Richard had dumped her when she’d told him. Outright dumped her. Turned out that Jenna sleeping with women was fine by him, but the moment she did it with a guy-- a guy she had a friendship with-- that was it. That plus the career stuff- though his career was fine; Jenna didn’t understand it-- and he’d gone over the edge. It had been strained for months, she admitted that, but she’d been hoping he’d find his footing and settle down.
No. All that polyamory talk had been a lie. He’d liked sleeping around. He didn’t like it when she did it.
It had gone very differently with Elaine, according to what Peter had told her, because it had been no surprise at all to her. Peter had asked her in advance if she’d mind, he confessed, and she’d laughed at him a little bit and taken him to bed. That was the kind of thing he’d mention to Jenna now, albeit diffidently. Their one time together had lowered some barriers between them, apparently. It was, to be honest, making the acting easier.
Peter and Elaine had a relationship that would probably survive anything. Apparently her relationship with Richard had been dead already. And yes, she knew she was moping.
They were filming indoor scenes now, the things they didn’t have to do on location, so they were at Roath Lock on familiar ground. Jenna kept to herself but she knew if she hid in her trailer she’d be a downer, so she just sat in a corner of the shooting set and watched, quietly. Maisie was fun on set, and Peter was bonding with her and making her laugh, and vice versa, and Jenna felt like being a downer wasn’t welcome, so she kept her mouth shut.
Peter noticed. Of course he noticed. How had she ever expected him not to? He came to her after Maisie’s last scene of the day, took her by the arm, and pulled her aside.
“Jenna, sweetheart, are you well? You’ve been off for days. I’m sorry I didn’t ask until now.”
“I’m fine, Peter. Fit as a fiddle.”
“A fiddle that does a bit of sniffling when it thinks nobody’s looking, maybe.”
“Yeah, sorry, I am sorry, really. It’s just that Richard and I have broken it off and I feel off.”
“Oh! Oh. I am sorry. Presuming it’s something to regret?” An eyebrow raised in question, and Jenna almost smiled.
“Yeah, I regret it. Not sure why, but I do. I was dumped.”
“What a fucking idiot, not to appreciate the wonderful woman he had,” Peter said, and the pure outrage in his face was consolation all on its own. “Pardon my Malcolm,” he said immediately, looking abashed.
Jenna laughed through the sniffles, because that was so Peter, to swear terribly then be embarrassed.
His arms were open and then they were around her and he was holding tight and rocking her. He kissed her hair and pulled her close. Oh, Peter. Ridiculous sweet Peter. Best hugs ever. Whatever his cologne was, Jenna loved it. She would ask Elaine what it was and buy a bottle and douse a pillow with it to hug on awful nights when she was feeling bad about the end of her longest, best relationship and feeling like she was pure rubbish. And now she was crying for real.
“This won’t do. Come on, honey, let’s find a quiet corner.”
There were lots of places to get lost in the main studio. They both had trailers, for one thing, and there were many storage rooms and strange corners full of bits of set from projects past. If you wanted to get lost in this building, you could. Peter had a word with the runner assigned to him to make sure they could get lost without upsetting anybody for the next couple of hours, and he led her to a room she hadn’t been in before, back deep in the older section. This was the storage area, all costumes in mothballs and sets that hadn’t been repurposed yet. Dust and quiet.
Peter flipped a switch beside the door and dim fluorescent lights flickered, far overhead. Jenna saw chairs stacked on each other, armchairs shoved up tight, Victorian bric-a-brac, drywall painted to look like wallpaper or faraway scenery. Junk, in other words.
“I call this the velvet room,” Peter said. “Because of all the worn velvet shite all over those panels. Some period piece or other left its carpentry behind.”
But there were also five or six loveseats and sofas, all pushed up against each other. Somebody had moved one of the longer sofas out a little bit and angled a screen in front of it so it couldn’t be seen easily from the door. There was a throw and a battered paperback copy of Moby Dick resting on the arm. The somebody had obviously been Peter, and this was his hideaway when he needed not to be found for real.
Peter moved the throw and the book aside and sat down. He tugged her down onto the sofa next to him and slung an arm around her shoulder.
“Cry if you need to, or complain about him, or talk to me about flowers. Whatever you need, honey.”
“Just hug me, okay? Sick of thinking about it.”
“All right then,” he said, and he pulled her onto his lap and held her tight. Jenna let herself be held. Warm, solid, living, breathing-- another human being touching her, soothing her, kissing her temple. Jenna kissed his cheek in thanks, then leaned over a little to rub her nose against his.
He kissed her the way he always did, gently on the lips, not demanding anything from her. Jenna whimpered and tugged him to do it again. She knew with one little corner of her mind that it was inviting disaster, or if not disaster, at least more distress. She’d been the one with the self-control to stop them after one night together, the one night he was allowed without trespassing on his marriage.
Jenna didn’t ask him any questions. Maybe she was afraid of the answers. Maybe she didn’t want to think about it, or be responsible. She just wanted him to soothe her. Soothe her, touch her, reassure her, tell her she was worthwhile, that all those things Richard had said when he’d been so angry and upset and jealous hadn’t been true. Peter was so dear to her, so special-- a little bit frightening sometimes, with what he knew and how he thought and how utterly kind he was-- Peter was the only one who could make her feel better right now. Or so she told herself. She knew it was selfish.
