Kyle had been surprised to get an email from Janine, the wife of his brother Daniel. When Daniel had arrived on his doorstep, he wasn’t exactly a mess, but he had been struggling to understand why his wife of over twenty years would betray him as she had.
To Kyle, though, it wasn’t exactly a revelation. He had known the moment he saw her, just before the wedding, what type of woman she was. Definitely not monogamous. After all, he had seen her off and on during the six months he had been working in Washington, not only with Michael, but with several other men of varying degrees of importance, and not once as just good friends.
And, after he left, to get away from a toxic environment, and an equally toxic relationship with a woman he accidentally discovered was lying to him about not being married, he had learned that Janine had been having not one affair but several and that one, in particular, had exploded, forcing her to disappear back home or have her affair with Michael exposed to the world. It appeared Michael’s career had been more important than her reputation.
The fact she married Daniel as a face-saving exercise had not sat well with him and his last meeting with her was a very bitter row, and neither had spoken to the other since. Now that email came out of left field, leaving him wondering why she would send him an email, and how, in fact, she knew what his email was. Clearly, she still had particular ‘friends’.
He had left that email sitting unread in the inbox for two days, each morning the mouse pointer hovering over in, with the intention of reading it, and then, at the last second, passing over it.
There was nothing she could say to him that would justify what she’d done, and, he had told Daniel that in his opinion, he was better off without her.
On the morning of the third day, his curiosity got the better of him
There was no attempt at justifying what she’d done. Just advice that she would be arriving in London in two days’ time, and to ask if Daniel would see her so they could talk about their situation.
Terse, bordering on brusque, Kyle was equally amused and disappointed.
He sent an email back, terse, if not equally brusque, telling her not to bother, that Daniel had already assumed she would try and patch things up, and he was not interested.
She simply replied she had to come to London and gave him the flight number and the estimated time of arrival.
Kyle made two decisions, both of which he was going to regret. The first, he didn’t tell Daniel that Janine was coming over, and the second, he would go to the airport and tell her in person she was wasting her time.
Thus, standing outside in the arrivals area, he waited. The plane was late, nothing unusual there, and calculated he had time for a coffee and a scan of the paper before she appeared. When she did, about an hour after the plane touched down, the thought he might not recognize her was instantly dispelled. Last time he had seen her, she had been drop-dead gorgeous, and time had done nothing to dent that beauty. She had only one small case, so she had traveled light, also unexpected.
There was no smile, just a frown, as though the delay in arrival was just another annoyance among many. He could see her quickly scan those who were waiting for other arrivals, and picked him out almost instantly. He watched her approach, then stop in front of him. There was not going to be hugs or any sort of greeting.
“It’s been a long time, Kyle. I must say I wasn’t expecting you to come to the airport.”
“I wasn’t, but I didn’t think a phone call would suffice. You’re wasting your time.”
“Is that Daniel speaking, or you. If I recall, you never did like me very much.”
“I thought I made my position very clear. It seems I wasn’t wrong.”
“Twenty years, Kyle.”
“A leopard doesn’t change its spots, whether it’s twenty days, twenty months or twenty years. Aside from that, you say you’ve done it once, but in living that lie, what else have you lied about because as far as I can tell, nothing you say can be believed.”
“It was once, and it was a mistake.”
“And there you have it. I don’t believe you, and neither does Daniel. And before you tell me I’ve poisoned him against you, don’t. You did that all yourself.”
“Is that it?”
“Yes. I’m done. Don’t bother us again.”
Kyle was not sure what Janine had expected of him or what she hoped to accomplish. Why hadn’t she simply contacted Daniel direct? If she could get Kyle’s email address, surely she could get Daniel’s phone number, unless Daniel had replaced his existing phone with a burner. Now that he thought about it, Daniel’s call to tell him he was coming to see him was from ‘No caller ID’, clearly an indication he had no intention of talking to her.
Now that she was here in London, perhaps it was time to tell Daniel. The last thing he wanted was for Daniel to think his brother was also not telling him the truth, especially if she did have a way of contacting him.
He pulled out his phone and called.
“Where are you?” When Daniel answered, it didn’t sound like he was at home.
“I went for a walk, and now I’m sitting in a small park. It’s the weirdest thing.”
