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  • Pamela Belle

CHAPTER NINE

One of Nanna May’s mantras, in times of stress or trouble, had been, ‘Nothing is ever as bad as you think it’ll be.’ Jenna, dreading joining a new secondary school where she knew nobody, had discovered at the age of twelve that it could be true. Her belief had sustained her through university, Jon’s betrayal, and the birth of the twins, which had turned out to be far easier than everyone had expected. Now, however, she knew that with the best of intentions, her grandmother had lied. This was not as bad: it was worse.

Rick flew back on the Tuesday, as arranged. Also as arranged, he was not best pleased at having to make his own way from Heathrow, and arrived home in the early evening, to an empty house. Saskia had invited Jenna round for a meal with several mutual friends, and she’d eagerly grasped the opportunity offered. OK, it postponed the moment of reckoning, but she didn’t see why she should make it easy for Rick, or indulge him in any way. As Saskia had pointed out, he’d made his bed, and should lie on it.

“Cliché alert,” Jenna had said, with a wry smile.

“I know, darling, but your soon-to-be-ex-husband is a walking cliché all on his own. Mid-life crisis? Tick. Falls for hot young totty? Tick. Dumps loyal loving wife without a backward glance? Tick. Thinks he can get away with it all by relying on his alleged charm and charisma? Tick. Don’t feel you have carry on being nice to him, Jen, the bastard doesn’t deserve it.”

So she’d gone out, leaving the house in darkness and a note on the kitchen table. When she returned, half an hour before midnight, the note was in pieces in the bin, there were three empty cans of beer on the draining board, and the door to the spare room was firmly shut. Preparing for bed, Jenna made no particular effort to be quiet, and then found, once tucked up warmly under the quilt, that she couldn’t sleep. How would she play this, in the morning? Would she be sad, or angry? Would she tell him exactly what she thought of him, or would she restrain herself in the interests of their separate futures, and more particularly in their children’s futures? And of course if she lost her temper, he would lose his, and Rick when furious was a phenomenon she’d spent most of her married life trying to avoid.

Well, there was no use any longer trying to paper over the cracks – they were so deep and wide it would take the entire contents of John Lewis’s home decorating department to conceal them. She spent much of the night running through possible conversations, strategies and scenarios in her head, and by the time exhaustion claimed her, shortly before dawn, she knew only that however angry she was, however determined to make him face up to the consequences of his actions, she must protect the children from the toxic aftermath. They had to know, of course – this wasn’t something that he could shrug off. It didn’t matter how mature or restrained her own manner, at least in public: the very fact that he’d had an affair with a girl half his age and made her pregnant could neither be kept secret, nor explained away as ‘just one of those things’, and Joe, Tom and Rosie were going to be deeply hurt by it. And the more she thought about the consequences for them, years down the line, the more furious she felt. She wasn’t concerned for herself: she knew that she would be able to cope with her new life, perhaps even, eventually, move on. But her children had grown up assuming, as a given, that their parents enjoyed a loving, happy, stable marriage. What would it do to them, the sudden brutal revelation that this hadn’t been true for years?

She was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee when Rick came down. He looked decidedly unkempt, his greying hair in wild spikes, stubble on his chin, and wearing a crumpled T shirt and boxers that, all too obviously, he’d slept in. He stared at her. “God, what have you done to your hair?”

Jenna had forgotten that he hadn’t seen her since. “Cut it,” she said succinctly.

“It looks awful.”

“Thanks for those kind words of encouragement.” Release your inner bitch, Saskia had said to her last night, but Jenna hadn’t meant to until the words, dripping with sarcasm, slipped out despite all her good intentions. She added, for good measure, “You don’t look so hot yourself.”

They glared at each other across the table. Rick said, “Why weren’t you at the airport? I had to get a sodding taxi, all the way from Heathrow, and it cost a bloody fortune.”

“I didn’t want to have an argument on the motorway. Plus,” said Jenna, giving further fuel to her inner bitch, “I didn’t feel like putting myself out for you, under the circumstances. There’s coffee in the pot, and I’ve resisted the temptation to poison it.”

He stamped over to the machine and poured himself a mug, then turned to face her. Jenna’s heart was pounding, and her palms were so clammy she surreptitiously wiped them on her jeans, but she held his gaze. “Well?” she demanded.

“Well what?”

“Well, what have you got to say for yourself, Rick? You’ve behaved abominably, and you know it.”

