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The Interview: Chapter 35

WHIT

It’s not like I was going to propose, but I was about to suggest she stay. It’s fine, though. There will be other opportunities. And that morning, I got to go home freezing cold, covered in pond scum, and soaked to the bone, to find that Mimi ardently admired my wet shirt Mr. Darcy moment. She’d helped me strip out of my wet things, led me to the shower, and then I wasn’t cold anymore.

It’s all good and that things devolve—evolve?—into sex frequently is just a symptom of how much we’re into each other. I see the ways she looks at me when she thinks I’m not looking. When she’s curled on the sofa watching some ridiculous makeover program or watching a movie. I know there’s more to this than just sex. We get along well, even if she has dubious viewing tastes. Her favorite movie?

She likes me. She always has. And I’ve always said those two factors alone have to be enough to take a chance on us.

I have other plans up my sleeve, including a private ride on the London Eye booked for next week. That’s thirty whole minutes by ourselves where, because of CCTV, there won’t be any hanky-panky. I’m sure I could get them to make it malfunction for our ride, but my plans might be better served if I used my mouth for something other than pleasure during that time.

I have other outings and experiences in mind for us because I want her to have fun. But more than that, I want her to start to see herself living here. Being here. With me. I think that was the point of this morning’s expedition, no matter how idiotic the idea seems right now.

“Hello, darlings!” My mother waves manically from the boat ramp as I use one oar to maneuver the boat to the edge of the ramp. What the fuck is she doing here? “What a coincidence!” The rowboat attendant barely has time to tie up the boat before Polly crowds him like a dog eager to hump a visitor’s leg.

“Oops!” Releasing she’s in the way, she steps aside, and the bloke holds out his hand to help Mimi out. “Fancy seeing you two here,” Polly announces.

“Yeah, fancy.” I don’t know where she gets her intel from, but that gleam in her eye isn’t exactly subtle. I’d very briefly considered calling her to get her on side this week. I’d thought about confessing my feelings and plans for Mimi, before abandoning the thought. She’d be all for it, snapping at the chance of me settling down like a tourist eating crocodile but she’d probably do more harm than good. She’s not exactly known for her subtlety, my mother.

“So, come on then.” She practically bounces on the spot. “What’s brought you here? What’s the occasion?”

Calm down, Polly. We’re nowhere near the proposal stage yet. Like I’d row Mimi out on The Serpentine to ask her to marry me anyway. It’s so weird how just thinking that doesn’t freak me out—not even a little.

“The occasion was the boat ride itself,” I mutter as Polly’s attention bounces between Mimi and me. “It just seemed like the day for it. Cheers,” I add as the attendant hands me my forgotten suit jacket. “Maybe we’re celebrating the arrival of spring.” I hook my forefinger in the collar and sling it over my shoulder conscious of looking like a menswear catalog model. “What are you doing here?”

My mother’s fleeting expression suggests we’ll be circling back to this point in just a minute. “My dear friend Deb has taken it upon herself to give a little talk at Speakers Corner this morning.”

“She doesn’t happen to have a little stepladder with her, does she?” Mimi asks, no doubt thinking of the woman who passed us earlier.

“I don’t know, dear. I’m supposed to be meeting her for a coffee beforehand so I shouldn’t think so.”

“What is it she has to say?” Mimi seems genuinely curious.

“Goodness knows.” Polly gives a roll of her eyes. “She’s been militant about so many things since menopause. But she’s a good friend, and she was there for me when Whit’s father passed.”

“Oh.” That one little sound holds a world of understanding. I only just manage to stop myself from hugging her to me. It’s bad enough to lose a parent, but a sibling? I can’t imagine it. My lot drive me round the twist sometimes it would be like losing part of myself, I’m sure. Then it seems she also lost her liberty. All because she’s too caring a person to fight for what she deserves.

“I like to show my support where I can.” Polly’s eyes slide my way. “No office today, darling?”

“You know how it goes, Mum. No rest for the wicked.” I slide my free hand into my pocket as I add. “This is causing me a bit of déjà vu. It feels a lot like the time you caught me skiving from school.” She was just as amused, at any rate.

“Skiving?” Mimi repeats.

“Playing hooky. I was in my uniform and coming out of Mcdonald’s when she caught me.”

“Yes, I remember. You should’ve been in geography, I think.”

“You’ve got some memory.”

“I’ve got eyes in my head, too,” Polly sort of mutters as she tidies the back of her hair. “Primrose tells me you haven’t been home the past couple of weekends.”

Mimi’s attention slides my way reproachfully.

“I just said I didn’t want her and her friends hanging around the pool every weekend. It’s not as though she lives there.”

“And you, Mimi? How are your accommodations these days? You were able to move back into your aunt’s house?”

