This is an excerpt from Lois Elsden’s book, Lucky Portbraddon:
Alex had arranged to meet Alison at the Leesbrook Hotel, neutral territory. She brought Jess with her and it rather irritated him, as if she should need a bodyguard! But to be fair to Jess, she went and sat in the conservatory surrounded by towering palms and bromeliads while Alex and Alison sat at a low table in the bay window of the lounge.
Alex ordered cream tea, tiny sandwiches, a cake stand of fancies and miniature scones and wafer thin biscuits. Alex had a parallel conversation running in his head. ‘Alison, you look lovely.’ ‘Thank you, Alex, you’re looking well, but rather pale, are you taking care of yourself…’ But of course the real conversation wasn’t like that.
Alison had her hair tied back in a jaunty pony-tail and was wearing less make-up than she used to. He noticed a scatter of pale freckles across her nose. She was quite big now and he wondered how pregnant she was; he couldn’t ask, but terrible calculations and their implication banged in his head like a migraine. Had she slept with Antoine while she was still living him? When had Alex last made love to her, could her child be his child?
Unlike Antoine, he’d never had difficulty in fathering children; his first wife had two pregnancies, both ending in early miscarriage, and Alison had lost a child at ten weeks between Bella and Cressie… seven children… he could have had seven children…
“Sorry, Alison, what did you say?” his mind had drifted and he was gazing absentmindedly at her knees, remembering how he used to love to run his hand…. no, stop, stop! He flushed.
“Are you alright, Alex? You don’t look well?” she asked and he was pathetically touched by her concern, even if it was only common politeness.
She sat back and sipped her tea as if distancing herself from the sympathy she seemed to have shown. Alex felt wounded and looked out of the window at the autumn garden. It looked dreary and sad, and somehow shabby… a little how Alex felt himself
“How is your writing going?” she was merely making conversation before they began to discuss what they were here for.
“Very well, actually… I use Noah’s spare room, I’m writing in long hand, I can’t quite believe how well it’s going… but of course, you don’t really want to know, do you? You’re not really interested at all, are you?” he stared at her.
Now she looked out of the window, looking slightly bored; her face was a little plumper, her rounded cheek and full mouth were utterly enchanting to Alex and he ached with a bitter love and desire.
“So,” she said softly. “So what are we going to do about Bella?”
“So what do you want, Alison?”
“She is determined she wants to leave me and live with you. It’s all she talks about, it upsets her… it upsets me too.”
“Yes, I can understand that. So what should we do? What do you want?”
“What do you think, Alex? Don’t keep asking what I want, it’s not about me!” She was very angry.
He held his tongue, jaw clenched, breathing slowly trying to calm himself. He was almost overwhelmed with emotion and very near to tears. All he wanted was for his family to be reunited. There would be no recriminations, no blame, and whoever was the father, the unborn child was a Portbraddon.
“How about if we try Bella staying with me part of the week and with you the other part? I’m going to be living in Easthope, I won’t be far from the school, and not that far from you if there’s a problem.”
She set down her tea-cup forcefully so the dregs slopped into the saucer and the spoon tumbled to the floor. “And what about Ella and Cressie? What about your other daughters, or don’t you care about them?”
“Of course I care about them! I love them, adore them, I’d give my life for them! How dare you suggest anything else!” and annoyingly tears sprung into his eyes. Alison apologised then leant forward and took up a couple of sandwiches. “I’m more than happy to have all three girls, if that’s what you mean. It would be the next best thing to – ” and a tear rolled down his cheek.
Alison looked away as if embarrassed but when she looked back there were tears in her eyes too.
“Let’s just talk about Bella for the moment,” she said gently. “Yes… as you suggest, let’s try her staying with you for part of the week.”
“Thank you,” he said meekly.
She took another couple of the tiny bite-size sandwiches and a little cake. Alex poured more tea and they sat in silence for a little while.
“How about if she is with you during the week, and comes back home on Friday for the weekend?”
Alex was astonished, it was more than he’d expected from her. “That would be wonderful, thank you so much, darling!”
Alison sipped her tea, looking out into the garden; was Antoine out there, Alex wondered, was that why she kept gazing out? He looked into the dying afternoon but there was no-one… He could see Alison reflected in the window.
“I wonder, Alison… when could I see Ella and Cressie?” he was humble
She picked up the plate of sandwiches and began to eat them methodically. “Maybe if you collected them after lunch on Sunday and dropped them off at bed-time and Bella could go back with you?”
Not enough, not nearly enough… but he would accept it…
“We’ll see how it works… let Bella settle and decide where she really wants to live,” Alison plainly thought her daughter would change her mind and return to her. “This is not necessarily a permanent arrangement. Knowing her she’ll probably want to come back to me and her sisters…”
“Thank you, Alison. I miss them so much, sometimes I can’t bear it – “
“Yes, well, I’m sorry…” she clearly wasn’t.
