Six months had passed since Francine Delise and Iain Akhurst made love in his room at the Seaview Hotel in Sharpington and two days short of six months since she said she wasn’t sure that they could be together.
Not that she didn’t love him or enjoy being with him, and it was fairly obvious on the evidence of the weekend in June that it wasn’t because she didn’t enjoy making love with him.
Nor did she think it was a mistake, a moment of madness or because she had drunk too much.
“I don’t regret it for a second” she said as they lay entwined beneath the duvet
“I just have doubts”
Francine wasn’t sure if she could or should give over her heart, soul and life to a man 12 years older than herself.
Iain couldn’t deny that he was disappointed and he wasn’t altogether happy about it but he wasn’t angry with her in fact he agreed with her up to a point, and he wanted her to be as sure as he was.
After all he had no words to convince a 29 year old woman to give her life to a man the wrong side of 40 and nor would he have wished to have used them if they were in his possession.
“I love you Iain but I just have to be certain sure” she said the moment before she drove away.
It was heart-breaking to watch her drive away because Iain had no such doubts.
For him that first night together was the blissful culmination of eight years of hope and desire.
Not just the love making, which he thought was wonderful, but to hear his declaration of love returned in word and delicious deed.
It had been pretty much love at first sight for him, but then she was a beautiful sight to behold.
For her it was a more gradual falling and one that she desperately fought against tooth and claw whereas Iain simply surrendered to her.
Even before their chance meeting at the Seaview Hotel, Francine had agreed to take a six month secondment in Sharpington where she could be close to her sister and the twins so she suggested they take that time to think.
And in that time she would either get over him or know for certain sure he was the one.
While she was away he convinced himself almost on a daily basis that it was over, and rightly so he thought at times.
If the worst came to the worst he consoled himself with the thought that he would always have the memory of that wonderful weekend when his love for her was finally validated.
Though in his darkest moments he did question if it was indeed a moment of madness that brought the gorgeous young Francine to his bed.
Though he was glad for that madness if that’s what it was.
But if Francine did resolve that it was a mistake and that it was over he would at least have the memory of that wonderful weekend to sustain him forever.
He preferred to think that it was fate that brought them together on that wonderful weekend and not an error of judgement.
He would have liked to have exchanged the occasional text or email with her but Francine had asked for total separation.
As a result all he could do was throw himself headlong into his work totally and fill his every waking moment with thoughts of anything and everything that wasn’t her.
Impossible of course but if in the unlikely event that he could exclude her from his thoughts for a single second he couldn’t stop her invading his dreams.
When he slept he dared to dream, so in the small hours of the sleepless night he resorted to the only thing that prevented him from being driven insane.
He wrote in a diary, which he called a dream diary, it was where he wrote every detail, every thought that filled his troubled sleep on a nightly basis, thoughts of love for the girl of his dreams.
The closer the end of the six months got the more intense the dreams became and evermore vivid with each passing day.
It was the day before Christmas Eve when he got the long awaited phone call, so he took a deep breath and hit the button.
“Hello, Iain Akhurst” he said
“Hey Iain” she said
“Francine?” he asked “God it’s good to hear your voice”
“Ditto” Francine replied “Where are you?”
“I’m in Abbotsford” he replied “Are you still at your sisters in Sharpington?”
“Yes and No” she replied enigmatically
“I’m at the Hotel, the Seaview”
“When are you back?” he asked
“I don’t know yet”
“Oh” he responded disappointedly
“Can you come down?” Francine asked
“When?” he asked
“Tonight” she replied
“Sure, but I don’t know what time I’ll get there”
“That’s ok but I want to meet” Francine said
“Alright I’ll leave now” he said “Have you made a decision?”
“Yes I have” she replied
“And?” he enquired trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice
“I don’t want to say on the phone” she answered “I want to do it face to face”
“Ok” he said not knowing if that meant it would be good or bad
“Come straight to the Hotel” she said
“What time do you think?” she asked
“Around eight” he replied
“I’ll leave a note at reception in case you’re late”
“Ok, I’ll see you tonight then” Iain said
The journey out of Abbottsford was an absolute mare and consequently he was significantly late and it was nearly 10 o’clock when he drove onto the promenade at Sharpington-by-Sea.
It was a bit different from when he was there last, back in June but it still made him smile as it always did when he visited the traditional seaside resort.
Sharpington still boasted a Victorian Pier, The Palladium ballroom, and of course the Sharpington Fun Park which were considerably quieter than at the height of the summer.
He liked it because it was like stepping back in time with the illuminations, crazy golf, and the amusement arcades in fact all the usual things to have a great time by the seaside.
He parked the car and walked briskly along the promenade and unlike his last visit he didn’t pause to sit in the well maintained gardens and look out to sea or muse over all the happy hours he spent in the Sharpington Fun Park, on the Rotor and the Wild Mouse, The Cyclone and the Morehouse Galloper.
He was in too much of a hurry to reach the Seaview Hotel.
Since her phone call his stomach had been in absolute knots and arriving in Sharpington late didn’t untangle it in the least.
He wondered if she would be sat at the bar surrounded by admirers or sat alone in a corner the worse for drink and coiled to strike with venomous words on his tardiness.
He only hoped she was still there and hadn’t got tired of waiting.
As he sat in the pre-Christmas traffic he tried to ring her to warn her of his delay but his phone died.
So he stood in the foyer trying to summon up the courage to go further, he was so desperate to know her answer but equally terrified of what it might be, yes or no.
“Yes” meaning she was sure and she would give all of herself to him unreservedly
“No” and they would never be together.
He reran the earlier conversation through his head and tried to read between the lines to find some hidden meaning or some indication as to her decision.
He checked in the bar and there was no sign of her
“Shit” he exclaimed and unzipped his coat and walked up to the reception desk.
“Hi” he began “Do you have a message for Iain Akhurst?”
“I’ll just check for you Sir” the receptionist said
“Oh yes here we are” she added and handed him an envelope
“Thank you” he said and when and sat down to open it.
He slowly opened the envelope and withdrew a sheet of note paper which he unfolded and read the few lines
“What kept you? I thought you were impatient for an answer,
I’ve gone up, use the key, and I’ll see you when you get here”
“Well that was all cheerful and light hearted” he thought to himself “but it still doesn’t tell me anything”
So he tipped up the envelope until the key card fell out and he saw it was for one of the posh rooms on the top floor and walked towards the lift.
Iain slowly opened the door and stepped inside.
“Hi Francine” he called “I’m sorry I’m late the traffic was hell”
But there was no answer.
He closed the door and walked into the room and expected to find Francine asleep having got fed up of waiting for him.
But it was just a dimly lit little lounge area, which was empty.
Although hung on the back of a chair he noticed a coat.
“She is here” he said “But where?”
There were two doors leading from the lounge so he opened the first one which proved to be the bathroom, he hoped the other was to a bedroom and not an adjoining door to the next room.
Then he questioned whether or not she would even be in there, the fact that her coat was there meant nothing she could just have left in a huff and forgotten it.
But then something caught his eye, tied around the door handle he saw a black stocking.
“Well she wouldn’t have gone without that” he said
Iain slipped off his coat and threw it onto the armchair and walked towards the door and that was when he noticed something else attached to the stocking, it was a gift tag.
He opened it and read the words inside
“Happy Christmas Iain
All my love
And beneath her signature there were three letters
And when he turned the tag over there was only one word