This Wretched Heart

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Marrakesh Part 2

Lara

Her senses had never been so stimulated . She had seen the ad years ago on TV about Morocco. The caption ‘ A feast for the senses’ had passed her by until now. Everything was clamoring for her attention. Mounds upon triangular mounds of spices lit up the streets. Cumin, cardamom, cinnamon she recognized but there were thousands more. She was reminded of that overwhelming feeling upon visiting an Asian supermarket. All those amazing ingredients in dinky packaging most of which she didn’t recognize and would probably never taste. She was lucky at least with Peter, who really knew so much more about food than she realized.Even completely out of his own environment he was comfortable anywhere where cuisine was concerned. Sam was impressed too, she could tell by the way he listened intently as Peter explained ‘Ras el Hanout'.

‘ It’s ‘ head of the shop’ I think.’ The shop-seller had nodded in acquiescence.

Peter grinned, he had impressed himself ‘ A mix of spices , the best of the shop, it’s great I’ve used some in the Bistro.’

‘ Maybe Madame would like some of this spice?’ The shop-seller pointed at a red mix of rose petals and other ambiguous spices.

Sam chuckled ‘ Madame doesn’t need that I’m sure’ He turned to them ‘ They always try that with tourists.’

‘ What is it ?’ Lara was intrigued.

Sam blushed which was unusual ‘ It’s an aphrodisiac for women’ They all chuckled.

‘Non merci Monsieur’ Lara giggled, suddenly jumping with fright as she noticed the lazy gaze of quite a large lizard on his shoulder. Everything here was unfamiliar and she loved it. Every visit to a shop was a chance for a new adventure. The heady mix of heat and the smell of sweat and spices was both unnerving and intoxicating. She felt liberated for the first time in a very long time. She didn’t even have time to think about the strangeness of the three of them being on holiday together, she would analyse that later. For now, she was just happy to immerse herself in all things Moroccan. There was no tension between her and Peter except for the occasional tiff. They had amazing sex when they had arrived which had surprised them both. Sam’s parents’ villa was the perfect setting. A spacious Riad in the middle of the bustling city. They had both gasped as he had led them through the unassuming wooden door into the most beautiful courtyard. Bougainvillea seemed to float in the air around them , as it grew gracefully from huge pots dotted around the open air centre. A small gurgling fountain in the centre filled her with a serenity so pure she closed eyes overcome with it all.

Sam was completely at ease here, she could tell by the way his shoulders seemed to have dropped since their flight over. She had been asleep for most of it and had been mortified to wake and see she had drooled all over Peter right in front of Sam. Mortification was replaced with relief when she heard the two bantering like old friends as the plane prepared its descent. Sam must have been nervous travelling with a couple, but then he was used to hanging out in large groups all the time. She hoped he wouldn’t feel like a ‘third wheel’. Of course she had questioned his motives when Peter had come home from the Bistro , beaming like a Cheshire cat, smugly pulling out the magazine cutting Sam had given him.

‘ Guess what ?’ His kiss found her nose as she sat on the sofa watching yet another depressing reality show filling her with inadequacy watching women juggle several careers while looking stunningly groomed.

‘ What?’ she hadn’t seen him this excited in a very long time. Peter didn’t really tend to show excitement even though he pointed out frequently how reserved she was . It frustrated her when she tried to get him passionate about things like Christmas shopping or picnics but was met with a less than thrilled expression.

‘I’m just not that kind of guy! Can you imagine me jumping around like a bunny, you’d think I was touched’.

Fair enough. She just wished that he was little more high energy about doing things with her. He only became openly enthusiastic when it came to talking about films or new menus in the Bistro. This bout of eagerness was intriguing.

‘What’s going on ?’ She sat up paying full attention.

‘ WE … ARE... GOING... drum roll please... tooooooo’

‘ Come on Peter you’re killing me here’ She feigned a gangster accent.

‘Marrakesh! ’ The word resonated around the room and filled her brain with a myriad of questions.

