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Archive for the 'Season 5' Category

Season 5, Episode 11

March 27, 2012

Ana reached her hand towards the half-full bottle of wine that was sitting in the middle of the living room floor. She was lying on the couch and seemed to think that if she stretched hard enough the wine would just magically come to her, without her having to move. Giving up, she collapsed back onto the cushions, her empty wine glass hanging from her hand. “Can you pass the bottle Mia?”

“You’re so lazy,” Mia said, grinning, as she unfolded her long legs from her position on the floor.

“I’m not lazy,” said Ana, “It’s just that when I sit up, the room spins.”

“Tell me about it,” Willow said. She was sitting on the floor, her back against an armchair, tugging at a part of the carpet that was slowly starting to unfurl.

“Nothing that more wine won’t fix,” said Mia, topping up the three glasses, a bit wobbly herself. Seeing as none of them had really eaten, she considered passing the asparagus rolls that Willow had made around the room as well, but settled for shoving the plate in the general direction of the others. They were delicious – puff pastry wrapped around fresh asparagus, brushed with butter and baked until crispy and golden – but at the moment, the wine was a tad more popular amongst the present company: probably something to do with the fact that asparagus had less of an anesthetising effect than alcohol.

“I cannot believe that I’m getting divorced,” Ana groaned, downing half her fresh glass of wine and then popping an asparagus roll in her mouth. “I mean,” she continued amidst sprays of puff pastry, “who gets divorced less than a year after getting married?”

“You and Kim Kardashian,” Willow said.

“Well at least I’m in good company then,” Ana said, laughing.

She took another sip of her wine, sneaking a glance at her friend, who was still tugging at the carpet. “The whole room will unravel if you keep doing that,” Ana said, jokingly.

“Sorry,” Willow said. She stared picking at a loose thread on her jumper instead. To Ana, it seemed as though she were somewhere else entirely tonight. Considering everything that had happened, this was not unexpected, but there was something… Ana couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

“How are you holding up?” Ana said lightly.

“I’m doing OK,” Willow said, smiling warmly. “Honestly.”

“Well if you need to talk….”

Willow took a gulp of her wine. “Well actually, there is something I need to talk to you both about.” She picked at her jumper for a bit longer, before eventually telling them about the engagement ring that had been found on Robert’s body when he was taken to the hospital.

“Holy shit!” Ana exclaimed, forgetting her wine-induced dizziness and abruptly sitting up. “He was going to… I mean, you were going to… married? You were going to get married?”

“It sort of looks like that, doesn’t it?” said Willow, laughing lightly.

“That’s… well, that’s huge news,” Ana said.

“Yeah, I guess,” said Willow. “But that wasn’t what I needed to talk to you about.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No. Not exactly.” She sighed, trying to formulate the words in her mind. How did you break this news to your friends? “The thing is,” she said slowly, “It turns out the ring was worth quite a lot of money.”

“How much is ‘quite a lot’?” said Ana, confused.

“Around two million dollars,” Willow said, awkwardly.

The sip of wine that Mia had just taken found itself being spat across the living room floor. “Two million dollars!

“Yeah,” said Willow, embarrassed.

“Can we see the ring?” Ana asked. “I’ve never seen a two million dollar ring before.”

“Um, not really,” said Willow. “I already sold it.”

“Hang on,” said Mia. “That means you’re a… millionaire?”

“When you put it like that…” Willow trailed off. “I suppose I am. In a way.”

Ana and Mia stared at Willow, their mouths open.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked Ana when she’d regained her senses. “Buy a house? A car?” She laughed, excitedly. “You could buy both and still have change for a whole new wardrobe!”

“Well….” Willow trailed off and looked nervously at her friends. “I was thinking about going away maybe.”

“On a holiday?” said Mia.

“Sort of,” Willow said. “More like an… extended lifestyle change.”

“You’re going to leave Melbourne?” Ana gasped.

“I think so.” Willow said. “And I was wondering if you both wanted to come with me.”

Mia sat straight up, upending her wine glass on the floor by accident. No one noticed. “What?”

“Come away with me,” Willow said. Her eyes were shining with excitement.

“Just pack up our lives and leave?”

Willow nodded.

“Why not,” said Ana, slowly. “I mean, what’s left here?”

“Wait a second,” Mia said. “You’re not seriously considering…” Her voice trailed off. She could tell by the look in Ana’s eyes that she was, in fact, serious.

“But… where would we go?” Mia said.

“Anywhere we liked,” Willow laughed. “The world, as they say, is our oyster.”

“Hold that thought!” Ana leapt up and darted from the room. The others heard the sound of objects being hastily displaced in her bedroom before her footsteps came thundering down the stairs.

Ana presented them with an old fashioned globe; one of those ones that stood on the table and spun on its stand. “I knew I kept this for a reason,” she said triumphantly. She turned to Willow. “Go on then. Pick somewhere.”

“I can’t make the decision,” Willow said. “Shouldn’t we all do it?”

“I know,” Mia said with excitement. “Why don’t we spin the globe and when it stops you can put your finger on it and then wherever it lands, we’ll go.”

Willow agreed. They placed the globe on the small table in the middle of the room and sat around it.

“Wait!” Ana cried. “I need to be way drunker for this. This is our lives we’re talking about.” She sloshed some more wine in the general direction of the three glasses, some of which actually managed to find its targets, but most of which landed on the floor.

“Ok, I’m ready,” she said. “Oooh, I hope it lands on Spain. Tapas and Sangria.”

“Somewhere in Asia,” Mia said, crossing her fingers. “Where it’s really warm all the time.”

Willow closed her eyes tight. Mia and Ana both put their hands on the globe to spin it. Even though the orb was rusty and old, it seemed to spin on its axis forever. When it finally slowed to a halt Willow jabbed her finger down.

“How old is this globe, Ana?” Willow said after she opened her eyes. “I’m pretty sure the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics doesn’t even exist anymore.”

“Second time lucky?” said Ana.

They spun it again, holding their breath. Willow placed her finger down. She opened her eyes. “Oh!”

Mia jostled to get a closer look. “Where is it? Where is… Oh!”

Ana leaned over and nodded slowly. “I’ve never been there. Could be fun.”

“I suppose that’s decided then?” said Willow.

Ana held up her glass. “Here’s to our new hometown,” she said.

The three friends clinked glasses and, for the first time in ages, looked forward to what the future would hold.

Season 5: Epsiode 10

March 20, 2012

Ana sighed, frustrated, as she crushed fresh mint between her palms and put it into the tea pot. Back in the old days, she would have been lucky to find time to shove a tea bag in a mug and add water, yet here she was, in the middle of the working week, preparing Moroccan mint tea from scratch. Ever since the evil S girl – whose name she had forbidden from being spoken in the house – had ruined her career, Ana seemed to have nothing but time on her hands.

She’d tried everything she could to salvage her shattered business, but the grapevine had been working overtime and it seemed every single person in Melbourne had heard the initial rumour that Ana had stolen from a client. It didn’t matter that it was not in the least bit true; people had a tendency to believe the first thing they heard.

So, Ana found herself with no clients and in a whole heap of debt, paying for an office space that wasn’t being used. As an absolute last resort, she’d borrowed a significant amount of money from her parents to ‘tide things over’. She hated being in debt to her parents. She felt as though it was yet more evidence she had not succeeded in the ways they had wanted her to. Even worse was the fact that she had been forced to move back in with them for several months.

The ringing of the doorbell startled her and she walked quickly down the hall to answer it, loathing herself for finding this tiny distraction the high point of her day. Her jaw dropped when she opened the door to find Phyllis, her mother, standing there, resplendent in Ralph Lauren. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a perfect chignon and she wore a strand of pearls around her throat. Ana recognised it as her ‘casual’ look.

“What are you doing here?”

“Can’t a mother spontaneously visit her daughter?” Phyllis retorted.

In all the years that Ana had lived in this house, Phyllis had been to visit her a grand total of once, and it most certainly had not been spontaneous. But, she invited her mother in and led the way to the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to the mint tea as Phyllis surveyed the eclectic room with a single raised eyebrow.

Ana glanced sideways at her mother, wondering what on earth she was doing here. Phyllis and David – Ana’s father – had never seemed particularly enamored with their only daughter. Sure, they helped her out with cash when she was desperate, but god forbid she’d ever need a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold. Ana always suspected she had been a product of keeping up with the Jones’ – everyone else was having kids, so her parents did too. Only one though. No need to go overboard.

They had embraced parenthood by enrolling her in horse riding lessons, French classes, Ballet, sailing, summer school; anything and everything that would keep her out of their perfectly coiffed hair. There seemed to be the unspoken understanding that they would give Ana what she wanted and she would do her best not to embarrass them.
When, at the age of thirteen, Ana got busted for smoking and making out with one of the summer camp leaders behind the craft shed, they threw their hands up in despair. They had given her everything and this was how she repaid them? As their form of punishment, the horse riding and sailing lessons were withdrawn. Ballet was off the agenda and French classes were a thing of the past. She was swiftly, and without a scene, removed from her exclusive private school and hand-delivered to the local public school, where she would see out the rest of her education without the eyes of the Melbourne bourgeois watching her every move.

Ana was thrilled. Her parents were not.

“Any other young lady would kill for your life,” Phyllis had said, taking a languorous sip of Pimms as she relaxed after a tennis lesson with her coach, Adolfo. She could barely manage to take her eyes off his firm buttocks as he wandered around the court collecting balls. “I just don’t understand it,” she sighed.

