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Just Another Day
By Patricia Fawcett
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2011 Patricia Fawcett
All rights reserved.
'I FEEL TERRIBLE imposing myself on you like this,' Francesca said, sitting beside Selina in the people-carrier. Despite its size, akin to an army tank, there was still hardly any room to sit in it because of the children's seats, buggies and all the assorted paraphernalia that children bring with them. 'You have enough to do. Are you sure Clive doesn't mind?' A thought struck her suddenly. 'You have asked him, haven't you?'
'Of course. I do believe I mentioned it although he never listens. He's in a world of his own most of the time.'
'Not to worry. He's never at home anyway,' she went on. 'You know Clive, he practically lives at that office of his. Sometimes he doesn't get home until ten o'clock and he hardly ever sees the boys. When was the last time he read them a bedtime story? Who is this strange man they ask me.'
'No they don't. You're exaggerating. He's very good with them.'
'You're right and come to think of it I'm pushed myself to find time for the bedtime story. However, with all the hours he puts in if I didn't know him better I'd say he was having an affair with his secretary but thank God she's not the type. She's fifty if she's a day and she has a problem with her feet, poor darling, so she has to wear those dreadful shoes.'
Francesca smiled, grateful to Selina for trying to lighten things up, and aware too that she was as desperately uncomfortable as Francesca herself was with this awful situation. As to Clive having an affair, the idea was preposterous; Selina's marriage to the gentle giant was as solid as they come. Quite obviously though she had neglected to mention to her husband that she had invited Francesca to stay for a while and that made Francesca feel awkward.
She bit her lip and sighed, coming perilously close to asking Selina to pull over right away and let her out.
Selina, astute as always, read her mind.
'Will you stop worrying? You are such a worrier.'
'Is it surprising judging by what's happened to me recently?'
'I'm saying this for the very last time so listen to me. It's no problem at all having you to stay for a while so do shut up about it. We are looking forward to it,' Selina said, taking her hand off the wheel and patting Francesca's knee. 'You know how much Cosmo adores you. It's the least I can do, darling. I can't bear to think of you all alone in that house and I don't want David coming back to haunt me because I'm not looking after you.'
'He wouldn't dare. You do know he was scared stiff of you. He said that Clive deserved a medal for taking you on. Only joking of course,' she said quickly, sensing that her comment had not gone down well. 'You know he thought the world of you.'
'No, he thought the world of you, Francesca.'
She admired Selina greatly; she was one of those working mother miracles who take multi-tasking to a new height. They were about the same age, early forties, but that's where the similarity ended. Selina was a tall coolly attractive blue-eyed blonde, a solicitor specializing in family law, appropriate because she was mummy herself to three boys under five, Crispin, Cosmo and baby Charles.
As if that wasn't enough she was also keeper of a menagerie of small pets and wife to a successful husband who adored her and yet here she was finding the time and space to try to nurse a numb Francesca back to some sort of sanity. Selina had turned up trumps when all her other so-called friends had simply faded away, although to be fair to them it was probably just because they were embarrassed and didn't know how to handle it.
With no other plans and hating the thought of staying in David's house on her own – almost afraid to go into the sitting-room and look at the very chair where he breathed his last – Francesca reluctantly took up Selina's offer to stay with them on a short-term basis until she got herself together again.
'The traffic today is bloody horrendous,' Selina said, squeezing the car through a gap to take her rightful place at the lights, stopping and glaring at a helmeted man on a bike. 'I hate cyclists. I keep telling Clive that it is far too dangerous for him to cycle to work and to breathe in all the traffic fumes; they must surely counteract the good it does him. You must speak to him about it, Francesca. He might take notice of you.'
'No thank you. I'm not getting involved.'
'I didn't think you would. You hate confrontation, don't you?'
'That doesn't sound like a compliment?'
'It wasn't meant to. The trouble with you is you're much too nice and smiley and you don't get anywhere in this world by being too nice or too smiley,' Selina said, setting off with scant consideration for the poor cyclist at her side. 'You just get trampled on, that's all. You have to develop an edge to your personality to succeed.'
'Oh I don't know.' Francesca felt bound to argue the point. 'I didn't do too badly in my job. I made it to a Senior Creative Director post, Selina, and I was never knowingly nasty to anybody.'
'You wouldn't know how.' Selina grunted, acknowledging that she had lost that point and changing the subject abruptly. 'Have you thought anymore about what you are going to do?'
'About what?' Francesca frowned. These days she was in such a daze that even simple questions eluded her.
'Well, for one, are you going back to work? Are you going to reclaim your job as Senior Creative Director?'
