'What precisely do you mean, Pat, it must be tomorrow?'
'Today, tomorrow, yesterday I lost all track of time.'
'But you're going, aren't you?'
'You must!' She stared at me. 'You're doing presentations, chairing meetings. People will have come from anywhere and everywhere to hear you.'
'Rosie, I messed up with Lex. She said I always put my work before my family and she was right. I want you to understand that you come first with me.'
'It's not a question of coming first, you halfwit.' She grabbed my shoulder, shook me, glared at me. 'You can't let all those people down! This is your career, your work, your destiny, it's why you're on this earth. You have to go!'
'I can't be there in time. My first presentation is tomorrow morning, ten o'clock.'
'So you can get a flight today. How long does it take, nine hours or so? You'll be in Colorado around teatime. Or by late this evening, anyway, even if it isn't possible to fly direct. See, Patrick, how the planet spins to fall in with your schedule? Go and pack your stuff, get dressed. I'll drive you to Heathrow. You can get a stand-by ticket.'
She was out of bed and pulling on her own clothes now. 'Come on, Pat get up!' she cried. 'We don't have much time.'
'I'm not going, Rosie.'
'If you don't, you stupid man, I shall never speak to you again!'
'But you're much more important than a conference. Don't you get that? Don't you understand?'
'I'm flattered, obviously.' She looked at me as if she thought she never saw someone so dumb. 'But you have work to do, important work. So go and do it and then come back to me.'
I could see she meant it. So I got out of bed, pulled on my jeans, reached for my shirt. 'I love you, Rosie Denham.' I collected papers, pulled on socks and fastened b.u.t.tons, pushed my laptop in my carry-on. 'You're fantastic, fabulous, amazing-'
'Yes, yes, yes. I'm everything that's wonderful. You've got your pa.s.sport, have you?'
'Yeah, I think so. Rosie, some day we must have a baby. What does Shakespeare say? You would be the cruellest she alive if you went to your grave and left the world no copies of yourself something like that?'
'This baby might take after you, not me have you considered that small point?' She grimaced, grabbed her keys. 'Okay, Pat, you've got your stuff? Let's go.'
She pushed me out the door.
I got on a plane.
I came to Denver.
I don't remember anything about the presentations or the meetings. My papers seemed to go down fairly well, as far as I could judge. But I was in a kind of daze throughout, and one day later I was on a flight back to Heathrow.
While he was away, I did some thinking, told myself I wasn't playing fair.
When he returned, he must have realised I'd been making some decisions about us. 'Rosie, what's the matter?' he began. 'What did I do now?'
'You shouldn't have come back to the UK.'
'Why not you got somebody new?'
'Of course I haven't got somebody new.'
'That's a relief.' He took me in his arms and hugged me tight. 'Okay, I have a schedule. I'm getting a divorce. I want to marry you. We'll get a place in the US or the UK or both. We'll have some kids. What do you say?'
'I can't,' I told him.
'Marry you, have children. I can't do it, Pat.'
He tried to look as if he wasn't bothered one way or the other. But I could see I'd hurt him by being so abrupt. 'Patrick,' I continued urgently, 'please don't think it's you, that it's-'
'You mean it's like you said. You don't want children. I know some women don't a woman's right to choose and stuff.'
'I'd love to have some children! Your children, Pat, they're gorgeous. I'd love to have a little Joe or Polly of my own.'
'So there is some reason-'
But I didn't want to talk about it. I hadn't told my female friends. I'd never told a man that as a woman I was a big disaster both mentally and physically, totally messed up.
'Rosie,' Pat said gently, 'these days there are treatments, therapies. If money is the problem, then I will find the money. I'll leave JQA tomorrow. I'll go work in industry, in research and development. As I believe I told you, I get offers all the time.'
'Money won't solve anything.'
'You're sure it won't? I know it can't work miracles. But lots of it can solve a bunch of stuff.'
'It can't solve this.'
'So will you tell me, Rosie?'
'I think you ought to tell me.'
'I love you very much. I want to help you. So please share this with me?' He looked at me, his dark eyes loving, kind. I realised I owed him. I couldn't let him think I didn't want him, when I did so very much, more than my life itself.
'When it gets dark, I'll tell you,' I replied. 'It will be easier, talking in the dark.'
The darkness came too soon, but I had promised.
'When I was fourteen ... I'm sorry, Pat, it's difficult for me.'
'Just take your time, okay? Did someone hurt you?'
'Yes, you could say that.'
'Dad and I were driving home one January night. He'd picked me up from meeting friends in Dorchester. It was sleeting and the road was like a skating rink. We hit a van coming the other way. Or so they told us later. I don't remember even seeing the van. Dad was cushioned by the airbag, but he still broke half his ribs, his collarbone and both his legs.'
'Your own airbag, Rosie it must have saved your life?'
