THE VERONA SUITE

A man who has made the mistake of going on holiday with his wife and small baby becomes intrigued by the glamorous people in the honeymoon suite next door.

 

The Verona Suite

Rue Baldry

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IT WAS JUST AFTER TWO in the morning, the first time I saw them. I’d taken Rosie out onto our balcony so that Heather could get some sleep. It had been ridiculous, really, going on holiday with a seven-month-old baby. We hadn’t understood, when we’d booked it all those months before, that babies and hotels aren’t a good mix. We’d just known that we’d need relaxation by August.

It was one of those still, hot nights when it makes no odds whether you’re outside or in. Rosie had calmed enough to start in on the bottle just before they got there. Suddenly, I could hear the gentle waves rolling down the sand. So quiet in comparison to her crying. I sat down, smoothly, carefully, cross-legged. The view was of darkness, apart from the pier’s fairy lights and their reflections on the sea. Milk dripped onto the back of my hand, at unpleasantly close to blood heat. The chill through my boxer briefs was on the cusp between soothing and uncomfortable.

A click made Rosie crease the top of her face as though considering setting up a yell. Then there was a whump, whoosh, shove. I tugged lightly at her bottle to make Rosie suck harder and forget to cry. Light from inside their room spilled out onto their balcony. Whispers.

The Verona Suite had a white plaque on its door, the door that we kept passing on the way to ours. Silver lettering and cupids, doves, roses. The honeymoon suite. We’d looked it up online after we’d got settled into our own room. We knew there was a jacuzzi in there, an oversized, circular bed, white carpet, huge mirrors and the option of champagne on arrival.

A man and a woman came out onto the suite’s balcony. He leaned his elbows on the white-painted top of the balustrade and sank his head onto his forearms. She rubbed at his back, squeezed his shoulder. They stood there for a moment, silent and still, lit from behind and unaware of me watching them from the dark. Then she tapped his upper arm twice, before turning and heading back into the room. He straightened, sighed, followed.

The next morning, in the dining room, I looked for them so I could point them out to Heather. They’d probably slept through breakfast, though, what with arriving that late and being on honeymoon with better things to do than eat. I nearly said that to Heather, but somehow our own honeymoon, six and a half years before, seemed so alien by then that I didn’t dare to mention it. These days, if we were in bed then we were sleeping, unless Rosie was keeping us awake.

Back in our smaller, stuffy, jacuzzi-less room after breakfast, we opened all the windows and doors while we packed up our bags for the beach. Suncream, baby bottles, wipes, hats and blankets. All of it for Rosie. She was tiny then, with socks that fitted onto two of my fingers, but her bags, buggy, car seat and travel cot crowded us into one corner of the room.

We were nearly ready to go when we heard them from the next room.

‘I should be there,’ said the man’s voice.

It drifted in through our windows; theirs must have been open, too.

‘You will be,’ said the woman, ‘When we get back, when everyone else has returned to their daily lives and forgotten. That’s when he’ll need you.’

We stood still, Heather and I, not looking at each other, saying nothing, while Rosie kicked at air in the centre of the double bed.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. Their voices were a bit posh, but not painfully so. Professional plus some. Probably lived in London.

‘He’s right: you need a holiday. When do you ever get away? Just try and relax for this one week.’

After she said that, we waited for a couple of minutes to the sound of cars passing on the road below. Then Rosie caught her foot in the duvet. Heather picked her up while I closed the windows.

We spent the morning on the beach, taking it in turns to lie on a towel reading the newspaper, while the other one jogged a bored Rosie on their hip, down to the sea and back. I looked up at one point, realising I’d dozed off, to see Heather walking back towards me chewing on the end of an ice cream cone. I was annoyed that she hadn’t got me one and also couldn’t help thinking that it was the last thing she should have been eating if she was ever going to get her figure back. I didn’t dare say anything, though. Just stood up and took sleepy Rosie onto my shoulder.

We were dragging our laden buggy backwards off the sand and up the steps to the hotel, when we saw that there were two people standing on the honeymoon suite’s balcony. We both stood still looking up, buggy balanced on its back wheel on the top step, getting a good, long look at the slim, well-dressed young people up there.