Francesca glanced sharply at her, at the way she emphasized the title, but Selina blithely carried on. 'I don't mean this very minute obviously, but when you've come round a bit. You were so good at the job that they must be missing you like hell. What have they said?' Selina asked, approaching the question most people were afraid to ask in her usual bulldozer fashion. 'I know you resigned and they gave you a farewell do and everything but your circumstances have changed now that you're no longer going to move up north so they should recognize that. Do you think you could have your old job back? If that's what you want to do of course.'
'They've already said I can have it back.' Francesca sighed, stopping herself from stamping on an imaginary brake as Selina approached a junction a little too fast for her liking. 'But I've said no. I can't go back there. They'll all be far too sympathetic and I can't face it.'
'Take it from me, they'll be sympathetic for one day and then it will be business as usual.'
Francesca turned abruptly away to gaze out of the car window at a world she was no longer seeing properly. Selina was probably right, but she wasn't going to let her dictate what she should or should not do. In any case, it would be too difficult to go back because they had wasted no time in appointing her deputy to her old job and it would cause no end of complications if she returned. Nor did she want to deprive poor Lorna of the opportunity that she had been waiting so long to grasp.
'I hope you've told Clive he needn't treat me like bone china in case I fall apart. I'm absolutely fine if people just pretend it hasn't happened.'
'You needn't worry. Believe me, darling, he'll hardly notice you're there. If he's not at the office, he's sitting in his study doing something fearfully exciting with figures. He's a walking calculator. His brain must be computer tuned.' She shot a glance at her. 'Have you told the office you're not going back?'
'Yes I've told them. Reading between the lines, I think it was a relief all round. I have to move on, but I need time to think so I'm not rushing into another job and a break from advertising would also be good, anyway. It's so frantic and stressful.'
'I always thought that it wasn't really the job for you,' Selina said. 'You're not the type. They're all either hard-faced bitches or guys with huge egos and you just didn't seem to fit in. You're too nice.'
'Will you stop saying that? It's not true anyway. I worked with some lovely people.'
'The trouble with you is that you have to see the good in everyone. How lucky though that you don't actually need to work,' Selina said lightly but, in her sensitive condition Francesca detected a slight irritation in her tone. Suddenly coming into money was not without its difficulties. She knew what people were saying. It did not look good David dying so early into the marriage and at his funeral they, his acquaintances and colleagues, looked at her as if it was somehow her fault, as if she, twenty years his junior, had exhausted him with her sexual demands. That was so far from the truth it was laughable for it was David who had come close to exhausting her.
It was just one of those things. A sudden massive heart attack and nobody was to blame, but try telling that to his friends. They blamed her, she knew that, but she had hoped that Selina wasn't one of them. She could not help it if David had left her comfortably off and it was not her fault either if Selina and Clive chose to live in this neighbourhood where the average price of a house was close to a million pounds. A pair of high flyers, they earned a lot between them, but they spent a lot too. Selina was always grumbling about money or rather the lack of it although that did not stop her from shopping like a woman possessed. Today she was wearing fabulous designer high-heeled shoes hardly suitable for driving the tank but she managed it with aplomb much as she managed everything.
Things, she prophesied, would only get worse once they had to start forking out big time for full-time private education. The charge for the little nursery Crispin and Cosmo attended was sky-high already, although it was perfect and Selina had not been averse to a little underhand dealing to secure them a place. It was a cut-throat world she explained to Francesca who had been more than a little horrified at the tactics and it was every mummy for herself.
With Selina's financial fussing uppermost in her mind Francesca knew she had to make an offer at least to pay her way whilst she was staying with them.
'Look, Selina, let's get one thing straight. I don't expect you to put me up for free,' she said, embarrassed to be saying it, but feeling it was necessary. 'Please let me contribute something whilst I'm staying with you. Let me get the weekly shop or buy you a case of wine.'
'The case of wine is tempting but for God's sake, Francesca, don't be daft.' Selina turned her attention briefly from the road ahead to smile at her. 'And don't you dare say that in front of Clive. We wouldn't dream of it. You are a friend and you are most welcome to stay for as long as you feel you need to. You only eat like a sparrow anyway. Look at you, there's nothing to you.'
'I've lost weight but that's because of all this,' Francesca said defensively because Selina was making it sound as if she was anorexic. 'The last thing you feel like is eating, believe me.'
'Of course it is. I shall make lots of filling pasta dishes and you'll soon pile on the pounds. As I said to Clive, if this had to happen to anybody then the best person it could happen to is Francesca. You've coped beautifully, darling. You were so gracious and composed and smiling at the funeral whilst I was a complete wreck.'
'I still can't believe it.' Francesca stared out unseeingly as Selina signalled and turned the final corner. 'It's all happened so quickly. One minute we were planning the move up to Yorkshire, the next ...'
