The Anniversary – A Short Story by Ann MacLean
As Melanie drove her red Audi A5 Coupe into the gravel car park, her empty grey eyes scanned the hotel’s gothic façade. Copper coloured ivy covered its walls. Oversized table lamps emitted a warm, welcoming glow from richly draped windows as dusk began to settle on the autumnal countryside. The hotel seemed the perfect English setting for a romantic retreat and the faintest smile passed across Melanie’s neatly made up lips as she contemplated the irony of her choice.
Parking the car, she grabbed her overnight bag and headed briskly through the hotel’s entrance towards the reception desk. The inside of the hotel was everything its exterior had promised; the spacious but cozy foyer had a welcoming ambiance with lush furnishings and low-level lighting. Clusters of sumptuous armchairs, sofas and coffee tables filled the room, some occupied by guests quietly chatting as they enjoyed an early evening drink. A crackling log fire radiated from the massive stone fireplace on one side while a bar attendant stood polishing glasses behind a neatly compact cocktail bar on the other.
Behind the carved walnut desk, a young receptionist smiled warmly as Melanie approached. She was pretty and bubbly and reminded Melanie of her twenty-year-old daughter, Rebecca, now entrenched in her second year at Vienna University, studying Art History.
Rebecca’s first year away from home had been fraught with many emotional crises as she dealt with separation anxieties, the pressures of studying in German, as well as the usual insecurities of making new friends and learning to fend for herself in a typical student environment.
Melanie and Rebecca had always enjoyed a close relationship, and as Rebecca matured, it had become more like a friendship than a regular mother-daughter bond. So it was only natural that Melanie found herself taking frequent trips to Vienna during that first year, supporting Rebecca through her various dramas and encouraging her to seek independence.
Now, Melanie sadly mused, it appeared she’d done her job too well and their brief communications were mostly by phone and usually at Melanie’s instigation, often cut short by Rebecca insisting that she needed to rush off to a class or out to meet friends. Melanie suspected Rebecca also had a boyfriend and was especially hurt that she hadn’t shared this with her.
Drawn back to the present by the receptionist’s irritating chatter Melanie ensured the check-in process was as brief as possible by curtailing any attempts at friendly conversation. She had booked ahead a few hours before, specifically asking for the Juliet Suite and now she just wanted to get to the room.
Declining porter assistance and snatching the room key from the now subdued receptionist Melanie made her way up the carpeted stairs and along the first-floor corridor. She didn’t need directions as she had been here before, many times before.
Her first observation as she entered the room was that it had, not surprisingly, been refurbished since her last stay. The layout was still the same, but the décor and furniture had been tastefully modernized to reflect current “romantic expectations.”
A luxurious oversized bed dominated the room. Studying it from the doorway Melanie’s unabated imagination began to play out vivid, intimate scenarios while her emotional torment became a gut-wrenching physical pain.
Wandering slowly around the room Melanie’s hand touched its many surfaces as she took in every detail; the chairs, a writing desk with complimentary stationery and the dressing table with oversized wall mirror, where she stopped for a moment, her eyes drawn to her reflection. She had always taken pride in her appearance and at forty-five had so far effortlessly defied the aging process. Her slender figure, attractive features, and dark shoulder length hair still retained a youthfulness her friends openly envied.
Nonetheless, as she studied her gaunt face and deep stress lines, Melanie conceded that the emotional turmoil of recent events had rapidly ravaged her good looks. Sighing heavily, as her hand came to rest on one of the bedside lamps, she imagined passionately entwined embraces and intimate whispers after lights out. Pain gripped her like a vice, racking her already broken heart.
Dragging herself out of her thoughts, she wandered into the bathroom. It was also elegantly refurbished, and a deep ceramic double bath surrounded by mirrors with mood downlights stood in a corner while a double shower and double ceramic sinks with smoky backlit mirrors neatly finished the room off. It was a couple’s bathroom, and as her imagination again worked overtime, she was suddenly overcome with nausea and lunged towards the toilet, just making it in time.