Maybe she could be selfish just this once.
She was the one who pushed it a little bit this time. She was the one who pulled up his t-shirt and let her hand rest on his bare skin, who made the noises that signaled arousal to him. She was the one who turned to straddle him and pulled her skirt up and out of the way. She didn’t want him to feel guilty about it, whatever happened. She wanted it and said so, clearly, and gave him the space to say no if he needed to. But he didn’t. He was already hard inside those trousers when she unzipped them, more than willing to help her slip off her knickers, to hold himself while she rose up over him and sank down on him.
God, he felt good. That penis, so satisfying inside her, inside her again. Call her greedy, fine. She was greedy. Selfish. He was, as ever, a gentleman, all courtesy and grace and thoughtfulness, especially as a lover. Maybe that was experience. He knew to rest his thumb on her clit and help her along, to say sweet things in her ear about how lovely she was to him, and how much she deserved pleasure.
It had been a couple of weeks since she’d come and she couldn’t help it, Jenna was on the edge so quickly. He kept her there, the scheming bastard, kept her there and teased her with words, told her how wonderful she was, how talented she was, how much she deserved, how far she’d go, until she was ready to scream with need. Then he deliberately sent her over, thrust up into her hard and fast with his thumb against her. Jenna came, and he kissed her hard to stifle her cries.
Sweat on her face, her heart pounding, and she was still straddling Peter, who was hard and thick inside her.
“So beautiful you are when you come,” he said, with infinite satisfaction in his voice. “Couldn’t see you properly that night. Your face, your eyes.”
“Gonna make a joke about how round my face is?”
“It’s like your eyes inflate,” he said, smirking, and he kissed her.
“How about you?”
“Oh, I don’t need it.” He said this, even though he was hard and moving slowly inside her, even though she could see the flush on his face.
“What if I want to see you properly? It’s only fair.”
“Is it, then.”
“Yeah. Please. Show me.”
“Lie back, please. Wanna be on top.”
This was one of the nice things about sex with men, or one of the things she liked, anyway, the time after you’d come but before they had, when you could relax a little and pay attention to them without distractions. Peter was doing all the work, moving inside her with intent. He wanted to bury his face in her neck, but she asked him to let her see his face and he obliged, pushed himself up on his arms and let her see him. Red face, eyes screwed shut, making the same soulful sounds he’d made last time, only choked back because of where they were-- Peter, oh god, she loved Peter, of course she did. She loved a lot of people, and in her life she’d love a lot more. She would probably always love this man a little bit no matter what but right now-- right now she loved him as fiercely as she’d ever loved anybody. Gray and brown hair, those wild eyebrows, that mouth that could do anything, those crows feet that told anybody who cared to look at him how much he smiled-- Peter, lovely sweet Peter, the most amazing man she knew. He was close, she could feel it in the way he was moving, and there he went, going still, gasping, and then pulsing inside her. No protection, and she’d gone off the pill; it couldn’t possibly matter this soon afterward; she would be fine-- that was all she could think, because Peter was collapsing onto her now, letting himself yield to that need to bury his face in her neck and nuzzle her and make those soft sounds.
“Honey, Jenna, darling,” he said, into her neck, over and over. She shushed him and said her own sweet things back to him. She felt better. Strange but true, she felt better. Something he’d said to her, when she was on the edge of coming, about how much there was ahead of her in her life. Peter knew that kind of thing. Peter was wise. He was wise and kind and infinitely warm, and he’d done something to her that would stay with her.
Like all wonderful moments, this one couldn’t last. They untangled themselves from each other and put their clothing to rights.
Peter pulled out his phone and frowned at the screen. “We should be getting back. They’ll be wanting us in a half hour or so.”
“I need to find a toilet and a washcloth for my face,” Jenna said. Such bathos, but that was life.
“Come along, then, oh Companion Mine,” Peter said, and he took her by the hand. Laced his fingers through hers, and squeezed. Well, maybe this had been a mistake, but Jenna couldn’t bring herself to regret it. Whatever had just happened between them, it was good. It would be worth it.
Peter took a train home to London on the Friday. Elaine had promised to meet him at home, in response to his vague texts and equally vague conversations with her in which he had resorted to pleading that he didn’t care how much work she had; he needed to see her. He had something to tell her, no it wasn’t bad, no it wasn’t urgent, he loved her madly and needed some time alone with her.
He took a cab from the station, because walking with his knee in the state it was in was strictly countermanded by the doctors. And his finances were, after all, now in a state where he didn’t have to fuss about £200 shirts, never mind the odd twenty quid for a cab ride. A strange life, his had been and would be. And Elaine had been with him for more than half of it.
He did love her. Even if he’d strayed beyond the letter of their agreement and must now confess himself to her. He felt a little dread about it. More than a little dread. He hadn’t meant anything by it other than cuddling Jenna, whom he loved quite a lot. Elaine knew that. She knew everything that had happened between them that night. She knew what he felt for everyone near to him. She had to understand and forgive him. Or-- or, well, what? Surely it wouldn’t come to that.
He felt sick in his stomach at the idea.
Well, nothing for it. Put his key in the lock, turn it, in through the front door. Not his beloved Crouch End, but near enough, and a nicer spot if he dared admit it. His life had changed, would continue to change, save for this one constant: his family. His wife.
