The One Saving Grace | Chapter 16 of 42

Author: Julie Houston | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1038 Views | Add a Review

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11

November

November crept up on us, seemingly unbidden. The day before we were due to go down to Surrey to witness Sylvia become not only a married woman once more, but also Lady Sylvia Fitzgerald, I was in the kitchen showing off my new wedding hat to Lilian and Norma. Norma had been most unimpressed when I told her we’d taken on Lilian to help with the twins, and was only slightly mollified when I assured her that Lilian wouldn’t be either cleaning or inspecting her toilets. Norma was quite possessive about our house as in, ‘I’m just about to do my downstairs lav,’ or, ‘If you’ll shift yourself from my kitchen, I can get my floor done.’ I had no problem at all with her presumption on this score, being more than happy to let her be kingpin when it came to a bottle of Flash and a toilet brush.

‘So, what do you think, you two?’ I asked, giving a twirl. I loved this hat. It was navy with a huge brim and went fantastically with the little navy and shocking pink suit I’d picked up at Helen Sykes in Leeds.

‘Oh, that’s lovely, Harriet,’ Lilian said admiringly. ‘I think you made a grand choice there.’

Norma paused, dishcloth in hand, and sniffed. ‘I always said – next wedding I went to – I’d have one of them there fornicators on me head. Didn’t you fancy one of them?’

I caught Lilian’s eye and we both tried not to giggle. ‘Don’t know about that, Norma. I’ve heard they’ve a tendency to droop after a couple of hours.’

I was feeling very pleased with myself. Determined to look good on Sylvia’s wedding day photographs, I’d finally shifted the remaining few pounds I’d been battling the last couple of months. I knew Anna, Judge Colin’s only daughter and Nick’s ex, wasn’t going to be at the wedding but, if she was anything like me, she’d be having a good look at any pictures to see how the hussy who’d nicked her man all those years ago measured up. The beauty of having Lilian most days meant that I’d been able to join the gym – something I said I’d never do – and had even forked out on that personal trainer. Oh, I did like having money again. Anyone who tells you money can’t buy you happiness is mad. It can buy you a personal trainer who bullies your wobbly bits into submission and into those size 8 Jo Brand – or did I mean J Brand? – jeans and, if that’s not happiness, then I don’t know what is.

I’d always loved swimming so, once I’d dropped India off at school and given Sally Saxton several withering – if not downright contemptuous – looks from the safety of my car, I’d drive straight down to the gym and swim forty lengths. That bit I could just about cope with, but then I’d make my way up to the gym machines to face Tina Trainer, who had obviously taken her instructions at the same place Dante got his inspiration for the Inferno. God, it was hard at first. Having not really done any exercise, apart from gardening, during the previous three or four years, my poor body didn’t know what had hit it. My muscles, unused to any of the things Tina Trainer was forcing upon them, shrieked in protest – and I nearly gave up before I started, always on the lookout for ways to sneak off home for coffee and the Telegraph crossword.

But I persevered, almost manic in my determination to look good for the wedding.

And for Alex Hamilton.

‘So, you’re all going down to this wedding of your mother-in-law’s, are you?’ Norma sniffed, indicating, by a nod of her head towards Lilian, that she was aware we were taking Mrs D with us.

‘Well, we had thought we’d leave the twins here with Lilian, but now we’ve got the new car we can, hopefully, all fit in. And there are quite a few of Nick’s relatives – aunts and cousins and so on – who’ve not seen Fin and Thea yet. We thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce them to the rest of Nick’s family.’

Norma sniffed again. ‘You shouldn’t have babies at weddings. They cry all the time. I never heard a word of our ’Shell’s vows when she married our Ricky cos of our Dean’s two crying through it all. It’ll spoil it, love. I should leave ’em here with her.’ Norma nodded again towards Lilian, who was quietly folding clothes taken from the drier. Norma had always disliked folding newly dried sheets and shirts, but was now obviously resentful that Lilian had taken it over. ‘If you like, I could come over as well. Give her a break, like. Leave the twins here and we’ll look after ’em between us.’

And start World War Three? I don’t think so.

‘That is so kind, Norma,’ I said, ‘but we’ve got the new bus now. Nick would have a fit if we bought it and then didn’t use it to go to Surrey.’

Nick had finally succumbed to the idea of a seven seater car, and we were now the proud owners of a monster that sat on the drive, too big even to fit in the garage. It wasn’t in fact new – we only needed it when the whole family was out together, which wasn’t that often at the moment – and neither Nick nor I had wanted to trade in our respective cars. He’d nearly cried when he brought it home.

