I finished my coffee and sank back into the comfortable armchair, rested my head against the back of the seat and tried, unsuccessfully, not to think too much. My thoughts kept straying to what Henry had said about ''the first trimester''. I looked down at my flat tummy. I didn't look pregnant and I certainly didn't feel it. Well, I supposed I wouldn't know, as I had never been pregnant before. But... hang on... I didn't even know that for sure, if I'd lost about three years worth of memory.
I picked up the pink mobile from my lap and flipped it open. Anything to take my mind off things and stop this worry. There'd be time enough for that when Sophie arrived. I almost hoped she wouldn't. Maybe it would be easier just to disappear. No, that was just silly. I looked at the little screen on the phone, noticing for the first time that the time and date were displayed: 11.13am, Sat 7th June 2008, it said. Well, that tied in with what Sophie had said about my having been with Henry for two and a half years, if her wedding was in December 2005. But it also meant that there were six months or so before the wedding unaccounted for, too.
A thought occurred to me. Was I still in contact with Steve? Strangely, since this morning, he'd only crossed my mind a couple of times. I found the phonebook menu and scrolled down through the names. There was Sophie, home and mobile, someone called Spencer, and then a Susie. No sign of any Steve.
I jumped as the phone in my hand vibrated, then started to play a tune, something cheerful and poppy, which I didn't recognise. The display lit up with the words: Sophie – mobile. My heart started pounding again and I fumbled for the green button.
''Hi Clare, I'm here.'' said Sophie. ''Where are you, babe?''
I cleared my throat, and replied in a shaky voice, telling her the name of the hotel and where it was.
''Okay,'' she said. ''Don't worry, I'll come and find you. See you soon.'' and hung up.
Suddenly I felt restless, to be honest I felt, again, like running away. I wasn't sure I could cope with this. I stood up, and walked outside. There was a bench a few yards away and I sat in the sunshine. It had been stuffy in the hotel bar, though, thankfully, not smoky. At least the air was a little fresher out here.
After about five minutes, Sophie appeared from round the corner. I stood up. She looked different. Her hair was darker, and longer, and she'd put on some weight. As she came closer, I could see it was more than that. Sophie was pregnant – not heavily, but with a big enough bump to make it obvious. Unconsciously, I put one hand on my own abdomen, feeling the flatness again, and felt guilty that she'd driven all this way, just for me, when she had concerns of her own.
She rushed over and threw her arms round me, giving me a hug, then stood back and looked into my face.
''Now, you, what's this all about?'' she said. ''I've been worried sick about you all the way here.''
''Oh Sophie,'' I said, my lower lip quivering, desperately trying not to burst into tears again. ''I can't remember... I can't remember anything!''
We walked towards the beach, and found another bench, facing the sea. Sophie held my hand as I told her everything from the moment I'd woken up this morning with Henry. I left out the part about the pregnancy. I don't know why; maybe because of her own condition. She didn't interrupt, but the look of concern didn't leave her face.
''Clare, you poor thing!'' she said when I'd finished, moving closer and putting her arm around my shoulder. ''And you didn't say anything to Henry?''
''How could I, Soph?'' I said, shaking my head. ''You say... we've been together for ages, but to me he feels like practically a stranger.''
She looked at me, opened her mouth a couple of times to say something, then shook her head.
''Not long before Ben and I got married,'' she said, finally, ''I remember you telling me that you felt as if you could talk to Henry about anything. I just don't understand this Clare, but I think you probably know what I'm going to say, don't you?''
I nodded. ''You think I need to see a doctor, don't you? I mean, it's not normal is it, losing your memory?'' I stared out at the sea. ''I think I knew that. It's just that I needed to see someone first, who could fill in a few blanks for me. And I didn't want to say anything to Henry, because I know you better.'' She smiled. ''At least, that's how it feels to me. You understand that, don't you, Soph?''
''So, Henry's out at the moment, is he?'' she asked.
''Yes, he left me to have a sleep. Said he'd be mooching around the town centre.'' I looked at my watch. Just after midday. I felt a sudden pang of concern for Henry, coming back to the house and seeing the note on the jotter pad; worrying about me, and wondering where I was.
''Do you want to ring him, Clare?'' she said, as if reading my thoughts. ''He might worry when he finds you gone.''
I felt panicky again. The thought of talking to Henry gave me butterflies in my stomach. I didn't have a clue what I'd say to him.
''No - no. Please, Sophie, I don't think I can.''
''All right, babe. Don't worry. We'll think about that in a minute. I can maybe talk to him for you in a bit. Haven't got a clue what I'll say to him either though.'' She laughed, one hand on her bump. I looked down.
''How long have you been... I mean, when are you... due?'' I asked, embarrassed that I hadn't known.
''Oh.'' She stroked her belly, smiling. ''Of course, you wouldn't remember this, either, would you? I've got a few months to go. My due date is September the fifth.'' Her eyes widened, as something seemed to occur to her. ''Clare, does Cloudcroft mean anything to you?''