Elaine was already home, of course, and she called to him from her study where she’d been working. They met in the hall and Peter kissed her deeply.
“Got something to tell you. Confess to you, I’m afraid.”
“Let’s sit down.”
“That serious, is it?”
Peter led her into the sitting room and settled her on the sofa. He knelt down in front of her and laid his head on her knees. Her hand went immediately to his hair. So much hair, longer the way he’d wanted it at last, the way she liked it. She’d liked it when he’d had massive waves of it springing out from his head, when he’d been younger. He grew the beard for her too, when he was free from the filming. He did everything for her, really, at heart. Which was why this was hard. He drew in a deep breath and let it out again.
“Peter. Dearest. Stop scaring me.”
“It’s all right, truly it is, I just need to get it out.”
“All right. Get it out. Come on, then.”
Peter gathered his courage in both hands. “It’s about Jenna. She, I, that is–”
Silence from Elaine. Out with it, lad, though his mouth was dry.
“I had sex with Jenna a second time. We-- she-- well, she was crying over Richard and I took her to a private spot and cuddled her and it sort of happened. I know it was only allowed the once and I’ve gone quite beyond what’s okay, and it won’t happen again. I am sorry. Believe me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Elaine’s fingers had gone still in his hair. She remained quite silent, and Peter’s heart started beating hard and he felt strange in his stomach.
“Darling? Please say something. Even if it’s to tell me I’m awful.”
“I knew it already.”
Peter startled and raised his head so he could look at her. “You did?”
“Jenna texted me.”
“She didn’t say outright what happened. She apologized for something, she didn’t say what. She was also at pains to tell me she respected me deeply. The inference was easy. Particularly when combined with your text begging me to spend the weekend with you.”
“Yeah, okay, yeah. Good thing I, um–”
“Good thing you are entirely an open book?”
Peter blushed deeply. He laid his head back on her lap and tightened his arms around her waist. “Just so long as you don’t doubt me.”
“Peter, darling, I know you. You have no barriers once somebody is close enough to you. It’s your weakness. I’m not surprised. I’m not upset. I’ll be upset it you make it a habit. Or if you let anybody else in that deeply.”
“I’ll be keeping an eye on your next companion, whoever it is.”
Elaine’s voice was lighter now. She’d forgiven him. Peter dared let himself relax. He said, “Might be a man, in which case there’ll be nothing to fear.”
“Wouldn’t put it past you to give the other side a try.”
Peter giggled and rubbed his face against her skirt. “No, not tempted. But seriously, Elaine. Darling. Whatever happens, I won’t say yes if she asks me again. I’ll comfort her the way I ought to have this week, with a nice cup of tea.”
“Would be wise to stick to tea.”
A touch of asperity in her voice, a touch of warning. Peter heeded it. He knelt up and looked up at her. Little pixie face, the sweet face he’d loved for so long, smiling at him. She was okay; it was going to be okay. He’d sinned and been forgiven and now he’d have to say his Hail Marys and it would be all right. He felt his eyes burn and tears well up. Thank God.
He said, as lightly as he could, “I think she’s quite gone off men, to be honest. Said something to me this morning to the effect.”
“Richard broke her heart that badly?”
“Yeah. He’s a right cunt.”
Elaine’s eyebrows went up.
“Sorry,” Peter said, “Can’t bear seeing her hurt.”
“I know, I know. You’re such a warm heart, Peter. Guard yourself, would you? I’m worried about you. You’ve never had this sort of experience before, a romantic relationship going on like this for years in a job. It’s ending soon, and you’ll have your heart broken if you let it get too personal.”
“It’s not a romance.” Elaine was laughing at him, he realized, and he laughed back at her. “Okay, yes, Steven’s put one over on me, yes, it is, and yes, I hear your worry. It’ll come out in the work. Where it belongs.”
“Talk to me,” she murmured, and her fingers traced along his face where it was wet. “When you need to.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“Yes, you do. And I deserve you.”
She tugged him up onto the sofa next to her, then, and kissed his cheek, the end of his nose, and then his lips. Peter rubbed at his nose then leaned to be kissed again, more deeply this time.
“Elaine. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“Darling,” he said. “I want to make love to you. If you’ll have me. Let’s make a night of it. A proper night. Wine and candles and one of those pills for me.”
“You incurable,” she said. She meant incurable romantic, but they never bothered filling in the last word. Their code phrase for when the other was doing something soppy but adorable. She stood up and made her way upstairs.
Peter watched her go and wiped his face clean of more tears. What did people do when they didn’t know their soulmates? Where would he have been without her? Didn’t bear thinking about, so no sense fretting about it. He went to the kitchen and rummaged. A bottle of Bordeaux, a pair of glasses. Peter carried the lot up to their bedroom to find that Elaine had lit candles for him. Beeswax, lovely scent, a lovely light. Toast her, say things to her that he could say with his heart in his eyes, because that was what she meant to him. Palm a pill discreetly, wash it down with a mouthful of wine, feel his body respond in that urgent way it used to. He liked to save it for special occasions and this was one. Make-up sex, even if she wasn’t very angry with him. Make it up to her, prove to her that there was no one who could compete with her. Yes, he loved all his friends, but not like he loved her.