He was staring out at the sea, with a phone against his well-moisturised, lightly tanned face. She was watching him, in beautiful profile, with her face in full make-up at midday. He put the phone in his suit jacket pocket, frowning.

‘Any news?’ we heard her ask.

Rosie grizzled. We heaved the buggy up the last step and got in under their balcony.

‘Still hasn’t turned up,’ he said. ‘How could he do this?’

Heather started struggling with the clasp on the buggy straps, with sand-gritted, sun-creamed fingers. I stroked Rosie’s tummy and made shushing noises at her.

‘I hope he’s alright,’ she said above us.

‘Hmm.’

We didn’t hear any more because Rosie started howling then. Heather pulled her out of the buggy, which made her louder if anything. The buggy began to tip backwards. I got to the handles just before they landed. As red-faced with embarrassment as Rosie was with fury, we crossed the politely carpeted lobby to the elevators.

She fell asleep just in time for us to miss the lunch sitting. Heather and I faced off. Neither of us wanted to risk moving her now, but we were both hungry and both tired. Heather broke eye contact first and curled up on the bed.

I sighed. ‘I’ll go out and see if I can find somewhere selling sandwiches, then, will I?’

Heather made a croaky ‘Mmmhmm’ noise. I was pretty sure she was exaggerating her sleepiness. I considered slamming the door on my way out, but didn’t want to risk waking Rosie.

When I returned, the Verona woman was leaving her suite. I nodded to her as we passed in the chemical-smelling corridor. She pointed at the grocery bag in my hand.

‘Ooh!’ she said, ‘Is there a Sainsbury’s near here?’

‘It’s just a Local,’ I replied, as casually as I could. ‘Turn left coming out of the main entrance and it’s on the next street going up away from the beach.’

It had annoyed me how close it was, because it had taken me a long time to find it, searching up lots of wrong roads, all of them terraces of little houses painted in those pastel shades you can only get away with at the seaside.

‘Brilliant!’ she said. ‘Did they have deodorant and shampoo?’

‘I think so. I mean, it looked like the sort of place which would. I was getting sandwiches.’

Looking at the healthy gleam of her hair, I doubted they would have her usual, probably expensive, brand of shampoo.

‘You’re a life-saver. We left in a bit of a hurry,’ she said.

Heather sat up as soon as I walked in with the meal deals, so she hadn’t even been asleep. I knew I would have dropped straight off if she’d been the one who’d gone shopping. It felt like a wasted opportunity.

I told her I’d had contact with the Verona woman. While we ate our egg salad sandwiches, dropping the crumbs on top of the duvet, we speculated in whispers about how it could happen that you could leave for a honeymoon in such a hurry that you hadn’t packed deodorant.

Down in the hotel’s bar that night, Rosie slept soundly in her buggy beside our table for two. We said it was nice. Getting some time together. Just the two of us. But once we’d said that, and I’d got the drinks in, we didn’t seem to have anything else to say to each other. We held hands on the table top.

‘That’s her,’ I said into our silent bubble within the noisy room. ‘The woman from the honeymoon suite.’

Her dress was short and clinging, her legs bare, smooth and tanned, her hair styled and her make-up applied expertly to her face like she had time for that sort of thing, not a couple of minutes to one-handedly splash on mascara and wipe a lipstick over her mouth, with a baby on one shoulder. Heather looked lovely, though: lovely to me. And I was as dishevelled as she was, so I could hardly complain. I squeezed her hand.

The woman from the Verona Suite hopped up onto a bar stool and crossed her slim, toned legs. A man in a crisp suit approached, looking like he was offering to buy her a drink. I expected her to slap him, or at least to demur, saying that her husband was on his way down. Her brand-new husband. We were sitting too far away to hear what she did say, but it couldn’t have been that, because the man sat himself on the stool beside hers and ordered her something tall and brightly coloured with a sparkly stick in it.

Heather was slowly sipping half a cider. She’d only just started drinking again since she stopped breastfeeding.

