Tales of food, sex and friendship




Archive for January, 2012

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.

Lamb Pie with Mint and Jalapeno Chutney

January 26, 2012

A slightly gourmet take on the traditional Aussie pie. Of course you can serve it will some good old tomato sauce, however it’s quite delicious with the mint and jalapeno chutney suggested below.

Serve with green salad. Serves 4.

Meat Filling

4 tablespoons of flour

1.25 kg of lamb, cubed

¼ cup of unsalted butter

dash extra virgin olive oil

2 large onions, sliced

2 tbspn fresh thyme, finely chopped

2 cups of sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup peas (frozen peas are fine)

1 ¼ cup of red wine

1 ¼ cup of beef stock

2 tbspn of Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper

Crust

1 cup of cold unsalted butter, cubed

2 ½ cups of plain flour

½ tspn of salt

5 -6 tbspn of ice water

Mint and Jalapeno Chutney

1 Jalapeno, seeded

1 spring onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tbspn fresh grated ginger

1/2 cup fresh mint, finely chopped

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt (not low fat)

2 tspn lime juice

1 tspn sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 18 degrees C (350 F). Coat lamb in flour and some black pepper (putting flour, pepper and meat in a plastic bag and shaking it is effective).

In a large pan, melt butter with a dash of olive oil. Saute onions over a medium heat until they are soft but not brown. Add the meat (including extra flour from coating) and cook quickly until browned (5-10 mins). Add mushrooms, peas (if using frozen rinse the peas first to remove ice from freezer) and thyme and cook for another few minutes, then add the wine, stock and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until well combined, turning up the heat until the mixture is bubbling. Transfer to a large oven proof dish and cover. Bake for 1.5 hours.

While the meat is cooking, make the pastry. Mix together salt and flour adding the butter and mixing with your fingers. Make sure you don’t overwork – it should resemble a fine meal. Add the ice water a little bit at a time until the pastry consistency is correct. Make into a ball, wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

Then make the chutney by whizzing all the ingredients together – except the yoghurt – until smooth. Fold in the yoghurt and refrigerate until serving time.

Take the meat out of the oven (if it’s too runny, stir in 1-2 tbspns cornflour; if too dry add a dash more wine) and increase temperature to 200 degrees C (400 F). Put the meat in a large pie dish (or into small ramekins – it should be enough for about 4, depending on the size of the ramekin). Roll the pastry out between sheets of wax paper – it should be about 1/8 inch thick. Lay the pastry on the pie dish and trim the edges. Put a few small holes in the top. Bake for 30-35 mins until pastry is golden brown. Allow to stand for 5 mins before serving.

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.”

Gingerbread Cake with Whipped Coconut and Lime Cream

January 19, 2012

Nothing is more comforting than the warm spiciness of a ginger cake. The addition of the lime coconut cream adds a lovely tart creaminess. Yum!

Serve with tea or coffee. Makes 8-10 servings.

Gingerbread Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tspn ground cinnamon

1/2 tspn ground cloves

1/2 tspn nutmeg

1 tspn ground ginger

1/2 tspn freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tspn fine salt

3/4 cup molasses

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup water

1 1/2 tspns baking soda

1/2 cup packed (peeled and minced) fresh ginger

2 large eggs

rind of 1 lime

 

Coconut and Lime Whipped Cream

1 tin coconut milk (not low fat)

Juice of 1 lime

1 tspn vanilla essense

 

Place tin of coconut milk in the fridge, right side up. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
In a bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and salt. In a separate large bowl, whisk the molasses, oil, and sugar until smooth.
In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk in the baking soda, then whisk in the molasses mixture until combined; remove from heat.
Stir the ginger and lime rind into the molasses mixture. Whisk the dry ingredients, a little at a time, into the batter until just combined. Using the rubber spatula, stir in the eggs until just combined. Transfer the batter to a 9 inch cake tin and spread evenly.
Bake in the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Place on a rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.
While cake is cooling, remove tin of coconut milk from fridge. Open and scoop out the cream (this should be at the top). Add lime juice and vanilla and whisk by hand in a large bowl for a few minutes, until the consistency is that of lightly whipped cream. Refrigerate until the cake is cooled.
Serve cake at room temperature with a dollop of coconut whipped cream. Delicious!

