Laughter echoed around the house as Paul finally arrived home after a long day. The sight that greeted him was the kind of thing you’d expect from small children, not three young adults: the kitchen looked a bombsite, covered in mixing bowls, ingredients and a lot of flour that was bound to take a good few hours to clear up. But the state of the kitchen was nothing in comparison to the state of the three kids. They were all plastered in flour, butter and sugar; Roxy’s face had been decorated with what appeared to be melted chocolate, Ned had been covered so much icing sugar he’d taken on a slightly ghostly appearance and Harlow’s hands were covered in a kind of gloopy red cake mixture (why was is red? Baked goods are not supposed to be red). More importantly, though, as Harlow looked up at him, her face was plastered with a massive smile- one he hadn’t seen in a while- and any attempt at being annoyed with this situation completely evaporated. In fact, the whole scene was so ridiculous he couldn’t help but laugh.
“What exactly are you doing?” He asked.
“Baking.” Roxy replied happily.
“Well yes I can see that.” Paul responded, “But what are you baking?”
“Cake.” The reply came from Harlow “Roxy thought it would cheer me up.”
Paul nodded appreciatively, stopping abruptly when he spied something on the kitchen counter.
“With tomato ketchup?”
“We’re culinary pioneers. Venturing where no man has ever ventured before.” Ned answered in his usual deadpan way.
Well that was one way of putting it.
“Right, well don’t expect me to try any of it.” Realising they were about to object; Paul changed the subject. “Where’s Terese?”
“Oh, she’s outside” Harlow said, gesturing with her gloop-covered hand.
Paul decided it was best to leave the kids to whatever culinary masterpiece it was they were creating and headed outside in search of his wife. He found her sat on the step between the patio and the grass, staring absently off into space, fiddling with her wedding rings (she’s caught that from him), her shoes discarded next to her.
“Hey” he said gently as he approached, and she started a bit, snapping out her reverie and looking up at him.
“Hey.” She echoed back.
“What are doing sitting out here?” He asked.
“I wanted to be alone for a bit” She responded breaking her gaze from his and staring back out across the garden.
“All the grief talk getting a bit too much?” He’d been expecting this- she’d been quieter these last few days, preferring to focus on her work, and only really talking when she had to. The last few weeks had been hard on everyone, but it was only natural it was beginning to take its toll on Terese. It was starting to take its toll on him as well- Sheila’s grief in particular was hitting a little too close to home for them both. She nodded her head slightly in response, almost imperceptible if you didn’t know what to look for. “Mind if I join you?”
“No.” She responded, “I prefer your company to my own.”
He carefully, but not too gracefully, lowered himself down to sit next to her, taking her restless hands in his. They sat in a comfortable silence for a while, until eventually Paul spoke up.
“You know bottling things up won’t help you in the long run.”
She turned to him, fixing him with a steady gaze.
“Are you the pot or the kettle in scenario?”
“You know what I mean.” Paul tried again “I know you don’t like talking about grief, but it does help.”
Terese considered his words for a second, “It’s just that I’m not very good with my words.”
“And I am?” He asked, almost incredulous.
“Well no. You’re actually rubbish at it, most of the time, but you’re good with grief. Look at the way you’ve helped Kyle and Sheila, and how you helped me.”
“I think Harlow might disagree with you on that one.”
They lapsed into silence once more, until, after a while, Terese broke it.
“Watching Sheila grieve for her son has been a lot. And I really want to be there for her, and help her, it’s just…”
“Your own grief is still a bit too raw” He finished her sentence for her.
“Seeing someone else go through it; it’s not like you forget how much it hurts- I mean, it always hurts, you know that. But I’ve tried really hard to forget how I felt during those early few weeks. You know, how lost you feel. How…” she paused as she searched for the right word “How violated. It’s brought it all back.”
Violated. Paul had never thought of it that way before, but now Terese had said it, it seemed like the perfect description. He opened his mouth to say something, but Terese beat him to it,
“How did you do it when Josh…” Even now, she still couldn’t say the word “When I lost Josh?”
“What do you mean?”
“When it happened you were straight there, I mean you hardly left my side until… until you had to.” Tactfully put. “How were you able to watch me fall apart knowing what I was going through?”
“Well you did the same with David.” He pointed out.
“But that was different.” Was the response.
Terese thought about it for a second.
“We were together, we were already married, I couldn’t just walk away because it was too hard for me. We weren’t together when I lost Josh, at least not properly.”
Paul turned to look at his wife fully, squeezing her hands gently.
“Because I couldn’t just walk away because it was too hard for me” He repeated her words back to her, “I wanted to be there for you, to look after you. You know, I’d have done anything to make it better for you-I’d have moved heaven and earth for you, Terese.”
She broke her gaze from his, directing it to the floor, a wistful look in her eyes, Paul carried on regardless. “I still would if I thought it would make you feel better.”
The corners of her mouth twitch slightly in the tiniest of smiles.
“It might be entertaining.”
At that, Paul smiled too, glad to see her mood beginning to lift. He mission wasn’t complete just yet, though.
“Have I ever told you, about the moment I realised I was in love with you?”
Terese turned to look at him, confused by the sudden change in conversation. She looked as though she was about to question it, before apparently changing her mind, and deciding to play along.
“You know, I don’t think you have.”
“Do you remember when you and Brad were having issues, so you moved into the hotel?”
She nodded, “The Ezra Hanley Incident.”
Incident wasn’t exactly how Paul would have described it, but he wasn’t going to argue with her, it would ruin the moment.
“I was so worried when I found out what happened, and so annoyed at myself for putting you in danger.”
Terese opened her mouth to protest, but Paul got in there before her.
“And then you returned home to fix your marriage” All the good that did “And I was happy for you, because I thought you’d be happy, but I also realised how much I sought out your company. It was the first time I realised that I missed you when you weren’t around.”
Terese’s expression was difficult to pinpoint exactly, but was a combination of touched, confused and astonished. Eventually she spoke.
“But that was ages ago.” She paused to collect her thoughts “You loved me even then?”
“Yeah” Paul responded as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I think I’d been in love with you for ages before then, but that was the first time I realised it.”
An array of shrieks emanated from the kitchen, bringing their touching moment to a screeching halt. Terese looked a little concerned.
“What are they doing in there?”
“Some kind of nefarious baking.” Her expression turned from concerned to confused, but Paul cut in before she could ask any more questions “You don’t want to know. I think we’re safer out here.”
Terese still wasn’t completely convinced “Since when do any of them bake?”
“Since Roxy thought it would be a good distraction.”
“Oh.” She responded nodding slightly, the situation beginning to make sense “She’s a beautiful soul, that girl.”
Paul could only nod in response, ashamed he’d never noticed it before. The silence was broken by loud cheering from inside.
“IN THE BOWL!” Ned cried jubilantly.
Paul and Terese looked at one another, equal parts amused and concerned over what on earth was going in their kitchen.
“We’ll just stay out here for a while.” Terese said.
“Good idea.” Paul agreed.
They both laughed quietly, before Terese moved to rest her head on Paul’s shoulder. He smiled, pressing a gentle kiss to her hair.
He could cope with that.