“So have you thought what song we are going to sing in the music festival next month?” Serena asked Edward as they drove home. It had gone dark outside already and the lights of the houses winked at them as they drove past.
“Thought I’d let you lot pick this year,” Edward replied. He reached a hand over and squeezed Serena’s knee.
“You say that every year. And every year we end up going with your suggestion anyway!” laughed Serena. “Give up the pretence and just tell me!”
“Not yet, my darling, not yet,” Edward said, smiling at Serena.
Serena looked out of the window as they passed the church.
“Wait a moment, what’s that?” she asked, pointing towards the church window. A light was clearly shining in the church. It looked like the beam of a torch.
Edward pulled the car into the side of the road and looked more closely.
“Hope it’s not burglars,” he said, looking a little worried, “You know how they like to take the lead from church roofs.”
“I think we should check it out,” Serena said as she began to climb out of the car, “See what’s going on.”
Edward followed her reluctantly. “Really Serena,” he said, “Wouldn’t it be better just to call the police.”
“And waste their time when it might just be Dom or Reverend Hanssen picking something up? I don’t think so.”
Serena strode purposely towards the church and Edward ran to catch her up.
“I’ll go in first then,” he proposed, “Don’t want some thug jumping out on you now do we?”
Serena shrugged and let him past. He pushed open the heavy, wooden door of the church and stepped inside.
“Hello?” he called, “Is anyone there?”
Serena followed him in. They walked through the atrium and into the nave of the church. Edward reached out and found the light switch just as Serena dashed past him and up the aisle.
“What’s going…” he started but stopped as he took in the sight in front of him. The church choir was all there at the front of the church and as Serena reached them she raised her arms and they burst into song.
Nobody does it better makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Baby, you're the best
I wasn't lookin' but somehow you found me
I tried to hide from your love light
But like heaven above me the spy who loved me
Is keepin' all my secrets safe tonight
Edward covered his mouth with his hands as he watched his wife lead his own choir in this fantastic harmony.
Nobody does it better sometimes I wish someone could
Nobody does it quite the way you do
Did you have to be so good?
The way that you hold me whenever you hold me
There's some kind of magic inside you
That keeps me from runnin' but just keep it comin'
How'd you learn to do the things you do?
Their daughter, Elinor, smiled at her dad as she sang. The rest of the choir, his friends, looked on happily.
And nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Edward gave them rapturous applause once they finished.
“That was amazing,” he said as Serena walked back down the aisle towards him. “Maybe you should take over as choir director.”
“Thank you dear,” she said and kissed him on the cheek.
“But I’m confused,” he confessed, “Why have you done all this?”
Serena swatted him playfully on the arm.
“Because it is our twentieth wedding anniversary of course.”
The look on Edward’s face told a story of its own. The surprise turned into shock which rapidly became worry and panic. He turned away from the choir and Serena and began to fiddle with something in his pocket.
Serena dropped her voice. “Don’t tell me you forgot,” she whispered through gritted teeth. It wasn’t like this was the first time Edward had forgotten their anniversary, or her birthday, or Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. She was pretty certain he only remembered when Christmas was because the shops didn’t let you forget that one.
“Course I didn’t darling,” he said, his back still turned, “I would never do something like that.”
Serena snorted in amusement. Edward spun back round to face her and the choir. He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and waved it at Serena.
“Tickets to Paris for a romantic weekend away,” he proclaimed.
“Oh Edward,” Serena cried, wrapping her arms around his neck, all previous complaints about her husband swiftly forgotten. The choir cheered as Edward swung her round and kissed her firmly on the lips.
The party continued as various choir members produced plates of food and bottles of wine from hiding places around the church.
“Shiraz! Excellent,” cried Serena as Edward handed her a glass of red. She wrapped her arm around Elinor’s shoulder and held her tight.
“Thanks for all your help with this Ellie,” she said. Elinor had been the key organiser of most of the evening. She was worryingly good at keeping secrets from her father.
“No problem,” Elinor replied, “I wanted you both to have a great party. You deserve it, taking such good care of me and Jason for all these years.”
Serena smiled as she thought of the years she had with her daughter and her nephew as children. Elinor was 18 now and off to university next year. Jason, who was a couple of years older, was nearly finished at college and had started mentioning looking for jobs. Serena was concerned about this. Jason had Asperger’s and she wasn’t sure how well he would cope in a work environment. Edward was always encouraging him to try new things and get outside his comfort zone. Serena just wanted her sweet boy to be safe and happy and if that meant him staying at home with her then that was just fine by her.