‘ Are you serious?’ She knew he must be but she was trying to picture how this had come about.He explained to her about Sam and her brain was awash with a thousand more ‘why’s?’

‘ So he came to you especially about this?’ What the hell was he playing it at? This was so strange. She imagined organizing a holiday with one of his flings , not that Peter was a fling but Sam hardly knew him that well. They had dinner and yes they had gone to the cinema but she would have thought that Sam would come to her first with a suggestion as big as this . She fought the impulse to cry like a baby and pictured herself screaming wildly at Sam ‘ But I thought you were my friend !!’ She felt silly and hurt and as usual it must have been written all over her face because Peter was trying to make her feel better.

‘Don’t look like that, he just knew that I was the one who really wanted to go there , what with all the cooking influences for the Bistro and caus I was so enthusiastic about it at dinner.’ Lara thought she had shown enthusiasm too but admittedly Peter had actually taken Sam seriously about the potential invite. She had assumed it was just drunken banter after all.

‘ You’re right sorry that’s not why I’m not excited. It’s not like I have dibs over the guy or anything.’

She felt stupid again for saying that,

‘ I mean what I’m most worried about is getting time off work’. This wasn’t strictly true. She hadn’t even taken any sick days recently, unlike her college years . She did find it hard however maintaining a perfect attendance record and there were still the days when the urge to stay under her duvet overwhelmed her but she she knew that if she started to slip she could quite easily return to the quicksands of depression.

'C’mon Lara you need a proper holiday!’ Peter was right, a little perspective would do her good.

‘ And you’re really ok with staying in a house with Sam..who you hardly know ?’ She had to ask.

‘ I am if you are’ He beamed ‘ He really is a nice guy , you’re right.'

This was actually sounding like it could happen. Not like the million of other plans she and Peter made yearly about all the things they would do . They would talk at length about taking time-out to travel or set up an online business together . They would bounce millions of ideas off each other but neither would actually resolve to go do something concrete.

‘ We would need to see about financing this’. Peter’s brow would furrow.

‘ Oh yeah of course’ Lara would nod ‘ Obviously.’

Then life got in the way and they would be too busy to look into it further. When they took time off it was always aimless.Here was the opportunity for a taste of the exotic, to finally go somewhere different together and not break the bank. Yes.. the circumstances were a little unusual but Lara had to remind herself that all the feelings towards Sam had never found there way out of her mind. Both Sam and Peter were oblivious and she shouldn’t let a silly crush stop them all from having a great time.

‘ I’ll try to get the time off.’ She giggled as Peter picked her up and twirled her around.

‘ Brilliant I’ll talk to Joe too and we can plan with Sam.'

Everything had been easy after that. Her manager had seemed happy she was taking time off.

‘ The break will do you good.’ This gave her the horrible feeling that all her efforts at appearing in control hadn’t been so successful.

‘ It’s just you work so hard Lara it’s good to take it easy.’ Her stupid face had betrayed her again.

Joe had been equally forthcoming and soon the various guides about travelling to Morocco piled up on the coffee table. She was a little frightened of being in a Muslim country. The news was filled everyday with mobs of bearded men burning Presidential effigies.

‘ We’d be angry too Lara if they were coming in and taking our resources’ Peter was right and besides Morocco was peaceful as far as she could see. Sam had reassured them that there was nothing threatening about Marrakech and that they would feel welcome and safe.

He had been right. As soon as the plane door opened and the warm air had settled in her lungs a strange lulling feeling had entered her soul. The rustle of the eucalyptus trees which dotted the airport car park brought calm to a usually stressful setting. The porter who had taken their bags to the taxi was smiling and welcoming and everything since had been wonderful. She couldn’t believe that their final evening in this beautiful city had arrived and the wonderful surprise stay in this fabulous Riad that Sam had organised. She had thought that lunch had been the best meal she had ever eaten until the lamb, prune and almond tagine had been served up that evening. The meat literally fell off the bone and they greedily soaked up the unctuous sauce with generous pieces of a round home-cooked loaf. She loved the sharing of one dish between them all. It was so much more communal that way. Sam was like a true Moroccan, doling out the best pieces of meat to herself and Peter. They sat in silence for a while, digesting the food and the atmosphere.

