* * * * *
He was sitting at the dining table when she came home. Sitting at the empty dining table with his forearms resting in front of him and his hands clasped almost in a prayer pose.
She didn’t have to ask if he had been waiting for her, or if he wanted to talk, or if it was serious. The way he was sitting there made all that very clear, and he didn’t even have to say a word.
All thoughts of laughter and joy with her friends from their afternoon chat flew out of her mind as soon as she saw him sitting there, like he wasn’t part of the executive branch of the law but rather of the judiciary and had just sentenced her to something grave in her absence. Or like a father waiting for his child to come home from breaking curfew, ready to dish out a lecture and then a lengthy grounding.
She sat down corner to him, like she always did, folding her hands in front of herself on the table. She looked at him but for a while, maybe it was just a few moments but it felt longer, he didn’t speak.
“What is it, Thomas?” she asked finally, quiet and hesitant, mind already drawing up a number of scenarios, each worse than the next.
“Lucy…” There was absolutely no comfort in the way he said her name. None. “I got a transfer.”
She blinked a few times, then swallowed. “To where?”
For a short moment their eyes met but then he looked off into the distance again, somewhere in front of himself. “Kembleford.”
She frowned in thought. “Where is that?” She had never heard of it before.
She nodded slowly and swallowed again. “I see.” She estimated that Kembleford was several hours away from London, where they were living right now.
He glanced at her again and his fingers twitched but he remained otherwise unmoved.
She wet her lips and pressed them together before she spoke again. “Do you want me to come with you?”
Immediately his eyes flew to her again and his face portrayed a rare show of emotion – bewilderment.
“What?” Detective Inspector Thomas Sullivan blurted, a rather unexpected instance of ineloquence. Any other time he would have minded his manners and said something along the lines of ‘Excuse me?’, ‘Pardon?’, maybe even ‘I beg your pardon?’. But today, in this moment, it was ‘what?’.
“Do you want me to come with you?” she repeated, bitterly proud of the way she managed to keep her voice to the most miniscule of trembling.
“You’re my wife,” he said in a way that made it clear that he didn’t understand the question or why she had asked it, at all.
“I am,” she agreed simply and found the courage to meet his eyes. “Do you want me to come with you, Thomas?” she asked a third time and a furrow formed between his brows.
“I don’t understand why you’re asking me that, Lucy. You’re my wife, we’re married.” He frowned more deeply.
She breathed as deeply as she could without making it too obvious. Her heart was beating hard and fast in her chest. “We don’t have to be,” she brought out courageously.
“I beg your pardon?” He remembered his manners and at the same time managed to sound even ruder than ever before.
“I don’t have to come with you, if you don’t want me to.”
He stared at her. “You’re my wife, why wouldn’t you come with me?” He looked and sounded like he couldn’t make that make sense, at all.
Lucy Sullivan pressed her lips together once more. “You don’t have to be married, if you don’t want to be,” she told him, daring to find his gaze and not shying away from the storm and the sharpness she found in his blue eyes as he finally caught the drift, as he finally found the meaning in-between her words.
“Are you asking me for a divorce?” he burst out, standing quickly and towering over her angrily. The chair was pushed back with an unpleasant scraping noise.
“No, I’m not,” she answered as calmly as she could. “But you can’t blame me for thinking you might wish for one.” It was the most confrontational thing she had ever said to him, and the loudest he had ever spoken to her. They had never fought before.
“Why would I wish for a divorce?!” He sounded like it was an absolutely crazy idea that he would wish for a divorce, when it had been something she had been thinking about him wanting for quite a while. Years even.
But she stared back at him just as incredulously. “Because you seem to loathe me?” she retorted and stood as well, not wanting to feel so much smaller next to him although she always did.
“I seem to loathe you?” The disbelief on his face intensified and it was almost overwhelming to see so much emotion in him all at once.
“Well, you certainly don’t seem to like me very much,” she pointed out somewhat bitterly.
“Don’t seem to like you very much?” he parroted dumbly.
She stared at him for several moments and then looked away. “I apologize, I was out of turn,” she said, voice void of everything that had been in it moments before. It was her ‘yes, honey’ voice and until that moment he hadn’t realized how different it was from how she spoke to her friends.
Lucy went to leave the room, a hasty retreat, but he didn’t let her, reaching for her arm and grabbing it firmly, turning her around.
“No, you’re not,” he growled at her, tightening his grip on her but letting go when she pulled on her arm with so much power that she stumbled back and almost lost her footing.
“Don’t touch me,” she told him in a quiet but sharp tone and he at once realized his mistake.