Kisses, deep kisses, her tongue in his mouth, his in hers, the taste of wine. Clothing coming off gradually, the coverlet on the bed tossed aside. No condoms needed any more, but they kept a tube of slick by the bedside because, well, they were starting to get on. It took a little longer to get going, to finish. The pills did help with his side of it. Gray hair now, on their heads and bodies. Wrinkles. Arthritis in her fingers, his knee trashed. Did he mind the changes? He minded the idea that he wouldn’t have a thousand years more to spend with Elaine. If he had all of time and space, he’d give it to her.
Peter lay over Elaine, his tiny waif of a wife, and pressed her back into the bed. She reached down to take him in hand, but he stopped her. “Let me love you, darling.”
He crawled down the bed and settled himself between her legs. She lazily hooked one knee over his shoulder. Not wet yet, but starting to be, and she made that happy noise when he flickered his tongue over her. He smiled though she could not see it, and traced a heart on her clit with the tip of his tongue.
This wasn’t a thing he’d done with anyone but Elaine in his life. He hadn’t worked himself up to it in his very earliest relationships, and of course once he’d realized he was head over heels with Elaine he’d never even considered doing it with someone else. The smell, the taste: tied inextricably with her. With memories of their wedding night, when they’d been awake and occupied by each other until the dawn. Of course he’d learned a little bit about what Jenna’s body was like, and knew how she tasted because she’d been on his fingers. And she’d been waxed bare, which had been new to him, though he knew it was a thing women did sometimes. Was it rude to think of that now, while he had fingers and tongue inside his wife’s body? He would tell her about it later, maybe, if she seemed curious. Or maybe that was the spice. She hadn’t told him much about what she’d done with David, though of course he’d been burning with curiosity. His lifelong idol had bedded his wife, and she’d returned to him flushed with joy. On fire for him again, as he felt for her now.
An odd spice, this.
Probably he didn’t need this spice again in what was left of his life. Sex wasn’t as important as it had been once upon a time. He liked it-- oh who didn’t? What man didn’t like hearing his soulmate moan as he licked her, didn’t love feeling her tense her thighs against him, dig her fingers into his hair? Oh, yes, he loved this. He was hard and would stay hard until she was sated, and he was proud of himself. Knew exactly what to do to get her close, exactly how to touch her and where.
Discovering it with Jenna had been more of that spice. Not knowing, having to watch her face closely, to experiment. Could he experiment now with Elaine? Break them out of the rut? Were they in a rut? No sense staying in it if so.
He remembered one of the first times he’d been away from her for weeks, on a film shoot. He found himself desperate for her with no way to see her, and he’d brought himself off in his hotel room and felt guilty. He’d confessed it to her when he’d come home to her, and she’d laughed at him.
She’d said, “Peter, you fool, call me next time. That’s what phones are for.”
And he’d called her next time, felt faintly silly for doing it, more than faintly awkward with the receiver wedged against his shoulder, but she’d talked him through it and he’d felt so much better knowing she’d been with him at least in one way. These days he had earbuds and an iPhone and could use both hands on himself and talk her through it as well. These days, when he didn’t need it quite as desperately, when what he really needed was to hear all was well with her. Sex, sighs, orgasms. Nice, but not necessary.
He hadn’t needed to come with Jenna, not particularly. It had been about holding her close and kissing her. He did love kissing her and snuggling her. It wasn’t the same thing as this, with Elaine, where if he didn’t get to come he’d be a wreck. It was okay to feel both things. That was what Elaine had been trying to tell him all along. She knew he loved her, was rock-steady, would never leave. She trusted him.
She was nearing her crisis and Peter smiled again. He knew what he would do: Bring her off once, give her a moment to catch her breath, then push her over again while she was still feeling the aftershocks. It was his pleasure to hear her call out his name, his pleasure to feel her shiver under him. His pleasure to wipe his face off on the sheets and crawl up to kiss her and see the satisfaction on her face. The sweat. Claim his reward in the form of lazy kisses, words of love between them, things he said only to her, that she said only to him, long minutes of sweet nothings.
“How about you?” his wife said to him, and she brushed her fingers over him. Peter pushed his hips into her hand and let himself feel it, feel her touch, let himself feel good.
“I want to take you,” he whispered. “Take you over and over. Never going to get enough of you. Never in my life.”
Peter woke to early morning sunlight peeking through curtains, a patch of sunlight on the far wall. The room smelled strongly of beeswax and faintly of sex. Elaine was asleep in a mound of pillows on her side of the bed. He’d been dreaming of sex when he’d awakened, and he was unsurprised to find himself unrelentingly hard. The pill was still working its magic on him, then. He stretched his legs, bare legs on cool sheets, wriggled his toes, and slipped a hand down to cup himself. Mmm, yes, he was going to want to finish the night of lovemaking off with one last orgasm. He reached into the drawer, very quietly, and gave himself a handful of slick. Should he slip off to the bath? Always felt a bit off to do it there. Bed was better. If he woke Elaine she wouldn’t mind; might lend him a hand or a mouth. Happy thought.