‘ Guys, I’m sorry to be a wet blanket but I need to call it a day’ Peter had just walloped the last piece of watermelon. ‘ I think the heat is getting to me a bit and maybe the huge amount of grub I’ve just eaten.’ He grinned sheepishly

‘ Yeah I’ll go too then’ Lara wasn’t tired in the least but it felt like the right thing to say , that’s what she would have expected from him.

‘ Don’t be silly it’s only eight and it’s our last night, stay up and enjoy !’ He kissed her cheek and stood up from the table.

‘ Sam, mate this has been amazing , truly truly amazing , I really can’t thank you enough for all your hospitality, you’re a great guy , truly great’. The wine had clearly done its work as Peter made his way over to the amused recipient of all his affection and a big bear hug.

‘ It’s been my pleasure, truly , truly’ Sam grinned and then looked directly at Lara whose breath caught in her chest. This was the first of any sign that Sam had made to her throughout their stay that the chemistry and flirtation was more than her silly fanciful imagination. He had been brilliantly welcoming and a wonderful host but nothing more.This glance floored her because up to then there hadn’t been the least glimmer of flirtation between them. He hadn’t alluded to any of their deep conversations or pretended to know any more about her than any other good friend. Their stay had been eye opening both in terms of getting to know the wonderful culture around them while also realising that there was nothing more than friendship between them. She couldn’t deny how attracted to him she was but she would never act on it. She was an adult after all, she could control her urges and make sure that there was no situation that would make it difficult.

‘ No really I think I’ll go to bed’ She stood up but Peter who had let go of Sam came over and planted his hands firmly on her shoulders.

‘ You can’t leave poor Sam here on his own on our last night’. She felt guilty and it was true it would be rude just to leave him there so early in the night after everything he had done for them. She hated feeling rude so she smiled and stayed seated. She was opposite him at the zellige tiled table top which had earlier housed the array of side salads to accompany their delicious home cooked tajine. It now held the remnants of watermelon and figs which Fatima was cleaning away, her presence always sending Lara into an uncomfortable silence. This time she tried to get over it.

‘ My waistline won’t thank you that’s for sure’ She smiled shyly at Sam who had gotten up to light some of the lanterns dotted around the courtyard. Moons and and stars cast their shadows about the walls and upon their skin while Lara was reminded that this time tomorrow she would no longer be able to sit outside and look up at the real stars above her. The smog of the city wouldn’t allow it.

‘ It’s all healthy food so don’t worry’ he chuckled ‘ Well not all’ Fatima had just rested an enormous mound of local sweet treats on the table. She returned a few minutes later accompanied by the sweet waft of mint tea in a silver pot surrounded by three ornately coloured glasses.

‘ Monsieur Peter won’t be having tea ?’ She directed this at Lara who shook her head and wasn’t sure if she imagined the register of surprise on the older woman’s face. Sam must have seen it too.

‘ Don’t worry she’s old fashioned and probably thinks it’s strange that we’re here chatting together at this time of night’ They both laughed and Lara helped herself to a date which had been cut in half to hold marzipan and a walnut. The sweetness stuck in her throat a little. Sam poured the tea in the traditional manner which involved raising and lowering the stream to cool the boiling liquid down.

‘ They tend to over sweeten it in my opinion so I always ask for the sugar on the side’ He handed her a piece of paper which held a cone of sugar.

‘ You can break it off with your spoon or fingers, whichever’.

‘ God I know I keep saying it but everything is so different here, I mean even the sugar!’.

‘ Yeah it’s a world away from home isn’t it ?’ He sat back and crossed his arms behind his head, ‘ I miss it already’.

‘ But you can come and go all the time can’t you ?’ She felt bad stating the obvious but a part of her felt cheated because she knew that this was probably her last time here.