“I’m sorry, I-“ he said quietly but one look from her silenced him.
“We’ve been married for three years,” she said with a shake to her voice but after she took a deep breath her voice was steady. “Before we got married, you would take me out to dinner. And dancing. And remembered my birthday. Brought me flowers. Made me feel wanted, and important, and pretty. Then we got married. You never take me out to dinner anymore. Or bring me flowers. Or take me dancing. You’ve never remembered our wedding anniversary and you’ve forgotten my last two birthdays. You never kiss me or touch me anymore.” She looked at him, a mix of daring him and begging him to say something. Before he had just grabbed her arm, she couldn’t even say when the last time he had touched her had been. Maybe a kiss on the cheek in greeting when someone else was there? He only ever did it when someone else was there.
Unfortunately, he stuck with the last of what she had said which, to her, was of the least importance. “I never kiss or touch you anymore?” he snapped, taking two big steps to her and grabbing her face in his hands, lifting her face for a rough kiss. He followed when she stumbled back, until her back hit the wall and he pressed her against it, going in for another kiss, just as rough – and unwelcome – as the first.
A moment later she got her hands on his shoulders and pushed. “Stop!” She shoved him away from her, now he was the one stumbling back. “What are you doing?” She wiped her mouth and shook her head at him. He was shocked to see tears filling her brown eyes. “This isn’t what I meant,” she choked out, gruffly wiping a tear that had begun to run down her cheek. “This isn’t what I want . I just want to know-“ She swallowed thickly. “I just want to know if there is even a point in me coming to Kembleford with you because I won’t come if it’s going to be like the last three years, Thomas. You may not care for me at all, you may loathe my sheer existence, but I don’t deserve to be treated like a puppet you’re sick of anymore.” She turned on her heels and fled the room.
* * * * *
The train rolled into the station, slowing down, and from where she had peered out of the window for a short moment she had already spied a tall man in a blue suit with a gray hat on the platform. The train came to a stop and she got off with the help of the conductor who also lifted her suitcase down.
“Thank you very much,” she told him politely, stepping away from the train. She had just reached for the case’s handle when another hand got a hold of it quicker than her.
“I’ll take that,” a familiar voice said stiffly and she straightened up to see her husband now in front of her. “These are for you.” He offered a paper wrapped bunch of flowers to her.
“Thank you.” She took them and inhaled deeply the hint of sweetness the flowers permeated.
“You don’t like them.” He was eyeing her with a very familiar expression, scrutiny mixed with some irritation and just a hint of displeasure. Like he was watching her closely but whatever she did, it always irritated and displeased him. It had started after their brief row following his revelation about the transfer to Kembleford and it had brought her to say even less in his presence than the few words she had spoken to him before. Making their home even more silent and awkward had not been her intention at all but here they were.
Here she was. Arriving on a train in Kembleford a week after the movers had moved their belongings to the police cottage that came with the post. She had been meant to come with them but then her mother had fallen down the stairs and she had had to help out. Right in this moment, when he was scrutinizing her with displeasure again she didn’t know which was worse – the week at her parents’ house or the prospect of sharing a house with the stranger who was her husband in a new town.
“They’re beautiful,” she told him and she meant it. The flowers were absolutely beautiful, vibrant colors, perfect scent, not a petal or leaf damaged or drooping. It was just that these were just flowers, just any flowers wrapped in paper. They hadn’t been given to her because he wanted to give her flowers, because he wanted to make her smile, or give her a treat. He had given them to her because he obviously felt like he had to. They felt just as displaced and meaningless as the fancy dinner he had taken her out to before their move. The glaring absence of anything that included physical touch, be it dancing, or kissing, or anything within the confines of their bedroom, particularly stood out to her.
He gave a curt nod and picked up her suitcase, turning to leave without saying another word. Something else she was all too familiar with.
Even though she had asked him head on whether he wanted her to come to Kembleford with him or not, he had never answered the question. A few days after their very short-lived row, he had begun talking of the move in a way that somehow seemed to include her. She hadn’t been absolutely sure until he had asked her which furniture she would like to take with, as the cottage he had found for them came semi-furnished, apparently.
The drive to the cottage passed in silence with Lucy eagerly taking in her new surroundings. Everything looked so different, in this small town, out in the countryside, but she found herself liking it already. Kembleford definitely deserved to be called quaint and she was sure it would take some getting used to but she was looking forward to it. At least something to look forward to, right?