Afterward, Melanie returned to the bedroom and unpacked the few items from her overnight bag. She hadn’t packed much for she didn’t need much. She wouldn’t be here for long, and where she was going, she wouldn’t be taking anything with her.
One of the items in her bag was a bottle of brandy which she took out now and fetching a glass from the room’s minibar, poured an extravagantly large measure, gulping most of it down in one go.
Kicking off her shoes, she lay back on the bed and stared vacantly at the ceiling while her mind replayed yet again the recent events that had finally brought her to this place.
It had all started several weeks ago when she had answered a call on her husband’s mobile while he was in the shower. The call had been about this room. Someone from the hotel had called her husband, not the receptionist who had checked Melanie in, but an older lady with the slightest hint of a Scottish accent, to let him know that there had been a cancelation and his favorite room “The Juliet Suite” had become available for his stay that evening.
Melanie could still hear herself, slightly bewildered, but innocently rambling on in response. “Oh I’m sorry, but I think there must be a mistake, my husband is going away on a business trip today so that he couldn’t have requested it. In fact, we haven’t stayed with you for several years now. There must be some mix-up.”
Now, Melanie realized, hotel staff must on occasion be reluctant participants in this kind of awkward situation, for, after the briefest silence, the receptionist’s response was kind but measured, “Yes, of course, I can see the mistake now Mrs. Cooper. I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
Melanie was still absently mulling over the call when her husband came into the bedroom from their en-suite with a towel wrapped around his waist. Like Melanie, Graeme had kept his good looks, his dark hair showing just enough grey around the temples to be considered distinguished. At forty-seven he was in excellent physical condition and despite having been together since university days, Melanie still found Graeme’s physique extremely attractive. Now as she admired his broad and slightly hairy chest, his body tanned from their recent holiday in the Maldives, she playfully tugged at his towel as she talked, lightly recounting the phone call to him and adding a teasing quip at the end. “You aren’t secretly going off to be with your mistress are you?” she laughed, confidently knowing that such a notion was nonsense.
Melanie and Graeme had met and fallen head over heels in love while they were at university. After only a short courtship they decided to get married, much against their parents will, who argued that they were too young and hadn’t known each other long enough to make such a huge commitment. Nonetheless, they quickly proved their families’ concerns to be unfounded as they happily worked to create a comfortable and loving home environment for each other and Rebecca.
In fact, their apparent happiness was still the envy of many of their friends, so the very thought of either of them straying was inconceivable and as she laughed at her little quip, Melanie only vaguely registered Graeme’s slightly uncomfortable expression.
Pushing her hand away Graeme gave a short laugh, “Have you heard from Rebecca lately?” he asked, dismissing the phone call story without further comment. “Has she decided to come home for Christmas after all, or does she still plan to go on that skiing trip with her friends?”
This had been another painful disappointment for Melanie, the news that Rebecca didn’t intend to spend Christmas with her parents. Christmas had always been a time of closeness for the three of them, with Melanie meticulously planning for months and working hard to ensure both Rebecca and Graeme had a fun-filled Christmas with lots of surprises.
“She’s still intent on taking the trip. I guess our girl has grown up and doesn’t need us anymore. I feel quite redundant actually, Graeme.” Melanie said as she reflected briefly on her life.
When they had accidentally become pregnant with Rebecca, Melanie had been forging a promising career in publishing. However, it had been at Graeme’s insistence that Melanie gave up work to be a full-time mother, something she had tried to argue against, confident she could continue her career while raising her child as her mother had done. However, Graeme’s mother had been a sole parent working long hours to provide for him and his siblings. He felt he had missed out on a secure family life growing up and had stubbornly argued that it was his responsibility to provide for his family and Melanie’s to create a stable home environment. Finally, Melanie gave in, but despite her initial reluctance, as soon as she held Rebecca in her arms, she knew there was nowhere else she wanted to be than with her beautiful little daughter. But now Rebecca’s absence had left a massive void in Melanie’s life.
“I know you’ve been urging me to go back to work, but the publishing world has changed so much in twenty years. There are too many bright young hopefuls out there who understand the new trends and all that digital marketing stuff. I will never be able to pick it back up.”
