The Replacement Wife (part one - Rebecca - V.)
By Juliet OC
V. Flynn and I weren’t on the same table at dinner, not that I expected us to be. He was sat with Brian the Chief Exec and Alfie the useless Curriculum Director, along with a number of Governors. I could see the back of his head from where I was seated next to Eric, who was wearing a red bow tie, which made his cheeks even redder.
“Did your mum choose your tie?” I said to Eric, winking at Sara. She was sat next to Rob, who looked every inch a lawyer in his designer suit and gold cufflinks.
“Is it obvious,” Eric said, stuttering slightly.
“You look very smart.” I patted his hand.
“And you look stunning,” he replied, his hand shook as he lifted his wineglass.
The starter arrived. Eric put down his glass. “Flynn said you are pleased with the software I developed. I can work it on further - make it do exactly what you want. I was thinking about the fees…”
I wagged my finger at Eric. “Eric? You’re not going to talk about work are you? It’s forbidden.” I glanced at Sara, with a save me from the IT geek look, but she was staring into Rob’s eyes.
“Sorry,” Eric mumbled. “I’m not so good with small talk. I… I get tongue tied, or say something stupid.”
“What do you do when you’re not at work?”
He looked down at the starter, a forlorn piece of melon. “You’ll laugh at me.”
“I won’t I promise,” I said, finally catching Sara’s eye.
“I go to Doctor Who Conventions,” he said.
I turned to Sara, mouthing. “Oh my god!” and then back to Eric. “Whatever floats your boat. Me - I prefer shopping.”
Rob picked up on Eric’s embarrassment and began to rib him, if a little cruelly, but then he was a rugby player. Rob was good looking in square jawed forgettable sort of way. He and I got along, but I never remembered what it was we had talked about.
I stared at the back of Flynn’s head, willing him to turn around and make eye contact. If everything is connected and we are meant to have met, like he said, then he will turn around on the count of five: one… two… three… four… I couldn’t believe it, he stood up. My heart ran away with itself. Five. He turned, his eyes lingered. He smiled. I smiled back. My stomach flipped over a million times.
After that obvious sign from the universe, I was too excited to eat another thing. It was the same as last year’s menu anyway – a bit of dried out chicken with an overly sweet chunky tomato garnish, rubbery roast potatoes and mushy baby carrots. I surreptitiously checked my phone nestled in my gold clutch bag along with a small can of hairspray, lip gloss and perfume. It flashed to indicate a text.
#You look incredible.#
My cheeks went hot. I tapped out a cute reply.
#I hope that means you won’t be too embarrassed to ask me to dance, later xx#
I slid my phone onto my lap and re-joined the conversation on the table, willing the next hour or so away.
After the speech, in which Brian thanked all the teaching staff for their hard work in the face of severe cuts to provision, and the support staff for the invisible but vital work they do, making a special reference to Flynn and the improved state of the funding provision, the lights were dimmed and the music started. At this time of the evening a lot of the ‘oldies’ made for the exit. What happened to some people when they reached forty that they’d rather be at home than partying? That was never going to happen to me.
I had a dance with Sara and a couple of the girls from admin. I knew where Flynn was at any given moment, who he was talking to and whether he was laughing or looking serious. Every now and again our glances would coincide and my heart would speed up. Finally, at near to midnight, Flynn was alone at his table clutching a glass of whisky. Brian and the governors had gone home. I plonked myself down on the chair next to him. The disco lights flashed in red, green and blue across his face.
He reached out and touched my cheek. “Your hair’s in your mouth.” He lifted a strand of hair from my lip and tucked it behind my ear. I shivered.
“You cold?” he said.
“Just happy,” I replied.
“You always shiver when you are happy?”
“Clearly.” I lay my hand on the table near to his.
He rolled his drink around in his glass. “You really do look beautiful.”
“Thank you.” I leant towards him and tugged at his bow tie. It unravelled. “Very impressed.”
“If I admit Maddie did it up for me, will I lose credibility points?”
Was his mention of Madeleine intentional? Had I read the signs wrong all these months?
I sat back in the chair. “How is she? Madeleine, I mean?”
He undid his top button. His eyes didn’t leave my face. “It’s nice to get away for the night. Do something normal.” He leant forward to shorten the gap between us again. “I don’t know how I would’ve coped these last few months without you.”
I blushed and ducked my head. “I haven’t done anything.”
He tipped my chin up. His fingers lingered. My lips parted. I forget all about Madeleine and my principles. I just wanted him to kiss me. He let go.
