This is the first of the series of chapters dealing with Phil’s fall from grace with co-worker Jeannie Robbins. I’m including it, along with the series here on the process section as I’m still very undecided on its inclusion in the story. I’m still unsure of Phil’s “affair-ability”, especially in light of his need to hold everything together. That said, there are very important things within this series which I will be using so the writing of it won’t go in vain. We’re going to be in Victorian England for quite some time on the “chapters” section of the site so, for those of you, missing Phil, here he is, but misbehaving at the office! I’ll be posting the following chapter in this series today.
As he had so many times that night, Phil took off his glasses, placed them on top of the open manuscript and pushed back from the desk, interlocking his fingers behind his head and leaning back in the chair. He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, thinking of the six chapters he’d just come through. A bona fide period piece, he thought, without the aid of hard rock music. And yet – no soundtrack necessary because he’d felt the passion between Sir Gregory and Justine in utter silence. In fact, whilst reading of their amorous escapades, he’d stirred within, wishing he could live the ecstasy they’d felt while entwined. Finally, Phil understood why Claire had always said she’d found this type of thing “quite sexy really.” Only, in Phil’s books, it was a damn sight more than “quite”; it was chillingly sexy.
Why did he choose that word?
Because it sent a shiver down his spine, that’s why.
And why did it send a shiver down his spine?
Because, much like George and Sidney’s love, Justine and Gregory’s had been forbidden. It was a risky love, a love that couldn’t last. And in its brevity, it garnered meaning, had a rapturous edge that taken-for-granted sexplay didn’t.
Sitting there, Phil thought about it deeply.
He thought about the way in which Sir Gregory had brought his kiss from Justine’s crown onto the bridge of her nose and then into the little groove above her lip before he placed it in her breath. He’d taken time. He’d paid attention. Who did that anymore? Everyone was in a rush these days; kisses were snatched and hurried. At least that’s how his kisses had been with Claire and that was even if they’d kissed at all.
Kiss-less sex. That’s what he and Claire had had for months now, if not years. And then he felt a pang inside his chest, an emptiness he hadn’t know was there.
And what about Gregory and Justine’s writing?
It had been their aphrodisiac.
Without a single touch, the lovers had worked themselves into a frensy; they’d funnelled their lust onto the page, let the characters make love for them. And yet, that way, in ink, they’d bared themselves to Phil, stimulating his imagination. Reading about them, Phil had been there with them in the room, experiencing their hunger, their emotion.
And when they’d made love on Greg’s future grave, Phil had been aroused yet sad, sad because he wanted them to last forever. But he’d known they couldn’t. And that was sad – that life’s best things, especially sexual pleasure, had to die eventually. Bones, as lovely as they were in motion, would end unmoving in the soil. Like Richie’s had.
Looking back on his life, Phil wondered if he and Claire had been as passionate as Gregory and Justine. I mean, they’d had their moments, that was for certain, but never anything as earth-shattering as what Justine had just described. Perhaps it was the era then; perhaps the nineteenth century, for its reverence of reserve and self-control, created pent-up passion which had no choice but to erupt. Not like nowadays where everything was mystery-less and out in the open.
Suddenly there was a tap on the glass.
Phil looked up.
It was Jeannie.
“Look, Owens,” Jeannie said. “I don’t mean to disturb you again, but are you sure you’re alright, mate? Cause from where I’m sitting, it looks like things are getting to you.”
“I’m fine,” Phil said, sitting up and looking at his colleague.
Christ, she was pretty.
Stop it, Phil. She’s your equal, super intelligent. Get your mind out of your trousers and into the bloody moment. “I just have a lot to think about right now,” he continued over his inner voice. “This case is driving me a little mad.”
“A little?” Taking a seat opposite, Jeannie winked.
Why did she have to go and do that?
“Look – Phil –”
She was using his first name. Great.
“Phil?” Jeannie reached out and touched his hand. “Seriously, Phil. Talk to me.”
And then, Phil made a grave mistake.
He didn’t pull his hand away.
But he didn’t.
And neither did she.
She kept her hand on top of his. She started talking softly about how it wasn’t easy being an officer of the Heath, of how the stress of it was taking a toll on her relationship with whoever at home, of how whoever didn’t understand her need for space, of how whoever was always trying to change her.
