Second Chances

Set in London, in the noughties, sometime after the smoking ban, and before the great 21st century recession... James has always believed in happy ever after, and he plans to get there one day. He is doing okay. At the age of thirty-three, he has a top job, dream house, two healthy children, and a wife who always stands by him. These things, James can rely on, until one day, when everything changes, and he realises that he has spent so long looking towards the future, that he has neglected the present. Feeling unloved, his wife, Pamela, has left him, leaving nothing but a brief note. She has taken their two children. How far will James go to save his marriage? What can Pamela do to stop the past haunting her life? Will it be enough?

Chapter One

‘You’re so lucky to have a wife who understands you,’ said Tim.
James looked down at the table, afraid his eyes would reveal too much. He thought back to the last conversation he’d had with his wife, Pamela. She had threatened to leave him again. She was always threatening to leave him, but he just couldn’t get her face out of his mind. He couldn’t remember ever seeing that look in her eyes before. It was like desperation -- anger almost. Then he realised, with a feeling of guilt and shame, that he hadn’t really looked at her for a very long time. He felt uneasy, as if something bad was going to happen, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
His work colleague, was staring into space -- drunk. Tim was thirty-five years old, but could pass for someone at least ten years younger. He usually looked like he could be a member of a boy band, but recently, since he had been going through his marital problems, he had developed a spotty complexion and had not been paying much attention to his outward appearance; with his long fringe, in need of a good wash, he appeared more like a greasy teenager.
He had asked James to go for a drink with him after work. Tim’s wife had left him, and he said he wanted James’s advice. They had been sitting in the pub for the past half hour. Tim had been drinking, but not really saying much. James was thinking of how he could leave without offending his friend. Then, quite loudly, slurring his speech, Tim said: ‘I got home last night and she’d changed the locks.’ He held his head with one hand, and stared into the empty vodka glass he was holding in the other.
‘It was probably heat of the moment,’ said James, feeling uncomfortable.
Tim looked up quickly, pushing his floppy blond fringe away from his eyes. ‘Did you say “heat of the moment”?’
He was talking a bit too loud for James’s liking, attracting the attention of the people seated next to them.
‘Heat of the moment?’ he repeated, even louder this time. ‘Ha! You don’t change the locks to your house in the heat of the moment, James! It takes weeks of planning. Changing your locks is a calculated move. You have to call a bloody locksmith, wait for them to arrive, watch them fiddle about with the thing until they change it, and then pay them! That’s not heat of the moment -- that’s premeditated! How did you ever become a lawyer?’
James coughed nervously, feeling self conscious, noticing that the couple next to them were no longer talking to each other, but watching them as if they were a side-show. He deliberately looked in their direction and they turned away quickly. He looked back at his friend. ‘So what did you do when you couldn’t get into the house?’ he asked.
Tim’s face was blank. He was staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. His mind was obviously elsewhere. He didn’t answer.
‘What did you do when you couldn’t get into the house?’ repeated James, a bit louder.
‘Huh?’ asked Tim, now appearing to have rejoined the land of the living.
‘Did she let you in the house?’ James rephrased his question, bored with the repetition.
‘She did eventually. I knocked the door a few times. She finally opened it after about half an hour, after I’d screamed through the letterbox about a hundred times. Then I saw the suitcases. She’d packed all my things... all of them.’ He shook his head as if lost in thought. ‘You know the first thing I noticed sticking out of the top of one of the bags on the floor?’ His eyes were glazed over from too much drink, so although his face was pointing in the right direction, his eyes were not really focused on James. He didn’t wait for a response, but just carried on, as if he was a character in a made-for-TV drama speaking a monologue to the camera: ‘The first thing I saw was an old pair of trainers that I haven’t worn for years; I didn’t even know where they were! It was like she’d been around the whole house and taken everything of mine -- and anything that reminded her of me -- and packed it. It came as a shock.’ Then suddenly his eyes were not so misty, he seemed more alert: ‘James, what do I do? It’s my bloody home! I’ve spent years -- the best years of my life—trying to get this far, for her. We were planning to start a family when we bought that house. Now I’ve got nothing.’
‘Well, I don’t have to tell you what to do; you’re a family lawyer, for God’s sake. You’ve got rights -- you know your rights; you deal with this situation every day, with clients who come to you for advice. She can’t just kick you out.’
‘I know that. It’s just harder when it’s personal, you know?’ He stood up. ‘Do you want another drink?’
Checking the time on his watch, James said, ‘No, I’ve got to leave soon.’
‘Stay for another.’ Tim stumbled over to the bar and ordered another double vodka -- his third.
When he returned to the table, James noticed his bloodshot, tired eyes. He was reminded of himself, the last time he had seen his own reflection in a mirror. ‘So where are you staying?’
‘At my mum’s.’ He put his vodka, and a whiskey for James, on the table. ‘Sad, I know. Thirty-five years old, and staying with my mum. I’ll probably end up living there for ever now. I’ve lost it all.’
‘You should go back to the house -- don’t give up your rights.’
‘I’m going to talk to Reg about it. I need to take a couple of weeks off, so I can sort out this mess. It’s all because I work such long hours -- that’s why Mel is so pissed off with me.’
‘You’re going to talk to Reg? You do mean Reg Hornchurch? The same man who wouldn’t give you a day off last year to attend your own dad’s funeral? He wouldn’t give you two weeks off if your life depended on it.’
‘My marriage depends on it,’ said Tim.
James’s mind drifted momentarily to thoughts of Pamela. He felt a familiar stab of guilt.
‘I’ll speak to Reg,’ continued Tim. ‘He’ll understand.’
Now James knew that his friend had really had too much to drink. ‘Good luck mate, but I can’t see Reg agreeing to one of his staff having two weeks off.’
‘I have to try,’ he said, morbidly.
James looked at his watch again. It was 11 pm. He had been eager to get home after work, but Tim had practically begged him to go for a drink. He had been confiding in James a great deal recently, about his marital problems, as if he were crying for help. James felt obliged to listen to him, and in a way it helped him to feel that someone else was suffering in the same way as him, but he never mentioned the problems he was having with Pamela. He didn’t know if it was pride or denial that stopped him, but he kept it all to himself. He felt a bit selfish now. Surely it would have been more supportive of him to tell Tim how his marriage was suffering too? Then he might feel a bit better, knowing he wasn’t alone. But somehow, James couldn’t bring himself to talk about it.
‘You know,’ Tim slurred his words as he spoke, and his eyes still did not appear able to focus. ‘I really mean it -- you’re so lucky to have a wife who understands you... you don’t know how lucky you are. Never let her go, James. Don’t lose her. She’s rare, like a diamond.’
He looked at his hands to avoid Tim’s eyes, and realised that he had been twisting his wedding ring around as he’d been listening to him. A memory nudged his brain; a reminder of something he’d once heard on a TV talk show: ‘If someone is playing with their wedding ring, it’s a sign that things are not going well in their marriage.’ Where do they come up with such bullshit? he thought, letting go of his wedding ring, feeling annoyed.
‘I’ll speak to Reg tomorrow, and I’ll get time off. I’ll get her back, you’ll see,’ said Tim.
James shook his head, feeling uncomfortable. This whole conversation was too weird. It was as if Tim was some sort of messenger about the state of his own marriage -- a harbinger of doom. ‘I’d better be going,’ he said, hoping that Pamela would be in bed when he got home. He could not bear another argument tonight.

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