You knew, didn’t you, right after the birth of your second son. It was obvious. You couldn’t go on like that.
You never needed a magic mirror to tell you who was the fairest in the land. You only had to look at the young men around you, the ones who didn’t swoon at your feet, only the best looking guys who had the confidence to approach a beauty with the expectation of acceptance, no fear of rejection. Oh yes, you knew who was the prettiest girl and you knew who was the most handsome boy, and so did he. Like opposite poles of a magnet. And you looked like a couple of film stars on your wedding day, glowing and sparkling like diamonds. But good looks alone, as you soon found out, don’t guarantee the happy-ever-after marriage.
You did your best, both of you. You really tried, and you had the second child in the hope that this baby would be the glue that stuck the shattered pieces back together. It wasn’t. Then one day he didn’t come home from work. Nor the next day. You waited, wondered, continued with your life because somebody had to cook and clean and look after the children, and you thought: Maybe he just needs a break, he’ll be back soon.
A week later a postcard arrived from Marseilles: I have joined the Foreign Legion.
You exploded in anger and frustration, screamed and wept, banged your fist and stamped your feet at such crass egotism and lack of consideration. Money arrived at irregular intervals and in varying amounts, so you had no alternative: you had to find a job and childcare. An attractive face and figure are always welcome at the reception desk of any company, so that wasn’t too difficult and you also had enough of a brain to pick up the fundamentals of accounting. In no time, you were a career woman. And you were lucky with the childcare, too.
Routine set in, and the boat of your life stopped rocking for a while as you seemed to be sailing smoothly downstream, steering your own course. Up in the morning, drop off the children, work till lunchtime, have lunch in the restaurant just down the road, work again in the afternoon, pick up the children and play your role of mother in the evenings and at weekends.
Of course there were men who’d flirt a little with you and occasionally try to arrange a date, but you were once bitten, twice shy, and in any case, even though he’d disappeared, you did have a husband. On paper, at least. Sometimes that was a handy excuse, and you continued wearing your wedding ring to deter unwanted attentions. No excitement, but you felt in a way you had had enough excitement. Now and then you wondered if you should sue for divorce, but then you’d think, why bother?
And so life drifted on until the telegram arrived. Out of the blue it came, with the news that your husband had been killed in action in a place you had never heard of. You hadn’t seen him for years, and you felt a tinge of guilt at your indifference. The children had completely forgotten him. Later, a box arrived with his effects and quite a large sum of money was paid into your bank account.
Kids, we can have a holiday!
There was enough for you all to go away for a month, a great holiday for the three of you with sun, sand and sea, plenty of fun things to do and no need to count the pennies. You came back feeling ten years younger and radiant.
On Monday morning, you slipped back into the old routine: school run, work, and at midday you headed off to the restaurant as usual. Oh, but your table was occupied. You looked around for a free seat, and met a pair of bright blue eyes in a face brimming over with joy.
Oh, great! You’re back! It’s so wonderful to see you again!
Who is this? Do I know this man?
I was so worried about you. I thought something awful must have happened. I’m so pleased to see you looking so well, and so glad you’re here again.
You looked at this happy face and remembered that this man was another regular at the restaurant, one of the people you nodded to when you came in but had never actually spoken to.
Somebody else has taken your table, but I’d be very honoured if you’d join me … if you don’t mind …
Why not? He seems pleasant enough, and after all you had been lunching in the same restaurant almost every day for the past few years. You smiled and sat down opposite him.
Your holiday mood hadn’t quite dissipated, and he sounded like good company even though, as you quickly realised, he was actually quite shy. Not a man to go rushing in where angels fear to tread. But he explained in the first few minutes that he had been trying to pluck up courage to speak to you for a very long time. Then, on the day he had finally decided on what he would say to you by way of introduction, you weren’t there. And you weren’t there all the rest of that week, nor the week after. He could have kicked himself for his lack of courage, for not having approached you before when he had the opportunity, and now he feared you had either left your job or something dreadful had happened to you. He was in despair, and full of self-reproach. Ah, but now you were here again, and this time he had seized his courage in both hands and dared to open his mouth. He explained all this and then, to your great amazement, blushed bright red to the roots of his hair.
You were very touched by his candour, and for the first time in many years you, the ice maiden, melted. Gently, warmly, you responded. Your conversation came from depths that you both normally never sounded, and your souls recognised their affinity. He was ten years older than you, had never been married, and had given up hope of ever finding the right person although, as he confessed, he had been admiring you from afar for a very long time but in the way one pays homage to the unattainable. Now, suddenly, you were within his sphere and he reached out, daring to connect. And connect you did, on every imaginable level. No time to lose. You were married six weeks later.
Happy ruby wedding!