“And what about you, Phil?”
And there it was: the entrance to the rabbit hole.
As her fingers interlocked with his, he looked into her lovely eyes and said too much.
He handed her his life at home.
He spoke of how his wife and sons were always painting him as a curmudgeon or a stick-in-the-mud whilst they were charting out some fun, enlightened path at his expense.
“Phil – you’re no curmudgeon,” she said emphatically. “You’re one of the best officers on the force. Hardworking. Dedicated. Generous with time with the Mistwell youth. You’re the one the rest of us look up to. And as for enlightened? We’re not all into that, you know. Take Cummings for instance. He’s bloody irritating. Some of us just want a regular bloke without green leotards. Some of us just want a regular guy with –”
And here it came; Phil could feel it coming.
“—kind blue eyes and a reassuring smile like you have. Someone real. A guy with the wear and tear of an ordinary life. Being in our line of work, you know as well as I do, our run-of-the-mill lives are extraordinary, nothing to evolve from. That’s what our families don’t understand sometimes. They don’t appreciate the normalcy because they haven’t seen the chaos that we see every day.”
“Some of you want that. Really?” he asked. “Regular – run of the mill?”
“Regular – Run-of-the mill tends to be truthful,” she said.
“I’ve always tried to be truthful.”
Oh God – and here it came – he knew it before he heard it.
“To your wife?”
Yep. There it was. On cue.
Jeannie’s hand was still on his. Her fingers were still interlocked with his. He looked at her pretty face, at her hazel eyes, at the mousy hair adrift from her ponytail, at her slanted smile and her perfect teeth. And, too, he looked at her reddening cheeks as she began to acknowledge the invisible cord tightening between them.
Phil could’ve said a thousand things in that moment.
He could’ve said, “We better stop talking now, Robbins, and get back to work” or “Yes, I’ve always been truthful with my wife and I’m going to keep it that way” or “I have to get this assignment done before morning” or “ta-da-ta-da-ta-da-ta-da” or anything at all. But he didn’t. His own cheeks burning, he looked at her and said, “How could I have worked with you all these years and never realised how beautiful you are?”
“Do you know how long it’s been since anyone told me that?” she said with a touch of sadness in her voice. “It’s so long ago, I can’t remember.”
“Yeah,” said Phil. “You and me both.”
Immediately Phil thought of Sidney placing the tickets to Boston on George’s desk, of giving him the choice of living another life and of how George had pictured that other life before rejecting it to stay with Ada. But the thought was distant, like a picture hanging on the wall. The parallel, the present moment, was first and foremost. Until that point, as much as his perceived former self had loved George, Phil had viewed him as weak for having gone against his instincts. But now, he saw George as having been strong, stoic enough to swim against the tide of himself.
Phil already knew he wouldn’t be as strong.
What was about to happen was as good as happened.
“I’m going OTR,” Jeannie whispered, glancing up at the camera in the corner of the ceiling. OTR stood for “off the record” and meant she was going to ask Madge down at surveillance to turn the camera off for a while. “And I’ll check all the officers have left the floor on my way back, she added, getting up. “You with me on this?”
As Jeannie left the room, all Phil could do was nod in agreement.
When Jeannie returned to Redmond’s office, with a wink and an “all clear”, she closed the door and turned the lock, walking the length of the office to bring the blinds down.
Phil rose and came around to the front of the desk and before he knew it, Jeannie was up against him, clamping his arms, pressing her cheek against his chest. “How could anyone paint you as a curmudgeon?” she murmured, bringing her cheek away from his shirt, planting the first of her kisses in its place. “Because I look at you and find you absolutely wonderful.”
The lump in Phil’s throat stopped the words from coming.
For the first time in ages, he felt wanted for himself, not for all the bills he could pay. He felt complete. And stranger still, he felt that completion in what was turning out to be a night of mental turmoil. How desperate did he have to be to hinge his marriage on what might be a fleeting moment of another woman’s appreciation of him? Pretty bloody desperate, that was for sure, but, for once, he didn’t care. In fact, as far as he was concerned, Claire and the boys had already flown to Kenya, probably with Vic in tow.
Jeannie gave first.
Three French kisses in –
But just a sec.
