Over the next month, without really discussing it, sailing became a weekly thing for Hope and Jack, with Chase appearing as a regular addition. Jack tried not to get his hopes up too much, but he was grateful that this guy made his daughter at ease, and for some reason the dynamic just worked between the three of them. He found that he was genuinely enjoying the time he spent with them, rather than always worrying and thinking about what to say and how to handle things.
Hope was happy that Jack was starting to open up, and she too felt herself open more to him. But there was still something that held her back. She was also continually distracted by Chase, and the closeness that was forming between them. Something wonderful was happening, and the wonder of it sent both elation and fear through them both.
On one such boat voyage, Chase was taking some time to reflect by himself on the back of the yacht. Hope watched Jack as he tended to the sails and let down the anchor. She had seen a different side to him this past month, and it was making her even more curious about him.
‘What happened with your wife?’ she asked, looking at him intently.
Jack stood up straight and sighed as he fiddled with some rope. He looked at Hope, squinting from the glare of the sun, and said, ‘Just wasn’t meant to be in the end I guess.’
‘When did you get married?’
‘When I was thirty. Dana was … twenty-eight.’
‘Did you love her?’
Jack took his time considering how to answer. ‘Yes, I loved her.’
‘Then why didn’t it work?’
Again Jack thought for a moment. ‘Well …. we were married for ten years and we gave it a really good shot. Hang on – that’s not entirely true – to be honest, she gave it her best. And I didn’t.’
Hope furrowed her brow, ‘Why?’
Jack took even longer to formulate a response to what he found an exceptionally difficult question. He didn’t want to lie to her, but he worried that the truth wasn’t a very good option either. Picking up on his hesitancy, Hope asked again, firmer this time, but still gentle. ‘Why? You can tell me you know; if you want to, but I don’t want to push you’-
Jack didn’t want to loose his daughter by refusing to open up to her, not when he was just starting to get to know her. He realised he had no choice but to answer her questions honestly, and hope for the best. ‘No, no, you’re not pushing,’ he said, as he thought about how to answer her. ‘Sometimes love isn’t enough Hope. I loved her, but we didn’t love each other equally. She loved me more, and she gave me more. I tried to love her the way she deserved, but I couldn’t.’
Jack ran his hand over his mouth and down his neck. ‘Because my heart was somewhere else.’
He looked away from her and quickly returned to adjusting things. Hope sensed that the conversation was finished. She wanted to know more, but she didn’t want to press him. Instead she let her mind drift over what he had said. His heart was somewhere else? With my mother? She would have to wait for the answer to that, and by god, she was getting sick of waiting. Still, it was a start.
The next Thursday night Tanner and Audrey sat at the dining table playing scrabble. It was something they did sometimes, just the two of them, while Ian was out playing squash. Tanner talked to his mum about Amy and how he had been walking her home from work for the last few weeks. Audrey loved listening to her son talk, especially about Amy. He lit up as he spoke. In a way, though she wasn’t fully aware of it, Audrey lived vicariously through her son. His wildly romantic antics, and innocent soul, reminded her of a time when love had had no rules or limitations. She wasn’t sure if it really was love – if Tanner was truly in love with this girl. But it didn’t matter; he believed that he was, and in his world he was free to believe that, and to love whom he chose. Audrey prayed that he didn’t have to learn the hard way that it could be different. She hoped that he never had to learn just how agonising and unfair love could be. Of course he would know heartbreak and sorrow; it was inevitable. But deep in her heart, Audrey prayed that his heartache would pale in comparison to her own.
Later that night, after she had gotten home from a drink with Chase, Hope stood outside her parent’s bedroom door and knocked lightly. She wanted to talk to someone about Chase, and how confused she was about her feelings for him. The time had come when she couldn’t keep it all inside anymore. Given that Tanner was at work, and Ian was at squash, her mum was the next best thing.
‘Come in,’ Audrey called out. Her mother’s voice sounded shaky and surprised, which was unlike her. Just before she opened the door, Hope thought she detected a sniff – the sound one makes when they’ve been crying. With a tiny inkling of trepidation, Hope opened the door and peered in.
