Chapter 1, Does Eleanor Know?
2017, a good year for me. For someone who wasn't looking for a relationship when I met Joshua Hart, I’d have to say it’s going really well. He was pragmatic, did nothing by halves and flown me off my very grounded feet, in every sense of the word. I felt very sure of him.
He must also have felt sure of me too, asking me to move in with him at the top of the year. Although he did make it clear he couldn’t see himself getting married again. I reminded him, I was a rubbish cook and hated cleaning. His response, simple.
‘If I wanted a housekeeper, I’d get one.’
I’d also landed a dream job with a private jet company and was genuinely looking forward to the start of that.
Not so much of a high was the relationship between Joshua’s mother, Eleanor and myself. There always seemed to be this unsavoury edge in her dealings with me.
Nevertheless, Joshua and I topped off 2017 by buying a rental flat near Heathrow, refurbishing it, and taking our first tenants. Two pilots, starting with a low-cost airline out of the airport.
‘Hun, what’s going on in there?’ Knocking on the door.
‘Rearranging a few things.’
‘Would you like some help? And why is the door locked?’ Trying the door handle.
‘Okay, but you’ve been in and out of this room all morning.’
Had we not opened all our Christmas presents in the wee hours, I would have guessed it was a surprise gift, but we had.
I turn to Julia, who’s sitting very comfortably on our living room couch in the porcelain-white, cashmere lounge set to the luxe grey one I’m wearing. There’s a matching longline cardigan that goes with it. Mine currently hung over the back of the chair. Her mani-pedi, a cherry-red, while I got mine decked in a Thulian pink. A Christmas treat to ourselves, except she’s gone one step further and topped hers off with a Santa Claus hat. A sated grin on her face.
‘You slept in this room this morning; I know you know what's going on?’
‘Your guess is as good as mine hun.’
Joshua and Julia have their differences, but the bond between those two, never to be underestimated. As closely knit as the two parts of a kinky twist.
She innocently taps the space on the couch next to her for me to sit. I do so because truth be known, I’m tired from only two hours of sleep. And no, it’s not what your thinking. We stayed up, all three of us after our friends left, watching Netflix, playing games, opening presents, chatting and laughing. Only crowning our pillows after realising the BBC Breakfast team was gracing the tv screen in the kitchen.
I pick up a flute and the bottle Julia is drinking from out of the ice bucket, studying the ‘Non-Alcoholic’ label. Recalling she hadn’t drunk much, if anything, all night. I turn to her, with one slightly raised eyebrow, the no-alcohol caption aimed in her direction.
‘Hun, are you pregnant?’
She pauses for a bit, undoubtedly caught off guard by the question.
‘Oh Gawd No. Do you want to send Eleanor to hell and an early grave?’
‘We both sputter into a laugh.’
‘Can you imagine her face when I tell her that? You know how orthodox she is about that stuff.’
I pour myself a glass of her non-alcoholic sparkle, and we cheer Eleanor just as Joshua opens the door of the spare room. I want to leap to my feet and catch him as he opens the door. Julia, however, senses it, quickly shouting to Josh, who swaggers out.
The sleeves of a white shirt rolled three-quarters of the way up, tucked neatly into one of his most worn jeans. The pair of mahogany double-monks and matching belt (one of my Christmas gifts to him last night) now on the catwalk.
We had just slept next to each other, yet the sight of him trapped the air in my chest. My lips take on a mind of their own, pucker and suck in at the hot stuff standing in front of me. He looked damn fine.
Not only was he dressed, but wheeling our matching pair of Samsonite carryons. His overnight bag perched on one, a deep blue blazer draped on the other.
My eyes are now like dessert saucers as he tells me to get my shoe on.
It must have been the bubbles or the quick cadence my pulse had taken on; I no longer had control over the air that went in or out my lungs. I lurch forward, spluttering, doing my best to keep the juice in the glass and save the carpet from a cold bath.
‘Oh gosh, Josh, you’ve killed her!’ Julia chuckles to Joshua as she gives me a solid thump on my upper back. But if Julia’s thump was to save me from asphyxiation, I was now closer to dying from the pain of it.
I crawl back into the world of the living sufficiently conscious to ask.
‘Where are we going?’
