Excuse me whilst I do a little happy dance in my jim jams!
The final chapter is finished! There is the small matter of a prologue and epilogue to write but that will have to wait until after I come back from a little weekend jaunt to Cornwall with my chums.
So, no time to write anything on here today as I have a tons of things to do.
So without further ado here is part 22. And I know that you are probably fed up of me saying this but apologies for any blindingly obvious errors but this is as they say hot off the press and is the first draft.
If you fancy proof reading my little story please give me a shout!
Maggie Thornden, where are you?
Gordon was being secretive but wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding it. Maggie had known him long enough to know that something was afoot. He was whistling around the house and giving her the odd peck on the cheek for no reason. He was also quick to close his laptop lid whenever she took him a drink or popped her head around the box room door which he had turned into his study.
“Looking for a new woman?” she would tease him. Gordon’s response always went along the lines of “It’s just work” “Just checking up on the cricket” or “Damn, you’ve rumbled me!”
Whatever it was, it must be something good to have put him in such a good mood. He seemed a little down a few weeks earlier. She wondered if he was worrying about the radiotherapy treatment that was starting in a few weeks’ time, but when she asked him what the problem was he mumbled something about there being a few problems at work, so it was good to see a smile back on his face. Maybe he was planning a nice meal out to celebrate their anniversary the following week? They usually didn’t bother, although the previous year, because it was their 30th anniversary, he had taken her to a very nice hotel for afternoon tea that catered for adults only. Unfortunately their tea on the terrace was spoilt by annoying wasps and Gordon moaning about dry macarons and that there were too many old people blocking walkways with their rollators!
Maybe he was just being cheerful for no reason at all? She quickly dismissed that idea. No, there was definitely something going on!
The two of them were sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast on the Friday morning before their anniversary. Gordon was just finishing his bowl of bran flakes topped with blueberries and mixed seeds. At this point he would generally get up from the table, pop his bowl and mug into the dishwasher and finish getting ready for work. But he remained seated and pulled out an envelope from his pocket and handed it over to Maggie.
“What’s this?” she asked suspiciously
Gordon’s face gave nothing away “Don’t look so worried. It’s nothing bad but don’t open it until I’ve left for work.” And with that he got up from the table, gave his wife a peck on the cheek and left her staring at the envelope.
She waited until he’d reversed out of the drive and was on his way to the office before carefully opening up the envelope. Inside was a single piece of writing paper.
She read it.
Please pack the two suitcases that are in the spare bedroom cupboard. One for you and one for me. Make sure that you include some sensible walking shoes, a nice frock (for you obviously) and a pair of smart trousers and a short sleeved shirt for me. The rest of the clothes should be suitable for warm weather. Don’t forget to pack our swimsuits!
I will be home early afternoon. Please do not go food shopping this morning as normal but do ensure that we have something light to eat for lunch. We will be departing as soon as we have eaten.
PS Don’t worry about cancelling the milkman as it’s already been sorted.
Maggie stood and stared at the letter. So this was why he’d been acting strangely over the past few weeks. He’d been organising a holiday for the two of them. She’d assumed that there was to be no Cornish trip this year because it would clash with his radiotherapy and was resigned to the fact that they would probably not bother at all with a holiday.
The crafty bugger she thought before heading back to the kitchen and quickly tidying away the breakfast things. She looked through the fridge and vegetable rack to see if she needed to bin anything. Fortunately, as she usually did a big shop at Waitrose on Fridays, the fridge was pretty bare. There was just enough cheese to make them both a sandwich.
She headed upstairs and pulled out the two suitcases from the cupboard as Gordon had instructed her to do. They were both large. If Gordon was planning a short break he would either have left one large case or the two cabin size cases that they owned. She rubbed her hands together with excitement. They must be going somewhere for a week, possibly even two! She’d better make sure that she packed enough clothes to cover a fortnight. It was better to have too much than not enough!
But where could they possibly be going to. Sensible shoes meant walking. Gordon had always fancied a trip to the Lake District. Maybe they were going to stay in a lovely hotel and would need to dress up for a special anniversary meal. But then again he had stipulated packing clothes for warm weather. So it wasn’t going to be the Lake District or anywhere similar.