Audrey was sitting on the floor at the foot of her bed, in her jeans and a white shirt. She quickly wiped her nose with a tissue and collected herself. Looking up at Hope she forced a smile. ‘Come in honey.’
Hope stared at her mother sitting there and knew instantly that she had been crying. She had never seen her mother cry; well, not really cry.
‘What’s wrong mum?’ she asked gently.
Audrey wiped at her nose and smiled. ‘Oh, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine honey.’
Hope slowly walked up and knelt down beside her mother. With startling simplicity and honesty she looked into her mother’s eyes and said, ‘You’re not fine. Why do you always think you have to be fine around me? You don’t have to be okay all the time, you know?’
Audrey forced another smile and tried to mask her emotions. ‘Oh, don’t be silly honey, I’m fine.’
Hope would usually have left it at that. But tonight she sensed she shouldn’t. She pressed harder, still gently, but harder. ‘Mum, look at me.’ Audrey met her gaze and Hope saw deep sadness and pain in her eyes. She sat down cross-legged in front of her mum. ‘Look, I know I’ve been hard on you, particularly about Jack, and I’ve pressed you for answers and all that. And I know that you think, that you’ve always thought, that you need to be okay for me and Tanner. But mum, you really don’t. I’m an adult now. You can tell me how your feeling. I want to know.’
Audrey looked at her daughter and saw the sincerity and tenderness there, and she felt, for a moment, like it might break her further. It shocked her – to realise, right then and there, that her daughter, who she had spent years protecting and nurturing, was now a mature woman. ‘My god’ she said softly, ‘What an extraordinary woman you’ve become.’
Hope smiled bashfully and Audrey sighed and looked down. Hope followed her gaze and noticed that she was holding something in her hand, what looked like an old photo, though Hope couldn’t make it out.
Audrey bit her lip and looked up as if contemplating what to say. ‘Okay … if you really want to know … I was – I am upset … I was thinking about your father, your … real … I was thinking about Jack.’ She waited nervously for a response and would not meet her daughter’s eye.
Hope knew her mother pretty well – despite how guarded she was. She detected her nervousness at once. She realised that her mum was genuinely scared to talk to her about Jack. Hope sighed and put her head to one side, looking intently at her mum. Ever so gently she said, ‘Mum, tell me what happened.’ She waited. Audrey was conflicted – it was written all over her face and in her trembling, clenched hands. Hope put her hand over her mum’s. ‘It’s okay mum … Did you love him?’
At the comment a stifled sop escaped Audrey and a single fresh tear broke free and rolled down her cheek, splattered onto the nape of her neck. She looked up to the heavens and groaned an aching sigh of indescribable pain. ‘Oh Hope.’ She pressed her hand over her heart as if trying to ease the pain the memory was stirring. ‘Yes … yes I loved him. I loved him so much.’ Her voice broke and she quickly covered her mouth with her hand in one last futile attempt to stifle her emotions.
Hope’s eyes misted up in empathy with the sheer intensity of the emotions she was witnessing in her mother. She squeezed her hand, and closed her eyes as she murmured, ‘It’s sooo good to hear that mum. Tell me the story, please.’
Audrey wiped her tears and looked at her daughter. Okay, she would tell her. It was the right time. Yes, she would tell her how it all happened, and how it ended. But of course she would be discreet – the finer details would forever remain with her and Jack alone.
Audrey told her daughter how she had gone to Italy for Violet and Antonio’s wedding – the only part that Hope already knew. She told her how close they had become and how quickly they had fallen in-love. Then she told her about the wedding, and how it changed her life …
All present would have agreed that the wedding was sensational. It was small and intimate. The reception was inside the house. After the formalities were finished everyone started to relax and let their hair down as the dancing and frivolities begun.
Jack had not taken his eyes off Audrey all night. She had been busy with her maid of honour duties and had not had a chance to talk to him at all. But she had noticed him, and she desperately wanted to talk to him. She was, as they all were, quite drunk by the time she could relax enough to do her own thing. Jack had been distracting himself by chatting to people and catching up with old friends and familiar faces.
He was sitting alone at a table watching the lovers dance, when he felt two delicate hands slip over his eyes. ‘Guess who?’
Audrey … His heart leapt from his chest at her touch. He gently pulled her hands away and turned around. Beaming, she sat on the chair next to him.
