She gazed at a street lamp in front of her, watching the moths jostling for position as they flapped round and round. She thought Nicholas was like that light, attracting all the moth-like creatures, the Annabels, the Clarissas, the Livvies and probably many more, all irresistibly drawn to his lovely flame. He could have married any one of them and made the same mistake as her. Had he always been entirely truthful with them all? Had he never come close to feeling that intensity of emotion he seemed to have shared with her; close enough at least to have wrong-footed somewhere en route? Could he really know himself so well and be so perfect? Robert certainly thought so. He made him sound like a saint. Saint Nicholas - no, sorry, got one of those already - and he was a do-gooder too!
Some ten or fifteen minutes must have passed and Julie wondered if Livvie and Nicholas had finished ‘catching up’ and whether Nicholas had been left with sufficient strength to have manoeuvred her car from the drive without further damage to either it or the van. Damage her insurance company would now have to sort out for her.
‘There you are!’ He exclaimed from a point close behind her. ‘I’ve seen to your car for you.’
‘And Livvie too, I trust?’
He actually managed the merest flicker of a smile, if it wasn’t just a tic in his cheek, that is. Livvie’s ‘catching up’ must have been very therapeutic, Julie thought.
‘She’s an old friend,’ he explained dismissively, to no-one in particular.
But not very old, Julie thought. Then she caught her breath as Nicholas came to sit on the bench beside her. At last he was coming to his senses!
‘Can I ask you one question, Julie? Was it because you thought I was a simple gardener that you felt you had free license to trample on my feelings?’
‘Oh Nicholas, you know that isn’t true,’ she groaned.
‘Then it seems I know very little,’ he replied dryly. ‘I suggest you go home now before you freeze to death.’
She jumped up from the bench, her feet, in their light sandals smarting with the cold as she planted them solidly in front of him and gazed down at him. ‘My marriage was over long before I met you. It was a mistake that should never have happened. I was ashamed of it. It was like my career in a way. Passing your exams doesn’t automatically make you a good doctor in exactly the same way that signing a book in a registry office doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll have a good marriage, or even a proper one! Simon and I were never really husband and wife, we were just good friends.’
‘Simon?’ He nodded and repeated the name in a voice heavy with sarcasm. ‘Simple Simon? Simply making mistakes?’
Julie knew he was referring to her observation that sometimes people simply made mistakes in their choice of marriage partners so the insult was double-edged. ‘You have no right to insult him.’ She reproached quietly.
‘No, of course not. He’s your husband.’
‘No, Nicholas. Not anymore, but he is my friend.’
‘Really? That’s what I thought I was. It seems you treat all your friends the same way. Badly! In my book, friends don’t cheat and lie. You should have told me instead of deliberately letting me believe you were someone…something else’
‘How could I, knowing your views? I grew too attached to you.’
‘All the more reason for telling the truth, don’t you think?’
‘But I couldn’t bear to risk losing what we had.’
‘We could never have anything built on a foundation of lies. If I asked your husband, would he tell me you were never really his wife? Would he betray you the way you betrayed him? Do you hate all men, Julie? Or is it that you simply don’t know the difference between right and wrong, or the truth and lying?’
She was as wounded by his tone as much as his words but still pressed on, her voice little more than a shaky whisper. ‘I don’t hate you, Nicholas. I love you.’
‘I’ll leave your keys on the bench.’ His voice sounded icy.
She backed away a pace and stared down at her feet in misery. Was there nothing she could say to move this man with whom she had shared so much love? Had she really damaged their relationship so irrevocably? How could he have changed so much, her tender lover? Had she done that to him?
She wanted a glimpse of the old Nicholas to reassure herself that he had existed and she hadn’t dreamed him up. This cold, hard stranger bore no resemblance to him. When she raised her head, Nicholas was no longer there. She had told him she loved him and he had simply walked away. How much more humiliation could she take?