The Dilemma – B.A. Paris

It’s the cooling bathwater that wakes me. Disorientated, I sit up quickly, sploshing suds up the sides, wondering how long I’ve been asleep. I release the plug and the drain gurgles, a too-loud sound in a silent house. A shiver pricks my skin as I towel myself dry. A memory tugs at my brain. It was a sound that woke me, the roar of a motorbike in the street outside. I pause, the towel stretched over my back. It couldn’t have been Adam, could it? He wouldn’t have gone off on his bike, not at this time of night. Wrapping the towel around me, I hurry to the bedroom and look out of the window. The guilty beating of my heart slows when I see, behind the marquee, a yellow glow coming from his shed. He’s there, he hasn’t gone to settle scores. Part of me wants to go down and check he’s alright but something, a sixth sense perhaps, tells me not to, that he’ll come to me when he’s ready. For a moment I feel afraid, as if I’m staring into an abyss. But it’s just the dark and the deserted garden that’s making me feel that way. Turning from the window, I lie down on the bed.

I’ll give him another ten minutes and if he’s not back by then, I’ll go and find him. Adam I race along deserted streets, scattering a scavenging cat, cutting a corner too tight, shattering the night’s deathly silence with the roar of my bike. Ahead of me, the slip road to the M4 looms. I open the throttle and take it fast, screaming onto the motorway, slicing in front of a crawling car. My bike shifts under me as I push faster. The drag of the wind on my face is intoxicating and I have to fight an overwhelming urge to let go of the handlebars and freefall to my death. Is it terrible that Livia and Josh aren’t enough to make me want to live? Guilt adds itself to the torment of the last fourteen hours and a roar of white-hot anger adds to the noise of the bike as I race down the motorway, bent on destruction. Then, in the mirror, through the water streaming from my eyes, I see a car hammering down the motorway behind me, its blue light flashing, and my roar of grief becomes one of frustration. I take the bike to one hundred mph, knowing that if it comes to it I can push it faster, because nothing is going to stop me now. But the police car quickly closes the distance between us, moving swiftly into the outside lane and, as it levels with me, my peripheral vision catches an officer gesticulating wildly from the passenger seat.

I add more speed but the car sweeps past and moves into my lane, blocking my bike. I’m about to open the throttle and overtake him, taking my bike to its maximum, but something stops me and he slowly reduces his speed, bringing me in. I’m not sure why I let him. Maybe it’s because I don’t want Livia to have even more pieces to pick up. Or maybe it was Marnie’s voice pleading, ‘Don’t, Dad, don’t!’. I swear I could feel her arms tightening around my waist for a moment, her head pressing against the back of my neck. My limbs are trembling as I bring the bike to a stop behind the police car and cut the engine. Two officers get out, one male, one female. The male strides towards me. ‘Have you got a death wish or something?’ he yells, slamming his cap onto his head.

The second officer – the driver – approaches. ‘Sir, step away from the bike,’ she barks. ‘Sir, did you hear me? Step away from the bike.’ I try to unfurl my hands from the handlebars, unstick my legs from the bike. But I seem to be welded to it. ‘Sir, if you don’t comply, I’m going to have to arrest you.’ ‘We’re going to have to arrest him anyway,’ the first officer says. He takes a step towards me and the sight of handcuffs dangling from his belt shocks me into speech. I flip up my helmet. ‘Wait!’ There must be something in my voice, or maybe they read something in my face, because both police officers pause.

‘Go on.’ ‘It’s about Marnie.’ ‘Marnie?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Who’s Marnie?’ ‘My daughter.’ I swallow painfully. ‘Marnie’s my daughter.’ They exchange a glance. ‘Where is your daughter, sir?’ THE DAY BEFORE SATURDAY 8TH JUNE 8 A.M. – 9 A.

M. Adam Leaving Livia sleeping, I move from the bed and stretch quietly in the warm air coming through the open window. I stifle a yawn and check the sky; not a single sullen raincloud in sight. Liv will be pleased. The weather is just about the only thing she hasn’t been able to control for her party tonight. She’s been on top of everything else for months, wanting it to be perfect. But the relentless rain of the last few weekends was beginning to get her down. I watch the steady rise and fall of her chest as she sleeps, the tiny flicker of her eyelids. She looks so peaceful that I decide not to wake her until I’ve made coffee. I find the clothes I was wearing last night and pull on my jeans, flattening my hair as I tug the T-shirt over my head.

