She loved her new home, she even loved the sunken, avocado bath with the red curtain surrounding it (although she wouldn’t say no when her dad offered to put in a shiny, new white suite!)
They had a wonderful first summer home, slowly re-adjusting to the British confusion of sun and rain, they were relaxed and in high spirits, spending their time catching up with family and old friends and sitting in the garden with Theo and her hippies, resolving the worlds problems with lively debates. Theo was clearly happy to have them home but their relationship was fragile, she had allowed the sixteen year old Theo to decide where she wanted to live but she realised now that it had been a mistake to accept her decision without question. She had been foolish and selfish, she wanted to move away and so convinced herself that Theo would be happy. She watched her vulnerable daughter, desperately trying to be cheerful and hide the resentment and anger that she was feeling. She knew that there would be attacks and recriminations ahead, she was ready to take it and she hoped that her explanations and apologies would be enough to earn Theos forgiveness. It appeared to her that Livvy and Jake had never been away, they settled so swiftly into UK life.
She went back to working with her dad but was forced to abandon her ‘Luddite’ nature when she found that he had been brought into the 21st Century with a computerised system (which, once learned, she grudgingly admitted was much quicker and easier, and she even enjoyed using it). It felt good to be working again, to feel useful; and having her own money, she was back in control of her life.
She was certainly happier but she couldn’t pretend that her life was perfect. She’d been away for four years and it wasn’t just the office system that had changed. She found that relationships between her friends had also changed, with each other and towards her. Some of her closest friends had now become part of a clique that she didn’t feel a part of, she tried to ignore the feeling that she wasn’t wanted, it was too much to bear after four years of being an outsider, the thought that it could be happening again, with her best friends, was intolerable. The same friends that had spent the last four years holidaying with her, enjoying the sun, sea and her hospitality were now uncomfortable inviting her to their homes, she tried to tell herself that she was being paranoid, she needed time to adjust, things change and move and and she had to move with them…
Branka came to visit, it was perplexing to realise that she now felt more at ease with her than with some of her oldest friends. She arranged to go for dinner with Marie and Jane, Branka had met them several times, she was sure they would have fun ‘like old times’ came the naive thought. Branka regarded the discomfort of the three friends, her lack of English couldn’t obscure the awkwardness. Marie and Jane spoke about a birthday dinner they’d booked, ‘thanks for the invite’ she joked, Marie looked her in the eye and said ‘it’s a couples evening’. She was gobsmacked, she blinked and floundered and finally answered ‘does that mean I won’t be invited to anything now?’ they both laughed and told her not to be silly, Jane then joked ‘actually no, you won’t, in case you try and steal our husbands’. ‘I’ve just got rid of one twat’ she thought ‘why would I want either of yours?’ but she laughed along, not that belly laughter she craved but the polite, ‘keep it civilised’ laughter that she hated. They said their goodbyes and Branka turned to her and said with regret ‘with friends like that, I don’t think this is going to be so easy for you’ and she knew that she was right.
The children started their new, international school, it was strange for them to be back in uniform, they did miss being able to chuck their jeans on and go. Jake had hoped that he wouldn’t have to go to school anymore once he had moved back, but once over the disappointment he soon settled and made friends. Livvy, as always, adapted very quickly, made fast friends and got her social life in an immediate whirl. As she’d expected, Theo began to show her anger, she would go out drinking and then come home in a rage, condemning her for leaving, accusing her of being a terrible mother for abandoning her. She took it, time after time but eventually, after continual explanations and apologies she had to say ‘enough, forgive me or forget me, I can’t change what I’ve done, I can only be the best I can be from now’. She was thankful that Theo didn’t want to forget her, her love outweighed the anger and they slowly began to rebuild the closeness they had always shared.
Drago had become an oppressive shadow in their lives, he began bullying the children, forcing them to visit him, he gave them no choice and when they visited him, he left them with his equally bullying parents. They didn’t want to go but initially, she still felt guilty as he constantly reminded her that ‘she had taken his children from him’, so she made them go. All of her attempts to reason with him, asking him to listen to the children, to let them make their own decisions, were met with derision, ‘they have no choice’ he said ‘they will do what I say’. It came down to money in the end, he paid a pitiful maintenance for a few months and then stopped, she became exhausted, sending unanswered emails practically begging for money and was reduced to threatening not to send the kids over to see him if he didn’t help them financially. He responded in the expected way, threatening courts and lawyers ‘they had to visit him, it was his right’, with no mention of the money that he didn’t send. Ultimately, it was taken out of her hands when the children told him themselves that they would be deciding when they saw him, she knew that it was the beginning of him losing them and that he would blame her for it, but she was past caring, her conscience was clear and she just felt pity for him.
She began to truly live again, her loneliness was gone, there was joy and laughter in her life, she slowly became strong again, she removed herself from Marie and Janes lives, she felt no anger or malice towards them but she couldn’t disrespect herself by trying to be friends with people that had no place for her in their lives. She immersed herself in life, taking pleasure in everything her home had to offer, both the art and culture and the immense diversity of the people she was surrounded by. She made new friends and enjoyed the company of the old friends still in her life. She grieved, for her marriage, for wasted years and for lost friends but as time passed, the sadness slowly melted away and she was content.
One year later. She sat on her rickety garden step, sipping her coffee, listening to Theo, Livvy and Jake roaring with laughter at some silliness, she looked down at her considerably deflated stomach and smiled.