Because, now we have no dinner, and that may cast a shadow over the evening. However, first chapter of romance novel below (click on read more thingy, that way those of you who aren't interested don't have to be bothered with Chardonnay!). I can't think of a title - it ought to be Preserving Something, but the only thing I can think of that would alliterate is Preserving Purity, and that is, like, 360 degrees absolutely not the point. Anyway, here we go.
‘Well. It looks like we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto’, said Chardonnay Walker, with an attempt at bravado to cover the uncertainty in her soft, husky voice.
She stepped, with a firm, although somewhat shaky, tread, out of the French windows of her new cottage onto the overgrown patio outside. Her thick blonde curls billowed gloriously in the late afternoon breeze. It was going to be a beautiful evening, full of the fresh breath of very early spring; the air felt full of promise, and the faint smell of thrusting greenery. She smiled, wryly, as she bent down and kissed the head of the little dog she was holding in her arms. It twisted its head round to look at her, and squirmed, trustingly. ‘Well. It’s nothing like London, here, is it, honeybunch?’ she said, a little more distractedly, and perhaps with even a trace of nerves, as her gaze lingered on the wildness of the garden in front of her.
Chardonnay bent to put Toto on the ground, and watched him bound off, ecstatic to be in the cool grass and the fresh air after the long, long car journey, where the stop at Grantham services had hardly compensated him at all for the misery of being in his carrier for four hours. She brushed her hot forehead, distractedly, with a slim, tremulous white hand. Had she done the right thing? Was it all a terrible mistake? Her life had changed so much over the last three months, when, she felt, she’d stepped on to an unstoppable conveyor belt, which had chugged on relentlessly until it deposited her here, suddenly, abruptly. Here, in this pretty little cottage, in this overgrown garden, where the first scents and breaths of spring were making her feel confused, and making her yearn, strangely: for what, she wasn’t sure. She sat down, rather heavily, on an old garden chair that the last owners had left behind, covered in mildew and snails. She placed her cool palm on her hot forehead again, and thought back to the events of three months ago, which she hadn’t allowed herself to think about until now. In case she broke down.
Chardonnay Walker was used to suppressing her emotions, with dealing with her own problems, with not letting anyone in. It was what she did. It was what she’d learned to do, throughout those six long years of her relationship with Todd. Six years, during which she’d tried to pretend to herself and to everyone around her that everything was going great. Six years, during which Todd had refused to get married, to move from their rented flat to one they’d bought together, or even to set foot in Ikea and look for cushions – ‘you want to think about why you’re so hung up on commitment, darling’, he used to say, with that careless laugh he had, as he set off to Court with his briefcase looking groomed and clever. Six years, during which she’d slaved away in her job as a legal secretary at Jones, Cartwright and Gibbs, carefully saving her salary for the home –she hoped - they would one day buy together, until Todd finally got that promotion and she thought that now, now, surely he would see how loyal she had been! But, at his celebration dinner, he had hardly even thanked her for her support: she’d just been an afterthought. He’d thanked Mavis in the postroom first! And then, then, finally, the terrible weekend when she’d come back from staying with her mother…
‘Stop it, Toto!’ Chardonnay called out: the little Pekingnese was snuffling under a bush, goodness knows at what. This was the country. Anything could happen. She sighed, heavily. She didn’t want to think about that terrible weekend: she wanted to put it all behind her, move on, and never go there emotionally again. But, then, perhaps it might help, and those terrible nights where she woke up at the darkest, heaviest point feeling as if something was sitting on her chest and weighing her down, and then had to watch television until the sun rose or she drifted off again, might become fewer and further between.