It wasn’t Elaine that he imagined in the next moment, though. It was Jenna: straddling him, sinking down onto him, wet, a little tight at first but opening to him. A blend of both times they’d been together now, that sofa in the props storage, her naked body against him, breasts pushed against his bare chest. Moaning as she rode him. God, it had been wonderful.
Fuck him, what sort of man was he? He was stretched out in his bed next to his wife, the wife he had rolled with to the point of exhaustion last night, and he was thinking of another woman. A man’s mind was his castle, wasn’t it? It was fantasy, nothing more. He always did feel faintly guilty when he fantasized outside the bounds of his marriage, but it happened sometimes, harmlessly. And it was happening now. He was remembering her. He’d made love to her. Twice. She’d been astride him and underneath him, and God, he wanted her on top of him again. Two orgasms with a woman like Jenna were two more than any man deserved in a lifetime, but he wanted a third. He knew how it would go, what he would feel. He was in the fantasy again, deep in it, his right hand on himself moving steadily, his left playing with his bollocks, squeezing a little, bringing himself up and up. That first feeling of her hand on him, the first moment he’d touched her, his fingers in her, the tip of his penis touching her, how wet she’d been, how good she’d smelled, how ready for him she’d been as she sank onto him.
Beautiful breasts, muscled legs, so fit, so strong over him as she rode him. God, she was beautiful, and he’d seen all of her now, seen her, tasted her, heard her coming and calling his name. Coming, God, yes, he wanted to come inside her again, bare inside her, filling her, giving her everything he had. He saw it happen, over and over, and knew that he was close. He slowed down, trying to delay it, but it was already creeping up on him, inevitable, and there, there-- he heard her call his name again, choked back his need to call hers, and he was coming. Coming over his hands and his bare belly, what a mess. He breathed and waited for his heart rate to slow. Fuck.
Elaine was still asleep, thank God. He found a tissue and wiped his fingers clean, and slipped out of bed to shower. He ought to have tossed himself off there instead, where there’d been no chance of waking her. He would remember this the next time the madness took him when he was home. Which it would not, because it was over. Jenna was firmly back into friend territory, where she had to be, because she had a life and a career ahead of her, and he was in his glorious sunset. And did he truly want that sort of emotional upheaval in his life?
“Capaldi, you’re too old for one woman, never mind two,” he said to the shower head, and repeated it to the bar of soap. He felt he’d returned to some baseline level of sanity by the time Elaine got up and wandered into the kitchen in search of coffee. Of course he’d brewed enough for the two of them, and made extra toast for her, because that was what she liked in the morning. And they’d made enough toast for each other over the years that it was habit.
He said, to the newspaper he wasn’t reading, “Is making toast a euphemism?”
“Seems unlikely, darling,” Elaine said to him, and kissed the back of his head on her way past his chair. “What would it be a euphemism for?”
“Marriage,” he said. “The habits of marriage.”
“That would imply the habits of marriage are undesirable somehow.”
“I think not. Peter, is there something else you need to tell me?”
“No,” he said, hastily, and he set the morning Guardian down.
“Yes,” she said, and dipped her spoon into her coffee cup. Peter watched the spoon move, the milk swirl into the coffee and lighten it, and did not look at her. “You may as well tell me,” she said. “You can never sit on anything for long. At least not with me.”
“Am I having a mid-life crisis?”
Well, that had come blurting out. He let himself look up from the coffee at his wife thoughtfully licking her spoon. Elaine raised her eyebrows for a moment, then calmly set the spoon down. She drank a mouthful of coffee and reached for the toast rack. Peter felt his knee bounce-- the bad knee, which hurt, but he couldn’t contain his nerves. He set his hand on it and pushed down. Toast, coffee, morning sunshine. New kitchen, same table, same dishes, same prints on the walls. Breathe, Capaldi. Breathe.
Finally Elaine spoke. “Peter. Dearest. I think you just went through an emotionally intense encounter and you’re still working through it. You-- I know you. You let her in, you let her get close to you, and you do this completely when you do it. And you do it so rarely that you’re surprised every time. You’re off balance right now.”
“How did you know I meant that?”
Elaine gestured at him with the remains of a slice of toast and raised her eyes to the ceiling. “This is the man who spent last night desperately trying to reassure me that he still loves me.”
“Desperately?” he said. The hand that was not occupied pressing his knee into compliance went up to his mouth. He chewed on the side of his thumb.
“Desperately. I know you still love me. I’m not worried about that. You were reassuring yourself. Peter. Do what you need to do. You’ll get over this and calm down and return to yourself. You’ll find your routine again.”
He sighed and looked at his bitten thumbnail. “I do like it quiet. Boring, even. Boring is good.”
“You shattered yourself emotionally. You’ll fit the pieces back together soon enough.”
“I was so excited last night,” he murmured.
“And I appreciated it.” And that was a wicked glint in her eyes, and a little quirk of a smile. Peter returned it then his face fell.
“But I was thinking about her. Not the whole time. Just moments. While I was making love to you. I feel so rotten now.”
“Do you imagine that I don’t think about my night sometimes? Because I do. Glitter and glamour and pot and sex of a kind you don’t like much? I do think about it. When you’re off filming for weeks and weeks in Prague. Sometimes when you’re with me. It’s exciting.”
“It was a long time ago, and I love you and wouldn’t ever trade you for him. But it was still a lot of fun. I remember it fondly. You get to remember your time fondly too. And yes, you can bring it into our bedroom sometimes.”
