Anna woke. She didn’t remember falling asleep, but now it was clearly morning. Kristoff was sitting on the side of the bed, fully dressed.
“I’m sorry, this is such a pain, I forgot I have to go into Town today - I have to go or I’ll miss my train. Will you be okay?”
“Mm. Yes. I’m fine.” He had said something about going to London the day after her birthday, and she’d forgotten too.
“I’m so sorry, I meant to…” he looked at his watch. “I’ll come home as soon as I can, okay? And we’ll - talk. And there’s something else I wanted to do yesterday but - anyway. Later, okay?”
To her surprise, he leant forward and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll see you later. Go back to sleep.”
“See you later,” Anna said, and watched him go.
It was almost eight, not so very early. Anna wasn’t sleepy any more so she got up and dressed. Yesterday’s events seemed distant already, almost dream-like - but they’d happened, and she could barely sit still, she was so caught up in wondering - had the doctor made a mistake? She couldn’t think of another reason why she was still here, breathing, heart beating as normal, as she paced the length of the garden and back.
At nine she rang the doctor’s surgery and made an appointment for later that morning. Kristoff would have taken the campervan to the station but she could call a mini-cab, or perhaps ask Lillian for a lift - no, she knew if she did that, she’d end up telling her everything. She had almost told Lillian, so many times, but she hadn’t wanted to make her sad; hadn’t wanted the time they had to be coloured by it. Kristoff had been good as his word, and never referred to Anna’s health, never treated her as if her strength was any less than his, and she was unbelievably grateful for it.
He’d said they needed to talk. Was he drawing the same conclusion she was? Or was he thinking that she had lied all along?
“I see here,” the doctor said, reading her computer screen, “That you were scheduled for a follow-up from your last appointment but you cancelled it, any particular reason?”
“I - there didn’t seem much point.” Anna cringed a little, expecting to be told off.
The doctor frowned at her computer screen and clicked through a couple of tabs. “Yes, you’re probably right,” she said. “Looking at your results - not much point.”
Well, that was a little horrifying, coming from her doctor. Anna winced.
“Yes, a lot of people have these little blips,” the doctor was saying. “It’s good to have it in your records in case it gets worse but for now, no need to do anything. Have you had any further symptoms?”
“No,” Anna said. “Nothing.”
“Then I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“I shouldn’t worry about…” Anna paused. “I’m sorry, I’m confused. When I saw you, last year, you said...you gave me this.” Anna rummaged in her handbag and produced the letter, now looking a bit bedraggled. The doctor took it and glanced at it; then frowned and read it more carefully; then turned to her computer again and started clicking through various screens. “Odd,” she said. “I don’t see why - ha. Yes, we did have trouble with that one…”
“Oh, the machine - it wasn’t calibrated correctly - but we called everyone back in,” the doctor said. “Didn’t you get a letter?”
“I - moved,” Anna said. Well, that was true. She wasn’t going to sit here and say that she’d had a letter - possibly, actually, more than one - and ignored it.
“Oh, goodness, I am sorry. Yes, I can see your results here but it’s definitely wrong, we’ve estimated what it should have been although of course we can redo it if you like.”
“I’m not dying?”
“No, no. A mild murmur. Won’t cause you any trouble.” The doctor was watching her face carefully. Probably wondering why I look so horrified, Anna thought dully.
“I’m so sorry,” the doctor said. “I will of course follow up with the admin staff and find out why they didn’t contact you again.”
The doctor cleared her throat, then reached across her desk and picked up a card. “And if you wish to contact our official complaints service, then I’m sure…”
Anna shook her head. “It’s fine. It’s....I’m sorry, I have to go.” She grabbed her bag and stood up.
“Miss Rendell -”
“Mrs,” Anna said, and fled.
And suddenly, all the happiness of that past year was gone. All of it had been built on a lie, a lie that had ended up being at someone else’s expense. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Didn’t even get a second opinion. Anna almost ran out of the surgery and along the road to the taxi rank by the station. She saw Kristoff’s camper in the station car park and flinched away from it, even though he was miles away.
No wonder Kristoff hadn’t wanted to talk to her last night, had hidden away to avoid her. He’d realised what it meant, when the incident at the train track didn’t hurt her; he’d realised Anna was perfectly healthy, and that meant he was stuck with her forever. Or at least for another two years, wasn’t that how long it took to get a divorce? Or was it five? Either way. Oh, what if he’d thought she was lying all along; he must have been so angry. He probably wanted to talk to her later just to throw her out.
