As Elke began to recover herself, Jason arrived to collect them for 10 days of Dad time, the emotional fallout from which would last twice as long. As usual, the handover took place on the front steps, and as usual Thea’s efforts to be stoic and Elke’s refusal to let go of her mother’s waist made it feel like the smallest, most unbearable tragedy Frances could imagine.
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And now, so many days away. In the taxi, Frances tried to break the honeymoon down into less daunting increments. Forty-five minutes to the airport, six hours to Tahiti and a fast boat to the island of perhaps an hour. Really only nine nights if you didn’t count the first one. Then she’d be home and everyone could stop being brave.
Victorious, Ian pushed his empty plate away and a gloved waiter appeared swiftly to remove it. A breeze threatened to extinguish the tea light on the table and Ian built a fortress of water glasses around it, then reached for Frances’ hand.
“This is nice, isn’t it, darling? It was a good day all in all, but I must say I’m glad if s over. Do you want another one of those?”
He gestured towards Frances’ pina colada, which had arrived in a hollowed coconut the size of a rugby ball, so lavishly adorned with paper umbrellas, glacé cherries and wedges of pineapple, it had earned her a cheery thumbs-up from the next-door table.
“No, that’s fine. I try not to drink more than a litre of Bacardi in a single sitting.”
Ian look briefly embarrassed. He had chosen it for her and she felt bad. “It was lovely though. So tropical, thank you.”
Frances loved Ian. He was kind, professionally accomplished and a competent lovemaker who considered once a week ample now that the initial frisson had burnt itself out. Compared to Jason, with his pendulum swings between mania and total inertia, his string of abortive careers and failed investments, Ian was a paragon of stability and calm. So much so, Frances could barely believe he had, himself, walked away from the flaming wreckage of two marriages. The first to his med-school girlfriend, shotgun. The second to an American who left him and two small children for a human resources consultant with a special interest in corporate mediation.
“Happy to go?” Ian asked, smiling at her and signalling for the room charge.