WRITTEN BY PATSY COLLINS
After marrying in haste and repenting at leisure, Livia has to be absolutely sure of her next step…
“I’ve made up my mind,” Livia said.
“And?” Malcolm asked. He put down his drink and took her hand in his.
“I’m going ahead with the kitchen.”
As she spoke, she realised he’d expected an entirely different kind of decision. One about whether she’d allow him to move in, would move into his home, or stay where she was, alone.
Livia still wasn’t sure about that at all, but getting the kitchen fixed was the first step in sorting out her whole life.
“Ah. Well – I think you’ve made the right decision.” It seemed he’d taken it as a positive step. She let him. He’d been more than patient and deserved some hope.
Besides, it was a positive step. The kitchen was dreadful. When she’d first moved in, she couldn’t afford to do much. Just hand-painted the worst bits and put down cheap lino. She’d put up with it for years. One way and another, Livia had put up with a lot. At last she was going to sort herself out.
Livia was divorced. That had hurt…
It hurt that they’d split, of course, but worse was the knowledge that they should never have been together. She’d rushed into marriage without thinking it through.
She should have got out again quickly, but it had seemed wrong to try to correct one hasty decision by making another. Instead, Livia tried to change to suit him. By the time she was no longer his wife, she hadn’t felt much like Livia either. Not surprisingly, she didn’t want to risk that pain again.
As a result, after she’d found herself somewhere to live and altered her marital status, where required, on official documents, she’d not wanted to change anything else for some time.
Well… she was going to now. First, she’d change the kitchen, then she’d make a decision about her relationship with Malcolm.
The kitchen would have to be replaced entirely, she decided. The layout was inconvenient, the appliances old. Besides, having worked herself up to change, she wasn’t going to settle for half measures.
“It’ll be very disruptive,” Malcolm pointed out. “Why don’t you come and live at my place while the work is done?”
If he’d said stay at my place rather than live she’d probably have accepted, but the way he phrased it had made it seem like a commitment of some kind. He’d not have meant it that way; Malcolm wasn’t the sort to try to push her into anything. But she’d not liked to agree, not until she’d made her decision. It would be another step, a bigger one. A step too far?
It was fun, planning the new kitchen. Malcolm accompanied her to various showrooms, making suggestions and comments in a helpful way.
He made it clear the decisions were hers, but she knew what he wanted; her, and an easy-clean surface. Livia was in complete agreement over the second part. She liked to cook and keep her home clean and tidy, but didn’t want to spend hours getting a smear-free finish on stainless steel appliances.
Those glass-fronted display cabinets looked nice in the showroom, when they contained nothing but a couple of those jars of pickled peppers which no one ate, or two delicate wine glasses. Fill the cupboards with anything useful though and they’d look cluttered – and cleaning those teeny bits of glass in their pretty doors would be the devil of a job.
Livia worried living with Malcolm might become equally awkward and frustrating
Spending a night at his place when they’d been out somewhere was fine. So was having him stay overnight at hers occasionally, when that was convenient. They had toothbrushes in each other’s bathrooms and a change of clothes, but it was a pretence of sharing their lives. It meant no more than those two wine glasses in the display cabinet that would break in the dishwasher.
Livia chose her new kitchen; a simple, traditional design in wood, with a hard-wearing, stain-resistant work surface. She selected washable paint for the walls, in bright turquoise. Fresh, modern and easy to change if she went off it.
She’d get accessories to match, or maybe contrast. Lemon yellow or zesty orange might be fun. She’d wait until it was installed before deciding, though. Little details could wait. The big decisions must be made first.
One big decision. Was she going to allow Malcolm into her life, or keep him at arms’ length?
He’d proposed, but marriage or not wasn’t the real question. He’d said she could decide where they lived, but the address wasn’t the question. Malcolm himself wasn’t even the question. She already knew, if she decided to share her life with anyone, it would be with him.
Livia had plenty of time to decide – just as she’d had more than enough time to decide if she and her ex-husband should divorce. She’d taken too long then, and made them both unhappy. There was a danger of that happening again. When the push came, it was almost a relief.