The stairs creak as I go down to the kitchen and Murphy, our red merle Australian Shepherd, raises his head from where he sleeps in his basket by the wood-burning stove. I crouch next to him for a minute, asking him how he is and if he had a good sleep, and tell him that mine was disturbed by a nightmare. He gives my hand a sympathetic lick, then puts his head back down, ready to sleep the rest of the day away. He’s fifteen now and not as energetic as he used to be, which is just as well because neither am I. He loves his daily walk but the days of our long runs together are a thing of the past. Mimi, Marnie’s marmalade cat, who acts as if she’s a purebred pedigree and is anything but, uncurls herself and comes to brush against my leg, reminding me that she exists too. I fill their bowls, then the kettle. As I switch it on, the splutter of water connecting to heat disturbs the silence. I look out of the window at the huge white marquee, crouched on the lawn like a malevolent beast, ready to leap onto the terrace and swallow the house. I remember now, the nightmare that woke me.

I dreamt the marquee had blown away. I pull it from my memory – that’s it, I’d been standing on the lawn with Josh and Marnie when the wind began to pick up, and the gentle rustling of the trees became a sinister hissing, then a deafening roar that ripped the leaves from the branches and tossed them into the air, dragging the fairy lights with them into the vortex. ‘The tent!’ Josh had cried, as the wind turned its fury on the marquee. And before I could stop her, Marnie was running towards it and had grabbed at one of the flaps. ‘Marnie, let go!’ I’d yelled. But the wind caught my words and whipped them away so that she couldn’t hear, and the marquee had carried her high into the sky until we could no longer see her. Liv will laugh when I tell her – it turns out she’s not the only one feeling the pressure of the party. I move restlessly from the window and give my body another stretch, my fingertips brushing the ceiling of our old cottage as I raise my arms above my head. I’m not quite sure when Josh overtook me in height, but he’s been able to lay his palms flat on the ceiling for a while now. His rucksack is where he left it, dumped at the end of the table along with two plastic bags.

I move them onto the floor and run a critical eye over the table. It was one of my earliest pieces, a simple structure of varnished pine that I’d tried to make different by reinforcing the legs with a bridge-like structure, a nod to the dream I once had of becoming a civil engineer. At first, Livia hadn’t liked the lack of space underneath. Now, she loves to sit on the cushioned bench-seat, her feet resting on one of the beams, her body curved back against the wall. The kettle clicks off. I fill the cafetière and leaving it to brew, unlock the door to the garden. The noise disturbs a male blackbird sitting in a nearby bush. There’s a panicked flapping of wings, and as I watch him soar into the sky, I’m reminded that Marnie is on her way home. Smiling at the thought of seeing her again, because nine months is a long time, I walk across the terrace and climb the five craggy steps, enjoying the feel of rough stone against the soles of my feet, followed by dewy grass as I cross the lawn. The morning air smells of a damp mulch I can’t quite place, something to do with Livia’s roses.

There’s a huge bed of them, on the right-hand side of the garden, in front of the wooden fence and as I walk by, I catch the incredible scent of Sweet Juliet. Or maybe it’s Lady Emma Hamilton. I can never remember which, even though Livia tells me often enough. I walk around the marquee, checking that it’s properly anchored, in case my nightmare was a premonition of some sort, and see that they’ve taken it so far back it’s practically touching my shed, leaving only the smallest of spaces for me to squeeze through. I know why they’ve done it; they’ve had to leave room for the tables and chairs which will be set up in front of the marquee. But if it’s possible to resent a tent, I’m doing it now. I sit on the low stone wall that borders the other side of the lawn, opposite the fence, and try to imagine what the garden will look like tonight with a hundred people milling around, lights tangled in the branches of the apple and cherry trees, and balloons just about everywhere. I always knew Livia wanted a big party for her fortieth but I hadn’t realised quite how big until a few months ago, when she began to talk about caterers and marquees and champagne. It had sounded so over the top that I’d laughed. ‘I’m serious, Adam!’ she said indignantly.

‘I want it to be really special.’ ‘I know, and it will be. It’s just that it sounds a bit expensive.’ ‘Please don’t ruin it before I’ve had a chance to work things out,’ she implored. ‘Anyway, the money isn’t important.’ ‘Liv, the money is important,’ I said, wishing I didn’t have to mention it. ‘Josh is going away this summer and Marnie’s in Hong Kong, we have to be careful for a while. You know that.’ She looked at me, and I knew that look. Guilt.