Ana never knew whether she was referring to Adolfo not falling for her cougar charms or her daughter not wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Years later, Ana slept with Adolfo in her parents bed, making sure her mother found out. It was her final fuck-you before she moved out of home.

***

“How is life treating you?”

Ana looked at her mother, exasperated. What kind of question was that? She knew exactly how life was treating her. Ana had – after all – been living with her parents for the last few months due to that psycho Sarah hijacking her old room, Tom booting her out of their house, and Ana not being able to afford a place of her own on account of her career being in shambles. At least now, with Sarah gone, Ana had moved back in with Mia and Willow.

“Well Mother, everything is just peachy,” said Ana sarcastically.

“And Tom?”

“He’s just great!”

“There’s no need to be snippy,” Phyllis said. “If you want my advice…”

“I don’t.”

She ignored the interruption. “…then you’ll take Tom back. And soon.”

“What do you care?” Ana snarled. “All of a sudden you’re taking an interest in my life?”

Phyllis smiled sadly and put her hand over Ana’s. “I know that I haven’t been a… great mother,” she said, “but Tom is a good man who loves you and who will always love you. Don’t give that up for anything.”

“Is that why you and Dad stuck it out for all these years?” Ana said bitterly. “Unwavering love for each other?”

Phyllis laughed. “Oh my dear, your father stopped loving me a long time ago, if indeed he ever loved me at all.”

Ana squirmed uncomfortably on her chair. She’d never heard her mother be so candid about her  own life. Ana had always assumed she liked the way it had turned out; that it was exactly as she had chosen it to be.

“Of course he loved you. Loves you,” Ana said, although she didn’t really know that it was the truth.

Phyllis waved her hand dismissively. “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to see you make the same mistake I did.”

“What mistake?”

“Letting go of the one person who will make you happy for the rest of your life.”

Ana frowned. “What are you saying?”

“I let my arrogance and stubbornness tear me away from the one man who could have made me truly happy.” She paused, wringing her hands. “It doesn’t matter now, of course. My life is as it is. But I would hate to see you end up… like me. Despite what you might think Ana, I’ve only ever wanted what is best for you. I just didn’t know sometimes what that was.” She smiled and patted Ana’s hand, then stood up and smoothed her already-perfect hair, thanking Ana for the tea. “I’ll show myself out,” she said as she disappeared down the hall.

***

A few hours later, Ana arrived at Tom’s house. The conversation with her mother had been replaying in her head all afternoon. Phyllis had said that you shouldn’t let go of the one person you love with all your heart; the person who will make you happy for the rest of your life. Ana agreed. What this afternoon had made her realise was that, for her, Tom wasn’t that person.

Tom opened the door, the smile lingering for only a few seconds before disappearing. He sensed why she had come. “You’re leaving, aren’t you.”

Ana nodded.

“Please Ana.” His voice was choked. “I’ll do anything. Please just forgive me.”

“I do forgive you,” Ana said. “What’s happened to us… It wasn’t your fault, Tom. The whole Sarah thing wasn’t the root of our problems. She was just the catalyst who brought them to the surface.”

“But if I’d just believed you,” he moaned, “then this would never have happened.”

“Who’s to say that another Sarah wouldn’t come along in the future?” she said. “What would we do then? Go through exactly the same thing all over again?”

“No, it would be different.”

“It wouldn’t,” Ana said with certainty. She sighed. “I’m as much to blame as you for this whole mess, Tom. We rushed into this marriage. You were still angry at me for my affair with Marc and I was trying to prove that I was committed to you. We just thought that getting married would fix our problems.”

“But it didn’t,” Tom said miserably.

Ana shook her head sadly. “No.”

“Give me…us… another chance.” He took her hands gently in his own. “Please?”

Ana looked up into his eyes; his gorgeous, blue, sparkling eyes. “I can’t,” she said softly. It was everything she could do not to fall back into his arms, sobbing. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.”

After a few minutes, Tom pulled his hands away and let them fall limply on his lap.

“I know,” he said finally. And, deep down, he did.

She smiled at him briefly and stood up. Her mother had been right about one thing. If you find your one true love, you should never let them go. But Tom wasn’t that person and in order to have some hope of one day finding them, she had to let him go.

“Goodbye Ana,” Tom said. He kissed her on the cheek, feeling the salty, wet tears slide down her face.

Ana lifted her hand in a final farewell, letting herself out of his apartment, and his life, for good.

Season 5: Episode 9

March 13, 2012

Johnny tested a mouthful of the cooked barley thoughtfully. It needed more lemon. He added another slug of olive oil and some black pepper too for good measure, tasting it again. Perfect. Or at least, it would be, he thought, if I were making if for people that I liked. Or even knew.

He looked across his small kitchen to where Cecelia was standing, chopping lettuce to make a green salad. She was humming to herself and glanced up, beaming at him. Johnny smiled stiffly back. For about the millionth time he wondered why he had agreed to today at all; hosting her entire family for lunch was not his idea of fun. But, Cecelia was pregnant, he was the baby dada, and this was just one of those things that came with the territory.

If someone had told Johnny a year ago that this is where he would be now he would have laughed in their face. He wasn’t  stupid enough to get someone pregnant! Let alone someone he barely knew, who was adamantly opposed to abortion, and who would be disowned from her very traditional catholic family when they discovered she was with child but without husband.

She’d wanted to get married, but Johnny knew he couldn’t. “I’m just not the marrying type,” he’d said when she’d pushed him for a reason. Not to you, anyway, he thought. He felt no connection to Cecelia or their child, but despite this, he couldn’t forget his own childhood and how hard it had been. With absent parents and estranged grandparents, Johnny had grown up almost alone. If it wasn’t for his older sister looking out for him, there was no way he would have made it to where he was now. He had always been envious of people who had large families and no matter how he felt about the current situation, he wouldn’t – couldn’t – subject his child to the same thing. So, he and Cecelia had come to an arrangement of sorts: They would tell her family they were engaged, planning to marry within the year. In a month or so the happy couple would be shocked – but delighted, of course – to find out Cecelia was with child, nearing the end of her first trimester.

Being engaged and pregnant was apparently not as bad as the other options.

The happy – and now expecting – couple would announce they were postponing the wedding until well after the birth, by which time it would be too late, and they would break up. They would blame the demise of their relationship on the pressures of having a child and decide – amicably – to part ways. Cecelia’s family would put up a fight, but they would be so besotted with their first grandchild that it wouldn’t last for long. Cecelia would move interstate to be with her family, Johnny would get his life back and everyone would live happily ever after. The End.

It wasn’t a perfect plan, but at least it seemed to be working. For now.

Johnny didn’t expect anyone else to understand his decision. He had picked up the phone so many times to call Mia and tell her everything, but couldn’t go through with it. After all, what the hell was he meant to say? “Hey Mia. Could you put your life on hold waiting for me while I fake an engagement in order to help out another woman who is going to give birth to my first child?”

Johnny shook his head wryly at the thought. Even he knew that was going a bit far. All he could do was hope that – at the end of it all – Mia would be there and find it in her heart to forgive him.

He sighed as he finished chopping the parsley to go with the warm barley and cauliflower salad. Today he would play the part of the newly engaged fiancé in order to keep his child from being ostracised from its extended family.

It’s for the best, he told himself over and over again, wishing that he actually believed that.

***

“Earth to Johnny,” Cecelia said, laughing. “The salad is done. What’s next?”

“Oh right.” Johnny dragged himself back to the present, glad that Cecelia couldn’t read his thoughts. Even though they were in a fake relationship, he didn’t think she’d appreciate him thinking about another woman. “I’ll set the table. Why don’t you just relax?”

Cecelia flashed him another brilliant smile. “You’re the best fiancé ever.”

Johnny shot her a warning look.

“Fake fiancé,” she added quickly, not wanting Johnny to fall into another one of his moods just before he met her family for the first time.

She sat, thinking yet again how gorgeous and lovely Johnny was and how lucky she had been to get him. Well, sort of get him. She absently played with the trinket on her finger, daydreaming about how great a father he was going to be.

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny saw something sparkle. He felt his blood turn cold. “What the hell is that?” he said, pointing to Cecelia’s left hand.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said hurriedly, putting her hand behind her back. “It’s just… well, if we were really engaged I’d have a ring.”

“So you just bought yourself one?” he said. “Without talking to me about it?”

“It’s not a big deal” she said, dismissing it casually. “It’s not even a real diamond.”

Cecelia of course had other ideas about the outcome of this arrangement. Perhaps it was from watching every romantic comedy out there or reading one too many Danielle Steele books, but she was convinced that it was only a matter of time before Johnny realised he was deeply in love with her, and the fake diamond on her finger would be exchanged for a real one. She glanced at the ring on her hand again, smiling at the thought. She had chosen a copy of exactly what she wanted her real engagement ring to look like. Beyonce had said it best: If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it. Sometimes boys just needed a little encouragement to figure out what they liked. And what type of ring they should put on it when they decided they did like it.

 ***

Within the hour, Johnny’s small apartment was jammed full of Cecelia’s relatives, all of whom had flown in from interstate to meet her new fiancé. They were hugging and kissing and crying, squealing as they admired the ring and telling Johnny how handsome he was.