He had at least some twinges of conscience left, because he turned away and made a big deal out of getting the milk from the fridge. When he faced her again, though, his expression was set hard. “These things happen,” he said curtly. “Even when you don’t intend them.”

“Have you any idea how lame that sounds? You shag a girl barely older than your own kids, get her pregnant and then say, ‘These things happen’? Whatever possessed you?”

“Oh, come on, Jen, we weren’t doing so well, and you know it.”

“I thought our marriage could do with some work, I had plans to sort it, or so I thought," Jenna said. “I didn’t know you’d been screwing around for years. But this can’t be mended. Even if you changed your mind this instant, it can’t be mended. You’ve hurt me badly, Rick, but I can deal with that. What I can’t ever forgive is what this’ll do to the kids.”

She was pleased to see that he was looking increasingly uncomfortable, and pressed home her advantage. “And don’t say that they’re grown up and it won’t matter. If you think that, you’re deluding yourself. They’re going to discover, this very weekend, that their father is a liar and a cheat, and that their parents’ supposedly wonderful marriage is a complete sham. What in God’s name do you think they’re going to feel about it? Devastated, betrayed, horrified, disgusted – all that and more.”

“We don’t have to tell them just yet, do we?”

Jenna stared at him in disbelief. “Of course we do! They’re going to find out pretty soon, anyway. Saskia knows, so do quite a few of my other friends. It’s not your dirty little secret any more. We can tell them together, and try to be adult about it for their sake, or you can try and hide your shame for a couple more weeks until they find out about it from their mates. And believe me, that would be much, much worse – for you, as well as for them.”

“Bloody Saskia, couldn’t she keep her mouth shut?”

The contempt in his voice stung her anew. “She’s been a far better friend to me than you ever have. And she’ll still be my friend when you’ve long since disappeared into history. As far as she’s concerned, you’re the biggest arsehole on the planet, and I can’t disagree with her. Anyway, Rosie’s coming back this weekend – it’s Megan’s birthday.”

“Megan?”

“Megan Smith. Red hair, freckles, mother Jane is a journalist on The Guardian. Remember?”

He patently didn’t, although Megan had been friends with Rosie since primary school, and her hair colour wasn’t exactly easy to forget. Jenna let it pass. “So Rosie will be back. So we sit down and tell her, and the boys. Carefully, tactfully, behaving like grown-ups, but not lying to them either.”

“And how are we going to talk to the boys?”

“On Skype, of course. Hell, Rick, you’re supposed to be the tech-savvy one.”

“I don’t want to tell them about Madison yet. Can’t we just say that we’ve grown apart?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Rick, get real! Haven’t you listened to a single word I’ve been saying? They’re going to find out the truth, sooner rather than later probably, and it’ll be better for all of us in the long run if you fess up to it now. They’re going to have a baby brother or sister, did you think you could hide that from them? Do you think it’s right to hide that from them, their own flesh and blood? It’s your choice. Either we both tell them the truth on Saturday, calmly and maturely, or I do it alone. Which would you rather?”

Rick stared at her, while she wondered bleakly where the husband she had once loved had gone. Eventually he said, “I’ll think about it.”

“You do that. But if you’re sensible, you’ll realise you’ve got to face up to the consequences of what you’ve done.”

“I couldn’t help falling in love with her,” Rick said. “And I didn’t mean to get her pregnant.”

“Perhaps not, but you sounded pretty pleased about it when you phoned me. Like you’d got some sort of award for your masculine potency.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Isn’t it? That’s exactly what it sounded like. You appear to be having a classic mid-life crisis, Rick, but don’t think you can come running back if it all goes belly-up. In any case, if we sell this house, there won’t be anything to come running back to.”

“There’s no ‘if’ about it. Madison and I are buying an apartment together in New York, and they don’t come cheap.”

“I’m sure they don’t. Anyway, I’ve taken legal advice.” She had been to see Saskia’s tame solicitor the previous day, and she had been very helpful: she now knew exactly where she stood, financially. “And I want to keep the Orford cottage, and live in it.”

Now she really had astonished him. “Are you mad? Move to Orford? Leave all your friends behind? And your precious Saskia? You wouldn’t last five minutes.”

“You don’t have much faith in me, Rick, do you?”

“And you’ll need to get a job, won’t you? Get off your backside and do some work for a change?”

