Later that evening, Thomas was preparing for the arrival of his wife, Alice. He had missed her terribly. She had been gone nearly a week, and although he had breathed in the first two days of freedom, longing for her grew by the hour. Opera had helped him even though the two he had watched had ended in tragedy, but there was no substitute for Alice.
He had left work early and driven to the supermarket. Alice loved fillet steak, cooked well, with homemade chunky chips. Looking at her slim but perfectly formed figure, nobody would believe the chips, but she was one of those naturally fit people who could eat anything without putting on weight. She had a Formula One metabolism.
He had also selected a good quality dry white, which was now cooling in the fridge, and his own favourite Fleurie, which he had de-corked and placed on the dining table to breath.
Thomas was no chef, but he had opened a recipe book on the worktop, and was busy grilling the steaks when Alice arrived home. He heard her hang up her coat and, spatula in hand, hurried into the lounge to welcome her.
As always, his heart lifted at the sight of her. They hugged in the centre of the room. ‘Not sure what you’re intending to do with that weapon.’ She murmured, her cheek against his neck.
‘Ah, well I thought I’d surprise you. Steak’s on and wine’s in the fridge.’ Thomas said, reluctantly releasing her.
‘Mmm, this is a pleasant surprise. Anyone would think you’ve missed me.’
Thomas opened the fridge door and pulled out the bottle. He half-filled a chilled glass and handed it to her. ‘You know I have.’ He said, turning the steaks.
‘Me too. God what a week. If I hear another speech about tax law I’ll shoot myself.’ She said, leaning against the freezer.
‘That bad eh? Well it’s not been dull here. Four murders and a big drug bust in the space of three days.’
‘Sounds like you’ve been having fun while I’ve been away.’
‘Not all fun unfortunately, Malan is dying.’
Alice put down her glass and frowned. ‘Dying?’
‘Pancreatic cancer. He says he has six months. Looks terrible.’ Thomas said.
‘That’s awful. Poor man, and he has a family, doesn’t he?’
‘Yes, I feel awful for him and for them. I’ve never liked the man, but somehow I can’t take it in. He’s only our age.’
‘Just shows, fate can deal a cruel hand.’
Thomas did not reply but began plating the meal, first draining the chips, then the steaks. Alice took her seat and put her glass down on the table. Thomas carried their two plates from the kitchen and set them down. He poured himself a glass of Fleurie, sat down, and said ‘Bon Appetit.’
‘Bon Appetit,’ Alice said and they clinked glasses. ‘You know what’s going to happen next don’t you?’ She continued.
Thomas shook his head. ‘I can’t think about that now Alice. The poor man is suffering. He’s in pain, I can tell.’
She reached across and took his hand. ‘You have nothing to feel guilty about. He’s never done you any favours. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy but there’s nothing you can do.’
‘I know, but still.’
‘You have to think about the future. Of course, support him all you can, but it’s inevitable the Chief will ask you again.’
Thomas took a deep breath. ‘Perhaps, but he’ll remember I turned him down before.’
‘That was then, this is now. Things have changed. You have changed.’
‘Have I? Have I really? I didn’t want it then and I’m not sure I want it now.’ Thomas said. He had hardly touched his steak.
‘Sure you do. You’re older now, more mature. It’s time you stopped chasing criminals. You know you get a buzz from watching Sheila and Jo succeed. If you are DCS you can help them even more.’
Thomas took a long pull of wine. ‘Well it hasn’t happened yet. I can’t tell you how good it is to have you back.’
‘Me too. I’ve missed you. Are you hungry?’ She asked.
Thomas saw the look in her eyes. ‘Dinner can wait.’ He said.
Shaded lights, soft music playing quietly in the background, half-finished wine in glasses standing on bedside tables. From the bed whispered murmurs of pleasure rising to the high apex, a gentle rhythm of lovemaking caressing the air. A moment of ecstasy and then it was all over, far too quickly, both lovers laying back spent, exhausted, satisfied.
Jo Giordano, naked beneath the sheets, reached over to find her glass and sat up against the pillow. Beside her Echo lay with his eyes closed. She looked down at his face, sweat on his brow, his breathing still laboured from their lovemaking, and wondered how they had come so far so quickly. In one way she was ashamed of herself, but in another knew that she needed this, had for a long time. If it did not last long, she did not want a reputation in the station as an easy lay, yet she had jumped into bed with him on their second date. Was that normal? She had no idea. Echo was her first.
Was she in love with him? Probably not, but he was funny and attractive. She liked him but had discovered something surprising about herself; she could sleep with someone she did not love. The realisation did not please her. She knew she was attractive, lustful looks from men over the years told her so, but she had always been selective who she dated, and had never felt like she did now. What had changed? Was it David or her?
Echo grunted and opened his eyes. He sat up and rubbed them. ‘You started without me.’ He said, reaching for his glass.
‘You looked so peaceful; I didn’t want to disturb you.’
Echo stretched out. ‘Mmm, I feel peaceful. You make me so relaxed.’
‘More likely the music. I put on some Oscar Peterson. He was the best.’
‘Music to seduce by. Well it certainly worked. You had me at the first bar.’
She took a sip of wine. ‘I didn’t mean it to happen so fast.’ Suddenly Giordano was overwhelmed. A tear ran down her cheeks and Echo noticed.
He reached over and stroked it gently away. ‘Hey baby, don’t cry. It was beautiful.’
Giordano broke down and sobbed. Echo held her until she stopped shaking. ‘I’m sorry.’ She said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’
Echo decided to stay silent. He was in love with her, had been for a long time, and now he was here with her, he felt fulfilled. It broke his heart to hear her sobbing, but he had no idea what to say.
After a few minutes she wiped away her tears and began to laugh. ‘I’m like a teenager. I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be, there’s no need.’ He said, stroking her cheek.
‘I don’t know how I feel.’ She said.
‘I know how I feel, great, amazing. You’re amazing.’
She leaned over and kissed him, still laughing through her tears. ‘Thanks, you’re not bad yourself.’