Sensible, calm. Okay. He could live with this. He could move on. Jenna would continue to be his dearest friend, whose career he would support, and he would cherish his memories. He would carry on knowing his wife had him.
“Darling. Come here.”
Peter stretched out his arms to her. Elaine set her coffee cup down and came over to him. He tugged her onto her lap and settled her in place. She was heavier than she’d been as a little slip of a pixie girl, all red hair and grin, but still so perfect in his arms. Her head was on his shoulder, her arms around him. Peter held his wife close and kissed the top of her gray head, that lovely short hair. Elaine. His soulmate, whether he deserved one or not. His refuge, his safety. That was what she had in common with Jenna: they both made him feel safe and cared for. And he tried to do the same for both of them in return. Back them as best he could, remind the world how wonderful they were, remind the world that his work wouldn’t be the same without theirs.
Peter came back after his weekend home in an odd mood. He put his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet and ran off to chat with Steven instead of coming to her and working on their scenes the way he usually would. At lunch Jenna cornered him.
“Oh hi hi, J-Lo. How are you?” He smiled warmly enough, then made as if to sidle away. Jenna stayed him with a hand on his arm.
“I had a text from Elaine. We texted a lot, actually, until I called her and we talked. A lot faster that way.”
“Fuck.” The expression on Peter’s face was alarm, so Jenna laughed at him.
“We sorted it. We’re good with each other. I groveled. She told me not to. We talked about how beastly men are, present company being the only exception either one of us could name.”
“We aren’t all–”
“Yes, you are. All of you. Even you sometimes. That’s why it’s women for me.”
She crinkled up her nose and grimaced at him, and was utterly relieved to see his shoulders relax. He crinkled up his nose at her exactly the same way.
“Sticking with this plan, are you?”
“Yes. Now are you going to run lines with me after we both finish pretending to eat lunch because we’re both worried about fitting into our costumes?”
There, finally, was the impish look of pleasure she usually saw on his face, excitement and anticipation and the core of seriousness that he always brought to the acting itself when they came to it. He leaned forward and kissed the end of her nose, exactly the way he always did.
“Right you are.”
That seemed to do it. Peter snapped out of his guilty mode and settled back into being her unlikely yet precious friend. And Jenna breathed a sigh of relief. She’d avoided disaster. Sex wasn’t worth risking their friendship over. Yes, the memory sustained her some days, the memory of Peter’s appreciation for her, of his pleasure in her body. He’d done something deeply precious for her. He’d managed to remind her that she was worthwhile, even if Richard had dumped her. She would move on; she’d find somebody else eventually; she was worth it. She was worth it. Peter had, with his absolutely intense delight, proven it to her. And that was enough.
He loved her and she loved him, in a way that was unique to them, and they would always be the best of friends. Sex wasn’t something they needed between them for that love. His warm hug and his kiss in her hair, those were plenty. And the joking and the pranks and the long conversations about anything that came to mind. And the acting, oh the acting. They were deeply in sync there, deeply simpatico, and the work they were doing together as a result felt great.
Everything felt great, except she was draggy in the mornings and needed more coffee than usual. The barista at the canteen switched up her usual to a double-shot, she was so slow to get going. Side effects of working so hard, possibly. Jenna tried to get to bed earlier, tried to eat more healthily. No clubbing on weekends.
They did a big Zygons script, which was really fun and gave Jenna a chance to show her chops. Ingrid was on set again, which was lovely because Ingrid was lovely. And Peter got the best shot of them all, with a long speech that ought to win him a BAFTA again if there was any justice in the world. Exhausting to shoot, though worse for Peter than for her. And then they were onto filming Mark’s script, a fun monster of the week story with a bit of hand-holding and flirting and a lot of running in corridors. All in the studio, so it was as relaxed as a schedule that tight could ever be. Lots of guests in the cast for Peter to meet and charm.
Jenna was still feeling off, though, especially around breakfast time. She hid in her changing room and napped when she wasn’t needed on set. She hoped it wasn’t a cold. It was a pain to work through colds. Flu was worse, had to admit that. And working through her period was almost as annoying, she’d discovered. One of the fun side effects of going off the pill: more libido, just when she had no outlet for it, and real periods again. Allegedly. She hadn’t actually had one in a while. Not since–
Jenna’s stomach went strange, as if she were in an elevator going too fast. She counted weeks. Counted again. Surely no. Surely it couldn’t happen if you did it only once. Surely she was supposed to be puking in the mornings or something like that. She pulled out her phone and googled for symptoms of-- of-- She typed it but couldn’t bring herself to say it. Pregnancy. She might be pregnant.
The runner came and banged on her door, and she shoved the phone guiltily into a pocket. Time to go one set. Time to shut it all away. Jenna went under the lights and became Clara again in little snippets of time, because that was what she did. Turned off herself and became somebody else, somebody who looked adoringly at the Doctor while he looked the same way right back, and oh, Peter, it was so easy to look at Peter that way. There were only two more scripts to go after this one, and-- No. Work. Panic later.
She stopped at the chemist’s on the way home and bought a huge pile of stuff she didn’t need to disguise the things she really cared about in the middle of the pile, one of each brand the shop had. Drove home. Locked the door. Went into the bath and locked that door, too, even though nobody else was in the flat.