‘What?’ I asked. ‘I’ve been saving,’ she admitted. ‘For the party. I’ve been putting money by for years, not huge amounts, just a little each month. I’m sorry, I should have told you.’ ‘It’s fine,’ I said, wondering if the reason she hadn’t told me was because of the time I spent her savings on a motorbike. It still makes me cringe even though it happened years ago, before Marnie was born. The thought of Marnie jogs my memory. I make my way back to the house and, stepping over Mimi, who always manages to get under my feet, find my mobile where I left it charging last night, tucked next to the bread bin. As I was hoping, there’s a message from her.

‘Dad, you’re not going to believe it – my flight’s been delayed so I’m not going to make my connection in Cairo. Which means I’ll get to Amsterdam too late for my connection to London. It sucks but don’t worry, I’ll get there somehow. Maybe they’ll put me on a direct flight and I’ll be there earlier than we thought! I’ll text when I arrive at Heathrow. Love you xxx’ Damn. I love Marnie’s optimism but I doubt they’ll put her on a direct flight to London. They’ll probably make her wait in Cairo for the next available flight to Amsterdam. Not for the first time, I wonder why I agreed to her taking such a roundabout way to get here. When she began planning her party, the one thing Livia never imagined was that Marnie might not be there. We’ve always known the date of the party, so the first thing Marnie did when she knew she was going to be studying in Hong Kong this year was check when she had exams.

But then the dates changed. ‘I now have exams on the third, fourth and fifth of June and then again on the thirteenth and fourteenth,’ she said, her face flushed with frustration when she FaceTimed us back in January. ‘I can’t believe I’m going to miss the party.’ ‘What if I move it to the fifteenth?’ Liv asked. ‘I still wouldn’t be able to get there in time, not with the time difference.’ ‘Or the twenty-second?’ ‘No, because then Josh wouldn’t be there. That’s the date he’s leaving for New York, remember? He chose it to fit in with your party. He’s already got his ticket so he won’t be able to change it. I’m really sorry, Mum, I wish there was something I could do. But there isn’t.

’ We spent hours trying to find a way around it, but in the end, we had to accept that Marnie wouldn’t be at the party. It was a huge blow for Liv. She wanted to cancel the party and use the money to buy flights to Hong Kong, and celebrate her birthday there. But Marnie wouldn’t let her. ‘I don’t want you to give up on your dream party, Mum. Anyway, Josh wouldn’t be able to come because he’ll have his finals. I’d have to study, so I wouldn’t be able to spend much time with you. And you know Dad is too busy to take more than a week off. And to come for less than ten days wouldn’t be worth it, not after paying so much for the tickets.’ Then, three weeks ago, she’d texted me.

‘Dad, what are you buying Mum for her birthday?’ ‘A ring,’ I texted back. ‘With diamonds. But don’t tell her, it’s a surprise.’ ‘Would you like to give her another surprise?’ ‘Such as?’ ‘Can I FaceTime you? Is Mum around?’ ‘No, she’s out, looking for a dress for the party.’ ‘Oh, good, I hope she finds one. Talking of her party…’ Then my phone had rung and that’s when she told me about the cheap flight she’d found, Hong Kong to Cairo, Cairo to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to London. ‘I’ve worked it out and if I leave after my exam on the Thursday, I’ll arrive in London on Saturday evening and could be at the house around nine. What do you think, Dad? It could be a surprise for Mum.’ She was sitting on a white desk chair in the student room she shared with Nadia, her roommate from Romania, and behind her I could see the duvet cover she’d taken from home, most of it puddled on the floor. She was wearing one of my old T-shirts and her mahogany red-brown hair was piled on top of her head, secured there, I guessed, by the usual pencil.

It always amazed me, the way she did that. ‘I think she’d love it,’ I said, scooping Mimi onto my knee so that they could see each other. ‘When would you have to go back?’ Marnie bent her head towards the screen, cooing and kissing Mimi. ‘Not until the following Wednesday, so it means I’d get nearly four days with you. I don’t have to go via Amsterdam on the way back which means I get back to Hong Kong in time for my exam on Thursday.’ ‘That’s a lot of travelling for only a few days here,’ I said, frowning. ‘Business people do it all the time,’ she protested. Now and then her eyes would look down to where I guessed her mobile was, checking for messages as she spoke to me. It was late evening for her, and it felt odd, suddenly, the realisation that she had a whole life in Hong Kong which Liv and I only knew snippets about. ‘Did you look at direct flights?’ I asked.

