing some time ago. Setting off into the rocky landscape of her new life, she encounters other inhabitants of her crazy new world, including a succession of dodgy online dates, a handsome detective, a little old lady with a taste for vengeance, and a whole tribe of young and virile workmates (who knew stationery could be so sexy?) Okay. Perhaps that libido isn’t lost after all. This sparkling debut novel from Maggie McGuinness celebrates love, laughter, starting over – and how friendship can be the sweetest revenge. Here’s Chapter 1 for you to sample: Chapter 1 – Shot into orbit The night I landed on Planet Single, I had no idea I was about to blast off from the familiar married landscape and land in a strange, alternative reality. If I’d known, I could have packed a few essentials like some nicer undies, a dating guide book and a much thicker skin, but I didn’t have the chance. I was dumped – defenceless – into a strange new world that looked quite like the old one, but was so, so different. The night had started like many others. My two sons were in their bedrooms. Angus should have been asleep but was probably plugged into his iPod. Ben had homework but I could hear some stifled laughs. He was either on YouTube again or calculus was more amusing than I remembered. My husband, Neville, was watching a DVD – his favourite documentary on the mating ritual of Leopard slugs, which involves hanging upside-down with glow-in-the dark genitalia and an awful lot of mucus. For the slugs, that is, not Neville. That documentary fascinated him, which I found quite interesting, as he’d never been very inspired by the human type of ritual. Anyway, with all that slug-porn going on I knew he’d barely notice my absence, so I ditched the washing up and grabbed my coat to go for a walk. I often paced the streets at night and I didn’t mind bad weather – it gave me an excuse to wear my hooded raincoat. This became a cocoon I could hide in, lost in my own world, while raindrops splattered on the oilskin in a soothing rhythm. I liked the invisibility of walking when the slick, black streets were empty. I printed ‘Gone For A Walk’ in big letters on Neville’s Daily Schedule Whiteboard (he liked things to be capitalised), and shut the door softly behind me. It was beautifully cold outside, and I gulped the fresh, damp air like a drunk at a cocktail party and set off. While I walked, I used the muted backdrop of the night to watch a movie playing in my head – written by me, starring me. I often did this. I’d create another life for myself – full of passion and sexy adventures. I’d be an adventurer in an exotic location where I’d meet an exotic man. The sexual chemistry between us would flare up like one of the saucepans I had a bad habit of setting on fire, to my spouse’s annoyance. To go into my fantasy world, I only had to select a storyline in my head, like reaching for a book on a shelf. It made a nice break from Neville and his daily recitations of things I hadn’t done properly. I squelched through the door an hour later to find my husband in the kitchen. Strange! I thought he would have been cloistered in his study by now, crooning to one of his beloved spreadsheets, but there he was – sitting under the fluorescent light with two coffees on the table. I waited to be criticised over the greasy pans I’d abandoned in the sink, but he just sat there, with his thick, grey hair perfectly in place, like a giant pad of steel wool on top of his head. I noticed how grey and long his eyebrows were these days. Is it only men whose eyebrows sprout at a certain age? I wondered what my eyebrows looked like, as I hadn’t scrutinised them for a long time. I didn’t study myself in a mirror often, just a quick glance in the mornings as I tied back my curly hair and slapped cheap moisturiser on my face. I was lucky I had good skin – Neville had a fit if I spent much on toiletries. “Thanks for the coffee.” I slid into a chair while quickly trying to gauge my eyebrow length with my fingertips. Neville took his glasses off, blinked, and put them on again. “There’s something I have to tell you.” Oh, no. He’d probably devised a new compost roster. I imagined the boys rolling their eyes and saying, “Yes, Dad.” “Okay, go for it.” I tried to sound enthusiastic. He sniffed. This was odd – Neville hated it when people sniffed. “Well, Katherine . . .” He cleared his throat. “It’s not something I thought I’d ever have to say.” He fiddled with the crumbs on the table and lined them up a row, using the edge of the coaster to make sure they were straight. Also odd. He couldn’t stand it when people fidgeted. While he rounded up an errant crumb, my concentration began to wane. I was impatient to shower and go to bed, so I could lie in the dark and get back to the current storyline. It involved a gorgeous, sensitive hero, who hated slugs and had neat eyebrows. “Well, let me guess.” I stifled a yawn. “You’ve realised you want to be a woman? Oh, I know! You’re having an affair with a twenty-year-old lap dancer called Sharee!” I giggled at my own wit. The thought of sedate Neville hanging out at a strip joint was pretty funny. He started talking, but it took a while for the words to sink in. “Yes, an affair . . . Christine. Forty-five actually . . . canteen manager . . .” “Canteen manager?” I snapped back to reality. “Not the Christine? Corporal Christine at the boys’ school?” He nodded. I was gobsmacked. I knew the Corporal. She barked at me whenever I was dragged in to do canteen duty when I scorched the party pies and mangled the hot dogs. She was a stout woman, with a no-nonsense bosom, who organised the canteen with military precision and loved to reminisce about her glorious army days. “I didn’t mean this to happen, but I think Christine might be The One.” A strange, dreamy look appeared on his face, and the moment was so surreal I almost laughed. “But Neville, that’s so . . . interesting! It’s the least boring thing you’ve done in fifteen years!” I was babbling – dizzy with shock. I’d never thought Neville capable of passion or spontaneity. “You don’t have to hide behind sarcastic humour,” he said. “You’ve always had intimacy avoidance issues. Please focus on reality. And – I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you and turn our lives upside down. It just happened. On Dads’ Day in the canteen I stayed back to help reorganise the pantry and, well, I think Christine and I are soul mates.” What? This was so unlike Neville it jolted me out of my paralysis. “Soul mates? Fucking hell! That’s not fair!” “Please