The care home was busy for a Thursday evening. Mum sat in her usual seat and stared at the wall as if truly dazed. Her face was void of any emotion and her gaze, completely empty. More than anything, I wanted her comforting voice and motherly advice but knew I was asking of too much. Six years I had been without it and today was no different.
“Can you squeeze my hand, Mum?” I asked, holding still for a moment. “Just try. Please.”
I gave up in my attempts and settled further into my chair, keeping her hand grasped loosely in my own.
“You won’t remember this but you had a Granddaughter,” I began, ignoring the tight pull in my stomach. “I called her Charlotte and the parents…her parents…well, they decided to kept the name.”
I stopped to take breath, noticing briefly my sweating palms.
“I regret a lot of things in life but she wasn’t one of them. Everything about her was so pure and beautiful.” I laughed. “She looked like Dad. Poor thing.”
Mum remained lifeless in her position to my right but I didn’t let it stop me in my need to be honest.
“I didn’t think I’d want to be a mum after that but lately, I’ve been feeling differently. Leila is a sweetheart and stands for everything that is right in this world. She’s smart, loving and is fifty percent Spencer.”
Tears began congregating in my eyes, mocking in their arrival.
“I love them both so much and I’m terrified of losing them.”
No more was said as I completely broke down, in need of this outlet more than ever. I hated admitting my weaknesses but with Mum, it felt different. And not just because she couldn’t understand. No matter how old I got, I would always need her. Crave her. Love her.
Her hold on my hand tightened and for a moment, my entire world stopped.
Her gaze followed my voice but it just as quickly went back to its original place. Her hand went limp and long gone was the moment. But it didn’t matter. For a spit second, she was with me and that felt fantastic. More than fantastic. It was everything I came here for and more. It offered me reassurance and if there was anything I needed right now, it was that.
My mind returned to the present once the mention of my name came into play, though for the life of me, I couldn’t concentrate.
“Sorry, could you say that again?”
Tanya from marketing was occupying my office doorway, clearly in need of my assistance.
“Catering for The Rosalie launch are asking for their deposit. Can you approve that?” she asked, impartial to my awful appearance.
“Of course, I’ll send you an email now.” I offered her pretty face a small smile and set about typing up the promised email before I could forget. My brain wasn’t on top form lately and I needed to rectify the situation before it got me fired. A fucked up love life was no excuse for slacking at work.
Fucking hell! What now?
“Christ, you look just as bad as Spencer.”
My boyfriend’s best friend took it upon himself to enter my office, prompting me to dig for details. “How is he, Calvin?”
He shot me a sympathetic smile, accompanying it with his solemn news. “Not good.”
Seating himself opposite, he magically made a salad box appear from his briefcase, offering it to me. Soon, his own followed, alongside some plastic cutlery and a handful of paper napkins.
“Care to join me for lunch?” he asked. “I promise we don’t have to talk about anything personal.”
“He’s put you up to this, hasn’t he?” I enquired, reaching for the container.
I figured a nutritious meal couldn’t go amiss.
“He’s asked me to keep an eye on you, yes,” he admitted, cracking open his lid and mixing in the vinaigrette dressing. “Lunch was my idea.”
“Thanks. I appreciate the distraction.”
For a while, we both ate in silence. Occasionally, one of us would throw out a comment regarding the weather but eventually, it became obvious we were in need of addressing a certain issue.
“Has he told you?” I prompted, absentmindedly poking at a cherry tomato in my salad concoction.
“He told me what I needed to know. That Alister has dug into your past and has uncovered some things. What those things are, Spencer didn’t share and I didn’t ask.”
“I do know about your six month planned separation though,” he added, gifting me his smirk. “Smart move if you ask me.”
“You’re the only one who thinks so. Even Spencer took some convincing.” I sighed, feeling the familiar return of my aching head.
Calvin offered me a look of concern but didn’t press the matter. Being a dominant himself, he always did know exactly what to say and when to say it. He was good at reading people and likely sensed my resilience. Thank god. The dull throb in my head proved as much my inconvenience as it did my downfall. It pulled focus from work and was partly to blame for my lack of concentration to certain tasks.
“He’s stubborn, Jessica and he doesn’t want to lose you,” he replied, simple as that.
“I know that but he struggles to accept it,” he reasoned, justifying the actions of his best friend.
Yet another sigh fell from my lips.
“He’s been betrayed before.”
It was his turn to scoff.
“What Spencer has with you is more than what he ever shared with Isy,” he insisted, stern in his statement. “For years, he hid who he really was. Now he doesn’t have to.”
His determination filled me with so much confidence and support and for that, I was grateful. He was the only one to commend us on our decision. So far, everyone else had either attacked us or outright called stupidity on the whole thing. It felt nice knowing Calvin was on our side.