‘Your Shoe.’ Was all he said.
I glance up at the clock on the wall; it’s coming up to nine in the morning.
Baby, it’s Christmas Day. Where are we going?
‘Em, at this pace, Captain Tan may have to come and get us instead of us going to meet him. Get a pair of heels on, please.’
‘Seriously? And can I wear this?’ Pulling the drawstrings of my joggers.
‘Baby, even if I draped you in a crocus bag, you’d still shine a light on those around you.’
He had a flourish with words, something else I admired about him.
Somehow I was glued to the couch, leaving Julia to get up, leave the room and return with a pair of dark grey heels belonging to me. My eyes skip from the heels Julia is pointing in my direction, to her and then to Joshua. No one said anything, not even the heels. Defeated, I put them on and pick up my matching cardigan.
Joshua had surprised me with last-minute trips before, but I’d always done the packing. Finding out we were travelling a few minutes before leaving and bags already packed was the eighth wonder in my world.
Julia was also shoving her feet into a pair of trainers. It was clear the joke, surprise, holy grail, whatever it was, was on me, so I said nothing more. We file out the door shortly after like the uneven containers of a cargo train—a carryon, Joshua, the other carryon, me, and Julia, who locked the door.
Joshua didn’t have his flight bag, which meant he wasn’t flying a plane back either.
Luggage cases in the car’s trunk, Julia plops herself in the back seat, and I, in the front, as Joshua keys the ignition into a song and choreography. The engine beats the same time as the horns of Mayer Hawthorne’s ‘Time for Love’ bleats through the speakers, Julia and I add backup vocals to his ‘Loving you in the day’ Still takes my breath away.′ He looks over at me knowingly; I give him a slow, sexy smile.
Quietly gushing to know he has been playing the song, as it's currently my jam on repeat. As in, I put it on and play it nonstop for hours and hours. You get the picture.
His authority behind the vehicle’s wheel as poetic as his command of his plane’s yoke, as confident as his handle on my body. But then, after two years together, there weren’t many things that he didn’t have a command on. In truth, I didn’t know of any. Just his presence alone was commanding.
We come up behind a less fast-moving car in the outer lane, he flashes the driver ahead, and they move over to the middle lane in their own time.
‘Josh, does Eleanor know she’ll not be seeing you today?’
‘Yes, she does!’
‘What did she say?’
‘What could she say?’ His response quick.
‘She wasn’t upset her favourite son and child was off with a woman other than herself on Christmas Day?’
Joshua scoffed at the word ‘favourite.’
I look over at him, his eyes on the road as he geared down for a bit of traffic because now, I, too, am a little surprised.
We catch up with the slow-moving traffic; Joshua looks over at me, then Julia. Turns back to the motorway and visibly inhales, tucking the front of his shirt to sit straight like an iron board cover over his torso.
It's a running joke that where Eleanor is concerned, Joshua often chooses his mother.
‘Despite what you two think, Julia, our mother, doesn’t always get her way. It only appears so. It's called negotiating.’
‘So, Josh, what did you give up?’ Julia jokes.
Julia and I laugh.
Honestly, those two, chalk and cheese one moment and then macaroni and cheese the next. And there are no prizes for guessing which one remained the constant.
The traffic clears, and we are again racing to the airport, ignoring his twin sisters jest.
Opening his left palm, he sweeps it over for me to place mine in. One of the ways he quietly reassures me. Holding him with my eyes, I put my right hand in his, and he squeezes it, before looking back to the road.
Being Christmas Day, the motorway is less of an unofficial parking lot and more of, well, a motorway, so we now geared down for the turnoff for Heathrow. Except he does not drive to his airlines’ terminal but heads to another. I’m no longer interested in where we are going, only that I’m going with him and that wherever it is, it is warm. Plus, there wasn’t a coat between the two of us.
In front of Terminal 2, he jumps out, swiftly comes around to my side of the car and opens the doors for Julia and me. Hands the keys to Julia and is getting the luggage cases out.
Julia hugs me, wishes me a ‘Merry Christmas’ and a safe flight and does the same to Joshua. And for some reason, only known to myself, I start bawling my eyes out. Julia catches the river streaming down my face and blurts out.
‘Em, what's with the emotions? Are YOU pregnant?’