'I know. He chose a very inconvenient moment to die. Typical of him.'
'I'm sure he didn't plan it.'
'Of course not although I am sure he would not have wanted to have a long drawn out illness so you can take comfort from that. I'm sure we would all go for the quick option given half a chance.'
'Selina, please ...'
'Sorry but it's true. Anyway, look on the bright side, it's saved you moving up to Yorkshire. Be honest Francesca, your heart wasn't in that move, was it?'
'I would have got used to it,' she said, anxious to defend herself even though Selina had hit a nerve. 'You should have seen the house we were going to buy. You would have loved it.'
'I would have only loved it if I could have moved it to London, darling. Catch me living up there.'
'It was a mansion. Two and a half acres. Goodness knows how we would have managed the upkeep. I said it was far too big, but you know what David was like.'
'I do indeed. You forget I knew him for much longer than you. Here we are. Home sweet home.' Selina swung the car into the drive. 'We've time for a coffee and a slice of chocolate cake before the boys get back. God knows we need something to cheer ourselves up.' She made no attempt to get out of the car, curtains of fair hair falling across her face as she hung her head, voice cracking a little. 'You mustn't mind me, Francesca. I know I joke and everything but it's just a front I put on. I still can't believe that he's dead either. He was so vibrant, so full of life.'
She glanced at Francesca, her eyes suddenly filling with tears, causing Francesca to step out quickly and head towards the house before it became a full-on Selina blub.
'Sorry, it just came over me,' Selina said, sniffing as she caught her up, fumbling with house keys. 'You're being so brave, darling, and I have no idea how you keep smiling.'
'It's what he would have wanted. Stiff upper lip and all that. In any case, my smiling helps other people.'
Selina looked unconvinced. 'He really has a colossal nerve doing this to you leaving you all on your own like this. He could at least have waited until you'd got yourself up to the new house and settled in. I can say this to you because we both loved him but you know as well as I do that, underneath that charming exterior, that husband of yours was one selfish pig. And if he's up there,' she gazed heavenwards. 'I want him to jolly well know it.'
There was a moment's shocked silence when even Selina realized she might have gone one step too far.
Rarely surprised by her friend, but knowing she meant well, Francesca laughed it off and, after a moment with her composure regained, so did Selina.CHAPTER 2
IT WAS AN unlikely match, destined to be short and sweet.
People were reluctant to say it out loud, but Francesca knew that this was what they had been thinking and, although many of his friends and colleagues were far too polite and respected David too much to voice it, she suspected there must have been considerable raising of eyebrows and shaking of heads when their engagement was announced. Francesca was overjoyed, showing off the precious antique ring to the girls at work, smiling at the expected shrieks of delight, happy to ignore what they might be saying behind her back.
As a man in his early sixties, if David had followed the usual pattern his wife would be close to that age, maybe a well preserved blonde from a privileged background who would wear expensive dresses or casual gear with equal aplomb. Content to be a homemaker rather than a career woman, she would be mother to a batch of grown-up sons and daughters, all of whom would have done incredibly well in their careers. She would undoubtedly be a grandmother by now and she would be at her happiest surrounded by dogs and grandchildren, in that order, and she would complement David beautifully. She would be able to up her game when required, talk with ease to the other high-ranking members of his profession – David Porter was a senior barrister – and all his friends would agree that Felicity or Pippa was a good sort with an excellent pedigree and wasn't David lucky to have her.
Francesca, petite and softly spoken with light brown hair and eyes the colour of dark chocolate was young enough to be his daughter. Worse, she was a senior executive in the world of advertising, could boast of no grand family connections and, therefore, did not fit the bill socially at all. That was why she turned down his proposal at first, laughing to cover up her surprise.
David did not return her laughter for he was deadly serious.
'I'm not doing this lightly, my sweet,' he told her, taking her hand in his. They were in the candlelit depths of the restaurant, a table for two in a discreet lovers' corner and she might have guessed it was coming. She might have guessed from the suppressed excitement in his eyes from the moment he had picked her up that evening. She had fussed over what to wear, maybe suspecting it would be no ordinary dinner, and she had chosen a dark grey softly draped dress and, because it was cold outside, a pretty faux-fur wrap.
It was David's favourite restaurant where he had dined alone for many years and she sensed that the waiting staff was collectively holding its breath, poised to bring the champagne as soon as David gave the signal. 'I've thought about this long and hard and more than anything I want you to be my wife, Francesca. I've never done this before and you have to say yes or you'll break my heart, my darling.'
Excerpted from Just Another Day by Patricia Fawcett. Copyright © 2011 Patricia Fawcett. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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