In a pale puddle of moonlight, Scarlett padded her way over the sand towards the water’s edge. The waves lapped gently, sending volts of electric cold shooting through her feet and up her legs; chilling her bones to the very core. Her tears mixed with the salty water as she waded in to the sea. She coughed out a sob, and then, angry with herself for crying, she screamed and shouted at the top of her voice. Great lungfuls of sound broke the peace and tranquility of the beach. She thrashed and splashed and kicked at the water, tears running freely now over her freckled cheeks and cascading into the sea.
Then she stopped. Exhausted by her outburst she was defeated. She slumped into the water and sobbed absolutely uncontrollably.
Pottering around the small, bright kitchen, Nathan was putting dishes away, cleaning up the night’s takeaway leftovers and singing along to the radio. He had expected her to cry, he had expected her to scream and shout and possibly even aim a mug or two at his head. He had not been prepared for the quiet acceptance that had received his confession.
“Scarlett, it’s over.” His voice had been flat and monotone.
“I know.” She’d responded.
“It’s not you. It’s not me even, it’s her. I can’t stop thinking about her. I have to pursue it. I have to give myself the best chance at happiness.” She was such an understanding girl, he knew she’d get over it. She wasn’t exactly the best looking. She wasn’t ugly, he couldn’t have been with an ugly girl but she wasn’t as stunningly beautiful as Charlotte. With her pale blonde hair, striking blue eyes and slim figure she was the ultimate trophy girlfriend. She was quite intelligent, he thought, but the added bonus was her family. They were absolutely loaded. She had mentioned that she’d been disinherited after a family feud and was actually struggling on her modest wage but he was sure she’d just said that to put off any gold diggers.
“Yes, I’m sure you do. Except I thought you were happy, we were happy.” She sounded curious rather than upset. This was frustrating, surely he deserved a tear or two at least?
“We were and it was…nice, but you didn’t really think it was forever did you? We could never have married, Scarlett. It takes more than love to make a marriage.” He ruffled her hair. It was something he did when he was teaching her something, he’d done a lot for her and she was a far better person for it.
“Fine. Make sure you’re out tomorrow and I’ll collect my things.” And she’d turned and left.
It had gone well he thought. He glanced at the time on the microwave, 10.30pm. Still early. May as well make the most of the night. He found a carrier bag and began to collect Scarlett’s things from around the apartment: tooth brush, shampoo, spare phone charger, jacket and purse. Under it was a collection of receipts and a lottery ticket. He laughed to himself; so optimistic. Honestly she’d make someone a lovely wife. He could imagine her making jam and popping out a few kids, looking after the house and walking the dog while her husband went to work, probably in some low paying factory job or a garage or builders yard. Scarlett would never marry someone like him, a professional. He’d done her a favour really.
He paused. There was a letter, addressed to Scarlett. The envelope had been torn and she’d scrawled ‘reply by 20th May’ on the front. Probably that floristry course she’d been on, he thought. That was another reason she had to go. Charlotte was a banker and had aspirations of working in the city, Scarlett worked in a florist messing about with tulips all day. That wasn’t a serious career.
He slipped the letter out of the envelope and was taken by how heavy the paper was. He turned the envelope over and ran his fingers over the wax seal on the back. ‘A wedding invite’ he thought. ‘Well, she’ll be going alone’. He opened the letter and a sheet of blotting paper floated on to the floor. His heart beat faster in his chest, he could feel it thump thump thumping against his ribs as he read the letter. Words like ‘Royal Marriage’ and ‘the sum of twenty five thousand pounds sterling’ and ‘classic designs’ screamed at him from the Ivory paper.
This wasn’t just a Wedding invite. This was a proposal of a business relationship. This was fame. This was the chance he’d been looking for. He rubbed a hand over his forehead and tried to to think clearly. This letter was from the palace, from the bloody Queen herself. He breathed deeply, blowing lungfuls of air rapidly in a bid to stay calm. Gin.
Scarlett thought long and hard whilst sitting amid the cold waves, the sand and the pebbles on the beach. Once she’d calmed down she’d started to shiver uncontrollably. How could he? She’d supported him through his stupid, arrogant business dinners, trying to schmooze with the executives at her father’s company, cooked and cleaned for him while he worked his way through her father’s contact books. She felt sorry for him. His family had disowned him, he’d worked since leaving university and was just trying to get a break, to make his own way in the world. Her father had warned her that Nathan was just using her, and him, to get ahead and that he didn’t really love her and it seemed that he was right. She’d been quietly working hard, building up a reputable floristry business, providing arrangements for business functions and high society weddings. When she’d opened up her own shop three years ago Nathan didn’t even turn up; he was busy at a working lunch. And now this. An affair.
Scarlett gazed up at the moon. She gulped down the last sob threatening to make its escape and wiped her tears on her cardigan sleeve. Enough. She pulled herself up and immediately felt utterly ridiculous for having reacted so passionately to his betrayal. She was soaking wet and miserable at a time when she should be happy and celebrating. She tiptoed back towards her handbag, which she’d abandoned part way up the beach, and fished out her phone. Shivering, she swiped the screen until she found the right contact, she cleared her throat as it started to ring.