There was no time to hang about and guess where he was taking her. She needed to crack on and get packed!
Maggie was pottering about in the kitchen when Gordon got home in the early afternoon. She’d made some sandwiches and wrapped them in foil. Her thinking was that they could either eat them before they left, or if he was in a hurry then there would be something to eat during the journey.
Gordon popped his head around the kitchen door. “All sorted?” He asked trying to keep a straight face, but not quite managing it.
“What’s this all about Mr Thornden?” She quizzed him.
Gordon tapped the side of his nose “All will be revealed in due course Mrs Thornden. So, are we all packed?”
“Packed and ready to go, although it’s not easy to pack when you don’t know where you’re going or for how long, so if you discover that I’ve forgotten anything then that’s hard cheese matey. I’m not going to be held accountable if I haven’t packed enough underpants!”
“Not a problem. I’ll rinse my pants in the sink if need be.” He said and with that he disappeared upstairs to change out of his work clothes.
By mid-afternoon they were heading east along the M4. Maggie had been convinced that they would either head north or down to the south west, but she had never even considered a holiday outside of those areas. Gordon was saying nothing. He spent most of the time humming and complaining about middle lane drivers.
“London!” Maggie announced as they passed the junction for Windsor. So that’s why they needed comfortable footwear. They were going to do a lot of walking by day and maybe she had needed to pack smart clothes because they were going somewhere posh for an anniversary meal.
Gordon looked ahead, smiled and gestured zipping up his lips.
As they passed the exit for Heathrow Maggie craned her neck to watch the planes coming into land. It had been nine years since the two of them had last flew. That had been to Malta which had turned out to be a total disaster when their luggage never made it to the island and poor Gordon had suffered with food poisoning after eating a dodgy prawn, which meant he spent most of the holiday in their room with his head poised over the loo, whilst Maggie lay on a sun lounger by the pool getting very bored with her own company, or was eating by herself in the hotel restaurant. By the time Gordon felt better, it was pretty much time to go home. After that he vowed never to leave the country again.
Maggie had expected Gordon to continue into London so was surprised when he took the slip road onto the M25 and headed anti clockwise. So not London. Brighton maybe? Somehow she couldn’t imagine Gordon choosing Brighton as a holiday destination. Eastbourne though was a possibility.
Gordon spoke at last. “I’m going to need help here with directions Maggie. Look out for signs for Terminal Five.”
“The airport? But we haven’t got our…”
“Maggie, shut up and focus on giving me directions”
They came to an exit “This is it” she shouted “Now where?” There were so many signposts and she was beginning to panic.
“Look out for signs for the Sofitel Hotel.”
“There it is, over there.” Maggie squealed
“Fuck’s sake Maggie, be more specific” Gordon shouted
“Take a left NOW and if you’re going to get angry with me, just turn around and go home!”
But Gordon didn’t turn around. He followed the signs for the car park, took a ticket at the barrier and parked the car.
Without saying a word, he reached over to the glove compartment, opened it and pulled out two passports.
The tension between them a moment ago evaporated. Gordon held up the passports
“We’re going to need these!”
Gordon had set the alarm on his phone to go off at 4.30 but Maggie was wide awake well before then. She lay there trying to figure out where they jetting off to. She discounted anywhere tropical as she would have needed immunisation shots and she guessed that it must be somewhere that didn’t need a visa. So that left two options, either they were flying to Scotland which seemed unlikely, or somewhere in Europe, somewhere that you wore shorts and tee shirts and needed swimwear. She could probably rule out Scandinavia then.
She was contemplating creeping to the bathroom and looking up early departures from terminal five on her phone to try and work out where their destination was, when finally the alarm sounded … beep, beep, beep. Gordon moaned as he reached to turn it off and moaned again, louder this time, when Maggie turned on all of the lights and jumped out of bed.
“Morning darling. Fancy a nice cup of tea?” she asked,
rather too brightly for such an early hour.
