My suggestion sits between us in the dark. I know for a fact that he doesn’t want to transfer back, that he’s relishing the work out there. Is it unfair of me to even ask it of him? Or is it unfair of him to ask me to tolerate him working with someone who is blatantly making a play for him? And not just anyone, but his ex?
‘Or maybe you’d rather me just lie here every time you’re away from now on and wonder if this is the night Cressida’s going to catch you at a weak moment?’
‘That’s never going to happen,’ he says as if I’m being ludicrous.
‘You said “not really”,’ I spit. ‘I asked you if you wanted to, and you said “not really”. It’s not the same as “no”, Oscar.’
‘And it’s a bloody long way from saying I’d ever do anything, either,’ he says, riled. He so rarely shouts, it sounds harsher than it should in the quiet room.
We’re both hurt now. ‘We said that we wouldn’t let our marriage suffer for this job,’ I say, more softly.
He rolls on his side towards me, conciliatory. ‘I don’t want Cress, or anyone else but you, Laurie.’
I don’t move. My jaw’s so stiff it feels as if it’s locked in place. ‘We can’t do this for ever, Oscar.’
‘There might be opportunities in a few months to come back to the London office,’ he says. ‘I’ll put the feelers out, okay? Trust me, Laurie, there’s nothing I’d like more than not to have to kiss you goodbye on Sunday evening every week.’
I roll towards him, accepting his olive branch even though I’m not sure I absolutely believe him. Not just because of Cressida; he just seems more wedded to his job than to me sometimes. It’s as if he’s living two lives. One here with me as my husband and another that’s separate from me: vibrant meetings and city bars, sharp dressers, clandestine deals and celebratory dinners. He shares pieces of it with me of course, snippets and the occasional photo message, but by and large I can’t shake the feeling that he’s content with this ‘have his cake and eat it’ lifestyle. He’s a long way removed from my laid-back Thai lover; the painting on our bedroom wall seems more fantasy than memory. I sometimes think he married me as a way to try to hang on to the person he was back there in Koh Lipe; the more entrenched he becomes in his life in Brussels, the more he seems to realize that Thailand was only ever a temporary escape. His real life was always here, waiting in the wings for him to return and play his role. I’m just not sure I was ever cast in the same production.
‘Look. We’re married, Oscar, but that doesn’t mean we can just flick a switch and reroute all of our romantic thoughts and feelings along one single track. Sometimes we get tested. Let’s not be naive.’
We lie facing each other in the dark room.
‘Have you been tested?’
I close my eyes for a second, then decide not to answer that. ‘The important thing is the choices we make when we are tested. Being married isn’t just a legally binding contract, it’s a choice. It’s saying I choose you. Every single day, I wake up and I choose you. I choose you, Oscar.’
‘I choose you too,’ he whispers, wrapping his arms round me. I hold him, and I feel as if we’re wrapping our arms round our marriage; cradling this precious, fragile thing between our bodies.
But it feels like a tenuous pact, and I lie awake for a long time after he falls asleep, troubled.
Oscar spoons round me in bed, waking me from strange mixed-up dreams that cling on even as I surface. The glowing red numbers on the bedside clock tell me it’s half past five in the morning.
‘Laurie.’ He kisses my shoulder and slides his arms round me under the covers. ‘Are you awake?’
‘A little bit,’ I whisper, still in that fuzzy space between sleep and wakefulness. ‘It’s early.’
‘I know,’ he says, his hand flat and warm over my stomach. ‘Let’s have a baby.’
I open my eyes wide at the unexpectedness of his words. ‘Oscar …’ I twist round until we’re face to face, and he groans and kisses away anything I might have been about to say, hooking his leg over my thigh. Our sex is sudden and urgent, both of us still emotional from the tumultuous night before. We rowed again; or rather, we had words over dinner, as Oscar would probably phrase it. My fault – I asked him if he’d enquired any further about moving back to London full-time. It’s fast becoming a taboo subject.
Afterwards, we sprawl in the tangled sheets, reconnected, choosing each other again for another new day. I don’t know if he really meant it or not about the baby, but at least for now I know it’s me he’s thinking of.
* * *
New Year’s Resolutions
1) A baby! Yes, Oscar and I have decided that this is the year we’re going to try. We’ve talked about it on and off for the last couple of months, and as of 1 January we’ve agreed I’m no longer going to take the pill. It feels like a huge leap into the unknown.
I don’t think I need to make any other resolutions. That one is monumentally life-changing enough for one year, isn’t it? Oscar has promised me that he’ll talk to his boss again about moving back to the UK. We stand a much better chance of falling pregnant if he’s home more, and when I do have a baby, it stands to reason that he’s not going to want to be absent so much.
2) Oh, shit, I forgot. It pains me to write this, but there is another – I’m going on the wagon. It increases the odds of conception, apparently.
‘Did you definitely remember to take your folic acid every morning?’
I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, my mobile on speakerphone on the bedside table.
‘Of course I did,’ I say. ‘But I doubt it’s all down to whether or not I ingest enough nutrients. It’s more to do with, you know, eggs and sperm meeting up at the right moment.’ I’m sure Oscar didn’t mean to make his question sound like an accusation; he’s just disappointed.
He doesn’t reply.
‘Very few couples fall pregnant on the first cycle,’ I say more seriously. I spend my days writing women’s health features, and I’ve covered pregnancy-related issues dozens of times. If it were left up to me I’d just get on with life and try not to obsess over whether or not we were getting pregnant. But Oscar’s results-driven nature seems to have taken over, and I don’t quite know how to tell him to calm down without hurting his feelings. It’s quite sweet, really.
‘I know, I just thought maybe we’d ace it first time round, you know?’ He sighs.
‘I know. We’ll just have to give it an extra effort next time you’re back, hey?’
‘You’re right. I mean, it’s not like it’s a chore or anything. Let’s book a whole night in, just you and me.’
‘Laurie, you’ve been in there a while.’
Oscar has actually delayed going to Brussels today to see if I’m pregnant. I’m not. I’m sitting on the loo holding a negative pregnancy test and trying to work out how to let him down gently.
‘I’ll be out in a sec,’ I call, flushing the toilet.
He’s loitering in the hallway waiting for me when I open the bathroom door. I shake my head, and he can’t keep the disappointment from his eyes as he hugs me.
‘Early days,’ I say. Only two months in and the shine of trying to get pregnant has already well and truly worn off. Who knew it would be so stressful? I’d like it if we could just take our foot off the gas and relax, but it’s not in Oscar’s nature to be so laissez-faire. He’s used to being able to make things happen; it’s clearly a huge frustration to him that he can’t dictate this so easily.
‘Third time lucky.’ He presses a kiss against my forehead and picks up his briefcase. ‘See you in a few days, love.’
‘Are you cold?’
Amanda looks at me as if I’m an idiot. ‘We’re in the Arctic, Jack.’