Today started with pancakes and paddling pool fun. When we haven’t had a chance to get outside for a while because of the nasty weather (our kids hate the cold) we inflate the paddling pool and fill it with soft toys.
Thankfully we have a big playroom as they spend most of the time running round the edge of the pool and diving into the teddies. Daddy rather loves it too. It’s about the only time I am at peace with the three laundry baskets of cuddly toys that clutter the playroom. The kids played ‘spot the child’ by hiding under the teddies. Can you find them both?
Pancakes is one of the plus points of hubbie being unemployed. When I need to get him out of bed early I make pancakes. I’ve discovered there isn’t much he won’t do for a couple of stodgy thick maple-syrup-soaked circles of batter. Suits me. They’re easy to make and they contain less sugar than the usual breakfast the kids have, even with the syrup.
Daddy has taken the kids with him on his errand run this morning so I am of course torn between work, cleaning and dog walking. Think I will combine one and three by taking the dog on the 45-minute circuit and trying to come up with my bombshell/cliffhanger last post for February.
We’ve got a birthday party this afternoon – my favourite kind: DVD and pizza at a friend’s house. I’m sure it’ll descend into bedlam as it will consist of four families with ten children between them all who have known each other for years. I’m going to make flapjack with the kids and do a bath-with-hairwash before we go so I’ll probably be propped up in a corner trying to keep my eyes open!
“Josh, what’s going on?” Claire had been watching the door to the lounge for two hours and the words launched themselves across the room without her volition. In her head the words had sounded hard-hitting but out in the open they whined like a nagging-wife. She inhaled through her nose and watched silently while Josh crossed towards her without making eye contact.
An aroma of smoke, cheap aftershave and sweat came with him, making Clare feel lightheaded, as if she’d been working late on an assignment for weeks on too much caffeine and not enough sleep.
“How’s your sister.”
“Okay, thanks. The surgery went well and she came round from the anaesthetic demanding tea and toast.”
“That’s good.” Josh nodded and looked around the room.
“Where are Beth and Chloe?” Claire winced at the sarcastic tone in her voice.
“I left them at Coniston. It’s complicated enough without them.”
“What is?” Claire wanted to stamp her foot. “What’s it all about Josh. You send me a cryptic email; expect me to stay on here just because you wish it, with no explanation. What gives?”
“I need… help.”
Claire felt as if she’d stepped off a curb. It took a moment for her to answer and when she did her voice was sceptical. “Help with what? I haven’t discovered anything you’re scared of. Certainly nothing I could assist you with.”
“I need you to help me tell a story. You’re good with words.” He let out a sigh and his shoulders slumped. He dug his hands into his pockets then pulled them out again. “Can I sit down?”
“It’s not like you to ask.” Claire patted the sofa next to her but Josh chose the one on an angle. He perched on the edge of the seat, leaned forwards and rested his elbows on his knees. He was close enough that Claire could feel his breath on her face. She guessed his lunch to have been spicy pot noodle and wondered if she could sit back without offending him.
His eyes were dark with worry and something else. Fear. A strong desire to hold him and shush him began to build in Claire’s chest. She ignored it, settling for loosely clasping his hands, mirroring his posture. She waited while he sat, head low. His hair flopped forwards and she would have pushed it back except it was too greasy to touch.
“You’re the closest thing to a friend I have.” Josh’s voice came, muffled, through the tangle of hair. Claire’s eyes opened wide but she kept her lips closed. He raised his head and pinned Claire with an intense look, as if urging her to listen without judgement.
“I’ve been running. Hiding. And now there is nowhere else to run. My family…” He swallowed and looked down again. When he raised his eyes they were red. “My family think I’ve been working. In a hospital in Manchester. Christies. I needed a fresh start and they think that’s it.”
“The haircut? The shirt?”
“Yes. I Skype when I’m in a city and can scrub up, but mostly I tell them I’m too busy.” He caught his lip between his teeth and looked over Claire’s shoulder.
“How long have you been here?”
“Oh.” Claire wasn’t sure what to say. She tried to imagine how she would feel if a family member disappeared for three months. Then she realised she’d only spoken to Robert once since Christmas and came to the conclusion she probably wouldn’t notice.
“So, you’ve been lying to your family and hiding overseas. I’m sure we’d all like to do that from time to time. Why the sudden urgency and where do I come in?”
“I need to tell the truth, or at least some of it.”
Claire wanted to say, which bit? The fact you’ve been living like Stig of the Dump trying to bed every woman you meet or the bit where you only shower and shave to convince your Mum you really are a hot-shot doctor in an English hospital. She remembered his advice when Ruth had called with her news. He really is a hot-shot doctor. Why the pretence? Forget Days of Our Lives, I’m turning into Miss Marple. She caught his anxious gaze and realised he was waiting for her to respond.
“Why now? Did you suddenly wake up with a conscience?”
Josh reeled from the words, his head snapping back as if from a physical blow. He dropped Claire’s clasp and ran a hand through his hair.
Claire’s eyes narrowed at his reaction, wondering if her words had been too harsh. She had only meant his lying to his Mum but now she wondered if he had more troubling his peace of mind than he had let on.
Josh cleared his throat and sat back in his chair. He folded his arms and looked over to the window although the dark skies outside meant all that could be seen were reflections of the hostel lounge.
He cleared his throat again, freeing the words. “Fiona is flying over with the children. She’s going to be at Manchester Airport in 48 hours.”
“Who is Fiona?” Claire felt a flutter in her gut but ignored it. She didn’t want to be Miss Marple anymore.
“She’s my wife.”