‘Yes, but they’re hundreds of pounds more. This one, via Cairo and Amsterdam, is six hundred and fifty. I can pay half out of my savings and if you could lend me the other half, I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.’ ‘I don’t want you paying anything towards your ticket. It’ll be part of my present to your mum.’ She gave me one of her huge smiles and pulled at a gold necklace I hadn’t seen before. ‘Thanks, Dad, you’re the best! So, shall I book the ticket before the price goes up?’ I had to battle with myself, I really did. I wanted to tell her to book a direct flight to avoid the hassle of two changes. But only the other day I’d made Josh book his flight to New York via Amsterdam, not only because it was cheaper than flying direct but also because I felt he should rough it a bit and not have it too easy. There was no way I could justify spending hundreds of pounds more on Marnie when I hadn’t spent a hundred and fifty more on Josh.

And also, was it really worth her coming home for the party, when she’d have to leave again four days later? I looked at her pretty face, illuminated by the desk lamp that stood next to her computer, and any reservations I might have had melted away. First of all, she looked so much like her mother and secondly, I knew how ecstatic Liv would be if Marnie turned up unexpectedly. ‘On one condition,’ I said, aware of Mimi’s unblinking green eyes staring up at me. ‘You don’t tell anyone – not Josh, not Cleo, not any of your other friends, and especially not Aunt Izzy – that you’re coming home. I want it to be a surprise for everyone.’ ‘I won’t say a word, I promise. Thanks, Dad, did I tell you you’re the best?’ There are quite a few surprises lined up for Livia today, but Marnie turning up at the party is going to be the best surprise of all. Livia A creak on the stairs wakes me. I stretch out my arm and find the space next to me empty. ‘Adam?’ I call softly, in case he’s in the bathroom.

There’s no reply, and drawn by the warmth from where he lay, I roll onto his side of the bed and lie on my side, my head on his pillow. My hand slides automatically to my stomach, checking for tautness, glad that watching what I ate for the last week has paid off. Who am I kidding? I’ve been watching what I eat for the last six months. And exercising. And using way-too-expensive eye cream. All for the party tonight. I lie for a moment, listening for the sound of rain drumming on the windows, like it did last Saturday, and the three Saturdays before that. But there’s only the sound of birds trilling and chirruping in the apple tree and I feel myself relaxing. It’s here. The day I’ve been waiting for, for so long, is finally here.

And unbelievably, it isn’t raining. I press harder on my stomach, squashing the thin layer of fat into the line of muscle. There are so many different emotions swirling inside me. I try to pull excitement and happiness from the mix but guilt overpowers everything else – guilt about the amount of money this party is costing, guilt about it being only for me when, if I’d waited a couple more years, it could have been for us, for our twentyfifth wedding anniversary. I did suggest it to Adam – at least, I think I did. In fact, I’m sure I did because I remember being secretly relieved when he refused to consider it. I flip restlessly onto my back and stare at the ceiling. Is it really so bad that I want this party to be just for me? I seem to have developed a love–hate relationship with it recently. I might have always wanted it, planned for it, saved for it, but I’ll be glad when it’s over. It’s taken up too much space in my head, not only for the last six months, but for the last twenty years.

What I hate most is that my need for this party came from my parents. If I’d been able to have the wedding they promised me, I wouldn’t have become obsessed with having my own special day. I don’t want to think about them today of all days but I can’t help it. I haven’t seen them for over twenty years. They were always distant parents; I don’t remember ever having a meaningful conversation with my father and the closest I got to my mother was when she bought bridal magazines, and while we looked at the dresses and cakes and flower arrangements, she would tell me about the lavish wedding she and my father would give me. But when I became pregnant, not long after my seventeenth birthday, they refused to have anything more to do with me. And the lavish wedding became a hurried fifteen-minute ceremony in the local registry office, with only Adam’s family and our best friends, Jess and Nelson, as guests. At the time I told myself it didn’t matter that I wasn’t having a big wedding. But it did, and I hated myself for caring so much. A few years later, one of the parents at Josh’s nursery invited us to her thirtieth birthday party and it had been amazing.