Gordon grunted and pulled the duvet over his head.
An hour and a half later they stood in the enormous departures hall looking at one of the departure screens.
“This is so different than when we flew from Bristol” mumbled Maggie “It was much more straight forward there. All you had to do there was find the checking in desk with your flight details on it. Are we supposed to use any of these self-check-in machines or just certain ones?”
“Wait here and I’ll go and ask someone. Don’t take your eye off the luggage” ordered Gordon as he strode off in search of help. Moments later he returned. “Doesn’t matter apparently. Right let’s find the shortest line. Can you believe how much luggage some of these people have?”
Eventually after a wait in a line that had looked the shortest but had turned out to be the longer wait than the lines on either side due to some technical glitch with the machine, IT WAS Maggie and Gordon’s turn to check in their luggage. Gordon still hadn’t told Maggie where they were going to. She wondered if he had intended to keep her in suspense for this long, or was it because he’d got so caught up with getting checked in that he’d actually forgotten to let her know.
The machine spewed out the sticky baggage labels. Maggie caught sight of their destination airport code; FCO. She wracked her brain trying to work out where in the world began with those three letters.
Now that they were safely checked in, they had plenty of time to spare before their flight was due to take off, but Gordon was like a man on a mission and he marched quickly towards the security area.
This is ridiculous thought Maggie Where the hell are we going?
“Stop!” she called out to Gordon who seemed to have forgotten her and was about to join the queue for security. “Gordon Thornden, wait right there.”
Gordon stopped in his tracks and turned around to see his wife standing several feet away from him whilst people pulling cases scowled as they avoided walking into her. She looked small, vulnerable and overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of the situation.
He walked over to her and gave her an apologetic smile “Am I doing my Man on a Mission thing? I’m sorry, I’m just nervous about all of this and worried that we will miss are flight or
“It’s not just that you’re storming ahead. I just thought that by now you’d have told me where we are going.”
Gordon looked a bit puzzled. “But you do know. You saw the luggage labels when we stuck them put them on our cases.”
“I don’t know anywhere that begins with FCO. I thought Funchal but that doesn’t have an O in it.”
Gordon put his arms around her and whispered “FCO stands for Fiumicino. We’re going to Rome!”
The handsome young man driving the car from the airport seemed to be having a heated discussion on his mobile whilst weaving in and out of the traffic on the motorway at an alarming speed. Maggie and Gordon spent most of the journey holding their breath and braced for the collision that was bound to happen before they had even reached the city. Fortunately once off the motorway and onto the busy city roads, the driver had no option but to slow down and the two of them were able to breathe again and take in their surroundings. At first the streets were made up of non-descript apartment blocks, offices and shops but eventually these gave way to beautiful buildings rendered in ochre and terracotta. Tables from cafes and restaurants spilled out onto the pavements and tall pine trees that look like umbrellas gave some shade in the blistering heat. Their car rumbled over the cobbled streets and eventually turned down a narrow road and stopped outside a tall, narrow hotel.
The driver turned around in his seat and smiled. “You ‘ave arrived. Now you can start your wonderful ‘oliday in Roma.” Maggie sighed at the sound of his lyrical Italian accent.
Whilst Gordon sorted out paying the driver, Maggie stood and took in her surroundings. Scooters and dusty cars were parked on one side of the cobbled street. Through a gap in the stone wall opposite she glimpsed at what looked to be a Roman column. The aroma of garlic filled the air and from behind shuttered windows she heard radios playing, people talking, floors being vacuumed. People going about their daily lives just as she did, except this was Rome and not Gloucester!
They were too early to check into their room but the man behind the reception desk suggested that they leave their luggage and go and have some lunch. There was an excellent little restaurant just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel that served wonderful pasta. He offered to phone the restaurant to check that they had a free table. Maggie’s stomach was rumbling and she realised that the only thing that the pair of them had eaten so far since their very early start was a KitKat on the plane. Lunch sounded like a brilliant idea and took up the receptionist’s offer.
