He frowns, as if I’m throwing up unnecessary obstacles. ‘Well, there are plenty of jobs out there too. But honestly, Laurie, I’ll be earning so much you won’t need to … Think about it, please,’ he says, pressing on without giving me a chance to speak. ‘You can drink coffee – well, mint tea – in the square, and wander by the river. We can get to know the city before he or she is born, it’ll be like when we first met. There’s loads of expats, you’d make tons of friends.’
I feel completely railroaded, and furious that I don’t seem to hold any of the cards. I’m well aware that his earnings are more than enough to support a family, whereas mine are barely enough to support myself, but he seems to have made all of his assumptions without any thought for my wishes, as if my job is a hobby rather than a career. I don’t know what to say or what to think. I’m truly glad for Oscar that his hard work and long hours are being recognized, but I don’t want to leave my job or London or my life. It’s not fair that his success should mean I lose so much I hold dear.
‘Did you genuinely expect me to say yes just like that?’ I say, incredulous. He’s not a man given to thoughtlessness; I can only imagine that his excitement overrode his usual common sense.
‘I expected you to consider it, at least,’ he says, stung. ‘You must know how much it means to me.’
‘And I thought you knew how much my job means to me, too, how much I want to be around for my mum,’ I shoot back. ‘Isn’t there a position they can offer you here in London? Why does it have to be in Brussels? It’s unreasonable to ask it of you. Of us.’
‘I think they see it as a reward rather than a penalty.’ Petulance creeps into his voice as he sighs and shakes his head, impatient. ‘Can’t you see that too?’
I flick my eyes away from him, because he’s making me feel like I’m being unreasonable and without good reason.
‘Don’t you think our families would miss us?’ I change tack. ‘Your mum would hate seeing so much less of you, and what happens when there’s a baby in the mix too?’ I can’t keep the note of defiance from my voice. The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am by his flowers and celebrations approach. We’re married, we need to make these decisions together, regardless of who the main earner is. ‘I don’t want to be in a different country to my mum when I have a baby, Oscar. She loves being a gran, I want her to be involved.’
We stare at each other, at an impasse. We never used to argue; now it’s all we seem to do.
‘It’s not fair to just drop it on me like this and expect me to be thrilled,’ I say. ‘I need some time to think about it.’
He sets his jaw, his dark eyes full of consternation. ‘I don’t have more time. This is banking, Laurie, you know how fast things move. Brantman wants an answer on Monday morning, and the only possible answer I can give him is yes, because if I say no, then what’s the fucking point of me working there at all?’ He throws his hands up, a helpless gesture. ‘My career at the bank will be done for; you don’t last in a place like that by being complacent and unambitious.’
I shake my head, reeling at the injustice of being cast as the bad guy.
‘I’m going to have a shower,’ he says, jerking his chair back. He pauses for a moment, as if he expects me to offer an apology, and I sigh and look away until he leaves the room. It’s becoming painfully clear that it’s wishful thinking to believe Oscar ever hoped to stay true to the man I met on a beach in Thailand. Perhaps he didn’t realize it himself back then, but this hectic commuter life of deals, dinners and boardrooms is exactly where he belongs. But more than that. It’s where he wants to be.
It’s one minute past midnight, which means my period is one day late. Oscar left for Belgium on a particularly sour note yesterday, after spending the entire weekend trying to railroad me, which only made me dig my heels in more.
It’s now officially Monday, and he’s no doubt officially a director, and I’m officially late. I curl into a ball on my side and screw my eyes shut. I’m officially deeply lonely.
‘I’ve bought a pregnancy test.’
‘Have you done it yet?’ It’s five in the evening here and two in the morning in Perth, but Sarah’s wide awake. I’m an unheard of four days late now, and she was the first person I told.
I dump my keys and bag on the hall table, my mobile tucked under my ear. ‘No. I’m too scared of what it might say.’ What I don’t tell her is that I think I’d be more scared if it were to say yes.
‘Oscar’s not home yet then?’
I sigh in the empty flat. ‘He should be back in a couple of hours.’
‘Hang on,’ she says, muffled. I can hear her moving around, and then she’s back and clear again. ‘Sorry, just getting out of bed. Right, I have wine and I’m not going anywhere. Get the test out, Lu.’
‘What, now?’ My voice is unnaturally high.
‘Yes, now. Or would you rather leave it until Oscar’s home?’
She’s right, of course. Given the way we are just now, it’d be much better if I do it with her and know for sure one way or the other before he comes in.
‘Okay,’ I whisper, shaking the test out of the chemist’s paper bag.
I turn the box over and scan it, reading the by now familiar instructions aloud as I kick off my shoes and lock myself in the loo. Why, I don’t know, seeing as I’m the only one home. ‘I’m in the bathroom.’
‘Good. Open the test.’
I struggle as always with the fiddly packaging, finally releasing the white plastic stick from its foil seal. ‘There. Got it.’
I look at the stick and then at the loo, and then I sigh and get on with it.
‘I can hear you peeing,’ Sarah’s voice floats out of my phone on the floor.
‘Just be glad we’re not on Facetime,’ I mutter, wrangling the stick into the right place, managing to pee on my own fingers in the process. ‘Why do they make these things so bloody difficult?’
‘Don’t drench it!’ she shouts, unhelpfully.
I sigh as I extract the stick. Straight away I can see something happening in the windows, so I snap the lid on quick smart and put the stick on the edge of the sink.
‘Start the clock,’ I say, washing my hands.
I sit down on the floor and lean my back against the wall, my legs stretched in front of me, the phone against my ear again.
I close my eyes. ‘Tell me something about your life there, Sar. Distract me.’
‘Okay. Well, I’m at the kitchen table. It’s supposed to be winter but we’re having a heat wave, and our air-con is a lazy bastard. I’m mopping up my sweat as I talk to you.’ I can almost see her; they live in a gorgeous low-slung beach house. She sent me the particulars when they went to view it and I needed to go and lie down in a dark room to get over my envy. It looks like something out of a seventies House Beautiful magazine, all sunken seating areas and double-height ceilings. She pauses, and then says, ‘Oh, and I proposed to Luke.’
‘What? Oh my God! Sarah!’ I shriek, properly shocked. It’s so Sarah not to wait around when she knows what she wants. ‘When? What did you say? And what did he say?’
‘He said yes, of course,’ she laughs. ‘And he cried like a baby.’
I laugh too. I can believe it; Luke’s a big softie.
‘Time’s up, Lu,’ she says, quiet and serious again. ‘Three minutes.’
I hold the stick in my hands, the cap still in place. ‘I’m scared, Sar,’ I whisper.
‘Don’t be. Whatever happens, you’ll be okay, I promise.’
I don’t reply, just stare at the stick. I don’t know if I can do this.
‘For God’s sake, Laurie, take the fucking cap off!’
So I do. I pull it off fast and hold my breath as I stare at it.
‘One blue line.’ I gasp down a huge lungful of air, shaking. ‘Just one. That means I’m not pregnant, doesn’t it?’