Jason was, at this moment, sat by himself at the back of the church, his eyes focused on his tablet, headphones in. Serena let go of her daughter and went over to sit with him. She placed a hand gently on his arm and indicated to him to take out the headphones.
“Hello Auntie Serena,” he said, headphones removed, “Are you enjoying your party?”
“I am thank you Jason. Are you?” she asked.
“Oh yes. This episode of Doctor Who is one of my favourites,” he replied and showed Serena the screen of his tablet.
Serena smiled. Having looked after her nephew since he was tiny, she loved him like a son and was very used to his way of dealing with the world. Parties were not his sort of thing but he had learnt to cope.
“I’m glad,” she said, squeezing his arm a little.
The sound of the church door opening made her look up from Jason and Doctor Who. A woman stepped into the church, her shoulder length blonde hair falling in messy waves around her face. Serena stood up and walked over to her.
“Hello can I help you?” she asked.
The woman glanced around the church.
“Sorry, I just heard noises in the church and wanted to see what was going on,” she said, her voice soft and low.
“It’s just a private party,” Serena replied.
“Ok. Well I’ll be going then,” said the woman, smiling kindly at Serena. “I’m Bernie by the way. See you around maybe?”
“Maybe,” said Serena as she watched Bernie leave the church.
Bernie glanced back at Serena, smiling, as she opened the door and Serena felt a strange lurch in her stomach. Shaking it off, she turned and returned to her husband and guests.
“So when is our romantic weekend away?” asked Serena the next morning at breakfast. Elinor and Jason were sitting at the kitchen table tucking into large piles of toast and jam. Edward was making a pot of tea.
“When would you like it to be?” he asked in response.
Serena furrowed her brow. “But you have booked tickets haven’t you? They are in that envelope. When are they for?”
Edward looked sheepish. “I’m sorry darling, there was nothing in the envelope.”
“So you did forget,” Serena sighed. She knew it had all been too good to be true last night. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted Elinor nudging Jason before they both stood up and left the room. They knew what was coming. Serena and Edward’s arguments were getting more and more frequent these days.
“I’m going to book us something tonight though. After choir rehearsal. Where would you like to go?” Edward said.
“Oh don’t bother. I’ve got too much on here anyway,” Serena snapped back at him.
Edward stood up. “Whatever you say dear. Wouldn’t want you to miss out on all your ever so important social occasions.”
“If you are suggesting that I do nothing useful with my life then I would like you to remember who suggested I gave up my career when I had Elinor,” Serena shot back. She’d wanted to continue medicine but once Elinor arrived, Edward had managed to persuade her to stop. It had been a blessing really, particularly once Jason arrived on the scene a couple of years later. Goodness knows how she would have coped with both the children with a full time job. And she got to see the pair of them grow up and blossom.
Edward’s face had gone bright red. “Well I am off to work. Things to do, people to save,” he said, picking up his briefcase and jacket and heading out of the front door.
Serena let her head fall onto the kitchen table as she heard the door slam shut. Elinor appeared at her shoulder a moment later and wrapped an arm around her.
“He doesn’t mean it, mum,” she said, “He’s just annoyed because he didn’t come up with the choir idea for your anniversary.”
“If only that was all it was,” Serena replied, “Anyway, hadn’t you better be getting to school? Do you need a lift or anything?”
“No thanks, mum. I’m fine. See you this evening at choir practice?”
“Of course dear. Have a good day!”
“Ok guys before we start, our beautiful secretary has a few announcements,” Edward shouted over the noise of a gossipy church choir. They settled quickly and Serena stepped forward.
“Right, Reverend Hanssen has asked us if we could help with the setting up of the church for the music festival next month. If anyone wants to volunteer, please come and speak to me afterwards. Also please invite all your friends and family. We want to see the church full.”
Serena consulted her list for a moment.
“The local Brownies are doing a unit about music and would love some of us to go along to one of their meetings and give them a demonstration. Again, see me if you are interested. And finally, we have some newcomers to welcome.”
Serena indicated a couple who were sat in the pews, looking rather nervous.
“This is Essie and Sacha and they’ve just moved in to Holby. I hope you will make them feel very welcome. Come and join us you two.”
Serena waved her arm at the couple and they stood up and walked to the front of the church to join the rest of the choir. She slotted them in next to some of the best singers and handed them the music.
“If that is all,” said Edward, tapping his baton on the stand, “Then let’s begin.”