It was cowardly, to leave while he was at work, but she knew she needed to do it. She didn’t want to put him in the position of having to pretend he wanted her to stay, to say he didn’t mind. She had made him marry her under false pretences and she didn’t deserve his understanding. She didn’t deserve anything.
“Could you come back in an hour and pick me up again?” she asked the taxi driver when they pulled up at the end of the lane.
“It’s a bit of a drive out -”
“I just need to get my things together, I need to leave before he gets home,” Anna said. It wasn’t until the driver’s expression changed that she realised what she’d said.
“Of course, love,” he said. “I’ll be here. Do you want me to wait here while you get sorted? It’s no trouble.”
“Oh, no, it’s nothing like that -” But it would take too long to explain. “He’s at work until late. I’ll be fine, thank you.” The driver nodded but she noticed he didn’t pull away until after she’d reached the house.
It took only half the time for Anna to pack her suitcase. Banjo rubbed up against her legs as she squeezed her clothes into the case and she bent down to scratch him under the chin. “I’m sorry, puss,” she said. “I’ll miss you.”
There were a few other things scattered around the house, and as she was gathering them in a carrier bag Anna realised that she did need to tell him why she had left. She should leave a note. But the only paper she could find was the shopping list pad, which had a design of cheerful vegetables - that didn’t seem very appropriate. Or the back of an envelope. Oh, dear.
Without thinking, she ran down the path to the office. It was locked, of course, but the key was under a flowerpot - she’d seen him take it out a hundred times. She didn’t think at all about what she was doing - she was just focussed on needing a piece of paper, and this seemed the most likely place to find one.
She’d expected a desk, maybe shelves or filing cabinets. There was a small table with a laptop, but it was connected to some other electronics she didn’t recognise. That was definitely a microphone, and speakers. His guitar was on a stand in the corner. But they weren’t paper, so she didn’t pay much attention to them. Instead she spotted an inkjet printer in the corner and took a piece of paper out of the tray, then went back to the house, locking up behind her.
Anna put her case and the bags outside the front door, then she sat down at the dining table with the paper and a biro from the kitchen drawer. Her mind was racing. What could be enough? Nothing. But she had to write something.
I’ve gone home. I went to see my doctor this morning. She told me that there was a problem with the machine they used to diagnose me last year. There was never anything wrong with my heart and I am perfectly healthy and should live for decades.
I’m so sorry. I never meant to deceive you (she had to stop here for a moment to rub her sleeve across her eyes) and I hope you can forgive me. I will contact a lawyer and hopefully we can be divorced soon. I will of course pay all the costs.
Thank you for the happiest year of my life.
She took the ring off her finger and left it on top of the letter.
The taxi was waiting for her at the end of the lane. It had taken Anna a couple of trips to get all her belongings there, and the driver helped her fit everything into the boot.
She wasn’t going to cry. And she wasn’t going to look back at the house or the lane as they drove away.
The radio was on, and she asked the driver if he would turn it up, which he did quite happily.
‘....and now we have an exclusive - the new John Foster track, which I know you’ve all been waiting for -”
Oh, she’d forgotten about that. She’d seen about his new album online a few days ago, but with everything, she’d forgotten.
“- and you won’t have heard this anywhere else. I’ve heard it, and it’s a cracker, so settle down and enjoy. This is John Foster, his new single, Heartwood.’
The song began, and Anna’s brow wrinkled. This song wasn’t new - why, hadn’t she heard Kristoff play that intro a dozen times. He was always sitting around holding his guitar and playing little bits of tunes, and she’d liked that one. John Foster, you’re a plagiarist, she thought.
The lyrics began. Unusually for Mr Foster, it seemed to be a love song. There was a girl, and he loved her. He loved her, but they only had a year. For everything there is a season . That was what Kristoff always said. Well, she supposed it was no wonder she couldn’t stop thinking about him.
For everything there is a season
However many or how few
But if we only have a season
At least I spent this one with you]
She was going to cry. She concentrated on the words to try and avoid it.
[Your hair is honey in the sunlight
Your kisses honey on my lips]
Kristoff had said that. Something like that. Hadn’t he?
