A short story inspired by Love Will Keep Us Together by The Captain & Tenille.
The shrill ringing of the phone greeted Ella, as she pushed open the front door of her house.
“Can somebody get that?” she yelled, dropping her keys into the oddly shaped ceramic bowl sitting proudly on the table. Her daughter had made in her art class last year.
The phone continued ringing, like an alarm, sounding a countdown. She could rush and hope she caught whoever was calling before they gave up, or she could just take her time and assume they’ll call back.
Ella hurried to the kitchen and dumped her bags of groceries on the counter as she reached across to the wall to retrieve the phone. She half expected it to feel hot after its almost angry, incessant call for attention.
“Hello?” she asked breathlessly.
“Have you seen the paper?” her mother’s irritated voice snapped at her. No ‘hello, how are you’ just straight in with the judgement. Ella sighed.
“No, not yet. I only just got back from shopping. What does it say this time?”
“Banged All Night! My romp with TV cop.”
“Okay.” Ella, waited for more.
“It says here, he was spotted, sneaking out of a £500 a night hotel, by a passerby.”
“Nonsense.” Ella sniffed.
“But they phoned the hotel room and the girl told them everything.” Her mother insisted, her pitch rising as she became more engrossed in the story.
“And when did this happen?” Ella asked, bored with asking the same old questions every time a trashy paper printed an exclusive story about her husband and his philandering ways.
“Ha! Well that’s not true.” Ella laughed, “he only got back from LA last night and he’s been fast asleep ever since.”
“I just don’t know how you put up with his nonsense, Ella. I’d have divorced him years ago.”
Movement caught her eye and she turned to smile at her husband shuffling along the hall towards the kitchen. His pyjama bottoms hung loose off his hips and his plain white t-shirt showed off the tanned skin from his recent trip.
“Ma, it’s all nonsense. That’s why I put up with it. Papers make up stories. It’s what they do. No one knows what we get up to except for us and I assure you, again, as I’ve been doing for the last ten years, we are fine, Jack is not having any affairs, he doesn’t have a £10,000-a-day cocaine habit and I’m not filing for divorce. Just stop reading those papers, for goodness sake!” Ella rolled her eyes at her husband who smiled innocently.
“I just worry about you, that’s all.” Her mum grumbled. Ella’s face softened.
“I know you do, Mum. But I promise you, there’s no need.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I just can.”
Ella returned the phone to its cradle and leaned against the counter smiling at Jack as he moved closer to her, opening his arms and inviting her in for a cuddle.
“What are the red tops accusing me of this time?” He asked, his voice was low, muffled by Ella’s hair. She pulled away and grinned up at him.
“Oh the usual; sordid late-night hotel-room sex with young wannabe starlet.” She shrugged, returning her face to his chest. He kissed the top of her head.
“And, you know…”
She moved away from him, “Of course I do. For one thing, they said it was last night and I know that’s definitely not true.” She grinned, her eyes sparkling with humour as she turned her attention to the groceries.
“You’re mum’s not the only one that can’t believe your lack of suspicion, Ella. If the tables were turned and I was reading all this stuff about you, I don’t know if I’d cope with it.”
“That’s because you’re a man, and you would see it as damaging to your reputation so whether it was true or not you’d believe it and act accordingly to save face.”
Jack’s mouth dropped open and he stood speechless for a moment. Ella moved around the kitchen whistling to herself, smiling at him as she tidied tins and packages into various cupboards. Finally she filled the kettle and prepared two coffee mugs.
After watching her for a few minutes he shrugged.
“You may be right. But why don’t you react in the same way?”
Ella stopped to think about it for a moment while she wiped her hands on a tea cloth.
“Do you remember what it was like before? When we lived in that terraced house in Liverpool? Before that even, when we first started dating?”
“I used to follow you around the playground,” Jack laughed, “it took me three years to pluck up the courage to ask you out.”
Ella laughed, she loved hearing him say that. “Well I always remember, even before we were dating, that your ambition was to act. So when we did eventually get together we both worked towards your dream. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t realise it together. Never crossed my mind that either one of us would fall out of love, or meet someone else.” She poured water into the mugs and stirred the coffee.
Jake smiled, “I wouldn’t have wanted to do any of this without you.”
“Do you remember when that first job came in?” Ella asked, pushing a mug towards him. He picked it up and took a sip, wincing as it burned his lip. He nodded.
“Oh yes. I remember coming home from the audition and I was convinced I’d blown it.”
“As soon as the phone rang, I knew you’d got it. Your first speaking part.”
“Do you remember what I said to you?” She asked, moving away from the counter and making her way into the conservatory. The sun was pouring through the windows and Jakes eyes sparkled as he nodded.
“You said ‘this is it, love. This is where it starts. Forget the first rung of the ladder, that was years ago, you’re on the first floor landing now and you’re only a few steps away from the top.’ I’ve quoted that, several times to the young actors that appear on our show.”
“Really? That’s nice. I’d forgotten I’d said that, actually.” She laughed.
“So what were you talking about?”
“I said, ‘I love you, remember that, when you have girls hanging around, when you feel tempted by the young beautiful actresses, or the influential agents and directors. Just remember, I love you.’”
“I do remember that. I also remember frowning and telling you that there was no way I’d ever want anyone else.”
Ella shrugged, smiling to herself.
“Well, while we’re on the subject, have you ever been tempted?”
“No!” Jack’s voice shot up a couple of octaves, causing Ella to look at him in surprise.
“Me thinks the gentlemen doth protest too much.” She grinned.
“I just can’t believe you would ask that.”
“I’m not asking if you cheated on me. I’m just asking if you’ve ever had to look in your heart and let my love keep you from doing anything that would end us?”
He smiled. “Well there was that time at the BAFTAs when my co-star suggested we go up to her room for a threesome.” He grinned. Ella threw her head back, laughing loudly. “Seriously though, we’ve been married for fifteen years and as our lives have progressed, the more we’ve experienced together, the more I love you.” He blushed slightly, as he said it. Ella had watched him say ‘I love you’, to a variety of actress on TV, but he always got a little embarrassed when he said it to her. It made him seem vulnerable. It always felt like he was declaring it for the first time, afraid she might feel the same way.
“I know.” She finally said, “I have never doubted your love. We’ve always been working towards the same goal. I went into law to make sure we had a good wage coming in, while you were getting started. You eventually got your break and it lead here. We’re on the same team and I know that we’re both loyal to the team. So that’s why I don’t care about any of these stories in the paper. I know they’re not true.”
“But doesn’t it bother you what other people think? I’m convinced your mum hates me.”
Ella closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Look who are neighbours are. You’ve got what’s-his-face from that band next door, the film director across the road, and God knows how many actors. I can never remember whether I recognise them because we live on the same street or because I’ve seen them in something on TV.”
“Oh tell me about it. I’m so used to seeing the husband of that girl from Eastenders that I started thinking he was the famous one!”
Ella laughed, “exactly, and they all know. They’ve all had their fair share of scandalous news stories.”
“I just don’t know why they make this stuff up. What do they mean to achieve?” He sighed.
It’s all just publicity isn’t it? Keeps your name in the papers, I bet the viewing figures tonight will be through the roof.”
“That’s true, they’re making a decision about whether to take out a third series this week too.”
“Exactly so a nice boost to the viewing figures can only be a good thing.”
Jack narrowed his eyes.
“Did you send that story in? I mean, you did spend last night with me.”
Ella raised her eyebrows slightly and widened her eyes innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Look in your Heart