Every cell in the human body, doctors say, is replaced within a seven year period. This story is about Vivian and Edge, but it is dated over seven years before the Grasshopper Lawns series starts, so it is also about two totally different people.
Gordon Oliver watched his beautiful wife walk slowly up the stairs under the bougainvillea-vivid trellis and rubbed his chest absently with his right hand before taking a gulp of his whisky. Perhaps, to others, she was no longer as beautiful as the girl he’d married nearly thirty years earlier, but her smile still lit the room. Doctors. What did they know? He rubbed his chest again and as Vivian reached the patio doors and vanished from view, switched his attention back to her best friend who still sat hunched and frozen, staring out to sea. He quickly finished his drink and topped the glass up with orange juice, turning his head to smile as Vivian joined him.
‘Not budging, eh?’
‘I’m worried sick. If she would only cry! She cried after James died, but she hasn’t shed a tear for Alistair. She’s just a polite fading shadow. I’m convinced she’s made her mind up, that the only reason she’s going back to Scotland is so that whatever she’s planning won’t upset her friends here. She can say her mother needs her, and she wants to see more of her niece, but it’s just words to deflect me. I know her.’
‘I’ve never known two people as much in love as they were, but women have been widowed before, darling. They survive.’
‘She’s so intense, though. Usually so vital.’ Vivian sniffed the air, then looked reproachfully at her husband. ‘Oh, Gordon.’
‘Hey, you’re the one with bronchial lungs and don’t tell me you haven’t sneaked a puff or two in the last three years. A wee dram won’t kill me.’
‘I’ll never smoke again, though. And you shouldn’t drink, the doctor said it wasn’t good for you. I couldn’t bear to lose you, not after watching Edge agonizing over Alistair, that’s why I’m so sure she’d going to—well. Could you speak to her?’
Gordon sat down heavily on the bench next at Edge, who didn’t seem to notice. ‘Edge, my love. How long have you and Vivian been friends?’
She stirred, surprised, and finally looked at him sideways through the sweep of her shoulder-length hair. ‘Forever. Since we were eight. You know that.’
‘You’re like sisters, and she knows you better than anyone else on Earth. And she thinks you’re going back to Scotland to kill yourself.’ Edge was shocked into stillness for a moment, then shrugged.
‘You never did flinch at saying what was on your mind. I’m saying goodbye, yes, I doubt I’ll come back to Africa, too many memories. I loved being here, but I love Scotland too. I think it will be easier to live one day at a time there than here, and I’ve family there, real family, not happily-married friends who feel like family but also remind me every day of what I’ve;’ she paused, and finished thinly. ‘What I’ve lost.’
‘Okay, good. One day at a time is fine. You’re a pretty woman, and a strong woman, and in time you’ll realize again that life is sweet, but until then I need you to keep going for Vivian’s sake. Because she’s going to need you.’
She finally turned to look at him, her face pinched and thin with all the weight she’d lost, but a spark of curiosity in her sunken tearless eyes. ‘Why? What are you saying?’
‘I’m saying the doctor said I can smoke and drink as much as I want, now, it can’t make any difference. I’m staying off the fags, for Vivian’s sake, but we’re selling up. Vivian’s always wanted to go back home, and we’ll be following you within the year. She doesn’t know why, and you’re not to even hint at what I just told you. Her parents aren’t in the best health so she’s accepting that as the reason. The kids are staying here, their lives are here, but Vivian and I are returning to Scotland, to spend time with her parents. When they go, and I go, I’m sorry, Edge my love, but I have to insist you be there for her.’
Vivian, watching anxiously from the window, saw Edge put her hands to her face, then lean her head on Gordon’s shoulder and weep in total abandonment, her shoulders shaking with grief. Vivian’s heart swelled with love as she watched her husband put a comforting arm around her best friend’s shoulders and turn his head to stare out at the endless, ever-changing sea.