This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 795 words.
It might have been the first time I had lived with a girlfriend, but Justina settled in very happily, and very quickly too. Her relaxed attitude made me feel very pleased about having asked her to move in. She had her buses to and from work sorted, and when I got home the next evening, she was already cooking a delicious meal with ingredients bought on the way back from her induction course. She was animated, and excited to tell me how good the course was, how nice the other new entrants were, and how she was looking forward to starting in schools.
As we ate, I mentioned that she didn’t have to contribute to rent or bills. I was already managing okay, and if she was prepared to just buy some of the food, that would be fine with me. She decided that she would buy all of the food, and suggested a big supermarket shop at the weekend, using the car. By the time we had settled down on the sofa to watch an old film, I had decided that living with a confident older woman was a very comfortable situation indeed.
What I liked most about her was her cultural interests. I had never paid much attention to Art, and my idea of a holiday had been two weeks sweltering on a beach in Spain or Greece. In her forthright way, Justina drew me in to her interests, and we started to visit galleries and exhibitions at weekends, also going to watch foreign films in the West End cinemas. Despite my curiosity, I avoided quizzing her about her past, though she asked me lots of questions about my previous girlfriends. She would nod or shake her head as I told her about those relationships, often adding comments like, “Not Justina. She won’t be doing that”.
One saturday morning I woke up early, needing the toilet. It was just after six, and she wasn’t in bed next to me. I could hear her voice though, and when I looked out of the window, I saw her in the small garden, talking on her phone. She was frowning, and her voice fluctuated between what seemed to be frustration, followed by anger. I couldn’t understand what she was saying though, as she was speaking in Lithuanian. Or it might have been Russian, for all I knew. I went downstairs later, and she was already cooking some pancakes for breakfast. She suggested we get to the supermarket early, then maybe drive out to the Essex coast for the afternoon.
On the way to Frinton that lunchtime, I was very tempted to mention the phone call. But I let it go.
Every time I glanced round at her during the journey, she was looking at me with a warm and happy grin. There was something else too, and as I looked for a space in the pay and display car park, I found the word I was looking for. Knowing. It was as if she knew we were just right, perhaps even meant to be.
The week before, I had taken her to meet my parents, and have the traditional Sunday roast. My mum went overboard with the food, even serving a starter, and enough different vegetables for ten people. They took to her immediately, and when Justina insisted on helping my mum clear away and wash up, dad grinned at me and gave her a double thumbs-up. I had asked my mum not to interrogate her about her past, and not to mention the age difference either. Amazingly, she managed to avoid doing either. As we left that day, mum pulled me in to kiss my cheek, and whispered in my ear. “She’s so lovely, don’t mess this up”.
The new job was everything she had hoped. She got to speak her own language, and Russian too, which she was fluent in. The kids she helped translate for and worked in class with all took to her immediately, and she came home every night with stories about how much she loved what she was doing now. She still gave me all the credit for getting her the job, and I am a bit ashamed to say that I was happy to take it. She always got home from work before me, and had a meal on the go when I got in. So I decided that we would have a takeaway meal on Fridays, and go out to eat somewhere on Saturdays, to give her time away from the kitchen.
The next Friday, I drove the short distance to collect an Indian meal. But when I got home, I found her sobbing inconsolably, kneeling on the carpet.
I was so shocked, I dropped the curry on the floor.