Lucy stared at the potatoes laid out in front of her. They were starting to dry, dull and knobbly in comparison to the smooth granite worktop. Absently she reached for her Shiraz. She stopped abruptly as the glass reached her lips. It was empty. With a sharp sigh she turned to the worktop behind her and frowned. An empty bottle looked back at her. Lucy blinked as she tried to remember how much she had put in the jus. With a small shrug she slid a fresh bottle out of the wine rack, humming along to the aria drifting from the stereo as she did so. She glanced at the dining table as she removed the cork in one quick movement. It looked good, she had to admit. The flower arrangement was minimal and tasteful. The silverware shone like tiny mirrors, the crystal sparkled in the candlelight. Now she just had to get dinner right. The pork was steadily roasting, the smoked salmon parcels waiting patiently in the fridge. All she had left to do was sort out the sides and assemble the Pavlova.
Lucy gasped. She whirled around to the oven, nearly knocking over her replenished glass in the process. Cursing she grabbed her oven mitt and pulled open the door. Sweet smoke stung her eyes as she blindly pulled out the hot tray and dropped it onto the worktop. She slammed the oven door shut and leaned on the worktop heavily. Reluctantly she looked over at the meringue. It was ruined. She bit her lip as she picked up the tray and marched over to the bin. Her eyes prickled with hot tears as she stamped on the pedal.
Her husband’s distant voice cut through her thoughts. She listened to the front door close at the other end of the house. Hastily she wiped her eyes on her apron and flung open the fridge door, carefully counting out enough eggs for a second attempt. As she slammed the fridge closed Tom walked into the dining area, loosening his tie as he looked over her handiwork. With shaking hands Lucy carefully placed the eggs on the worktop. She looked at the digital display on the oven. 18:33. He was late.
“So, how’s it coming along?”
Lucy glanced up at her husband as she carefully separated the eggs over a large mixing bowl. He sat a clear plastic bag of limes and two bottles of Cava on the table, disturbing a precisely placed napkin in the process. Lucy averted her eyes back to her task. Involuntarily she clenched her teeth.
“It would be coming along a lot better if you had made the effort to get here on time.” She muttered, throwing the egg shells into the bowl of yolk. Her cheeks burning, she immediately regretted her outburst. She heard Tom take a deep breath as she shook sugar over the egg whites.
“Look, I’m sorry. My meeting overran. Then there was a huge queue at Waitrose.” Tom pulled off his jacket and slung it onto the back of a chair. He looked up to see Lucy stiffly carry the bowl over to the electric mixer.
“Give me a break, Luce...”
Lucy snapped the plug into the socket and switched on the mixer. Tom watched her back as she focused her attention on the frothy mixture. He shook his head to himself and picked up the bottles. Steadily he walked over to the fridge and nestled them next to the cooling bottles of white. He paused for a moment before walking over to her, and softly rested his hands on her waist. Her frantic mixing slowed to a stop as her body suddenly convulsed with a jagged sob. Tom gently reached to switch off the mixer and guided her to face him. Lucy blindly clung to him as he stroked her hair. Gradually he felt Lucy’s body begin to still against his.
Lucy swallowed and pulled herself away, roughly wiping her face with the heel of her hand.
“It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? I’ve managed to ruin the dessert, and I haven’t even made a start on the potatoes. And... And just look at me.”
Tom looked down at his wife. Her large bloodshot eyes searched his face. He felt a pang of guilt. He should have known this would be too much for her. He pulled her to him again and gave her a squeeze, hiding her bewildered face against his chest.
“Darling, you look fine...”
Lucy pushed herself away from him again and turned back to the worktop.
“No I don’t. I look a wreck. And your boss and his wife are due any minute.”
Tom consulted the clock.
“Look, we have plenty of time. You finish off the pudding and make a start on the veg and I’ll get these potatoes sorted. Then you can pop upstairs and get ready. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t here to meet and greet, does it?”
Lucy shrugged and picked up the mixer.
“Well, I guess you should know. You see more of your boss than you do of me these days.”
She switched the mixer on again before he could respond. Tom silently opened a drawer and picked out a potato peeler. Lucy was right. He had been working a lot, but it was for her. Even in his head, he knew it was a cliché, and his timing was more than a little off. But he couldn’t help that.
The mixer suddenly came to a stop, the abrupt quiet startling him. He turned to see Lucy artfully scooping the glossy white mass on a lined baking tray. He smiled brightly.
“That looks great. You’ve done a great job, sweetheart.”
Lucy let out a bitter laugh.
“Well let’s just hope I don’t burn the damn thing this time.”
She slammed the tray into the oven and took a mouthful of her wine. Tom glanced at the empty bottle stood on the worktop. He averted his eyes back to the potatoes.
“You should go easy on the wine, Lucy.”
Lucy arched an eyebrow at him as she carefully put the glass down. She pulled out a pack of vegetables from the fridge and tore at the plastic.
“Why? Worried I’ll make a fool of you in front of the Big Cheese?”
Tom hesitated. “No. I just don’t think it will mix with your tablets, that’s all. And you know alcohol is a depressant.” He added quietly.
Lucy roughly snapped the stalks of the asparagus. “Well, maybe I wouldn’t need those tablets if you were actually here for me rather than hiding from our problems in that wood panelled office of yours.”
Tom turned to look at his wife. The tightness in her jaw emphasised her sharp cheekbones. It struck him how much weight she had lost since it had happened.
He felt his face flush.
“I’m... I’m sorry.”
Lucy’s hands became still for a moment. She looked up from her task, her eyes staring through the mosaic tiles in front of her.
