What the hell was Mike doing taking up this particular floorboard?
I looked around the room and felt as if something was tapping at my consciousness. Now I was thinking about it, lots of odd little things had been happening since Mike moved in with me. When I moved in I had the bed on the opposite wall to its present location – I slept on the right of the bed and wanted my back to the windows when it was bright in the morning, but Mike suggested the bed looked 'better' on the other wall; as I wasn't that bothered, we moved it and got thicker window treatments. Now it was exactly where Chris had placed his bed.
Mike knew where things were before he was shown. The bathroom, the pantry, where the spare key was to the back door for the courtyard garden. Once, and I'm kicking myself for only recalling it now, he suggested putting something in the cupboard under the stairs, but someone, possibly even Chris after I left, had previously taken the cupboard out and left the under stair space open. When I said that we didn't have a cupboard there he looked really bemused and we just laughed about it.
I went back to bed and left the stuff on the floor for the morning. Perhaps Mike would remember what he was doing when he awoke tomorrow.
Having been interrupted during the night, I overslept in the morning, and didn't wake until Mike brought me berry tea and some toast. I'd migrated to his side of the bed while I'd slept so he put the tea on his bedside table. The first thing I clapped eyes on was the filigree box.
"Did you bring that box up from the living room?"
"Good morning Mike, thanks for the tea, love of my life, ooh, toast as well, you are spoiling me, my dove. And, no, I didn't."
I hauled my dual occupation carcass upright and propped up the pillows behind me.
"Morning O light of my life, most precious of all my man-concubines. Thank you for the tea and toast."
"You're welcome. Is there such a thing as man-concubines? Didn't you bring it up here?"
"What? The box? No. Which reminds me. Do you remember getting up in the night?"
Mike shook his head.
"Nope. Slept like a log."
"Well, only if logs sleepwalk and take up floorboards. All that stuff on the floor is yours."
Mike shook his head again.
"I wondered. Thought you were having trouble sleeping."
The idea that I would calm myself for bed by tackling DIY seemed a bit off the wall, even for us, but I let the matter drop while I ate my toast.
Mike climbed on the bed beside me and ran his hand over the bump, which was fast becoming a personality in its own right.
"How's Junior today?"
"Active. Unerring sense of accuracy between his/her foot and my back, ribs, kidneys and bladder; delete as appropriate."
"That's my boy."
I'd finished my toast and we lay quiet, just relaxing. Mike's hand on my stomach was soothing and warm, and I felt quite drowsy. After a while I was vaguely aware that Mike had nodded off; he'd given that funny little jerk you do just when you fall into proper sleep. Pleasantly relaxed, I thought I'd shut my eyes, just for a minute.
"It's alright, darling, there's no need to worry, we have plenty of time to get to the hospital."
His tone is meant to be reassuring, but hers is querulous.
"I don't want to go to the hospital, can't we just stay here?"
"You know what the midwife said; your first baby ought to be at the hospital."
"First? You honestly think I'll have others after this?"
He didn't get chance to answer.
"Aaargh, not another one! I'm sure that was quicker than the last few. Oh, dear Heaven, it hurts!"
"I know it does, but just think what a wonderful thing is happening. We'll be seeing our baby soon. But you must get up, Sam, I've brought the car round, it's not far to walk."
"I can't move! Why don't you understand?"
Christopher's anxious-but-trying-to-hide-it face looks down at me on the bed, and I can feel the solid tightening of the muscles under my hand. My large belly is as tight as a drum and I want to detach it from me to make the pain go away.
He reached out and gathered me up, helping me to my feet. As I stood up the pain increased dramatically. Was this normal? I couldn't get a grip on what I was supposed to be doing before another pain sliced through me like a knife.
I jerked awake, disturbing Mike as I did so. As dreams go, it was frighteningly vivid and my heart was beating fast.
I didn't know what to say. Should I tell him I just had the wits knocked out of me with a scary 'labour' dream? It seemed ridiculous, but it had felt so real.
"Nothing; just a daft daydream and some Braxton-Hicks."
Mike shifted closer.
I smiled at the sleepily warm query.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Go back to sleep."
Mike already appeared to have done so, but I was wide awake now. I waited a little while until Mike had started to snore gently before I eased carefully out of the bed. Quietly, I went to the end of the bed and looked down at the floorboard Mike had tried to get at last night. Curiosity got the better of me and I knelt down, a little awkwardly, with the 'driver in my hand. The screw gave easily, and moments later I had the board up, though it squeaked noisily and I froze, waiting with bated breath to see if I'd woken Mike again.