don’t swear, Katherine. And besides, life isn’t fair. You know that.” “Don’t you ‘life isn’t fair’ me! I’m not talking about life; I’m talking about us. We got married, remember? I wore a frock like a sequinned meringue, and you wore a brown suit and new shoes with ‘Help!’ written on the soles by your hilarious accountant mates. It’s not fair because the one interesting thing you’ve ever done in our marriage just squashed it. It’s not fair because I’m the one who was supposed to be unhappy – not you. How dare you turn out to be unhappier than me and then waltz off and get bloody . . . interesting!” My voice was getting higher and louder. I didn’t usually raise my voice and it felt strange – like I was trying to sing opera. “Shhh!” Neville whispered. “The boys will hear! But, what do you mean you were unhappy? You never told me.” “I did!” I whispered back. “You never listened! You always had your head pointed at the TV or the computer. When I said I was bored you told me to try cooking classes. I meant I was bored with you, Neville. I couldn’t fix that by learning deft tricks with couscous. I was the one who was bored and resentful, not you. I was the one who should have had an affair. How dare you be unfaithful before I was!” I was sounding a bit peculiar with my enraged whispering. And during my rant, without noticing, I’d grabbed the newspaper on the table, ripped it into confetti and flung handfuls in the air. Some of the pieces were still floating gently back to earth. I looked around the kitchen and spotted Neville’s masterpiece – the Household Duties Roster – on the fridge. I marched over and yanked it off the door, sending fridge magnets clattering in all directions. “And I’ve hated this bloody thing for years as well,” I hissed. “But did I run off with the milkman? Or even get a job? No! I did the stay-at-home mumsy-wife thing like you wanted, despite being so bored for so long I thought my brain might turn to mush and drip out my nose. And now I learn that you and the Corporal are floating each other’s anal-retentive boats and sailing down Soul Mate River. It’s not fucking fair!” It was an interesting sensation, letting anger boil over after all those years on slow simmer, even at a whisper level. I’d tried for so long to be the sort of wife Neville wanted. When we’d first got together I’d liked his approach to life – his lists, his planning, his restraint. I didn’t so much like his fussiness and zero tolerance for take-away food, but love could solve everything, couldn’t it? Now, standing there in the kitchen under the shuddering green-tinged light, I wanted to take my young self and slap her. I had learned love’s limits. Now I knew that whatever annoys you a little bit when your love is shiny and new annoys you ten times more with every year that passes, until your bubbling frustration threatens to make your skull explode and your brain fizz out like an ice-cream soda. It wasn’t all Neville’s fault; I really should come clean about that. I used to crave the orderly lifestyle he offered, but it gradually began to suffocate me, creeping up like ivy through a gum tree and strangling me with subtle force. I’d been in denial about this for years, but the real me wasn’t Neville’s sort of person at all. The real me liked being spontaneous, relaxed and not very organised and was usually running ten minutes late for everything – more like my mother than I wanted to admit. I’d tried hard for years to be different to her, and had married her complete opposite, but I’d made a bad decision. One of Mother’s favourite sayings, which I’d always liked, popped into my head. “It’s too late,” she cried, as she waved her wooden leg! It had always annoyed Neville. “Who is she?” he would grumble. “What wooden leg? Your mother’s quite demented, you know.” This, from a man with a phobia of constipation and a cupboard full of laxatives to prove it. They were both as mad as cut snakes, but at least Mother was more fun. Neville wasn’t a bad man. That was the problem – he was just on the reasonable side of intolerable. The fact that he’d done a PhD in Tedious Behaviour, majoring in Annoying Habits, wasn’t a reason to break up a family, so I’d stayed. I loved my sons, and being a mother, but as the boys grew older and the marriage staggered from one year to the next I felt like a sort of robot-mum. I’d been programmed to be the tidy wife who ran the house in an orderly fashion, but the core of me – the passion, the joy, the capacity to laugh till I cried – had gone. I think it was packed away in one of those plastic storage bags you suck the air out of with a vacuum cleaner. Neville was staring at me. I’d ripped the roster into pieces and thrown it in the air as well. I’d just learned that severe stress turned me into a human confetti machine. A few flakes landed on my nose and others wafted to the floor. “We don’t have milkmen these days,” he said, literal to the bloody end. “I suppose we’ll have to get a divorce.” “Yes. I’m truly sorry, Katherine. Please believe that.” “I’m not Katherine.” Neville had been amending my name for years. He reckoned his version was more sensible than the fanciful name my whacko mother had chosen. (His words, not mine.) As you might guess, Neville and Mother didn’t get along. In retaliation to Katherine, she always called him The Accountant, which was a bit unfair as he’d become a financial advisor now. I knew it was ridiculous that I’d let him change my name but, if you knew him, you’d understand. Once he got an idea in his head he was like a bull terrier attached to your ankle – he never let go. So, for many years I’d been Katherine, but now I was getting my name back. “My name’s Katerina,” I said, liking the way it felt on my tongue. “I understand you’re upset and I’m expecting a period of adjustment. We’ll talk some more tomorrow. Can I get you anything? A glass of port?” Incredible! Normally I’d be in trouble for drinking alcohol late at night. I’d sneak Bailey’s Irish Cream into a mug and pretend it was chocolate Quik. “No thank you, I need some time alone,” I hissed as I stalked past, with bits of paper on my shoulders like giant flakes of dandruff. “Of course. I’ll bunk in the spare room until we get things sorted out. Okay, Katherine?” I stared at him. “I mean . . . Katerina?” “Too fucking right,” I said, enjoying the fact that he hated me swearing. I went to our bedroom – my bedroom now – and sat on the bed, looking out at the rain dropping like shiny bullets in the light of the street lamp.


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