“Well, you can’t just sit at home doing nothing Melanie!” Graeme snapped in sudden irritation. “I always said you could go back to work after Rebecca left home. Well, she’s gone, and the sooner you come to terms with that the better!”
Melanie recoiled at his sudden sharpness, and feeling hurt stormed out of the bedroom leaving him to dress and pack for his business trip.
Graeme didn’t seem to understand that with Rebecca’s sudden independence Melanie’s world as she knew it was rapidly slipping out of her grasp and she needed time to readjust. This wasn’t the first time Graeme had become irritable over the subject either. They never argued, but over the last year, an underlying tension seemed to have built up as he frequently nagged her about returning to work. She agreed that she needed to find something to fill her time and give her a sense of purpose again, but she couldn’t understand Graeme’s sense of urgency. It wasn’t as if they needed the money.
Graeme’s property development company was hugely successful, albeit it had taken him all over the country these last few years, which meant he often stayed away for several days at a time, even occasionally at weekends. So Melanie understood, with so much time on her own now, it was in her best interests to find something to occupy her. But she hadn’t been idle, dabbling in creative writing with a vague dream of writing a novel.
She had even entered a couple of short story competitions, coming runner-up for the best new author in one of them. The truth was she would rather spend her time developing her writing skills, but Graeme couldn’t see sense in that.
Still feeling slighted, Melanie busied herself in the kitchen, and after a while, Graeme came downstairs, smartly dressed as always, in a dark suit with his overnight bag in one hand and his briefcase in the other. He came over to where Melanie was standing by the kitchen sink and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’m sorry for snapping Mel. I just worry about you being alone so much and want you to have some purpose in your life.”
“I do have purpose Graeme! I have you!” Did Graeme flinch? Melanie fleetingly thought, but carried on “And Rebecca will always need us one way or another. Besides, you know I’ve always wanted to pursue my writing, and now with so much time on my hands this is the ideal time!” Was it her imagination or did a slightly irritated expression pass over Graeme’s face?
“We’ll talk about it more when I get back Mel! I’ll be back on Friday.” Definitely irritated.
Graeme kissed her on the lips, and as he looked into her eyes, his expression changed from irritation to tenderness as he said. “I love you.”
“I love you too sweetheart. Safe trip and call me when you get to your hotel.” Melanie replied, affectionately patting his chest, grateful that they weren’t parting under a dark cloud. The back to work conversation could wait for another day.
After Graeme left, Melanie made a coffee and went to sit in the conservatory, her favorite room. As she looked out at her meticulous garden and watched the birds squabble and flutter around the well-stocked bird table, her mind played over their conversations since the phone call. More so, something about Graeme’s demeanor was niggling at her. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but the beginning of a nagging doubt was starting to knot in her stomach. She didn’t know what it was, but she didn’t like it.
She thought back to the phone call from the hotel. How long had it been since Graeme had taken her there?
During their early years when they were focussing on their careers, they would work long hard hours during the week. However, their weekends were always for each other, and they would often escape the rat race of London, exploring English villages and finding hidden gems for romantic retreats spending hours happily in each other’s arms.
It was during one such weekend that they found the Chifley Manor Hotel and it was in the Juliet Suite where Rebecca had been conceived. Although initially shocked, they quickly adapted to parenthood and were utterly besotted with their little daughter, considering their accidental pregnancy to be a gift. And so, each year on the anniversary of her conception, they would leave Rebecca with doting grandparents while they returned to the hotel, always booking the Juliet Suite, where they would immerse themselves in each other’s arms once again and reaffirm their love for each other.
She recalled the last time was nine months before Rebecca’s sixteenth birthday. They were already planning a big party for her milestone celebration, and as they lay in bed contentedly entwined in each other’s arms, they reminisced over the past sixteen years reliving each of Rebecca’s achievements from her first baby steps to her recent academic accomplishments. They had all been happy years filled with beautiful memories, and they considered themselves to be truly blessed.
So why didn’t they go the following year? Melanie tried to recall. And why had they not been back since?