‘ Well yeah I suppose I can, but there aren’t many people I want to bring with me and it’s not really the same on my own’.

Lara assumed he had gaggles of friends he could bring along at any time.

‘ Have you ever come here with anyone ?’ She was curious now.

‘ Once. I brought a mate of mine from home and well he .. hated it. He hated everything. The food, the heat , the people’.

‘ Seriously?’

‘ Yep I know hard to believe but he kept going on about how Dubai was so much better and how there was air conditioning everywhere and real food’.

‘ You mean McDonalds?’ They both laughed.

‘There’s McDonalds here too but I was damned if I was going to bring him to one’ He leaned forward, the way he did when he felt strongly about something ‘ I mean why the fuck go abroad if you want everything to stay the same?’

‘ I know’ He was right and she felt slightly guilty because before this holiday she had sort of felt the same. She hadn’t wanted to go somewhere completely different because she found it hard to adjust to new situations. She had been terrified coming here , that Sam would see her in a different light. That what he had mistaken for someone interesting was in fact just a bore who preferred to sit at home. It was easy to pretend to long for adventure when you couldn’t really go anywhere. Having been here only one week she felt altered. She was aware that they weren’t exactly roughing it but it was more than just a nice bathroom and soft bed. Her skin had absorbed the essence of another country and it now formed a sub layer which clung to her bones . She realised just then that she would come back even if it wasn’t with Sam, she would make it happen.There was so much more she wanted to experience. He had told them about a seaside village just about two hours away where you could eat fish straight off the boats.

‘ It’s just so relaxed and there’s this hippy vibe which makes you want to walk around in colourful baggy trousers and wear turbans’. He smirked ‘ I spent many a summer walking around with this stripy hat with fake dreads - God I looked like such a wally, I cringe a little to say the least’.

There was something about how his eyes lit up that made her determined to see the village for herself. They had decided they didn’t have enough time on this trip and she was surprised that Sam didn’t say anything about another visit together. Maybe he had felt sorry for them and this was more a charitable act than one of genuine friendship. She crumbled as she always did when she imagined that someone felt pity for her. She had never before felt envious about anyone’s wealth but now that she had a taste for what it could buy she felt a bit sorry for herself. Her desires and hobbies had always been manageable so money had never stopped her. She remembered when Peter had decided to start sailing as a hobby but had to eventually stop because it was so expensive. That would make Sam’s eyes crinkle with pity that’s for sure.Maybe he had seen their humble home and felt that the least he could do was invite them away for a holiday. Still it was quite a big jump to go away on holidays with them, he could have suggested somewhere locally. She knew that she should give themselves more credit and that he most likely enjoyed their company.

How would it be when they got back? Would he start hanging out with them as a couple and stop jogging with her? She felt heavy with dread at the thoughts of not sitting with him every week and hearing about his life and being able to tell him things she hadn’t told anyone else.

All of a sudden she couldn’t bear it, she couldn’t stand the thoughts of returning home and wondering forever where she stood with him., even though she had sworn to herself nothing would happen Had she really felt chemistry where there was none. The mind was powerful yes, but was hers so fanciful as to create a completely non-existent flirtation? Oh God, she felt mad and she was mad, in a way. Most people hadn’t seen what she had. Maybe her brain was capable of making things up so she could feel better. Maybe she had been feeling a lull in her relationship, a stagnancy even and Sam had come along just at the right time to fill her mind with renewed possibility. She was nothing more than a fantasist. Those silly women you pity in books or films. She had to know for certain so she could help herself in the right direction, so she wouldn’t be eaten up with questions about her perspective. She had to prove her father wrong.

Her mind swept back to home and to her father’s words. ‘ I had an affair’.