“So am I. I’m sorry you felt the need to have a bit on the side when I was pregnant. I’m sorry I lost our baby. And I’m sorry you feel like you can’t even be around me anymore.”
Tom carefully laid down his knife and scooped up the prepped potatoes. He dropped them into a pan of water waiting on the stove.
“You have nothing to apologise for. You did nothing wrong.” He said softly.
Lucy turned to him, her mouth open.
“Then why did you do it, Tom? Why did you run off and sleep with someone else if I hadn’t done anything wrong? If I was satisfying you in the bedroom, you wouldn’t need to go elsewhere, would you?”
Tom looked down at the floor and shook his head rapidly. “It wasn’t like that. I told you.”
Lucy dropped the broccoli in her hand and laughed incredulously.
“Yes, that’s right. You did. You just needed to escape from the concept of fatherhood, from responsibility, from stability, right? Well you don’t need to worry about any of that now, what with a wife who can’t even carry a baby for more than five months and is slowly losing her mind.”
She shook her head and turned back to her task.
“Be careful what you wish for, Tom.”
Tom took a deep breath and thrust his hands in his pockets.
“You’re right, Luce. I was scared, scared of so much. But right now I’m bloody terrified.”
Lucy snorted as she pulled out a pan from the cupboard next to her and threw in the vegetables. She placed it on the hob and hastily pulled off her apron.
“So, what are you going to do now, Tom? Run away again? Stick your head in the sand? Get up to your elbows in some other woman?”
She looked at her husband with cold eyes as she flung her apron under the sink and walked out of the room. Tom listened to her footsteps on the hardwood staircase and closed his eyes. He didn’t know if she would ever forgive him and he couldn’t blame her. But he wasn’t willing to give up on their marriage. He looked at his watch. Their guests were due in six minutes. Decisively he strode into the hallway and bound up the stairs two at a time. Lucy looked over at him as he jogged into the bedroom. She was already stripped to her black lace underwear and opaque tights. Tom averted his eyes from her fragile body and cleared his throat.
“Lucy, I’m going to make things right.”
She looked at him blankly before turning back to her wardrobe. Mechanically she began to flick through the rail of dresses. “So how exactly are you going to do that Tom?” She asked, emotion absent from her voice.
He watched her as she pulled out the black dress he had bought her the day they got engaged. She stepped into the silk and carefully arranged it over her angular frame before padded over to the dressing table. As she spritzed herself with Chanel Tom caught her eye in the mirror.
“I’m going to get a promotion.”
Lucy stared at him for a moment before her mouth curved into a smile.
“A promotion? How lovely. Then we will see even less of each other.”
She turned to her make-up bag and began to powder her face. Tom watched her carefully.
“No, Lucy. A new job in another office. Where I get to call the shots. Somewhere away from here, where we can start again.”
Lucy snapped shut her compact and reached for her blusher.
“Oh really? And where would that be? Leeds? Manchester?”
She wrinkled her nose as she applied the colour. Tom shook his head at her reflection.
“No. San Francisco.”
Lucy paused, her blusher brush in her hand, and glanced over her shoulder. She met Tom’s eyes briefly before resting her gaze on the neatly made bed.
“Really?” She asked quietly.
Tom smiled tentatively. “Yes. Somewhere new. A great place for you to get back into your painting, and... and for us to start a family.”
Lucy looked back at his face, her eyes wide. Her pink cheeks made her look innocent, the trauma of the last seven months erased from her face.
“But you’d be working even harder than ever.”
“Lucy, do you think my manager works half the hours I do?”
Lucy bit her lip and turned back to the mirror. Hurriedly she fished around in her make-up bag for her eyeliner. She looked up at Tom, a cautious smile touching her lips.
“I guess not.”
Tom’s smile widened.
“You guess right. And I guess inviting him over for dinner to discuss the plans for the new office could help me seal the deal too.”
Lucy’s smile disappeared.
“Oh God, is that why he’s coming?”
She turned back at her reflection and leant forwards to paint her eyes, steadying her shaking arm with her free hand. Suddenly she gasped, dropping the pencil and jumping up from her seat.
“Shit! The meringue!”
Tom held up his hands.
“Don’t you worry about it. I’ll go and sort it out.”
Lucy watched him as he strode confidently to the door.
He stopped abruptly in the doorway and turned to look at her. Her eyes searched his face.
She faltered as her eyes met his. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
Tom rested his hand on the door frame and looked at the floor.
“No need to thank me. I just hope it’s enough to let you trust me again.”
Lucy looked at him dumbly as she searched for something to say. Tom turned to the hallway.
“Anyway, the meringue.”
Lucy watched him disappear from the doorway. She listened to him clatter down the stairs before she turned back to the dressing table. She sat down slowly and opened a drawer. Carefully she felt around for the tablets she had been saving over the last six weeks. Despite his close monitoring since her last attempt Tom hadn’t noticed her slip one of her pills into her dressing down pocket every night. She rolled the bottle in her hands. The rattle of the fatal dose against the dark glass comforted her. Taking a deep breath, she closed her fingers around the bottle and stood up. She tiptoed over to the en suite bathroom, fumbling with the safety lid. Downstairs the doorbell rang. Lucy froze. She stared at the bottle as she heard Tom open the door. A burst of enthusiastic voices drifted up the stairs. Shaking herself she screwed the lid back on and hurried back to the dresser. She shoved the bottle behind her collection of expensive night creams and serums and sat down. Picking up her eyeliner she studied her reflection. She hardly recognised the drawn face in front of her. The last year had left its mark, yet in her eyes she recognised something of her old self. She swallowed and began to draw a line of kohl around her eyes. Maybe Tom was right. Maybe it was time to start again.