Adam and I were only in our early twenties then and had very little money, so this party was from a different world. I was completely in awe and I promised myself that one day, I’d have a huge celebration for one of my birthdays. When I was pregnant with Marnie and barely able to sleep because of the never-ending sickness, I’d lean against the counter in our tiny kitchenette, working out on the back of a bill how much I’d need to save each month to have a party like Chrissie’s. I’d already decided it would be for my fortieth, because it fell on a Saturday. Back then, I couldn’t imagine ever being forty. But here I am. I turn my head towards the window, my attention caught by the wind blowing the last of the blossom from the tree. Forty. How can I be forty? My thirtieth birthday passed in the rush of looking after two young children, so it barely registered that I’d reached a milestone. This time, it’s hitting me harder, maybe because I’m at such a different stage in my life compared to most of my friends.

They still have children at home, whereas Josh and Marnie, at twenty-two and nineteen years old, have already begun their own lives. It means I often feel older than I am. Thank God for Jess; with Cleo the same age as Marnie, we were able to go through their teenage years together. I hear the scrape of the back door opening, then the pad of Adam’s feet as he walks across the terrace. I know him so well that I can imagine the face he’ll pull when he sees the marquee so close to his shed. He’s been brilliant about this party, which makes me feel even worse about the secret I’ve been keeping from him for six long weeks. The guilt comes back and I turn and bury my face in his pillow, trying to stifle it. But it won’t go away. Needing something to distract myself, I reach for my phone. Even though the screen says it’s only 8.

17, birthday messages have already arrived. Marnie’s came in first; her WhatsApp is timed at a few seconds after midnight, and I imagine her sitting on her bed in Hong Kong, watching the clock while she waited to press send, her message already written and ready to go. ‘To the best Mum in the world, happy, happy birthday! Enjoy every minute of your special day. Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. Love you millions. Marnie xxx PS I’m taking myself of for the weekend to revise in peace. I probably won’t have a network so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me, I’ll call Sunday evening.’ There are emojis of Champagne bottles, birthday cakes and hearts, and I feel the familiar tug of love. But although I miss Marnie, I’m glad she won’t be here tonight. I feel terrible because I should be sorry that she’s missing my party, and I was at first.

Now, I don’t even want her home at the end of the month. She was meant to be away until the end of August, travelling around Asia with friends once her exams were over. Then she changed her mind and in three weeks’ time, she’ll be here, back in Windsor. I pretend to everyone that I’m delighted she’s coming back earlier than expected, but all I feel is dismay. Once she’s back, everything will change and we’ll no longer be able to live the lovely life we’ve been living. I hear Adam’s feet on the stairs, and with each step he takes, the weight of what I haven’t told him increases. But I can’t tell him, not today. He peers around the doorway and breaks into ‘Happy Birthday’. It’s so unlike him that I start laughing and some of the pressure is released. ‘Shh, you’ll wake Josh!’ I whisper.

‘Don’t worry, he’s dead to the world.’ He comes into the room, carrying two mugs of coffee, Mimi following behind. He bends to kiss me and Mimi jumps onto the bed and nudges me jealously. She adores Adam and will push between us when we’re sitting on the sofa, watching a film together. ‘Happy birthday, sweetheart,’ he says. ‘Thank you.’ I raise my hand to his cheek and for a moment I forget everything else because all I feel is happiness. I love him so much. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll shave,’ he jokes, turning his face to kiss my palm. ‘I know you will.

’ He hates shaving, he hates wearing anything apart from jeans and a T-shirt, but he’s been telling me for weeks that he’s going to make an effort tonight. ‘Coffee in bed – how lovely!’ I take the mug from him and move my feet aside so that he can sit down. The mattress shifts under his weight, almost spilling my drink. ‘So, how are you feeling?’ he asks. ‘Spoilt,’ I say. ‘How’s the marquee?’ ‘Close to my shed.’ He raises a dark eyebrow. ‘Still there,’ he amends. ‘This will make you laugh – I dreamt that it blew away, taking Marnie with it.’ ‘Good job she isn’t here, then,’ I say.