The cottage itself fit in well with its surroundings and was in need of some love and care on the outside as well as on the inside as she quickly registered as her husband led her inside. Through the door you stepped right into the living room and your gaze was instantly drawn to the fireplace to the right. That would make for cozy evenings by the fire when it was cold, she thought to herself. Near the fireplace the radio was already set up with Thomas’ favorite armchair right next to it. A dining table was on the other side of the room. There were a few moving boxes lined along the wall next to the dresser they had brought which Lucy would have arranged in that exact spot as well. She tried to give her husband a tentative smile which he returned with his usual tight look.
“The kitchen is through here,” he told her and went ahead into the decent sized kitchen, with enough space for another table to have breakfast at.
She was left just enough time to have a quick scan of the room before he opened the backdoor and held it open for her to go through.
“Oh!” She stepped through into the space that made a knot somewhere in her chest diminish. A lovely garden, somewhat unkempt but not unsalvageable she figured, went out behind the cottage and she could already picture several flower beds and tending to her own vegetables and other plants. Not that she knew much about gardening, having grown up in the city just like her husband. But it was something else to do and fill the day somehow. Another thing to look forward to.
However, it made no difference if they were in the small flat in London or in this lovely cottage in Kembleford, the awkwardness and silence were the same here or there. She was well aware of his hawk eyes as she found a vase in one of the boxes on the kitchen table and put the flowers into water.
“Sergeant Goodfellow and his wife have invited us for dinner tonight,” he told her just as she was about to ask whether or not he had done some shopping so she could fix something quick for lunch before he went back to work.
“Oh.” They had only spoken on the phone twice since he had left for Kembleford, once when he had made it there and then yesterday to confirm her journey and arrival today. He hadn’t mentioned anything about a Sergeant Goodfellow thus far, and she had only gotten half a sentence that Kembleford was ‘fine so far’ after she had pressed him on it. “That’s very kind of them.”
“Yes.” Thomas gave a short nod. “I have to go back to work now.” He gave another nod, turned on his heels and left. A few moments later she heard the car start and drive away.
“Well then,” Lucy said to herself and gave herself a firm nod. “Let’s see the rest of this cottage.” Thomas had only shown her the lower level but there were stairs leading up and no further doors.
A few of the steps creaked as she climbed them which she already knew would wake her frequently when he came home late from a case again. Wonderful.
There was just a small landing space, enclosed by three doors. The one on the right opened to the bathroom which was small but housed a bathtub of a good size and the toilet. Directly across was a smaller room (by comparison when she then got to the last door) in which there was one of the two items of furniture she absolutely had to have brought here. A carved wooden writing desk that she had inherited from her grandmother. He had arranged it right under the window which went out onto the street. Exactly where she would have liked to put it herself.
The last door unsurprisingly revealed the bedroom. It was bigger than the other upstairs room and the windows went out towards the street as well. The bed on the right was immaculately made, as it always was when he did it. Cupboards were built into the walls on the left and he had already put up all his clothes just as tidily when she looked inside. There was plenty of space left for hers as well.
Even though the bed was made perfectly, she could tell which side was his. Not only because she wasn’t stupid nor blind and knew that he preferred the side closer to the door but also because on the far side next to the bed was the dressing table she had also inherited from her grandmother, the second piece of must-have furniture. Although he had told her that the mirror had broken during transport, as she stepped up to it now the mirror was perfectly in one piece. She sat on the stool that went with it and looked at herself for a moment.
She still saw the familiar brown hair, brown eyes, slightly on the long side shaped face, the proportionate nose but slightly disproportionate mouth. (‘You have a large mouth, dear, don’t you go putting such lipstick on it to make it even larger.’ Thank you, mother.) She looked well enough for after a longer train ride but she would have to freshen up a bit before Thomas came to get her for the dinner at the Goodfellows.
But it wasn’t her supposedly larger lips or the small smudge by her ear she then found that made her turn away with a sigh. No, it was the small furrow between her eyebrows that seemed to have taken up permanent residence there. When had that moved in? She didn’t know but it had been there for a while and it didn’t seem like it was going anytime soon.
With another firm nod to herself she stood and resolved to get some unpacking done until Thomas got back. If they had dinner plans with the Goodfellows that meant he would have to clock off at a reasonable-ish time, right? Not that he had any idea what a reasonable time to come home was. She’d gotten so used to cooking dinner for two but eating alone and leaving something for him on the stove for when he got home that she had had to hastily set another place when he had come home in time for dinner almost every evening the week before the transfer. Maybe it would stay the same here in Kembleford? Her stomach turned slightly at the prospect of having any more of the stilted, awkward and uncomfortable dinners. Maybe Kembleford was quaint and small and sweet, but still had plenty of crime. Like murders, murders always seemed to run him the most.
* * * * *