'I didn't have an airbag. This was fifteen years ago when only driver airbags were routinely fitted. Anyway, a bit of tin or plastic something sharp sheared off the dashboard and then sliced into me.'
'Oh, Rosie, honey-'
'The surgeons did a brilliant job. I had half a dozen operations, but today I don't have any scars except the little one across my stomach.'
'Your appendectomy I noticed that.'
'It's not an appendectomy. It's where they sewed me up again the last time.' I turned to face him, forced myself to look at him. 'I don't want to say this, Patrick. But you need to know that I'd have loved to have your children and if I could have one wish, just the one ...'
I said the next bit quickly. 'My uterus was shredded. The doctors did their very best to put it back together. But by the time I was eighteen I'd had four years of problems. I researched it all and I decided the obvious solution was to have a hysterectomy. My parents, all my doctors they tried to talk me out of it, of course. They made me have six months of counselling. I told the counsellor repeatedly I'd never wanted children. Yes, I said, I understood what I was asking them to do, and in the end they did it.
'But all I really wanted was for the everlasting pain to stop. I didn't want more months or years in hospital. I didn't want to risk a pregnancy which might kill me, the baby or us both. So when I let Charlie die, I took away my parents' chance of grandchildren as well.'
'But Rosie, like I said, there must be treatments? If you still have your ovaries, there might be-'
'Stop it, Pat!' I turned away. 'I'm not going down that route because I know I'd hate it! Doctors harvesting my eggs, then renting someone's womb it's not for me. So if you need more children, you'd better go and find another woman, someone who can have them.'
'I don't want another woman. I don't need more children.' Gently, very gently, he turned me back to face him. 'Rosie, darling, you must look at me while I say this.'
'Okay, I'm looking.'
'All I want is you.'
I did what all the British do in times of grief or crisis.
I went into the kitchen. I put the kettle on and found the teabags and made a pot of strong, brown British tea. As I stirred in milk and sugar, I thought, yeah it would have been amazing to have a little Rosie. But it was the woman that I wanted, not an incubator. Rosie was the one I loved with all my heart, with all my soul, and I tried for half an hour or more to get her to see that.
'Rosie, I'd give anything, do anything at all, for you to have a baby of your own,' I said and meant it. 'But if it's not to be, it's not to be, and we can live with that. We'll still get married, yeah?'
'Whenever anybody mentions babies, I always say I'd rather have a handbag.' She smiled a small, brave, h.e.l.l-we-can't-do-anything-about-it-so-we-might-as-well-accept-it smile, so weak and watered down that it was almost homeopathic. 'Last week, I saw a beautiful Armani one in Harrods.'
'Let's go get it, then.' I put my mug down and stood up. 'Let's find a cab, go buy it now.'
'Pat, I'm joking, can't you tell? You Americans, you scientists you're all so flipping literal! You never know when somebody is teasing. I don't want a sodding handbag, and-'
'Okay, forget the handbag. Anyway, you have a ton of handbags. Your closet's full of them.'
'But on second thoughts, a girl can never have too many handbags, and I'm a fan of multiplicity ...'
'There's only one of me.'
'That's a blessing, I suppose. I don't think I could handle two of you if it's for life.'
'So is that a yes, you'll marry me? You'll wear my ring?'
'I would be honoured and delighted,' she replied.
'You're not what do you say having me on?'
'I wouldn't joke about a thing like this.'
'Let's go shopping, then.'
One Year Later.
It took a while to sort our lives out, for Pat to be divorced, for Alexis and her legal team to do their very best to bankrupt him, even though the state of Minnesota has no-fault divorce laws and frowns on mean, vindictive stuff like that.
I didn't care what Lexie wanted in the way of property and money. As I told Pat often, Lexie could have anything she liked, provided I had him.
She'd broken up with Stephen and was apparently good friends with Ben. Maybe, after Tess had been unhitched from Ben, Lexie would be Mrs Fairfax Four? It seemed quite likely.
'I'm so glad you're marrying an American, my angel,' f.a.n.n.y told me. 'Marry him and then become American yourself and start a PR business over there, while Tess runs your UK operation they'd be smart moves, my darling. Obviously, Americans will love your British accent. You'll clean up. What about his children, do you get on with them?'
'I love them, they're fantastic. I'm going to be a brilliant stepmother. I won't have to do the disciplining, buy the shoes or go to all the PTA events. I'll just have all the fun.'
We decided on a quiet wedding in a small hotel in Dorset.
Pat's mother wouldn't come. She said it wasn't right for Lex and him to be divorced. She'd talked to Father Conley who agreed it was a sin and thought it likely Pat would go to h.e.l.l. Of course, his Jezebel would go there, too.
'You couldn't talk her round?' I asked.
'I wouldn't waste my time and energy. She's an old-style Catholic once married, always married. She never would have left my father, even though he kicked a million different kinds of s.h.i.t out of us both.' He shrugged. 'It's the way she's made. Some people, they like certainty.'
'I'm one of them.'
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