The man in the suit stared blatantly at the Verona woman’s cleavage while they talked. They were small breasts, but they were firm and on show. I hadn’t been near Heather’s more ample ones in over a year.

I turned to Heather, to check she hadn’t seen me looking. She raised an eyebrow.

‘That’s some way to start a marriage!’ she whispered.

‘I wonder where he is?’ I whispered back.

We grinned at each other.

Rosie stayed asleep all evening. Things didn’t seem so bad. On our way back to the room a couple of hours later, we passed a poster for day trips out to an old burial site.

‘Tuesday,’ Heather said. ‘We might have had enough of the beach by then.’

I was already three days beyond having had enough of it. We signed up at reception.

I knew that was a mistake as soon as we got into the airless coach. When the Verona woman got on, I was trying to hold onto both a wriggling, huffing Rosie and the folded buggy, while Heather hefted our bags into an overhead space. The woman smiled at me, then walked towards us down the chipped flooring of the central aisle. She stood there, cool and balanced on precariously high and slight heels, and asked Heather if she could help.

Heather gaped at her, with one mottled leg up on the seat, mid-shove, blinked for too long, then slipped sideways and dropped the changing bag on the Verona woman’s shoulder. After that, she did a lot of flustered apologising.

‘It’s really fine,’ the Verona woman said. Several times. Then, ‘Seriously, let me hold something, or put something away for you. Is this buggy going up?’ Eventually she said, ‘Hello again,’ to me.

‘She’s from next door,’ I said to Heather. I was scared that she’d forget that they hadn’t actually met and give away that we’d been spying on them. Sort of.

Heather managed a ‘Pleased to meet you,’ and between them the women got everything stowed while I tried to hold a dummy between Rosie’s lips.

The Verona woman sat in the seat in front of us. She extended a manicured hand between the headrests to Rosie, patted her cradle cap with three fingertips, and said, ‘So it’s you I’ve been hearing through the wall, is it? What’s your name?’

We both waited, stupidly, as though Rosie might actually answer her, and when I did speak, I said ‘Sorry’ before I said ‘Rosie.’

While Rosie banged on the coach window at the retreating countryside, the woman told us their story. She said that she couldn’t quite believe it herself.

Her brother, Adam, had been the Best Man at his friend’s wedding that Saturday, she said. He and Christof had been friends since university. In fact… but there she trailed off. Anyway, when it came to the big day, Christof had been stood up. Nobody knew what had happened to his fiancé, a younger man called Fyo.

I tried not to react. Heather flinched slightly beside me, but neither of us looked at each other. I wondered, briefly, why she hadn’t called it a ‘gay wedding’, before berating myself for being so old-fashioned and provincial. It had been ridiculous of me to assume it was a straight one. Just because we’d never been invited to any same-sex unions didn’t mean they were an oddity. In fact, I realised, apart from that woman who left Marketing last year, I didn’t think either of us knew any gay people. Which was just chance; not because we were avoiding them.

Rosie was licking the dirty glass of the coach window, but she was quiet for once, so I let her.

‘So there I was,’ the Verona woman said, ‘with nothing more than the contents of my handbag, in my new dress and these shoes, when Christof told Adam that he couldn’t bear to go on the honeymoon without Fyo, but he wasn’t going to waste the room, so Adam should go with me instead.’

Heather spotted what Rosie was up to at that point and snatched her onto her knee, glaring at me. ‘I don’t know why I bother sterilising everything,’ she said to the Verona woman.

Rosie started crying, of course. Heather decided that was down to hunger, not because she’d been pulled off the window where she’d been happy. I was ordered to find the bottle and formula milk, which meant climbing out over my wife and baby to get into the aisle. I had to brace myself against the seat backs and apologise to everyone I knocked into, as the driver bumped the coach over potholes and round the meandering corners of the road, and Rosie kept screaming.

When we were finally seated, settled, and quiet again, Heather asked the woman whether she was having a nice time on her surprise holiday.