“Tell us exactly how you proposed,” one of the aunts gushed. “We want every single detail!”

“Ummmm…” Shit, Johnny thought. Should have seen that one coming.

Thankfully the doorbell rang again, and he excused himself, letting Cecelia think of an answer. He pulled the door open, wondering how on earth he was going to cram more people into his apartment. His jaw dropped when he saw who it was.

“Mia!” Johnny glanced behind him and walked outside, pulling the door slightly closed so that Mia couldn’t see in.  “What are you doing here?”

“I need to tell you something,” she said. She was fidgeting and looked very nervous.

“Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, at work or something?”

“What? Oh, I got fired,” she mumbled. “But that’s not why I came to see…”

“Hang on,” Johnny said, cutting her off. “Fired? Why?”

“It’s a long story,” she said, waving her hand dismissively, “and it’s not important. What is important is you. I mean us. I mean…” she groaned. Honestly, she had planned what she was going to say, it just wasn’t exactly coming out right. “What I mean is that you and I… the way I feel about you is… good. I feel very good about you. About us. I’ve never felt anything like it before. And I think that you feel the same way. About us.”

The words came out in a gush. They didn’t really make sense, but Johnny didn’t care. He had been waiting for so long to hear the truth about how she felt. And here she was, saying words that he had wanted to say so many times before, but hadn’t, for fear that he’d scare her off. More than anything he wanted to throw his arms around Mia and tell her that yes, he felt exactly the same way and had done for as long as he could remember.

It was just that, right now, her timing was so, so awful.

“Don’t you feel the same way?” she said in a small voice, when he didn’t answer immediately.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how I feel,” he whispered, staring deep into her eyes. “But, right now, I can’t talk. Can we meet up later tonight?”

Mia shook her head. “No. If I don’t say it now, then I never will and I’ll regret it forever.” She took a deep breath. “The thing is Johnny, that I am completely and utterly in lo…”

“Johnny?” Cecelia stuck her head around the door, scowling when she saw Mia. “What do you want?” she said.

Mia looked warily at Cecelia. “I just needed to… tell Johnny something.”

“He’s busy right now,” Cecelia said. She put her hand possessively on Johnny’s shoulder. A brilliant flash of diamond nearly blinded Mia.

“No…” Mia whispered, feeling suddenly nauseous. “You’re not…?”

Johnny looked down and shook Cecelia’s hand off, groaning. Fuck.

“It’s not what you think,” he said, trying to get away from Cecelia.

“But you don’t love her,” Mia said dangerously close to tears. “I know you don’t.”

“I can’t talk about this now,” Johnny said, begging Mia with his eyes to understand.

“It’s because of the baby, isn’t it,” Mia said suddenly. “You don’t have to marry her, Johnny… Not in this day and age. People raise kids separately all the time. I’ll help you,” she pleaded, desperate.

“Where’s our future son-in-law?”Cecelia’s father pushed open the door, holding out his hand warmly when he saw Mia. “Ah, you must be one of Cecelia’s friends come to give your congratulations to the happy couple! Well, come inside,” he boomed, grinning. “We’re about to open the champagne!”

Mia looked wildly from Johnny to Cecelia. I’m too late, she thought, her heart sinking. I’ve lost him for good. She willed the tears to stay where they were.

“No thank you,” she said as brightly as she could to Cecelia’s father. “I just wanted to stop past and say… congratulations.” She touched Johnny’s arm lightly, adding “you’re going to make a great dad.”

Then she turned and fled, the tears she had been holding back streaming down her face.

Cecelia’s father looked from Johnny to his daughter’s slightly bulging stomach. “A great dad?” he repeated, realisation dawning on his face.

Johnny closed his eyes. Fuck. Why could nothing just go to plan?

Season 5: Episode 8

March 6, 2012

It was quarter to nine in the morning, and Tom had already been in his office for four hours. He rubbed his eyes, as if this would erase the dark circles that seemed to be a permanent fixture these days. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep. He took another sip of his coffee, barely noticing it was cold, and tried to focus on the tasks at hand. In the last few weeks he’d fallen behind on some pretty big jobs, and the clients were starting to notice.
Today’s the day I get back on track work-wise, he told himself. At least then he’d feel like he had control over one small part of his life.

To avoid any unnecessary distractions this morning, he’d barricaded himself in his office, locking the door – something he never did – pretending he wasn’t there. He had almost convinced himself that the self-inflicted seclusion was entirely work related, but the tiny niggle in the back of his brain wouldn’t let him forget the terrible thing he’d done. If he didn’t have so much bloody work to do he would have taken a week off and run away somewhere to try and forget the whole mess. That was the problem with owning your own business though: Holidays became luxuries only other people could afford.
The phone on his desk rang and he snatched it out of the cradle quickly.

“Hello?” he whispered, hoping that if there was anyone else in the office, they hadn’t heard it. He could have let it go to voicemail, but he was waiting on an important client to get back to him regarding new sketches.

“Tom?”

He knew that voice. Should have let it go to voicemail, after all.

“Hi Ana.”

“I need to see you,” she said.

Tom gulped. He knew he was being totally chicken, but he really didn’t want a confrontation. Not until he’d figured out what the hell had happened the other night with Sarah and could think of some reason to justify his appalling behaviour. “It’s not a great time Ana. I’m…errr…there’s a project that I need to get done and…”

She cut him off. “Tom, this is important.”

He sighed. He knew that tone of voice. “OK. What about tonight? I could meet you for a drink?”

“I’m on my way to the city now,” she said. “I’ll be at your office in fifteen minutes.”

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

“OK,” he said, as brightly as he could. “See you then.”

He wondered whether Mia had told Ana what she saw. Surely not. Didn’t girls have some kind of pact where they didn’t pass on secrets that might hurt their friends? Or was it the opposite; they always told each other everything? Ana hadn’t sounded mad though, so that meant that she probably didn’t know. Yet.

At least Sarah was coming in late today. Those two going at it hammer and tong again was too awful to think about.
He heard his door handle rattle; someone was trying to come into his office.

“Tom?”

Tom couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. So much for the late start.

“Uh, hi Sarah” Tom called, silently pleading for her to go away.

“Why is the door locked?”

“I’m…errr…busy.”

“I need to see you. Just quickly.”

He had to get rid of her before Ana arrived. “Why don’t you…errr…take an early lunch break? A long one. We can talk when you get back.”

“It’s 9am,” she said, puzzled. “Tom, open the door.”

Tom slowly lifted himself off his chair, unlocking the door. Why didn’t he have the guts to just tell everyone to get stuffed?
Sarah looked fresh as a daisy and smelt familiar. Kind of like Ana’s perfume, Tom thought. She walked into the office and closed the door behind her, kissing him on the cheek and letting her hand linger on his shoulder for a moment too long.

“What did you need to talk to me about?” Tom said, escaping behind the safety of his desk. It didn’t work. She followed him.

“I wanted to say thank you for the other night,” she purred. “It was amazing.”

Tom looked uncomfortably at the floor. “About that…”

“Yes?”

“Sarah, you know the situation I’m in,” Tom said. “I don’t think it’s fair for either of us to… embark on anything that we’re not ready for.”

“But we are ready!”

Tom shook his head firmly. “I’m not.”

Tears welled in her eyes. “But you told me you loved me.”

I did?

“Ah, sure, of course, but…”

“But what?”

“It’s, well… just as friends.”

Just at that moment the intercom on Tom’s desk buzzed and the receptionist announced that Ana had arrived. Fifteen minutes my arse, he thought. That had been five at the most. What was she playing at?

“Ana’s here?” Sarah’s voice had changed.

Tom gulped. “Yeah, she needs to speak to me about something.”

“Are you going to tell her about us,” Sarah said.

“Um, no. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Maybe I should tell her? She has a right to know.”

“No!” Tom stood up quickly, steering Sarah towards the door. “I’ll talk to her. Just… do some work.”

Ana walked up just as Sarah was leaving.

“Sarah!” Ana walked forward and embraced her, kissing her on both cheeks. “What a wonderful surprise!”

Sarah looked at her warily. “Um, yeah.”

“How is everything going?”

Sarah looked from Ana to Tom. “Fine,” she said suspiciously.

“So great to see you,” Ana said walking into Tom’s office. “Might see you around. Or not,” she added, shutting the door in Sarah’s face.

Ana turned to face Tom. He looked awful – tired and haggard. Her heart went out to him. “Are you OK?” she said.

Tom looked at her strangely. Was it a trick question? She didn’t seem angry or uptight. She looked… concerned. Tom’s face crumpled. Right at that second he knew unequivocally that he still loved her and, more than anything in whole world, he wanted to make their marriage work. He knew that he had to tell her the truth.

“Oh Ana,” he said miserably. “I’ve been such a fool.”

Ana raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.

“I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me,” he said. “But the other night I got horribly drunk and,” he gulped, “slept with Sarah.”

Tom braced himself for whatever was coming next. He hoped it was bad. He knew he deserved it.

“No you didn’t.”

He looked at her, confused. “I did. I had dinner at her house and I thought I only had one glass of wine, but I obviously didn’t, and then I woke up then next day in her room.”

“You didn’t sleep with her.”

Tom still looked confused.

“Tom, she drugged you,” Ana said gently.

Tom looked stunned. “No. Uh-uh. No way. Sarah wouldn’t do that.” Would she?

“Think about it,” Ana said. “You said yourself you only had one glass of wine. How is it that you don’t remember anything of the night?”

