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The week when Martin was in Bruges

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Ann rang Paul’s doorbell with trepidation. With Martin in god knows where with work, she was attending one of Paul’s parties on her own. Well, Howard and Hilda would be there to chaperone her. She didn’t know why she felt she needed chaperoning - she was a grown woman for god’s sake. A grown, married woman.

 

Ah.

 

Maybe that was it.

 

Married.

 

With her husband elsewhere, she wondered whether Paul would flirt with her. She knew he was always joking, and she was fine with that. She was happily married, but there was a certain satisfaction in still being able to get male attention. Especially from someone like Paul. All her worries disappeared the moment the door opened.

 

“Ann! So glad you could make it. You look wonderful!” Paul said, holding the door open awkwardly, causing Ann to duck underneath his arm. He found himself with a rather lovely view of Ann when he turned around.

 

“There’s food in the kitchen and drinks in the dining room” He said, leading her through to the crowd. He seemed to steer her way from Howard and Hilda, eager as they were to speak to Ann.

 

“Thank you. Martin’s sorry he couldn’t come” Ann replied as Paul handed her a glass of something fruity.

 

“I’m not” He whispered, a wicked glint in his eye. Maybe he’s not joking, thought Ann. Their moment, whatever it was, was soon brought to an abrupt end by an approaching Howard and Hilda.

 

“Hello Ann!” They said in unison.

 

“Hello Howard, hello Hilda” Ann replied, smiling at Paul as he excused himself to greet more guests.

 

“Martin get off okay this morning? Where’s he off to this time?”

 

“Yes thank you Howard, he’s in Bruges again for a week”

 

“Well there’s always space at ours if you get lonely, Ann”

 

“Thank you Hilda. I expect I’ll be alright. Paul’s next door if I need anything” Ann replied, casually glancing around the room, trying to locate Paul. She saw him leaning against the fireplace, talking to a buxom and leggy blonde.

 

Definitely joking, Ann decided. Paul looked away from the woman with Lana Turner’s legs and smiled at Ann. She smiled back before turning back to Howard and Hilda. Luckily they didn’t notice her blushing as she drew her eyes away from Paul’s.

 

She hardly saw Paul all night. He’d had the party as a way of catching up with old friends. The problem was, of course, he could hardly take his eyes of Ann. He knew it was bad. She was a happily married woman. Sure, Martin drove her up the wall and they would sometimes should so loud he’d hear it from his house, but they loved each other really, didn’t they? He secretly and subconsciously hoped they weren’t as happy as they made themselves out to be. He’d never say this out loud, as much as he loved Ann.

 

As much as he loved Ann.

 

He loved Ann.

 

This realisation was something of a shock to Paul. He knew he liked her. He knew he fancied the pants off her. The realisation that he loved her, that was something else entirely. He’d never be able to look her in the eyes again, let alone Martin. How could he look his neighbour in the eye again, now knowing that he was in love with said neighbour’s wife? Come to think of it, how could he ever look Howard and Hilda in the eyes again? He’d have to leave the close. There’s no way he could stay now.

 

Paul was drawn from his panic by the very source of it arriving at his side.

 

“I’m going to go, Paul. Howard and Hilda are off too” She said, resting her hand casually on his bare forearm. He felt like his skin was burning where she touched him.

 

“Don’t go, Ann. Stay a little longer, please” Paul pleaded quietly. He didn’t want to cause a scene.

 

“Well…”

 

“Please, Ann…”

 

“Well alright...I’ll do some of the washing up for you” She said, taking Paul’s empty glass from his hand. Before Paul could protest, Ann was halfway to the kitchen, collecting empty glasses as she went. It was all a bit too domestic for Paul to bear.

 

The stark light from the kitchen framed Ann perfectly - she looked positively angelic. If it hadn’t been for the presence of other people, he’d have been halfway across the room as fast as his legs would carry him, and he’d have Ann pinned against the wall.

 

You can’t think like that, Paul, he told himself. Ann’s happily married. You spent most of the evening flirting with that woman you hardly know so nobody would notice your interest in Ann.

 

Ann washed up the final glass and leant against the counter. She felt flustered. She had no reason to. She hadn’t felt this kind of flustered since she and Martin were newlyweds. Not since Kidderminster. She couldn’t work out what it was. Maybe it was the fruity cocktails Paul kept giving her. Maybe it was Paul almost begging her to stay. Maybe it was Paul. She was going to have to leave at some point, no matter how much she loved him.

 

How much she loved him.

 

She loved him.

 

This realisation came as a huge shock to Ann. She was a happily married woman, why the hell was she in love with Paul? But she was. Paul approached her slowly, leaning against the counter next to her.

 

“Thank you for helping clear up” He said quietly. From the lack of ambient noise, Ann guessed that all the guests had left apart from her.

 

“I don’t mind. I like being here”

 

“Do you?”

 

“I do”

 

Paul’s breath hitched in his throat.

 

“Ann...I know I shouldn’t say this”

 

“I think I love you” Ann interrupted. Paul stopped breathing for a moment.

 

“What?”

 

“I think I love you, Paul Ryman” Ann repeated. Paul didn’t wait a moment, he pressed his lips to Ann’s. She kissed him back after a second, any semblance of guilt leaving her conscience after Paul wrapped his arms around her waist.

 

“I love you so much, Ann Bryce” he murmured in between kisses.

 

They pulled apart, Paul keeping Ann upright with his hands firmly on her waist.

 

“Are you sure about this, Ann?” Paul asked. Ann nodded.

 

“Ann, I’m going to need a verbal reply, just so I’m sure. I don’t want to potentially ruin your marriage without a verbal reply” He continued.

 

“I want this, Paul. I want you” Ann replied. Paul nodded quickly, and put his lips back to Ann’s, picking her up and carrying her upstairs.

 

---

 

Nothing ever happened after the party. At least, after Martin came home. The whole time Martin was away, Ann never went home. She lived at Paul’s. Once Martin came back, they parted and nothing happened.

 

---

 

Paul moved away a few month later. He couldn’t cope with Ann next door. Not after what they’d shared the magical week when Martin was in Bruges.