‘I’m trying. But Adam’s just moping about in the room. That’s why I’m here. Anything to get a break from it! Christof keeps phoning him to cry. We’re all worried about Fyo, of course, but furious with him as well. And I’ve had to take the week off work with no notice at all. Because clearly Adam can’t be on his own. Well, not overnight. My boss is livid. She’ll have to postpone some things, and that doesn’t look good, does it?’

I was about to ask her what her job was, when the coach lurched to a stop and the tannoy told us we’d arrived.

She held Rosie while we got our baggage down, but then got off the coach wiping at her forearm with tissues and was out of sight before we’d manhandled everything into the car park. On the way back, she sat with three young men in cut-off jeans and shared some of their lager.

That night there was a loud knocking on our door. I’d started stumbling towards the cot before I realised that it wasn’t Rosie who’d woken me. Our room was lit up orange by the tiger-shaped night light we’d brought with us. The knocking stopped. I backed towards the bed, sat. There were three more sharp knocks. I made my seasick way over to our door. Heather sat up slowly behind me.

There was a slim, dark-skinned young man who smelled of rancid onions in the corridor. His clothes, though creased and grubby, looked expensive, as did the sunglasses perched on the top of his rumpled hair. His hand was raised to knock on the door again. He froze, and, slowly, as he looked at me, his face sank into lines of puzzlement.

‘Christof?’ he asked, in a lightly accented voice.

‘Next door,’ I mumbled, still half-asleep. ‘But he isn’t.’

‘He isn’t?’

‘He isn’t there.’ We both paused, waited. ‘Adam’s there,’ I added.

The young man sneered. ‘With Christof?’

‘No. With his sister.’ When he looked even more confused I clarified, ‘Adam’s sister.’

I wanted to ask him whether he was the missing Fyo, but thought he might be offended that complete strangers like us knew enough about his life to guess his name. I pointed at the Verona Suite’s cherub-decorated door plaque instead.

‘Ah, yes,’ he said. ‘I’m so sorry to wake you.’

I shrugged.

Heather turned up in the doorway next to me at that point, tying the belt on a hotel dressing gown.

He nodded to both of us. We should have closed the door and gone back to bed then, of course, but we stayed, mired in dream logic, not bothering to disguise our nosiness.

We watched him knock on the room next door. We watched Adam open it after only a few seconds.

‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ Adam asked him. He glanced at us, then back to the young man. ‘We thought you were dead.’

‘You hoped I was!’

‘Don’t be stupid, Fyo. Christof’s beside himself.’

So he was Fyo!

‘Not him. You! It would suit you if I’d died, wouldn’t it?’ Fyo looked over at us then.

Adam looked, too.

Fyo asked ‘Can I come into my hotel room?’

‘Yours?’

We couldn’t very well stand there any longer, after that, openly spectating. Heather moved back inside first. We slunk back to bed. We lay there, in the dim orange light, straining, but all we could hear were incoherent whispers, the door closing, then pacing in the rooms next door, and finally, as we drifted back to sleep, the sound of running water.

We hung around the hotel’s front garden the next day, instead of going to the beach. We sat at the picnic table, picking up Rosie’s toys and handing them back to her, looking between the second-floor balconies and the glass doors into the reception area.

Mid-morning, I got coffees from the bar and took them outside. Not long after, the Verona woman and Fyo came out to look up and down the road. They saw us and she waved. We waved back. As we’d hoped, she trotted over to us on her wedding guest high-heels.

‘I’m so glad I’ve seen you,’ she said. ‘I’ve got to take Fyo back to London. I’m hoping to be able to get into work today, actually. Try to salvage something. This has all been a bit of a disaster.’

Heather patted the other woman’s forearm awkwardly and nodded sympathetically. I picked up Rosie’s yellow dolphin teether and wiped it on my shorts.

‘Adam’s going to hang around for an hour or so.’ The Verona woman hovered over the corner of the picnic bench as though she was going to sit down, then looked over at Fyo and straightened up again. She said, more quietly than before, ‘Well, you couldn’t have him and Fyo on the same train. It was bad enough last night. I’m sorry, you probably heard Adam screaming at him about what an ungrateful little shit he is. I do hope we didn’t wake the baby.’