Season 5: Episode 1

January 17, 2012

Willow stood outside the doorway of the Robert’s hospital room, peering in through the glass pane. She smiled to herself as she imagined him seeing her, that familiar grin spreading over his face.

“Hey you,” he’d say, his eyes twinkling with promise. “Come here.”

He’d pull her close and kiss her, softly at first, but them with more ferocity, running his hands over her body and moaning from somewhere deep in the back of his throat.

Willow shook her head imperceptibly, bringing herself back to reality. She took a deep breath and pushed the door to his room open. Robert lay peacefully in the crisp white bed. He didn’t open his eyes or smile at her. There were no kisses or hugs. He was exactly the same as he had been for the last 35 days; perfectly still, the machines next to him keeping him alive.

Marian looked up expectantly from where she was sitting by the window. Her expression turned to disdain. “Oh. It’s just you.”

She rubbed her eyes briefly, as if the simple action would somehow erase the dark circles that had formed under them. Silver flecks of hair kissed her temples at exactly the same place as they did on Robert. Jill was curled up in the armchair in the corner, staring at the ceiling. She made no indication that she had noticed Willow at all. Her knees were pulled up and she rested her chin on them, her fingers clasped tightly in front of her.

Willow was always struck by the uncanny resemblance between Robert and his sisters. She’d only ever seen them previously in the photos that were dotted around Robert’s apartment; the two sisters, laughing, staring adoringly at their ‘baby’ brother. They were a close knit family as far as Willow could tell and he’d spoken fondly and often of them.

“I can’t wait for you to meet them,” he’d said to Willow on so many occasions. “They’re going to love you.”

She suspected that Robert might rethink that sentiment if he woke up.

When, Willow corrected herself. When he wakes up.

“I bought you something to eat,” Willow said, putting the homemade ginger cake with coconut whipped cream on the table. Marian raised an eyebrow but made no move to thank her.

Every day Willow bought in something for Robert’s sisters – cakes of all sizes, shapes and colours; creamy, mouthwatering quiches; sweet and savoury pies: You name it, she’d baked it – and every day, Marian and Jill would refuse to even taste them. Willow had been on a baking bender over the last few weeks. It was partly a gesture of goodwill because she knew that Jill and Marian refused to leave Robert’s side, but mostly because baking generally helped her alleviate stress. Although this time, nothing she made even loosened the knot that had firmly planted itself in the pit of her stomach.

The only person who seemed grateful for the food was Samuel, Robert’s son, and although Willow hadn’t seem much of her former pupil since she’d started dating his father, he was the only one from the family that had uttered a civil word to her in a month. In fact, it was on his insistence that Willow should be allowed to visit every day, even though it was restricted to family only. His aunts had made it perfectly clear that Willow was nothing but a nuisance and had tried to stop her coming, but Sam – thank goodness – had fought in her corner.

They had got off to a shaky start, Willow and Robert’s sisters. Willow had rushed to the hospital as soon as she heard. Jill and Marian were already there, doing all they could to hold themselves together as a support for Samuel. When Willow finally arrived – many hours after the accident had occurred – they raised an eyebrow at each other. So, this was the girl that Robert had been sleeping with. In their minds, Willow was nothing but a poor teacher who had used their nephew to latch onto his extremely wealthy father in the hopes that she could gain access to the family riches. It didn’t help that she was significantly younger than Robert and didn’t have two cents to rub together (Yes, they had checked. They were that type of family. They called it protective; others called it snobbish). It was all terribly Austen-esque and in any other circumstances, Willow would have probably found the whole situation hilarious.

Willow had tried desperately to be their friend. Given the circumstances, it would have been nice to pull together and offer support for each other as they waited for Robert to wake up. But they had already decided that she was no good for him and even though they never said it, she could tell they blamed her: If Robert hadn’t been spoiling her; if Robert hadn’t been rushing; if Robert had never even met her… if, if, if.

“She’s a gold digging whore,” Willow had heard Jill hiss to her sister one day, soon after the accident. “If it wasn’t for this… this woman,’ she spat the word as though it were a bad taste, “he wouldn’t be here. She probably expects a cut of the will or something, that’s why she comes in every day. To make everyone think that she was really in love with him when all she was after was his money.”