“No so much. The houses around you don’t have front or back yards, so they just share one. Look, I’ve been keeping something from you, and I shouldn’t have. Janine emailed me a week ago and said she was coming over. I told her not to, but she came anyway, and I’ve just seen her at the airport. I told her you were not interested in talking to her. I hope I haven’t spoken out of turn.”
Silence. Perhaps he should have told Daniel when he got the email.
“Why would she bother?”
Not the reaction he expected. “Perhaps she thought you could patch things up. The way you spoke when you got here, I didn’t think you would be interested, at least, not for a while.”
“I don’t know what to think, to be honest. I miss her, I hate her, I hate what she did, perhaps it was my fault.”
“No, don’t go down that path. You did nothing wrong, and you didn’t deserve what happened. She made the mistake, not you. She still insisted it only happened once, and it was a mistake.”
“She seemed very happy at the time, even when she saw him off, so I’m not quite sure how she could suddenly be so contrite. No, you were right Kyle. I don’t want to see her, at least not for a while longer.”
“OK. At least you finally got out of the dungeon and getting some fresh air, or as fresh it can be. That’s a good first step. I’ll be home in an hour or so, and we can go out to lunch.”
It was a good sign, Kyle thought as he put away the phone. Perhaps they could talk further, see if he could find out what the real problem was with Daniel. There was something else weighing on his mind, something that was going to be hard to get him to talk about.
Three days later, and three emails to Kyle later, Daniel decided he would go to meet Janine, but on neutral territory, The Orangery at Kensington Palace, for afternoon tea.
It was a custom that Daniel knew would be lost on her, but he appreciated the nuances. In fact, in the time he’d been staying with Kyle, they’d been to Fortnum and Mason, Selfridges, and Harrods to sample their version. The best do far: Fortnum and Mason.
Kyle had offered to go with him to act as a buffer, but Daniel told him he could handle it. Since telling him of her arrival, Daniel had time to consider his position. And to promise himself he wouldn’t get angry.
He got there early, and had a pot of tea sitting on the table. He was having a blend that the Queen allegedly had, and it was quite good.
He saw her arrive at the doorway, scan the interior, find him, and then walk over. He didn’t get up. The gentleman had taken a holiday.
She sat, then said, “Hello Daniel.”
Before answering, he poured her a cup of tea, then said, “It’s the Queen’s special brew.” No hello back, just a neutral look in her direction. That everlasting beauty of hers radiated in the room, and more than one man had given her a subtle look as she crossed the room. It reminded him of how being envious, like that, had played a part in what he felt towards her. It should not matter, but it did.
She sipped it and made a face. Whether it was awful or too hot, he wasn’t going to ask.
“You didn’t have to come over here to see me. A phone call would have surfaced,” he sais, after another sip of his tea.
“I don’t have your new number.”
“You didn’t have Kyle’s email address, but that didn’t stop you. I suspect you have it, just not sure what my reaction would be if you rang it. You see, when you start lying, where does it stop?”
“I have never lied to you, Daniel. Not once in twenty years.”
“Perhaps then it’s not in the lies, but what you haven’t told me.” If she was going to entertain a battle of words or wills, this time he would fire back. Acquiescing because of the fear of offending or losing her was no longer a fear but a reality. He couldn’t make it worse.
“Then perhaps I should tell you what I haven’t said. I first met Michael in Washington. He dazzled me, far more than at University. I knew he was married, and still, I did what I did. Back then I didn’t care. Not until we became front-page news. Push came to shove, and I lost my job and my reputation. I came home, tail firmly between my legs, realized that if I wanted any sort of future it would have to be with someone like you. We didn’t meet by accident Daniel. We met because I wanted to see if what I had thought of you before I left, was still true. With Michael around, it was always hard for me to, well, be with someone else, or think about anyone else. But you always remained in the back of my mind, and, when I found out you were not going out with anyone, well, not seriously, I thought, what if…”
“… your second choice would still blindly accept you because he would think it was too good to be true?” I tried not to put any rancor into it and failed. Her change in expression told me she’d noticed it.
“No Daniel, you were never my second choice. You had always been my first choice, but I was too stupid. or too ambitious, to see what was right there in front of me. It took a huge humiliation to do that.”
Daniel was not sure if this was a confession, or a carefully stage-managed speech complete with the contrite inflections in her voice. If it was true, it might have been a revelation, but with his trust so broken, he was not sure what to think.
“Why fuck him then, in our house, in our bed?”