I thought. Nothing. ''No... what's that?''
''It's where you and Henry lived. For nearly two years. It's in America. New Mexico. Ben and I visited you there a couple of times. You've not long been back in the UK, actually – only about three months.''
I gasped. I'd lived in the States? I just couldn't get my head round all this at all. I felt dizzy again.
''What? Why? Sophie, what was I doing over there?''
''Well, Henry got a job there, just after Ben and I got married, and you joined him a month or two later. Straight after your wedding.''
I didn't know where to start, with all the questions that were buzzing round in my head. I watched a couple walk along the beach in front of me, talking and laughing, and had a sudden feeling of deja vu. As I thought of that phrase, I felt faint and swimmy, and I was aware that my head, which had been hurting slightly since Henry left the house, was now aching badly. Deja vu. That seemed important, somehow. I felt something tug at my memory, hovering at the edge of my thoughts. The more I tried to catch it, the further away it slipped.
''You okay, Clare? You've gone a bit pale.'' Sophie was looking into my face, with concern. ''I think we should get you to a doctor, girlie.''
I looked at her. ''No, not yet. I've just got a bit of a sore head. It's the worry, that's all. A lot to take in. And I still don't know what to do about Henry. Have you got any headache pills, Soph?''
''Oh dear, poor you. No, not on me. I spotted a pharmacy on the way to the car park, though. Do you want to pop in and get some?''
''Yes, please. And do you know what we're doing here? In Margate? Henry and me, I mean.''
''Well, Henry's mum is away on holiday, and you're house-sitting, as well as having a bit of a break yourselves.'' I remembered then, what Henry had said about his mum arriving home this evening. Surely I must have met her, if Henry and I were married, but I had no recollection of her at all. Oh no! My stomach clenched with anxiety. I couldn't face meeting an actual stranger tonight, as well as dealing with the virtual stranger Henry was to me. I took hold of Sophie's hands.
''Sophie, can I come back with you, for tonight? Please? I really don't think I could face Henry yet. I have to think about all this. I sort of think - if I see a doctor first, it will be easier to talk to him... once I know what's going on.''
She looked at me for a long time, then nodded. ''Okay. We'll have to give him a call in a bit though. Have you got his mobile number?''
I dug in my bag and pulled out the phone. ''It's in here. The number for his mum's house probably is too. I haven't looked, though.''
We walked back to the car park. On the way, I asked Sophie about Henry and me getting together at her wedding reception, and what she'd meant when she said that we'd been heading that way for months.
''I knew that Henry fancied the pants off you, for years and years. Then there was a night, a couple of weeks before my wedding, when we were all in a Karoake bar and you got up and sang...'' She looked at me enquiringly. ''Ring a bell?'' I shook my head, sadly. ''That was the night I was pretty convinced that you liked him, too. But I was starting to wonder, just a few weeks after my hen night.'' She stopped walking. ''Hey, Clare! You hit your head that night, didn't you?'' I nodded. ''I wonder if that bump on the head has anything to do with all this. It's the last thing you remember, isn't it?'' I shrugged, then nodded, slowly.
''Maybe.'' We had reached Sophie's car. She unlocked the doors and I got in. A few minutes later we were outside a parade of shops and I saw the familiar sign with a green cross on a white background, outside one of them. I grabbed my purse, leaving the handbag in the car, and went in.
I decided it would be a good idea to buy a toothbrush while I was there, so I picked one out from a stand near the back of the shop. As I approached the counter, another display caught my eye and I went over. I looked at the long rectangular boxes. So many to choose from. Why should I take Henry's word for it? I picked up a pink box and looked at the instructions, disconcerted to find that my vision was a little blurred. It's probably a migraine, that's all, I thought. I turned the box over: Easy to read results – with more than 99% accuracy! I took it to the counter, along with the toothbrush, and asked for a packet of paracetamol tablets, then paid with the strange-looking twenty pound note, making a mental note to ask Sophie how long ago they had changed the design.
From the shop's entrance, I could see Sophie in her car, talking animatedly on my mobile and I hung back in the doorway. I guessed she was talking to Henry, and didn't want to take the risk of her handing the phone to me. I opened the packet of painkillers and dry-swallowed two caplets. When I saw Sophie flip the phone closed, I went back to the car, and got in.
Sophie looked harrassed. She looked at me as I sat down.
''Henry rang your mobile, and I thought I'd better answer it. Poor guy's really, really worried, Clare, bless him. I didn't tell him too much, but I think I convinced him that it's a good idea for you to come back with me tonight.''
I put my hand over Sophie's. I felt terrible, physically and emotionally. My head was pounding, and I felt sick, and exhausted
''I'm so sorry, Soph. I shouldn't be putting all this on you.''
She shook her head. ''No problem. But you look completely shattered, Clare. Why don't you go in the back and try and sleep off that headache? I'll tell you about the phone call when we get back to mine, yeah?''
Obediently, I got out and climbed into the back of the car. By the time we reached the busy motorway, my head was feeling less sore and I started to doze.