I can still hear his voice.
As I read his letters, it's as if he is reading them to me. I see the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles, the way he bites his lip when he is thinking, and the interrogative lift of an eyebrow. I am both happy and sad as I read. Against all my training I cling to the thought that they are alive in the past, not dead and dust.
His happiness is obvious even if he doesn't say it overtly. The birth of their children, the arrival of a dog -
I back-tracked over that last. A dog?
...Sam asked for a dog, she said that it was essential for children to have a confidante for things they couldn't – or wouldn't – share with their parents. I said that we couldn't have one, there wasn't enough room, but matters overtook our discussion when a small Heinz variety that we discovered scavenging in the dustbin found room in our hearts shortly before it became room under the kitchen table...
My skin frizzed with goosebumps.
I heard him say that they didn't have room for a dog. He told me so himself.
What the heck was going on?
After having made myself a hot drink, I returned to bed and the letters. Sometimes the dates leapt forward in years, sometimes only a few months and I eagerly devoured the news, dreading - in more than one way - the last envelope.
But when I did get to it, it was more of a shock than I was anticipating.
It was from Sam.
When Mike came home I was in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to dinner. He came straight to me, or rather the saucepan I was holding, with all the direction of zealot.
"Something smells wonderful, what are you up to?"
As he had come up behind me, kissed the back of my neck and slid his hands around my returning waist before dropping his chin on my shoulder, I could forgive him his single-minded food fervour.
I stirred the sauce one more time and covered it with a lid.
"This is dinner. A dinner for us, alone and uninterrupted, seeing as how Grammas seems to have kidnapped our son."
Mike stilled guiltily.
I turned in his arms, smiling to let him know that he wasn't in trouble.
"It's okay. You did good. I've slept all afternoon. So I thought I'd fix dinner to show how grateful I am that I have such a thoughtful man in my life. However he couldn't make it, so you can eat it instead."
He caught up quickly and grinned, as I knew he would.
"Ha-ha, very funny."
Mike looked at me and we shared a 'moment'. Non-verbal conversations we were in tune enough to understand. He kissed me 'hello' very nicely.
"Do I have time for a quick shower?"
"Only if you go alone."
He turned at the door and smirked.
"Hold that thought."
He was back in ten minutes in fresh clothes, obviously invigorated by the shower. He was my Mike again. I took him through to the dining room end of the big front room and he looked at the table, set out for a romantic evening.
"This looks wonderful. Should I be worried?"
Although his words were light, his eyes asked me the real question. As usual when things got heavy, I turned to humour.
"It depends, I guess. I did briefly think that I should leave you and take Jonathan, but then I thought of all that peace and quiet that you'd have to endure and I couldn't leave you that happy, so we're staying. So sit, and I'll bring through the food."
Mike grabbed my hand as I turned back to the kitchen. He pulled me into his embrace and kissed me.
"It would be quiet, but there would be no peace without you."
As usual, he knew exactly what to say to me. The man read my mind. We held each other for the longest moment and I willed my soppy tears not to fall. I love this man so much.
"Now, woman, fetch my food, I'm starved."
I'd forgotten the food completely.
Just as I was bringing the filled plates into the dining room, Mike looked up from pouring the wine. The strangest feeling of deja-vu swept over me. Mike looked concerned when I stopped dead in the doorway.
I shook off the sensation and placed our food on the table.
"It's nothing, I just had the feeling that we'd done exactly this thing before, which is stupid, because we've had lots of meals here like this."
Mike looked at the table settings and at the bottle in his hand.
"Well, not exactly like this. The candles, the wine, the fancy china, and just the two of us. Usually there's more family..."
He frowned as he trailed off and looked at the table again. His face cleared and his grin was back.
"It does feel familiar. But it's in a good way."
He was standing behind my chair and pulled it out to seat me. He took his own seat and picked up his wineglass.
He took my hand in his free one.
Mike didn't let go of my hand.
"I don't mean for this. I mean, this is nice, but it isn't what I was thanking you for. I mean thank you, for everything. You, me, Jonathan, everything."
Ah, now I got it.
God, more tears?
Mike got a watery grin, but his eyes looked suspiciously shiny too.
"You're still welcome."
We ate the meal but hardly noticed, I think, because we were talking, laughing, and reminding ourselves what it was like to be on a date again. We moved to the sofa with our drinks to let the first course go down. It was fun to have the guilt free time to ourselves. A couple of hours passed in no time and I felt very mellow. I wasn't the wine, as I'd had alcohol free for Junior's meal requirements, but the atmosphere was relaxed, the talk convivial, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
"Penny for them?"
"You were smiling..."
"Was I? Not surprised...this feels like a date and I was just thinking how much fun I'm having."
Mike's grin turned delightfully lascivious. He waggled his eyebrows in evil letch fashion and twirled a non-existent moustache.
"A date, my dear? This is no 'date'. This is a seduction, a prelude to getting my evil way with you."