‘Forty this year, and now a bloody great coach in the garden,’ he’d moaned. ‘You’d better buy me a pair of slippers and pyjamas next time you’re in M&S, because I’m obviously heading rapidly for middle age.’ He’d been quite gloomy for a couple of days but then swanned off to Russia once more and, my mind on other things – OK, Alex – I hadn’t really given him or his apparent midlife crisis another thought.

I needed to go over to Amanda’s to see Grace before we set off for Surrey the following morning. I was feeling guilty that I hadn’t rung her on a daily basis as I’d intended.

The Monday morning after our dinner party, I’d left the twins with Nick (still getting himself ready for his first trip to Russia) and Lilian, picked Grace up from Amanda’s and taken her back to her GP, insisting she see another more sympathetic – and, hopefully, more knowledgeable – doctor at the practice. Grace had allowed me to go in with her and she let me do most of the talking, this time to a youngish female doctor, a Dr Theaker, who was obviously more up on post-natal problems than Grace’s previous GP had been. She listened carefully, making copious notes, lifting her head and pen only when I told her of Grace’s arrest two nights earlier.

‘Grace, this has gone beyond the baby blues that many mothers experience,’ the doctor had said. ‘I do wish you’d have come back earlier or had got in touch with your health visitor before this. Post-natal depression is treatable these days. At least one new mother in ten goes through real PND like you are experiencing, Grace, often when the baby is between two and six months old. Jonty is what… just over two months old now?’

Grace had nodded miserably and we could see she wasn’t far from tears once more. ‘But why has it happened to me? I was so desperate for a baby, and now I’ve got him I want to die. I just don’t understand why I should feel like this.’ Tears rolled down Grace’s pale face unchecked.

‘PND can happen whatever your family circumstances. It doesn’t matter if this is your first or subsequent baby,’ the doctor said. ‘And just because you are suffering with this baby doesn’t mean you will necessarily go through the same again.’

‘Again?’ Grace had looked up in horror. ‘I would never, ever put myself through this again,’ she sobbed. Never.’

‘You’ve been a career girl, Grace. I know you loved your job as a teacher. You were in control there: in charge. In the last year you’ve gone through a separation from your husband, a new relationship,’ she glanced at her notes, ‘moved into what Harriet tells me is an almost uninhabitable farmhouse, and now you’ve moved in with your mother-in-law.’

‘She’s not my mother-in-law,’ Grace had almost hissed. ‘She’s Jonty’s father’s mother.’

‘OK. Just a technicality,’ Dr Theaker said gently. ‘Is she supportive? Is she helping?’

Grace sighed. ‘Yes, she’s great with the baby. I can’t fault her.’

I’d wanted to butt in there, tell how Amanda appeared to be taking over. But if Amanda hadn’t taken control of Jonty, then who would have?

‘Well, I think you’ve been through enough upset over the last year for it to perhaps explain what could have been the trigger for all this, don’t you?’ The doctor had peered over her glasses at both of us. ‘Is there any sort of trauma that you might have gone through as a child, Grace? I’m no psychologist, but I do know that childhood experiences can have a huge influence on the present. Sometimes, long buried hurt and trauma can be forced to the surface by the shock of giving birth, particularly if you were separated from your own mother at a young age.’

Grace had shaken her head and I’d smiled and said, ‘There was never any trauma in Grace’s life. I’ve known her since we started at grammar school together when we were eleven, and there’s never been a time when she’s not been anything but happy, motivated, always top of the class, with parents who doted on her and her brother.’

‘And before the age of eleven, Grace?’ Dr Theaker said gently, ignoring me.

Grace had shaken her head again. ‘No. Nothing. As Harriet said, I probably had a charmed life. Until now, that is.’

Dr Theaker had turned to her computer. ‘Well, there’s plenty we can do to help now, Grace. What’s happening about this drink-drive arrest? That’s going to be a bit of nuisance if you are banned from driving. You’ll have to go to court, I presume?’

‘I’m not really sure. To be honest, it all seems a bit of a blur. As if it happened to someone else.’ Grace had said this in such a low voice that both Dr Theaker and I had had to lean towards her to catch what she was saying. ‘David – Jonty’s grandfather – is sorting it all out for me.’ She’d sighed and looked at us both. ‘It’s all a bit of a mess, isn’t it?’

‘It is, but not unfixable. I’m going get one of the health visitors to come and see you immediately, either today or tomorrow, and I think we should look at some CBT.’

‘CBT?’ Both Grace and I repeated the ominous sounding letters as one. Wasn’t that the electric thing they used to zap people’s brains with?

‘Cognitive behavioural therapy,’ the doctor smiled, obviously reading my thoughts, at any rate. ‘By the look on your face I bet you thought I meant ECT – electroconvulsive therapy. That was often used to treat PND, but we’ve moved on a bit now, thank goodness… more often than not get great results with some medication and CBT. OK?’