“I was exhausted, obviously…”

“Tom, I have proof,” Ana said softly. “She put something in your drink.”

“What proof?”

“Please will you trust me on this. Just this once.”

Tom looked out the window, blinking. Sarah drugged him? His mind whirled, slowly trying to make sense of it all. It would explain a lot of things, like the fact he remembered absolutely nothing of that night. He stuck his head out of the office. “Sarah, can you come in here?”

***

“No way!” Sarah’s eyes opened wide. “I would never do something like that! I can’t believe that you’d take her word over mine, after all I’ve done for you…”

“Oh cut the crap,” Ana interrupted. “We know you did it.”

Sarah’s demeanour suddenly changed. “Listen you little bitch,” she snarled. “You need to deal with the fact that it’s over between you and Tom. He chose me. Stop acting like a sore loser. Besides,” she added cooly, “you have no proof of anything. It’s my word against yours and we all know who he’s going to believe.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and looked smug. That was the last straw for Tom.

“Sarah.” Tom turned to face her, he mouth a furious white line. “You’re fired. Gather up your personal things and get out of this office.”

Sarah’s mouth opened and closed a few times; the perfect impression of an inner urban goldfish.

“And leave the La Perla underwear behind,” Ana added.

Sarah’s face flushed an unbecoming shade of scarlet. “I told you I don’t have…”

“It’s stashed in your bag,” Ana said brusquely, cutting her off. “Game’s up, Sarah. Now who’s the one acting like a sore loser?”

Sarah opened her mouth to protest again, but Tom took her firmly by the shoulders and steered her towards the door. “Go,” he said, so furious he could barely speak.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Ana called after her. “Willow and Mia passed on that they wanted you out of the house today. They’ve packed your things. You can pick them up this afternoon.”

“You… bitch,” Sarah growled, charging towards Ana.

Tom stepped in front of her and caught her hands. “Get out,” he said. “And if you ever come near me or my wife again I will call the police and tell them exactly what you did.”

***

Tom and Ana regaled Mia and Willow with the story many times over dinner. They had just finished one of those perfect meals, which had culminated in a luscious, rich vegan chocolate mousse served with strawberries, blueberries and toasted coconut flakes.

“Tell me again how she flung the bra at your head when she was storming out of the office,” Willow begged, wiping the tears of laughter off her face. Ana smiled, embellishing the story somewhat for dramatic effect. It was so good to see Willow laughing again she would have said just about anything.

“Oh, I’m tired,” Mia said stretching over the chair. She got up and kissed Tom and Ana on the cheeks, giving Tom a small smile that meant she was sorry for doubting him. He grinned back and nodded.

“I think that’s my cue too,” Willow said. “Leave everything. I’ll clean up tomorrow.”

***

Tom stared adoringly at his wife, tucking a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered for the millionth time that day.

Ana smiled gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder. “I know. Me too.”

“Will you come home?” he said

Ana shook her head slowly. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Not yet. I need… time.”

Tom tried not to look too hurt. He was hoping that they could forget this had ever happened and pick up where they left off. But he didn’t want to rush her. Right now, he would do anything for this amazing woman, including giving her the space she needed.

“Where will you stay?”

“The girls said I could move back in here,” she said. “Until I’m ready.”

“Any idea how long that will be?” Tom asked. “I’m not trying to rush you,” he added hurriedly.

“I know,” Ana said smiling sadly. “But I don’t know how long it’s going to be Tom. What happened between us was… well, it was pretty full on.”

Tom nodded and took Ana’s hand, kissing it. This was not a conversation for tonight. “Take as long as you need.”

Ana smiled at the handsome man in front of her, wishing more than anything she could forget all that had occurred in the last few months. But she couldn’t. And didn’t know how long it would be until she did.

Season 5: Episode 7

February 27, 2012

Mia slammed the door behind her, hands shaking. She felt sick. Gulping lungfuls of air, she closed her eyes trying to rid her brain of the horrible encounter she’d just had. How could he? And with Sarah? With any other guy she could easily believe such infidelity. In her – quite limited – experience men were nothing but lying, cheating assholes… but Tom? He had been the ultimate pin-up husband as far as they were all concerned. He’d been supportive of Ana’s delusions way past the point Mia and Willow had been. They didn’t blame him for wanting a break from her. Ana was the one they thought had lost the plot, constantly talking about how Sarah was scheming to steal her husband.

It was starting to look as though Ana had been right though.

Mia walked out of the gate, her mind still reeling. Her immediate instinct was to call Ana, but she paused. Should she tell her? This would surely mean the end of Ana and Tom forever. Did she want to be responsible for such a monumental break up? Her hesitation was only momentary. Ana had a right to know and if Tom was going to be stupid enough to shag someone in – of all places – Ana’s house, then he was really asking to be caught.

If it was me I would want to know, Mia thought as she dialled Ana’s number.

Ana answered on the third ring. She sounded as though she’d just woken up. Mia could almost hear her heart breaking as she told Ana what she’d seen.

“Are you OK?” Mia said gently after Ana had been silent for about fifteen seconds.

“Fine,” said Ana. “I’m fine. Really.”

Then she started sobbing.

Mia glanced at her watch. Shit. She was already running late, but work would just have to wait. This was way more important.

“I’m coming over,” Mia said.

“Thank you,” said Ana, between sobs.

***

The cab had just pulled up outside Ana’s parent’s house when Mia’s phone rang again. She looked at the caller ID. Work. She took a deep breath before answering.

“We were just wondering if you were planning on gracing us with your presence this morning?” Felicia, her boss, inquired cooly.

“I’m so sorry,” Mia said. “A friend is going through a rough time and…”

Felicia cut her off. “That’s a new one.”

Mia gulped.

“Last week it was family drama and the week before… a death in the family wasn’t it?”

Mia cursed inwardly.

“If I’m not mistaken these are all metaphors for a hangover?”

“No! My friend has just…”

Felicia cut her off again. “Mia, I thought we’d talked about this. I expect to see you walking through this door in under an hour, understand?”

Mia agreed and hung up. An hour would give her enough time to see Ana, have a cup of tea with her and then grab another cab to work.

She was surprised to see Ana so calm when she answered the door, the only sign of the earlier hysterics were slightly red eyes. She followed Ana through the grand entrance hall – complete with indoor tropical forest – into the huge, modern kitchen. Mia had been there a couple of times before, but was still awestruck by the huge mansion that Ana’s parents called home.

“Breakfast?”

“Sure,” said Mia feeling suddenly very out of her depth. These situations made her uncomfortable and she had no idea what to do or say. It was a shame that Willow wasn’t here. She was so much better at dealing with stuff like this.

Ana switched on the custom espresso machine and the rich smell of coffee wafted through the kitchen. She toasted some homemade crumpets, smothering them with butter and jam.

They ate slowly and in silence. Mia was sure that the crumpets and coffee were delicious, but she couldn’t taste a thing. Ana’s calmness was making her even more uneasy. She glanced at the clock wondering how soon she could leave. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to help her friend. It was just, well, she didn’t know what to do.

“Mia,” Ana said, turning to her. “Can I ask you a huge favour?”

“Anything,” said Mia, grateful that Ana had broken the silence.

“I want you to watch something with me,” she said. “I’m… I’m not proud of this but…”

“But?”

“I don’t think I can look at it alone.”

Mia had no idea what on earth she was talking about, but obediently followed Ana to the guest wing of the house. She would watch whatever Ana wanted her to, then rush to work. Fine.

Ana had her laptop set up on a large mahogany desk. She typed in a web address and a picture appeared on the screen. It was a grainy picture of a bedroom and there was someone asleep in the bed.

“That looks exactly like Sar… I mean, your old room,” Mia said. She peered closely at the screen. “Wait, that is your old room!”

Ana nodded.

“How do you have a picture of your room?”

Ana didn’t say anything and clicked on a link. The picture changed slightly. It was still Sarah’s room, but this time it was empty. A small set of numbers in the corner indicated that this footage was from the previous day.

“You put a camera in her room,” Mia said, her heart sinking. This wasn’t going to help Ana’s case one little bit. If she confronted Tom about it, he would probably accuse her of spying and Sarah would undoubtedly go to the police this time. Having sex with someone else wasn’t a criminal act; setting up a hidden camera was.

All thoughts of getting to work on time vanished and Mia watched, horrified, as Ana started fast forwarding through the video. She stopped when Sarah came into the room and started getting changed. Mia looked away, embarrassed, as the image of Sarah admiring herself in the mirror dressed only in lingerie appeared on the screen.

“I knew it,” Ana said under her breath. “The lingerie.” She froze the video and Mia looked at the flicking girl in front of them. She was dressed in some dark coloured underwear, but the image wasn’t clear enough to prove it was the exact set that Ana accused her of buying with the stolen credit card. At least, Mia didn’t think so. The video started again and they watched as Sarah pulled on a white shirt and jeans, throwing her head forward to muss up her hair.

Ana fast-forwarded again until they saw the door swing open. This time there were two people on the screen. Sarah and Tom. Mia heard Ana inhale sharply as the couple on the screen embraced passionately.

“You don’t have to do this,” Mia said gently. “We know what’s going to happen. Isn’t watching it going to make it worse?”

Ana didn’t reply.

