Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Referendum -- by Mills & Boon

Alex paused by the front door, his suitcase at his feet. "I really hope we can still be friends," he said.

"I don't know how you can say that," Dave replied, with a catch in his throat. "You're about to walk out of that door, walk out of a marriage that has lasted 307 years, and you say you want us still to be friends. It doesn't make sense. It just doesn't."

Dave was trying hard not to cry. He knew it was too late, but with every fibre of his being, he wanted to stop this happening.

"Alex, listen. You're going to walk out of that door, and then the next thing I'll hear will be from your lawyers. And then you'll hear from my lawyers. And they'll argue -- about everything. And we'll end up hating each other."

There was a silence. It lasted for ever. Then Alex sighed. "It doesn't have to be like that. I only want what is right for me. I want what is mine."

Dave felt the anger rising. "But you know perfectly well that you can have that without walking out. I let you make your own decisions, I let you lead your own life, don't I?"

"Let me? You let me?" Alex was close to breaking point. "Don't you see that's what this is all about? You have no right to 'let me' do anything. I am an individual, I am your equal -- I don't need your permision …"

They stood there in the hallway, glowering. Dave swallowed hard. "I don't want you to go. You don't have to go. We can make this work, really, we can. I know we can."

Alex sighed again. "It's too late, Dave. I have to do what is right for me. It's going to be better for both of us if I leave. I need to be my own person, an independent person. If you're reasonable about this, I know we can stay on good terms, as friends, neighbours."

A tear rolled down Dave's cheek. "I just don't think you've thought this through. What will you live on? Who will look after you when you're ill? You think it's going to be easy living on your own, but it's not. You have to understand -- if you walk out through that door, you can't come back. You just can't."

Another silence. "Listen," Alex said. "If you let me keep my keys to the house, I'll let you have a key to my new place. You'll always be welcome if I'll be welcome here. We don't need to erect barriers, we can still be members of the same clubs, the same groups. We'll still have the same friends."

"No, Alex, we won't." There was a hard edge now to Dave's voice. "You're dreaming. The clubs will throw you out. Remember, we have joint membership. You'll have to apply all over again. And our friends will take sides. Alex, I hate to say this, but I have many more friends than you do. You could end up very lonely."

The ugliness had already started. Both of them knew that this was how it was going to be. In truth, both had known for years that it might come to this: for decades, the signs had been there, but somehow neither had been ready for the final step.

Many of Alex's friends had been urging him to take charge of his own life. "You don't need Dave and his chums," they would tell him. "You have money of your own, you're bright, of course you can look after yourself. Look in the mirror, Alex, do you really see someone who can't cope on their own?"

Perhaps Dave had been wilfully blind. Perhaps he had chosen not to notice. If he ever mentioned his fear that one day Alex might walk away, his chums would scoff. "Alex? Don't be daft. He knows he's on to a good thing. Why would he walk out?"

Of course, they had under-estimated him. He hadn't been to their school; he wasn't from their background. He didn't speak like them. And now it might be too late. Alex was standing at the doorway, and Dave was desperate. What would people say if Alex did walk out on him? His only hope was that some of Alex's friends might be urging him to think again. Some, he knew, thought the two of them -- the odd couple -- should stay together. But time was running out.

All he could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock.

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