Victoria was preparing for bed after her shower when there came a knock on her bedroom door; a coded knock, which she and her brother Michael had used since they had been children.
‘Are you decent?’
‘Telephone…No idea who.’
‘Okay, I’m coming.’
She dried herself and dressed quickly in slippers and bathrobe; along the corridor, down the central staircase and across the grand hallway to the ‘phone which had always been beside the front doors of the Manor.
‘Hello Vics, it’s Rob.’
Her stomach turned somersaults as her heart skipped a beat or two, a feeling thereafter finding its’ way to places where it had better not go. An instinctive reaction, her instincts having found their way before her conscious mind could find traction, but she had to say something.
‘I’m sorry, who…?
In two days, Victoria was to be married. Terrance was from a good family, safe and dependable, and parental approval was guaranteed, her parents having anyway engineered the match. The wedding would be a grand affair, no expense was to be spared, and their Lord and Ladyship had promised their daughter an advance on her inheritance to seal the matter. Thus, in her twenty seventh year, was her future assured. They would move to a good home, and she would give up her job at the museum when the first child arrived. It was a job which she loved, and which her masters’ - degree in History had prepared her well for, but as her dear father had said, sacrifices had to be made. Her ‘destiny’ he had called it, rather dramatically, and she had laughed, although her father had not.
‘It’s me, Rob. I guess you’ve forgotten all about me.’
Rob, the man who had broken her heart before he had even really been a man; she had been sixteen and he only a little older. Two months of a summer which had felt like a lifetime, she on school holiday from Roedean, and they had met in Brighton, on the pier of all places. Then were secret meetings, making love on the beach after dark, and wherever and whenever they could, both of them discovering their young bodies and their young souls for the first time, and living for the next time they would meet. A rain of pure and all – consuming love, a deluge, really, which had fallen on both of their lives, before his parents had moved to Scotland, they had said goodbye, and her life had become the desert in which she had lived ever since. No, she had not forgotten, she remembered every detail, of everything.
‘Yeah, Rob, look, if th….
‘What the hell do you want?’
‘I don’t know…I thought maybe we could, you know, meet up.’
A hundred questions, and a hundred thoughts, and for a moment she was quite lost.
‘Well, I confess I’d hoped for a different reaction. You never used to sw….’
‘Shut up….Where are you….? I mean….You can’t just ‘phone me like this, it isn’t fair.’
‘I’m sorry, okay, but I couldn’t exactly turn up at the Manor House, could I? I’m living down south again, I’m working…’
‘I’m getting married in two days.’
‘I know, I read about it in the Court Circular.’
‘You read the Court Circular?’
‘Even the great unwashed are allowed to read stuff.’
‘How did you get this number?’
‘I remembered it.’
‘You remembered it….It’s been ten years, Rob.’
‘Eleven, actually, but who’s counting?’
‘I can’t…I mean, what the hell do you want me to do?’
‘Meet me tomorrow.’
‘No…No, that can’t happen.’
‘Sure…Okay, I get it. Look, I’ll be in the park tomorrow at twelve, where we used to meet. If you don’t show I’ll…Well, I’ll walk away and you’ll never hear from me again.’
‘Rob, go away, this is ridiculous.’
The call ended, somehow, and Victoria tried to pick up the pieces of her life as she drifted in a dream back to her bedroom.
They sat together on the park bench, watching the ducks on the lake. At first neither spoke, and then she spoke.
‘So, what the hell do we do now?’
‘I’ve got wheels, and there’re airports, you know?’
‘Rob, I’m getting married tomorrow.’
‘Yeah, you said. If you want I’ll go, it’s not too late.’
He stood up.
‘It’s your life, Vics.’
One step away from her, and for a moment the balance was perfect, and she closed her eyes against the glaring possibilities which lay ahead. One final deep breath, then she stood.
‘I can’t do it, Rob, not now.’
She took his hand, and they walked together along the broad path, neither knowing where they were going, but at that moment neither of them really cared.