When you realise what an idiot you’ve been and you’re travelling in the wrong direction… 38,000 feet above the Atlantic.

After seventeen years apart, Lisa realises she is still in love with Jack, but after he misinterprets a fond farewell between Lisa and Rory, he flounces off home to NYC.  This extract is the lead up to the agonising moment Jack realises he has got things horribly wrong. 

FEBRUARY 2000

Jack was holding the neck of an empty miniature bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin between his thumb and forefinger, tapping it against the tray table in front of him. He was in a very bad mood, questioning his reasoning for going back to New York.

The woman sitting next to him was trying to read and cleared her throat, glowering at his tray table.  He stopped tapping, shrugged and said,

‘I’m very sorry… I was miles away.’

She nodded curtly and went back to her book. Jack glanced at the cover, Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me, and Elizabeth flashed into his mind. The bloody woman had a great deal to answer for. Lisa would have married him years ago if it hadn’t been for Elizabeth.  Her twisted obsession with finding Lisa a husband, when she was incapable of being faithful to either of hers, poisoned Lisa views on marriage. It was not too surprising Lisa crossed marriage off her list of lifetime goals from a very early age.

He squeezed his eyes tightly together, recalling the painful memory of stomping off down the Champs de Mars, like an overgrown schoolboy whose conker had just been annihilated.  Jumping into the first taxi he saw, and commanding the driver to, take me to Charles de Gaulle airport, tout suite!   The blurry recall of sitting on a barstool at the Flying Horse in the Tottenham Court Road, with Brenda all over him.   His alcohol-fuelled brain triggering the words, Brenda, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, was a blatant lie, as well as the most ridiculous thing he had ever said in his life.

The following morning, disorientated and with the hangover from Hell, he struggled to open his eyes. He reached out his arms anticipating Lisa’s sylph-like image to emerge from the bathroom. Instead, the outline of a much fuller figure, with a mane of red, pre-Raphaelite hair, approached him on the bed. Her lips overwhelmed him, and he was smothered in a bright auburn thicket. It was the most dismal morning of his life, which turned into 6,570 dismal mornings after she told him she was pregnant and, as Fergus had done before him, he had done the right thing.

So why, after seventeen years of married misery in New York City, was he going back to New York?  If his subconscious was telling him he should go back to see his children, he knew in his heart, he was deluded, because they didn’t want to see him. The divorce was finalised. Brenda had screwed him for everything he had and was still screwing Barnaby Ziff, as she had been doing, long before the divorce. Work-wise, he had cleared his desk and had been offered the role of CEO in the London office, but now he wasn’t sure he wanted it.

He had been travelling around the world like some lovelorn puppy wondering if his first, and only love, still had feelings for him.  After watching the Millennium sunrise with Lisa, he felt sure that she did. Nothing about her had changed. She was still the person he had loved with all his heart. Her confident exterior betrayed a degree of vulnerability lurking beneath its surface, which she always attempted to hide with her sense of humour. Eighteen years on, his feelings hadn’t changed.  All he had ever wanted to do was to wake up next to Lisa.

He had only spent a few days in the Algarve, but he had fallen in love with the country and had allowed himself to fantasise about living there. Thanks to the magic of Google, he had earmarked a property in need of renovation just off N125, which would be perfect not only as a home but as a writers’ retreat. He knew that hosting writer’s retreats was something Lisa was thinking about doing, and he could be a great help to her.  This property would be the perfect place.  The outbuildings had already been converted into self-catering units, there was a pool, and it was in spitting distance of Playa do Trafal, Lisa’s favourite beach. He had even started drawing parallels between himself and Fergus. Marrying someone he didn’t love because she was pregnant, before going on to create a new life with the love of his life in Portugal after the divorce. But, unlike Fergus, he had lost his nerve at the hint of a little competition.  He swilled his gin and tonic. He wasn’t sure about anything anymore.

From his window seat, the 747 was eating up the miles in cruise mode, every second taking him further away from Lisa.  The only person he had ever wanted to be with.  And why was he doing it? Because he felt she had been ignoring him after they arrived in Gloucestershire and then, he’d seen her with her arms wrapped around Rory.  Now on his second gin and tonic, it really didn’t seem such a big deal. She hadn’t been ignoring him.  She had been busy sorting out everything after Arthur’s death.

As a young man, he enjoyed staying at Silkwoods with Lisa, and fondly remembered all the evenings they had spent with Arthur, soaking up his wit and wisdom. He wondered what Arthur would have said to him now. He would probably throw a Moliere quote at him… hearts are often broken; when words are left unspoken. Followed by, ‘have the courage of your convictions, man! Tell her how you feel!’  But he was having problems getting the image of Lisa and that philandering photographer out of his head.

The sound of giggling made Jack lookup. A man and woman were walking up the aisle, and his hands were all over her like an octopus. Jack tut-tutted disapprovingly. They were old enough to know better, although, at the same time, wishing it could be him, with Lisa.  The dishevelled, lean figure in a crumpled cream linen suit, looked remarkably familiar. The recognition was reciprocated as Rory raised an arm in his direction.  Bloody Rory, what the hell is he doing here with his arms wrapped around a brunette?  

As the enormity of his misconception began to sink in, he felt like Lennox Lewis had just him in the solar plexus.

‘Jack! You are the very last person I expected to see up here. I thought you and Lisa would be tucked up in your cosy little love nest by now. Did her proposal scare you off so much you felt the need to escape?’

‘Her what?’

‘Her proposal… when I said goodbye to her the other day, she said she was going to ask you stay with her for the rest of her life, as her soul-mate and lover… rather than a lawfully wedded husband.  You will know how bloke-ish her views on marriage are? This is the gorgeous Célia by the way. We are off on the first leg of our round the world trip. I will be taking stunning photographs of the world at large, and Célia here will be writing deliciously seductive pieces to accompany them. All funded by Focal Point, would you believe?’

‘Pleased to meet you, Jack…’ Célia purred, but he wasn’t listening, he was staring out of the window.  Bailing out at 38,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean was not an option.

‘He’s not being rude, Célia. He’s just realised what a tosser he has been. Am I right, Jack?’ Rory persevered, raising his voice a little. Which made the woman sitting next to Jack shift in her seat, glowering from Rory to Jack.

‘If your facial expressions are telling me anything, mate, I think you just might have made the biggest mistake of your life. Jack? Are you listening to me?’

Jack was still staring out of the window, so the woman sitting next to him elbowed him in the ribs.

‘Oh, for goodness sake! Listen to what he has to say, then I can get on with my book.’ Then nodded to Rory to continue.

‘Lisa needs you now as much as she ever did. She’s always loved you, Jack. I might have caused a distraction, for a while, when she thought she would never get you back, but it’s you she needs. It always has been.  She told me that the biggest mistake she’d ever made was saying no, to you.’

Jack rested his elbows on the tray table and put his head in his hands, letting a frustrated groan escaped his lips.

‘You see, Célia, the penny’s finally dropped! He’s finally realised what a knob head he is.’

‘I saw you two together the other day, and I drew all the wrong conclusions.’

‘Shame on you, Jack, and you a publishing man! Never judge a book by its cover… isn’t that what they say? Ah, well… good luck, Jack. We were just stretching our legs a bit, back here in cattle class. Let’s go back and have more champagne in Club, and drink Focal Point’s health.’ He turned Célia around by her shoulders and leaned over to Jack.

‘We should arrive at JFK in about four hours and, if you have any hope of salvaging this mess, I suggest you get yourself booked on the first flight back to London. Better still, book Concorde, she might just save your life.’