Dr Theaker certainly liked her acronyms.

This visit to the surgery with Grace had been a good five weeks earlier, in fact just after the evening of our dinner party when Grace had ended up being arrested for drink driving. Since then, I had done my utmost to speak to her on a daily basis and visit as often as I could. Sometimes Amanda would come to the phone to say Grace was sleeping or that she was at the other end of the house and she would get her to ring me back which, invariably, never happened. Usually, when I tried to get her on her mobile it went to answerphone or was obviously turned off.

I had been going to take the twins with me to see Grace, but Lilian said the dog needed a walk and she’d be more than happy to take him and the babies with her down to the park. Telling her I wouldn’t be away too long – I still had a load of packing to do: just a long weekend away with the seven of us was like an army about to set off on manoeuvres – I jumped in my car and drove the thirty minutes to the Hendersons. I’ve always quite liked November as a month – liked the beginnings of frosty mornings, and the way the leaves seemed tenaciously determined to hang on to the beech trees before losing their battle with nature, as had the ones now falling into the road ahead of me. This was a particularly lovely November morning, a rare one in that hazy sunshine had appeared, and, although Grace and her state of mind worried me dreadfully, I couldn’t help but rejoice in the freedom of being out on the road, my children and housework being taken care of by others.

Amanda was out in the garden, taking advantage of the mild weather to do a little gardening, with Jonty asleep in his pram on the lawn. She stuck her gardening fork into a flower bed as I drove up towards the house and pulled off her gardening gloves. As ever, she was dressed for the job in expensive looking wellies, a pair of tight brown cords which showed off her pert little bottom and a mustard coloured gilet over a checked shirt.

‘Coffee?’ she asked, as I got out of the car. ‘I’m ready for one. And I think this little man is ready for something too. Aren’t you, my darling?’ She scooped Jonty out of the pram in one practised move, kissed him on the top of his head and set off up towards the house almost before I could said, ‘Hi.’

‘Where is Grace?’ I asked as I followed Amanda into the kitchen. ‘I did text her earlier and tell her I was coming over.’

‘I do hope you’ve not had a wasted journey. She didn’t say anything to me about your coming over. I’m afraid she’s gone out.’

‘Where? She’s not taken the car, has she?’

‘Well, yes, she has. We’re assuming she will lose her licence, but until the case comes up in front of the magistrates she’s free to drive wherever she wants. Even though she was over the limit, the police themselves can’t ban her. She could plead not guilty, you see – and, of course, you are innocent until proven guilty of the charge.’

‘Where has she gone?’

‘She said she was going over to her parents’ house again. Like I said, she didn’t say anything about you coming over.’

Amanda handed me a coffee and then offered shortbread – home made, of course. I declined, not wanting to spoil all my good work at the hands of Tina Trainer. I had a wedding outfit to squeeze into.

‘How do you think she is, Amanda? Do you think she’s getting better?’

Amanda pulled a face and shrugged. ‘I really don’t know. The health visitor is here on a regular basis, and Grace is taking her medication. But she has no real interest in that gorgeous little man over there.’ She hesitated before adding, ‘And between you and me, Harriet, she appears to have little interest in my other gorgeous man.’ She looked at me meaningfully. I got her meaning loud and clear. She didn’t need to spell it out for me. What infuriated me was Amanda’s implication that both Jonty and Sebastian belonged to her when, in reality, they were Grace’s. And what worried me was that Amanda was right – Grace seemed to not want either of them.

‘We have to help her, Amanda, not criticise her. I don’t know why this has happened to Grace, but being mealy mouthed about her is not the best way to go about it.’ That came out more harshly than I’d intended and I immediately apologised. ‘Sorry, that wasn’t very nice of me, was it?’

‘No, Harriet, it wasn’t. I’m really trying to do my best here for all of them, but I just can’t get through to Grace. And as for Seb… well, he’s a changed boy, too.’

‘Oh, come on, Amanda. He’s a man, not a boy. A grown man with partner and baby of his own.’

‘You’re right. Of course you are. But would he and Grace still be together if it were not for Grace getting herself pregnant? I’m not convinced that for Seb their little fling wasn’t just that – a mad fling with the illicit thrill of an older woman.’ Amanda’s face was stony, her beautiful features marred by her disapproval of the situation in which the past year’s series of events had landed her only son.

‘No,’ I said hotly. ‘You’re wrong there. They were fabulous together all the months she was pregnant and when they were planning and buying the farmhouse. They’re just both going through a really bad time.’

I glanced at the clock and, packing to do or no, made the quick decision to nip over to Grace’s parents to see if I could find her.

‘I’m off, Amanda. I’ll see if I can find out what she’s up to.’

