I zipped up my flies with a smirk. Trying in vain to hide the satisfaction of getting one over on my long time mate, but also landing the best date that had entered this pub in a lifetime, I glanced across at Richard.
“OK, you win,” he said, displaying a friendly frustration at having lost the bet.
As we walked together out of the noxious toilets of our local pub, a pub which hadn’t changed from the fifties, with its bench seats and old gnarled oak tables, Richard patted me hard on the back and whispered, “Have a good one mate. I’ll leave you to it.”
I sidled up next to Emma, who was patiently waiting alone, but appearing quite comfortable in such a dingy pub on this side of town. She was used to better, and if this relationship was to develop into something worthwhile I knew that I would have to up my game.
I was the son of a car assembly line worker, my mother worked as a cleaner in the local primary school. I left school at sixteen, going straight onto a building site, initially as tea boy, but now roofing. I was good at it too.
Emma had just completed her economics degree and had a final interview with Ernst and Young for a position as junior auditor. Her family lived on the other side of town, father an engineering director, mother a local councillor. The gap between us was enormous, but she was so beautiful, and full of stimulating energy, such that I didn’t give it another thought.
Things moved pretty quickly. After two weeks she wanted to introduce me to the family. We had sex on that first night after leaving the pub. We were in my car when she pulled me close and whispered in my ear that she had been waiting for this moment all evening. How could I possibly refuse?
Her parents were transparently wealthy. The large gabled detached house, standing in an acre of beautiful landscaped gardens, which were clearly maintained by employed staff, was only the first impression. We sat at a table of the like I had never seen before, with silver cutlery, wine glasses that made me nervous and a table the size of a football pitch. Somehow, despite the pressure of class difference, I was strangely very relaxed and comfortable. Emma’s parents made me feel at home and were too pleased to see that she had finally brought someone home to meet them. I should have picked this up at the time, but the overwhelming nature of my fortune ensured that I never gave it another thought.
We were married only three months later. Discussions on cost would not be entertained into by Emma’s parents. They were well aware of the difficulties of bringing up a family on my father’s wages that they insisted on paying for everything. After overhearing Emma and me discussing our honeymoon plans, which ranged from a week in Cornwall from my side and a three week Caribbean cruise from Emma’s, they also offered to pay the full honeymoon costs.
“Paul, you are going to be our son for a very long time. We just want to make sure that you both get off onto a great start in life, “said her father with a smiling dutiful wife standing next to him firmly holding his hand.
We flew out to Florida after exhausting my bank account on new clothes; spent a short night in a hotel before boarding the eighty ton Dream Paradise cruise liner.
Still under a spell of dreamy romance and hardly being able to believe that all of this could be real, I found our room and fell, with Emma, straight into the large oval bed, which had been especially reserved by her father, in the honeymoon cabin.
Emma was insatiable. We made love in urgency before I could eventually persuade her that we go to find some food. I was famished.
The evening was as I had only imagined or seen in films. We took cocktails out on the balcony under a clear starlit sky. The wind was still, and though the air was warm and humid, there was no feeling of clamminess or perspiration. The air of the ocean brings a different sensation.
I wanted to stay there forever, until Emma shook me from my imaginative state and said, “Come on Paul. I want to dance; the action is inside, not out here.”
“But don’t you just love the peace and beauty of the night sky. Look, there is a small flock of seagulls tracking us. There, can you see? Below us. Just over there.”
“Oh, do come on. What do I want to stare at a flock of smelly old seagulls for? Besides that, it is air conditioned inside and I am too hot.”
I hid the slight disappointment that Emma did not see the same beauty outside that I had. I went with her to the dance floor with the thought that if this was our only difference we would still have a great life together.
The next morning, after our usual lovemaking and while Emma was in the shower, I turned on the TV to stay in touch with the latest news. CNN were just showing some breaking news that eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team had been massacred by a Palestinian group.
When Emma came out of the bathroom I was in a state of shock. Being a keen athlete in my earlier days, I had a certain awareness of such people. I said, “Oh my God, Emma. Look what has just happened. The Palestinians have massacred the Israeli Olympic Team.”
“Not bad news again. I hate bad news. It can spoil your day. Are you coming or ogling that television all day? I want to get out in the sun and top up this tan. Don’t you like my tanned body?”
This time I couldn’t hide my disappointment. “Emma, this is awful news and is massively tragic. Imagine the effects on their families, their children, their brothers and sisters. What if it was your brother who had been killed? Surely you feel something.”
“Well it’s not my brother is it? Are you coming or should I go alone?”
The time spent on the sun loungers was not pleasant for me. While Emma was talking on and on about sun cream and white lines and when we would have the next cocktail, I was switching mentally between the Munich tragedy and the lack of emotion shown by my new wife. This is the woman that I have promised myself to for life. Have I made a mistake? I discarded the thought as quickly as it came with the idea that she was just excited because of the cruise and wanted to get the most from the holiday.
The ship had everything. There was a swimming pool, dance hall, six bars and restaurants, sauna with Jacuzzi and steam room and a huge games area with snooker, table tennis, and more. We spent our time hurrying between the various activities, pausing for sex in the cabin a few times a day. Emma seemed surely insatiable. At first I thought that it was fantastic, but was beginning to have the feeling that settling into a good book or game of chess wouldn’t go a miss.
One evening before dinner Emma suggested that we go to the sauna. This was one area we had not visited so far. “Emma, I would really like to check on what has happened about those hijackers in Munich. I keep thinking about it. What about if you go down to the sauna and I come along in a quarter of an hour or so? You will probably want to be in there longer than me anyway.”
Surprisingly she agreed easily, and I just caught the glimpse of a smile in the corner of her mouth. I grinned with the thought that we were good together after all.