Sarah pushed Tom onto the bed. He lay perfectly still – like he was asleep – and she pulled off her shirt and sat next to him. She put her hand on his chest and ran it down to her belt buckle, slowly undoing it. All of a sudden, Tom leapt up and pushed Sarah off him. He was a bit wobbly on his feet and there was no sound, but the wild gesticulating indicated he was furious with her. As soon as he started though, he seemed to lose steam and collapsed back on the bed. Sarah poked him and he pushed her hand away. She went out of the room and came back a few minutes later with a bottle of wine, a glass and her handbag. They watched as she poured the wine and then pulled a small bottle out of her bag, glancing at Tom to make sure he wasn’t looking before putting some of it in the drink. He sat up in bed and obediently drank the wine before falling back down, dropping the glass in the process.

“That… that… bitch!” Mia said, her mouth falling open. “Did you see that? She drugged him! She put something in his drink!”

Ana nodded grimly. This wasn’t what she’d been expecting either. It was better in some ways, but so much worse in many others.

The rest of the video played out much as they expected: Tom lying passed out on the bed, still mostly clothed, as Sarah tried everything she could to rouse him. Eventually, she settled for tugging his clothes off, placing them strategically around the room for that flung-off-in-passion look and climbed into bed. She read a book for about thirty minutes before turning the light off and falling asleep.

Ana closed her laptop screen. Her hands were shaking slightly and her mouth was set in a firm line.

“You can’t let her get away with this,” Mia said. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” said Ana. “I really just don’t know.”

Season 5: Episode 6

February 21, 2012

The elevator doors slid open and Sarah walked in, her heels clicking against the stone floor. She was early today and the lift, which was usually full of people, only had one other occupant.

“Ninth floor, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Sarah said, surprised, turning to the gentleman who had spoken.

“I work on the fifteenth. Lawyer.” He grinned, half apologetically, half proudly. “I’ve seen you around.”

“Oh?” Sarah raised a carefully manicured eyebrow. She liked this game. He was undeniably handsome and had the self confidence that came from wearing a perfectly tailored suit and expensive aftershave.

They stared at the changing numbers above the door, casting sidelong glances and pretending to ignore each other until the lift reached Sarah’s floor. She gave him a smile before turning to walk towards her office.

“Hey,” he called after her, “do you want to get a drink tonight?”

She looked back to see his foot jammed against the door to stop it closing. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m actually seeing someone.” Or at least I will be soon, she thought, as soon as he gets over his bitch of an ex.

The guy shrugged and grinned easily again. Sarah noted he didn’t let the door close straight away, and she could feel his eyes on her as she sashayed down the hall in her figure-hugging tailored skirt and shirt. A smile played around the corners of her mouth, knowing that her strategically chosen outfit was doing its job.

All she had to do now was get the person she wanted to notice her to see it.

***

She stuck her head into Tom’s office before going to her own desk. She knew he’d be there. He was always there.

“You look exhausted,” she said.

“Haven’t been sleeping well,” Tom said, rubbing his eyes.

She noted the three empty coffee cups already on his desk. “What’s up?” she said lightly, knowing exactly what it was. Always the same shit. Ana, Ana, fucking Ana.

“I don’t know,” he said, sighing. “This whole Ana situation… I just don’t know if I’m doing the right thing.”

Sarah feigned concern and, gritting her teeth, made an appropriate generic comment. She’d run out of original things to say on this particular topic a while ago. It dawned on her that Tom was never going to realise everything he needed was right in front of him.

I think it’s time for a little… encouragement, she thought.

“Tell you what,” she said. “Everyone is out tonight. You should come over and I’ll cook you dinner. You can have a few drinks and relax. Take a night off being stressed.”

“I don’t know,” Tom said. “I’m not great company at the moment. I’m sure you’re sick of listening to me whinge”

“Of course not,” Sarah said. “After all, isn’t that what friends are for?”

“Well…”

“I won’t take no for an answer,” she said. “Come at seven. We’ll have fun, I promise.”

***

Sarah turned back and forth in front of the mirror. The La Perla black lace underwear set caressed her soft curves. She was relieved that she had been wearing the underwear the day Ana decided to ransack her room. Ever since then she’d kept it very carefully hidden, which was lucky given that Ana had broken into her room again, looking for it.

She pulled an oversized white men’s shirt over her bra, opening the buttons at her throat until a hint of lace showed through when she bent over. She pulled on a pair of tight blue jeans that clung in all the right places and emphasised her small waist. She mussed up her hair so it fell around her face in a wild tangle of waves. She looked good; effortlessly sexy.

***

Tom arrived at exactly seven. She let him in and padded down the hall in bare feet, making sure her hips moved just a little more than normal.

“I like your jeans,” Tom said.

Sarah suppressed a smile. “Wine?”

“Sure,” he said. “Better make it a small one though. I’m driving.”

“You could always crash here,” she said. “On the couch. You need a night off, Tom. You need to let go.”

He smiled sadly and shook his head. “Think I’d prefer my own bed.”

***

Sarah settled him in the back garden before seeing to their drinks. The weather was perfect for an outdoor dinner. It was a little bit muggy, the air heavy from the rain of the previous day, but the sun was still out and there was the lightest whisper of a breeze. Sarah had put together a tapas style dinner, the pièce de résistance being a dozen fresh oysters she’d picked up on the way home from work. These were to be complimented by a homemade lime and chilli sauce and a very nice crisp white she’d selected.

Tom’s nod towards sobriety was a bit of a spanner in the works. It was a hell of a lot harder to seduce a sober man, especially one who was still moping over his ex.

But all was not lost. Sarah had a plan B. She was sick of waiting and tonight nothing was going to stand in her way. She was finally going to get her man.

She made sure that Tom was still seated on the patio before extracting a small vial of clear liquid from her handbag. She put a few drops into his glass of wine. She paused and then added a few more.

Better to be safe than sorry, she thought grinning wickedly.

***

“Wow,” Tom said. He was already slurring ever so slightly. “That wine has gone to my head.”

“Just relax,” Sarah said. “Here, let me help you take your shoes off.”

Tom didn’t protest as Sarah knelt on the grass and pulled off his shoes and socks. She glanced back up at him and noticed that he was looking at her with a strange expression.

“What?” she said, smiling.

“You’re really shexy,” he said, his voice thick. “I mean, sexy.”

Sarah batted her eyelashes and giggled shyly. Now this was more like it.

“Oh Tom,” she purred. “You don’t mean that.”

“No, you are,” he said. “Why don’t you haveaboyfriend?”

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” she said. “There actually is someone that I’m interested in, but I don’t think he likes me in that way.”

“Ridiculous!” Tom exclaimed. “How could he not? Wantmetotalktohim?”

“The thing is,” Sarah said softly, leaning forward and resting her chin on Tom’s knee. “It’s you.”

“Me?”

She nodded.

“Why would someone like you like me like that?” He thought about the sentence for a second, knowing that it wasn’t quite right, but having neither the ability nor inclination to improve it.

“Oh Tom,” said Sarah breathlessly. “You the most wonderful man I’ve ever met.”

She leant in and kissed him softly. He closed his eyes, letting his lips melt into hers. It felt so nice, but…

“No!” he said suddenly, clawing at a memory that was deep in his brain. “I love Ana!”

Sarah sighed, trying to remain calm. “No you don’t,” she said gently, taking his hand and putting it on her breast.

He closed his eyes and inhaled sharply. Somewhere deep down he knew that whatever was happening probably shouldn’t be, although the reason why was getting fuzzier and fuzzier. A… Ana.  “Are you Ana?”

Sarah unbuttoned her shirt slowly, revealing the black lace bra. She brought Tom’s mouth to her nipple, her body shuddering as he licked it, moaning gently under his breath “Tonight,” she said, leaning in further and rubbing her body between his legs, “I’m anything you want me to be.”

***

Tom awoke early the next day. His head was pounding and he had no idea where he was. He looked around him. The room looked familiar but… it wasn’t his, was it? He turned and saw Sarah, still asleep next to him.

It took a couple of seconds for the situation to register.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Tom felt tears spring into his eyes. You idiot, he cursed inwardly. He must have had way more than the one drink he’d planned too. He literally couldn’t remember anything from last night, although the available evidence gave him a pretty good idea of what had happened.

Fuck! If Ana ever found out about this then there would be no chance of ever working things out.

He very carefully slid out of the bed. He found his boxers and pulled them on, bundling up the rest of his clothes. He’d put them on in the bathroom, so he didn’t wake Sarah up. He silently opened the door and let himself into the hallway, breathing a sigh of relief that he’d escaped.

Just as he closed the door the Sarah’s room, Mia’s bedroom door opened. She was fully dressed for work. She did a double take when she saw him.

“Tom…?” She looked from Tom’s semi-naked body, to the bundle of clothes in his hand, to Sarah’s bedroom door. The penny dropped.

“What the…?”

“Shhhhh!” he said, pleading. “I can explain,”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Mia hissed. “You men. You’re all the same.”

Before Tom could stop her, she stalked past him and left the house.

Season 5: Episode 5

February 14, 2012

Willow opened her eyes and stared at her bedroom ceiling. As usual, the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach didn’t kick in straight away. But then she remembered. She always remembered. She rolled over and felt the tears well in her eyes, not even bothering to wipe them away as they tumbled down her cheeks.

Every morning, she allowed herself thirty minutes of feeling unbearably sad. Once that time was up, she didn’t dwell on it anymore for the rest of the day. It was a shit situation. There was nothing she could do about it. Life, as they say, went on.