His breathing continued evenly, and I put aside the board. I reached into the apparently empty floorspace and almost immediately put my hand on the small box I didn't really expect to find.
That's odd. How would Chris have made the shrewd investments I'd suggested to make their retirement comfortable if he hadn't found the box?
I brushed the accumulated dust of many years off the metal lid. I was in two minds about opening it, but I gave in and tried the lid. The box was locked. There was no key taped to the bottom, but I could see flaky remnants of ancient sticky tape where once a key had been taped. I reached back into the hidey-hole and after some unpleasant encounters with a few spider webs and hard lumps of things I don't want to think about, I found the key.
A moment later and I lifted the lid. My letter was still there.
But there were others too, several of them. Scarcely daring to believe my eyes, I took them all out. Mine had been opened. I picked the next one under mine and carefully opened the letter with fingers that were shaking.
If someone were to ask why I am writing this letter, I could not tell them, for to do so would make me appear quite mad. I shall not put pen to paper with my thoughts on where you are now, but it is my sincerest hope and wish that you are well and safe, particularly considering the condition you were in when we met for the last time.
I want, no, I need to thank you. Without meeting you, I'm not sure that I would ever have risked placing my heart into someone else's care. You showed me that life may still be a gamble, but if one doesn't ask, then the answer will always be 'no'.
I shall ask, later, when the time is right, as best as I can judge it, and will try to be patient until then. I have returned your original letter to the box as we both know that it cannot afford to be found by anyone else.
It was signed 'Yours with deep affection, Christopher', but my eyes filled up as I read; 'yours with deep affection' had been cleanly scored through with a single line and the words 'Love always' replaced them.
I replaced that letter and dug out the next one. It was dated May 1945. Several lines popped out at me as I skipped through the note.
The best of news, the War is over, and thank the Good Lord Above, we have come through it...
Paul and Edith Milner have a daughter, Clementine, who I pray will never see another war in her lifetime...
I have resigned – again, but this time I really mean to see it through. Times have changed, and I think it will be tough going for some years to come yet...
Sam has left the MTC and is working as a housekeeper to an artist. It concerns me, but I have to trust her judgement...
I didn't read the whole letter. I wanted to keep them all to read later, more carefully, when I wasn't seated on the floor in my nightwear, but I also wanted to open all the letters right this minute and find out just what happened to Chris, Sam and the others, even though I knew that the timeline had been 'fixed'.
I gathered up the letters and put them back in the metal box. I replaced the floorboard and screwed it back down, and then started the laborious process of getting to my feet. One leg was dead and gave me pins and needles when I finally got to my feet. I stood as still as possible and waited for the pain to pass.
Feeling oddly unsettled, I left the letters on the table between the two tall bedroom windows. I wanted Mike's arms around me, but I also felt disloyal to him by wanting to read letters from the man who had made love to me for one glorious, summer afternoon, and gave me the baby I carried under my heart.
I returned to the bed Mike and I shared and looked at the man I loved more than life itself. I got back on to the bed and propped myself sideways on my pillows. Mike snuffled, somehow realising that I was there, and moved closer to me. His head rested against my back and his hand slid proprietorially over my hip and on to The Bump. He mumbled something, but I didn't catch it all.
He still sounded all but asleep.
"Can't have a dog, my dear, not enough room..."
I froze; the hair on my neck stood up on end. For one insane moment, I was utterly convinced that Chris was behind me. The tone, the inflection, was completely his, not Mike at all.
I twisted around in the bed until I could see Mike's face. My agitation had woken him up, and he looked at me with drowsy puzzlement.
"What's up? You look like you've seen a ghost."
My heart was beating fast and my stomach flipped unhappily, but I made myself smile a little.
"You were talking in your sleep about not having a dog here because there wasn't enough room."
Mike rubbed a hand over his face and horizontally scratched his forehead, thinking hard by the look of it.
"Was I? That's odd. I've never thought of having a dog, but I suppose we could keep a small one, y'know, if you really wanted one. Do you?"
This was right out of the blue.
"No, I've never had one. Don't think it'd be a good idea anyway, I'll have my hands full with the baby soon."
I recognised that tone.
"Why? Do you want one?"
Mike's focus became distant as he gave the idea serious consideration. Then he gave me a sexy smile, and slid a hand up my leg, under my nightdress. I recognised a diversionary tactic when I saw it, but he had such a way with his diversions, I didn't really mind at all.
"Perhaps it's not a good idea. One animal in the house is enough for me."
We agreed to discuss it later. Much later.
Unfortunately I also forgot what started the conversation in the first place.
