Out Of Tune

Allison Hay © Illustration of person walking through street, confused.


They’d shared everything but an inheritance had caused a divide… could they find a way back to perfect harmony?

Look at this one,” James said. He passed the tablet to Patrice, sitting next to him on the sofa.

A thriller that had hooked her from the first episode played on the TV and she wished James, her partner of three years, would share her enthusiasm for the series. But over the past few days, all he’d binged on were property websites. With a resigned sigh, she glanced at the photo of a thatched cottage without swiping to view the interior. “I don’t want to move to the middle of nowhere,” Patrice said, giving the tablet back.

“Don’t exaggerate. The station’s only a couple of miles away. Why don’t we book a viewing?”

She paused the programme. “I just don’t see the point.” And yet, deep down, she knew renting was a waste of money.

As a junior architect, she earned more than supermarket manager James but, with the recent inheritance from his gran, they’d agreed it was time to buy a place. Both in their early thirties, Patrice had, until now, been almost smug about their compatibility.

For James’s birthday, she’d bought EarPods and had ‘Always In Tune With Me’, engraved on the case. They enjoyed going to the gym together and rustling up recipes. And, when the time was right, she and James wanted a baby. But now everything was off kilter.

James had told Patrice he thought she’d relish the idea of somewhere they could do up with tons of outdoor space.

Patrice, however, took it for granted they’d find a cool flat, maybe in a block she’d helped design, in a more trendy part of the city. Sure, it would be compact, but it’d have shared gardens or a balcony.

“Imagine chickens running free, a Labrador in front of an Aga…” James said, interrupting her thoughts.

She frowned at the clichés. “You’ve never mentioned wanting that sort of thing before.”

“Because it was never possible,” he replied.

She shook her head. “You’re not exactly a DIY expert,” she said, thinking back to the rigmarole they’d been through putting flat pack wardrobes together.

And I grew up in a tiny village, remember?

They’d both talked about their pasts. How Patrice’s mother had passed away when Patrice was a toddler. Shortly afterwards, she and her dad moved to where his parents lived. She never doubted they loved her, but was aware she didn’t look like her fair-haired, green-eyed father, or the other children in the village school. Her mother’s photo sat on her bedside table, and Patrice could see she had a similar skin tone and the same deep brown eyes.

Then there was the long bus ride with her gran to a hairdresser who knew how to braid her hair. When she was a teenager, only stores in the city stocked the suitable make-up brands. It was here the diversity had mesmerised her, and she vowed to live there one day. Patrice was tempted to retort that James obviously didn’t understand, but things hadn’t been easy for him, either. There’d been years of being passed over for promotion because he lacked qualifications.

Thankfully, the in-house training scheme he’d completed proved he was as capable as any graduate.

The scent from the candle on the coffee table drifted around them. The irony of its name, Tranquillity, wasn’t lost on Patrice. All she’d wanted on this Sunday evening was to chill with a glass of wine in front of the TV. But her enthusiasm had vanished.

She pressed the off button on the remote. “I’m going to bed – early start tomorrow.”


“A site visit.”

“Okay. I think I’ll stay up for a bit longer. I’m determined to find somewhere you’ll like,” he said flatly.

“Make sure there are coffee shops, a gym, and a few bars nearby.” She attempted to sound light-hearted even though she felt anything but. As she walked into the bedroom, she wondered what would happen if they couldn’t agree. She almost wished his gran had left all her money to his mum and not half to James. If it weren’t a serious situation, it’d be laughable that more money, not less, was causing a rift between them.

The following day, while Patrice drove to the site, she mulled over how, that morning, neither of them mentioned moving. They ate breakfast, chatted about what to make for dinner, kissed goodbye and, as usual, James headed off on his bicycle while Patrice set off in the car. The routine might be the same, but Patrice guessed James’s cheery mood was as false as hers.

Half an hour into the journey, the traffic on the main road slowed, and then stopped. In the far distance, she could see flashing blue lights. An accident had likely caused the delay. Although frustrated at the disruption, she sent up a silent prayer it was only vehicles that were damaged.

Expanding the map on her phone, she saw a detour using a turn-off a few metres away. After five minutes of creeping along, she headed down a road where the late spring sunshine lit the greens and gold of the bordering farmland.

Unsure how long the journey would take, a twinge of anxiety caught in her chest. Once she found a safe space to stop, she’d call her boss and warn him she might be late.

The road twisted and turned for a couple more miles before opening up onto a row of terraced houses, a petrol station and a few shops.

She found a space to stop beside a park. Deciding to stretch her legs, she walked towards a grey stone arch in the middle of the green space while she phoned her boss.