The venom in his voice appalled her. She said vehemently, “If you remember, you were the one who persuaded me to give up work, so don’t blame me for that. I wonder why you did it? Did it feed your masculine ego to be able to say, ‘Oh, my wife doesn’t need to work?’ Did you like the fact that the sole purpose of my existence was to look after you and the kids? Or did you just find the fact I’d got a degree and qualifications a bit threatening? Anyway, that’s what I’m going to do. The cottage is worth about a hundred thousand less than this place, so you can pay me half of that out of the proceeds of the sale, when it goes through, plus half of our savings. I’ll have a nest-egg, and money to tide me over while I find a job.”

“You’re forgetting something,” Rick said. “You’ve inherited that casket, remember? That goes into the pot too, to be divvied up with the rest.” He smiled nastily. “If it’s worth as much as you say it is, looks like you’re going to have to sell it after all.”

*

Rosie arrived back on the train early on Friday evening. She had only been at university for two weeks, but Jenna saw the difference in her immediately. Exuding new confidence, bright and cheerful, she swept in, dumped her rucksack in the hall, and gave her mother a brisk hug. “Sorry, but I’ve brought some washing back. Do you mind?”

“Well, just this once,” Jenna said. Rosie looked so full of life and joy that she felt consumed with guilt and misery, knowing what must happen in less than half an hour’s time. Megan’s birthday celebrations weren’t until Saturday evening, so with a desperate desire to get it over with, she’d texted the boys and told them to expect a Skype conversation at seven, which would be ten in the morning in Sydney.

She still wasn’t sure whether Rick would participate, despite her warnings. Since his return, he had avoided her. He had gone to his office, seen a solicitor, and sent a string of valuers to the house. She didn’t know if he was in touch with Madison, but since he spent long hours shut in the spare room, she suspected that he was contacting her regularly. Saskia had wondered if breaking the news of his affair over the phone had been his lover’s idea. “I can just imagine it – he’s been dithering, putting off the decision, and she’s decided to pin him down. Handing him the phone, insisting he ring you now this minute, so she can see he’s done it, that he’s made his commitment to her instead of you. Otherwise, he might have been tempted to put it off indefinitely.”

“Well, he couldn’t have put it off for too long, or the baby would have arrived first,” Jenna had said. “It’s strange, isn’t it? I always thought he was so decisive.”

“Ah, darling, but this is emotional stuff,” Saskia pointed out. “And Rick doesn’t do emotion, does he?”

“He did once,” Jenna said sadly, thinking of those early years, the fun, the flowers, the little touches that had made her tingle with desire and the warmth of being loved and, yes, cherished. She hadn’t felt that for many, many years, but she’d thought it was just a natural part of married life, coming to take each other for granted and settling into a rather dull routine. How little did I know.

“We’re going to Skype Tom and Joe soon,” she told her daughter. “Dad as well. There’s ...” She hesitated, then took the plunge. “There’s something very important we have to tell you all.”

Rosie stared at her in surprise. “What?”

“It’ll have to wait until then. Meanwhile, would you like a cup of tea?”

Leaving Rosie in the kitchen with the kettle, she ran upstairs and knocked on the spare room door. “Rick? She’s here, and it’s twenty to seven. Are you going to take part in this, or are you going to leave it to me?”

After a few minutes, he opened the door. Shaved and wearing a fresh shirt and jeans, he looked much more presentable than he had on Wednesday morning, but she could sense his apprehension. “I’m coming,” he said. “Since it’s apparently unavoidable.”

“It is. Actions have consequences, after all.” She took a deep breath. “You have to tell them the truth. And if you don’t, I will. I won’t bad-mouth you, I won’t slag you off, but they deserve the facts, and if you’re too chicken to face up to that, then you deserve everything you get. OK?”

His grim face said that it was emphatically not OK, but he followed her down the stairs and into the living room. She’d set up her laptop on the coffee table, facing the larger of the two sofas, so that she and Rick could sit side by side and face the screen. Rosie stuck her head round the door. “Hi, Dad! Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Thanks,” said Rick, without looking at her. Rosie disappeared, and Jenna could hear the chink of mugs and the sound of the biscuit tin being opened. The normality of it almost broke her heart. In a few minutes her children’s world would be shattered, and she and Rick would be responsible for their heartbreak.

Rosie came in with a teapot, three mugs, a carton of milk and a little stack of biscuits on a tray. She glanced at the occupied coffee table, and then set it all down on the floor by the hearth. “I thought I’d make it in the pot, as there are three of us,” she explained. “It’ll be great to talk to Tom and Joe. I met one of their friends at uni – Matty Roper, he was in the year below them, he’s in the Poetry Club. Oh, and I met your friend, Mum, Professor Gerrard, the one you shared a house with back in the day? He’s cool.”