After seeing that eight of the hijackers had been killed by German forces and the other three had been captured, I made my way down to the sauna.
I was surprised to see that it was a mixed sauna on such a ship. After removing my clothes and wrapping a towel around me I tiptoed to the sauna cubicle, thinking I would surprise Emma.
I opened the door sharply saw Emma sitting there with two other guys, one either side of her. She had allowed her towel to drop thereby only covering her lower half. Her breasts were on show and she was clearly enjoying the attention of the two men. “Emma, for goodness sake. Cover yourself up,” I growled.
“Oh Paul, don’t be such a prude. It is quite normal these days for a girl to be topless.”
“Not in a sauna alone with two guys,” I retorted, the anger showing both of them that they better not mess with me.
I grabbed Emma by the arm and said, “We’re leaving. Now!”
She could see that I meant it and offered no resistance. The evening was spoiled. I was sulky and jealous. I analysed the whole thing over and over. Am I too old-fashioned? Is this normal nowadays? I decided that I could not and would not ever accept it. Old-fashioned or not, I could not come to terms with such behaviour. I tried to talk to Emma about the subject but she was too miserable to communicate properly.
Through dinner we hardly spoke and took our after dinner drinks out on the balcony in silence. “This is not turning out to be what I expected,” I thought.
The following day during breakfast there was suddenly such a commotion. The alarms were going off and it was some minutes before we realised that someone was overboard. People were rushing about to find out what was going on and if they could help.
I said to Emma,” I didn’t think it was possible to fall overboard on this ship. The safety bars are everywhere. How could this happen?”
“I have no idea. Probably some drunk who couldn’t hold his alcohol I expect. It serves him right for being so stupid.”
I could hardly believe my ears. “Emma, how can you be so callous? You have no idea what happened.”
Soon afterwards the word was spread around that it was Mr Mason, and apparently he had jumped.
On telling Emma how awful this was and how terrible it must be for his wife, she simply shrugged.
I looked at her across the table and felt a hollow nausea rising in the pit of my stomach. How could I have been so stupid? Why hadn’t I waited to get to know Emma better before we got married? I was so taken by her background and beauty that I forgot all about the deeper emotions. She was selfish and uncaring and certainly had no interest what is going on in the world.
I watched her for some time. She was wholly unaffected by the news of Mr Mason. Although her physical beauty was unchanged, she seemed far less attractive to me at that moment. The guilt of what I had done by marrying her almost made me begin to tremble, until she looked up at me, smiled and asked, “Penny for your thoughts?” She really had no idea that there was a problem.
On the plane back from Florida Emma couldn’t stop talking about our future. She described our new home, the parties that she wanted to have, who she would invite, where we would go for our holidays and how she would build her career at Ernst and Young.
“At what point do we fit our children into all of this?” I asked.
“Well, you know Paul. I have been thinking about that. I know I said that I wanted children, but be honest it doesn’t really fit does it? I mean, you only work on the building site and I am the one with the potential for a higher salary. I need to keep working and build up my career. No, there is really no place for children in our lives. I am sure you agree.”
This was the last straw for me. I knew now that it could never work for us. We had been married only three weeks ago amongst such happiness and love, and this had died as quickly as it had begun. I wanted to tell her right there and then in the plane, but just couldn’t find the words.
Emma’s parents picked us up from the airport, waving happily at the newlyweds. Emma was full of herself and couldn’t stop talking about everything that she had seen, just like a schoolgirl. “We even had a real suicide on board Daddy,” she announced just as we were arriving.
“Really! How awful,” he replied glancing over to me as he opened the car door. Our eyes met and his look of concern showed me that he had recognised something in me. I quickly looked away but was not quick enough to avoid the expression of total sadness. I saw that her father, without words, suspected something was amiss.
While Emma’s mother took her up to the annex, which would be our home for a time, until we set up our own house, her father drew me aside and asked me if I was interested to see his new summer house, which had been built during our honeymoon.
I realised immediately that this was a crude ploy to get me on my own. “Paul,” he questioned with deep concern on his face, “you don’t look happy. Tell my, now that I am your new Pop, what is the matter? You can confide in me you know. I can see that you are carrying a tremendous weight, and I think I know what it is, but the words need to come from you.”
I looked at him directly and started to speak. “I am so sorry.” Through wet eyes and trembling lips I began to explain all of the events of the cruise and all of the differences between Emma and myself. I apologised numerous times and ensured him that it was all my fault and I never wanted to hurt anybody, but I could not stay with his daughter. She is too different and it would never work, even if I tried.
“Paul, I was looking forward to you, one day, inheriting all of this. You are like a son to me already, but because you are the kind of person that you are, I know that this is not the most important thing in your life,” he said signifying with his arms the expanse of his estate. “You need a caring, loving woman, who will have your children and share interest in others and will travel through life with you until one breathes their last breath.”
He put his hands squarely on my shoulders and declared, “I should tell you that you are not the first. Emma was engaged to be married two years ago when he broke it off. She doesn’t know this, but he wrote me a letter. It was pretty much as you have just explained to me. You see, Emma has no conscience. She sees only want and get. As soon as a potential partner picks this up they run a mile. I had been hoping that you may change her. This was stupid of me. I am also sorry.”
We walked arm in arm back toward the house just as Emma and her mother came into the garden through the French windows. “Don’t they just look like father and son?” shouted Emma with a childish smile stretched across her face.
I looked at her father and then toward her mother, who was just picking up the first stirrings of awareness to the situation. I saw a slight glance pass between them, when her mother burst into tears and ran back into the house.
“What on earth is wrong with Mummy?”
“Emma, I am so so sorry,” I began.