How could one nation take credit for such a thing? Just like the French to claim kisses, wasn’t it? Ridiculous. Because kisses like these had been around in every corner of every continent since the beginning of time. Someone needed to de-Frenchify the kiss and give credit where credit was due.
So – Phil made a mental note.
From that moment on, the “French” kiss, for its very obvious global origins, would be renamed the international kiss – so, fuck it –
Phil threw all caution to the wind and set a new precedent with the very best international kiss he had in him, a kiss which, to be honest, was far more gratifying with its new inclusive label.
Underneath it all – well underneath her uniform really, Jeannie was wearing a nude sports bra from Marks and Spencer’s, albeit a feminine one with a slender lace trim. And she smelled like peppermint hand sanitizer and too many cups of coffee. She didn’t have an airbrushed body. She had a body with the scars and markings of her ongoing journey through this rough-and-tumble life. She wasn’t reworked and revamped like Claire was. There was nothing to come through because she’d grown beautifully where she’d been planted.
Not that there was anything wrong with crafting yourself into a better person. But as Phil kissed the living daylights out of this woman he’d never expected to kiss, he found himself loving her nature – and her nurture for that matter.
While Phil and Jeannie stood there kissing like they were still in secondary school, Phil wondered if they were going to emulate the standard office sex on TV shows and do it on the desk with just the necessary body parts made available.
But oh – okay – surprise –
Looked like they weren’t as Jeannie led him around behind the desk where belts were whipped off and trousers removed in a hurry. Looked like they were going to throw all caution to the wind and take it starkers on the floor. That was a bit of a risk, wasn’t it? Going full-on bedroom in an office? But it didn’t take long for Phil not to care. In retrospect of course, Phil realised that the TV scenario only worked if the female participant was wearing a dress or a skirt and Jeannie had been wearing her police trousers, so such maneuvers would’ve been impossible.
As they dropped behind the desk, Jeannie pushed him gently onto his back and straddled him, leaning forward and kissing the angle of his neck.
Reaching up, he undid her ponytail and let her hair fall like a curtain around their faces. He dragged her open shirt down her back and away from her body, returning to lift her bra over her head. And – well, Christ – need he say more – her breasts were lovelier than he’d imagined, a conclusion she was on the brink of confirming as she urged his face up, coaxing his lips onto them. But no coaxing necessary, thank you. Phil had already accepted the invitation.
There was no turning back now.
This plot was about to become thicker than his favourite custard.
For then, nothing mattered but the ‘this-that-and-the-other’ he and Jeannie were sharing. Compartmentalising themselves, they took a time-out from their lives. For that moment, they were no longer on the job. They no longer had significant others. They no longer had ties to the gazillion things they were tied to outside this box they were currently in. And Phil saw this box clearly. Two unexpected lovers caught inside a glass cube floating through the chaos that had closed in on them without them having realised. They were like Gwendolynia and Lore in Justine’s first story to Sir Gregory, the lovers destined to sift through the hourglass, together but apart from the world.
Jeannie touched all the overgrown places Claire avoided. She murmured all the things Claire had stopped saying. She found places Claire had long forgotten. She elicited her own pleasure by giving it away. For once in his life, Phil felt like he was the protagonist in his very own story. Jeannie, with her laughing eyes and summerday words, to borrow from Fen Berkshawe, made him feel “aliver that alive”.
They turned and he was over her.
Christ, she was beautiful, torso rising, head tilting, eyes shining, her hair fanned out on the floor behind her. As he covered her, she held his face, giving him a chain of international kisses.
When their moment came, it did so with a synchronicity Phil had forgotten existed.
“Well, Owens, wasn’t that a nice surprise?” Jeannie said as they lay staring at the ceiling.
“You can keep calling me Phil for a while,” said Phil, suddenly remembering how Justine would switch from Gregory to Sir. “Christ – Jeannie – what have we done?”
“Something amazing,” she whispered. “God, Phil, I never expected –”
“I know – me neither. That caught me off guard.
“What are we going to do about it?”
“Something, I reckon.”
And the glass box Phil had imagined earlier burst into pieces, sending him and Jeannie spinning back out into the world from which they’d separated.