She remembered that Graeme’s business suddenly took a different direction and he found himself working on development projects all over the country. Those early months of the expansion, for that is what it was, took their toll on Graeme. He was working long hours, often away from home for days at a time. When he was home, he was somewhat withdrawn and serious. Melanie had tried to talk to him about it concerned that he was taking on too much, but he assured her he was just a bit stressed and coming to terms with the sudden expansion. She remembered now that he was away for their anniversary and that was why they missed it. “I’m sorry darling,” he had apologized over the phone when she reminded him, “I’ll make up for it next year. I promise you”. But after that, something always seemed to crop up, and they never returned to the hotel.
So why would the hotel call him now? In fact, how did the hotel have his mobile number? She was sure he had changed his number a couple of years ago. Besides, it was always Melanie who dealt with the booking, so why would they even have his on file?
A dull ache began to niggle at Melanie’s temple while the knot in her stomach tightened and rose to her chest.
If Melanie ever needed to call Graeme while he was away, it was always on his mobile. She had not concerned herself too much with the names of the hotels he stayed in as he had projects all over the country and she only kept a vague track of where he was at any one time.
But as she sipped her coffee Melanie decided, just to alleviate her doubts and prove her stupidity to herself, she would wait until after she’d heard from Graeme later that evening before making the phone call.
Graeme called at his usual time, reporting in as normal that he had arrived safely and they exchanged the usual small talk about each other’s day. Melanie prattled on, hoping her voice was disguising the nervousness she felt, the knot now having taken up residence in her stomach. “Which project are you working on this week darling?” she lightly asked, chattering on, “Silly me! I’m obviously not being very attentive. I know you told me. It’s the Sheffield project, isn’t it? Where are you staying?”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I only mentioned it in passing. Yes, I’m in Sheffield. I’m staying at one of those Travelodge places near the project. It’s the office block project. There are some problems with the suppliers, but I’m sure we can get it resolved in the next couple of days.”
After they rung off, Melanie poured a large glass of wine and sat at the kitchen table considering her options. She could forget the phone call from the hotel, accepting that it was just a mistake. But even though she knew she was being ridiculous, she also knew the niggling doubts weren’t going to go away.
She could confront Graeme when he returned from his trip, but if her doubts were unfounded, as she was sure they were, he would be so upset at her apparent lack of trust.
No, she decided, the only way to find out for sure was to call the hotel.
Obtaining the hotel’s number from Google, Melanie quickly dialed the number, her hands trembling as she did so. After a brief moment, a polite and professional male voice answered.
“Good evening, Chifley Manor Hotel, Liam speaking, how may I help you?”
Melanie hesitated for a moment before clearing her throat. “Hello, yes I believe Mr. Cooper is staying with you tonight, Mr. Graeme Cooper. Can you verify that for me please?”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t give out details about our guests.” The receptionist politely answered. Melanie thought he sounded quite young and hoped she could play on this.
“Oh yes, of course, it’s just that it’s his birthday today. I think he’s there celebrating with his wife. I’m his sister you see. I wanted to surprise him, but I couldn’t remember if they had booked your hotel or the other one in the village. The Grange, isn’t it? They weren’t sure which one was the best. I’m not sure which one they chose in the end. I know Graeme was worried about having secure parking for his Mercedes Sports. It’s his pride and joy. It’s silver, the car.” Melanie quickly improvised, vaguely remembering the other hotel in the village from their visits.
“We are the best hotel, and the other one doesn’t even have a car park.” the receptionist defended. “Yes, I saw his car when they drove in. It’s amazing! I hope I can afford one like that one day. I’ll try his room for you and let him know you are on the line.”
“No!” Melanie quickly replied, her stomach somersaulting as she registered the receptionist reference to “they.” Forcing herself to continue she said, “I want to surprise him. Just put the call through without announcing it, if you don’t mind?”
“I’m not supposed to do that. I’m meant to check if the guest wants to speak to the caller.”
“Yes, I know. But you see, I live in America, and he won’t be expecting my call. I want to surprise him. Please?” Melanie pleaded. “They will be in the Juliet Suite. It’s their favorite room.” She said hoping that would convince the receptionist of her authenticity.