“Thanks. I’m pleased he’s got you,” I admitted, feeling slightly emotional. “How’s Lucy?”
My change in conversation was a little abrupt but I was keen to hide my current state of mind. I didn’t deal well with feelings and would rather they stay hidden. Especially with Calvin around. He was kind to show up here but I didn’t want him reporting back to Spencer that I wasn’t coping. That would achieve nothing.
“She’s fine. Defiant as ever.”
“She does that on purpose,” I smirked, munching on some lettuce.
“Don’t I know it!”
Again, we both fell into a comfortable silence, enjoying it for what it was.
“Do you love her, Calvin?”
My enquiry was certain to test boundaries but I didn’t care. I was desperate for a distraction.
“You fishing for details?” he laughed.
“What do you expect? My own love life has gone to shit.”
“Your love life has not gone to shit, Jessica,” he insisted, shaking his head. “You’re being awfully dramatic.”
I smiled at his slight scorning and ate some more, actually enjoying my food for once. I may have neglected my eating habits as of late, which was naughty of me. A bag of crisps was not a viable substitute for a meal, which was what had been on the menu last night. And the night before that, come to think of it.
“Don’t change the subject. I asked you a question,” I pushed, needing this more than ever.
“Yes, I love her.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“Is it?” he smirked, quirking a brow.
“Hmm. I knew you did but I needed confirmation, y’know?”
“Of course,” he replied, finishing off his lunch.
Once rid of his rubbish, he sunk lower into his chair and flexed each arm behind his head in a bid to further relax. His charcoal suit rebelled against the action but it didn’t seem to bother him. He oozed confidence and wouldn’t let a simple wardrobe malfunction stop him in his tracks.
“Anything else you’d like to interrogate me on?” he teased, stretching his body from limb to limb.
“Why do you deny it?”
“I didn’t deny it,” he retorted, confused.
“I don’t mean now,” I clarified, better explaining myself with regards to my question. “In Florence, you kept passing comment on other women. Why would you do that if you’re in love with Lucy?”
“I never said I was in love with her.”
“Oh, cut the crap, Calvin. We both know you are. My question is, what are you so afraid of?”
His eyes quickly darkened and for a moment, I was so sure he would cry. His pained expression cut deep, threatening to unmask his conflicting thoughts but just as quickly as it came, it went and before long, the old Calvin was back.
“Plenty. Now, if it’s quite alright with you, I’d like to discuss something else.”
“Coward!” I accused, gifting him my smirk.
He winked…cocky twat!
“Alister Branning,” he began, certainly gaining my attention. “I don’t trust that man. He’s dictating Isy’s every move.”
“That much is obvious,” I agreed, pushing my salad to one side.
I refrained from telling him the extent of what I knew or rather what I thought I knew.
“But why? Why go to all that trouble?”
I had yet to figure that out.
“Jealousy, maybe?” I suggested, noticing his immediate rejection.
“Seems a little much for someone who’s jealous.”
“Perhaps?” I settled, standing to bin my rubbish. “It’s a possibility though.”
I was over by the window when Scott coyly poked his head around my office door, right in time for his mandatory one O’clock check-up.
“You’ve no need. Spencer has sent Calvin today.”
“Right! Just making sure you haven’t drowned in your own tears,” he spoke, offering the other man a small wave.
I laughed. “Oh, piss off!”
The pair were annoying in their need to keep a close eye on me but I was secretly thankful. They were kind, considerate and most importantly, distracting.
“While you’re here, shall we catch up on the Tuscany site? I’ve had measurements sent though so we can discuss flooring,” offered Scott, back to business.
“Sounds great. Although I’m warning you now, Nathen is still set of that fish tank floor.”
Together, Scott and I fired him a distraught, “NO!” and just like that, I felt more like the old me. I still hurt in ways that I couldn’t fathom but powered on through by projecting my emotions onto something useful. Alister. Calvin was right. This vendetta he seemingly had with my man didn’t add up. He’d gone to great lengths to dig up my past, which was a little extreme and a lot suspicious. Why he felt the need to stoop to so low was beyond me. Alister thrived off control and I considered the possibility of this being about asserting that. But why Spencer? Why us? His problem seemed personal and I couldn’t shift the feeling that I was missing something. Something important. The wife-stealing lawyer didn’t deny looking into my past and appeared almost boastful in his findings. Spencer had asked for me to look into his past and now I understood why. Without evidence of his wrongdoings, there was very little we could do. Spencer and I had no way of reaching out to Isy privately and that was our biggest obstacle. Alister was manipulative and if he found out we were onto him, who knew what would happen to Isy as a consequence. Of course, there was still a possibility that this was all in my imagination and to some extent, I hoped it was. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone and knowing Leila lived amongst this made my involvement extremely difficult. Yet, with Alister now away on business, we could investigate the matter and hopefully offer Isy the help she required. Or we could at least try…