"Your evil way with me?"
"Yes. I plan to get into your knickers before the evening is over."
I laughed but privately acknowledged the thrill of anticipation that shot through me.
"You old romantic."
Spooned behind me as we lay on the sofa, Mike's arms tightened around me.
One of his hands rested on my leg, just below the hem of my dress. The hand started to drift upwards. I shivered with suppressed excitement, but I kept my tone flat.
Mike looked at me in concern, his hand halted. I looked down so he wouldn't see the grin I was hiding.
I sighed heavily.
"Well, if I'd known you wanted to get into my knickers, I would have worn some..."
There was about two seconds of dead silence.
"You are not wearing...?"
"So all through the meal and while we've been talking, you had nothing on under...?"
The wandering hand slid up under my dress. I gasped aloud. His touch was electric.
"Kerrist. It's a good job I didn't know. Dinner would have gone cold."
I turned in his arms and smirked as I reached for his zipper.
"The dessert is cold..."
"It damn well will be by the time we're ready for it."
He was right.
"Happy New Year, Sam."
"Happy New Year, darling!"
Sam Foyle kissed her husband; her first kiss of the New Year, and the first, she sincerely hoped, of many more kisses and New Years together.
Although they both had a lot to be thankful for, and people to share it with them, they had both preferred to stay at home for last night's celebrations. Sam admitted that she thought everyone would guess at her news and wanted it to be between the two of them just a little bit longer, and although Foyle was pleased about the baby in his quietly understated way, he also knew that there would be some not-so-subtle nudges and winks among his friends and former colleagues.
Sam scooted against his side in the bed and slid her arm across his stomach. Foyle recognised the familiar gleam in her eyes. He kept his smirk to a small grin, feeling a rush of love for his wife. He put his arm around her shoulders and held her close.
"Why do I get the impression that it will be a while before we get any breakfast?"
Sam grinned widely. She loved it when she didn't always have to use words to tell him what she would like. She toyed with the buttons on his pyjama top. The top one slipped undone.
"Well, it occurs to me that we don't have to worry about getting in the family way now, so I thought we could have some...fun."
Foyle looked at with a small frown.
"Don't we usually have fun?"
Realising that she might have unintentionally upset him, she hurried to explain.
"Oh, always, but that's for me. It's just that I've noticed occasionally that you have slightly less of it than I do, because you're being careful. Did you think I wouldn't notice?"
Foyle's frown cleared. He should have realised that she would notice.
"No, I didn't think that, I simply thought it would be nice not to rush straight into a honeymoon baby. Have you to myself for just a little while, y'know?"
"Yes, I do, and I appreciated the thoughtfulness of it, honestly..."
A second button slipped undone with Sam's assistance.
"...but I think we should make the most of the time we have to not be careful."
The third button slipped free and the jacket parted.
Sam smiled cheekily.
"Don't you agree?"
Mike had gone to work but I had one last thing I wanted to do before I went to collect Jonathan.
I opened the letter from Sam with fingers that trembled. I knew that there would be a last letter, but...I guess I simply hadn't wanted to think about it.
Alive in the past.
Sam's handwriting was spiky and heavily as if her emotions were high when she wrote the letter. I quelled the urge to skip through to find out why I had such a strong feeling of dread.
I had no idea why Christopher should be keeping such an odd diary to you when he first told me about it. I don't think he would have told me at all, except that I came home from shopping unexpectedly early – I'd forgotten my purse – and found him with the floorboard up.
At first I was angry. I loved him before he met you. How dare he love you? But when he explained – without apology, for there was nothing to apologise for – I realised that, rather than take him from me, you had enabled Christopher to be free to love me, and for that I shall always be grateful.
I just wish that there was some way I could tell you how much you gave to the both of us. I'm not sure even why I'm doing this - it's not as if you will ever read my letter - it's just that since he was killed -
He died of old age in his nineties. Sam never married again. I'm sure of it.
What the frack is going on?
I continued reading.
...I feel so lost. I miss him so much. I don't know how to carry on, but I shall have to for the children; they are so young and I'm devastated that they will not have their father in their lives...
Something is terribly wrong. Christopher attended all three of his children's weddings. I remember it from Sam's diary...
I went through all the letters again, looking at their dates. I looked at the date on Sam's letter. I got up from the floor and immediately got in contact with Mike at work.
"Hi, honey, this is -"
I cut in.
"Is this line secure?"
The momentary silence reassured me that Mike was all business.
"Yes. What's up?"
"Something's gone wrong. I have to go back."
He didn't pretend not to know what I was talking about.
"You can't. It's not allowed."
"I know that. But I still have to go."
"You can't without authorisation."
"I'm betting I can."
The was a thick silence from the other end of the line.
It was then that it dawned on me what I'd been keeping back from Mike without even thinking about it.
How could I explain that half of the letters Christopher had written to me were dated after he had been killed when I hadn't even told Mike about the box or the letters?