‘I’ve been dying to talk to you all night,’ she exclaimed.
She was radiant, and quite obviously drunk. She was, he discovered very quickly, incredibly cute and funny in this state.
‘You’re glass is empty. That is unacceptable. Oh look, mine is too! We’ll see about that!’ She grabbed a bottle of champagne off another table and filled both their glasses, laughing as it spilled over the edge onto Jack’s pants.
‘You look beautiful.’ It was all he could bring himself to say. He could not take his eyes off her.
She gave him a cheeky grin and sipped her champagne. ‘And will you dance with a beautiful lady?’ She stood up as she was saying it and grabbed his hands. He was being pulled to the dance floor before he could even answer. A sappy love song was just finishing. They stood on the dance floor and looked at each other. Audrey took his hand and put it around her waist.
‘Hey,’ she blurted out, ‘The next song will have special significance to our relationship!’
‘What? How do you figure’ – he was laughing, but before he could finish, Foreigner’s ‘Waiting for a girl like you’ started to play.
Audrey laughed. ‘I love this song!’
Waiting for a girl like you? Jack had never found anything quite so apt in all his life.
As the song played the mood became serious and intense between them. Audrey felt Jack’s body go rigid and cold, but she was too drunk to consider why that was. She laughed at him. ‘You’re going to have to get closer to me than that!’
She pulled him in further toward her until their bodies met. Neither of them anticipated the intense heat that enveloped them. At their closeness Audrey felt his body relax, as though it had surrendered itself to her. His grip tightened around her and he caressed her hand tenderly with his own. When his cheek brushed hers, for a second neither of them could breathe. With his cheek upon hers, Jack realised just how much he loved her. It was almost unbearable to be this close to her.
As if sensing this, she pulled back from him slightly. ‘Is it really that bad to be so close to me?’
He closed his eyes and felt himself almost break with love for her. ‘Quite the opposite,’ he whispered.
Her head resting on his shoulder, she wrapped her arm around him tighter and said, ‘What do you mean?’
He pulled away from her ever so slightly and looked down at her. There was bright blue longing in his eyes. ‘You must know by now.’
Audrey’s heart thumped wildly in her chest. She went to say something but suddenly felt herself being pulled away.
She realised that Andrea had grabbed her hand and was pulling her into a loving embrace. ‘Jack my young man, you don’t mind if I cut in, but I simply think I might die if I do not get to dance with the most beautiful woman in the room at least once!’
Audrey couldn’t help but laugh. Andrea swung her into an elaborate romantic dip. ‘This is how we dance in Italia!’ he announced proudly as he flung her into a spin. The other dancers turned to watch and started cheering and clapping. Audrey had no choice but to go with it, and she was genuinely amused and flattered by the attention.
Jack stood watching her from the outskirts of the crowd. Andrea was devouring her with his eyes.
He held her in close and said in a demanding and emphatic tone, so as everyone in the near vicinity could hear, ‘Audrey my darling, you simply must allow me to take you to dinner. I cannot, and will not take no for an answer.’ Audrey giggled as he gave her his most charming smile.
Jack could take no more. He needed a stronger drink. Taking one last look at her he turned and walked out of the room in hot pursuit of the liquor cabinet tucked away in the study. In between turns and dips Audrey noticed him leave and felt her heart drop into her stomach.
After Andrea was satisfied with the dance, having attracted the maximum amount of attention, he got momentarily distracted by a pack of admiring ladies. Sensing this was her one chance at freedom, Audrey melded into the crowd and wove her way off the dance floor. It didn’t take her very long to find Jack. He was standing in the study with a glass of scotch and the top buttons of his shirt undone.
‘Why did you leave like that?’ She demanded.
He was about the reply when they heard voices approaching. In her drunken state Audrey irrationally panicked and pushed Jack into a nearby coat closet and slammed the door shut. She pushed him right to the back of the very generously proportioned closet until they hit the wall.
‘What are you doing? Are you mad?’ he asked in a loud whisper, though he was very amused. It was pitch black in there.
