Below is a sneaky peek into my new novel Wish You Were Here…on sale at the end of October…
‘When that kettle comes to the boil, can you move it to the window for me, please?’ I asked, fiddling with the arrangement in front of me.
Outside the rain was pelting down. It was cold enough that on higher ground it was probably falling as snow.
‘Won’t it make the glass fog?’ Richie asked.
‘Uh-huh.’ I checked the styling through the viewfinder on my camera, and moved the jam jar I’d filled with woody herbs to the opposite side of the plate. ‘That’s the whole idea: I want the condensation on the window in the background. It says that it’s still cold outside without me having to spell it out.’
Richie nodded his understanding and obligingly moved the kettle away when the required level of fogginess had been achieved.
My subject was a plate of the peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies I’d made yesterday afternoon after James had left for London. I’d decided to shoot what was left of them before Richie demolished the lot. They were much more photogenic than the bowl of parsnip risotto I was intending to feature in the February newsletter. Even though I’d styled the soup with a drizzle of chilli oil, I was running out of creative ways to make beige food look appealing.
Richie smiled at me. ‘Are you right now? Can I go back to what I was doing before you decided you needed a photographic assistant?’
‘Yes, you’re released from your duties. And when these little babies are released from theirs, it’s your turn to make the tea.’
‘You’re on,’ he said, returning to the papers on his desk.
The centre was empty of customers and I cursed everything about January that made work so quiet and gave me more time to think about the New York bombshell. I looked out the window. Yep, still raining. I sighed.
Richie looked up. ‘That was a heavy sigh.’
‘I hate January.’
‘I thought you hated February more. Next you’ll be telling me that you’re bored.’ He grinned.
‘Well, I am bored and I hate them both equally: January and February.’
‘Okay, I’ll ask the question. Why do you hate January so much?’
‘That’s easy. Because I love December, and you’re as far away from December as it’s possible to be in January.’
He laughed. ‘You just like being able to drink mulled wine at 10 am while wearing a Christmas sweater.’
In the lead-up to Christmas I wore a different Christmas-themed sweater each day.
‘What’s not to like about that? And don’t forget the Christmas markets ‒ even you like those.’
‘True, but January means a new year and you like new starts. Your birthday’s in January ‒ surely you like that?’
‘The problem with new starts is that something else has to end ‒ and I don’t like that. Plus, my birthday is just for one day, and it’s not something that anyone other than me looks forward to. Not like Christmas. That’s so everywhere that the day itself is an anti-climax.’ I paused to nibble the edge of a cookie. ‘And the problem with February is that it’s so in-between. You know that spring’s coming and you have lots to do to be ready for it, but you can’t do any of those tasks because the weather’s terrible. It wouldn’t be like that on your side of the world. I bet it’s sunny and gorgeous.’
‘It is down south. Up north, though, and across the ditch to Sydney, it’s hot and uncomfortably humid.’
‘It would still be better than this.’ I sighed again. ‘You stay there ‒ I’ll make the tea.’
I reboiled the kettle and popped teabags into mugs, then rubbed at the window to look out. Yuck.
‘What are you working on?’ I asked as I placed Richie’s tea on the coaster on his desk and looked over his shoulder at the drawings he’d been concentrating on.
He spread the sketches across the workbench. ‘My garden.’
‘The one you’ll do for Chelsea?’ Although his plan was to eventually go home to Queenstown and work in the family business designing gardens, his dream was to one day have one of his designs exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show. ‘The way you’ve drawn it, the garden looks almost like a lake ‒ or a flowing river. What are you using? Flax?’
He looked impressed. ‘Nice. New Zealand flax. The way it flows in the breeze sometimes looks like wind moving across water. I want the whole thing to look like Lake Wakatipu makes me feel.’ He paused, embarrassed, and focused his attention on the pages in front of him.
‘Don’t stop. I love listening to you talk about it. It sounds wonderful.’
‘It is. It’s home. I’d like you to see it one day. There’s an area outside of town, on the way out to Glenorchy, where the lake and the mountains seem to go forever. When you’re there and seeing it, you wonder how you can ever want to be anywhere else. It’s magnificent on a blue day, and intense as all hell on a grey one. It’s almost as if the mountains have their own story to tell. In a way, I guess they do.’ He gazed out the foggy window into the soft drizzle, but I knew that wasn’t what he was seeing. ‘The lake breathes, you know ‒ in and out. The Maori say it’s the beating heart of the giant who created the lake when he was killed. They say the heart of a giant can never be stopped.’ He turned to look into my eyes and said softly, ‘You’d love it ‒ I know you would.’
I felt something shift in my tummy and hung my head to hide my confusion.
Then I blurted it out: ‘We’re moving to New York. James told me on Saturday night.’
Richie turned away and gathered his drawings, sliding them back into the pages of his sketchbook. I watched his back, waiting for a reaction.
Finally he said, ‘What about you? What do you think about it?’
I shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It’s a great opportunity for James ‒ he’s really excited. On the bright side, it means I’ll see more of him. That has to be a good thing, right?’ I forced a wide smile. Richie didn’t smile back. ‘Besides, what am I doing here? Sitting around in a potting shed playing at being a gardener, writing a silly little newsletter and taking photos of plates of food and vegetables while I wait for my husband to come home? I’m not like you ‒ I don’t have an ambition or a plan. I just have James.’
‘What about your dream to have a cafe selling food sourced from your garden? Soups, salads, muffins, all-day breakfast, mac cheese of the month … what about that? And the cookbook and recipe cards?’
I shook my head. ‘That’s just a fantasy.’
‘It’s more than that. You’ve planned the fit-out in almost as much detail as I’ve planned my Chelsea garden. Light and airy with polished concrete floors, you said. Local art on the walls, plants hanging from the ceiling, and the whole space opening up to a sun-filled pergola with wisteria providing colour and shelter in the spring and summer, and letting light through in the winter. A herb garden out the front so you can wander out and snip from it as you need to, and raised vegetable beds. Like a potting shed, but with food, and stock from local producers ‒ like we do here. Nothing matching, you said. I’ve been listening.’
He certainly had been. ‘I know, but it’s all a bit silly when you think about it. James is a management consultant ‒ he belongs in cities. I’m his wife, and I belong wherever he is. Anything else is unrealistic.’
He nodded slowly. ‘You’re right, of course.’ He looked at me closely and I felt my tummy flip again. ‘I’ll miss you. It won’t be the same without you here, Hendo.’
I felt him watching me when I turned away to look out the window.
He paused, then asked, ‘When will you go?’
‘Not for a few months. It’ll take that long for all the visa and transfer paperwork to be done, so James will continue to commute until then. I’ll need to find a tenant for the cottage. James is sorting out an apartment over there for us, and we’re leaving the London flat as it is for when he needs to come back.’ I didn’t look at him as I spoke. ‘James wants me there for summer, so I guess I’ll go sometime in May or June.’
‘What will you do there?’
‘What does any woman do in New York?’ I plastered a bright smile onto my face. ‘Shop, sightsee and lunch. It’s most women’s dream come true ‒ to be a lady of leisure in the best city in the world.’
‘But not yours,’ he said quietly. ‘That’s not you, Maxi. That’s not who you are.’
‘Maybe not,’ I conceded. ‘But James is my husband and I love him. My place is wherever he is.’
Wish you were here will be available from Amazon at the end of October. Sign up to the newsletter for details of release day specials.