The words he had uttered had stopped her blood and stilled the air around them. It had shocked her t how alike her reaction had been to those words and to how she had stood glued to the spot when she had found her mother’s body. Time seemed to lose its power on her and she wasn’t sure how long she had sat staring at her father. Her mind full of horror had focused on a tiny spider which had landed from its web onto her father’s shoulder. It was making its way down his arm. Her father had seen her gaze drift and brushed it away. When she had seen her mother in all the blood her mind too had focused irrationally on how her beautiful red hair intertwined with the the crimson streaks. She had been angry with herself later. That she had not climbed in and tried to resuscitate her mother was something she would have to live with the rest of her life. Again her psychologists words rang in her ears like a children’s chant ‘ She was already dead, She was already dead’.

She knew of course that this was true, her eyes had been blank and unseeing but then this was nothing new. The last time she had seen her mother alive had been that morning when they hadn’t said a word to each other. This happened a lot on her bad days and Lara had been having a dark day too. Her mother had sat at the kitchen table in a night dress staring into space. Lara hadn’t the energy to try and talk to her or bring her out of herself. She was having a hard enough time getting her own act together. she had left without even saying goodbye.

‘ I thought that suicidal people put up a front before they decide to kill themselves’ Years later she had heard this on some TV programe.

‘ Your mother probably hadn’t planned on killing herself Lara, it was probably a spur of the moment thing’.

She had laughed a horrible laugh at those words. The councillor might as well say that her own mother had taken her life on a whim. She didn’t know which was worse.

In a few moments her father had completely unburdened her of the guilt and replaced it with a crushing weight of a different kind.

‘ Why are you telling me this, how could you cheat on her ?’

‘ Lara please I told you I hadn’t planned on telling you now but well you have to see why I have to?’

She was completely puzzled.

‘ What does you having an affair have to do with dinner and today ?’

‘ Can’t you see my darling that I never meant to have an affair. I was just so unhappy seeing your mother so depressed all the time. I blamed myself all the time even though she told me it wasn’t my fault’,

God history really was repeating itself and Lara shifted uncomfortably.

‘ Are you telling me because you think Peter is going to have an affair ?’

She was already angry at her father for what he had done and now he was trying to push his shit onto her relationship.

‘ If that’s what you think, you really don’t know Peter’.

‘It’s not Peter I’m worried about’. He said this in almost a whisper but the words entered her eardrum like tiny shards of glass.

‘ What are you talking about?’ Had Peter said something to him. She couldn’t take it. Her past and her present were being swallowed into an abyss and she was barely standing on the edge. She held onto the arm of the bench because she really thought she might slide off.

‘ Has..’ she struggled to say the words as she feared what she was going to say would sound like an admission’ Has Peter said something?’

‘My God no.’ His smile was conspiratorial and was making her nauseous. ‘ He has no idea about you and Sam’.

‘ Dad please’, She grabbed his arm ‘ There is nothing between me and Sam. Nothing has happened between us I swear. I don’t know where you’re getting this from.’ She felt vindicated by her own words which were all true. Unless her Dad was a mind reader he couldn’t know how she felt.

‘ Lara I know my daughter, if I was capable of cheating on your mother then you are capable of cheating on Peter’.

‘ How dare you say that,?’ She was furious. He should have been grovelling and apologising about what he had done and instead he was deflecting it onto her.

‘ I would never, ever , cheat on Peter and as for knowing me … well it’s not like the lines of communication have been very open between us.’ She knew that her mind had strayed recently but she also knew that she would never act on her feelings with Sam. She shivered because even as she told herself this her mind was full of all the different stories of people cheating. Everyday couples that thought they were set in cement, broke up over allegations of straying. What made her think they were so special? She was a romantic but also a pragmatic and statistics were increasingly against them. Then again she worked with numbers everyday and she knew that they too could lie.

‘ I thought I would never cheat on Lilly’. Her father’s brown eyes were looking into hers.

‘ So what happened?’ She had to know.

‘ I met a ‘ friend’ a female friend at work. She was new and lonely and I suppose I was lonely too’.

‘ So did you tell her how your wife didn’t understand you and how you were really only together because of me?’ The venom in her tone surprised her but he seemed to expect it.

