The car shuddered briefly as Michael killed the engine. "All right," he said. "You can open your eyes now."
Gemma lowered the hand that he had kept over his eyes through the last stage of the journey. They were parked on the side of a country lane. A gentle slope, grassy and punctuated with the blues, reds and yellows of the last wild flowers of the season, ran down to the banks of a slow-moving stream. A copse of leafy trees sat to their left, breaking the late afternoon sunshine into warm dapples of light and shadow. The sky looked almost too blue to be real, broken only by a few thin patches of perfect white cloud. Somewhere, off in the far distance, church bells sounded.
"You bastard," Gemma said, fighting back tears. "How could you?"
Without speaking, Michael opened the car door and stepped out. A cool breeze blew a few stray strands of hair across his face. He sat against the bonnet of the car and waited, trying to look calmer than he felt. Eventually he heard the other door open and close. Gemma appeared in front of him and stood, arms crossed and hips cocked.
"OK," he said, pouting. "You win. Now what?"
Michael thought for a moment. "Let's go down to the water."
Gemma nodded, a look of impatience on his face. "You'd better not have brought a picnic lunch, though." He turned and started down the slope. Involuntarily, Michael paused for a moment. The picture came into his mind of Gemma as she had been when they had first come here in the early days of their courtship. He could see her hips swaying under the thin primrose-coloured cotton of her summer dress, her long blonde hair moving in counterpoint. He clenched his eyes for a moment as he tried to shake an emotion he could not name.
"I thought this was your idea," Gemma said sharply, pulling Michael back to the here-and-now.
"Yes. Sorry about that." Michael followed his wife down toward the stream. "Just woolgathering."
They sat down together in silence, under the arc of a weeping willow. The strands of its leaves reached down and kissed the surface of the water, leaving small ripples as contact was made and broken. "Now what?" Gemma asked, his voice quiet and strained.
"Now we talk. Now we say the things that will make everything better. There has to be something. I thought this place would be enough. We'd come here and all the words I had inside me would come out in the right order and you'd hear them and understand and everything would be all right again." Michael kept his voice steady but his body betrayed him, trembling slightly. "I'm sorry. It should have been perfect."
Gemma turned away and looked at the stream. "There should have been ducks," he said. "There were last time. Ducks and a dirty great swan." He plucked a few blades of grass and tossed them idly on the water's surface. They both watched them disappear downstream in silence. "Oh well," Gemma said, "We don't have any bread anyhow."
There was a rustle of plastic as Michael pulled a bag from his pocket. He put it down on the grass in front of them. Visible inside were a few stale slices of a granary loaf.
"Oh." Gemma put a hand over his mouth. "Oh my God." He moved the hand up to his eyes briefly as they filled with tears.
"It's only bread," Michael said, holding his wife's shoulder. Their eyes met for a moment, drifted apart in embarrassment and then met again and locked. "Just bread."
"How can you?" Gemma swallowed hard, fighting hard to keep his emotions under control. "How can you still feel this way after so much has changed? After I've changed?"
"I won't pretend I haven't had doubts. There are times it would have been so easy to walk away. I know you would have let me."
Gemma nodded silently, still holding his husband's gaze.
"But what I always come back to is that whatever else has happened, you're still the person, if not the woman that I married. It's going to take a hell of a lot more than this to make me stop loving you." There was more he had to say, so much more, but his voice betrayed him. His words trailed off into silence.
"It's all right. I know you still love me. You don't have to work so hard to convince me. For what it's worth I still love you just as much as when I married you. I just can't help the feeling that it's not enough. Maybe there are some things that love just can't overcome."
They both turned away again, the moment disappearing into time. Michael looked down into the eddies playing along the surface of the stream, at the way the light caught them and made them sparkle. In the middle of such a setting, he thought, there should be no room for pain. This is a place of love and happiness.
"I beg to differ," he said at last and leaned over to kiss his wife. At first Gemma pulled his face away, and then, knowing that this was a moment that would never come again, met his husband's lips.
In the meadow where as nervous and lovesick teenagers, Michael and Gemma had shared their first kiss, they kissed again. The people they had been were separated over time and circumstances from those they were now. Still, for that moment, all the differences stopped mattering and they were everything they had ever been to each other. Time passed. Water flowed. The first kiss lingered.