“It’s worse than that,” Marian had said in a low voice. “The doctors found this.”

Willow didn’t know what Marian showed her sister, but it was followed by a list of expletives delivered with such velocity that Willow didn’t even catch them all. “Strumpet”, “hussy” and “conniving, greedy bitch” featured strongly though.

***

The doctor walked in as soon as Willow had sat down and taken Robert’s hand. It still felt warm, although his fingers were thinner than before and the rough callouses at the base of each finger were no longer there. The doctor acknowledged Willow with a perfunctory nod and turned to Marian.

“I’ve bought the papers for you to sign,” she said.

Willow’s mouth dropped open. They couldn’t be those papers, could they? She’d overheard Marian fighting with the doctor a few days prior. It turned out that Robert had a clause in his will, which stated that should he be declared brain dead, he didn’t want to be kept alive for more than one month. Why that amount of time, no one knew. Marian was his next of kin, and she had pleaded with the doctors to keep him on life support for longer in the hopes that he would start to show signs of responsiveness. The doctors had humoured her for nearly a week (Willow suspected because the family had contributed a significant amount of money to the hospital) but they were now being firm: they did not want the legal ramifications should this come back on them.

As it turns out, Robert had specific clauses in his will for just about every horrible situation that could have happened to him: from kidnapping to organ failure, he had it covered. Some may have thought it paranoid, but Willow suspected it was because he wanted everyone to be able to get on with their lives with a minimum of fuss over him. Contrary to her original opinion of him, she had learnt that Robert didn’t like taking up people’s precious time when it wasn’t necessary. And she loved him for it.

Marian scrawled her signature on the bottom of the form, without even reading it. A tear ran down her cheek and she hurriedly brushed it away.

“Would you like a few minutes to say goodbye?” the doctor said gently.

“Wait,” Willow interrupted. “This is happening now? As in, this second?”

“No one is forcing you to stay and watch,” Jill said nastily.

Willow clenched her jaw, dangerously close to tears. Now was not the time to get into a fight. “You could have told me,” she said as evenly as she could. “Given me some warning.”

Jill swung around and faced her. Her eyes were flashing. “Why? So you could turn up the drama a few more notches and make people think you were in this for something more than the money?”

“I don’t…”

Jill cut her off. “I know your kind. All innocence and smiles but then you get your claws in. If it wasn’t for you then none of this…”

“Jill.” Marian’s voice was low and calm.

She nodded towards the door. Samuel was standing there, looking wide eyed from Jill to Willow. No one spoke for quite some time. Sam was the one who finally broke the silence.

“It’s not her fault,” he said in a small voice. “They do love each other, you know. She makes him happy.”

***

When the doctor eventually came back, no one asked Willow to leave. Jill was twisting her skirt between her fingers, her knuckles white. Marian held onto Samuel tightly as though she would never let him go. Sam could barely even look at his father. Willow’s heart ached for the boy. Having to live through this all again barely two years after his mother had passed away.

Without any fuss, the doctor turned off the life support machine.

Willow stared at Robert’s face. There were tears running down her cheeks, but she didn’t even notice. She was looking for some kind of movement; a fluttering of lashes; an involuntary spasm. Her sleepless nights – when not spent baking – had been dedicated to googling various derivatives of ‘chances of waking up from a coma’. She knew it was a long shot, but it had happened to other people. And if anyone she knew could pull through, it was Robert. Please, she thought to herself. Please.
A few mortifying seconds of silence passed, not a sound emanating from the EKG machine next to him. But then, suddenly…a staccato beep. Followed by another. And another.

There was a collective intake of breath in the room.

“You hear that?” Jill said. “It means he’s going to be OK?” She turned to the doctor, her eyes desperate. “That’s what it means, isn’t it?”

Before the doctor had time to answer, a single, long mechanical scream pierced the air. The sound seemed to go on forever. No one moved. Willow knew she would never forget that noise; not for as long as she lived.

Eventually, the doctor switched the EKG machine off and the room was silent.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said softly.

***

Willow quietly left the hospital room for the last time. The others were still standing around Robert’s bed, motionless. She didn’t think they would miss her. She took a deep, shaky breath and focussed on getting one foot to step in front of the other down the long corridor to the exit of the hospital. She paused as the sliding doors opened and stepped out into the bright sunlight.