“No worries,” he said. “I’m here all day.”

On closer inspection, she realised the structure was a memorial dedicated to the men in the village who’d given their lives during the World Wars.

“Hello, there.”

Patrice turned at the friendly voice to find a woman around her age, wearing yellow rubber gloves and carrying a bucket of soapy water. “I see you found our memorial.”

Patrice nodded. “It’s impressive.”

“Mum and I make sure it stays that way. It’s my turn to clean off the birds’ mess.”

Patrice grimaced, and the woman laughed. She put the bucket down.

“I don’t mind. I’m only over the road and I’ve been helping Mum since I was little. Besides, my great granddad’s name is on here.”

“Has your family always lived in the village?” Patrice said, hoping she didn’t sound as incredulous as she felt.

“Yes, and I love it. My parents are on hand to babysit and my boys go to the same primary school I went to.” She pointed to a long, low building with a green roof on the far side of the park. “They’ve extended it since I was there and the meadow roof has been a real hit with the children. And on Remembrance Day, the local children take part in a ceremony here at the memorial.”

“How lovely,” Patrice said, turning her gaze from the school, musing on the importance of children engaging with the past and learning from it. She admired the school’s architecture, although school buildings had never been on her wish list of places to design. Of course, she worked with sustainability in mind but within the context of luxury apartments with swish penthouses and basement gyms.

Her phone buzzed with a notification about a work project, and she noticed the time. “Goodness, I have to get going. It was nice to meet you,” she said to the woman, who was squeezing out a wet cloth.

“And you,” she said, giving Patrice a wave as she headed to her car.

The detour proved successful, and she arrived at the site on time. But she found it difficult to concentrate on the plans for the exclusive residential block under construction. Instead, Patrice’s mind wandered back to meeting the woman at the memorial and how she exuded contentment. Before now, Patrice hadn’t understood why people stayed put rather than spread their wings.

At lunchtime, she grabbed a sandwich from the newsagents and ate it at the site office while scrolling through her laptop for a place James would love. Until today she hadn’t realised they’d only considered themselves in the move. They hadn’t spoken about when the elusive time would be right to try for a baby, nor had they discussed the best place to bring up a child. Tears welled as doubts descended. Were they as compatible as she’d always thought? They had to talk.

When Patrice arrived back at the flat that evening, a warm spicy aroma coming from the kitchen greeted her. She hung up her jacket and found James in his navy apron, overseeing a simmering vegetable curry and bubbling saucepan of rice.

He kissed her on the cheek. “Hope you’re hungry.”

“Starving. I only had time for a sandwich.”

“Good. There’s a bottle of your favourite wine chilling in the fridge and a special surprise awaits.”

“Does it?” she said, warily. It was unusual for them to drink alcohol on a weeknight. She bit her lip, wondering whether he thought that by cooking a meal and buying wine she’d concede to viewing some run down property he’d found.

“You see,” he said, with his back to her. “I want to talk about this whole move business.” Her hand rested on the fridge door and her heart thumped.

“I was thinking the same thing today.”

He turned to face her. “I don’t want this to drive a wedge between us, Pat, but I can’t imagine living in a city forever more. We need a serious talk.”

She let her hand drop and took hold of his. “I agree.” She described what had happened on her journey. “I’m not saying I want to live in that village. It’s too far from the city and I’d feel claustrophobic, but it got me thinking. If we’re serious about having a baby, he or she won’t be a baby for long. We have to think about where we’d like our child to grow up. I’d like us to have a house with a garden and a decent local school. And, after seeing that one today, I’m going to look at opportunities in educational design.”

“Wow!” he said, blowing out his cheeks. “Quite a day.”

She smiled. “I suppose it was. So that we can talk things through, I’ve booked us a break next weekend. A hotel in the Cotswolds, which I think you’ll love.”

His eyes widened.

“You’re joking! I’ve booked us a hotel in Liverpool to do the same. I know you love it there.

They stared at each other and then burst out laughing.

“Which one shall we cancel?” Patrice said.

He drew her in close. “Neither. I’ll postpone mine. But since you mention it, do you think the time might be right soon? It might take us a while.”

She answered with a passionate kiss. Her heart thumped, but in a good way.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he said, as they broke apart. He raised one eyebrow and glanced at the hob.

She nodded and grinned. “Let’s eat!”

Patrice helped him dish up and poured the wine. They sat at the kitchen table and clinked glasses. “To us,” James said.

Patrice smiled. “And to being in tune again.”

Read more romantic short stories:

Read A Splash of Colour, My Very First Valentine, Another Chance At Forever plus many more in our archives.

Georgia Grieve