Rick was looking at her suspiciously. Jenna said, “Oh, yes, Jon. I bumped into him on campus when I was dropping Rosie off – haven’t seen him for twenty-five years.” Why am I justifying myself to him? she wondered, annoyed. I had a cup of coffee and a ten minute catch-up, not a passionate affair.

Rosie poured out the tea, which was rather weaker than Rick preferred it, and handed round the mugs. Jenna put hers down on the floor beside the sofa, trying not to let her daughter see that her hand was shaking. She said, “Not long to go. I hope they’ve got out of bed.”

“What time is it there?” Rosie asked.

“About ten to ten.” She turned the laptop on, and set up the connection. It took some time, but suddenly Joe’s face, already tanned by the Australian sun, appeared in front her. He grinned. “Hey, Ma, whassup?”

“Is Tom there?”

“Just coming.” Her other son squeezed into position beside his twin. “How’s it going, you guys?”

Rick sat down beside her. The boys glanced at each other, and Jenna, attuned to their moods, sensed their sudden wariness. She said, “Rosie’s here too. We have something very important to tell you all, something very serious.”

There was a pause, during which the twins exchanged another look, and Rosie, clutching her mug of tea, stared apprehensively at her parents. Jenna glanced at Rick, but he seemed to have been struck dumb. Perhaps, she thought, he’s only now beginning to realise what he’s done.

“Yes?” Joe prompted. “What?”

Rick cleared his throat suddenly. “I’m really sorry to have to tell you this,” he said, “but your mother and I have decided to split up.”

There was absolute silence. Rosie had gone white, her mouth open, her eyes wide with horror. Tom stared in bewilderment. Joe said, “What?”

“We’ve decided to split up,” Rick repeated curtly.

“Yes, I heard.” Joe’s voice had suddenly turned aggressive. “But for fuck’s sake, why?”

“I thought you were happy!” Rosie cried suddenly. “What’s happened?”

“I’ve met someone else,” Rick said. “And I’m going to live with her in New York.”

“Did you know about this, Mum?” Tom asked. Jenna saw, to her distress, that his eyes were full of tears.

“Dad told me last weekend,” she said.

“And how long have you been with this – this other woman?” Joe demanded.

“Her name’s Madison. About six months.” Rick’s face was set like granite.

“So you’ve been cheating on Mum for six months? And she had no idea? Jesus Christ!” Joe banged the table in front of him with his fist, as if he wished it was his father’s face.

“Do you love her, Dad?” That was Rosie, her voice choking.

“Yes, I love her and I’m going to marry her. She’s expecting my baby.”

Joe, when furious, looked just like his father. He said, his voice rising, “You mean she’s pregnant? How old is she, Dad?”

“Twenty seven.”

Rosie was sobbing now, in huge gulps. She walked on her knees over to the sofa and put her head on Jenna’s lap and her arms around her, just as she’d done when she was little. Jenna stroked her hair and silently cursed Rick for the selfish stupidity and thoughtlessness that had led to this.

“Rosie?” Joe said across thousands of miles. “Is that Rosie crying?”

“Look,” said Rick, struggling to maintain some sort of authority, “it’s not the end of the world, all right?”

“God, Dad, what a dick you are!” Joe shouted. “What a fucking wanker! ‘Not the end of the world!’” His voice mimicked his father’s cruelly. “You think we’d just say, ‘Oh, all right then, so you’ve shagged some slut half your age and got her up the duff, but that’s fine with us?’ Well, it fucking isn’t fine with us! You’re a shit, you’re an arsehole, and I never want to see you or speak to you again, OK?” He pushed his chair back, and vanished out of the webcam’s reach. They heard a door slam in the distance.

Tom stayed where he was, and brushed a hand across his eyes. He said, his voice wavering, “Mum? Are you OK, Mum?”

There were tears on Jenna’s face too. She said, trying to keep her own voice steady, “Yes. Yes, I will be. It’s been a big shock, but you don’t need to worry about me, I’ll be all right.”

“How can you be?” Rosie sobbed. “Dad’s done that, how can you be all right?”

Jenna bent her head to hers. “Sweetheart, I’ve had nearly a week to come to terms with it. Bad things happen, my father died when I was much younger than you, and I thought I’d never get over it, but I did. And this is awful, I know, but you will too. We’re strong, we’ll survive it.”

“I want to come home,” Tom said suddenly. “I want to be with you both.”