The food at the little restaurant was indeed excellent. The pasta was served simply with pecorino cheese and lots of black pepper. Gordon read in his guide book that it was a speciality of Rome. They shared a bottle of red wine between them and then with tiramisu served in glass jar the attentive and friendly waiter brought out two glasses of Prosecco. When Gordon explained that they hadn’t ordered the drinks, the waiter announced that they were for them with the compliments of the hotel.
The two of them were the last to leave. Maggie felt woozy from all of the wine and sat with her eyes closed and her face upturned to feel the warmth of the sun on her face.
“This is just magical. To think yesterday morning when I woke up I was planning on sorting out the kitchen cupboards this weekend.” She opened her eyes and reached for Gordon’s hand “I can’t believe that we are really here. We are actually in Rome!”
There was no reply from Gordon though. He had fallen asleep. Maggie stroked the back of his hand and gestured to the waiter for the bill.
They had only meant to have a short nap before unpacking their cases, but the early start and the wine at lunch time had taken its toll and the two of them fell into a deep sleep the minute their heads touched the pillows.
Maggie woke up first feeling slightly disorientated and very thirsty. She was aware of the gentle snoring coming from besides her and the muffled noises from outside. The air conditioning hummed and the room was cool. She sat up and swung her legs off the bed. The tiled floor felt cool underfoot. The shutters were closed and the light from outside filtering through the slats created stripes across the dimmed room. She padded over to the window, pushed it and the shutters open, flooding the room with the golden light of a setting sun and the noise of a scooter passing on the street below. The room had become chilly and the heat from outside felt delicious on her bare arms. She stood there for a while watching the world go by below their window.
Gordon stirred. “What time is it?” he asked sounding groggy with sleep.
Maggie looked at her watch. “It’s almost nine o’clock. We’ve been sleeping for hours.”
Gordon pulled himself up into a sitting position and stretched his arms up. His hair stood on end in places and there was the beginning of a five o’clock shadow where he hadn’t shaved that morning. “My mouth feels like sandpaper. Can you get me a glass of water please?”
Maggie poured them both glasses of water from the complimentary bottles of acqua naturale and came and sat on the edge of the bed next to Gordon.
“That’s better” said Gordon after slurping down the water greedily “ Right, I have a plan. Why don’t we go and get a gelato and then I want to show you something rather special?”
“Isn’t it a bit late to be eating ice cream?”
Gordon rolled his eyes in mock horror “Seriously Maggie Thornden! I thought that I was the old stick in the mud. We are in Rome, let’s let our hair down and do whatever we fancy. Right, pop your sandals on let’s get going. I’d better use the loo first. I have no idea if there are any public toilets where we are going!”
Maggie shook her head. She liked this spontaneous Gordon but there was no getting away with the fact that he was still her man with troublesome waterworks!
Night had fallen, but it remained balmy and Maggie regretted bringing her cardigan out with her just in case she got chilly. They ambled down the road eating their gelato from cardboard cups with tiny plastic spoons. Gordon had opted for pistachio and coffee, whilst Maggie had decided eventually after much indecision for cherry cheesecake and mascarpone and fig.
“Oy you, stop nicking my ice cream” scolded Gordon playfully as Maggie dug her spoon into his gelato. “Now if I’m right, when we come to the next corner, you need to look down the road to the left.”
They reached the junction. Maggie did as she was asked and squealed with excitement.
“Oh wow! Look Gordon, it’s the Coliseum.” Sure enough at the end of the road was the Coliseum lit up and looking spectacular against the night sky.
Gordon took her hand and the two of them walked briskly towards the ancient Roman amphitheatre.
The two of them sat on a wall and stared in silence and wonder at the remains of the building where once gladiators fought to the death and Roman citizens cheered as lions tore the limbs from poor victims condemned to death. Despite it being late, the area was still busy with tourists and every now and again hawkers would come and try to sell them colourful fluorescent tubes.
“Did you know that without those arches it would have been impossible to build such a structure and for it to stay standing. Clever people those Romans don’t you think. There used to be a statute in each of the arches and there was even a retractable roof. A bit like Wimbledon centre court I suppose but I don’t think it was ever used to stop the rain from getting the gladiators wet!”
