SERIAL Beyond Rubies
Lily realised now that sharing your worries was always the right thing to do . . .
MAURA gazed at her husband, her heart thudding hard, making her dizzy as she willed him finally to be honest with her.
“John, please . . .” He rubbed a hand over his face and looked away.
Maura’s hard-beating heart started to plummet. She felt the fear reverberate through her as she braced herself for what was coming.
“They’re laying off people at work,” John said in a low voice. He dropped his hand from his face to stare at her bleakly. “Loads of us at mid-level. I’ve been waiting for the call, or to be asked into the head office . . .”
She blinked, trying to take in his words. “Laid off?”
“It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m afraid it’s a matter of time. I’ve been putting in extra hours, trying to prove myself.” He grimaced. “I’ve also been polishing up my CV and seeing what other jobs are out there.”
Maura stared, trying to process what John was telling her. He was worried about work, not their marriage.
A smile broke out over her face as relief crashed through her.
He looked at her in confusion.
“I thought you’d be devastated, Maura. Why are you smiling?”
“Because I thought you were leaving me.” Then, to her surprise and horror, she did something she never did. She burst into tears.
“Oh, Maura.” John pulled her into a hug. “Don’t cry.”
“I’m sorry,” she said with a sniff as she struggled to regain her composure. “I’ve been so scared, John. The more you stayed away, thinking up any excuse not to be at home, the more I worried that you were . . .”
“Don’t say it.” He eased back to gently press his finger against her lips. “Don’t say it, Maura. I love you. I’ve always loved you.
“It’s why I kept this from you. I didn’t want you worrying, thinking we might have to move or lose the house or goodness knows what else. You work hard
“And so do you. But why didn’t you tell me, John? I would have understood.”
“I didn’t want to worry you.” He smiled in wry acknowledgement, although the expression in his eyes was bleak. “I felt ashamed for not being able to hold on to a job. I didn’t want you thinking badly of me.”
“It wouldn’t be your fault if you were laid off.”
“It would still feel like it.” Maura frowned and John smiled, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“Why are you looking so ferocious now?”
“Because you should have been able to tell me. If you thought I’d look down on you for that . . .” She shook her head. “What kind of marriage do we have, John, if we can’t share our fears?”
For a moment he looked as if he wanted to argue, then he sighed and nodded.
“Fair enough. I should have told you. I should have felt that I could tell you. But that’s on me more than it’s on you, Maura.” “Still –”
“But while we’re talking about it, what about you? Why didn’t you talk to me earlier if you were worried something was going on?”
“I was afraid you were going to ask for a divorce!” Maura burst out. “And I couldn’t cope with it, not with everything else.” “Everything else?” “Dan being so boisterous and Chloe . . .” Maura sniffed, near tears again. “It’s as if she’s turned into someone else entirely. I feel as if she hates me, and it’s so hard to deal with.”
“Especially when I’m not around.” John’s expression softened and he pulled her into another hug. Maura wrapped her arms around him, grateful for his comfort. “Oh, Maura, I’m sorry. I’ve really dumped you in it, haven’t I?”
“It’s all right,” she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder. “As long as we’re honest with each other now. No secrets, John. If you lose your job, we’ll deal with it together.”
He sighed, his arms tightening around her.
“I suppose keeping it from you made it feel like less of a threat. I don’t want to upend the family, Maura, and I might not be able to find another job locally.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Maura leaned back to look up at him. “Together.”
“All right.” John kissed her softly. “And what about Chloe?” he asked. “Should we talk to her? See if something’s up?”
“Maybe, if she’ll let us.” Maura sighed. “I feel like she bites my head off if I so much as ask her how her day was.”
“That’s teenagers for you, I suppose.”
“But what if it’s something more? That’s what I’m worried about. That something’s going on and she won’t tell us what it is. She’ll just try to deal with it herself and she’s only thirteen, John.”
“Then we’ll talk to her,” John said firmly. “Because one thing I’ve learned tonight is that it’s no good keeping secrets.”
“It’s time for the fireworks!”
Simon looked up from the blank screen of his phone to see everyone hurrying out towards the garden for the night’s entertainment.
The Langfords always put on a good fireworks show, but Simon couldn’t muster enthusiasm for it now.
He glanced at his phone one last time, willing Kelly to text him back. It had been an hour since she’d signed off so abruptly when he’d mentioned he was at a party.
An hour of Simon wondering what he’d done wrong, and how he could make it right.
He’d also been wondering why he cared so much about a silly text conversation.
The answer that was creeping up on him and becoming impossible to ignore, was that he cared for her. He, Stodgy Simon, was falling for his assistant.
It was most likely against office rules, not to mention common sense, but he felt it all the same. The trouble was, he didn’t know if he had the nerve to do anything about it.
“Aren’t you coming, Simon?”
He looked up to see Anna walking alongside Will.
Although they weren’t holding hands or touching at all, Simon could sense sparks flying between the two. He knew they’d had a sudden and acrimonious split 10 years ago, and he wondered what was going on now.
“Yes, I’m coming. In a minute.”
“You’ll miss it,” Anna warned with a laugh, then moved off with Will.
Simon looked down at his phone again. This was getting ridiculous. He needed to make up his mind, or at least work up the courage to send a text.
Taking a deep breath, Simon swiped the screen and brought up Kelly’s messages. He started scrolling through them, surprised when he saw that they’d texted fairly often for the last few months, always instigated by Kelly.
He hadn’t noticed it before; he’d just taken each text as it had come, assuming it was workrelated, but a lot of them weren’t.
A smile started to spread across his face and he began to type. Where did you go?
He waited, peering at the screen, oblivious to the burst of colour and sound in the sky above him, and the ensuing oohs and aahs.
Two torturous minutes passed before a reply came. I’ve been here. I thought you were busy.
Simon’s thumbs fumbled as he hurried to text back. I wasn’t busy.
Why not? You should be having fun!
He peered at the emoji that punctuated her text, trying to make out the expression on the yellow face. A twisted sort of smile and raised eyebrows.
What did that mean? Your emojis are confusing me.
He blinked as three emojis pinged in: a smiling face with two tears. Crying with laughter. Making fun of me, you mean.
It’s hard not to. He was grinning now,
He, Stodgy Simon, was falling for his assistant
because surely this was flirting? Either that or she just felt sorry for him. Don’t overthink it, Simon.
He smiled, amazed at how she seemed to read his mind even from miles away. Seriously, are you having fun?
Was he? Simon hesitated, his mind racing as his thumbs stilled.
How did he answer that? His heart was starting to beat hard and he felt sick with nerves. What if he’d misread the situation?
Taking a deep breath, Simon started to type. I’d be having more fun if
you were here. He shut his eyes and pressed Send.
As soon as he’d done it, he was filled with a sudden horror.
What if Kelly was offended? What if she claimed some sort of harassment? Or what if she felt sorry for him and had to let him down, and then they had awkward conversations at work, the enormous elephant in the room always lumbering between them? He couldn’t take it back. Fighting a growing sense of terror, Simon thrust his phone into his pocket and strode into the crowd.
Anna and Will were laughing together, and Maura and John were holding hands. Everyone was happy and with someone – except for him.
In his pocket his phone buzzed. Simon didn’t look at it. He didn’t dare.
He tilted his head up to gaze at the Catherine wheels bursting above, filling the sky with light and colour. Children dodged between the adults, screeching and laughing.
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.
How many times had Kelly texted him? Was she lambasting him for being creepy?
“You all right, Simon?” Will called across the garden, and Simon managed a strained smile.
“Yes, thanks.” He sounded so stiff and standoffish.
Buzz. Buzz. Another Catherine wheel burst in the sky, and Simon couldn’t take it any more. It was better to know the truth than fear the worst.
He slid his phone out of his pocket and steeled himself to look at the screen. Do you mean that? He squinted at the emojis. A bluish face with wide, staring eyes and hands held up to its cheeks. A face of horror.
He’d made a complete mess of things. Why on earth had he done it?
Then he saw the second emoji – a face with hearts for eyes – and he started to grin.
Simon, tell me I’m not reading too much into what you texted, because I’m hoping . . . His grin widened. Do you want to go out for a drink next weekend?
This time there was no text back, and for a second his heart began to plummet. Then, to his utter shock, his phone rang.
It was Kelly – not texting, but actually calling. It was the next best, and most terrifying, thing to a face-to-face conversation.
He swiped the screen to answer the call. “Kelly?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
As the last of the fireworks faded away in an acrid cloud of gunpowder smoke, Anna turned to Will.
“That was amazing. Your family always puts on such a good show.”
“Thanks.” Will said with a grin. “Not that I had much to do with it. I brought a couple of packets of crisps, that’s all.”
“That’s something.” They stayed there, smiling at each other in the dark while Anna’s stomach fizzed.
She’d spent the last hour talking to Will; he’d nodded and listened, alert and interested, without offering opinions and judgement.
She’d forgotten how comfortable she felt with him. Too comfortable, perhaps, because it was that fear of falling into a numbing routine at only twenty-two that had sent her haring off to Australia.
But tonight everything had come tumbling out: the fun she’d had in Australia, as well as the hard times.
The job in Alice Springs that felt lonely and strange, and made her wonder if she really belonged there. How anchorless she felt, even as she still shied away from slinking back home with her tail between her legs.
Will had listened, and it had felt wonderful, but now as she grinned at him Anna realised he hadn’t actually said all that much. In fact, she had no real idea what he was thinking.
“The big day tomorrow,” Will said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “For your parents.”
“I’m glad they’re finally getting a chance to have a big do.” Anna thought of her mother’s troubled expression earlier that day and pushed the thought aside. “Will you be there?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Will gave her that familiar smile. “Will you save a dance for me?”
“Of course,” Anna said, wondering if he was asking for old times’ sake or as something new.
People were starting to drift away, so Anna turned back to the house.
“I suppose I should make it an early night with all the preparations for tomorrow,” she said.
“Your dad seems to have it well in hand.”
“He does, doesn’t he? He’s taking it all rather seriously.”
“I suppose a renewal of vows is a serious business. Committing to each other again after so long.” Will’s gaze held hers for a moment as Anna’s heart tumbled in her chest. Was Will talking about her parents, or about them? “Y-yes,” she stammered. “I suppose it is.”
Maura watched as her parents stood in front of all their friends and family, and made the vows they’d made 40 years ago, their voices ringing with love.
The morning had been chaotic, with her mother hurrying about looking tense, and her father disappearing for hours to check on the preparations.
But they were both here now, holding hands and looking in love.
Next to Maura, John reached for her hand and laced his fingers with hers.
Maura squeezed his hand, heart overflowing with thankfulness both for her family and her marriage.
Last night’s honesty had been very much needed. Although she and John hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to Chloe, Maura knew she could face whatever was bothering her daughter, because she would face it with John.
Gratitude and hope filled her heart as her parents turned from the altar. The ceremony was over, and now the party could begin.
Maura and John followed the rest of the guests out of the church, Chloe and Dan behind them.
“All right, darling?” Maura asked lightly as she turned to her daughter.
Chloe had been quiet all weekend, but it had felt slightly less hostile today, giving Maura hope.
“I’m fine, Mum.” Chloe hunched her shoulders and looked away.
Maura glanced at the guests streaming by and lowered her voice.
“You’ve seemed down lately. Maybe like you’re worried about something?” The words came hesitantly; she wasn’t used to engaging Chloe this way, she realised. She’d forsaken their heart to hearts as much as her daughter.
Chloe looked at her in surprise.
“I didn’t think you noticed.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” “Because you don’t notice anything,” Chloe snapped, and pushed past her.
Maura’s bit her lip, trying not to let her daughter’s harsh words affect her.
“We’ll try again,” John said as he came beside her. “Teenagers aren’t easy, love. You know that.”
“Yes,” Maura said with an attempt at a smile. “I certainly do.”
The party was in full swing as Anna sipped her drink, trying not to look for Will.
Everyone seemed to be having fun, except her parents. Lily was sitting by herself, and Andrew was trying to sort out a problem with the kitchen.
When Anna went to ask her mother how she was, Lily gave her a wan smile.
“I’ll be glad when this is over. It seems as if it’s been beset by problems.”
“I hope Dad sorts it out so he can have a dance with you.”
“Yes.” Lily pressed her lips together. “That would be nice.”
“The room looks great,” Anna said, glancing at the chairs swathed in ivory gauze, fairy lights decorating the walls. “Like something out of a story.”
“Yes, it is very nice.” Lily smiled back, although Anna thought her eyes still looked troubled. “You should go and dance. I saw Will looking for you earlier.”
“Did you?” Anna tried to keep the eagerness from her voice. “Where?” Lily’s smile deepened. “By the buffet.”
With her heart starting to thump, Anna wended her way through the crowd in search of Will. Then she caught sight of him.
Her heart went from thumping to completely still as she stood there, transfixed. She was still in love with him.
The realisation was both wonderful and terrifying, and before she had a chance to process it, Will caught sight of her.
Anna simply stood and stared as he began to walk towards her. He stopped in front of her, still smiling, although his eyes were serious.
“Want to dance?” he asked and held out his hand.
“Yes,” Anna whispered, a world of longing and love in that one word. “I do.”