Jenna looked up at him. He was flushed, tears on his face, her beautiful carefree boy. She knew she couldn’t protect her children from everything, but she was terribly aware that perhaps she should have done more to protect them from this. But what else could I have done, she cried silently. Once Saskia knew, most of St. Albans would have heard it by the end of the week. And it’s much, much better that the kids hear it from us rather than as gossip from their friends on Facebook or Twitter.

“Don’t you dare come home, Tom,” she said fiercely. “You’re on the trip of a lifetime, you and Joe, and you’ve got to make the most of it, whatever happens. I’ll be all right. Rosie will be all right.”

A muffled sob from her daughter indicated that this was unlikely to be the case, for a while at least. Jenna stroked her hair, and stared at her son, longing, in defiance of reason, to take him in her arms as well. “And besides,” she added, “I don’t think, from what he said, that Joe wants to come home early. And you’ll need each other. You’ve got each other. You’ll always have that.”

Tom looked down, and brushed his hand across his eyes again. With his floppy hair and sensitive, open face, he looked ridiculously young, and she saw again, like a palimpsest, the little boy who had cried at the end of The Snowman, and rescued ladybirds from the garden pond. “If you’re sure,” he said at last.

“I’m sure. Don’t worry about me, Tom, I will be OK, I promise.”

“If Dad’s going to live in New York, what’s going to happen to home? Will it have to be sold?”

Rick, of course, was still sitting beside her in the midst of all the anguish he’d created, rigid as a statue. “Yes,” he said briefly. “It’s going on the market next week.”

That caught Jenna by surprise, and Tom noticed it. “I bet you just can’t wait to dump all of us and start your new life, Dad,” he said, with a new and savage bitterness. “Joe was right, you really are a shit. And I don’t think I ever want to see you again either – or your precious Madison, or the baby. So you sod off to the States and we’ll forget we ever had a Dad, OK?” And he reached forward suddenly and switched the laptop off.

Jenna stared at the blank screen, tears running down her face. Rick got to his feet with a sudden, urgent movement. “I’m going out,” he said. She heard him blunder into the hall, and the slam of the front door.

“How could he?” Rosie was still sobbing. “How could he do that to us?”

“I don’t know,” said Jenna. The temptation to criticize Rick’s behaviour was very strong, but she had promised, and with an effort she resisted it. “He did it, for whatever reason, and he’s made his decision, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“It’s a good thing Joe’s in Australia,” Rosie said, sitting up. Her normally pretty face was red and swollen with weeping, and her mascara had smudged. “I think if they’d been face to face, he’d have thumped Dad.” Her expression changed suddenly. “Do you think that’s why he put off telling us until the twins had left?”

“I don’t know,” Jenna said wearily. She picked up her mug, but it was cold. “Shall I make some more? Nothing like a cup of hot tea to put you to rights, Nanna May always said.”

“I’d rather have hot chocolate,” Rosie said. “Can you make some with whipped cream, Mum, like you used to?”

So in the aftermath of disaster, Jenna stood in the kitchen whipping up half a carton of rather elderly double cream, while Rosie stirred spoonfuls of Green & Black’s into mugs of hot milk. They carried the mugs back to the sitting room, and Jenna drew the curtains against the encroaching dark, before settling down on the sofa. Her daughter sat down next to her, snuggling up as she had done when she was little. She said, “If this house is going to be sold, where will we live?”

Jenna had been dreading this moment, especially after Rick’s reaction to her plan. She said cautiously, “I’ve been thinking about moving to the cottage. To Orford.”

“You mean, living there? Not living here in St. Albans?”

“That’s right.”

Rosie sipped at the chocolate, a rim of whipped cream round her lips. She licked it off, and said, “I can see why you want to. It’s lovely there.”

“And of course it’d be home for you too – and the boys, when they come back. You can have the little room with the sloping ceiling, the one you slept in when we stayed there. You can decorate it, have it just how you want.”

“When we stayed there with Dad.” Rosie took a deep, shuddery breath. “Oh, why did he have to do it? Why weren’t we enough for him?”

“Rosie, sweetheart, he still loves you, I know he does. He’s divorcing me, not you and the boys. Whatever happens, he’ll always be your dad. You won’t lose him.” And he’d better bloody make sure that they won’t, Jenna thought.

“I know, but we’ve lost our family, haven’t we? We’re not a family any more.” Rosie sniffed miserably. “Never mind Joe wanting to thump him, I want to thump him.”

“Not very ladylike, sweetheart,” Jenna told her, in imitation of Patricia, and a wan smile was her reward. “What do you think? About Orford?”

