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"Em? Emily, is that you?’
Emily Standish sat down hard on the little wooden chair with its faded floral needlepoint cushion. She barely registered the small cloud of dust it gave out in protest. Her heart was racing and her breath was short. It couldn’t be. It must be nearly fifteen years – and this really wasn’t the moment for that kind of complex mental arithmetic. If someone had asked her, Emily would have claimed she barely remembered him. She certainly wouldn’t have expected that she could recognise his voice on the end of a crackling phone line in just five words.
"Hello? Can you hear me?’
She could hang up, of course. For all he knew, she was on a train heading through a tunnel at just the wrong moment. Right moment. Whichever.
Or perhaps she could pretend he’d got the wrong number. He wouldn’t be able to tell if she changed her voice a bit, would he?
"Emily, it’s Simon.’
"Yes.’ She knew that. She didn’t have a clue what else was going on but she did know who it was who had got her phone number from somewhere and called her out of the blue.
"It is you! For a moment there I wondered if I’d made a terrible cock-up and phoned some other Emily Standish.’
Simon sounded just like he always had. Charming and confident with a deep humour always lurking just beneath the surface. Emily couldn’t help herself. She smiled.
He laughed. "Hello darling! God, it’s good to hear your voice again. You don’t sound as though you’ve changed a bit. Have you? No, don’t tell me, I’m coming to see for myself.’
Emily clutched at the phone more tightly and hoped that Simon couldn’t tell she was shaking. "You’re coming to see me?’ Wildly, she looked around the piles of magazines, the not-quite-abandoned knitting, and the tulips that were out of water and dropping petals all over her front room. She closed her eyes and prayed that he’d at least give her time to tidy up a bit.
"Yes. There’s something I need to talk to you about. That’s okay, isn’t it?’
"Well, I suppose-’
"Great. Are you free on Saturday? I’ll pick you up at seven, shall I?’
He paused. "Is something the matter?’
Emily swallowed, wondering how her mouth had suddenly got so dry. Simon Lennox had phoned her. Was talking to her now, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Wanted to come and see her. To take her out for dinner on Saturday.
This wasn’t supposed to be happening.
It wasn’t what she had planned.
She took a deep breath. Probably it was nothing. Just dinner with an old friend. "No. Saturday’s fine. Do you need directions?’
"You’re still in the cottage, aren’t you? Park in the lane and come round through the back gate. I remember.’
And that, thought Emily, summed up her life over the last 15 years. Still in the same tiny village, in the same tiny cottage that her landlord had never bothered to have modernised. Still doing the same dead end job and still waiting for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet.
"Yes. I’m still here.’
"Great. See you on Saturday, then.’
She listened to the empty buzz at the end of the line for a moment before replacing the phone on its base.
Fifteen years ago, she thought she loved him.
Fifteen years ago, he had married someone else.