It was the last thing I had expected to happen, after a pleasant day out and a slap up meal, him telling me we were through, over.
Sitting on the harbour wall, sun hot on my back, I gazed at his smug face in shock.
He waffled on about how sorry he was, and if only I knew why he had made this hard decision I would thank my lucky stars or, to more precise, him…
Jolted out off my stupor, I leapt to my feet. He looked up at me in surprise. His mouth was still open in mid-sentence when I angrily delivered a hefty push on his cashmere sweater.
He hit the water with a very satisfying splash. Seagulls rose in a flurry.
He hadn’t been expecting that.
I paused a moment, watching him surface, taking in the angry shake of his head, before he swam determinedly to the steps leading from the moorings.
Time to go.
I slipped through the gathering crowd and up a narrow alley, round a corner, up a flight of worn steps, and I could see him shedding water on the quayside.
There was something distinctly odd about this place. Or about him. Or both.
He had brought me here on our first date, telling me it was a very special place. I had asked why and, with an irritating, superior smile, he had said it was full of extra-special memories.
And clammed up.
No amount of teasing had coaxed any facts from him. As it was our first date, I had thought it might be a ploy to make sure there was a second. And now, six months on, and me no wiser, we had returned to his very special place of extra-special memories and he had added the memory of finishing with me. I had added a dip in the harbour.
I knew which memory was extra-special to me.
Maybe that was it—he used this place as a beginning and an end for all his romances.
I became aware that he was striding uphill in my direction. Surely he hadn’t seen me? Then I realised that he was heading to the car park.
I melted into a small chintzy tearoom, not his thing at all.
He squelched past as I was ordering latte and cream cakes. Judging by his thunderous face he didn’t appreciate my contribution of a super extra-special memory.
What exactly were his extra-special memories of this very special place, I wondered, watching him stomp out of sight. And why did he think I should thank him for ending our relationship?
Adding his comments together gave me a feeling of unease.
Especially as he’d added, only one last time and prepare to be surprised, to his repertoire of remarks to intrigue. Only he’d got it wrong. Together with his smug smile, I found them extremely irritating. If he was laying the foundations for a proposal, he’d got that wrong, too.
But I’d been unkind. Maybe I should give him a ring. I needed a lift home.
My attention was caught by the two girls settling at the next table.
“I thought that hunk had fallen off his yacht, but that old guy with the pipe said his girlfriend had pushed him in.”
“Didn’t you think it odd that no one had noticed which way she’d gone?” said her friend.
“Not when I saw how mad he looked. I wouldn’t like to be her when he catches up.”
Me neither, I thought, finger hesitating over my mobile.
“He said she should’ve been easy to notice,” she added, as my mobile rang.
They both looked across; first at the phone, flashing blue, then at me, not answering.
It was him. I jabbed the off button. The screen blanked. His name disappeared.
“It was you!” the first girl said.
I nodded, grimacing. “Just burnt my boat, silly me. I’ll have to make my own way home. Can you direct me to the station?”
“I should stay holed up in here for a while.” The second girl tossed me her cardigan. “Here, borrow this to cover that fancy top. He looked mighty mad to me. I’m Fran, by the way. She’s Jo.”
The top which I’d thought becoming and attractive now seemed to be sending out signals like a homing device. Almost on cue, I saw his car nose slowly round the corner at the top of the street.
“Thanks!” I dragged the cardigan on and ducked my head.
“That him?” Jo asked.
“Hmm.” I squinted sideways at his grim profile. “Maybe I’d better keep out of his way for a while. Let him cool down.”
“Don’t you mean dry off?” Fran giggled. “The water’s quite cold today.”
“I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before,” Jo said. “You’re not local are you?”
“No, we live about four hours drive away.”
“He certainly didn’t go to my school.” Fran said. “I’d’ve remembered!”
“He could have lived here once. He says it’s his special place of extra special memories.”
“That’s it!” Jo said, excited. “It was when I was waiting tables at Anton’s.”
“That’s where we had lunch,” I said. “Lovely food.”
“And expensive,” Fran said. “No one ever takes me there.”
“He was saying exactly the same things to that blonde girl…you must remember, Fran?”
“The girl who was washed up on the beach?”
“What?” I said. “Drowned?”
“Presumed to be suicide.”
I stared at her, feeling chilled.
“What exactly are you trying to say?”
“Her parents weren’t at all happy with the verdict…”
“But still…” Fran said. “That must be almost three years ago, time enough for—“
“Fresh evidence to surface?” Jo said. “He was also in Antons with Debby Taylor. Twice.”
The two friends stared at each other.
“Who’s she?” I asked.
“He didn’t come to her funeral, which I thought very strange,” Jo said.
“Funeral?” My voice ratcheted up. Heads turned. “You mean she’s dead?”
“It must be eight months ago now. Her body was found buried in the sand dunes.”
“I’ve—I’ve been going out with him for six months…”
“Strikes me you’ve had a lucky escape, girl,” Fran said soberly.
I was surprised to find I was trembling. I pulled the cardigan tightly round me, wrapping my arms round my waist. My mind tried in vain to dismiss what Jo was implying.
“Are—are you sure about this?” I asked. “He’s kind, considerate and—well, I admit he can be quite annoying and smug, but—” I broke off to watch him drive slowly past. “He’s going back to the car park. I hoped he’d be on his way home. Maybe he doesn’t want to leave me stranded—”
“Shouldn’t risk it, if I were you,” Fran said.
“He’s obviously looking for you,” Jo said. “He’ll check the shops next. Go to the Ladies and I’ll wait here to get a good look at him, to make sure.”
I hesitated, then quickly bolted when I spotted him striding down the street.
The doorbell jangled. I cracked the door open a smidgen.
His glittering eyes checked the customers, and he headed to where I had been sitting.
I’d left my mobile on the table. He’d obviously seen it. He got his own from his pocket.
Jo pushed her chair back, smashing into his thigh, and reached for my phone.
“Forget my head if it was loose,” she said. “Don’t know why you had to swap tables, Fran. Oops, sorry, sir. Have I hurt you?”
“My fault entirely,” he said pleasantly, in his deep baritone, smiling. But his eyes still glittered. “I was looking for my girlfriend. Must have misunderstood her directions—“
“There’s another tearoom further on,” Jo said helpfully. “Have a nice day.”
With a last searching glance round the room, he left.
I waited a few minutes, to make sure that he wasn’t going to double back, catch me out.
“Well?” I asked.
“Definitely the same man,” Jo said. “I’d recognise that sexy voice anywhere.”
My lips tightened. I was going to give him another memory to add to his special place.
Something entirely unexpected.
I picked up my mobile, briefly wondering why I’d been spared, and jabbed 999.
Photo by courtesy of rgbhstock.com