They dressed gravely, aware of what they’d done, aware they were on the job, aware that they had significant others, aware that they did have a gazillion ties to the outside world. And yet, something had changed. As they stood by the desk, facing one another, they knew that whatever they’d just shared, there’d be another time – and another – and another.
“The thing is,” Jeannie said, reading Phil’s mind. “If we do something about this, once we’ve gone through the stress of that something, will we still be able to feel like this?”
“Well if we feel too much stress, we know how to relieve it.”
Leaning forward, Jeannie kissed him on the cheek and squeezed his hand. “I’ll bring you a coffee up from the kitchen. Then, only if you want to, you can tell me about this assignment you’re on and perhaps I can help you in some way. It was obviously bothering you.”
In the wake of Jeannie’s departure, Phil pulled up all the blinds to Redmond’s office, reinstating yet another box of glass: Detective Redmond’s office, and all the reflections that went with it. From where he stood, he could see the half-read manuscript floating in midair above Pete Saunder’s desk. Post-Jeannie, he was calmer. Perhaps that was because, after reading of Justine and Gregory’s affair, he’d needed to release the sexual tension. Whatever the case, he felt that, after coffee with Jeannie, he’d be able to resume reading Aubrey’s manuscript.
But that was the thing though.
It didn’t feel like Aubrey’s manuscript anymore. While Phil had been reading the first part of the work, he’d pictured Aubrey clearly hunched over the study desk, throwing all her ancestors onto the screen. But as soon as Justine had jumped in and started telling her story in the first person, Phil had pictured her instead. It was as if Aubrey had vanished. Justine was the one he envisioned now. He saw her sitting at the study desk, the hem of her dress pooled on the floor, her red hair shining in the lamplight as she penned her torrid beginnings at Rosegate. It was as if Justine had possessed Aubrey’s hand. And that, my friends, he said to himself, is my first major clue. If Justine had possessed Aubrey, then perhaps Justine had murdered her – only with Aubrey’s own hand. The question was: but why?
“Do you feel guilty?” Jeannie asked, returning with two cups of coffee.
“Not yet,” said Phil.
Still stunned by the afterglow, Phil was still telling himself that he’d been a victim of de-petaled roses and jumble sales. But somewhere deep down, he knew the guilt would kill him in the morning.
“Me neither,” Jeannie said, setting the coffees down and pushing one in Phil’s direction.
“My family seems to be moving on without me so maybe I’m just making it easier for them,” said Phil. “And perhaps its wrong of me to say, but sometimes you don’t realise you’re being treated badly until someone comes along and treats you properly.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Jeannie said. “Malcolm’s always eating away at me for this and that, telling me how much I should be changing. And then you stop and think, if you want me to change so much, then why are you even with me? And he hates my job, a job I love by the way.”
“Claire hates my job too,” Phil said. “But not the paycheques.”
“Tell me about it.”
For the next fifteen minutes or so, Phil filled Jeannie in on everything he’d been reading in Aubrey’s manuscript and his feelings of déjà-vu. Then they sat with their reflections and talked about stuff they considered to be the basics. And there were a lot of “not yets”.
I’m not vegan – yet.
I’ve not been to California – yet.
I’ve not seen the aurora borealis – yet.
I’ve not fallen in love for a second time – yet.
Unfortunately, there was one thing they could no longer throw into the “yet” category.
And that was “I’ve not been unfaithful – yet.”
“Look, Phil,” Jeannie said, eventually. “I’m going to head back to my desk and keep working. You get back to your story. But, later, when you’re ready, I’d be willing to go with you up to the house and check it out, see if we can find some of these things you’re coming across in the story.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Jeannie.”
“Sounds exciting. Consider me your backup.”
“I’ve still got some reading to do before we do that.”
“And for the record, Phil. I don’t know what your family would say. But I don’t think you’re crazy. You just happen to be finding bits and pieces of yourself in a book and there’s nothing wrong with that. And even if you end up being Sidney’s reincarnation, that’s okay by me.”
As Jeannie got up to leave, Phil watched her ponytail swinging in the lamplight.
Casting a glance over her shoulder, she said, “Who knows, Phil, what trouble we might get up to in the rooms of that house.”
And for the first time in what Phil had thought was going to be a dark night of the soul, he didn’t feel alone. In fact, for the first time in a long time, he felt like someone wonderful had his back.