He wanted to take her hand to help her from the chair as she struggled to her feet but he daren’t touch her. He wanted to press his face to her hand and beg her not to leave, not to go…
He watched her walk away, so elegant. He picked up her scarf and held it to her face… Every sort of emotion flooded and he could have burst into tears right then, he wanted to eat the scarf, stuff it into his mouth, tear off his clothes and rub it over his body. He held it against his eyes and the silk was wet with his tears. He moaned out loud, sobs rising in his throat… he choked them back, and put the scarf down, embarrassed by his loss of control.
Jess was staring at him from the entrance to the conservatory… He turned to gaze out of the window, utterly humiliated. Was Antoine out there in the dusk, staring into the brightly lit room, seeing Alex in his agony? Did he feel guilty, did he pity Alex? Or was it the old competitiveness, did he feel triumphant, the winner in this sordid war?
Alison returned looking calm and unruffled; she’d retouched her lipstick, a pretty pale strawberry colour.
“I’m sorry you’re so upset,” she replied, picking up the plate of biscuits.
“It’s not too bad most of the time, but sometimes I just get overwhelmed,” he was grateful for her pity, how much lower could he sink?
“How’s Noah, how’s his face?” she asked. “He’s been wonderful with the boys, they adore him.”
“He is wonderful, he’s my rock, I don’t know how I’d have managed… His face is ok, I wanted him to have plastic surgery… but he won’t… ” Alex drank some tea. It was cold. “He has a band you know, he’s so talented – he sings, plays weird instruments, writes the music… I’m amazed, I never guessed.”
“Are you seeing anyone?” Alison asked, looking at him for the first time since she’d returned.
“Not really, I’ve taken a girl from the estate agent’s out a couple of times… but… but… ” he sighed and said no more. Nadifa could not be more of a contrast to Alison, in appearance, in intellect and character, almost the polar opposite… but that wasn’t why he’d asked her out.
“And Ismène? Are you seeing her as well?”
“Not in that way… She’s a friend, that’s all, a friend… My life is shit, you know? Shit.”
The garden had become invisible, all Alex could see was the reflection of the room. He wondered if Jess was still watching him, wondered if she would tell Alison what she’d observed.
They discussed arrangements, and Bella would come and stay with him at Noah’s. Alison was attacking the scones now, eating the cream and jam with a spoon from their little glass dishes. There was something erotic about the tip of the spoon sliding between her lips, the glimpse of her tongue, the slow blink as she ate.
Alex felt sick.
“Please don’t stare at me,” Alison said quietly. He blushed and apologised, embarrassed again.
To his surprise she suggested he pick up Bella the next day, but he mustn’t spoil her, he must keep her routines.
“Oh yes, doing homework, eating up her dinner, going to bed at the right time, all that sort of thing. I’ll do whatever you say, darling.”
The endearments were irritating her, he could see and she told him rather severely that this arrangement wasn’t a holiday for Bella and he dared ask if perhaps, maybe, when he had moved into the house in Dark Fort Drive, if the other two might be allowed to stay. He had every right to see his children, but he wanted Alison’s approval.
In a quiet voice he asked when the baby was due; she looked at him suspiciously.
“I’m only being interested, I just wondered…” his voice trailed away.” I shouldn’t have asked.”
He was staring at her ankle, she wanted to turn her knees so he wouldn’t be able to but that would have been too obvious. He was so sad she saw, she felt guilty and it made her cross.
“I guess you don’t know if it’s a boy or girl?”
“Actually, Alex, we’re expecting twins,” she replied coolly and turned to look out of the window into the darkness again. She didn’t want to see his expression, but of course he was reflected in the glass. He was heartbroken.
He was silent. He looked so young, younger than his years; he’d had so many tragedies in his life, his parents, his son, his failed marriages… but she hardened her heart.
She picked up the last couple of cakes, and then struggled to her feet; he reached to help her but she pretended she didn’t notice.
They began to move towards the entrance where Jess was waiting, eyeing him venomously as if he’d done something wrong.
“Alison, my only desire is for the girls to be happy – and for you to be happy too… Alison I – “
“Don’t! Whatever it is, don’t say it, I don’t want to hear it.”
Stung he looked away.
“OK, so you don’t want to hear it, so how about letting me hear something. Are your babies mine? Or were you screwing him when we were still together?” he turned to her and suddenly he was angry, strong and fierce. He wasn’t weak at all, he just loved her.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” she snapped. “Goodbye – and don’t walk with me, I’m going home, I don’t need you to walk with me to the car.”
“Or anywhere – you don’t need me at all, do you?”
He grabbed her by both arms and kissed her swiftly then thrust her away and marched past her, past her sister and out into the car park. It was only when he had reached the distant overflow parking area that he remembered he’d left his car at home and had taken a taxi. He strode on until he was among the trees. A branch whipped across his face and he began to cry.
Copywrite ©Lois Elsden
If you want to find out how Alex and Alison came to be in this situation and what happens to them after this meeting, here is a link to Lucky Portbraddon:
If you have not read Lois’s other books, follow this link: