I wandered into the room without thinking, my arms full of Christmas decorations. James left for work an hour ago, and my sister, Susie, rushed off to her appointment at the magazine without eating breakfast, so I didn't expect to see them in a clinch, when I walked into my sitting room.
Transfixed by the site, I nearly tripped over James's shirt on the floor. One button winked up at me in the sunlight. Light blue, the inconsequential thought drummed at my skull, trying to negate the truth.
My husband and my sister were wrapped around each other on my settee, oblivious to my presence!
My mind blanked for seconds or minutes before it clicked into evil mode. Turning quietly, I raced upstairs for my digital camera. Not just any camera, you understand, but one of those new little gadgets you can find on eBay. A gum camera. So called because of its size. O.K. it had no viewing screen, but point the thing in the right direction, get the angle correct, and who needed a screen?
I'd resort to the scissors on his best suit routine later, after I'd kicked the pair of them out of my home. No lying cheating bastard was hanging round my kids! I glanced at the clock, two more hours before they expected me to arrive for their Christmas play.
When asked earlier, their father told them how sorry he was to miss it, but he'd be too busy. Nothing but the direst emergency would normally keep him from his kids' school play. Sure! Right! Susie the hot emergency! Well by the time I'd finished with her, she'd be the one needing Emergency.
Shedding my shoes, I grabbed the camera and ran downstairs again. This time their low voices greeted me before I entered the room. The gum camera may be small, but it boasted, clear and clean sound along with its TV quality pictures. Oh goody! My lawyer would love this, he really would.
I reached the door in time to hear my husband's last words. "Do you think she saw us?"
"Couldn't fail to, surely." Sister dear, replied.
"I’ve tried everything to bring a spark back into our lives, but she's so wrapped up in the kids, I don't think she sees me any more."
The sorrow in James’s voice pierced my heart. Was he right? Had I neglected him in favour of the children? I tried to think. Children were... children. They needed their mother's support, didn't they?
I thought of Rupert's mad dash for the bus this morning. No last minute hug for his mother any more. New friends on the school bus held his attention these days. I hadn’t noticed. "Mustn't be late Mum," The slamming door cut off his words.
And Mandy? "Have you ironed my ballet dress, Mum? Where’s my shoes? Did you get the marks off them?” She stopped only long enough to inhale. “I'm a fairy in the play today!” Green eyes turned anxious. “You are coming?" She waited only for my nod before the litany continued. "I'm dancing to one of the tunes from the Sugar Plume Fairy." Importance rolled off her tongue, and her smile challenged the sun.
"I know," I assured her.
"I'll see ya!" With one hand raised above her head, she too sailed after her brother in the direction of the school bus. When I'd glanced in James's direction I'd seen his wavy coffee-coloured hair above his morning newspaper.
Feeling suddenly bereft, I hadn't gone to James for reassurance but headed upstairs and run a hot bath, and emptied a bottle of highly scented bubble bath into the water. When I returned, I found the kitchen empty.
Anger warred with uncertainty, at my husband's words. Was he right? Or did they know I stood on the other side of the door? I placed the camera on the table just inside the sitting room and focussed on my thoughts.
Seven and nine, did I spend too much time focussed on the children? Could I delegate some of the responsibilities? Probably, I conceded. More than probably.
When I entered the room for the second time, James's shirt had vanished from the floor. His crisp white shirt offered no creased evidence of his recent romp with my sister. And Susie? Not a hair out of place. Had I misinterpreted the evidence in front of me?
Taking a deep breath I stepped forward. "James, Susie, I thought you both had important business meetings today." Did my eyes reveal my confusion?
"I had to come back for something," Susie replied, sending a swift glance in James’s direction.
A kind of understanding, I thought, and ignored it.
"Oh? Did you get it? If you'd rung, I could have brought it to your office for you." I offered.
"What about the kids?" Her smile slipped a bit.
"What about them? They're in school."
"Their school play?" James prompted.
"This afternoon. Four o' clock." Remembering the sadness I heard in his voice earlier, I offered a smile.
"I wondered," James hesitated then continued in a stronger voice. "I wondered whether you'd like to go out for a meal tonight at Lorenzo's?"
Habit almost tripped me up. James's words replayed in my mind, and I inhaled deeply. "I'd love to."
Shock, followed by delight crossed his face. Had I done that to him?
"I'll arrange a baby-sitter and book a table late enough for us both to enjoy their play and share their triumphs."
I didn’t hear Susie leave. My mouth suddenly dry, I turned back to James. "I heard what you said about me neglecting you." I swallowed the lump in my throat. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. I love you so much. Am I too late?”
“Too late?” James’s pulled me close. “No.” He smiled. "Susie warned me this might backfire, but agreed to help me make you jealous. “I love you so much, but I missed you.”
I forgot about the camera focussed in our direction.