The phone's incessant ringing finally dragged me out of my slumber, I rolled over and fumbled the receiver to my ear,
"Hello," I yawned.
"Yes, who is this?"
I blearily looked at the alarm clock, ten thirty five.
I was thinking 'Mary who?' then recognised the voice, Mary Jones, my husband's secretary.
"What's wrong, has something happened to Mike?"
"No, nothing like that, we need to talk, be at the Lotus Blossom restaurant at twelve."
"Talk? What about?"
"I can't explain now, twelve o'clock, it's important."
I heard the click as she broke the connection and was left holding the phone while I tried to get my mind working.
I stumbled into the bathroom, used the toilet then stood at the sink cleaning my teeth to get rid of the aftertaste of last night's wine. My mind was still puzzling over what it might be that Mary needed to speak to me about. I had met her four or five times at Mike's office parties, she had been his secretary for about five years or so but she and I had hardly ever spoken. I always called Mike on his mobile rather than go through his office phone. I couldn't think of any reason she would need to call me like this. I showered quickly, dressed and headed downstairs for coffee and aspirin. By eleven thirty I was on my way to town, my headache was just about clear by now. I found the restaurant and parked, flipping down the sun visor I checked myself in the mirror, I looked rough, last night's party hadn't finished until two, I hadn't got to bed until nearly four. Getting in without waking Mike up wasn't easy, fortunately we had been sleeping in separate bedrooms for about six months. At first when he had a bad cold, somehow we just seemed to have kept it up since then, he claimed he was sleeping better and god knows I didn't miss his snoring. I got my sunglasses out of the glove box, they hid the worst of the bags under my eyes, I could claim to have a migraine if Mary asked about them.
Walking into the restaurant I saw her sitting at a small table near the back of the restaurant, walking across I slipped into a seat opposite her. I could see her looking me over, taking in my less than perfect appearance.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
A waiter came scurrying across and I took refuge in the menu for a moment. Once we had ordered and were alone again I asked,
"What did you want to talk to me about?"
She looked nervous for a moment then visibly forced herself to begin,
"Is everything alright between you and Mike?"
"Of course it is, why wouldn't it be?"
"It's Mike, he's changed."
"What do you mean?"
"It started about six months ago, he started coming into the office earlier and leaving later. He got much moodier too, a few times he really snapped at me about things and he's never done that, not once in the seven years I've been his secretary."
"Perhaps he's going through the change," I joked.
She smiled slightly,
"No, it's something more than that."
She was about to continue when we were interrupted by our food arriving, for a few minutes we were busy eating. I don't usually eat during the day and just picked at my food, my stomach was still bloated from last night's drinking and the taste of the Chinese food started an acid churning inside me. Mary pushed her plate to one side and sat back in her chair. I pushed my mostly untouched meal aside and lit a cigarette.
"Mike has that seminar next week," she began, "the one he goes to every year."
I nodded, it didn't seem a year since the last one, it was something his company did to get all the staff from different branches to meet up. It was partly training and stuff but mostly a social event, golf days and so on. I had been along with Mike a few times but not for the last couple of years.
"Is it that time already?" I asked lightly.
"Yes, only this time he's asked me to go with him."
"He has? Why?"
"He said he was fed up of being the only single man there and would enjoy my company. I said he should take his wife and he just gave a hollow laugh."
I was staggered and asked the first question that popped into my mind,
"Are you and Mike having an affair?"
"No. I'd never get involved with a married man. I like Mike, working for him all these yeas has brought us quite close I suppose but we have never seen each other outside of work."
"So why did he ask you to go away with him?"
"I think you need to ask him that. I know something is wrong between you two, I can tell, I just thought you should know so you can try and do something about it."
I stubbed my cigarette out and called for the bill,
"I'm sure you are making a mountain out of a molehill Mary, I'll talk to Mike this evening and see what the problem is."
"I think you should, he's too good a man to lose."
I pondered her last remark as I drove home. I thought she was being overly dramatic, there was no way Mike could leave me, he loved me too much. I'd talk to him tonight, see what was going on. I went into town and spent the afternoon shopping.
When I pulled up at home Mike's car wasn't there, I glanced at the clock on the dashboard, odd I thought, six thirty and he's still not home. I was in the kitchen making coffee when I heard his car pull up.
"I'm home," he shouted as he dropped his briefcase and hung his coat up.
"I'm just making coffee, I'll bring it through."
I heard him walk into the lounge and then the unmistakable sound of him falling onto the sofa. I carried the coffees through and sat down opposite him,
"Rough day?" I asked.
"Just the usual, how about you?"
"I had an odd day, your secretary called me this morning."
"Mary called you, what for?"
"She wanted to meet for lunch, she's worried about you. Why did you invite her to the seminar with you?"
"I thought she would enjoy it, give her a chance to put faces to some of the people she deals with on the phone, plus I enjoy her company."
"She thought it was because there was something wrong between us."
He laughed bitterly,
"She always has been good at putting two and two together."
"What do you mean?"
He thought for a moment then murmured to himself,
"I suppose now is as good a time as any."
He stood up and went into the hallway then came back carrying his briefcase, he placed it on the table, opened it and handed me a large envelope.
"I was going to leave this for you when I went on the seminar but you might as well read it now."
His tone of voice had turned cold and impersonal, I reached out with a trembling hand and took the envelope. Opening it I drew out a single sheet of paper folded in half. Unfolding it I began to read,
There is no easy way for me to say this, I don't have the strength to do this face to face I'm afraid so I am leaving this letter instead.
I have been offered and accepted a promotion to area manager which will give me a large pay rise but it will mean moving to the south coast. I know things have been difficult between us lately so I am offering you a choice.
You can come with me, we will sell up, move and try to make a fresh start.
Or you can stay here, we will have to sell the house, split the proceeds and get a divorce. I will continue to meet your expenses and keep your allowance as it is now for twelve months and subsequently as deemed fair in the divorce settlement.
I suppose really I am asking you to choose between me and Alan. Yes I know about him, I have done for months. I probably should be angrier but maybe I haven't been as good a husband as I might have been, there are always faults on both sides. You have been discreet I'll give you that much.
I will be away for four days and back on Friday, please think this over carefully, I will expect a decision from you then.
I read the letter twice then sat back stunned. Mike was sitting quietly, patiently waiting for me to say something.
"How did you find out?" I asked quietly.
"I said you had been discreet, and you were, you gave it away on the night of our anniversary."
I thought back, on our anniversary we had gone out for dinner, just the two of us. As luck would have it Alan had been in the restaurant, not by arrangement just one of those little accidents in life. Alan and I were still in the early stages of our affair then, I remembered going to the ladies and calling him on my mobile while I was gone.
"When you called him on your mobile?" Mike reminded me. "I was sitting less than ten feet from him, I could hear his end of the conversation. I wasn't listening at first but he said my name and that caught my attention."
It was all coming back to me, Alan had said something like 'what about Mike?'
"After hearing my name I couldn't help listening," Mike continued. "I heard him say 'two o'clock, my office' so I called in sick the next day and followed you."
"You followed me?"