It looks much easier in movies. Being a private detective, I mean.
If this were a movie, for example. I’d have taken Oliver’s phone with us to the park and, while Jack played nicely on the slide, I’d have scrolled through a couple of texts and emails until — ta-da! — I discovered irrefutable evidence that proved Oliver wasn’t getting any extra-curricular entertainment from our landlady. Then next week I could have returned in triumph to the Coffee Morning Posse, demanding an apology for them spreading untrue rumours.
This isn’t a movie, however, so what happens instead is this:
While Oliver trundles his mother off to see the sights of Bath, the children and I walk to the park. Jack insists on jumping on every fallen leaf he sees, so a ten-minute walk becomes a thirty-minute loiter. When we arrive at the park, he leaps into a big pile of leaves, twisting his ankle on a tree root beneath, and falls over and skins his hands. This makes not only him cry but George and Beth cry too, and while I’m all for sibling bonding, I wish they’d find another way to do it. Fortunately, no one else is at the park that early, so I’m spared the disapproving stares and visits from social services. Hugs, cuddles, pats on the back and “there-there”s have no effect, and all three kids bellow in unison until an ice cream van comes along, tinkling “Greensleeves”.
Motherly love is all very well, but it’s no match for a Flake wedged in an ice cream cornet.
So what with adorning Jack’s hands with Spiderman plasters, decorating the twins’ faces with ice cream, and discovering, too late, that the baby wipes are back at the house, it’s no wonder that playing Nancy Drew falls down the pecking order of my to-do list.
When I do get round to perusing the contents of Oliver’s phone, I’m first nervous about what I might see, then disappointed at the dull reality.
Oliver’s inbox consists of emails from customers complaining about this, that, and the other; automated reminders for finance meetings and business development brainstorming sessions; an email in September from Terry Michaels, Caroline’s husband, asking Oliver out for a drink after work (I didn’t know Oliver was that pally with the boss); and a bunch of joke emails from Oliver’s colleagues that probably wouldn’t pass any political correctness tests. The only messages from Melissa were a couple in which Oliver had queried the overtime she’d claimed in August, and she was fighting back, saying she had indeed been in the office until 8pm on August 21, 23, and 24.
There was nothing interesting in his inbox, in fact, until I got to one from HR, dated three weeks ago. It certainly made up for the rest of the inbox contents.
Oliver, it seems, has been offered a new job.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but life partners normally share this kind of information, don’t they? It’s the first I’ve heard about this job, though.
It would still be in Massachusetts so we wouldn’t have to move, so that’s good. But get this: the letter states that the position would come with a company car up to the value of $35,000, first class travel while on company business, and two weeks extra paid vacation. The salary, the email says, would be commensurate with the grade, plus a bonus percentage based on past performance, to be evaluated by Assistant Head Honcho Terry Michaels. (A-ha! Hence the invitation of a drink after work, a few days later.)
I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of the grading system in Oliver’s company, but I do know that at present there is no company car, he gets four weeks holiday like everyone else in Milton Keynes, and if he wants to travel even business class he has to be flying long-haul, like to Australia. This job would be a big career leap for him.
Why wouldn’t Oliver want to share the possibility of good news with me? I suppose he could argue that he didn’t want to get my hopes up in case nothing came of it.
Or maybe he turned it down.
But why would he do that?
Having raised more questions than I’ve answered, I take the children home, and carefully replace the phone on the window seat in our bedroom.
* * *
“How did you like Bath?” I ask Sandra later, when she and Oliver return to our little cottage. Oliver, I sense, has run out of patience already — not a good thing when Sandra is here for another five days.
She wrinkles her nose. “Those Georgian houses all look the same. I can’t see the difference between them and the new Barratt estate in Milton Keynes.”
“Philistinism” doesn’t begin to describe the attitude of my mother-in-law towards architectural aesthetics.
“A bit more expensive than your average Barratt house,” I say. “We could never afford to live there, anyway.”
“Not even with what Oliver makes in America?”
“Nope,” Oliver says.
“I thought that was the whole point of you going out there, to get a promotion,” Sandra says, pouting.
We didn’t tell her that. She assumed it. Heaven forbid that we should leave Milton Keynes to expand our horizons and get away from family irritants.
“Yes. Well. Sometimes these things don’t happen as planned. There’s no promotion in the immediate future, I assure you, and we won’t be buying a house in the Royal Crescent anytime soon.”
I bet we could afford it if he took that job in the email. I’m dying to say this, but of course that would mean admitting I’d been snooping through his phone.
“You should try sleeping with your boss!” Sandra laughs, and splutters all over Jack who has come to her for a hug. He steps away quickly.
“Not my style, Mum,” Oliver says. “I leave that sort of thing to other people. Me, I’ve got principles.”
He walks into the living room, where I can hear him talking softly to the twins, who gurgle back.
“What’s his problem?” Sandra asks, jerking her head in Oliver’s direction.
I shrug. “Hormones?”
But not his. Someone else’s hormones are causing him trouble.
I leave that sort of thing to other people, he said.
His query about Melissa’s overtime. His boss’s request for a man-to-man chat over a beer, and an offer of a job he could have only dreamed about six months ago.
Me, I’ve got principles, he said.
Like everyone, Oliver has his faults.
But I know that taking bribes isn’t one of them.
* * *
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