Some days had passed since his conversation with Margaret and Peter had made plans.
The front door banged as Karen arrived home.
'Hello darling,' she smiled as she flopped onto the sofa.
'I've got a surprise for you. I've taken tomorrow off and we're going to Brighton for the day.' Peter grinned at her.
'Oh. I don't know if I can. I said I'd do the late shift.’ She glanced at him. ‘We're very short staffed.'
'It's your day off,' he said.
'I know. But they really need me on the ward. I didn't realise you'd taken time off. You should have told me.'
'I thought you'd be pleased,' he said. 'I wanted to surprise you.'
'I am pleased,' she sighed. 'I'm sorry. I'll phone the ward and tell them I can't make it.'
'Don't bother,' Peter was on his feet, pacing the floor. 'The ward is obviously more important to you.'
'I've said I'll cancel the shift,' Karen replied. 'I want to come out with you.'
'No you don't,' he complained. 'You've made that quite obvious.'
'I'm sorry,' Karen stood and reached for his hand. 'I really want to come out with you tomorrow. It'll be lovely.'
'I can't seem to do anything right these days.’
'You do,' Karen put her arms around him. 'Of course you do. Come on, we'll have a brilliant time.' She kissed him.
'Alright then,' he said. 'You do love me, don't you?'
'Of course I do,' Karen smiled.
The morning was just how June should be, sunny and warm, with a hint of a breeze to bring relief to the heat of the day. They left early and were soon walking along the promenade together, arm in arm. Karen relaxed and squeezed Peter's arm.
'This is nice,' she said. 'We should do this more often.' 'What would you like to do?' Peter asked. 'I thought we could have a coffee on the seafront and then go and look at the shops in the lanes.‘
They stopped before a seafront cafe, tables bedecked with brightly coloured umbrellas set out on the promenade.
'How about this place?' she asked.
Peter wrinkled his nose. 'I suppose it'll do.' He wiped a chair with his handkerchief and sat down. Karen sat down next to him. Her chair had looked clean anyway.
They were soon sipping coffee and devouring iced buns from the display on the counter. Even Peter seemed to enjoy the moment if not the coffee. Karen stretched her legs and gazed out at the sea. All along the beach were families with children paddling in the shallows or sitting in deck-chairs - the children were playing with beach balls which were tossed in the breeze.
'That could be us in a few years,' Peter was saying.
'Yes, maybe. In a few years time.'
Peter was on his feet. 'Let's go,' he said. 'There's a book shop in the lanes I want to see.'
Karen loved wandering through the lanes. The shops were crammed with treasures - expensive shoes, leather coats, antiques, bric-a-brac and wares from the East such as cotton kaftans and incense.
She was in her element in the little bookshop. She'd always loved to read, and spent hours as a child in the local library. More than anything, she enjoyed the feel and smell of new books.
Her eyes lit up as she spotted a copy of The Lord of the Rings. She reached up and carefully took it from the shelf. It was bound in black and gold, and although she'd read the words already in the regular edition, this was somehow special. She felt it would contain secrets that she'd love to read. It was twenty pounds, more than she could afford to pay. Still, it was nice to hold the copy in her hands, to turn the fine pages, feeling the quality of the paper.
'Have you read it?' The shop assistant said. 'That's a special edition. Only a hundred copies made.'
'I loved it,' Karen replied. 'This is a fantastic edition, but I can't afford twenty pounds.'
'Just take a look at the illustrations,' he said. 'You don't have to buy.'
'It's beautiful,' Karen said. 'Thank you.' She carefully turned the pages of the book, pausing to look at the illustrations in the middle section.
She breathed in deeply, the words surrounding her.
'When you've quite finished reading that rubbish, we'll go.' Peter's voice rudely snapped her out of her reverie.
‘It's a lovely book. Look.' She held the volume out to him. 'A beautiful edition.'
'I can see what it is,' he spat.
Recoiling from his venom, Karen turned and quickly exited from the shop. She walked a few yards down the street and stopped in an alleyway, trying to control her tears. When Peter caught up with her she spun on him.
'Don't you ever do that to me again.' Karen let go of her frustrations.
'What the hell were you doing in there, flirting with that assistant?'
'I was not flirting.' Karen noticed a blob of spittle on Peter's chin. She swallowed. 'He was showing me the book.'
'You were all over him.' The spittle was joined by another.
'I don't believe this.' She looked away.
'Neither do I. You go from bad to worse.'
Karen looked at Peter's hands. His fingers were long and thin, the nails neatly manicured. 'There's something seriously wrong with you,' she said.
'Look,' his hands slid into his pockets. 'Just behave in the street will you? Everyone’s staring at us.'
'Stop it, Peter.' Karen turned away.
He grabbed her wrist. 'You're showing us up with your shouting,' he snarled, leaving a light spray of his venom on her cheek.
Karen wrenched her arm free and wiped her face.
'Do you know what?' she said. 'I don't think I want to be with you today. I'm going home.' She started to walk away, Peter following quickly behind her.
'Don't be stupid, Karen,' he hissed.
'I haven't done anything wrong,' she said over her shoulder, not stopping for breath.
'I don't call flirting with some stranger nothing,' Peter insisted. 'You just can't help flirting with every man you see, can you?'
Karen stopped and spun to face him. 'It's pointless talking to you about this. I'm going home.'
'Well I'm not driving you home,' he grabbed at her again. 'We're staying here and that's that.'
'I'll go home by train then,' Karen tried to pull free of his grip. 'Let me go,' she seethed.
'Don't be stupid,' Peter released his grip, pushing her off balance. 'You are not going home on the train.'
'Aren't I?' Karen walked away faster, trying to get away from him but he was still behind her when she reached the station. She turned to him.
'I mean it, Peter,' she said. 'I can't be bothered trying to please you any more. Everything I do is wrong.' She paused. 'For the last time, will you please take me home?'
'You're just being a silly little girl,' he sneered at her. 'Why can't you just behave yourself for once?'
Karen sighed. 'I'll see you at home.' she turned and walked into the station, just catching his parting words before going through the gate.
'Don't bother coming home,' he called.
The train journey home was long and slow. Karen had plenty of time to go over and over in her mind the conversations between herself and the shop assistant, and then herself and Peter. She wondered whether she'd completely lost her mind.
Where had all that bravado come from?
It was difficult to work out whether she could have dealt with any of it differently. She was scared to the pit of her stomach at the thought that she'd stood up to Peter. There were bound to be consequences.
Gazing from the train window as the summer countryside scrolled past like scenes from her childhood story books Karen was saddened. 'Life's just not like that,' she thought.
Finally arriving at Fareham, she stepped from the train and looked at her watch, wondering where Peter would be.
'Maybe he'll have stayed in Brighton for a while,' was her hope as she walked into the town towards the bus station.
But Peter was waiting for her as she opened the front door. he stood in the hall looking at her in disgust.
'I hope you're happy now,' he said as he turned away towards the stairs.
'I'm sorry, Peter,' Karen whispered, but she knew that it would be a while before he spoke to her again.