It was near the end of the rehearsal when the door to the church was pushed open and a tall, blonde woman walked in. She stood and watched as they finished the song before taking a few steps forward. Serena began to walk down the aisle to greet her but Edward got there first. Serena didn’t realise Edward had even noticed her; his back had been towards her while they had been singing.
“Hello,” he said brightly as he approached the mystery woman, “Can I help you?”
“I just heard the beautiful singing and had to come and see what was going on,” said the woman, batting her eyelashes at Edward who smirked. Serena rolled her eyes. Edward was painfully predictable when it came to pretty young women.
“Well we are the St James’ Church choir,” Edward explained.
“Oh how wonderful. You sounded so good,” the woman exclaimed placing a hand on Edward’s arm, “And you must be the conductor.”
“Yes, yes I am,” Edward said leaning in closer to her, “Do you sing at all?”
“Just in the shower. I’m probably no good at all.” She giggled and Serena turned away in disgust. She couldn’t bear to see this woman flirting with her husband so openly.
“I’m sure you sound fantastic,” Edward replied, not taking his eyes off the woman.
“Thank you,” she said, squeezing his arm, “I’d love to join the choir. Do you have auditions?”
“No auditions. We take everyone that wants to. It is always good to hear you sing beforehand though so I know where to put you.”
“Well,” said the woman. She took a deep breath and then began to sing. She had a beautiful voice, strong and sure. Serena turned back around at the sound to stare at her. Who would have thought that this woman could sing so well? The rest of the choir also stood and stared, enraptured, until the song ended.
“Am I good enough?” the woman asked.
Edward opened his mouth to reply but no sound came out. He nodded instead and gestured to the rest of the choir. Serena took pity on her ridiculous husband and stepped forward.
“You were very good,” she said, not wanting to pile praise on her just yet, “Why don’t you come and join us in the sopranos?”
“Really?” she said, her eyes lighting up like a little girl’s.
Serena nodded and moved up so there was space next to her.
“I’m Serena,” she said as the woman stepped into place, “I’m the secretary. If we could meet quickly at the end we can sort out all the details.”
“I’m Liberty,” said the woman, “That sounds great, thank you. I didn’t realise everyone here was going to be so friendly.”
Edward seemed to have regained the power of speech. “Well here at St James’ we like to welcome everyone.”
Life went on as normal for the next week. Serena looked after the house and the kids as well as attending various meetings around town for all the committees she was a part of. Edward went off to work in the mornings and turned up at home late in the evening, finishing off the bottle of Shiraz Serena had opened. At the weekend Serena took Elinor shopping in town before taking Jason to the cinema to see the latest superhero movie. She went out for a meal with Edward on Saturday evening at the local pub, nothing special. He never brought up the idea of going on a romantic weekend again. Serena tried not to feel disappointed. It wasn’t like she had actually expected anything from him.
Choir rehearsal came round again and Serena kissed Jason goodbye before heading out to the church with Elinor and Edward. It was a pleasant walk over to the church in the warm spring air. Just as they reached the churchyard, Serena spotted a mop of blonde curls over the wall. She turned slightly to see Bernie walking past the church. She raised a hand in greeting and Bernie waved back, smiling, before carrying on her way. Serena had a sudden mad urge to run after her but she shook herself and continued on into the church.
“So I thought we would try a new female soloist for this next piece,” Edward said after they had run through the warm ups. He lifted his arm towards the sopranos. “I’ll keep Isaac as the male soloist but Liberty, would you like to have a go?”
Liberty shuffled her feet slightly next to Serena. Serena nudged her. “Go on, have a go. You can’t be worse than me!”
Liberty shot her a smile and then turned towards Edward and nodded.
“Great,” smiled Edward, “This is the piece I’d like to do for the music festival so I want everyone putting their best effort into it.”
Sat at the church organ, Mo played the first few chords and the rest of the choir joined in. Serena had to admit that Liberty was very good. Even with a completely new piece, she was hitting the notes perfectly although her timing was a little off. No worse than the rest of the choir though.
They ran the music through a few times before Edward called an end to the rehearsal.
“Good start,” he called over the chatter, “We need to keep working at it if we are going to win the music festival though. Can’t have Holby Ladies Choir beating us again.”
“Hear hear,” shouted Morven.
“Speaking of practising, Liberty and Isaac I’d like to do a few rehearsals with just the two of you to get the solos sorted. Can you both stay for a moment at the end so we can sort this out?”