After a moment the receptionist said. “OK. I guess it will be ok. I’ll put you through now.” and suddenly the phone clicked and began ringing again.
Melanie’s heart was pounding as she waited for the phone to answer, praying that there was a mistake and she would gladly feel foolish when a stranger answered the phone.
After a couple of rings, a male voice answered rather lazily “Hello.”
Melanie knew immediately that it was Graeme and froze as anguish and bewilderment gripped her. She hadn’t considered what she would do if Graeme did answer.
She held the phone to her ear in complete silence while her mind raced and her body shook.
“Hello, who is this?” Graeme spoke again, but still, she couldn’t speak. Finally, Graeme spoke rather sharply. “Hello! Who is there?” and then Melanie heard a woman’s voice in the background saying “Who is it, darling?” before she abruptly hung up.
Melanie couldn’t remember the details of the ensuing days while she waited for Graeme to return home. She was in an emotional haze while a physical pain permanently gripped her heart and stomach.
She could scarcely function and hid from the outside world, barely sleeping or eating and ignored her friends’ usual invitations to lunch and coffee.
She hadn’t even answered any of Graeme’s calls and guessed by the number of times he had tried that he already suspected she ’d been the person on the other end of the phone.
When Graeme finally arrived home having cut his trip short, Melanie immediately knew his tormented and guilty expression confirmed everything she had not wanted to believe.
And so the painful unraveling of their life together began. There had been plenty of ugly angry scenes, hours of inconsolable weeping, hostile silences and, eventually, a sad and calm acceptance as conversations started and the truth finally emerged.
The affair had been going on for nearly five years. Graeme had met Susan in the early days of his business’s expansion. She was a change management consultant he had hired to assist with the transition. They had worked closely together, and he had come to rely on her more and more.
He had initially tried to resist the physical attraction and even after he had succumbed had ended the affair many times. But the bond between them was too powerful and eventually, he resigned himself to accept his true feelings. The truth was, he loved Susan and wanted her in his life.
Yes, he still loved Melanie, but in a different way. He had committed to Melanie and Rebecca, and that was why he had stayed. But now that Rebecca was independent he wanted Melanie to find a life of her own, so he could be free to move on to a new life with Susan. This was why he had been pushing Melanie so hard to find a job.
“But why our hotel?” Melanie had brokenly asked during one painful conversation. “Why our room even?”
“I don’t know really.” Graeme had lamely shrugged. “I took her there for a night once when we were working nearby. When I gave my name, the receptionist had picked up our booking history. The notes obviously had the Juliet Suite as our preferred room. When Susan and I arrived, the staff just assumed Susan was my wife and booked us into the suite. It was easier not to say anything, and somehow it became our favorite place too.
As the story unfolded, Melanie felt her life spiral precariously out of control. She floundered hopelessly, trying to hang on to any thread of reality as it slowly dawned on her that the last five years of their life had been a lie.
And then, Graeme had dropped the final bombshell this morning. He was leaving her. Today! He had booked a trip to Europe, and he was taking Susan with him. They were flying out to Rome in the early hours of the morning after he moved some of his belongings into her flat and he would be moving in with her when they returned.
In an almost detached manner, Graeme packed a few things and as he was about to go out the door with bags in his hands he had looked at Melanie and almost pityingly said. “Find a new life, Mel. I’ll be here for you as a friend, but find a new life now.” And with that he left, walking away from twenty-five years of their lives. Twenty-five years of her life!
It had been the final straw and had tipped Melanie over the precarious emotional edge, and now she found herself here lying on the bed that her husband had shared with another woman, in the room that he had so often shared with her.
When he walked out today he hadn’t even acknowledged the significance of the date, thought Melanie. She doubted it meant anything to him now anyway. But it was the anniversary of Rebecca’s conception, the anniversary that had been so special to them for so long but would become the anniversary of the first day of his new life with Susan. Melanie sobbed quietly into the pillow while her heart broke until she eventually drifted off to sleep.
Hours later, she awoke. The room was in darkness. She switched on the bedside light and checked the time. It was just after midnight. She went to the bathroom and splashed water on her face.