She took the Boots pregnancy test in hand. Instructions on the box: piss on the stick. Okay, she could do that. Wait and watch the window to see if the line changed. How long was it supposed to take? Oh. Oh. They said it might take minutes but instead it happened right away: a complete line across the stick.
That meant-- Well. That didn’t mean anything. Second test, this one in fancier packaging. Do it again. Look at the window. Right. Okay.
“You can handle this, Coleman,” she said to her face in the mirror. “You’re an adult. You’re nearly thirty. You were planning on doing this some day. Just not now and like this and oh my god, it was Peter. Shit.”
Only once. They’d done it only once and this had happened. Okay, twice, but the time before had been when she was on the pill for sure. She counted back weeks. Eight? Maybe a bit less. On the early edge of when the tests worked, but two of them had agreed. She’d wait a week and take the test again. Maybe it was wrong. Maybe it was her weird hormones. Maybe it was a fluke.
Jenna looked at her face in the mirror over the sink, that face with the cute nose and the eyes that could inflate at will. “Bugger,” she said. It wasn’t going to be a fluke. That draggy feeling she’d never had before. That was one of the symptoms.
What would she do if this were a normal night? Make dinner, pour a glass of wine, curl up on the sofa with her laptop and watch Netflix or the Beeb on catchup. Wine was out, obviously. And she’d have to give up the caffeine.
“My subconscious,” Jenna said, to the face in the mirror, “has apparently made some decisions. Well, bother that. I decide. I’m going to have a drink or twenty.”
But she couldn’t bring herself to pour out that last glass in the bottle of white she’d opened a couple of days ago. Not now that she knew what was going on inside. She could end it, yes. One of her friends had gone through that, after a bad time with a complete rotten arse of an ex-boyfriend. She’d felt a lot better afterward and hadn’t looked back. But this wasn’t like that. Jenna was in a perfect position to think about it. If she wanted to. If she wanted a kid. If she wanted Peter’s kid.
Keep the options open. Don’t drink the wine. Find something healthy in the cupboards, eat it. Get to bed early. In the morning she was going to have to have one hell of a conversation.
It was the usual madness during the day, starting with a latte that she couldn’t manage to make herself skip despite everything, and a moment of stomach-flipping upset at the sight of grilled tomatoes and beans on a crew member’s breakfast tray. No fry-ups, apparently. Jenna got her usual yogurt and granola and tucked herself into a corner to run her lines one more time. Not so much today: an easy scene with her showing off about knowing who Morpheus was, and the Doctor being impressed. Flirty, maybe the flirtiest they’d ever got, that was how she and Peter had decided to play it. Glory days, glory days, the Doctor and Clara on the TARDIS. Glory days for the two of them as actors, before they parted and moved on.
Except parting was going to be tricky.
Late afternoon, a runner came by with tea for the two of them, including the herbal mint stuff Jenna had asked for specifically, trying to be good. She sat with Peter in their chairs-- names on, bags beside them, Peter with that binder full of the script and his notes and the morning paper-- and drank and rested her feet.
“Hey,” she said to Peter, and nudged him with her elbow. Casual. Casual.
“Hey, Jenn-Jenn,” he said. “Not a bad day, eh?”
“If you don’t mind corridor-running, which probably you don’t. Come to mine for dinner? Want to talk with you about some stuff. Private life stuff.”
Peter side-eyed her over the top of his specs. She hadn’t had him over since that afternoon in the props room, and he hadn’t had her over either. Keeping a tiny bit of distance, as Elaine had recommended to her, to let him recover himself. This, however, wouldn’t keep, and there was no way she was saying any of it in public. Ever.
“Private life stuff?” Peter repeated, eyebrow up.
“Yeah. Important. Need to tell you a thing.”
He nodded. “Seven okay?”
Jenna breathed out. “Yeah, assuming we end on time.”
“Looks like we will.” Peter rapped his knuckles on the arm of his chair.
They went home on their own, as usual, and as usual Peter appeared at hers on time, with a bottle of red wine in hand. That was their custom, to split a bottle with dinner and conversation, at least once a week, sometimes more often. Jenna accepted the bottle from him, looked at the label cursorily, and set it down on her countertop.
“Shall I open it?” Peter said. “Don’t know what you’re planning.” He pulled open the drawer where she kept the kitchen gadgets.
“It’s just some veggies and pasta. But, I’m, er, not drinking just now. Can open a bottle for you if you want some.”
Peter looked up from the drawer, corkscrew in hand. “Not drinking at all? What have you done with my Jenna?”
“Yeah. About that. Peter. I need to tell you something.”
“Ah,” he said. “We come to it.”
He set down the corkscrew and looked at her, all eager attention. There was a smile in his eyes, as always, and warmth. Lines on his face, a hint of jowl, and veins in his neck. Jenna let herself look at him, really look at him, at the man without makeup, without lighting, without the benefit of fuss from the people who fussed over them both. He looked like what he was: a wraith-thin and striking man in his late fifties, a man who thought a lot, who enjoyed everything around him, who put all of himself into his work as well as into his friends. He looked magnificent, with all that gray hair curling out from his head, but it was clear to her, when she looked at him, that he truly was thirty years her senior. His daughter was only a bit younger than she was. Was he a man who’d be happy to learn he was going to have a child now, when he was of an age when he might expect to be a grandfather? Peter, the man whose life she was about to upset accidentally. The man who’d accidentally upset hers.