Amanda said nothing but nodded in agreement. Then I did something I’d never done before. I went over to where she was sitting feeding Jonty and gave her a hug. I was obviously getting soft in my old age.

*

I really didn’t have a huge amount of time but wanted to see that Grace was OK before I went off to Surrey for the weekend. Grace’s car was parked in her parents’ drive and the front door unlocked.

‘Grace,’ I shouted. ‘It’s me. Where are you?’

‘Up here.’

‘What are you doing?’

Grace came down the stairs, brushing dust from her clothes.

‘What are you doing?’ I repeated.

‘It’s cobwebby up there. I’ve been up in the loft again.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know. I keep having this sudden urge to come over and go up in Mum and Dad’s loft.’ She sounded quite animated. ‘I found my diaries right at the back in a big plastic box. I’ve been up there for ages. I knew what I was looking for. Wanted to read what I’d written about Amanda. It’s amazing, Hat, what I wrote as a fourteen year old. Every day was the same – how I hated her, especially when she got us suspended from school for a week. God, I wrote pages and pages. It was wonderful being fourteen. ‘Didn’t you love it?’

‘I’m not sure I loved it,’ I said. ‘It was OK.’

‘And fancying Jonathan Farrell,’ she went on, ‘Amanda’s boyfriend. And him snogging me whenever we got the chance. He was so much older than me, and – do you remember, Hat? You kept saying he was only after one thing, and I should be careful.’

I smiled. Let her continue. It was wonderful to see her animated after weeks of inertia.

‘It was really exciting – dangerous – when Amanda was working so hard for her A levels, and I’d be free to ‘accidentally’ bump into him down in town and go outside – behind the coffee bar with him. I’m sure, now I think about it, that it was the thrill of going off with Amanda’s boyfriend. When she was giving me order marks, and conduct marks – and telling me to straighten my tie and wear my beret, she’d no idea Jonathan Farrell had had his hand up my jumper.’

‘Those were the days,’ I laughed. ‘Anyway, I’ve just called round to see if you are OK. I can’t stay long.’

Grace didn’t appear to be listening. Instead she said, ‘I’ve been up in the loft for absolutely ages reading about my fourteen and fifteen year old self.’ She paused and looked at me sadly. ‘I just didn’t want to come back down to reality. I was in a sort of cocoon up there; I almost became fifteen again. Oh, God, I wish I was, and hadn’t made such fucking mess of my life.’

‘Come on, Grace,’ I said, rubbing her arm. ‘You haven’t made any mess of your life.’

Ignoring me, she said, ‘What the hell am I doing living with a twenty-four year old? OK, he’s beautiful to look at, and incredibly sexy. But that’s the trouble. I have no interest in sex. And Seb has been great about the sex thing – probably doesn’t fancy me anyway, looking like this – but for heaven’s sake, everyone knows twenty-four year olds are rampant. He should be rolling some floozy in the grass, not cutting the damned stuff like an old married man of a Sunday afternoon. Every time he turns to me in bed I pretend I’m asleep, which is so ironic because I’m usually wide awake at night time.’

‘Are you not sleeping at all?’ I asked. ‘What about the medication Dr Theaker gave you? Is that not working?’

‘I fall asleep because I’m so shattered,’ Grace said, her eyes filling with tears, ‘but then I jolt awake, thinking Jonty has stopped breathing or died. I had this awful dream last week, where I was back at home looking for Mum and I couldn’t find her – and Dad was crying, and said it was all my fault that she’d gone. I was so thankful when I woke up, but immediately realised it was Jonty that was crying and then, well, then the nightmare goes on.’

‘But Grace,’ I said, ‘this is all you ever wanted – a baby.’

Grace wiped her eyes on her dusty sleeve and tried to smile. ‘God, tell me about it. I was so envious of anyone who was pregnant: when I saw that thin blue line telling me I was actually pregnant I really wanted to die with happiness. I know that sounds totally over the top, but if I’d died on that day, it wouldn’t have mattered – because I could never, ever, have surpassed the feeling that I’d done what I was put on this earth to do.’

‘Are you going to be OK driving home?’ Grace was putting on her cardigan and gathering her diaries. ‘Or do you want me to drive back with you? Make sure you get back all right.’ I put my hand out to her, wanting to make some physical contact between us, but she ignored it.

‘I’m OK. I will be OK,’ Grace said sadly. ‘It just seems as if it’s all taking such a long time.’ She tried to smile, but her eyes were dull, lacking any spark. It was as if, now that she was back in the present – out of the safe cocoon of her fifteen year old self into which she’d temporarily retreated for the last hour or so – her raw vulnerability was right back to the fore. Grace wrapped the grubby grey cardigan – a constant sartorial feature of her appearance for the last few weeks – around her thin frame and, without another word or backward glance at me, she walked to her car and drove off.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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