It wasn’t until halfway through the party that Maura found Chloe. She was in the bathroom, hunkered up on the row of sinks, her knees clutched to her chest.
“Chloe.” Maura stared at her in concern. “Tell me what’s wrong. Your father and I can tell something is.”
Chloe looked away and Maura waited. For once she’d be patient.
“I talked to Aunt Anna,” Chloe finally said in a low voice, and Maura struggled to make sense of that comment.
“Aunt Anna? Why? I mean, was it a good conversation?”
“Sort of.” Chloe bit her lip, her head still averted. “I told her some stuff.”
Maura tried not to feel hurt. She was glad Chloe had told someone.
“What kind of stuff?” she asked gently.
“Stuff at school.” Chloe hunched her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Mum. I know I’ve been a pain at home.” “Oh, Chloe . . .”
“I just feel so angry. And helpless. And that stinks.”
“Why, darling?” Maura took a step forward, longing to hug her. “Why do you feel that way?”
With tear-filled eyes, Chloe began to tell her.
Simon was spending the party on his phone.
He’d escaped the noise of the dining-room and was sitting outside on a bench, half-frozen to death but enjoying every minute of his conversation with Kelly.
They’d talked about everything and nothing, and along the way they’d both admitted they’d liked each other for a while.
If you were here, he texted now, I’d ask you to dance. I’d probably step all over your feet, though. I wouldn’t mind. Easy for you to say when you’re in London!
Do you really mean it? That you’d ask me to dance?
Yes. Simon was so absorbed in his conversation that he barely registered the taxi pulling up in front of the hotel. He heard the car door slam as he waited for Kelly’s text reply. “Hello, Simon.”
The phone fell from his fingers, the screen cracking as it hit the concrete.
He looked up, shocked, to see Kelly standing in front of him, an uncertain smile playing about her lips.
“Oh, dear. You’ve broken your phone.”
“It doesn’t matter.” His phone had become completely irrelevant.
He stood up, utterly flummoxed. After hours of texting, Kelly was here in the flesh, looking wonderful and a little bit nervous, and the truth was Simon didn’t know what to do with her, or what to say.
“I hope you don’t mind me gate-crashing your parents’ party,” Kelly said with an uncertain laugh. “I wanted to see you in person. I was afraid if we texted too much it would be awkward when we came face to face.”
She peered at him anxiously.
“Is it awkward?”
“A bit,” Simon admitted. “But it is me we’re talking about. It always would be.”
She laughed at that, her smile tinged with relief.
“That’s true. Are you glad I came?”
“Very much so.” Quite suddenly, Simon knew exactly what to do. He reached for her hands and pulled her towards him. He put his arms around her and kissed her on the cheek.
“Kelly,” he said. “Will you dance with me?”
Lily picked at the wedding cake and felt as if she might as well have been eating a mouthful of dust.
She’d barely seen Andrew since the reception had started. He’d been scurrying to and fro, sorting out minor disasters and checking everything was running the way it should.
Once the party started, shouldn’t he have been by her side?
When they’d renewed their vows in the church, Lily had felt rekindled hope.
Here was the man she loved, his smile soft and his eyes crinkled at the corners, holding her hands as he promised to cherish and love her. A couple of hours later, he’d disappeared.
Lily was doing her best to put a brave face on it. Anna had looked concerned, seeing her alone and no doubt seeming glum, and for their sakes as well as Andrew’s she’d tried to act as if it wasn’t a big deal.
As if she wasn’t worried about what Andrew was doing or why he was doing it. Was he avoiding her?
“Everything OK, Mum?” Maura asked, coming to sit next to her.
“Yes, fine. How are you?” “Really good, actually.” Maura’s smile was uncharacteristically shy. “John and I have sorted a few things out. It’s such a relief.”
“Oh, I’m so glad.” Lily squeezed her daughter’s hand. “I’m so pleased for you both.”
“What about you, Mum?” Maura looked at her seriously. “Is everything OK with you and Dad?”
“Maura, for goodness’ sake, we just renewed our vows!” Lily tried for a laugh. “What can you mean?”
“Dad seems so busy with this party, and I wonder if that bothers you.”
Lily looked away so her daughter wouldn’t see the truth in her face.
“It will be nice for things to become normal again,” she said carefully.
“Something I’ve learned is that you need to confront things head on in a marriage,” Maura said, her voice full of emotion. “For the last few months I was worried John didn’t love me any more.”
