“I thought I heard someone outside the door early this morning,” said Chico. He was shaving while Annie was soaking in the bath. Annie flicked some soap suds in his direction.
“Oh this old building is so full of moans and groans, it could tell a few tales with all the comings and goings. Now there’s an idea for your film producer friend. A racy soap opera called Tales From Maple Court.” Annie laughed.
“Do you think I’m putting on weight, darling? I mean around my face and on my waist. Chico was swaying and posing, looking at his bare torso in the mirror.
“Chico, cheeky, cheeky, cheeky, cheeky Chico, you are the perfect specimen in my heart and in my bed,” said Annie, blowing him a kiss. Annie could have completed her appraisal by saying that he was a little lacking in the brains department but she liked Chico because he was young, carefree, uninhibited and he made her feel exactly the same way. She could tolerate his lack of stimulating conversation in favour of his other talents.
Chico walked over to the bath, bent down and kissed Annie fully on the lips. “I love you, darling. You enjoy your bath. I’ve got to get dressed and head over to the wine bar. Thank goodness I remembered to change my shift for the party across the way.”
“Do you ever think about opening your own wine bar?” asked Annie.
“It is my second dream,” said Chico, “because you, my darling, were my first dream, to meet and fall in love with a beautiful woman.”
“Get out of here, you gorgeous charmer before I lose control again.” Annie threw a snowball-size clump of bubbles at Chico who ran from the bathroom. He was a bartender but she still insisted in introducing him to other people as a life coach. It was more stylish, she thought. She lay there soaking for a while thinking about her life and the price she had decided to pay for her freedom. She was surprised at how easy it was to leave Jonathan but her conscience nagged her about Sophie. Her daughter was very precious top her but Annie concluded that in this one life chance given to all human beings, each person had seventy or eighty years to survive, not a lot of time in the great scheme of things and certainly it was silly to waste any of it. Family life was the thing she craved when she was a young girl and on into her teenage years. But once she had it, she struggled to accept that her biggest wish had come true when she still had decades in front of her. It was a ruthless decision but she had made it after finding fun and laughter again with Chico. He was a bit of a dunce at times but he cared for her and made her feel good physically and emotionally. She reckoned that the angst of cutting her daughter was an expensive price worth paying. It seemed to her that it was a clear choice of growing into a frumpy old mother and wife or taking a leap of faith out into the world of freedom and pleasure.
At the dressing table, she took great care and plenty of time to apply her make-up. She had no reason to rush and she found the procedure very relaxing and, eventually, rewarding, as she transformed the plain looking woman fresh from her bath into an attractive lady. Chico said he loved to look at her face, and other parts of her body too of course, but he said she had hypnotic eyes, classic cheekbones and beautiful lips that produced a smile to intoxicate and then melt the hearts of men. Chico was indeed a romantic but in his own clumsy, cheesy way, he was sincere about it.
Annie’s plan in returning to Maple Court was to find a way to get a share of Jonathan’s savings and investments, a settlement of some kind, even though she had walked away without notice and without much of an explanation. Her own finances were dwindling slowly and, although it was her decision not to work, she couldn’t see how Chico’s barman wages could keep them in a reasonable lifestyle in the long term. She had ambitions to find enough money to buy a wine bar, partly a jokey thing between her and Chico, but a serious enough aspiration in her own mind. She would own it, Chico would run it and it seemed as good a dream as any to ponder. But she had to find a way to get the money and she didn’t want to borrow from the banks and she reckoned that Jonathan would be a soft touch, especially after some manipulation. She had gone to the toilet in the early hours and on her way back to bed, she heard noises in the street. Looking out the window, she saw Jonathan and Dot stumbling about, with Dot cackling away at something or other. Later, she was aware of floorboards creaking outside her door and she knew that someone, probably Jonathan, had stopped outside. She reckoned he was a bit jealous of her relationship with Chico and that his ear to the door indicated that there was still a spark of interest in his wife. Annie was confident she could use such a spark, as well as Jonathan’s relationship with their daughter and his dalliance with Dot, to her advantage. She was aware also of his visits to Mrs Kingston across the hall. The party at the new couple’s apartment later would be a good place to observe everyone in the same room. The whole thing was destined to be monumentally boring and dull, but making new friends and reacquainting with old neighbours were both steps towards a lucrative end.
Annie performed a final check of her appearance in the long mirror by the door before going shopping. She liked what she saw. She was back in the game. She was determined to do whatever it took to succeed, even if eventually it meant dumping Chico in the process. She didn’t want to do that but she would even sacrifice him to get her way.