***

The house was empty by the time she padded downstairs to the kitchen to make a late breakfast. She was glad that she hadn’t gone back to work when the school term had started a few weeks ago. She wasn’t quite ready to be there yet. The school had been great – very understanding – and organised a substitute teacher for the first few weeks of term. She had desperately wanted to take half a year off – travel, explore, take her mind off Robert – but she couldn’t do that. She needed the money too badly. Her parents had lent her some in order to cover the rent, but she was thirty-four, for goodness sake; too old to still be borrowing from her folks.

There was nothing inspiring in the fridge, so she decided to hit up the local grocery store for breakfast supplies.

That, as it turned out, was not a good idea. She had forgotten what the date was. 14th February. Fucking valentines day.

Willow hated valentines day at the best of times, but since her boyfriend had been killed in a very unfortunate accident not that long ago, her loathing for it was off the charts. She gritted her teeth as she stalked past long stem red roses, boxes of chocolates, and cheap looking stuffed animals that lined the entrance of the store. Thoughts of breakfast had disappeared and she knew there was only one thing that could make today bearable – a non-stop, epic, unadulterated baking frenzy. Willow bought candied fruit, dried fruit, preserved fruit, icing sugar, brown sugar, white sugar, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, soft cheese, hard cheese, almonds, pecans, cashews and anything else that could potentially be mixed with flour and cooked in the oven  – she couldn’t really afford any of it, but damn the expense, this was an emergency! By the end of the the day she wanted cakes of all shapes and sizes on every available surface of her house, flour over every item of clothing she was wearing, and egg sticking to her hair.

The cashier – a young man, giddily in love with the girl from the Deli section – had a huge smile on his face when Willow approached with her laden trolley.

“Happy Val…”

“Don’t even think about it!” Willow held up her hand and looked at the boy sternly.

His face fell and he quickly rung up her purchases.

***

It was only a short four block stroll home, but Willow was struggling with the shopping bags, having to stop every couple of metres to rearrange them.

“Do you want a lift?”

She turned to see a silver Mercedes glide up next to her and stop. The door swung open and Robert’s sister Marion stepped out.

“I’m fine,” said Willow, trying to remain calm. Robert’s sisters had been anything but friendly to her, accusing her – in not so many words – of being a money grabbing whore. They had barely spoken two words to her at the funeral.

“I was on my way to see you anyway,” said Marion, picking up some of the bags by Willow’s feet. “It’s no problem.”

Before Willow could protest again, the bags – and her – were loaded into the car.

***

“I brought these for you, from our garden,” Marion said once they were in Willow’s kitchen. She handed over a bag of fragrant lemons. “As an… apology of sorts.”

Willow didn’t say anything, but accepted the bag.

“I really am very sorry for the way we treated you,” Marion said. “It was the shock and… oh, just everything that was going on was too much. I’m so ashamed and I hope you can forgive me.”

Willow looked at her. Marion seemed as though she were genuine enough.

“Do you mind if I bake?” Willow said finally.

***

They didn’t talk at all while Willow carefully made an almond meal and ricotta lemon cake. It was only after the kitchen was filled with wonderful, warm smells of baking vanilla, honey and citrus that Marion finally broke the silence.

“I have something else for you.” Marion reached into her handbag and pulled out a small turquoise box, placing it on the counter in front of Willow. “Robert had it on him when he died,” she said softly. “It was for you.”

Willow’s heart began to pound. She knew what came in boxes that size and colour. She shook her head. “Take it away. I don’t want it.”

“But it’s yours,” Marion said, confused. “He bought it for you.”

“I don’t care.” Willow’s voice was raised and she was starting to feel slightly manic. “This is hard enough as it is. I don’t want to know that… I just don’t want to know.”

“You don’t have to keep it,” Marion said. “I know that Robert would have wanted you to do something with it. You could sell it and use the money for something that you’ve always wanted to do. Here…” she rummaged around in her bag. “This is the name of the store that he got it from. I’ve spoken to them and they are happy to buy it back – not for the full price, of course, but…”

Willow just sat there shaking her head. Marion sighed. Any doubts she had about Willow’s genuine intentions towards her brother had totally disappeared. I mean, who turns down an antique Tiffany ring?

“I told Sam this was found on Robert’s body,” Marion said. “He knew already. He knew that Robert was going to…propose. He was the one who insisted that you – and no-one else – should decide what happens to it.”

Willow felt tears running down her cheeks again. Dammit! She didn’t want to feel like this anymore.

“Please Willow,” Marion said gently. “Accept it. It’s what Robert would have wanted.”

Marion picked up her bag and walked out the front door, leaving Willow alone with the box.

***

Once seven cakes had been made and were cooling on the table, Willow finally felt calm enough to to open the box.

Inside was the most ludicrously large diamond she had ever seen, surrounded by other ludicrously large diamonds and sapphires, set beautifully into a platinum band. It looked antique – art deco probably – but not old; someone had obviously taken very good care of it. She slipped it on her finger without realising what she was doing. It fitted perfectly and looked… well, perfect. It was the perfect Willow ring.

***

She allowed herself one night of wearing the ring before she took it to the jewellery store Marion had suggested. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen, but she knew that if she kept it she would never be able to get on with her life. It was a hard choice, but it was the right one.

The store was one of those ones that had more security guards than people. They had to buzz her in and out.

“Ah yes,” the jeweler said, giving Willow a sad look. “The Art Deco Tiffany ring. Would you like to browse while we make the arrangements?”

Willow shook her head and went to have a coffee while she waited for them to do the evaluation and draw up a cheque. She suspected the ring was worth a bit – thousands probably. Maybe she could take some more time off work, after all?

***

She was handed an envelope when she came back to the store.

“Do you want to make sure the details are correct?” the jeweler asked when she made no move to open the envelope.

Willow shook her head again.

It wasn’t until she was sitting in the botanical gardens, the sunshine on her back, with a bottle of Robert’s favourite champagne that she let her attention be drawn to the envelope. She carefully opened the flap and looked at the figure written on the paper inside. Placing it back in her bag, she silently poured herself a large glass of champagne.

***

Season 5: Episode 4

February 7, 2012

Mia cracked her neck and rubbed her temples. She sipped gingerly on a sports drink hoping that the electrolytes would be a miraculous cure for her hangover. She couldn’t remember ever having one this bad. The headache that had been ceaselessly pounding at her temples since the alarm went off this morning had amplified as the day wore on. At least she’d stopped vomiting. At times like this, you had to be thankful for small mercies. Going shot for shot with John’s English backpacker buddies until 3am this morning, when she had to get up again at 6am to get to work, was not the best decision she had ever made. Not to mention the joints that had been liberally making their way around the room. Since when did she even smoke?

“Mia?”

Felicia poked her head around the corner of the break room, trying to hide the shock of seeing Mia’s blotchy pale skin and the huge bags under her eyes. Mia always looked so… healthful. She was the one with the glowing complexion and boundless energy that everyone always envied. But now? The change had been gradual, over the last month or so, and Felicia wasn’t the only one who had noticed. Mia looked worn out all the time. For weeks now she had been consistently late for work, and when she was here she seemed like she was somewhere else. On more than once occasion she had smelt like stale booze. Her behaviour was erratic, at best, and it had got so bad that several clients had complained. Felicia had spoken to Mia about all of this and Mia had seemed genuinely apologetic and embarrassed; like she hadn’t known how bad she was. Obviously it had fallen on deaf ears though.

“Everything all right?”

Mia nodded. She just needed to get through the rest of the shift, get home and sleep. She did not need a concerned pep talk from the owner of the studio who wanted to get all in touch with her emotions and shit. She smiled – grimaced really – and nodded her head.

“Mia…” Felicia took a deep breath – were those cigarettes she could smell? – She closed the door behind her. “I thought that we talked about this.”

“I’m fine,” Mia said as calmly as she could. Why wouldn’t this woman just leave her alone?

“I’m sure you are,” Felicia said, her patience starting to wear thin. “But at this point its more the reputation of the studio that I’m concerned about.”

Mia rolled her eyes.

“Did you just roll your eyes at me?”

“No,” Mia said sheepishly. Oops.

“Mia, we’ve tried to be supportive to whatever it is you’ve got going on, but it’s apparent that you don’t want any help.”

“There’s nothing going on.”

“So you keep saying. But the fact remains that you need to pull your socks up or I’m going to have no choice but to let you go.”

The words were like a slap in the face. They were going to fire her?  “No, please, you can’t do that!”

Felicia sighed. “I don’t want to. You’re one of the best Pilates instructors I’ve got but…”

“I’ll be better,” Mia pleaded. “I’ll be on time and I won’t be… tired all the time.”

Felicia nodded and turned to leave the room. “Oh and Mia? You’re 2 o’clock is here.”

***

Mia closed the door behind her and leaned against it, relieved  to finally be home. What a day! She walked to the kitchen, dumping her bag unceremoniously on the bench, and opened the fridge. She automatically reached for a half full bottle of white wine and was just about to pour a glass when she stopped.

No.

Today had been a wake up call.

She begrudgingly put the wine back and pulled out chilled water instead, surveying the contents of the fridge for some dinner inspiration. When was the last time she’d eaten anything remotely healthy? Lunch today had been half a packet of chips and her normal dinner for the last few weeks had been toast and a bottle of wine. Things had to change.