Christopher Foyle took a cautious sip of his scalding hot tea as he watched Sam – his wife – moving easily around the kitchen as she assembled breakfast. Three months married and she had settled in to this house as if she had always been there. He very rarely thought of Rosalind and Sam at the same time; certainly he did not attempt to compare them as they were quite different women in their own way, each of their era, but today for some reason he thought of Rosalind getting his breakfast while Andrew banged a wooden spoon on the table of his highchair and dropped boiled egg on the floor.
Sam glanced over her shoulder at him.
"One egg or two?"
"Oh, one will do nicely. I rather think my trousers are getting a little snug."
Sam turned from the cooker for a better look and smiled.
"Absolute tosh. You look just fine to me, I'm sure you're imagining it."
She turned back to the now gently frying eggs.
"Or I've been washing your trousers incorrectly. Anyway, my mother tells me that I should expect you to put on a little weight now that you are a married man, you know, contentment and all that. She seems to think that single men are incapable of managing to feed themselves properly."
Her husband's expression conveyed healthy scepticism.
"Don't worry, I told her that you were a marvellous cook and an absolute wonder in the kitchen."
Foyle's lips twisted with amusement.
"And how did that go down?"
"Badly. Backfired on me, actually. She was scandalised that you were cooking at all. She pointed out that it was my job now. It's quite odd. Mother is all in favour of women's emancipation, but has quite firm ideas about a husband and a wife's duties."
"Well, I shouldn't worry about that Sam, you are an asset in all parts of my life, including the cooking. Considering that we still have rationing you come up with some very imaginative meals with limited resources."
Sam efficiently slid one egg next to the bacon turnovers on a warmed plate and placed it in front of her husband. She put the other egg on her plate and took her seat at the table.
"You haven't forgiven me for the cabbage and mince scramble, have you?"
Foyle pursed his lips, biting back his amusement.
"It was an easy mistake to make; the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon is not clear in shorthand form."
Sam took up her cutlery, ready to tuck in.
"Yes, but it was salt. It was inedible."
"Mmm, yes, while I agree it was memorable, it isn't a habit of yours, so your laurels are safe."
Foyle poured a cup of tea for Sam and added a dash of milk. She nodded her thanks and they ate quietly. Sam, as usual, finished first.
"We'll go for a walk this afternoon if you like, you know, if you really are worried about your trousers."
Her husband pondered briefly on the short sharp shock of going outside to fill the coal scuttle earlier.
"We shall have to wrap up warm or walk quickly. It's bright, but quite cold out."
Sam had nearly finished her tea, making short work of it despite the temperature.
"We'll wrap up warm then. I think we get plenty of exercise as it is."
Her cheeky grin left her him under no illusion as to what form of exercise she meant. He reached to pick up his tea as she blithely continued.
"Besides, it's probably me shrinking the laundry. Several of my skirts and blouses are getting a bit tight too."
Foyle's hand stilled on his cup.
It's official. I am as big as a house. I can't reach to put on my socks. I gave up and found some summer slip ons. I change my clothing plan – yet again – and look for the pink and flowery dress that would only require guy lines to make it a passable marquee. After searching in the bottom of the wardrobe for an appropriate bag, my face is the same colour as the dress. I need another shower.
"You ready, hon?"
Do I look fracking ready, you skinny...
Deep breath. Unclench teeth. Relax...
Mike raised his eyebrow at the response; perhaps it was a little more terse than I was aiming for. With admirable restraint he didn't refer to the fact that I wasn't wearing what I had been wearing when he went downstairs. He also didn't make the mistake of telling me that I looked great or to hurry up.
Dear sweet adorable sexy Mike, the love of my life, hadn't put a foot wrong today but I am still irritated. How can I shout at him when he's done nothing wrong?
Hah! He's too perfect.
I open my mouth to give him both barrels, but he looked at me and smiled.
"We don't have to go, y'know. No-one would blame us. It's hot, you're tired..."
I cut off what I had been about to say. It was really tempting to stay here with my feet up. My back was killing me. I half-heartedly protested.
"It's a wedding, Mike. We can't just not turn up."
He smiled again and my heart melted. How does he do that?
"Of course we can. You're due any time in the next week or so, and they know it."
We made our way downstairs while we were talking. Mike turned to me in the hall, a serious look on his face.
"You don't need an excuse, you have a reason not to be there if you don't want to be. I can call and make our apologies. Unless you can you come up with a better reason not to go?"
I thought for a moment, rubbing The Bump. I usually found it quite soothing.
One thing did suddenly spring to mind.
"Um, Mike? I think my waters just broke."