It was hot, too damned hot for anything other than lying under the garish beach umbrella in the quietest area of the beach. Eyes hidden by large sunglasses, head covered in a polka dot scarf Alex felt the tensions of the last few weeks drain away. She was glad she’d taken the plunge and booked a last-minute break, friends were adamant that a week away was what was needed to get her head straight. Darryl had already cleared his stuff from her flat apart from a couple of pieces of furniture he’d brought with him two years ago. They’d been too big for her sunny garden flat, a scruffy recliner chair that he said he couldn’t live without and a hideous dresser that took up a whole wall as well as blocking part of the doorway which meant she hadn’t been able to close the kitchen door since it arrived.
It had been fun at first, he made her laugh, bought her silly gifts, sent romantic messages and whisked her away for blissful weekends in the country so it seemed natural when the lease on his apartment expired he move in with her. They were a match, even her friends agreed he was ‘the one’, and even though she knew things would be different when they shared the same space on a daily basis she hadn’t been prepared for just how much things would change. Worse than that his personal habits nose-dived too. She was used to a clean-shaven, beautifully coiffured, suited, booted and delicately scented boyfriend but she arrived home almost daily to an unshaven slob in lounge pants.
‘Come on Alex I work from home, I don’t need to shave every day or put on a suit if I’m on my laptop in my favourite chair.’
She couldn’t argue with that really, but now they lived together they’d stopped eating out or going to the theatre in fact ‘dating’ had stopped.
‘We don’t do things together anymore that’s all.’
‘Yes but we see each other at home now, it’s cosy and I like just spending time with you here.’
‘I like spending time with you too but don’t you miss going out? It’s an excuse to dress up, let our hair down. Like we used to?’
‘You dress up every day for work. I’m glad I don’t have to put a suit on every day and to be honest I’m glad I don’t have to bother dressing up to go out either, it’s a waste of time. Anyway you can let your hair down with your friends so you don’t need me tagging along.’
‘They’re our friends Darryl and I know you see them if they come here for drinks but it’s not the same is it?’
‘You sound like a broken record. You never used to nag at me but it’s getting a bit boring if you want the truth. I thought we were happy?’
Perhaps it was her fault then, she had become a nag which was something she vowed not to do. It was inevitable wasn’t it that their relationship would move on, they couldn’t just be dating forever could they? She must make more of an effort after all he did at least make sure the flat was tidy when she came home, sometimes he had dinner on the go when she walked in after a busy day. It wasn’t all bad just different, she would have to compromise.
Compromise didn’t work. Darryl’s consultancy business grew to such an extent he took over the small guest room as an office and the flat in general was never tidy when she came in. Dinner together went by the wayside and takeaways became the norm.
‘You’ll have to cook then if you don’t want Chinese again’ was the stock reply when she questioned this development. It was easier to order in.
Gradually though Darryl’s external meetings and business entertaining took him out at least three times a week. He ordered new suits and had an account at the local laundry to have shirts cleaned and pressed. Alex would arrive home as he was leaving wafting expensive cologne in his wake. It was nice to see him looking so smart but he was going out alone, she wasn’t invited to the various dinners, cocktail parties or gallery openings but left to clear up the flat like his personal maid. She knew she was being melodramatic but she couldn’t shake the feeling of being left behind.
‘You’d hate all the schmoozing, you have to do enough of it every day. Really the people I’m meeting are stuffy types, very old school blokes with old fashioned ideas. Honestly Alex it’s boring but it has to be done. I’d rather not drag you along.’
He was full of excuses so she made plans to meet friends for drinks and dinner just to get out of the flat. They were sympathetic but urged her to give him a chance.
‘He’s working so hard to build his clientele, perhaps you need to support him a bit more after all you know how hard it is to build your own business. You’ve made it but he’s still trying.’
‘I know all that but the only thing I can think of now is to split up, I don’t want to but I can’t hack it anymore. Maybe it’s run its course and it’s time to move on?’
The crunch came when Darryl said he was going to meetings in Manchester and had to stay over Alex’s frustration boiled over.
‘I feel like a skivvy in my own flat and I’ve had enough. I’m glad your business has taken off I really am but it’s not working is it? Us? We’ve given it a go but I think you need to get a place of your own don’t you?’
He was shocked, she could see that but she’d thought about it for long enough and ignoring advice from friends she knew splitting up was the only option. He couldn’t be the one and neither was she.
‘You need drink lady?’
Alex opened her eyes, the beach was emptying and the beach huts were filled with sun-worshippers keen to start partying, sun-beds were being hauled back from the water’s edge and she realised she had been dozing for some time.
‘Oh yes please I’ll just have orange juice but I’ll sit at a table if that’s OK.’
‘I bring menu you need to eat something I think.’
‘Yes I suppose I do.’
Glass in hand Alex watched the sun sink into the sea, the waiter brought a meze selection and she picked at the falafel and dunked her flatbread into a creamy hummus. Her phone was switched off, Darryl’s incessant texts begging her to talk were wearing and she hadn’t responded. She avoided social media too, she didn’t post photos of sunsets or food and had no desire to read messages from friends asking her to get in touch. She was enjoying the freedom.
‘Can’t beat a nice sunset over an exotic beach can you? Can I join you?’ He was tall, blonde and fabulously tanned.
‘Be my guest.’ She grabbed her book and sunhat from the other chair and he sat down signalling to the waiter to bring him a beer.
‘Not drinking? Unless the orange juice is disguising copious amounts of booze.’
‘No actually I’ve had an alcohol free few days, just didn’t feel the need.’
‘On your own then? I’ve seen you a couple of times and I wanted to say hello but you seemed preoccupied.’
‘Yes holidaying alone. Things to think about so thought a hot sunny beach would be the perfect place.’
She didn’t elaborate, there was no need to spill her sob story of lost love and broken hearts, even though her heart was broken and after a few weeks separation she really did feel like she’d lost the one. She missed him and this had come as a surprise because she’d been so sure they were done.
A couple of hours spent chatting and laughing with Andy made her feel more like herself but she caught herself wishing it was Darryl sitting next to her not a stranger. Inside her resolve was fragmenting, she realised this was just an interlude. Still unsure how her great relationship had deteriorated she had no desire to get involved with anyone else. Andy was a nice but brief distraction but after four days of lying on a beach she still wasn’t sure ditching Darryl was the best solution. They’d been good together, easy in each other’s company so couldn’t she save it? She switched her phone back on and the texts flooded in, missed calls and WhatsApp messages all pleading for her to call, telling her he loved her, begging for another chance.
‘Can I see you tomorrow?’ Andy’s voice interrupts her thoughts.
‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. I have bridges to build but thanks for the offer.’
She walked back along the beach to her hotel and after washing off the sand she sat on the balcony and dialled Darryl’s number.
© Nita Lewsey 2020