‘ Nothing as cliched as that Lara , please let me explain Your mother was increasingly depressed at home and I couldn’t really go out anymore and meet friends because she wouldn’t come out with me. I suppose I felt guilty leaving you there on your own with her when she was like that’.

She didn’t know what he wanted her to say but a ‘thank you’ wasn’t forthcoming.

‘ I tried to be cheerful enough for the both of us to give you some kind of normality. I mean your mother was in fantastic form some of the time and then.. I suppose I just didn’t want to go anywhere. I wanted to grab those rare moments of happiness with her’.

She could understand that. Her good days were much more frequent than the bad and she realized how precious it was to be content and not in a black turmoil.

‘ Lena..’ He gulped as he said her name for the first time. Lara felt herself shudder. The name was too young for her father .

‘Lena was there to talk to everyday and she was always the same. She was I suppose, my constant during that time’.

‘ What about me ?’ She wanted to scream but she knew she hadn’t been constant at the time, she never was.

‘ Did you love her ?’ The answer was going to hurt either way.

‘ No I don’t think I did.. I’m not sure.We went to lunch everyday together. At first in the staff room we would just sit together in a big crowd and eat and laugh’. He smiled and she felt a tiny lump of the anger crumble away like the edge of a sandcastle.

‘ Then we went out for walks and I suppose we became closer.'

‘ Dad I don’t want the gory details.'

‘ Please Lara it wasn’t like that. We weren’t doing anything, we were just talking and getting to know each other for over a year.'

‘ So what changed, why couldn’t you just stay friends?’ Why couldn’t a man and woman just stay friends ? She wanted to shout this to the universe.

‘ I suppose I was feeling increasingly distant from your mother and more and more redundant in my own home. Lena made me feel like what I had to say was important. Your mother at times didn’t even see me. I felt like a ghost haunting my wife and daughter.'

The memories of her being cooped up in her bedroom came back. She hadn’t really given her father’s presence any real consideration during those times. He was downstairs with her mum as far as she was concerned. Something else she could feel guilty about.

‘ Lara please, you were a child it wasn’t your place to fix things for me and your mother.' He patted her knee gently but quickly took his hand away before she could move.

‘ You have to understand I was lonely and here was this attractive woman that I saw everyday at work regardless of my choosing. I’m not saying I avoided her but it felt like I was being pushed towards her somehow.’

Normally she would have rolled her eyes but the sad fact was that she related to that feeling. Something had guided her towards Sam and it was more than just attraction, it was like he was meant to be part of her life in some way like Peter had been that day he caught her.

‘ I know it was wrong Lara but I needed Lena at the time. I had no one else. Your mother of course found out. One of those busy body women at one of her classes told her that they had seen us out and about the town a lot’.

‘ What.. how did she take it??’ How had she not known this was going on? Her parents had arguments but she couldn’t remember any major screaming matches which she imagined must have happened when her mum heard that piece of information.

‘ She confronted me and I admitted it straight away. It had only been a few weeks since Lena and I had.. well you know, anyway the guilt was eating me up and I suppose it felt worse because your mum was going through a good patch at the time and it was hard to justify in that moment to myself why I had..’

‘Is that when she killed herself?’ Trying not to blame him was pointless and anyway she didn’t want to forgive him. He may not have realized it but he had let her wallow in self -hate for years. He may have been talking to himself when he had uttered the words ‘it’s not your fault’, but how could she have known? How could he have been so selfish?

‘ Look Lara I know it’s easy to blame me now that you know what happened and that’s why I never wanted to tell you. I didn’t want you to look at me the way you are now.’ The tears in his eyes made her angry.

‘ Can I not be upset for just a few moments Dad, can you not just at least give me that?’

He had continued to explain that he too had been to therapy with her mum. Lara wasn’t sure which shocked her more, the affair or the admission that he had been to therapy. Her mother had been suffering from severe depression and extreme low self-esteem. The affair of course hadn’t helped but it was nearly a year later that she had committed suicide.

