Only now, Gina was older, and her quiet moments were no longer few and far between. It didn’t seem fair that the memories that should have naturally died a death as time passed by should now start clamouring for attention.
Gina reappeared, homework in hand, already looking slightly disheveled, although it was the start of the day and she had been perfectly neat an hour before when she had got dressed for school.
Charlotte automatically reached down and smoothed some of the dark curls back into position. ‘Okay. Now, you’re sure you’ve got everything?’
‘Two thousand sure.’ They grinned at each other, enjoying this little game they had been playing before school since time immemorial, and then they were off.
Yet another busy Monday. A short drive to drop Gina off to school and then a far longer one for Charlotte, heading north, giving her ample time for all those unwelcome thoughts and memories to begin jostling in their box until, as she cleared the Hammersmith flyover and eased her little car onto the M4, she just sighed and allowed her mind to drift.
She knew why this was happening, of course. It was because of Ben. Because she was finally trying to get her life back on track, so to speak, by jumping back into the whole dating game instead of standing on the sidelines watching the world go by, and making excuses whenever her friends tried to encourage her to go out and meet some guys.
It was inevitable that she would be reminded of him. She was emerging from eight years of cold storage, for heaven’s sake! Any guy she now saw would generate comparisons in her head.
And she was pretty sure that the comparisons were unfair, because after such a long time there was no way that she could actually remember Riccardo in any detail to speak of. She had taken no photos of him, something for which she was eternally grateful. In her head, she could still catch his smile, though, that lazy, sexy smile when he’d turned to her and reached out, and she could still remember the way her foolish heart had fluttered at the slightest contact.
She was aware of passing the Heathrow turn-off as she headed out towards the M25. She knew this route to their Midlands branch and could drive it with her eyes shut. It gave her plenty of time to think, and while she tried to make an effort to think of Ben—lovely, upwardly mobile, fantastic-catch Ben—she found herself thinking of Riccardo instead. Riccardo, who had been so shocked when she had turned up on his doorstep like an unwanted parcel that should have been delivered to another address.
She hadn’t been Charlotte then. She had been Charlie. Charlie the teenager without a care in the world, madly in love, and crazy enough to have thought that the man she loved might just love her back. After all, he had wanted her, hadn’t he? He’d told her so a million times! And how could you make love with someone with such tenderness and passion without there being just a tiny bit of love somewhere?
Finding his mother’s house had been a nightmare. It had been a steaming hot day, one of those days when too much walking about made you feel slightly sick, and she had stupidly worn trousers and a tee-shirt that had clung to her like glue. Even eight years on, she could still recreate in her head all those nauseous feelings that had assaulted her as she’d tiredly travelled the distance that must have taken Riccardo, in his car and knowing the roads, no time at all.
Of course, in retrospect, she knew where the sickness had sprung from, but at the time she could remember thinking that if she didn’t get to the house pretty soon then she would have to blow some of her money on a meal in one of those expensive air-conditioned restaurants as soon as she got to Florence.