“Oh, Maura –” “Then I got up courage to talk to him about it and it’s been such a relief.” Tears shimmered in Maura’s eyes. “I don’t know what’s going on, but if there’s anything you’re worried about, you should talk to him. That’s all I’m saying.”
Her throat thick with emotion, Lily nodded.
“Thank you, darling,” she murmured. “You’re right.”
It was easier said than done, because she couldn’t actually find Andrew.
Lily wandered through the dining-room, smiling and chatting with guests, all the while her gaze was darting around, looking for her husband.
It really was a beautiful event, she acknowledged as she noted all the personal touches, from the photos of them through the years adorning each table’s centrepiece, to the guest book where friends could write messages.
She flipped through a few of the pages, emotion grabbing her as she read the many kind things people had said, all the poignant memories they shared. But where was Andrew?
She left the dining-room and looked in the hall, then outside in the car park and gardens. He wasn’t anywhere.
Back in the dining-room she saw Maura and John laughing with Will and Dan, and Anna dancing closely with Will Langford.
Even Simon was dancing with a pretty young woman and they were both smiling and staring into each other’s eyes as if they couldn’t get enough of each other.
Lily smiled at the sight, despite her worry. She’d longed for Simon to find someone and it looked as if he finally might have.
If only Andrew were here to see and share it all.
With a sigh she turned away, and she saw him coming from the kitchen, looking harried.
“Andrew! I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Sorry, love.” He gave her a tired smile. “Would you believe the ovens went on the blink?”
Lily shook her head, too exasperated and emotional to be understanding about another crisis.
“Why is that your problem?”
Andrew jerked back a little, looking surprised.
“Well, someone needed
to sort it out.”
“But surely the caterers, or the staff could have done it,” Lily persisted. “This is our party, and you’ve worked so hard and you’re not even here to enjoy it with me. I’ve been eating our cake alone!”
Andrew’s shoulders slumped, his face falling into such sorrowful lines that Lily instantly regretted her outburst.
“I’m sorry, Lily,” he said. “I’ve messed up, haven’t I? I’ve been working so hard for this party, so you can have the reception you deserve –”
“Is that why you’ve done it, Andrew?” Lily burst out. He gaped at her.
“Of course.” “Because for the last six months I’ve barely seen you. Whenever there’s been the tiniest issue, you’ve run out of the house to fix it.” Lily took a deep breath, needing courage to keep speaking. “I’ve started to wonder if maybe you’re avoiding me.” “What? No!”
“Then why? Why has this party become more important than us?” She stepped forward, reaching for his hands. “Why have you been interested in every detail, so much so that I feel like you don’t even know who I am?
“Or maybe you know who I am, but you don’t like what you see any more.” A lump came to her throat. “Is that it?”
“Lily.” Andrew looked agonised. “That’s not it at all. I got so caught up in this party because I wanted to honour you with it. I always felt badly that we had to run off to get married.
“That you never got the ceremony and celebration you deserved.”
“But I did get it,” Lily protested. “I got you, and that was all I wanted. I want you at home, sharing life with me, not trying to impress me with some party I never wanted!” Tears were running down her face and Andrew pulled her into a hug.
“Oh, Lily. I’m sorry. I’ve been so focused on this party that I lost sight of what was important. Us.”
“I thought you were going off me,” Lily confessed in a whisper, her head buried in Andrew’s shoulder.
“Never.” He sighed and pulled her closer. “I fixated on this party as much as I did because I’ve been feeling at a loose end since retiring.
“I guess I let it take over because it felt good to have something to plan. But I’ve made a complete mess, haven’t I?”
“You haven’t,” Lily protested, drawing away from him to offer a shaky smile through her tears. “This party is lovely. I was looking at the table centrepieces and the guest book and everything else, and it’s all been amazing.
“I feel terrible for complaining when it’s all so beautiful.”
“You’ve every right to.” Andrew shook his head. “I got it all wrong. Will you forgive me, Lily?”
“There’s nothing to forgive, Andrew. I love you and today has been beautiful. I’m glad we’ve talked about it. I’ve been silly to keep it from you for so long.”
They smiled at each other then Andrew kissed her softly.
In that moment Lily knew this was all she needed. And the party she’d been dreading was turning out to be pretty perfect, after all.
“Hey!” Anna came into the room, holding hands with Will. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you. They want to take a family photo.”
“Of all of us?”
“All of us,” Anna smiled at them expectantly.
Lily and Andrew looked at each other and grinned. Here was the family they loved, and that was all that mattered.
Andrew slipped his hand into hers.
“Let’s go,” he said. “I can’t wait!” The End.