Authors: Susan Willis
A Taste of Love
© Susan Willis 2013
Susan Willis has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
This edition published in 2013 by Endeavour Press Ltd.
Table of Contents
On Thursday evening as Helen waited in the factory car park for her husband, Rob, she looked up to a spring sky full of cloud – it was the last week of March and she felt glad to have the cold winter weather behind her. She checked her watch hoping Rob wouldn’t be too late as the garage doing the MOT on her own car closed at six o’clock. Then she saw his red BMW tearing up the road towards her – Rob Walker always did everything at break-neck speed.
spun around in the car park and she opened the passenger door. ‘Hi, thanks for not being late,’ she said, climbing into the car. She felt a sharp sting on the side of her thigh and yelped. ‘Aah, what the hell?’ She put her hand onto the area of her trousers where she’d felt the pain and pulled the spike of a large tortoiseshell earring from the thin crêpe material. Holding the earring between her fingers she thrust it in front of his face and glared at him.
face blanched. ‘What?’ he asked defensively, stiffening his shoulders. His eyes were darting around the car as though he was looking for an exit.
couldn’t believe he would do this again and felt her whole body tense with anger. ‘Well, it’s not my earring,’ she spat. ‘And I’m quite sure it doesn’t belong to our daughter. So whose is it, Rob?’
put his foot down on the accelerator and drove out of the car park. ‘Look, don’t start. It probably belongs to one of the girls from work I gave a lift to last week…’
her nose in disgust she opened the glove compartment and threw the earring into it as though it was scalding her fingers. Dear God, who is it this time, she thought, staring blankly out of the window while they travelled in silence throughout the short drive into Acton town centre.
pulled up outside the garage and she opened the car door. Cautiously, he put his head to one side and gave her a tentative smile. ‘Shall I hang on here just in case your car isn’t ready?’
looked over her shoulder as she swung her long legs out of the car and remembered how she’d fallen in love with that smile when they’d first met. But now she hated it with a passion. ‘No, just go home,’ she snapped. ‘We’ll talk when I get back.’
car mechanic hurried out to greet her as Rob sped away from the forecourt. He explained the results of the MOT while she followed him into the office, not particularly listening, and paid the bill with her credit card. Then she settled herself into her own smart Honda Civic and drove out onto the road, automatically turning the car left to head towards their home in West Acton.
mind was in turmoil, as she knew, even before they had the same old argument, that he was having another affair. And, if she tried hard enough, she should be able to count the number of dalliances, which was what her sister called them, that he’d had since their marriage nineteen years ago. But she simply couldn’t find the energy any longer.
pulled onto Queens Drive and slowly drove down to their Tudor-style terraced house. The leafy street in this ordinary London suburb still looked as nice as the day they’d bought the house and sadly she remembered how Rob had swept her up in his arms to carry her over the threshold. But now she grimaced; it was an effort to remember exactly how long it was since they’d even touched each other. She turned the ignition off and slumped forward, resting her head wearily upon the steering wheel. Their daughter, Rachel, had left home for university in September and she missed her dreadfully, and knew that in his own way Rob did too. However, she thought, this wasn’t simply a case of a failing marriage because the bird had flown the nest, as her dad would say – if that was the reason then it would at least be understandable.
Dressed in jogger bottoms and a black sweater Rob was sitting in an armchair in the lounge facing the large, open fireplace with his bare feet on the oak floor. A cafetière sat on the glass table and he poured some coffee into her favourite mug. ‘Is the car okay?’ he asked.
knew he was trying to be friendly but she sighed with dread, removed her coat and draped it across the back of the brown leather settee. ‘Yeah, it’s fine,’ she said as she sipped her coffee. ‘So, Rob. Who is she this time and what are we going to do?’
jumped up from the settee and began to pace around the room. ‘Oh, here we go,’ he shouted. ‘You find an earring in my car and automatically I’m having an affair!’
looked down at the damp impressions on the wood that his sweaty feet had made. ‘It’s all I’m used to, Rob,’ she said sombrely. ‘Since Rachel’s second birthday I’ve smelt perfume on your jackets, found lipstick on shirts, hotel receipts in your trouser pockets, telephone calls where whoever it is hangs up when I answer, and now an earring in your car. So please don’t drag this out for ages trying to deny it. I haven’t the energy to go over the same old argument.’
rounded on her with flaring nostrils and his bright blue eyes blazing. ‘OK. If that’s the case and I don’t even get a chance to defend myself – you can have the truth. It’s over, Helen. Our marriage is finally well and truly over. I can’t stand it or you anymore,’ he snarled.
had been fourteen when Helen had found the hotel receipts and she’d been desperate to hold the family together for her sake. The last thing she’d wanted for her daughter was to grow up with only one parent. But now she didn’t have this constraint any longer and was free to do as she pleased. She decided to let him have his last rant and nodded at him to continue.
was standing on his upper lip now and his face was flushed. ‘You’ve held me back from the first year we were married. When I look around at my other colleagues in the stock exchange and see how fantastic their wives are, well, God knows how I’ve got to where I am, because it certainly hasn’t been with any help from you,’ he moaned. He stopped pacing and stood still in front of her, his legs planted wide. He folded his arms across his chest. ‘I mean, you’ve never listened to me, you’re cold and unforgiving at the tiny slips that I’ve made, and as far as sex goes, well, it’s no wonder I’ve sought it elsewhere…’
look up at him and asked, ‘Ah, so this time it’s love, is it? It’s not like the last one who you said was just a one night stand and was purely drunken sex?’
started to pace again, jerking his head and making sweeping arm gestures. ‘Yes, it is love. She loves me and I love her. We’ve been seeing each other for five months now. So to answer your question, it’s not a one night stand and I don’t have to be drunk to make love to her.’