Pouring another brandy, she sat at the desk and used the hotel stationery to write Rebecca a short letter. She wanted Rebecca to understand that she was in no way the cause of what her mother was about to do. She didn’t want Rebecca to spend the rest of her life carrying any guilt. Melanie just couldn’t go on in such pain.
She couldn’t see a way past this and couldn’t bear to stand by and watch Graeme create a new and happy life with someone else. Now she wanted Graeme to feel her pain. She wanted him to suffer as she was suffering. More importantly, she wanted to make sure he never forgot this anniversary ever again!
Now, calmly resigned to her fate Melanie changed into her nightdress and poured another brandy. She placed the drink and a bottle of sleeping pills on the bedside table and climbed into bed. She felt a little sorry that some poor room attendant would find her in the morning but comforted herself that if she were found in bed as if asleep, hopefully, it wouldn’t be such a trauma.
Taking another mouthful of brandy Melanie emptied the sleeping pills into her hand. The bedside clock told her it was just a few minutes before one o’clock. There would be plenty of time for the pills to take effect before anyone found her.
Finding it difficult to swallow now, Melanie only managed to wash a couple of pills down before the door suddenly opened and Graeme rushed in.
“Stop! Mel!! Stop!” he shouted as he lunged at her knocking the pills out of her hand sending them scattering across the carpet. “What on earth are you doing?” He said as he gathered her into his arms.
Startled and confused Melanie blurted out. “What are you doing here Graeme? How did you know I was here? How did you get in? What’s going on?”
Holding her even closer, Graeme gently cradled Melanie and stroking her hair blurted. “Oh my God! I can’t believe you were going to do that! I drove you to it! I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been. I nearly lost you I’m so sorry Mel.”
“I still don’t understand?” Melanie murmured into his warm shoulder, his familiar smell comforting her.
“I’ve been so stupid Mel. I was on the way to the airport with Susan. I don’t know what happened. We were arguing. I don’t remember what about now. Something and nothing. Suddenly it was like a bright flash of light. I suddenly saw my whole life flash before my eyes. Our life Mel!. Me, you and Rebecca! I suddenly realized I couldn’t let you go.”
“But how did you know where to find me” Mel questioned again.
“You weren’t at home. I realized what the date was. You could only be here. The night porter let me in. I had to convince him. I told him it was a matter of life or death!” Graeme hurriedly explained.
“Mel I couldn’t let you go. Couldn’t let you do this. What were you thinking? Rebecca needs you now more than ever and I need you to forgive me!”
Graeme kissed Mel tenderly, and she melted into his arms, confused, but ecstatic that he’d come back to her. After a while Graeme undressed, laying his clothes on the back of a chair and climbed into bed with her. Switching off the light, he took her in his arms, and they made slow, tender love. Their connection was more intense than it had ever been and they clung on to each other as if for dear life itself.
Eventually spent, they wrapped themselves in each other’s arms. Snuggling into Graeme’s warm, comforting body, Melanie rested her head on his chest, and as he stroked her hair, she began to drift off to sleep happily thinking, Everything is going to be ok. We’ll get through this, and we can be happy again.
A few hours later, Melanie began to stir as the first hint of daylight come through the partly closed curtains. Recalling with pleasure the events of the night she stretched, still feeling a little groggy from sleep and possibly the brandy, but happy in the knowledge that Graeme had come back to her. Turning around to snuggle into him, she suddenly realized his side of the bed was empty. Empty and cold.
Confused, she sat up and looked around, switching on the bedside light as she did so. There was an indentation in the pillow where Graeme’s head had laid, but otherwise no sign of him. His clothes were gone, and the only other evidence that he’d been there was the pills scattered across the carpet.
Getting up she tried his mobile, but it went straight to voicemail. Perhaps he has gone downstairs to organize some coffee. She thought. But the bed felt like he had been gone for a while.
Dressing quickly Melanie grabbed her mobile and made her way down to reception. It was still very early, and the foyer was empty of life other than a tired-looking man of about her age who was sitting behind the reception desk. She guessed he was the night porter but just to be sure she asked. “Have you been on duty all night?”