‘Shhhh,’ she whispered, bringing her finger to her lips. They both listened, trying not to laugh. They could hear voices in the study and then some kind of groaning. Soon it became very apparent that there was a serious make out session going on in there, and that they were in fact trapped in the closet – at least for the time being until the pair of amorous guests departed.
Audrey started giggling uncontrollably. Jack was trying in vain to stop himself doing the same. ‘Shut up Audrey, they’ll hear you and know we’re in here, and that will look bad – very bad!’ He was laughing as he said it.
But Audrey couldn’t get her hysteria under control. She turned in the darkness and buried her head in Jack’s chest to try to muffle it. He felt his knees go weak as he put his arms around her. Their eyes had become adjusted to the darkness, so now they could just faintly see the face of the other.
Finally gaining control of her laughter, Audrey looked up at him. There was a moment of silent intensity between them in the darkness. She could feel his breath on her skin. She stopped laughing and looked up at him. ‘What were you going to say back there when we were dancing?’
His lips were agonisingly close to hers. ‘I think you know Audrey.’
‘Tell me,’ she pleaded coyly.
Suddenly the door to the closet flung open, and two bodies fell into the mountain of coats. The light came on. All four people looked confused as they registered the presence of the others. It was quite obvious, due to the removal of several items of clothing, that the intruding couple were about to engage in some very frisky closet behaviour, and were now under the assumption that they had been beaten to it.
Audrey and Jack stood motionless.
Finally Audrey said, ‘We weren’t … we were just … just … leaving.’
It was Jack that started to laugh this time. He quickly pulled her out of the closet by the hand. Stepping over the half naked couple who were still staring in befuddlement, Jack said, ‘It’s all yours!’
They stumbled out into the foyer holding their stomachs with laughter.
It didn’t take long for the intensity to build up between them again. As he was just about to say something, Andrea and a very intoxicated Antonio appeared in the doorway.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Jack muttered under his breath as he backed away from Audrey.
Catching sight of Audrey, Andrea stumbled toward her and took her face in his hands. ‘Audrey darling, where did you disappear to? No matter, you simply must have dinner with me! I insist … I mean, I will simply die if you do not agree.’ He didn’t wait for a response. ‘Tomorrow night, it’s settled then. I will pick you up at eight.’
He kissed her hard on the lips and staggered out the door, after hugging Antonio. Antonio shut the door and turned back to Audrey and Jack. He wrapped his arms around Audrey and Jack clumsily and drew them in close.
‘Audrey we have not had a dance yet, how unforgivably rude of me. Come, we dance.’
Jack could do nothing as the woman he loved was whisked off once more.
After getting distracted by several dances, and more wine, Audrey finally found an opportunity to look for Jack. But she couldn’t find him anywhere. Confused, she approached Antonio. ‘Antonio, have you seen Jack?’
Antonio, in his jovial, highly intoxicated state, threw his arm around Audrey. ‘He retired to his cottage.’
‘What? Why?’ Audrey couldn’t hide her disappointment.
Antonio looked at her, trying to get his eyes to focus. ‘Why do you think? The man is quite obviously in love with you. I expect the sight of Andrea demanding your attention was too much for him to bear, but that’s my brother for you!’ He smiled at her. There was no malice in his words. It was the drunken truth.
Audrey didn’t even answer. She was gone before Antonio even noticed.
Audrey flung herself against Jack’s door. To her surprise it opened easily and she sprawled forward onto the floor. Jack’s eyes widened in surprise as she suddenly came bowling in. He had been seated at his desk, but seeing her on the floor he immediately leapt up to help her. She was laughing, and she was clearly drunker then when he last saw her. He lifted her to her feet and put his hands on her shoulders to steady her.
‘Audrey, you’re soaking wet! Did you run here in the rain?’
She looked down, swaying slightly in her inebriated state. She hadn’t even noticed that it had been raining when she left. She was indeed soaked through.
‘Oh look, so I am!’ It was freezing and she started to shiver as soon as her body registered that it was wet.
Jack found himself smiling at her as he shook his head. ‘I’ll get a towel.’ He went into the bathroom and brought out a white towel. He wrapped it gently around her and rubbed her shoulders. She gazed up at him. My god her eyes were beautiful. He could barely stand to look at them. It was torture. If only she knew how much she was torturing him. Still she gazed up.