Rosie was silent for a long time. Then she said, “None of my friends will be around. But I could stay with India, or Megan, couldn’t I? And once I’ve really settled in at uni, once I’ve grown up a bit, maybe it won’t matter so much.” She put down her empty mug, and hugged Jenna. “What matters most is what you want, Mum. Oh, don’t cry!”

Jenna wiped her eyes. “What have I done to deserve you?” she said, torn between laughter and tears. “Rosie Johnson, you are a lovely, thoughtful, considerate person, and I love you very much.”

“And I love you too, Mum, and you don’t deserve what Dad’s done.”

But did she? Jenna wondered, much later, when she lay in bed looking down the barrel of another sleepless night. She and Rosie had talked for a long time, thinking through their future, worrying about what was happening with the twins in Australia, until her daughter had received a text from Tom, saying that they were still upset and furious, but were going to take it out on the gym equipment at the local leisure centre.

“They’ll be OK,” Jenna had assured her. “They’ll probably go out on the razzle tonight and then surf till they drop tomorrow.”

This was confirmed by a phone call, an hour after the Skype conversation. Jenna picked it up, and heard her sister-in-law’s instantly recognisable voice. “Jen, is that you? I’m calling to say I’ve just heard what he’s done and you have my entire sympathy. He may be my brother but he’s a grade-A shit, and if he’s around, can you put him on, because I’m looking forward to telling him exactly what I think of him, in no uncertain terms.”

“Sorry,” Jenna said. “He’s gone out, and I don’t know when he’ll be back, I’m afraid.”

“Stormed off in a huff, has he, when the shit hit the fan? Well, he won’t escape me forever, I can tell you. What a foul thing to have done. Are you OK?”

“Yes, I’m OK, Jules. Well, sort of. I’ve got Rosie here, we’re comforting each other.” A thought occurred to her. “How did you know?”

“Dave in Oz. Apparently your boys are in a right old stew.” Jules’s use of slang seemed to have regressed since her move to France, as if she thought that old fashioned phrases reinforced her Englishness. “So Dave asked them what was wrong, and they told him. Lucky for Rick he’s not in reach of Joe’s fist, apparently. But Ash and Erin are there, the sun’s out and the surf’s up, and that’ll take their minds off it all, I expect. Anyway, I thought I’d ring and offer you my full support. If you want a bolthole to lick your wounds, you’ll always be more than welcome. And if Rick gives you any more trouble, just give me a call and I’ll sort him.”

Jenna had no doubt that she would: Jules never minced her words, and when her ire was aroused, she could be a tornado of fury and recrimination. She would say all the things that she herself, for the sake of the children, did not feel able to give vent to, and Jenna would give a considerable sum to be a fly on the wall when that happened. She thanked Jules, was able to talk quite calmly about her Rick-less future, and told her that she’d love to come and stay once everything had been sorted out. To her relief, Rick’s sister approved her plan to move to Orford. “It’ll do you good, give you something to think about, force you to rebuild your life. I just hope Rosie and the boys can get over this.”

In bed, thinking about it, Jenna suspected that in the end, they would. At least they now had lives of their own, that didn’t revolve around their tight little family unit any more. And they had her – no matter where she lived, it would still be their home, the place that, when you had to go there, had to let you in. She didn’t think that Rick’s new apartment in the States, inhabited by his young lover and their baby, would ever be ‘home’ to their children. Despite her encouraging words to Rosie earlier, she knew that he had effectively cut himself off from them by his actions, and even if contact was eventually resumed, it would probably be years down the line, and on a very different basis.

When she thought of that, she could almost – almost, but not quite – pity Rick. He genuinely loved his children, even if he didn’t always show it, or behave as if he did, and he’d made them all hate him. Joe, in particular, bore a long grudge, and had a tendency to see things in black and white. The words ‘forgive and forget’ weren’t part of his vocabulary. Tom, more sensitive and nuanced, might eventually come round. And Rosie?

Jenna suspected that Rosie would prove to be the most mature of her children, despite being the youngest. With another girl, the lure of a baby sibling might have proved powerful, but her daughter had never shown much interest in small children. Still, she could envisage her making the journey to New York some time in the next few years, if only out of curiosity. For herself and Rick, of course, there would be no reconciliation. So somehow, over the next few weeks, she had to preside over the wreckage of her nice, secure, ordered life, and the formal dissolution of twenty three years of marriage.

And this time last week, she had had no idea whatsoever that her world and her children’s was about to end.

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