Maggie had threaded her arm through his and was feeling blissfully happy. She rested her head on his shoulder. “My, my Mr Thornden, now you’re just showing off. How come you know all this?”
“You must know by now that you’re married to a genius and I am a font of all knowledge. I also happen to spend my lunch breaks sitting in my car eating the delicious sandwiches that you have made me and reading my recently purchased guide books. If there’s anything you want to know about any of the historical buildings in Rome then I’m the man to ask.”
Maggie stood up and started walking. She stopped, turned around and smiled at her husband.
“Right, Mr Clever Clogs, here’s a question for you. How do we get back to our hotel from here?”
Gordon shrugged his shoulders “Haven’t the foggiest.”
“Good job I bought the local map that the nice man at the hotel gave us when we checked in. Come on Mr Clever Clogs. Stick with me. I’ll get you home safe and sound.”
Maggie walked ahead and didn’t notice that her husband’s face had clouded over.
The following two days were spent exploring the city. Gordon had as expected thoroughly researched the city and drawn up an itinerary that meant they needed to be out of the hotel by 8.30 by the latest. Long queues had already formed outside the Coliseum and the Vatican museums, but Gordon had booked places on guided tours so rather than waiting in the early morning heat they were ushered through the fast track lines with the tourists in their small groups by their guides, Marco and Claudia. Gordon wearing his guided tour ear piece looked a bit smug as he strolled past those wilting in the other line, no doubt feeling rather pleased with himself for being so organised.
Maggie was grateful of her walking shoes as they walked from one site to the next. The city thronged with crowds of tourists and at times it was a case of jostling though people to get to see anything. Trying to throw a coin in the Trevi fountain was particularly difficult and Gordon wouldn’t have bothered if it wasn’t for Maggie insisting that they did. Failing to do so would mean having to live with the prospect of not returning to the city in the future. Taking her hand, he elbowed his way through the crowds sounding quite officious by calling out Scusi, scusi in a loud stern voice which appeared to do the trick as people obliged and Maggie got to toss her coin over her shoulder and therefore securing a return visit.
After long hot days walking miles along cobbled streets Maggie and Gordon kicked off their shoes and collapsed onto their beds at the hotel. Sightseeing was an exhausting business and both were in need of a late afternoon siesta before showering and going out to eat in one of the local restaurants. Maggie squirmed as Gordon tried, and usually failing, to order their meal in Italian using his phrase book to help him whist waiters who spoke perfectly good English stood poised with pens and order pads looking puzzled whilst trying to work out what he was saying.
On the third day Gordon seemed unduly quiet and distracted as they toured the Villa Borghese. The galleries were filled with famous paintings by Caravaggio, sculptures by Canova and wonderful frescoes. Normally Gordon would want to discuss the artwork at length but instead he wandered from one painting to the next. Maggie had to ask him to slow down at one point. She hadn’t really envisaged a whirlwind tour when they had arrived earlier.
Gordon seemed almost relieved when they exited the galleries and walked into the gardens.
“Time for lunch don’t you think before we walk through the park. Shall we grab a slice of pizza from somewhere?”
They discovered a small café hidden in the trees and ate their food. Gordon left half of his pizza which was most unlike him as he hated waste. Maggie wondered if their busy itinerary was catching up with him or that he was feeling under the weather and didn’t want to say anything to spoil their day.
“Are you alright? You’re awfully quiet today” Maggie asked.
Gordon reassured her that he was perfectly fine and that he was keen to get moving and see the gardens.
After the bustle and noise of the city streets, the peace and tranquillity of the beautiful gardens made a welcome change. Gordon seemed to relax and be his old self again. Maggie was happy to just amble but Gordon was keen to get to the lake. He made off at his usual fast pace leaving Maggie behind, but then seemed to change his mind, stopped, and waited for her to catch up.
“Sorry” he said and took her hand. They hadn’t held hands for a long time. Maggie liked the feeling of her hand clasped in his.