“Yes, Madam.” He replied. “How can I help you?”
“You let my husband into the Juliet Suite late last night. Did you see him come down this morning? He isn’t in the room. Do you know where he’s gone?”
As he looked at her with a puzzled expression, he replied. “I’m sorry Madam, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t let anyone into any room. I’m not permitted to.”
“Don’t worry; it’s ok,” Melanie assured him. “I’m not complaining. I know you aren’t meant to, but he told you it was a matter of life or death. He was right. Don’t you remember? He must have come down this morning. He isn’t in the room now.”
“Madam I’m not sure I understand you. I haven’t let anyone in to anywhere, and I haven’t seen any guests all night.”
“There’s no need to lie. Whatever you are afraid of, I don’t want to get you into trouble. You let my husband into the Juliet Suite around one o’clock this morning, and now he isn’t there. I don’t see him here in the foyer so where the hell is he? Just tell me the truth!” Melanie’s voice was beginning to rise in confused panic and anger.
“Madam, I can assure you I’m not lying. I have spent the entire night either at the desk doing paperwork or tidying up the foyer. I haven’t left here. The last guest went to bed a little before midnight, and I haven’t seen anyone until you came downstairs now.”
Melanie began to tremble as the knot in her stomach returned. She couldn’t have imagined last night. She acknowledged she had drunk a bit of brandy and swallowed possibly two pills at best, but Graeme had been there. He had knocked the rest out of her hand. He had held her and made love to her. She could still feel the tingle of his hands on her body. His pillow still had his indentation in it. What was going on?
“Ok. I want to speak to a Manager!” Melanie insisted. “You are clearly hiding something, and I want to get to the truth.”
“Madam I can assure you I am not hiding anything but the Manager will be on duty in an hour. If you’d like to wait, please take a seat, and I’ll fetch you some coffee.”
“I don’t want coffee!! I want my husband!” Melanie snapped, fighting back tears, as her voice rose to an almost hysterical pitch.
Suddenly her phone rang. Ah! She thought with relief. This will be Graeme now!
But the number on her screen was unfamiliar.
“Hello,” Melanie answered.
“Is that Mrs. Cooper?” a stranger’s voice asked. “Mrs. Melanie Cooper?”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“It’s Detective Granger. Greater London CID. We’ve been trying to locate you at your home. Can you tell me where you are, please?”
“I don’t understand. Why are you calling?” The knot in Melanie’s stomach had moved to her throat and was choking her. “Is Rebecca OK?”
“Is Rebecca your daughter, Mrs. Cooper?”
“Yes. What has happened to her?” Melanie almost screamed.
“She is fine as far as we are aware. Are you with someone at the moment?”
“I’m with my husband at the Chifley Manor Hotel.”
“Mr. Graeme Cooper?” The Detective asked with a slightly questionable tone now apparent in his voice.
“Of course!” Melanie snapped. “What other husband would I be with? Look, Detective, what is this all about?”
“Mrs. Cooper. I’m sorry. Is your husband with you at the moment?”
“For goodness sake Detective! No, he is not. I’m standing in the foyer of the hotel with the night porter trying to find out where my husband has gone. He was with me last night, but he isn’t here this morning. Will you please get to the point so I can go and find him?”
“Mrs. Cooper. I’m sorry. I don’t understand. I’m terribly sorry to have to break this to you over the phone, and we will send an officer around to the hotel, but you see your husband couldn’t be with you. I’m sorry to say he has been killed in a car accident.”
“That’s impossible! He has been here all night with me!”
“We have positively identified him by his passport photo. He was on the way to the airport with a female companion, Miss Susan Fletcher.”
“No! It’s not possible!” Bile started to rise in Melanie’s throat.
“Miss Fletcher managed to tell my colleague at the scene what happened. The accident occurred around one o’clock this morning. It would appear that your husband and Miss Fletcher were arguing when he lost control of the car and veered into the path of an oncoming truck. Your husband died instantly. Miss Fletcher died a couple of hours ago.”
As Melanie’s legs gave way, she could hear a voice screaming in the distance. Just as her world plunged into darkness, she realized it was hers.