In the five years they’d been together, she’d only once caused Clinton to lose his smile. It was early on, when they were still dancing around the fine detail of the arrangement, and Julia had poked her nose where it didn’t belong. As soon as she heard herself laugh – more of a hiccup, really, serving to emphasise rather than disguise her anxiety – she regretted it. For three days her texts went unanswered, leaving her to lounge beside the pool drinking piña coladas and feigning absorption in a trashy paperback. Finally, on the day before she was due to fly home, he turned up as she was helping herself to slices of papaya and pineapple from the breakfast buffet, holding the answer to her question by the hand.
His cute little girl was rendered cuter still by her fussy party dress, all lace and bows with layers of scratchy net fanning out the skirt. Her hair was moulded in intricate cornrows and, sweet as she looked, Julia felt sad that a child so small should be capable of sitting still for the time it would take to construct such an elaborate hairstyle.
Julia had whisked her off to the hotel shop while Clinton lingered on the terrace fiddling with his phone. She’d been disappointed when, told she could choose whatever she wanted, the child had gone for a white doll. Julia didn’t know how to suggest something different without making her more solemn and serious than she already appeared.
If Julia wondered why Clinton never brought the girl along again, she didn’t say so. She’d learnt her lesson. If she wanted to keep him, she’d have to curb her curiosity about Clinton the family man.
Later, Julia came not only to accept the existence of Clinton’s wife and child, but to regard them as the cornerstone of the arrangement. Some of her compatriots, or so she’d heard, had been seduced into long-distance affairs with men who were after a ticket to a new life in the UK. A foreign husband, or a husband of any kind, was the last thing Julia wanted.
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