They came to a small lake surrounded by trees. On a small island stood a small temple with columns and decorated with stone friezes.
“Like it?” asked Gordon
“Oh yes, it’s beautiful” Maggie said squeezing his hand.
“Come on” he said pulling her by the hand “Let’s go and hire a rowing boat”
“Come on put your back into it!” laughed Maggie, watching her husband puffing away with the effort of rowing, his face growing a deeper shade of scarlet by the minute and beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
Gordon struggled to talk and row at the same time “It’s all right for you sitting there whilst I do all the work. Only a mad English man would contemplate rowing in this heat. I’m knackered and I’ve only been doing this for five minutes. Pass me the bottle of water.”
He stopped rowing to reach for his hankie from his trouser pocket and mopped his brow whilst Maggie passed over a bottle of water from her bag. Gordon glugged most of it down and passed the near empty bottle back.
“Would you like me to take over whilst you have a break?” Suggested Maggie knowing that no way was Gordon going to pass over the oars to his wife which was a good thing since she had never rowed in her life.
“What, and make me look like a right wally? I just needed to get into the swing of it. I’ll be fine now.” He took up the oars and started rowing again.
Maggie couldn’t resist it and cupped her hands around her mouth and called out “…and row,,,,and row,,,,and row…..”
Gordon headed for the small island and manoeuvred the rowing boat so that it was shaded by the overhanging branches of a tree close to the temple. He pulled the oars up and the boat gently rocked in the shallow water.
Maggie leant back ,tipped her face upwards and enjoyed the cooler air on her cheeks. Apart from the lapping of the water against the side of boat it was very peaceful. It was hard to believe that they were in the middle of a city.
“Isn’t this just the most wonderful way to spend our wedding anniversary. Beats all those meals out by miles” Maggie leant forward to kiss Gordon causing the boat to rock dramatically from side to side “ You are an old romantic at heart .”
“I just don’t show it nearly enough. In fact I’ve been pretty rubbish at the romance thing over the whole time that I’ve known you”
“But it’s just not you to be demonstrative like that. I love you for who you are. You’re maddening at times and it’s not always been easy “ Maggie said thinking back to nearly a year ago when she’d walked away from him for those few days “but I’ve always loved you.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“Remember how I proposed?” said Gordon, breaking the silence “ Outside a bowls club. Hardly the most romantic of settings. Do you know, that I still regret making that decision even after all of these years.”
Maggie smiled “ it was unconventional, I’ll give you that!”
Gordon leant over and took her hand “ You deserve much better than that. I love you Maggie Thornden. I’ve loved you since the moment I saw you in the record shop. I know that I have a funny way of showing it but you mean everything to me.”
With his free hand he dug deep into his trouser pocket and pulled out a small blue box. He let go of Maggie’s hand and opened the box. The solitaire diamond sparkled in the dappled sunshine.
Maggie gasped and put her hand over her mouth to cover quivering lips
Gordon took the ring from the box “Maggie Thornden, will you marry me again?”
Great waves of emotion flooded through Maggie and she was rendered momentarily speechless. With eyes glistening brightly with unshed tears she nodded.
“Does that mean yes?” quizzed Gordon
Maggie found her voice “Of course it does you romantic old fool. I’d love to marry you again!”
Gordon slipped the ring onto the finger of her outstretched hand. Forgetting their very unstable situation, flung her arms around Gordon’s neck and the two of them kissed passionately whilst the boat rocked violently from side to side. As they kissed they didn’t notice that both oars had slipped from the boat and were drifting away from them.
Maggie sat back in her seat and admired her ring.
Maggie rocked her hand from side to side for the sunlight to catch the sparkle of the diamond and didn’t look up.
“What’s the word for help in Italian!”
It had taken a lot of arm waving and gesticulating from pair of them to get someone to row over to them and rescue their oars. Back on terra firma they walked slowly hand in hand back to the hotel stopping every now and again to kiss in quiet corners and not caring if anyone saw them.
