Staying at Daisy's(9)By: Jill Mansell
‘I know.’ The girl’s nose and cheeks were pink with cold, and she was looking uncomfortable. Ha, thought Daisy, wait until you try sitting on that bucket.
‘My name’s Mel,’ she said at last.
Daisy wondered whether they should be shaking hands, but hers were warming up nicely inside her coat pockets. Besides, the girl didn’t look as if she much wanted to.
‘OK, look, I suppose this could count as one of those tricky social situations, but it really doesn’t have to be.’ Now that the girl was here, Daisy was curious to know more about her. ‘I’m sure Steven told you our marriage was pretty much on the rocks. Well, pretty much doesn’t come into it, to be honest. Absolutely on the rocks, more like.’ She was doing her best to be friendly, but it didn’t seem to be having much effect.
‘I know that.’ Mel began unwrapping the stiff, crackling cellophane from the bunch of roses. ‘He wanted a divorce and you refused.’
Confused, Daisy stared at the girl’s bent head.
‘He wanted to leave you,’ Mel repeated. ‘But you wouldn’t let him go.’
‘Oh no, I’m sorry, but that is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.’ Abruptly, Daisy discovered that Steven still possessed the ability to astound her. ‘I was desperate for a divorce! I told him it was all over between us the week before Christmas. That was when he told me he had cancer.’
‘Cancer?’ It was Mel’s turn to look stunned. ‘Oh God, I didn’t know he had cancer!’
‘Yes, well. He didn’t. He was lying. It was his way of blackmailing me into staying with him.’ Daisy forced herself to stay calm. ‘And do you know what? I fell for it. I thought I couldn’t abandon him to cope with something like that on his own.’ She paused, remembering the moment in the bad news office. ‘Except it wasn’t even true.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ Mel was winter-white, her hands trembling. ‘He wouldn’t do that. You’re making it up.’
‘Trust me. If I was going to make up a story like that, I’d have come up with something more original,’ Daisy shot back. ‘It’s such a cliché! Remember EastEnders, Angie doing it to Dirty Den? You see, that was the thing about Steven. He was a con artist. He told me that his only chance of recovery was some new form of treatment in America. He said it cost twenty thousand pounds and asked me to lend him the money – which, basically, meant give him the money, because Steven didn’t have any left of his own. Who knows what he planned to do with it,’ Daisy concluded with a shrug. ‘Run off to America with you, probably. And come back six months later, miraculously cured.’
Was she being cruel, telling Mel this? More to the point, did Mel believe her now?
The creamy-white roses lay across the grave, unwrapped and untouched.
Mel said slowly, ‘I don’t know what to think any more.’ There were tears in her grey eyes.
‘Oh please, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,’ Daisy blurted out. ‘But you have to know what Steven was really like. I hadn’t any idea he was having an affair, but our marriage was over anyway.’
‘What I don’t understand,’ Mel said slowly, ‘is why he would lie to me. We loved each other. We wanted to be together more than anything. If you were happy to get a divorce, why would he want to stay with you?’
Daisy, who had long ago figured this one out, simply gestured over the churchyard wall. In the valley, with the river snaking around the perimeter of the landscaped gardens, the hotel nestled seductively, bathed in winter sunlight, and looking as if it had been liberally dusted with castor sugar. The twenty-foot high Norwegian spruce by the entrance was garlanded with silver lights. The Manor House itself, parts of which dated back to the fifteenth century, was like something out of a Ralph Lauren ad. The other week a reviewer in one of the Sunday papers had hailed it as one of the most glorious hotels in Britain. He’d also mentioned that it was owned by one of the most flamboyant characters in the business and had gone on to describe Hector as Basil Fawlty with attitude, which would probably put off zillions of potential clients, but you couldn’t win them all.