calculated quickly that he must have been with her from the week after Rachel moved into the halls of residence. She snorted, ‘Hmm, so you didn’t waste too much time after Rachel left, then?’
you dare bring her into this,’ he yelled narrowing his eyes in temper. ‘Whatever you think of me as a husband I will not have you criticise me as a father – I love my daughter…’
sighed heavily. ‘I never have or never would say that. You’ve given Rachel everything and more,’ she said, and he nodded smugly.
hung between them as though they were taking stock of each other. She looked at the same face she’d seen nearly every day for over nineteen years and decided that he looked almost pathetic now and nothing short of a sad has-been. When he’d been younger and was so good looking that women stopped dead in their tracks when he’d entered a room, she’d found it thrilling to be married to him. But now she realised it meant absolutely nothing to her and the years of infidelity had wiped away any love she’d once felt – in fact, she thought, the only emotion she could summon up for him now was pity. She clasped her hands tightly around the coffee mug to steady herself.
she said trying to keep the tremble from her voice. ‘I do agree our marriage is over because I really don’t have the strength to fight for it any more. And, because I feel like I’ve lived my life in a prison cell for the last ten years, well, maybe it’s time we were both set free.’
slumped down on the edge of the settee opposite her. His smooth, Tom Cruise look-a-like face, seemed to crumple with the shock of her words. ‘Really?’ he asked, and she could tell he was astounded to be given the chance to get away so easily. Obviously, she thought, he’d been waiting for the hysterical arguments that had taken place at his previous confessionals.
took a deep breath then asked, ‘So, if we are going to be grown up and rational about it can I ask who this woman is?’
name’s Stephanie and she’s a trainee graphic designer and is a very nice person. I met her at a party and although she is a little younger she does understand me,’ he said looking shiftily through the glass doors into the kitchen. ‘I think I’ll open a bottle.’
stared at his back as he went into the kitchen wondering why he seemed to look sheepish, almost embarrassed, now. He returned carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses.
poured wine into two glasses and gulped at his. ‘Er, you might as well know because people love to gossip and it’ll come out eventually, but wh-when I say younger, Stephanie is twenty-three,’ he said avoiding her eyes.
couldn’t believe it and nearly choked on a mouthful of wine. All her previous rationality disappeared. ‘Jesus Christ, Rob! She’s seventeen years younger than you. And only five years older than your daughter – are you crazy?’
I’m not,’ he shouted. ‘It’s sixteen years and she is very mature for her age and I don’t care what you or anyone else thinks, I’m in love with her…’
are forty in six weeks’ time, Rob,’ she reasoned, looking at the side of his head as he stared down at his hands clasped together. ‘Which, in my basic calculations, makes you nearer forty than thirty-nine. And whatever I think doesn’t really matter. But just for the record, I think you’re behaving like a bloody pervert and that, in case you haven’t thought, is what Rachel will think too!’
shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, as he’d always done when cornered and denied any wrongdoing. ‘Oh, you’re so old-fashioned,’ he cried. ‘It’s not like that nowadays. Age doesn’t matter anymore.’
bent forward to pull his socks back on and she noticed how his hair was thinning on the back of his head. Hmm, she thought vindictively, what was he going to do when he was bald and his Peter Pan image had died a death? Well, she decided, it’s time to let poor, unfortunate Stephanie cope with all his whingeing and dramatics because she’d had enough. And the embarrassment of this revelation would be just too much to bear – he’d have to go.
Rob. If that’s how you feel I think it would be best if you just left now. I take it that you want to move straight in with Stephanie?’ she asked raising her chin defiantly.
nodded, and still avoiding eye contact stood up, left the room and went upstairs. She stared at the closed lounge door, feeling light-headed and with a tingling sensation in her chest, then gulped down the rest of her wine. My God, she thought, listening to drawers opening and closing and the wardrobe door bang, he’s actually packing and going to leave. They’d never got to this stage before as Rachel had always been home and she’d done everything possible to protect her from the upset. She looked down at her trembling hands holding the empty glass and wondered for a split second whether for Rachel’s sake, she should change her mind. But then she felt her cheeks burn remembering his words and decided she felt exactly the same – she couldn’t stand the sight of him.
heard him come back downstairs and hover in the hallway behind the door – her heart was thumping and she held her breath silently praying he wouldn’t come back in and say more horrible things. She let out a huge sigh of relief when she heard the front door close. Picking up the bottle of wine she walked to the bay window, hid behind the full drapes and watched him climb into his car, look up at the house then slowly pull away from the kerb.
In the kitchen Helen poured a second glass of wine, feeling stunned by what had just happened in the last hour of her life. He was gone, and finally and inextricably she was now on her own. This was what she had imagined in the past after he’d confessed to an affair, but she’d always been able to manage the situation around Rachel and somehow they’d got through the first few weeks of distress by carrying on with normal everyday life.
was different now because the house was empty and for once she could do exactly as she pleased. She wandered back into the lounge and slumped down on the settee feeling drained and lifeless – surely, she should be in floods of tears at the end of her marriage? Maybe they’d come later, she thought, kicking off her black brogues, laying her head back on the settee and closing her eyes.
bleep on her mobile phone an hour later woke her and she saw a text message from her sister, Karen. When she rang her back with the news about Rob, it took ten minutes of reassurance to stop Karen from running around to console her.
I don’t want retaliation or revenge, Karen,’ she explained. ‘And I certainly don’t want to be a member of The First Wives Club.’ She could tell by Karen’s silence that she hadn’t understood. ‘You know, the film with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn when they get revenge on their husbands for running off with younger women.’