Suddenly she pulled away and shoved him hard. ‘I forgot I was angry with you! Why did you leave? And don’t give me some bullshit I already know crap! I want the truth!’ She glared at him as she tried to be angry.
He tried not to smile at her. She was incredibly cute, all drunk and enraged. He went to his closet and started rummaging around for a shirt. ‘Audrey, sweetheart, I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink and now is not the time to talk about this.’
Audrey swayed on the spot, trying to process what he had said, and then she became more enraged. ‘How dare you! I am not drunk and I want to talk now!’
He couldn’t help but laugh outright at her this time. He pulled out a white shirt. Handing it to her he softly said, ‘You’re soaked, you need to put something dry on.’
She snatched the shirt and spun around. ‘Unzip me then!’ she demanded.
With shaking hands Jack slowly made himself grab the zip at the top of her shoulders and pull it down. Her dress gaped open, leaving only her naked pale back illuminated in the moonlight. She was too much, and she didn’t even realise it. My god what she did to him! He was close to her. Too close. She could feel his breath on her neck. It sent shivers down her spine. With her back still to him she pulled off her dress. For a moment he allowed himself to look at her standing there, naked apart from her white knickers. He closed his eyes and forced himself to look away. When he opened them she was turning to him as she buttoned up the shirt. He could see the curve of her breasts as she fumbled with the buttons. She smiled at him and waved her finger in his face as if telling him off.
Stumbling toward him she cheekily babbled, ‘I know what it is anyway. You want to kiss me and you don’t like when I dance and do the stuff with those other people and particularly with Andrea.’ She threw her arms around his neck and laughed. Her body weight sank into his and he had to hold her upright.
Jack didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. ‘Are you going to go out with him?’ There was pain and irritation in his voice.
Audrey pulled away and very ungracefully went to pour herself a drink. Jack calmly approached her and took the glass out of her hand just as she was about to take a sip.
She pouted at him. ‘I might. I think it might be a bit rude if I don’t. Why? Does that bother you?’
She was playing games with him. He felt his frustration mount. He walked away from her and thumped his hand against the wall. ‘Audrey, you know that it does.’
This time there was anger lined with deep pain in his voice. He rested his head on his arm and leaned against the wall. He felt her hands on his shoulders. She was trying to turn him around. He turned to face her as his body sunk into the wall.
‘Why?’ She asked quietly, moving her face closer to his.
He couldn’t play this game with her anymore. He looked into her eyes. ‘Because I am in love with you. I am so in love with you that it physically hurts. You’re torturing me Audrey.’ He half-laughed as he said it.
She moved her body closer to his. ‘Kiss me,’ she whispered.
He pulled away from her and tried to stop her from pulling his face to hers. ‘No, Audrey no, not like this. You’re drunk and it would be wrong. And it would be wrong anyway.’
She brushed her cheek against his and he felt his knees buckle and his heart skip a beat. ‘You haven’t factored something in,’ she whispered.
‘What’s that?’ he groaned, almost breaking with desire.
There was a pregnant pause of intensity before she answered. ‘I’m in love with you too.’
He grabbed her by the arms and pushed her backwards. He eyes bore into hers. ‘Don’t say that unless you mean it. Don’t play games with me Audrey, I mean it. I … I can’t take it.’
She laughed at him. ‘I’m not. I’m in love with you. Now kiss me.’ She started to fall sideways and laughed more heartily as he caught her.
‘Okay, that’s enough,’ he said sharply, but gently. ‘You need to go to bed my love.’ He picked her up and lay her on the bed.
She curled up under the covers and pouted at him. ‘But you didn’t kiss me.’
He sat down on the bed next to her. ‘Oh Audrey,’ escaped him as a pained sigh. ‘If I start kissing you, I’ll never stop.’ He lovingly ran his fingers down her face. ‘I tell you what; if you still love me tomorrow and you still want me to kiss you, I will.’
She grinned. ‘Okay then – meanie.’
She closed her eyes and snuggled into the covers. Within seconds she was asleep. Jack looked at her laying there for a long time. Then he got up and poured himself a generous scotch. Out on the back porch he looked up at the stars. My god, he thought, what is this woman going to do to me? …