Isaac grunted and Liberty nodded her head, already walking towards Edward. Edward’s eyes watched her as she approached. He placed a hand in the small of her back as he guided her to the side of the room.
“You better watch that,” commented Morven to Serena.
“Oh it will be nothing,” Serena replied dismissively, “You know Edward, he likes to look but he would be terrified if anything actually happened.”
Edward scheduled extra rehearsals almost every evening that week. They started out with Isaac and Liberty but Liberty asked for more help since she was so new to it all. Serena enjoyed evenings free of her husband. She watched what she wanted on tv, with only minor complaints from Elinor and Jason, and drank her way through whole bottles of Shiraz without having to share. Bliss.
Serena cooked a shepherd’s pie the night before choir rehearsal as usual. Jason liked the routine of the same food each week. She was just taking it out of the oven when Edward walked in through the front door.
“Shepherd’s pie of course,” he grunted as he stepped in the kitchen. He shrugged his coat from his shoulders and slumped down into a chair at the table.
“Would you like a glass of lemonade, Uncle Edward?” asked Jason, “Auntie Serena got it for us as a special treat.”
“Lemonade as a special treat,” Edward repeated, staring down at the table, “Lemonade as a special treat.”
“Dad?” questioned Elinor.
Serena glanced up from serving out the shepherd’s pie.
“Something wrong dear?” she asked.
Edward stood up suddenly, put his coat back on and walked back out the front door, muttering to himself.
“Where is he going?” asked Jason.
“I have no idea,” Serena replied, staring at the closed front door wondering the same thing.
It was late before Edward appeared back at the house. Serena was sat on the sofa in her pyjamas wondering whether she should wait up for him when she heard the front door open. She stood up and walked into the hallway. Edward stood there looking a bit worse for wear. Alcohol fumes poured off him and Serena assumed he had spent the evening in the pub.
“Serena,” he said in a mournful voice, “Serena.”
“Care to tell me what the disappearing act was all about?” she asked.
“Don’t you ever want something more out of life?” he continued, ignoring her question entirely.
“What do you mean?”
“Lemonade as a special treat? Is that the only excitement you want in life?”
Serena took a step towards him.
“Is something bothering you, Edward?” she asked, genuinely worried about him.
“Don’t you ever think about running away from this life, finding somewhere new, something exciting?”
“Not really,” Serena replied, “I quite like my life thank you very much.”
Edward just stood there staring at her.
“Come in and sit down,” Serena said, trying to lead him into the sitting room.
“I want something more.”
Edward lifted his head and stared up at the ceiling.
“I don’t know,” he said in a quiet voice, “I don’t know.”
“Can we talk about this in the morning?” Serena asked. She was hoping that his strange behaviour would wear off after a good night’s sleep.
“I have to go,” Edward announced, turning back towards the front door.
“I don’t know. Anywhere that isn’t this life.”
Serena froze. “Are you leaving me?” she whispered.
“We just got too comfortable,” Edward said, his back still towards Serena, “You got too comfortable. I need something more…”
He paused for a moment and then turned back to Serena.
“Something more interesting.”
Serena felt tears running down her cheeks before she registered that she was crying. Edward took one look at her tears and ran out the front door, slamming it behind him. Serena let herself slump against the wall. She couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Footsteps sounded at the top of the stairs and a second later Elinor appeared.
“Mum?” she said in a frightened whisper, “What happened?”
Serena looked at her and opened her mouth but she couldn’t bring herself to say the words out loud. Elinor came down the rest of the stairs and pulled her mum into a hug.
“Was that dad?” she asked, indicating the front door. Serena nodded as she wept into her daughter’s shoulder. More footsteps could be heard coming from upstairs as Jason made his way down towards them. Serena pulled away from Elinor and wiped the worst of her tears away. She knew it frightened Jason to see her upset.
“Everything’s okay Jason,” she called up the stairs, “Go back to bed.”
The footsteps retreated and Serena and Elinor headed into the sitting room. Elinor sat herself right next to Serena on the sofa and grabbed her hand.
“Mum, what happened?”
Serena took a deep breath. She supposed Elinor would have to find out at some point and it might as well be now.
“Your dad,” she said and then paused for a moment.
“He’s left me.”
“What?” Elinor’s face was the picture of rage. “How can he?”
“Apparently, I’m just not interesting enough for him,” Serena explained.
“Oh mum,” Elinor said pityingly as Serena’s tears started up again.