In the welcome cool haven that was their room, Maggie and Gordon slowly undressed each other. It had been a long time since they had run their hands and lips over each other’s bare skin, felt bare skin on bare skin, to feel the intense pleasure of exploring and being explored. For one brief moment, they separated to pull back the bed covers, got into bed and back into each other’s arm.
That evening, Maggie slipped into a black linen shift dress and put on gold strappy sandals whilst Gordon dressed in his smartest trousers and a pale blue shirt that showed off his tanned skin. A taxi was waiting outside to whisk them to a rooftop restaurant where they were shown to a table with a view across the city towards the floodlit splendour St Peter’s Basilica. They drank cocktails and fine wines and ate amazing food. Their waiter on discovering that they were celebrating their anniversary surprised them both with glasses of champagne.
“I’ve never asked you this Maggie. I suppose I’ve always been scared of what the answer might be, but when you got on that bus in Cornwall, were you leaving me? asked Gordon as they sipped coffee.
Maggie didn’t respond immediately. She looked out over the skyline of Rome considering her answer.
She looked back at Gordon “ Truthfully, I really don’t know. Maybe I was contemplating it. You didn’t phone or text me to see where I was, or ask questions or check that I was safe. There was nothing. I know that you are pig headed but I thought that if you cared one bit about me, then you would at least send a text.”
“I should have contacted you. I know that now. I was angry and confused and yes I was being pig headed. I still am. That’s just me I’m afraid. It works both ways though Mags. You were the one who up-sticked and just disappeared, you could have contacted me to say that you were safe.”
Maggie looked away “Do we need to have this conversation now? It’s been such a wonderful day, let’s not spoil it.”
Gordon reached across and took her hand. “ Nothing could ever spoil today. Even if I’d fallen into that lake trying to reach those oars and had to walk through Rome in sodden clothes, it still wouldn’t have been spoilt. Today has been perfect but I just needed to know Maggie.”
And if I said yes, I was planning on leaving you, what would that do to you?
“I had a mad moment Gordon. Something snapped and I jumped on a bus. I regret that the two of us didn’t have the balls or decency to pick up the phone. I should have given you an explanation. You should have checked to see that I was safe, to ask why. But we didn’t. I don’t regret those few days on my own. It gave me time to think and realise that I, we, couldn’t carry on the way we were.”
“Would you have carried on travelling to Scotland if I hadn’t had come to the park in Cheltenham?”
“Truthfully? Yes, I would have, but you came to the park, which I was angry about at the time, but Gordon, I am so, so glad that you did. Look at us now a year later. Look at how we have changed. Look at how much stronger our marriage is. I hate to think how we would have coped with your cancer diagnosis if we were carrying on the way we were. “
“You’ve been my rock these last few months Mags. I’m sorry if I shut you out when we found out. It was a bit of a blow to put it mildly. I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions.”
Maggie squeezed his hand “Hey, we are getting through this together. We are a team, me and you. You’ll beat this and we will grow old together. You’ll be a miserable old sod in baggy trousers and carpet slippers and I’ll be at your beck and call wearing a pinny and have blue rinsed hair!”
Gordon smiled “ Any hint of a blue rinse and I’m divorcing you!”
Maggie pretended to look shocked “On what grounds?”
“ Mental cruelty, unreasonable behaviour. Something along those lines.”
“In which case I promise never to go blue. I will wear a pinny though. Maybe even a housecoat!”
Gordon pondered for a moment “I’m just picturing you in a housecoat. Funny thing is, it’s quite a turn on!”
This time, Maggie didn’t need to pretend to look shocked. “ Gordon Thornden, you kinky old man! “ She shook her head and laughed “ Today has been all about surprises but discovering that my husband has a thing about nylon housecoats beats them all!”
“On that note, shall we get the bill and let these poor waiters go home?”
Maggie looked around her and saw that they were the only two people left in the restaurant.
“Yes, I think maybe we should. I’m just popping to the loo. I’ll be back in a minute” Maggie got up from the table, kissed Gordon on the cheek and disappeared into the building.
Gordon put his elbows on the table and covered his face with his hands. How was he going to break the news to her?