The fridge was disappointingly bare. What with Willow away and Sarah working so much, no one had done any shopping. Mia missed the days when Ana lived here and they’d take care of each other; taking turns to cook dinner, sitting around and gossiping about the day. And the dinner parties, with Tom and Johnny.

Mia sighed.

Oh, Johnny. She’d barely even let herself think about him for the last month.

At first she was furious, vowing that she wouldn’t even answer the phone when he called to beg her forgiveness. But he never called, and soon the anger gave way to a sad realisation that it was over. Before it had even begun. At least she hadn’t properly fallen in love with him or anything silly like that.

But the past was the past and now was not the time to dwell on it. Not when she had a cracking hangover and an empty stomach. She heaved her body off the kitchen chair and flung open cupboards, looking for anything that could be used to concoct some kind of nutritious meal.
She put water on the boil, rinsing some red lentils and cooking them quickly so they were still firm. She added a few spoons of capers (they never went off did they?) and some slightly floury dried cranberries, smothering the whole lot in a rich, spice-infused dressing.
She was about to put a spoonful in her mouth, when her phone rang. It was English John. There was a lot of background noise. He was at the pub. Again. She felt a wave of irrational anger towards him. It was his  fault that she had become the way she was.

“I’m at the pub,” he shouted over the noise.

No shit, thought Mia.

“Come down!”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m… I’m too hungover,” she said. That was a far easier explanation than I’m reassessing my whole life and I’m not sure that the pub fits into my plan.

His reply was drowned out by a loud cheer.

“What?” shouted Mia into the phone. “I cant’ hear.”

“I’ll come over then,” he shouted back.

“No, I don’t want…”

He had hung up before she could respond.

***

“Oh, you poor thing,” John cooed as Mia opened the door to him. He pulled her into a hug, slipping his hand under her jumper and feeling the smooth skin of her back.

“Ugh, you stink like beer,” Mia said pushing him away.

John frowned. Since when did Mia care about that? He followed her into the lounge and plonked on the couch next to her.

“I bought you wine and chocolate” he said, holding up a bag. “Thought they might clear that hangover?”
“I don’t want any bloody wine or chocolate,” Mia said through clenched teeth.

He held up his hands in defeat. “Was only trying to help.”

“Well, you’re not helping.”

“What is wrong with you tonight?” he said. “You seem really cranky.”

“Maybe I’ve just had enough,” Mia snapped.

“Enough of what?”

“Of this!”

John looked hurt, but not surprised. “Of me, you mean.”

Mia didn’t reply and picked at a loose thread on the couch.

“I came to Melbourne for you,” he said.

“I never asked you to.”

“No, but… I thought that you were starting to really like me,” he said. “I mean, we’ve had fun, haven’t we?”

“Yes.” She sighed. “I do like you John, it’s just…” she trailed off. How to explain?

“There’s someone else, isn’t there.” It wasn’t a question.

Mia shook her head quickly. “Of course there isn’t.”

John uttered a small laugh. “I kept telling myself that you didn’t like him, but you do, don’t you?”

Mia’s stomach flipped, the lentils suddenly not feeling so great. “Who?”

“That other guy,” he said. “Johnny.” He spat out the name.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Mia exclaimed, putting her hand on John’s arm.

He shook her off. “You know Mia, it’s one thing to string me along if you’re trying to figure out your feelings when you know I’m in love with you, but it’s another thing entirely when you’re in love with someone else.

“No, you’re wrong, I’m not…”

He held up his hand. “The only reason you’re with me is because you don’t have him. That is just…” he shook his head sadly. “That is just cruel and cowardly.”

“No, that’s not…”

But he wasn’t having a bar of it. “I thought you were better than that. Goodbye Mia.”

He got up and left, pulling the front door closed behind him.

Then, quite suddenly, the realisation hit her. John was right.

She was still in love with Johnny. Completely head-over-heals, bonkers, crazy in love with him.

Shit.

Season 5: Episode 3

January 31, 2012

The lunch rush had died down in the cafe and the only people left sitting there were Ana and some guy dressed in black tapping intently away on his MacBook Pro. He had a look of earnest concentration on his face and Ana had been trying to figure out what he was working on. It certainly seemed to be something very serious.

She crammed a forkful of salad into her mouth. It was good salad – fresh and crisp with a perfectly balanced sweet/tart dressing – but it didn’t stop her wishing it was cake or, better still, cake with ice cream. But ever since the proverbial shit had hit the fan, Ana had been enjoying a bit too much cake. The too-tight waistband of her skirt was a constant reminder of that.

She tapped her foot repeatedly on the ground, which earned her a disapproving frown from her companion. She was jittery as hell and the second coffee had perhaps not been a wise choice. Pull yourself together, she chided after managing to repeatedly send her fork clattering to the floor, earning her another disapproving frown. It wasn’t like Tom was a total stranger; he was her husband for goodness sake!

Although, you wouldn’t have known it at the moment. She’d been living with her parents since Tom had given her her marching orders and, even though they’d seen each other a few times, they were both unwilling to concede to the demands of the other. He wanted Ana to apologise to Sarah; Ana wanted him to support her accusations.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said breathlessly, when he eventually rushed in. “We had this meeting that went overtime and then…” He trailed off.

“Let me guess,” Ana said before she could stop herself, “Sarah needed you for something?”

Tom’s shoulders sagged. “I don’t know why you can’t just admit that you acted badly and apologise.”

“Because she’s a lying, stealing, plotting bitch, who has made it her mission to ruin my life,” Ana hissed at him.

“Oh, grow up!” Tom rolled his eyes. Every single time they met it was the same thing. “If I do recall, Ana, you stormed into her house…”

“…It’s my house. I own it.”

“Fine, you stormed into the house that she rents from you and tore her bedroom apart looking for some fictitious underwear that you claim she stole to… what? To destroy you?” He gave a weary sigh. “When are you going to realise Ana that the world doesn’t revolve entirely around you?”

“I know she did it,” Ana said, folding her arms across her chest. “And until you support me, then this – we – aren’t going to work.”

“Whatever you want Ana.” Tom pushed his chair back and stood up. He didn’t need this right now. “I just hope you realise that you are throwing away your life based on something that you have no proof of. Sarah is willing to drop the whole thing; I don’t know why you can’t behave in a mature manner about this too.” With that he turned and walked out of the cafe, casting a sad glance towards Ana on his way through the door.

The guy in black had obviously heard everything. His disapproving frown had changed to a small smirk. Ana ignored him. I’m going to prove it to Tom, she thought angrily. And then he’ll come grovelling back to me.

But how? What on earth could she do?

All of a sudden it hit her. Of course! It was a sneaky, nasty plan, but she really was at the end of her tether. Sarah had taken her husband, her housemates and her career. It was this or nothing.

The guy in black was still smirking as she snatched up her handbag.

“What are you smiling at?” Ana snapped at him.

He looked her cooly in the eye, but didn’t say anything. Ana stuck out her tongue at him and stormed out the door.

It was time to go shopping.

***

She glanced about her as she walked quickly towards her old house. She was pretty sure that no one would be home. Willow had gone to her parent’s place for a while and both Mia and Sarah would be at work. Ana felt a pang for her friend – how horrible that she had finally found someone as wonderful as Robert and he had died. Ana couldn’t even imagine what that would be like.

She put her key in the lock and turned it slowly, pushing the door open. She winced, waiting for the familiar creak, but it didn’t come. Someone must have oiled it, Ana thought. She called out, a contingency plan forming quickly in her mind should someone actually be home.

There was no answer. Good.

She took the stairs quietly up to the top floor and pushed the door to Sarah’s room open. It looked innocuous enough, but Ana knew that evil lurked within. She dismissed the thought of rummaging through the draws again: the lingerie hadn’t been there last time when Sarah wasn’t expecting anything; she would have made sure it was even more well hidden now.

Ana opened her handbag and took out her brand new purchase: a tiny spy camera. Amazing the things you can buy these days. She’d ditched the packaging at the shop, just in case someone was home and wanted to see what she’d bought, but kept the instructions and read them carefully. She knew that she’d probably only get once shot at this and had to get it right. She looked around the room and wondered where to put it. The dresser was too obvious; attaching it to a picture was risky. The ceiling rose! Of course! Ana grinned as she climbed up on the the bed and affixed the minuscule device to the light fitting that hung from the centre of the decorative ceiling rose. Ana lay on the bed and stared up. The camera was barely visible amongst the light globes; you’d only see it if you were looking for it and she hoped that Sarah wouldn’t be doing that.

Feeling very satisfied, she stuffed the instructions in her back pocket, and made sure the room was exactly as she left it. She gave one last glance up towards the camera. The guy she’d bought it from had assured her it was the best on the market for the money, and even though it didn’t transmit sound, all Ana needed was one shot of Sarah doing something dodgy and she’d have her. She couldn’t wait to get home and check the live stream.

There was a creak in the hallway and Ana froze. Another followed shortly after. Someone was coming up the stairs!

Ana cursed whoever had oiled the front door.

Please let it be Mia, Please let it be Mia, she begged silently. At least then she’d be able to slip out once Mia jumped in the shower, as she always did after she finished work.

Footsteps paused outside Sarah’s room. The door swung slowly open. Ana stood there, clutching her bag, searching desperately  around for somewhere to hide.

This was bad.

Really bad.