The man who was worried about her, because he was reaching out to touch her arm, and saying, “Jenna, honey. What is it?”
“I’m pregnant.” That had come out a bit hoarse. She cleared her throat and said it again. “I’m pregnant.”
“Jesus, Jenn.” Peter took her hands and peered into her face. “Are you happy? I’m happy for you if you’re happy. I thought you’d given up men entirely?”
“Yeah. That’s the thing. I did. I gave you all up. The thing is–”
“I’ve kinda been out of action entirely except for, um, that once in the props room. You’re the only man I’ve been with at all in the last six months, maybe longer.”
His eyes went wide. “I-- Come again?”
“You’re the father.”
He was just staring at her, blue eyes wide and unblinking in a face that had gone entirely still.
“Fuck,” Peter said, softly. Then, “Sorry. Truly I am sorry. I didn’t-- I-- What do you intend to do?”
“I think-- well, I think I’m gonna have a baby. And raise it. On my own. And not tell anybody. So, yeah, there’s that. That’s a thing.”
He dropped her hands as if they burned him and jumped away. He vanished out of the kitchen and into her sitting room. She could hear him pacing, restless steps back and then forth. Well, that was a thing. She hadn’t known until she’d opened her mouth and the words had come out that she’d made up her mind. Peter was freaked. She was freaked. At least Peter hadn’t fled the flat. He was still here, pacing, and that meant what she had to do was wait.
Make dinner, actually. Jenna swore to herself and got down to the business of sautéing up some veg with tomato sauce. She had to eat, right? That was a thing she had to do now. Eat right. Thank everything that was thank-able that she didn’t seem to have morning sickness to speak of.
Jenna cooked, quietly, and opened the bottle of wine after all and poured out a single glass. She set it on the counter. Put a dollop of olive oil into the pot of water near the boil. Tossed in the fresh linguini. When Peter came back into the kitchen again, maybe twenty minutes later, she handed him the wine silently. He took it, drank, and set it down again. He moved in close behind her, where she stood at the stove, and cupped her cheek.
“Jenna. I’m sorry,” he said. “This is my fault.”
“How do you figure that? I made the moves on you.”
“I’m the selfish bastard who didn’t put a rubber on because he wanted to feel good.”
“I’m the idiot who went off the pill and forgot about it.”
Peter laughed and stepped back from her. He ran his hands through his hair in that way he had, made it all stand on end. “Fuck, what a pair we make.”
“It’ll be okay,” Jenna said. “Nobody has to know anything. I can just be mysterious and elliptical in interviews. They’ll probably decide it was Prince Harry and run mad with speculation about what that means for the succession.”
“Christ!” He went for the wine glass again and took another deep swallow. He looked at her over the rim of the glass and said, “I’m going to have to tell Elaine.”
Now that was panic she was feeling. She shook her head hard. “You don’t. We can pretend this isn’t yours. I can just not tell anyone. It’ll be okay.”
“You can do that. You can do what you like and I’ll support you, but I know. And that means Elaine has to know, if nobody else does. And Jenn-- Jenn. I can’t walk away. Can’t. My child-- my responsibility. If you’re willing to take anything at all from me, I’ll give it.”
Peter emptied the glass and then poured himself a second. Jenna watched him drink, then noticed he was getting all blurry. Oh. Right, it was her eyes. She was tearing up. Crying. Shit. Peter got his arms around her and guided her over to the kitchen table. He sat down, tugged her insistently until she got into his lap, and held her cradled in his arms. Jenna pushed her face into his shoulder. He was crying. Peter was crying. She was crying. He was rocking her and crooning soothing things to her and there were tears running down his face.
She didn’t deserve this. She’d seduced him. Yeah, he’d consented enthusiastically, yeah, but she’d been the one whose idea it had been, and he’d been the one who’d panicked a little bit afterwards and who’d had to confess to his wife. It hadn’t been fair of her to want that comfort from Peter, a married man. It hadn’t been okay. She should have found a random stranger in a club and picked him up and done the wild thing. Then she’d have been breaking a very different sort of news to Peter.
Would she have considered keeping a child that wasn’t Peter’s? Shit, she was a terrible person. This was terrible. Everything was awful.
And then the pot on the stove boiled over.
Jenna swore and sprang up and dealt with the pasta. Soggy, yeah, but not too badly overcooked. No need to ring for carryout curry, not yet anyway. Peter joined her at the stove and quietly helped her rescue the dinner. He set plates out and rummaged in her fridge for fizzy water. Sat with her, completely silently, but he stretched his hand out and clasped her arm for a moment.
“Jenna,” he said. “I’ve no earthly idea what to do other than tell her.”
“You don’t have to know what to do. This is on me.”
“Elaine will know what to do. She’ll sort it. She’ll rescue me from my utter stupidity yet again.”
“She will. We’ll talk to her.”
Jenna sighed. “You’re right. Okay. We’ll talk to her.”
We. And that meant Jenna had to face the woman she’d made Peter cheat on, the woman who’d forgiven her for that but might not forgive her for this.