About the book
Succumbing to a rather clichéd midlife crisis, Dan Haywood swaps his family for an expensive red sports car and a younger woman. After 24 years of marriage, his wife Sarah is left to pick up the pieces.
Trying her best to re-style her life, comfort hurt children, make time for ‘helpful’ friends and maintain her burgeoning career as a dress designer, Sarah feels pulled in a hundred directions. And it doesn’t help that obstacles – mostly in the form of other middle-aged men – seem to conspire against her.
Proud of herself for moving house and starting to build an independent life, she is shocked when Robert Maynard, her rather dashing new next-door neighbour, insists that the house was promised to him. Now she is destined to be pulled into his life by events beyond her control.
After one failed marriage, will she be able to find happiness again? And do second chances really come to those who wait?
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‘Smile please. Say sex.’ The photographer smiled himself to show them what to do, his tombstone teeth flashing in his too pink face.
Sarah smiled obediently. She must appear cheerful, so people seeing this group photograph later would not remark on how miserable she looked. Looking miserable always added years to your face anyway.
Matthew Lawrence Bingham, the newly christened member of the Anglican Church, screamed loudly. Evie, his mother, vainly tried to soothe him. He was far too young to know that you had to put on a show for the outside world. This christening party was almost the same size as their wedding barely a year ago, but the Binghams were rich, liked to flash it about a bit, and Evie, Sarah’s god-daughter, had married Larry, their only son.
Sarah studied Larry’s parents. His father had plump, roving hands that were as pesky as a persistent wasp to any young woman. He was well polished by wealth. He had a shiny face, shiny hair and a shiny Italian suit. Larry’s mother was expensively dressed in some designer creation better suited to a film premiere, not to mention someone younger. Under her impeccable make-up lurked a careworn anxiety.
Despite all their money, they are middle-aged like the rest of us, Sarah thought grumpily. Too young to be old, too old to be young.
Kate, Evie’s mother and her friend since childhood, came over to her.
‘Bit over-the-top,’ she said, in an undertone, glancing round at the expensively over done up room.
‘A touch of Florida meeting Notting Hill, I’d say,’ Sarah whispered back, making Kate giggle.
‘I’m sorry Dan can’t be here; he would have had some choice remarks to make,’ Kate said. ‘Does he really work on a Sunday?’
‘No, he had just made plans to…’ What had he made plans to do? If she couldn’t find a quick, plausible answer, Kate would suspect something was wrong and interrogate her. To her relief, another friend approached them and Sarah was saved from having to answer.
Daniel, her husband of twenty-four years, had changed. It was nothing earth-shattering; he probably did just have too much work, which made him so preoccupied. Times were difficult as there seemed to be so much economic uncertainly today.
Dan used to love parties, believing it was crucial to have a good time with friends to alleviate the tensions of the office. But recently he’d made excuses not to go out so often, saying there was something on at the office, or he had a client to see.
‘Christenings are not really my scene,’ he’d said with a self-conscious laugh, seemingly forgetting how they had enjoyed themselves at three last year. ‘Especially one the Binghams would put on.’
She wanted him here with her in this over-decorated house – everything that could be was tasselled, frilled or gilded. She wanted to share it with him, joke about it on the way home. Hearing her description second-hand wouldn’t be half so amusing – and that was assuming he’d listen to her at all.
A toast was drunk and there was loud laughter, faces turned towards the child. Mechanically, Sarah lifted her glass, aching with misery. Dan didn’t seem to want to communicate with her any more, share bits of gossip from the office, pass on news from friends he saw during his working day. He was always watching an important programme on television, or reading some vital article in the newspaper. When she talked to him, however cheerfully and lovingly, his face took on an expression of irritation, edged with boredom.
‘Great to see you, Sarah! Dan not here?’ Colin, an old friend, came up and kissed her.
‘No, he’s tied up with something else.’ She smiled; hoping she looked relaxed, happy, not worried out of her wits at the way Dan had changed over these last months.
Naturally, she’d thought of everything, her imagination charging along in overdrive. Another woman, a mortal illness, depression, imminent bankruptcy, even redundancy and him pretending to go to work each day, as Gina’s husband had done. But when she’d asked him if something was wrong at work or at home, he’d become offended, as if she had insulted him; angry, as if she’d accused him of a crime. She had asked him again last week, when he had said he couldn’t come here today.
‘Why should anything be wrong, just because I don’t want to come to a christening?’
Why, indeed? After all, they weren’t joined at the hip.
When she got home some hours later, bursting to tell him about the whole charade in glorious Technicolour detail, he was not there. Where was he? He always used to ring or text her and tell her where he was; leave loving, jokey messages on her mobile or the phone at home. The answerphone sat dead and silent in the empty house, no little red light winking to tell her someone had called. Hideous pictures of twisted metal and his broken body loomed up to frighten her. It was past eight o’clock – if he had met up with friends, wouldn’t he have let her know? She checked her email on her mobile; there were no messages from him at all.
When she heard him open the front door an hour later, she jumped up to greet him, all anxiety gone, words almost falling over each other in her relief.
‘And you should have seen the cake, Dan, big enough to skate on! And they had satin boxes of sugared almonds, like the French do, and a quartet playing discreetly in the background.’ Then she stopped. He looked awful, his back bowed, deep lines biting into that once boyish face. He could not meet her eyes.
‘What is it, darling?’ She held on to him. ‘Whatever it is I’m here for you. We’ll face it together.’ She pulled all her reserves of energy around her, making a mental list of all the disasters that could have struck him.
‘It’s nothing, really. I’m just tired.’ He extricated himself from her grasp, as if she were a stranger who had accosted him on the street. He went straight up to bed, leaving her bleating foolishly in the hall about getting him a drink, a hot-water bottle, anything he wanted.
‘Just leave me alone.’ His voice wavered on the edge of panic.
‘All right,’ she whispered, not knowing what to do with this new man, this new direction their life was taking.
She should have guessed. How true that cliché was, the wife being the last to know. Was it because they buried their heads in the comfort of their homes, assuring themselves frantically that everything was really all right? Or had she been too smug with their relationship, imagining that he would always love her, would never stray?
About the Author
Minna has had an exciting career in fashion journalism and now writes full time, whilst enjoying time with her grandsons and working as an occasional film and TV extra. She lives in London.