Blunt, perhaps, but he was not interested in being polite. He didn’t do anything wrong.
“Because I was a fool. We’ve been drifting apart the last few months, and I know there’s been stuff on your mind, but once, we used to talk about it. I had no idea what was happening at your work, and that’s on me, I guess I got too wrapped up in my own self-importance to notice. You can’t tell me that we were not falling apart.”
Be that as it may, it hardly seemed to Daniel to be an excuse for what she did. “You could have said something.” It was a lame reply. It was descending into he said she said, and not addressing the real problems.
“You could have talked to me. I don’t believe you were blind to what was happening.”
She was right, I hadn’t missed what was happening. But there was that small matter of pointing out what she had become, something I had been loath to do. Perhaps it was the time to say my piece and damn the consequences.
“Be that as it may, you said it yourself, you were too wrapped up in your own self-importance. You changed, and I didn’t like you’d become. You wanted the money, the mansion, the lifestyle, the New York penthouse weekender, and you’re welcome to it. That’s not who or what I am.” There, it’s done. Ten years too late.
Silence. No answer perhaps, or was it a case of the defense lawyer about to launch into a killer closing argument. He recognized the signs, the moment he’d taken one step too many.
“Yes, you’re right. And if that was the case, I’d not bothered to come over here, and try to convince you otherwise. You’ve heard of the expression, keeping up with the Jones’? Me, it was trying to keep up, and/or going one better. Ursula.” she shook her head. “I only realized what was happening when I told you about the penthouse. Your expression was the epitome of disapproval. Something else I’m guilty of Daniel, and something I’m not very proud of.”
There was just the right amount of contrition, and in a sorrowful tone. She had been the top student in her drama class at school and played some very convincing roles in the school’s productions. And, he’d noticed over the years, some of the roles she had played, with him, but mostly in front of others. At times Daniel felt like this was a performance.
She took a deep breath. Time, he thought for the closing argument, the one that would sway the jury. He’s seen her do it countless times before.
“So, I’ve said my piece, and I will say, I had anticipated your reaction. I’ve said I’m sorry, and I mean it. I’ve said it was a mistake, and it was. Like you, I’ve decided that I can’t stay in what used to be our home, for exactly the same reasons as yours. It will always remind me of the most shameful behavior. I told Ken to sell it, and everything in it. I told him to sell the cars, in fact, to liquidate all our assets. I’m not going home. I came here to be with you. I wasn’t lying when I told you, you were my first choice, and over time, my only choice to be with until the day I die. That will never change no matter what you decided today, tomorrow, or next week. I loved you then, I love you now, and I will always love you. I want you to think about this: there’s a moment when it all comes together when you instinctive know that you’ve found the right person. That wasn’t Michael, it was you, Daniel. I knew the moment I first saw you, and then, that first day after I returned, that there was no one else. I’ve made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve hurt you but I would like the opportunity to make it up to you.”
She took a sheet of paper out of her handbag and slid it across the table. Daniel unfolded it. A for sale notice on a property in Tuscany, a town that seemed vaguely familiar to him, Arezzo. Or near there.
“It’s a disaster. But I thought you and I could live there, fix it up, and get to know each other, properly this time, without any of those people I know you dislike. Just us, and a quiet leisurely life. I’m going there tomorrow. I hope you will come and join me.”
She stood. Closing argument completed; standing ovation from the gallery. Not.
“Thank you for listening to me. It’s more, I know than you think I deserve.”
Then she was gone. No one but Daniel watched her leave. It was not the in the manner of a woman who had thought she’d won.
Daniel spent the next four hours wandering around Kensington Gardens. He tried to tell himself that it was water off a duck’s back, but it wasn’t. It was that phrase, there’s a moment when it all comes together when you instinctive know that you’ve found the right person. He knew the first time he’s seen her, at school, a long, long time ago. She was right. He felt it again sitting in front of her. He wanted to be mad at her, he wanted to be angry for what she had done, but in the end, it didn’t really matter.
He would never be able to explain it, to himself, to his brother, to any of those at home that he could live quite easily without seeing any of them ever again. They belonged together.
And the thought of a few weeks, or months, or even years, in Tuscany held a great deal of appeal.
But, best not to go straight away. Perhaps give it a week. He’d look for a travel agent on the way back to Kyle’s place.
© Charles Heath 2020-2021