“ Everything alright signore?” asked a concerned waiter.
“ Everything’s fine thank you. Can I have the bill please?” answered Gordon with a smile that did not reach his eyes.
Gordon asked the taxi driver to take them to the Coliseum. It was late and there were only a handful of tourists around. A full moon shone brightly in the night sky above the ancient building. Maggie and Gordon sat once again on the wall. Maggie’s head rested on her husband’s shoulder, whilst he held her around her waist, pulling her gently towards him.
“Happy?” He asked her
She looked up at him and smiled “Blissfully”
Taking one last look at the Coliseum, they stood up from the wall and walked arm in arm back to the hotel.
Maggie stared out of the window as their taxi approached the airport. It had been the most wonderful couple of days spent together in a beautiful city and had many memories that would last a lifetime. Gordon had pulled out all of the stops to make every minute special. She smiled to herself remembering the very special moments when he had proposed in a rowing boat and of the intimacy between them that had been rekindled after so many years.
This time last year she’d wanted to escape from her cantankerous and boring husband and from herself; a drab and timid woman who’s life evolved of looking after her home and her grumpy husband. That decision to jump on a bus was a turning point for herself, Gordon and their marriage.
Getting out of the house and finding a job that she loved gave her a sense of purpose and independence. Her confidence had grown and she now stood up for herself and refused to put up with Gordon’s bossiness. She had made mistakes on the way. She admitted that trying to change everything in one go was a step too far. He wouldn’t admit it in fear of hurting her feelings but she had an inkling that Gordon missed the magnolia walls and old G Plan furniture in their home. She’d been too enthusiastic to wipe away the life that they had lead before. She thought back to when she tried to get Gordon wear clothes that he considered to be ‘trendy’ and remembered the look on of horror on his face when she’d made him try on pink shorts. She glanced over at the leg that was brushing against hers that was clad in his trusty old summer weight chinos. The jeans that she had bought him still had the label on as did the shirts covered in ditsy prints. When she got home she’d see about Ebaying them.
Gordon had tried very hard to become more tolerant and less stuck in his ways but he still slipped up now and again. As the saying goes, you can’t teach a dog new tricks. His relationship with his son had improved greatly. The two of them talked to each other frequently and she knew that he was looking forward to James’s return in a few weeks’ time. He had surprised her too. Never in a million years would she think that her very conservative husband would become friends with someone he would previously call ‘a new age hippy’ She still couldn’t believe that he was planning on spending the night in a wood watching a charcoal burner once they got home.
The smile slipped from her face. Of course there was the little matter of the enormous elephant in the room. The cancer diagnosis had been a devastating blow to both of them. When you hear the word Cancer the bottom drops out of your world in an instant, but it wasn’t going to beat them and she knew that they would both get through this. Gordon’s treatment was going well. He hadn’t experience many side effects from the hormone injections and he wasn’t having as many issues with needing the loo as he had before. That had to be a positive sign didn’t it! His illness had brought them closer together. He’d said that she was his rock, but he was her rock too.
A year ago she wasn’t sure that she still loved him, or that he even loved her. For a few brief days she was prepared to walk away from their marriage, to give up on the thirty years of being a married couple. It was he though, the man who felt at home at his bowls club with his bowls chums. Who shouted at other road users, walked too quickly, liked gnomes and battered arm chairs, who had rescued her and gave them both a second chance to put things right.
As they pulled up outside the departure hall she leant over and kissed Gordon.
He looked at her and beamed. “ What was that for?”
“ Because I love you.”
“That’s good because I love you too.”
They would unpack later. What they needed first was a cup of tea. Maggie had hopped out of the car at their local Tesco Express and bought milk. She flicked through the post to see if there was anything worth looking at. Gordon had been quiet on the car journey home. She’d put it down to him being tired. She wasn’t aware that he seemed to be pre-occupied and fidgety whilst she chatted away about needing to phone Susan and wondering what was in the freezer for supper later.
She looked up and smiled at him “What is it?”
He stood next to their kitchen table.
“Can you come and sit down. There’s something that I need to tell you.”