She remembered it all so clearly. Her mother had had that silly accident and hurt her ankle: nothing serious, but Chardonnay had been worried how she would manage for the few days when she had to keep her weight off it, and had taken a couple of days off work to make it a long weekend and give them time to spend together. It had been a lovely break. Chardonnay’s mother was a lot of fun, and her ankle didn’t hurt too badly, just stopped her from getting around easily. It had been a weekend of fun, friends, wine and squeals of laughter, during which no-one had been so rude as to ask Chardonnay where her relationship with Todd was going. It was a question Chardonnay asked herself all the time. Todd had seemed so – so strong, when she first met him. So capable, and so principled. That had been what attracted her. He had joined Jones, Cartwright and Gibbs from a smaller practice where he did only Legal Aid work, and Chardonnay had admired more than anything his willingness to fight for those in trouble. And for the first couple of years or so, everything had gone so well. He had done pro-bono work for local law centres, and their relationship had developed, shyly at first, but with increasing intensity. But gradually, over the last few years, Todd had changed. The pro-bono work had gone by the wayside as his conveyancing work had got busier and busier. He had started to care only about money. Sometimes Chardonnay had looked into his eyes and wondered where the old Todd had gone.
These thoughts had preoccupied Chardonnay, after that weekend, on the long train journey home: she had sat there sadly, twisting blonde, pre-Raphaelite strands around her long fingers and gazing unseeingly at the reflection of her own ice-blue eyes in the window, while the other passengers snuck furtive, admiring glances at her glowing face and shapely body, only partly hidden by the baggy jeans and scruffy Parka she was wearing. Chardonnay had never cared about enhancing her appearance; although she dressed tidily and appropriately for work, as soon as the weekend and evenings came, she was in her comfy jeans, and, as often as not, digging away in her tiny little patch of scruffy, inner-city garden. She had arrived back at Euston travel-weary, and had braced herself for the cold as she walked the short distance back to their flat behind Kings Cross. The train she had been intending to take had been cancelled: luckily, she had checked before she set out, and had managed to take an earlier train, and get back two hours early rather than four hours late. As she turned her key in the lock, Chardonnay had had a strange feeling, as if something was about to change forever. As she walked into the flat, she had the strange sense of something being not quite right: perhaps it was an unusual sound? Or a scent? The scent of someone else’s perfume? ‘Are you here, Todd?’ she had shouted, artlessly. ‘Isn’t it a bit early? I thought you’d still be at the office’. Then she heard it. A high-pitched giggle, and Todd’s voice, low, muttering, murmuring something. Murmuring words. Special words, words he only murmured to Chardonnay.
Murmuring them to someone else.
Chardonnay shut her eyes, briefly, against the pain the memory still stirred, even three months later. Todd, half-naked, running out of their bedroom and spluttering some excuse or other. Mavis - Mavis! With that basque and sarcastic, feline smile. Apparently the reason Todd hadn’t wanted to commit fully, get married, start a family, move to the country, had been because of a long string of affairs with other women while she, Chardonnay, was at work or helping out Paige on her allotment. Well, here she was now. Perhaps it was for the best. She’d packed and moved out that night, refusing to listen to Todd’s pleas, and stayed with Paige while she got her head together. Then she’d handed in her notice at work – how could she stay in London now? She couldn’t bear the sight of the hordes of people: all she craved was space, and air. Three months later, here she was, installed in the little cottage her childhood friend’s mother had been trying to rent out for a while, down the road from her family, and with fresh air blowing on her face straight from the Derbyshire Peak and coaxing a little colour into her lovely cheeks for the first time in months.
That was it, Chardonnay thought. She’d confronted her feelings, and now she wouldn’t think of Todd any more. Her old life was over: her new life began today. She stood up purposefully. Toto was having a high old time in the garden, rootling round, digging, and rolling ecstatically on his back. All she had to do was unpack. Unpack all her boxes, and then sort out what to do with the rest of her life. It was starting to feel like a challenge more than a huge weight, that weight heavy enough to make her despair. She took the kettle, a mug and a cup out of the first box, and smiled to herself at her foresight in packing them all together. At least she could have a cup of tea. But, as she filled up the kettle, and watched the steam curling upwards in the cold kitchen, there was one thing Chardonnay felt sure of.
There was, and would never be, any need to unpack another mug. Because she was swearing off men forever.
The fox returns and life continues
2 days ago