And immediately feel guilty. He puts his coffee on the floor and takes a card from his back pocket. ‘For you,’ he says, taking my mug and putting it down next to his. ‘Thank you.’ He climbs over me to his side of the bed and, propping himself up on his elbow, watches while I open my card. My name is drawn in beautiful 3D letters on the envelope and shaded in different blues, a classic Adam touch. I slide out the card; it has a silver ‘40’ on the front and when I open it, I see that he’s written: ‘I hope today will be everything you want it to be, and more. You deserve it so much. Love you, Adam. PS Together, we’re the best.

’ I laugh at the last line, because it’s something we always say, but then tears well in my eyes. If only he knew. I should have told him six weeks ago, when I first found out about Marnie, but there were so many reasons not to, some of them good and some of them not-so-good. But later, once my party is over, I’ll have no excuse not to tell him. I’ve rehearsed the words a thousand times in my head – Adam, there’s something I need to tell you – but I never get any further because I haven’t yet worked out the best way to carry on, whether a slow and agonising step-by-step account will be less painful than a brutal blurting out. Either way, he’ll be devastated. ‘Hey,’ he says, looking at me in concern. I blink the tears away quickly. ‘I’m fine. Just feeling a bit overwhelmed, that’s all.

’ He reaches out and tucks a stray hair behind my ear. ‘That’s understandable. You’ve been waiting for today for so long.’ There’s a pause. ‘You never know, your parents might turn up,’ he adds carefully. I shake my head, grateful that he thinks my longed-for reconciliation with my parents is the reason for my momentary wobble. It’s not the main reason but they’re definitely part of it. They moved to Norfolk six months after Josh was born because, my father told me, I’d made them ashamed in front of their church and their friends and they could no longer hold up their heads in the community. When I asked if I could visit, he told me to come on my own. I didn’t go; it was bad enough that they wouldn’t accept Adam but their rejection of Josh was too much.

I wrote to them again when Marnie was born, to tell them they had a second grandchild, a granddaughter. To my surprise, my father replied that they would like to see her. I wrote to ask when the four of us could visit and was told that the invitation only extended to me and Marnie – he was willing, my father said, to see Marnie because she had been born in wedlock. Again, I didn’t go. Ever since, I’ve tried to maintain contact with them, sending them cards for their birthdays and Christmas, despite never getting any from them, and inviting them to every family celebration. But they never acknowledge the invitations, let alone turn up. And I don’t suppose tonight will be any different. ‘They won’t come,’ I say miserably. ‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m forty years old.

It’s time I let go.’ Adam turns his head towards the window. ‘Have you seen the weather?’ he asks, knowing that I need a change of subject. ‘I know, I can’t believe it.’ I lie back on the pillows, another worry gnawing away at me. ‘I think I might have gone over the top with my dress.’ ‘In what way?’ ‘It’s long, down to the floor. And cream.’ ‘What’s wrong with that?’ ‘I’m worried it might look too much like a wedding dress.’ ‘Does it have lots of frills and stuff?’ ‘No.

’ ‘And do you intend wearing a veil?’ I burst out laughing. ‘No!’ ‘Then,’ he says, raising his arm and tucking me into the space underneath, ‘it’s just a cream dress that happens to be long.’ I look up at him. ‘How do you always manage to make me feel better about myself?’ ‘Just making up for all those years when I didn’t,’ he says lightly. I find his hand and link my fingers through his. ‘Don’t. You married me, didn’t you? You didn’t walk away.’ ‘No – but I did spend a lot of the first two years in Bristol with Nelson, instead of with you and Josh.’ ‘Until Marnie arrived, and gave you a reason to stay home.’ He lets go of my hand, and recognising the closed look on his face, I want to take the words back.

He’s spent the last twenty years trying to make up for those early days, both to me and to Josh. But it still affects him. ‘I got a lovely text from her,’ I say, because talking about Marnie always lightens his mood. ‘She said she might not be able to phone today. She wants to be able to revise for her exams without being distracted so she’s taken herself off for the weekend, to somewhere without wi-fi.’ ‘How did we make such a sensible child?’ he jokes, his good humour back. ‘I have no idea.’ I give him a weak smile and, thinking I’m nervous about my party, he gives me a kiss. ‘Relax. Everything’s going to be fine.

What time is Kirin picking you up?’ ‘Not until eleven.’ ‘Then you can rest a bit longer.’ He gets up from the bed. ‘Have your coffee while I shower, and when you come down, I’ll make you breakfast.’

.

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