It was a typically British, cold, damp November evening, so there weren’t many people on the deck of the ferry. Chloe and her son Paul were both wearing warmly padded coats and were more comfortable there than in the over-heated lounges. They saw lights from the Isle of Wight out to their left. Nearer to Portsmouth, fireworks lit up the sky illuminating the Spinnaker Tower; first pale blue then lipstick pink. The sound travelled easily across the water. An unusually loud explosion frightened Paul, who yelped and clung to his mother’s legs.
“Don’t worry, darling, it’s just fireworks to welcome us home,” said Chloe as she hugged him.
“Daddy do it?”
“I don’t think so, darling, he’ll be waiting for us with the car.”
She knew better than to expect her husband, Andrew, to put on an elaborate display. He wasn’t prone to big romantic gestures or even small ones come to that. He’d never even kissed her in public. That was one of the differences between Andrew and Pierre.
Pierre had sent her flowers, showered her with compliments and on one memorable occasion, loudly and publicly, recited poetry. Chloe was flattered by the attentions of an attractive and persistent French admirer. She’d flirted a little, then quite a lot. Eventually she’d agreed to have a drink with him one evening. They spent more and more time together. Andrew never complained when she said she fancied a night out and left him to put Paul to bed. Sometimes she wondered if he really noticed her absence; he certainly didn’t seem to care.
Nights out clubbing with Pierre were more fun than doing Paul and Andrew’s washing and ironing. Gourmet meals in fashionable restaurants were more glamorous than a tray in front of the television whilst they watched Finding Nemo, yet again. These evenings had led to weekends in Paris and eventually, to Chloe and her son leaving Andrew and moving to France. She was hurt that her husband didn’t try to stop her. She knew he wouldn’t physically fight over her, but she’d expected more than his quiet sadness and a lift to the ferry terminal.
“I’m sorry. Andrew. I know you love me, but nothing exciting ever happens. I’m not just a wife and mother, I want fun. You’ll still see Paul, I promise.”
Then she’d gone.
If Andrew had an opinion, she hadn’t wanted to hear it. She’d brought Paul to England on alternate weekends. He stayed with his father whilst Chloe visited friends. She told Andrew about the fireworks party Pierre had organised for Paul’s birthday.
“He tries so hard to make everything wonderful for us.”
“I’m surprised Paul wasn’t scared.”
“Well, he was a bit but that wasn’t Pierre’s fault.”
“No; he wouldn’t know.”
Each time Chloe returned to France she hoped Pierre would be waiting for her. Usually he was, with a huge bunch of flowers for her and too many sweets for Paul. Sometimes he had an excursion planned, forgetting that they’d both be tired after their journey. Occasionally he forgot which ferry they were on and they negotiated their own way back to his luxurious apartment. When she arrived in England, Andrew was always waiting. He’d hug his son, then drive him straight home, dropping Chloe off wherever she wished to go.
Chloe became less certain that she’d made the right decision.
“Pierre’s nice, isn’t he?” she asked Paul one day.
“Yes, he’s our friend, isn’t he, mummy?”
“I like coming on holiday to France, can Daddy come next time?”
Chloe sighed and hugged her son. She tried to think how to say that Pierre was more than a friend. She struggled to explain that the time with Pierre was not just a holiday before she went back to her ordinary life. She found that she couldn’t even convince herself. Pierre was a lot of fun, but he wasn’t a husband and he wasn’t a father. In fact he was as much of a kid as Paul.
Andrew, she realised, was not boring; he was reliable. He was not weak, he was caring. She rang Andrew to ask if he could forgive her, if he wanted her back.
“Be sure this time. When you married me I thought it was forever. Think about it for a month, then decide; I don’t want my heart broken again.”
She realised then how much he loved her and how much she’d hurt him. He might not say that her hair rippled like a sensuous stream, or that her eyes sparkled with mischief, but his quiet, “You look nice, dear,” actually meant just as much. She stayed with him next time she brought Paul over. They spent the weekend together, but he wouldn’t discuss their marriage.
“Tell me when you’re sure you know what you really want,” was all he’d say when she broached the subject.
She told Pierre of her doubts. He shrugged.
“All the love and marriage is tres difficile, ma cherie. You do what is best for you and petit Paul. It’s been fun, c’est la vie.”
She rang Andrew again.
“So what have you decided?”
“I want to come home.”
“That’s all I needed to know.”
She knew then that Pierre was just a mad, idiotic fling. Andrew hadn’t given up on her; he was just waiting for her to come to her senses.
As Chloe and Paul walked off the ferry and through passport control Andrew ran to meet them. He picked up his son and swung him onto his shoulders, then hugged Chloe.
Another big firework exploded, illuminating everything with a pale blue glow. Paul laughed.
“Do you like fireworks now?” Andrew asked.
Paul nodded uncertainly.
“There’s a display in Stubbington village tomorrow, we’ll go if you like.”
“Yes please, Daddy.”
“What about you, Chloe?”
“Yes please, Andrew.”
“I’ll get some sparklers then,” he said and kissed Chloe’s cheek. It wasn’t much of a public demonstration; but it was enough.
Patsy Collins lives on the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. Her stories have been published in a range of UK magazines including; The Lady, Woman’s Weekly and My Weekly. Her work has also been accepted by a variety of websites including Every Day Fiction and PatientUK.