‘She tried to forgive me and the I think... I don’t want you to get angry when I say this .. I think she was relieved in a way because now she didn’t feel she was the only one who was .. failing’.

‘She wasn’t fucking failing Dad she was depressed.’ God he really didn’t understand what it felt like to carry a black cloud with you through life. It wasn’t her choice.

‘ Of course she wasn’t failing but that’s how she felt, I’m sure you understand that aspect of depression.' Ok he did get it but she was still feeling angry and hurt.

‘ I thought our relationship was back on track and then.. well … Oh God Lara I wish I could go back and change it. I wish I could go back to that day when I offered Lena a biscuit and just sit reading my newspaper like I always did. I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight but I’m trying to avoid anything like this happening to you.'

She still didn’t understand how he had picked up on anything between her and Sam.

‘ How.. I mean why today ? ’

‘ Don’t be so naive my dear , I saw the way you looked at him when we arrived at the door. I saw the way his eyes lit up when he told me how you met. You don’t have any male friends and yet you go jogging with this handsome man a few times a week. And ..’ he laughed a harsh laugh ‘ And well now you have him over for a family dinner. I mean for Christ’s Sake even Peter likes the guy.'

‘ He’s just a friend Dad I swear I wouldn’t do anything to hurt Peter ‘. She wanted to add ‘ I’m not selfish like you.’ But she knew he could read between the lines.

‘ Sometimes you can’t control these things Lara and you have a tendency towards ..’

‘Madness ?’

‘ I was going to say towards wanting to please everyone.'

‘ Are you actually saying I would sleep with Sam so as not to hurt his feelings? Jesus Dad.'

‘ I just mean you might end up in a situation where saying no seems harder than you think. He might not understand why you are involving him in your life.'

‘ Dad I am only going to say this one more time, Sam is my.. our friend. Maybe I did and still do find him attractive and yes we do get on exceptionally well but Peter is my soulmate and I will never hurt him the way you hurt mum. Never’.

She had gone back to the house and left him crumpled looking on the bench. She had told Peter that he wasn’t feeling well and he had driven him home. Of course he asked her was everything ok but she hadn’t told him. She would eventually but she couldn’t face it then. Maybe for once she would keep this secret from him. ‘You already are keeping secrets’ a voice whispered.She wanted to escape to Marrakesh and not think about her father’s tryst and her mother’s tristesse. But now as she sat opposite Sam, her father’s confession whirled in the air between them. Was he right ? Was she heading in a direction from which there was no return. She knew then that it was now or never. She had to know whether Sam had feelings for her, she couldn’t stand not knowing.

‘ Was it weird ?’ She blurted it out.

‘ Was what weird’? Sam was helping himself to a crescent shape cake filled with the popular almond paste they seemed to use in every dessert.

‘ Going on holidays with me and Peter?’

Sam seemed taken aback and put the cake down.

‘ You mean coming on holiday with a couple ?’ She was shaking now and felt adrenaline pumping through her veins, turning to nausea.

‘That’s not exactly what I mean.’ She didn’t know how to word this without saving herself the all consuming embarrassment if it turned out that she was completely wrong.

‘ Lara ?’ His blue eyes were wide open but he didn’t seem to be puzzled, his expression was more probing if anything and this gave her the courage to continue. She wished she had taken the glass of wine earlier but maybe this would be better, no blurring or slurring.

‘ Sam..’ She sat up, her hands holding the delicate tea-glass so tightly she was afraid it might shatter.

‘ I have to ask you because I feel I might be going mad . .. do you have feelings for me ?’ She restrained herself from blabbering on about all the times he had acted like he had. This would only make her sound more delusional if she was wrong. Her breathing was short and shallow and she felt like she was going to faint.

‘ Lara...’ He sighed.

Oh God, she was wrong Oh sweet Jesus. Breathe, she told herself and for God’s sake don’t act like your world is falling apart.Tears were welling up and she couldn’t stop them and she felt the horrible tickle of their path as they made their way down to her chin.