For the first time Ana wondered whether breaking into someone’s bedroom and planting a hidden camera was a criminal offence. She suspected it was.

Sarah was looking down at her mobile phone and smiling as she walked into the room. She didn’t see Ana immediately. But then, she did. She screamed and dropped the phone.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she yelled.

“I… I just…” Shit. Ana didn’t have a contingency plan for being caught in the act of breaking into Sarah’s bedroom.

Sarah grabbed her phone from the floor and pressed a number on speed dial.

“Great,” Ana said. “Call the police. I’m sure they’ll love to hear about how you stole a credit card.”

Someone on the other end answered.

“Ana’s here,” Sarah said, hysterically. “She’s in my bedroom.”

Ana could hear mumbled words.

“I don’t know,” Sarah replied. “She was in here when I got home.”

Ana was starting to think it wasn’t the police at all. She had a sneaking suspicion she knew who it was, and if she was right, it was way worse then the cops.

“And Tom? Please hurry. I don’t know what she’s going to do to me.”

***

Tom arrived in record time. Ana and Sarah were in exactly the same positions, neither wanting to make a move in case the other one did something crazy.

He shook his head sternly. “What are you doing here, Ana?”

“I left something last time,” Ana said cooly. “I was looking for it.”

“She’s lying,” Sarah cried. “She was trying to steal something.”

“Is anything missing?” Tom asked.

Sarah shook her head. “I don’t think so. I think I caught her when she just arrived.”

“Open your bag,” Tom said to Ana.

“What?”

“You heard him,” Sarah piped up.

“Oh, you just shut it,” Ana said furiously. “Otherwise I’ll hit you again.”

Sarah was about the protest but a look from Tom stopped her. She smiled sweetly at him and went and stood my the door, folding her arms across her chest.

Tom rifled through Ana’s bag. “She hasn’t taken anything,” he said finally, giving Ana her bag back.

“That’s a relief,” Sarah said. “Thank you for coming over Tom. I was so scared. I didn’t know if she was going to hurt me or….”

“Well, this will not happen again, will it?” Tom said, cutting her off and turning to Ana.

She shook her head.

“Let’s go,” he said, taking her arm. He led her downstairs like a naughty child and opened the front door.

“I’m so disappointed in you Ana,” he said. “This really is the last straw.”

“Tom, if you’ll just let me explain…”

“I’ve heard it all,” he said brusquely. “You need help, Ana. And I can’t give it to you. I think that we should consider getting a divorce.”

Ana’s mouth dropped open. “No! You can’t, I mean, we can’t.”

She pleaded with him, tears welling up in her eyes. She had never wanted it to go this far. But Tom was having none of it. He looked at Ana as though she were a blip on the face of the earth, an annoyance that he’d much rather be rid of.

“My mind is made up,” Tom said, closing the door in her face.

Season 5: Episode 2

January 24, 2012

The wind was picking up. It licked the tops of the waves sending fleeting breaths of salty spray into the air. Johnny splashed the water absently with his hand, toying with the idea of waiting for another set or calling it a day. The water was starting to get really choppy and everyone else had gone in hours ago, the locals knowing that this was the time of day to clear out and get on with other things.

If Mia was standing on the beach she wouldn’t have recognised the lone surfer, bobbing about on the waves. His skin was walnut brown from weeks in the sun – surfing, reading, walking – and his hair had grown long, past his shoulders. He hadn’t shaved for ages and had a very respectable beard going on; part fisherman, part grommit, part academic. The headache that had been his constant companion for weeks, had gone.  Here he was, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, not another person around for miles.

Like a lot of restaurants in Melbourne, Medina had shut down over the Christmas break and most of January giving Franco and Johnny some much needed time off. Initially, Johnny had planned on staying around Melbourne; ticking off that list of cultural must-do’s that seemed to grow longer by the day: before he’d left, there were more books scattered around his apartment in ‘to read’ piles than there were on his bookshelf.

However, on the night that Mia had turned up on his doorstep, his holiday plans changed. He still wanted to do all that stuff, but now he had someone he wanted to do it with. He entertained romantic notions of finally spending lots of time with Mia, taking her to his favourite places, getting to know her a bit better. Most importantly, getting her away from that toffy English git she seemed to be spending so much time with, even though Johnny could tell she wasn’t really into him. He thought about how they would tell their friends they were a couple.

But, best laid plans and all that.

The daydream had come to a screeching halt the very next morning when Cecelia had arrived unexpectedly, giving him the ‘exciting’ news. It had been one night. One stupid mistake, months ago. The only reason he’d even slept with her was to get back – in some sick, masochistic way – at Mia for being with someone else.

What a dumb idea that had been.

He had run over the scenario so many times in his head. He’d had a few drinks – he couldn’t think why else he would have fallen for Cecelia’s subtle-as-a-sledgehammer advances – but  they had definitely used a condom. He wasn’t that much of an idiot.

Or so he had thought.

The interstate trip had been impromptu. Soon after Cecelia and Mia had left – fled might be a more accurate description – both wildly (and rightfully, Johnny begrudgingly admitted) upset by the presence of the other, one of his mates in West Australia had phoned. He’d been bugging Johnny for years to come over and visit. There had always been some excuse not to go, but Johnny decided that now was the time to take him up on the offer. He knew running away was the cowardly thing to do, but he just didn’t have the energy to be noble.

“You can borrow the pano and just head down the coast,” his friend had said. “No mobile reception, no internet. Nothing but you and the surf.”

To Johnny, it sounded like paradise.

And it was.

But now reality had to be faced. He couldn’t pretend that his life wasn’t a shambles forever. Johnny shook his head and splashed his hand across the ocean’s surface once more watching the water scatter, carried off by the wind, wishing that his own problems would dissipate as quickly and as easily.

Jesus christ, he thought, smiling wryly, any more time alone and I’ll start writing fucking poetry.

He took a last, wistful look over the water and lay on his surfboard, starting the long paddle back to his borrowed wheels.

***

He made a final stop at the local bakery before he started the drive back to civilisation and, ultimately, the airport for his evening flight. Weeks prior, at this unlikely haven of baked treats, Johnny had stumbled across one of the best meals he’d ever had. Sure, the salt on his skin, sand in his hair and the sense of freedom that came from both of these may have influenced his palate a tiny bit. Whatever it was though, this bakery sure knew how to cook a pie! He’d been back every day, always ordering the same thing. The owner never tried to engage Johnny in a conversation about where he was from or where he was going. She seemed to have an innate sense for when people were trying to escape their own reality. The only thing she ever said to him was “would you like sauce, love?”

He sat out the front on the wooden benches and carefully pulled the pastry lid off, squirting tomato sauce onto the rich, meaty insides, before closing it up again and taking a bite. The gravy ran down his chin and he wiped it off with his hand. Now this was the way to eat a pie. He might have to incorporate something similar onto the Medina menu when he got back. He didn’t know how well the Melbourne foodies would take to a traditional Aussie meat pie, but Franco could fancy it up a bit. Slow cooked lamb with a mint and jalapeno chutney, perhaps?

***

The Melbourne ‘summer’ was a rude awakening after weeks of endless sunshine and blue skies. Johnny waited until he got home to switched on his mobile. As he suspected it would, it immediately sprang to life, beeping incessantly. Fifty messages from Cecelia. Literally. None from Mia.

Might as well get it over and done with, Johnny thought. He took a deep breath and dialled Cecelia’s number. She answered on the first ring.

“Where have you been?” She sounded furious.

“It’s nice to speak to you too,” Johnny said lightly, trying to stay calm.

He heard Cecelia exhale sharply. “You just disappeared. I didn’t know if something had happened to you, or if you’d run away or….”

Johnny cut her off. “I needed some time to think.” He scuffed his toe on the floor and rolled his neck. The familiar headache was back. “So… how are you?”

“Still pregnant,” she said sulkily.

Damn. Johnny had been hoping she’d tell him it was a false alarm.

“And you’re sure that it isn’t…well, it couldn’t be anyone else’s?” he said hopefully.

“There is no one else,” she said.

Fuck! Johnny paced the room, taking deep breaths. “But… what about a paternity test?”

“For crying out loud, Johnny,” Cecelia exclaimed. “When are you going to man up and take responsibility for your actions? I’ll take the test if you want me to, but it’s not going to tell you anything different from what you already know. There. Isn’t. Anyone. Else.” She paused. “There never has been.”

“What, you’re a…I mean, you were a…”

“A virgin?” she said calmly. “Yes, that is exactly what I mean.”

Johnny couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. This just went from bad to worse.

“I need to see you,” Cecelia said. “We have to talk about this.”

“We’re talking about it now.”

“We can’t have this conversation over the phone,” she said, her voice rising an octave.

“I’ve already told you what I want to do,” Johnny said. “That hasn’t changed.”

“I’m not having an abortion,” Cecelia said through clenched teeth. “I thought I made that perfectly clear last time. I don’t believe in it.”

Yeah, well, you’ve got no problem with sex before marriage, thought Johnny angrily.

“My family would disown me,” Cecelia continued. “Is that what you want to happen to me?”

Johnny ran a hand through his hair. “No, of course not. I just don’t know what you want from me. Money? Because if that’s it, then of course I’ll pay for, you know, whatever stuff you need. I might need a bit of time to get the cash together, but…” He trailed off.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Cecelia sounded indignant. “I want you to do the right thing, Johnny. I want you to marry me.”