[When I come home and you’re not waiting for me
Your sweet smile is what I’ll miss]
For everything there is a season
However many or how few
But if we only have a season, Anna
At least I spent this one with you]
Anna sat bolt upright in her seat. Did he say her name? She was imagining it. She…
...she knew Kristoff wasn’t John Foster; she’d seen John Foster perform. But she also knew that he didn’t write his own songs, there had been a heated discussion about that online that she’d avoided, because what did it matter? The songs themselves mattered. She hadn’t given much thought to who the songwriter actually was.
Except that she was married to him. That’s how he’d got the tickets to the concert, why he already knew the tune, how he made his money. And he’d written her a love song. His first love song.
No. She’d lied to him - however unintentionally - and it was a good idea for a song. It was a nice song; he was a talented man. She hoped the people of the world loved it and he made a heap of money, which he deserved, for putting up with her all this time.
But. He’d written her a love song.
She hadn’t let herself think about her feelings for Kristoff. Because she knew what they were. She’d known for a long time. If things had been different, if she’d met him otherwise - well, who knew how that might have gone. Maybe he’d have tired of her, anyway. Maybe she’d still have ended up alone, no matter how much she loved him.
Anna swallowed hard, and stared out of the window, watching the trees give way to houses, until they pulled up outside Elsa’s door. Anna’s door.
The taxi driver helped her get everything out of the boot and carry it up to the door. Anna tipped him well, found her old door key in the bottom of her handbag and let herself in.
No one noticed her, for a little while. She brought everything inside and started to carry it up to her bedroom, which was exactly as she’d left it. Anna wondered if it had been left for her deliberately, if Elsa had thought she might come back; or if no one had thought about it at all.
She was putting away some of her clothes when Elsa appeared in the doorway. “Anna?” she said. “Why are you here?”
“Because I’m not going to die,” Anna said, sat down on her bed, and burst into tears.
Elsa clearly didn’t know what to do, but she sat down next to Anna and patted her on the shoulder, which is more than Anna would have expected. She listened while Anna told her the full story - or most of it - and she only said ‘Why didn’t you get a second opinion?’ once and ‘I wish you’d told me’ twice, which to Anna was acceptable.
“I’d actually been meaning to come and see you,” Elsa said, after they’d sat in silence together for a long moment. “I wanted to tell you something.”
“Tell me what?” said Anna, taking a whole handful of tissues and blowing her nose.
“I bought Bennett’s Field.”
“What? For what?”
Elsa hesitated, and looked at her hands. “The council has been looking for sites for a new country park. I bought the land to donate it. I thought - if you agree - we could combine it with the land we already own.”
Anna stared at her, mouth open. Then she said “That sounds wonderful.”
“I know that - you and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. I didn’t know how to be your guardian. I knew I wasn’t doing a good job, but I had no idea how to fix it.”
“It’s okay,” Anna said, automatically.
“No it isn’t.”
“We can start again. From now. As adults.”
“I’d like that.” They sat side by side for a while. “I haven’t even met your husband,” Elsa said.
Anna sniffed. “He won’t be my husband much longer.”
Elsa squeezed her hand. “You never know.”
The doorbell rang at almost eleven that night, as Anna was contemplating going to bed. She didn’t want to climb into those white sheets, alone, but it had to be done; she’d put everything away, tidied it all neatly, had a long hot shower, and now going to bed was the only thing remaining. Until the doorbell rang. Elsa answered it.
“May I speak to my wife, please?”
Anna stopped at the sound of his voice, and listened, but Elsa’s reply was inaudible. Anna leant on the wall and peered round to try and see down the stairs.
“I just need to talk to her. I think - there’s been a misunderstanding. My fault. Is she here? Please?”
Anna walked out of the hallway and onto the top stair. Kristoff was standing just outside the front door, and when he saw her he stepped forward; Elsa moved backward to let him into the house. She glanced at them both, then shut the front door behind him and disappeared into the living room. Anna barely noticed her leave. Kristoff was standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking at her with an expression on his face that she couldn’t place.
“You can come up,” she said, for want of anything else to say. “Um. If you like.” She didn’t wait for him to reach her, but walked slowly into her bedroom.
“This is your room?” was what he said when he joined her.
