OLD TIES (STORY)
Looking at the map, Sophie could see James wasn’t far from Bath. No, not far at all.
Seated at her polished, chestnut, dining room table, she leaned forward, pressed her chin into her palm, and pondered.
“Just suppose I texted him,” she thought, ” Told him I had to go to a course in Bath for a couple of days and how about meeting up this evening?”
She heard Martin slamming the front door. Last night’s row had been even worse than usual. This morning, he’d hardly been speaking to her except to ask where the car keys were.
Well, then, why shouldn’t she? As soon as she heard Martin’s car rev up, she ran to the computer in the tiny, cramped office at home. She logged into the railway travel information website and there it was. Trains from Paddington to Bath: 1½ hours. Perfect. Even if James couldn’t meet her till, say, eight o’clock, he could easily spend an evening with her, or with any luck, maybe even the whole night?
It didn’t take long at all. She texted him to tell him of her planned arrival and suggested an elegant restaurant to meet in Bath that had been recommended only that week in her favourite women’s magazine. He texted her back immediately. He sounded surprised but said yes straightaway.He sounded keen. She felt a glow of excitement burn her cheek and rushed to pack a small overnight case.
By the time, Martin was at work, having his morning coffee, and studying the vagaries of the stock market, she was quietly settling into her reserved train seat on the 10.35 train from Paddington.
She wondered how he’d look. It had been nearly a year after all. Hopefully, he’d still look the way she remembered him: tall, muscular build, with jet black hair, greying wisely at the temples, and those strong, chiselled features she’d loved so much. It had all been in the e-mail, so unexpected after all these months, just as she’d almost given up hope ………
“I’ve just started a new job in Trowbridge,” he’d written, “I only come back to London to see Tina at weekends…” And then a few facts about the job, surveying property mostly, and then, there it was. “I miss you.”
And that’s all that Sophie had needed. Three tiny words that pierced her heart. OK, so he was still with Tina, but after all, hadn’t he written to her? Hadn’t he said he missed her?
She thought momentarily of Martin. She bet he wouldn’t miss her at all. She’d left him a note saying she’d been offered a last-minute place on a Jane Austen appreciation course in Bath. She knew he loathed literature so was bound not to delve further.
And she’d indicated whereabouts in the freezer he would find his dinner. And that was it. She pictured him sitting in front of the TV, with his microwaved dinner on his knee, and his beer. Well, for once, she wouldn’t be sat there with him, while he hogged the remote control and loudly answered all the questions on the quiz programmes before she’d had time to think.
At 12.00, the train pulled in to Bath Spa station with an elegant screech. There was nothing else to do but check into the small hotel she’d chosen in Marlborough Place. Mrs Simms, a small, round, motherly woman with grey curly hair and bright pink lipstick, showed her to a very charming Regency-style room, with a polished oak double bed and a jade-and-white flowered bedspread.
“We’ve put you in the double,” announced Mrs Simms, kindly. “All the single rooms go so quickly.”
Sophie smiled. A double was fine: more than fine, in fact. Once Mrs Simms had bustled out of the room, she lay on the well-upholstered bed and remembered another double room, not unlike this one. That was at Oxford, with James: their weekend away, a delicious secret.
But not long after that, he met Tina. And there were no more “have-it-away-days,” as he’d cheekily called their secret jaunts. Secret from Martin anyway. After all, until that point, James had been what he loved to call a “free spirit” with no-one to answer to. Of course, Tina had changed all that. Since he met her, Sophie barely heard a word from him. The odd text, the routine Christmas card but nothing really until today’s e-mail. “I miss you too,” she said aloud, addressing the oak wardrobe, fervently and sighed.
The afternoon passed quickly enough. There was so much to see in Bath. The waiters at the Pump Room were very attentive and admiring of the tall, slim, auburn-haired lady in the ivory-coloured suit at the corner table.
“Ah, you’re here to take the waters,” smiled one of the waiters, “We hope you’ll stay and enjoy the concert here this afternoon.”
And what with listening to the Mozart piano concert, and visiting the baths, the afternoon fairly sped. There was even time to do a little shopping. She found a striking, dark-blue tie in one of the smart shops near the Royal Crescent. “James would love that,” she said to herself, fingering the soft silkiness of the fabric, and imagining it against his deep, inviting eyes. A shiver of excitement ran through her stomach.
She returned to the hotel to shower, and dressed for dinner in an emerald satin, close-fitting, mid-length dress.
“You do look a picture”, beamed Mrs Simms, admiringly. “The taxi I’ve ordered for you is on its way.”
And so, here she was with five minutes before the appointed hour of eight at The Clarence Inn. She was shown to a secluded table at the back of the room, where smoky-orange lights diffused the restaurant with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
The waiter lit a small candle, brought her a glass of her favourite red wine, and she settled down to enjoy the occasion, congratulating herself on her cleverness in arranging this outing and waited.
“It’s so like James to be late,” she thought to herself, smiling, after 15 minutes had passed. “Typical. Any minute now he’ll rush in, all flustered and apologetic, running his hands through his floppy fringe. Maybe he’ll bring flowers…” He knew she liked white lilies, that would be why he was late. Trying to find a florist open at this time, silly goose. And she’d pretend to be offended, but then she’d forgive him, and flirt with him and tease him mercilessly until later back at the hotel when ………
She closed her eyes for a second, recalling their last bout of tender, energetic, passionate lovemaking. The touch of his sensitive fingers on her skin, the taste of his kisses and then … She moaned involuntarily.
A discreet cough made her open her eyes and look up. The waiter was standing there, looking awkward, “Miss Jones, there’s a message for you ………”
She looked at him, noted the concern in his kind eyes and understood.
“He’s not coming, is he?”
“No, I’m very sorry. He says he has to work late ……….”
And, in a flash, she knew. Tina had won.
She looked at her watch. 8.15 pm. There was still time. If she got a taxi back to the hotel now, made the driver wait while she picked up her things and take her back to the station, she could, she calculated, get home well before midnight. She’d have a bit of explaining to do but she could say the second day of the course was cancelled: poor attendance, illness of the tutor, something like that ………..
As she settled herself on the train, she thought “Might as well give Martin the tie.” James obviously didn’t need it. In fact, it looked like he had enough ties at home with Tina. Maybe he did miss her but he clearly wasn’t a free spirit after all. But by taking this trip today and seeing the truth for herself, perhaps, Sophie thought with a relief she found surprising, she was now free of an old tie after all. And suddenly, she found she couldn’t wait to be reunited with Martin and all his annoying but comfortingly reliable habits after all.