Relief immediately washed over her.
“Daddy? I need you.”
Nathan stared at his mobile phone. The screen remained blank, taunting him. Condensation ran down the side of his gin glass in little rivers, forming a cold puddle on the surface of the breakfast bar. He had sent a text to Scarlett; it simply read:
‘I’m sorry. Please call me back.’
He just didn’t understand how this was possible. How has Scarlett managed to land herself a job in arranging the flowers for the Royal wedding? Nathan knew very little about flowers or about Scarlett, it seemed. He wracked his brains, trying to recall a conversation about weddings or flowers. How had he even missed that she owned her own bloody business? When did that happen? Daddy must have bought her a little shop, he reasoned, it was the only way.
His phone still lay, silently torturing him, on the breakfast bar, the puddle of condensation was creeping nearer to it and the glass of gin was in danger of becoming empty very soon. Nathan grabbed the dark green bottle and poured himself another drink, sloshing the clear liquid into the glass. He stood up, a little wobbly on his feet, and made towards the freezer for more ice. As he did so his eyes caught the ‘his ‘n’ hers’ calendar Scarlett had pinned to the wall. He hated it and had resented her need to keep tabs on him constantly. He tried to focus on her neat, looped handwriting but the letters jumped about in front of his eyes. He reached a hand out to the wall to steady himself and concentrated.
‘Meeting at Lloyds 3.30pm’
‘Drinks with Michael’
‘Viewing premises 2.pm’
‘Planning application deadline’
‘Dinner with Michael 7pm’
Wait, dinner with Michael, drinks with Michael. Who was this Michael? Had she actually been having an affair? Nathan was well known for his short temper and upon seeing another man’s name on his calendar in his kitchen written by his girlfriend he felt a burst of anger and outrage boil in his chest. How dare she. How bloody dare she. How could she cheat on him?
Nathan grabbed his car keys from the hook by the door and left, slamming the apartment door behind him.
Scarlett breathed deeply and relaxed against the soft leather of her father’s BMW. He could definitely have afforded something more expensive, something more classic even; but he enjoyed the gadgets and comfort of riding in a BMW. Somehow, even though she was distraught and bewildered at how her life had come crashing down around her, being in the safety and security of her father’s car made her feel like it might not be that bad.
‘Ready to talk now?’ Kenneth, her father, had a soft voice, like a warm, fluffy towel, it was comforting.
‘You were right, daddy, he was using me. He’s been having an affair.’ She choked out the last word and then held her breath, willing the tears to subside. She exhaled, loudly and carried on. “She’s ‘a banker’ he says. I don’t think he realises she actually is a cashier at the Post Office.” Scarlett giggled. Then she laughed, and then she couldn’t stop.
Kenneth smiled at his daughter and let out a brief chuckle himself at the sight of her rosy cheeks and the tears of mirth running down her face.
“Daddy, I don’t think he knows that she works at the Post Office!” She coughed and took a deep breath, this time trying to contain her laughter. “I’ve seen her a few times when I’ve been sending out brochures to our corporate clients and when I saw her picture in his mobile I did suspect he was seeing her, I just didn’t realise she’d lied to him quite so much.”
“Ah well, more fool him. But honestly, darling, he betrayed you. I know I’ve never liked him but I had hoped you would outgrow him and end it, rather than him hurting you.” Kenneth patted her knee and then then wiped it on his own trousers. “Scarlett, why are you wet?”
A couple of hours later, with a fluffy red dressing gown on, hair washed, dried and tumbling in curls down her back, Scarlett was sipping an Irish coffee in the study, curled up on a Chesterfield. Kenneth was leafing through the planning application documents for Scarlett’s new premises and her mother, Rose, was upstairs making up the spare room for the much welcomed but unexpected house guest. The Tiffany lamp on the desk cast a yellow glow around the room.
“I’ll sort the car out tomorrow daddy, I’ll take it to the place I get mine cleaned, I’m sure they’ll be able to get the water marks out. She smiled into her coffee and licked a blob of cream from her upper lip.
“Yes you bloody will, lady. Playing in the sea indeed, at your age and this time of night.” Kenneth smiled in spite of himself and then turning his attention back to the documents in front of him, he nodded. “The extension looks good, it will add a lot of..”
A crashing sound from upstairs startled both of them and before Scarlett had time to put her coffee down, Kenneth was already out of the door and heading upstairs.
“ROSE!” He shouted, getting no reply he shouted again and then stopped, dead in the doorway of the guest bedroom. Scarlett skidded on the wooden floor of the landing, crashing into her father’s back and pushing past him to view the scene in the room.
“Mum!” She screamed and fell to her knees, launching herself over the carpet towards her mother’s body, lying on the floor.
A groan escaped from the mass of blazing red curls and the prone figure of Rose began to stir.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I thought she was you…” Came a stuttering, frightened voice from behind the door.