We told her, truthfully, regretfully, that we had heard no such thing.

‘Poor Adam. He’d kill to have what Fyo doesn’t seem to appreciate. With Christof. You know. I’m gabbling. I’m sure you’re not the least bit interested in all our ins and outs. But the point is, I was thinking, that it’s a shame for that lovely suite to go to waste. It’s all paid for, and I think it’s a bit bigger than your room. So I told the receptionist he should let you move into it for the rest of the week.’ A taxi pulled up to the curb. ‘Is that ours?’ she shouted over to Fyo.

It was. She got in it and I never saw her again.

The Verona Suite was whiter and cleaner even than in the photos. It smelled of roses and of sharp, exclusive, masculine perfume. Adam came out of the bathroom as I was dragging in the first of our luggage. He looked at me with red eyes.

I apologised for barging in. Then I thanked him.

‘I’m just leaving,’ he said.

I set up the travel cot beside the snowy, circular bed in oppressive silence. Adam picked up some small bottles from the bedside table and put them in a dark leather man bag.

‘Look. Things will probably work out,’ I said.

‘Yeah?’ Polite tone, snarled lip.

Actually, I realised too late, I wasn’t sure how much we were supposed to know. I’d started now, though. ‘Well, yeah. I mean, my wife, Heather, she had this boyfriend who broke her heart. She was in love with him and all that. Geraint.’ I pulled the face I always did saying that name, but it was mostly habit by then. ‘And, like I say, she thought she was in love with him. Well, she was, but now she’s with me and it’s all worked out. She says it wasn’t as good. With him. I mean, not such a full sort of love.’

I heard Rosie grizzle in the corridor. I headed towards the sound of her. ‘So, you probably will. I mean, it’ll be alright.’ At the open door, Heather handed me two more bags and the baby, then went back into our room.

Adam was fastening his bag. As I got closer I could see that he was wearing the nearest thing I’d ever seen to a smile on his face.

‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Yeah.’ He looked out of the French window, over the balcony, towards the sea. ‘I’m off now. Enjoy the room.’

I marched out a few laps of their balcony, jogging Rosie on my shoulder, glad I’d said something, listening to her noises growing rhythmical and soft, then quieter. She’d nearly shut up altogether when it struck me that, though I’d meant Adam would forget his love for Christof when he found someone better, he might have thought I’d meant that Christof would fall properly in love with him and realise that he’d never really loved Fyo.

‘Have you seen the size of this bath?’ Heather asked then, from inside the echoing bathroom.

I’ll never know what happened to any of them. Did Fyo disappear again, or was he reconciled with Christof? Why had he disappeared in the first place, and where had he gone? Did Adam murder him? Was he capable of that? Could Adam and Fyo, even, have fallen in love with each other? Did that sort of thing ever happen?

I do Google searches every so often, but there isn’t much to go on. I’ve got no surnames, for a start, and not much in the way of first names. Is it Christof, Christophe, Kristoff, or just an everyday Christopher with a pretentious nickname?

I’ve thought about them often, though. Especially now that Geraint has reappeared. Back in the village and still single, but now with an Audi and a successful smartphone repair business. Heather’s gone quiet. She’s eating less.

I look at Rosie, off to nursery in her floppy cerise hat, more than ready for school in a few months, and I wonder whether it would have been different if we could have afforded brothers and sisters for her. She looks too insubstantial, all on her own, to anchor her mother.

I can’t stop wondering whether their story got a happy ending, because it doesn’t look as though ours has.

 


 

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Rue Baldry, a British mother of five, has an MA in Creative Writing from Leeds University and has been a The Bridge Awards Emerging Writer and a Jerwood/Arvon mentee. Her short stories have appeared in publications such as The Mighty Line, The First Line, Mslexia, The Broken City and The Honest Ulsterman. 

Website: https://ruebaldry.wordpress.com/

 

Links to Rue’s work:

The Honest Ulsterman

The Broken City

Reader Berlin showcase

 

Twitter: @R_E_Baldry

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