Devastated. As soon as I mentioned Mary, Richard’s eyes glazed over and I knew I’d lost him as my support. I really had no one to turn to, no one to hold me, comfort me, and tell me it would be all right.
Not even Mary, who was as distressed as me; both of us sniffling during my call to her. She knew that Jane had been in ICU, but the daily bulletins from Rod were upbeat — the baby had a fine pair of lungs — and he told her not to worry because Mr. Donaldson was the best.
Then the shock; like me, I’d never expected it, never considered Jane would not pull through; it was only a bad dream.
But it wasn’t.
To block the pain, we discussed Mary’s travel arrangements — she said she’d call back with timings, and I agreed to meet her at the Aceh terminal. A silence followed; I didn’t want to end the call but--
I tried to see Hamish again; but he was wrapped-up in coordinating the post-mortem (a necessary precaution, he said) and I sought solace in a well-worn armchair in the waiting-room lounge.
Richard discharged himself later that day; I only found out when I came in to see him. His bed had been stripped, and a man in a wheelchair was waiting for the nurses to re-make it.
I was alone.
That evening, still sitting, Hamish found me staring at the freshly-painted wall — Magnolia, with a few bubbled streaks where the brushwork had been hurried. I hadn’t the energy to return to the House, nor did I want to if Richard was occupying it or if Charles returned.
Maybe if they covered the patch with a mural or even a mirror...
I turned my head towards the sound of his voice, blinked and focused on his puffy eyelids. His whole being oozed suffering — tight, drawn expression, unshaven, and crumpled clothes, his composure stifled.
I reached out a hand. ‘You look as bad as I feel,’ I said.
‘That bad?’ A slight twitch of a smile as his fingers intertwined with mine. ‘Am pure done in.’
‘You need a good night’s sleep,’ I said.
Now his smile crinkled. ‘What’s that?’
Being able to snuggle up close.
‘Perhaps a night-cap would help.’ I pulled myself up tugging at his hand. ‘How about the Italian restaurant?’
‘A wee dram to warm the cockles,’ he said. He bowed with a sweep of his arm. ‘Lead the way, my lady.’
We weren’t out of place on the terraced roof despite our crumpled appearance; aid workers dressed in unwashed T-shirts and stained jeans complemented the sense of community togetherness.
Their upbeat chatter helped to raise our spirits, and we left unspoken matters that could wait until the next day. Nevertheless a pact was made. When Mary arrived, I was going to be present at the initial meeting.
Hamish nodded. ‘I’ll leave the arrangements to you and Mrs Parrington,’ he said, his attention now on the menu board. ‘How about sharing a seafood risotto?’
I nodded at the hovering waitress. ‘And another glass of wine?’
‘Better make it a bottle,’ he said, switching off his pager, and pocketing it. ‘I’m now officially off-duty, tonight...’
Hamish insisted he accompanied me back to the House. Both of us tipsy. Once there, I insisted he stayed the night. He nodded, paid off the taxi-driver, and linked arms with me.
‘My reputation’s going to be shot to bits,’ he said, his voice, a Scottish burr. ‘Escorting a lady back to her marital home isn’t exactly gentlemanly.’
‘Shush,’ I said, pushing a finger against his mouth. ‘You’ll wake Richard.’
I assumed my husband had returned; the porch lights illuminated the drive, and glancing up, I saw a glimmer of light behind closed shutters in a West Wing bedroom.
To hell with it. I need someone with me, right now.
I fumbled for my door key and would have fumbled the lock, but my prince, now acting his part, rescued the key and opened the door.
‘Voila,’ he said and, with an exaggerated sweep of his arms, ushered me inside.
I hugged myself. Simply to feel warmth — his warmth. Would I? Could I? I held his hand instead and led him into the dining room.
‘Make yourself comfortable.’ I pointed to the sofa. ‘I’ll make coffee.’
He slumped into the cushions, and I tip-toed to the kitchen, my mind in turmoil and my head spinning. I filled up the kettle, plugged it into the wall socket, and made myself busy thinking and fretting. Pictures of a happy, pregnant Jane, and more of Hamish saving her life.
Why didn’t it happen?
By the time I returned to the dining room with mugs half-filled with instant coffee — no milk or cream in the fridge — I heard a familiar sound.
Heavy breathing — but, regretfully, not the intimate kind.
Hamish had taken off his shoes, laid flat out on the sofa his head resting on a cushion, fast asleep. I sat down in an armchair, mugs on the glass-top table between us, and watched him breathe. His face, now relaxed, exuded peace. I wiped away a loose tear, thought of Jane also now at rest, and then let the tears flow.
Oh, Jane, I miss you so much. What am I going to do?
I sighed, reached a hand out for my mug and sipped the coffee. It tasted bitter. I set it back down and took a deep breath.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Think of the baby. All alone too...
...The noise woke me. I opened my eyes, blinked into the light streaming through the lounge windows. A cough — and standing in front of me, Richard, with a questioning frown on his face. He was holding a rumpled cushion.
The sofa was empty.
‘Lover-boy’s gone,’ he said, plumping up the cushion and placing it carefully back. He pointed at the coffee mugs. ‘One-night stand, was it?’
My stomach lurched, my thoughts jumbled. ‘What? How did...?’
‘I caught him sneaking out of the front-door at first light. Told him to sling his hook and not come back.’
‘You heard me.’
‘Richard, don’t be stupid. It wasn’t like that.’
He glared at me. ‘Wasn’t it?’
I glared back. ‘No. And anyway, what’s it to you?’
His face reddened. ‘Do as you damn well please but not in my house, you hear?’
I heaved myself up out of the armchair, shook my creased clothes. ‘You idiot, I’m still fully dressed.’
He angled his head sideways, gave me a pitying look. ‘A quickie, was it, then?’
I matched his look. ‘You should know. Is that what it was with Mary? A quickie?’
He fell silent. We stared at each other like two tight-head props about to engage. His head dropped, and the scrum collapsed.
I persisted. ‘Well, was it?’