“The company I work for are restructuring,” Malcolm told her. “I have the choice of moving up to head office or accepting a redundancy package.”
“You’d have to move house.”
“When do you have to let them know?”
“I have just over two months to make the decision, another four before I leave my current post.”
“Do you know what you’re going to tell them?” she asked.
“Not yet. It rather depends on you, Livia.”
“Yes. It’s never been my intention to give you an ultimatum, and I don’t mean to now, but my decision will take your wishes into account. If you’d like to move with me, I’ll accept the new job. If you prefer to live, with me, in this area then I’ll accept redundancy. But if you prefer for us to continue living separately, then I’ll take the job and go. It won’t make much difference – only in amount of distance you keep me at.”
She didn’t blame him for the slight edge of bitterness in his voice. She knew she’d not been fair to him.
That was all very well, but she still didn’t know what she wanted… or, at least, still didn’t trust her judgement. She definitely didn’t want him to move away without her – so at least she wasn’t faced with more choices than before.
Actually, there were fewer. Staying as they were indefinitely was no longer an option. As Livia worked from home and had no relations nearby, where she lived was simply down to personal preference.
So, she was back to the one question. Did she want to share her life, or not?
From the moment Dean the kitchen fitter parked his van outside her house, she was temporarily sharing her life with a man. It was oddly intimate having him there. Livia constantly had to step over him or squeeze round him. It wasn’t romantic or anything. Maybe it could be in some situations, but not with Dean. He was half her age and newly married.
It was kind of nice though, having someone about…
Working from home could be lonely. When she stopped for a coffee, there was someone to talk to. She could open a packet of biscuits knowing she’d not eat them all herself. If either of them went to the shop they enquired if they could get something for the other.
He wasn’t Malcolm, though. Dean didn’t get her jokes or know which article in the paper was likely to interest her. Dean wanted to please her, but that was so she’d pay, would recommend him and because he had professional pride. It wasn’t because her happiness was important for his.
Dean saw parts of her life no one else had for a long time. Her dirty laundry when she made her last use of the old washing machine. The way she looked carefully at the post before opening it.
He didn’t tell her not to be daft and just open it. Dean wouldn’t. He was too busy double-checking the measurements of the work surface and unlikely anyway to criticise his client’s little peculiarities.
Livia was like Dean in one way; they both double-checked everything. Dean did cut though, once he was ready. Livia might too eventually, but she was still double-checking and second-guessing. Malcolm might cut soon. If so, it would be along the line she’d drawn.
Would Malcolm laugh at her studying the post, turning the envelope over in her hand? Maybe he would and she wouldn’t mind. There was one thing he wouldn’t do; rip it open before she got to see it. Just as he hadn’t told her which cupboard doors to pick, but had gone with her for another look. He understood her need to be really sure.
“That’s it then, the water’s going off and the sink’s coming out,” Dean told her.
“How long will I be without water?”
“In the whole house, an hour or so now and maybe a bit longer in a few days when I fit the new one. But it’ll be a good five days of washing-up in the bathroom.”
Livia knew that afterwards she’d not be able to walk through the kitchen to the garden for two days when the new floor was laid. That’s why Malcolm had suggested she live with him, temporarily. She should have accepted. Would in fact accept. It would be a step – not a step too far, hopefully not in the wrong direction.
I think perhaps I’ll go and stay with my friend for a week or so…
“No problem. I’ve got your mobile number in case I need to ask anything.”
Livia smiled. She always gave Dean an answer. It was time to give Malcolm his. She’d put off her decision for fear it would be the wrong one – but letting Malcolm move away without her answer would be a much bigger mistake.
She rang to say she’d like to stay with him until the kitchen was finished.
“A sensible decision, I think,” Malcolm said, a smile in his voice.
“Yes. That’s the second one I’ve made recently, and I have a feeling it’s going to be third time lucky. We’ll talk about that tonight.”
“I look forward to it. Shall I collect you after work? Pick up a bottle of wine?”
“Mmm, good idea. Make it something with bubbles in.”
She checked her watch. She had plenty of time to go shopping before she need pack. Livia intended to buy two wine glasses. Pretty, impractical wine glasses, so she and Malcolm could toast the first step of their new life together.