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Choice Of Victory

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Perry kisses her at the door and she nibbles at his lip before pushing him off towards his car.

‘Parting is such sweet sorrow,’ need not only apply to adolescent romances.

He’ll be home early, but there are things he can’t put off at work today, and he made a point of staying to see Emily and Teddy settled in during  their visit.

Teddy’s just come down the stairs when Ilse comes back in. Emily held up for a while but grew exhausted before long. She waved it off as ‘her condition’ and the long drive, and Ilse saw her up to the guest room and then left her to Teddy’s concern.

“How is she?”

“Fine. She just needs rest. As I keep trying to tell her.”

The solicitousness stings a little, inexplicably. “Is she writing a new novel?” The commonplaces help keep the awkwardness at bay - if only for a few moments longer. They can’t avoid it forever.

Teddy tucks his hands in his pockets. “Not yet.”

He rocks back on his heels in a pose that’s instantly as familiar as her husband’s stance this morning. But Perry balances on the balls of his feet, as though he’s prepared to fight the world, while Teddy can stand back and disengage.

Ilse isn’t about to allow him to step back.

“Would you have ever told me about Emily?”

“Would you have ever told me about Perry?”

Touché. Ilse exhales and resists the urge to rub her palms against her thighs. Going to Perry that morning was the right thing to do - she’s never questioned that. But she’ll always regret that she hurt Teddy in doing so - even if she’ll never admit it. “Want a drink?”

“Please.”

They’re so polite, it makes her want to scream. If it wasn’t for Emily trying to rest up above, she would scream. And shout. And rage. And call him all manner of names, if only to get him to respond in kind.

But Ilse pours him a gin from the cabinet - and one for herself - doesn’t throw either in his face.

He sips it and looks out the window at the morning sun in her garden outside the window. “You’ve got a garden.”

It’s nothing much - Ilse is an indifferent gardener and an average cook. Perry didn’t marry her for her household skills. But she doesn’t care about gardens right now - what annoys her is the inanity of the exchange. “Do you really want to continue the conversation like this?”

The glass makes a distinct clink as it’s set down on the table and Teddy faces her. “You brought the topic up, Ilse. What did you expect?”

“I didn’t expect you to still be bitter - it was five years ago, you’ve certainly moved on! And it wasn’t as though I broke your heart!” And maybe that’s the problem: broken hearts heal, but pride remembers the sting to the bitter end.

“‘What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools
.’”

Teddy utters the quotation with a shrug and something like a smile. “I was angry for a long time after.”

“I did say you thought too much of yourself.” Teddy was always too impressed with himself when it came to women - good-looking, talented, charming, and with that indefinable air of belonging to someone else that so many women seemed to find irresistible.

Ilse never did. She agreed to marry Teddy for other reasons - including that he was a friend and she wanted to be loved and it didn’t look like Perry was ever going to look at her.

“You were right.” His eyes are steady on hers. “I did think too much of myself. Then.”

“And now?”

“I’ve grown up.”

“And married Emily.”

“Yes.” And in that one word is so much more than he can express in words. Ilse thinks there’s more there than even Emily could express in words. “If it’s any comfort, I wish I hadn’t been angry for so long. Maybe there’d be fewer wasted years between Emily and myself if I’d let it go sooner.”

And that’s about as much of an apology from Teddy Kent as Ilse Burnley is ever going to get.

Some arguments you expect to win; others you go in with the hope that you won’t lose.

Ilse is happy to choose her victories.