He nodded, slowly. Now that he was here he seemed to not be able to think what to say.
“Kristoff,” Anna said, “Are you a musician? A songwriter?”
He smiled, lopsided. “Yes.”
“I heard your song. On the radio.”
He nodded. “I knew it was being released today. I was going to play it for you yesterday, on your birthday. And tell you everything. Then I was going to do it today, but I got home and you weren’t there.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“About the songwriting?” He shrugged. “At first just because I knew you’d want to meet John and he and I don’t really get on. He’s a bit of a dick, to be honest. The record company matched us up, we aren’t friends.”
“But you don’t mind him recording your songs?”
Kristoff shrugged again. “They’re all just nonsense.”
“No, they aren’t. Kristoff, you don’t know what they meant to me, those songs, when I was alone and miserable. They’re wonderful.”
“The only one I care about is the one I wrote for you.”
He took both her hands in his. “I read your letter. You’re not going to die?”
“No. No more than anyone else, anyway.”
He squeezed her hands and she looked up to see him beaming at her. “Come home,” he said.
“You don’t want me to do that. You don’t have to be polite.”
“I can’t come back,” Anna said. “And we have to get a divorce. I’ll do whatever you need me to do. We can be friends. But I know you only married me because you felt sorry for me and wanted to help me out. And I can’t stay married to someone who doesn’t love me, no matter how I might feel about them. It isn’t fair.”
Kristoff nodded and let her hands fall. “That’s my fault,” he said. “That you think that. Alright, yes - I married you because I knew you’d be miserable if you went home, and I thought I could help you. I thought you’d stay until you got your money, then you’d be off, and I was okay with that.”
Anna opened her mouth, but he wasn’t finished. “I didn’t love you then,” he continued. “Though I liked you well enough. And by the end of the summer I realised I was falling for you - but I remembered that you were going to die. And I couldn’t - I tried, I tried to stop myself. I told myself it was nothing. But my god, when I saw that train bearing down on you, I knew that I loved you. You have to believe me.”
He was so very earnest, that was the thing. He had never lied to her; looking into his eyes, she knew he wasn’t lying now.
“I love you,” she said. Kristoff smiled. He put his hand in his jacket pocket, and pulled out the ring Anna had last seen on her letter, on the table. He held it out to her in his open hand.
“Then come home,” he said.
And Anna realised that the only thing stopping her was the little voice in her brain saying that it was too easy. It was too right. How ludicrous, to have something you wanted so much offered to you freely, by someone who desperately wanted you to take it. But how wonderful.
Until her dying day - many, many years in the future - Anna never forgot the expression on Kristoff’s face as she took the ring from his hand and put it on. Never forgot how it felt when he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, knowing that this time, it really was forever.
Anna woke, and it was so comfortable and familiar that it took her a few minutes to remember everything that had happened over the last couple of days. But she was home; this was home. Forever.
Something was unfamiliar, though. She could hear two men, talking. She got up, put on her dressing gown, and opened the bedroom door.
The back door was open, and the conversation was happening just outside it.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” one man was saying. “Either just put it in the bathroom as it is or knock through here. Or could use that space for a shower. I’ll do you a couple of quotes, if you like.”
“That’d be great, thanks.” That was Kristoff.
“Lovely spot you’ve got here. Can see why you don’t want to move.”
“We’re fond of it.”
“You know,” the other man - a builder? A plumber? - said, “This floorplan, what most people do, is put some stairs in and convert the loft. You can probably get two bedrooms up there, or a nice master suite. Keep one bedroom downstairs if you want. That storage building, it’s brick, right?”
“Breeze block,” Kristoff said.
“So it’s a permanent part of the existing building, right, you could get planning to add that onto the house. Might not even need planning permission. You could get three bedrooms in here, easy, without having to make the actual building any bigger, except maybe some dormers in the roof. Up to you, of course. Depends how much space you think you’re going to need. Just the two of you, is it?”
“At the moment, yes. Though that’s certainly something to think about.”
“I’ll put together a rough estimate on that as well if you like. You don’t want to have to move when you have kids. Lovely spot.”
“That’s very true. Though right now I mainly don’t want to spend another winter listening to my wife complain about how cold the loo seat is.”
Anna laughed, and Kristoff looked over at her and smiled. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Anna said; and it was. The first, best morning of the rest of her life.