“She’s changed you know. She’s different. The cancer has changed her. Made her harder. Less patient. Less… feminine.” He shrugged. “I don’t want to talk about Madeleine tonight, or about cancer, or about dying. Make me laugh. Make me forget everything Rebecca.”
“Let’s dance,” I said, tugging him to his feet as Robbie William’s, Angels started.
We reached the dance floor. I put my arms around his neck. With my shoes on we were the same height. I had dreamt about this moment for so long, I was weak and giddy with the reality of it. Flynn held me steady. I rested my head on his shoulder and breathed in his manly smell. His hands rested in the small of my back, heavy and hot. Our bodies pressed together, I didn’t want to the song to end. I didn’t want to break away from him.
By the time we left the dance floor we were changed, and we both knew the line had been crossed. Joining the survivors in the remnants of the ballroom, we played a drinking game sharing shots of tequila. I leant against Flynn’s hard chest, my hand rested lightly on his thigh. At some point Sara whispered she and Rob were leaving. I knew I was staying. We didn’t need to talk about it. A little later the concierge appeared and asked us to start making our way home.
“Don’t go,” Flynn breathed in my ear.
The walk from the foyer to his room lifted the hairs along my arms. Standing at his door as he clicked the key-card into the reader, I trembled. We stepped inside his room and the door thud shut behind us. I turned to him, the darkness close and warm.
He moved away from me towards the two armchairs under the window. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and discarded it on the windowsill.
I followed him and sat in the chair opposite. Our knees brushed against each other.
He raised his eyebrow. “I’m not… I don’t usually do this… It’s just… you...”
I leant forward and placed my hands on his thighs. The muscles were firm and smooth.
“It’s just… we don’t… I’m not her husband anymore. We haven’t… not for a long time… I miss the closeness…” He had tears in his eyes. I reached up and brushed his cheek with my thumb.
“I loved her so much,” he said, trying to explain the unexplainable. “She’s not the same. It’s not the same.”
I smiled at him. “It’s OK. You don’t have to explain anything. I’m here for you. I always said I would be.”
“But… I can’t give you anything. She needs me. I wouldn’t . I couldn’t leave her.”
“I know,” I said. “I wouldn’t expect you to. I wouldn’t like you very much if you did.”
“Why then. Why are you here?” He grasped my hands in his and stared into my eyes. I could see the longing in his. It reached into the pit of stomach.
I stood and pulled him to his feet. “Stop talking and kiss me. Please. Kiss me.” I know I was drunk, but I wanted this and always had for the first moment I met him.
He ran his finger down the side of my neck. His pupils were large, and, I imagined, mirrored my own. “I want to.” His breath was hot on my cheek. “I want to,” he repeated. “But I could never hurt her.”
“She doesn’t have to know.”
His face inched closer to mine. I closed my eyes. The room phone rang. I jumped, banging my head against Flynn’s nose.
“Fuck,” he said, dropping his hands from me and grasping his nose.
“Oh god, I’m sorry.”
The shrill ring continued. Neither of us moved. And then it stopped and the silence it left behind was heavy with our breathing.
“Where were we?” I said, my voice was husky and full of need.
“I was about to kiss you,” he said, and this time we did and it was everything I had imagined it would be, and when he lifted me up and carried me towards the bed, I didn’t care that he was married or that I was doing something wrong.
I knelt up and reached for the zip down the side of my dress. He stood back as I shrugged it from my shoulders.
The phone rang again and this time he lunged for it. “It’s nearly 3 am,” he said, and then his body deflated and for a brief second I imagined the news was that his wife had died, until he mumbled. “My dad? Heart attack? Yes. I will.”
He put down the phone and sunk onto the edge of the bed. I crawled across it and placed my hands gingerly on his shoulders.
He started shaking his head and a moan came from deep inside him, like wind through a warped door. “No, nooooo, no.”
“Oh Flynn. I’m sorry. Is he…?”
He stood up, shaking free of me. “I need to get there.” He patted down his pockets. “Where’s my phone?”
I got off the bed and crossed the room, picking it up from the windowsill, pulling up the straps of my dress and covering my breasts. “Here.”
He grabbed it and switched it on.
“I’d better go,” I said.
He pressed the phone to his ear. “Maddie? What happened? When?” He strode into the bathroom. I heard him gathering his things from the sink. “The battery was dead. I left it in my room. No, I’ll go straight there on the train. Yes. I’ll meet you there.”
I slipped from the room, clutching my shoes. The door clicked shut behind me. Hot tears burned my eyes. Damn it – why did his dad have to have a heart attack tonight of all nights? Once cocooned in the lift I let myself cry big, fat tears and I didn’t care that I was being selfish, or that my mascara had run.