‘ Lara please don’t cry, why are you crying ?’

‘ I’m so sorry , Oh God I’m so mortified , I don’t know what to say, I feel terrible for asking and putting you in this position.’ She wiped her face with her napkin and sat back, closing her eyes to avoid having to see his face.

‘ Have I told you I’m insane?’ Her attempt at a smile just wouldn’t happen.

‘ I do.’

The words didn’t make sense. Was he telling her he knew she was insane ? She opened her eyes and this time all her agony was reflected in his face .

‘ I do have feelings for you.’ He smiled but it was more of a wince ‘ Of course I do.'

She gulped and they sat staring at each other. Minute after minute passed and she wasn’t feeling the relief she had felt for just a second when he had last spoken. Instead the impact of it all washed over her and a sadness like she hadn’t felt before lodged in her body. All the years of on and off depression but this was different somehow. Here was this beautiful man telling her he had feelings for her making her feel warm and wanted and meanwhile her equally beautiful husband was lying upstairs waiting for her to curl up beside him.

‘ Do you?’ He whispered the words.

She laughed despite herself but stopped abruptly when she saw Sam’s blush. Was he really still unaware of how she felt? Of course he was, she hadn’t really known herself until now when all the liquid wondering had solidified into concrete.

‘ I’m sorry I laughed it’s just yes of course I do, I thought I had been quite obvious!'

He chuckled this time softly.‘ It’s hard to read you sometimes’.

‘Back at you. You were the one who asked my husband and me along on holiday.’ His blush deepened.

‘ That doesn’t exactly spell out what you’re feeling’.

‘ Please Lara you have to understand that I was, I mean I am trying not to feel like this, I’m trying not to be the jerk here.’

‘ So why not back off ?’ It sounded harsh but it was true, if he felt like he did but didn’t want to act on it then why had he folded himself into their lives.

‘ Because being around you even just as friends makes me feel better than not seeing you at all.' He ran his hands through his hair and she was reminded of the first time they met.

‘ I mean Peter is such a great guy and I thought by being friends with both of you that.. somehow I could get it out of my system. And with all due respect, you were the first one who asked me to dinner with both of you.'

Ouch. This was very true and she had of course been applying the same logic as he had.

‘ I know … I know.’ They were both silent then. It was so surreal to talk about these pent up feelings that she had been having with their desired object. It wasn’t like a movie, where they could just make love on the table and forget the world around them. Although she wanted to dive across the table and sit on his lap, she knew she wouldn’t. She loved Peter first and she had made a promise to him. She would never break it , ever. She was not her Father, she just had to know how he felt so she could stop the constant questioning. Having this conversation was being disloyal enough as it was. She wanted to tell him there and then that when they got home she wouldn’t see him anymore but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it, not yet, not here.

‘Lara.’ His hand reached over the table and he ran his fingers over her wedding band, his skin lightly grazing hers, filling her with an ache so deep she thought she might convulse.

‘ I know what this means to you and even though I feel what I feel, it means a lot to me too.’ He took his hand away.

‘ Peter is too great a guy for either of us to fuck him over.’

She bristled that he had said this first. Somehow it made it sound as if he was more loyal than she was.

‘ I know that Sam, you don’t have to tell me.'

‘Please don’t be like that.’ He looked genuinely hurt. ‘ It’s not because I don’t want to.In fact this table is the only thing stopping me from holding you right now, that and the genuinely nice guy upstairs.'

‘ Sam please, you really don’t have to convince me, I would never cheat on Peter. Apart from hurting him, it would make me the world’s biggest hypocrite.'She stood up then because she felt the conversation had nowhere else to go.

‘ I needed to know that what I have to fight is not just a figment of my imagination’.

‘ I understand... and no.. it’s pretty real.'

They smiled at each other and for a moment it was like they were in the park, just about to go running. This time though, she left him alone in the shadows and headed up to her slumbering husband who even through snores still reached out to pull her into his chest.

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