“Yes, the house was given the all clear,” she says, sidestepping the actual answer, though not before turning the color of her underwear. Pink this morning. I love watching her get dressed, that sensual reverse striptease. There’s something so voyeuristic about it, like seeing something you’re not meant to see.

“Oh.” I’m not sure old Polly is fooled. I like that Mimi’s not a skillful liar.

“Well, we better get back to work,” I say, arching my back a little to stretch it.

“We came out to the boating lake for a brainstorming session.” This weirdness is expelled from Mimi’s mouth at the approximate speed of a hail of bullets.

“Did you, now?” Polly looks delighted. The thing about Mum is the less information you give her, the better. I’ve known since I was fifteen that if you’re in the shit, you close your mouth and you take what she has to give. You don’t keep trying to dig yourself out of the mire because you’ll just find yourself sunk even deeper. Before you even realize it, Polly has wheedled all of your secrets out and then you’re pretty much screwed. Of course, Mimi doesn’t know that. Bless her.

“Yeah. Brainstorming,” she adds with a bright-looking smile.

My mouth ticks up in one corner; it’s a capitulation. A white flag of sorts. Polly and I both know the jig is up. I’ve been rumbled. Outed. Hung by my own petard. Or maybe hung by Mimi’s petard. Anyway, it really is that simple, even if poor Mimi hasn’t cottoned on.

“Whit just happened to mention a new marketing scheme and that he wasn’t happy with the direction the department have taken it, were you?” Mimi’s head whips my way. Her expression, like her words, a little frantic.

I’m not the type to micromanage, and I have no fucking idea what constitutes a marketing campaign, not that I say any of that.

“Not happy at all,” I answer, pressing a reassuring hand to her shoulder. I give it a sympathetic squeeze because she won’t know what’s hit her. Mimi turns back to my mother when the old girl’s eyes meet mine over her head. They remind me of the heart-eye emoji on my phone. The weird thing is, I’m not even bothered.

“Well, that seems like an excellent idea. A break from the office to get the old juices flowing.” And if that’s not bad enough, she makes a weird sort of sailor gesture with her arm. I shake my head quickly; you’re trying too hard, Poll. “Anyway, I must be off before Deb thinks I’ve deserted her. Lovely to see you again, Mimi.” She steps into her, pulling her in for a hug, whether she likes it or not.

“And you, Mrs. Whittington.”

“Polly!” she chastises. “You and I are friends, darling. We’re going to get on fabulously,” she adds, laying it on thick.

I chuckle as Mimi’s eyes find mine. She looks so unsure. I mean, is that a smile or a grimace?

“And you.” Suddenly, Polly is in front of me, her arms a tight squeeze around my waist. “It’s about bloody time,” she mutters into my chest before she glances up at me, all teary-eyed.

Bloody hell, I think. You’ll frighten her away.

Polly nose scrunches as she pulls very slightly away, and theatrically announces, “I must be off,” before adding, “Oh dear!”

It all happens so quickly, but I’m not fooled because I distinctly feel her hand sliding up my arm. She whips my jacket from my finger, her other hand planted suddenly and firmly against my chest. “Oh no!” she adds as she pushes—pushes me—very fucking hard.

I hear Mimi’s sharp intake of breath, see the blurred motion of her movement, but that was a solid shove and I’m moving backward far too quickly for anyone to stop the momentum. The only thing to wait for is the splash.

“Fuck!” The water is the kind of ball-shrinking cold. Only a few months ago, this body of water was partially frozen over. “Jesus Christ, Polly!”

“Oh no! Darling! I’m so sorry,” the culprit calls back. She looks sorry, too. She’s a good actress, my mother.

“Are you okay?” Mimi’s worried face joins my mum’s at the edge of the boat ramp. I stand up because the water isn’t that deep at the edge. Still deep enough to make me feel like my nipples might fall off, though.

“It’s fucking freezing,” I say, wading to the edge as I glower Polly’s way.

“I don’t know what happened,” she says, turning a troubled expression to Mimi. “I think I was about to trip, and I must’ve pushed poor Whit in confusion.”

Utter bullshit.

“Are you okay, mate?” The boat worker appears next to Polly.

“Yeah.” My teeth begin to chatter, forcing me to clamp them together. It’s easier to scowl that way. “Just about.”

“Well, look on the bright side,” Polly says as the bloke holds out his hand to help me out of the drink.

“And that what bright side would that be what?” I grunt through the exertion of climbing out.

“I have your jacket, so your phone and wallet are intact.” She smiles brightly. “Also, Mimi just had a Mr. Darcy moment.” With her back turned to the woman in question, she mouths, “You’re welcome.”

Like I needed the help.


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