Chapter 1

I hate flying. I've always hated it. Being stuck in this tiny seat for hours, hampering the blood flow and risking thrombosis. I try to walk up and down the aisle regularly, but it's not easy during a flight. The last thing that is bothering me are the angry shouts from my fellow passengers.

I hate long flights and I wouldn't have made this one, but Imperial was really eager for me to attend this conference, and to be honest, the program sounds interesting.

This time I have even more reason to hate this trip. It is the first time that Louisa and I will be apart since the birth of our son.

Sometimes it is still difficult for me to believe that we are really together, that we are a couple. At first, I tried to persuade her to marry me. I thought it would be the right, the proper thing to do, especially given that James has the last name of only one of his parents. Louisa made it clear that she had no intention of repeating last time's disaster of our attempt at getting married and warned me to let it rest.

I did. I can't say that I am happy about it, but over the years, the urgency of the wish to make our relationship 'official' has worn off. Maybe being together for almost three years now means more than a marriage certificate.

Three years, and not one night apart. This will be the first. I'm dreading the thought. I'm not sure if I will be able to sleep. I will miss her.

She certainly has changed my sleeping pattern. Right at the beginning, she ditched my pyjama tops. She confessed to me one night that she found the 'baby blue' pyjamas offensive. I never thought of garments as possibly offending, but that's what she said. She pushed me to replace the tops with a T-shirt. That was the start. Next the top was to go completely, and since one stifling hot summer night, in London, she got me used to sleeping in my boxers only.

I've always slept preferably on my back, and I still do, but now I do have the benefit of Louisa's head resting on my chest. I love her hair floating over my chest while I can feel her breath on my skin. This was the only reason why I gave in in ditching my top.

For tonight I have my old pyjamas with me. Without Louisa, it doesn't feel right to go to bed in my underwear. With Louisa, everything feels right.

This is not the first conference I have had to attend since being back as top consultant. The hospital expects me to be present at the most important venues. The first year, I was expected to go to Shanghai. The flight was booked and I was already brooding about the imminent separation from my son and Louisa. Then Louisa passed a bug down to me which had caused devastating effects in her school for weeks. I was truly put out of business with influenza which made me bed-bound for weeks. My deputy had to step in.

The thought of the last big conference in Sydney last year brings back pleasant memories. Fortunately, it took place between terms, so I was able to take Louisa and James with me. The conference went on for four days, but we added a few days to add it up to a two week stay in total, spending our holidays there. Louisa and James had loved it!

During the conference, I was only able to join my family in the evenings. Of course I had the added benefit of having Louisa as my bed-companion. My bubbly family told me excitedly how they had spent the days and what they were planning to do when our holidays truly began.

It seemed during the four days when I still had to work that Louisa and James had toured practically the whole city, including a harbour tour. My little son insisted that I simply had to see the Sydney Aquarium, as he had been impressed. Honestly, I always thought watching paint dry was almost as exciting as watching some fish swimming in a tank, but seeing the enthusiasm of little James made me enjoy the day.

I was also dragged onto a Glass Bottom Boat and was able to see Louisa and James marvel at the coral reefs. Louisa even took a stab at snorkelling. She tried to persuade me to try it, too, but there are limits. I preferred to take James, who was too young for that anyhow, to visit the Science Museum.

I suppose we took the full program, delving deep into colonial history, visiting the heritage fleet, which had been one of James' favourites, the observatory, which I quite enjoyed, and even a Chinese Garden, which Louisa marvelled about although it is still beyond me why I should go to Australia to see a Chinese Garden.

Thinking back, it was the most perfect holiday. I was lucky as some of the other attendees had a similar plan, so even after the conference there was a handful of top consultants from all over the world left at the hotel. In the evenings, after a day full of activities with Louisa and James, when Louisa insisted we had to socialise with other guests of the hotel, I had at least the opportunity to choose those stranded due to the conference. Louisa had some nice talks with the partners they all brought along, while I could talk to my peers, trying to find out how they organised their departments, which new developments they had tried and maybe get some ideas on how to improve my own department.

At the end of the first week, the left-overs from the conference were thinning out, but then we journeyed on to the outback. Louisa insisted if we were in this part of the world, she simply had to see Ayers Rock. However, Louisa's suggestion to take a camel tour was absolutely out of the question. I still don't know for certain if she was just having me on in suggesting anything like it.

James had been over the moon when he saw his first kangaroo. It seemed that for Louisa and James, this excursion seemed to be the highlight of our stay there, while I though it was too dirty, too uncivilised and that there were far too many dangerous species around. What kind of living is it anyway if you have to be aware where to step and where to sit as you can run into some poisonous snake, scorpion or unpleasantly huge spiders all the time? Louisa thought it was marvellous. James thought it was exciting. I thought it was utterly disgusting.

The heat didn't help either. Although it was during the Easter holidays that we went there, so it was Autumn on this other side of the world, many days were unbearably hot. When I mentioned something about it to Louisa, she just told me to get out of that suit and into some 'proper' clothes, then I should be fine.

It seems to be an obsession with her to get me into anything but my usual clothes, the suits where I feel comfortable in.

To be honest, comfortable was not the way I would have described my state in the middle of the Australian continent, as sweat was running down my spine. At least, I wasn't over-exposed to the UV-rays which were a constant concern to me seeing Louisa and James running around in shorts and sleeveless tops all the time. Louisa was teasing me as I stopped them every other hour to apply a good deal of sun lotion to their bare skins.

Despite all my efforts to keep them protected as well as possible, James as well as Louisa were tanned like some Mediterranean natives on our flight home.

I have to admit that I found Louisa extremely sexy as my Latin lover.

Louisa was raving about it for months. She had found some of our tours so romantic. Even I couldn't help but being touched by the sunrise over Ayers Rock, even if I could have done without the bushman's breakfast.

That was not the only compromise I had to make on my eating habits, as Louisa insisted on booking a dinner 'under the canopy of the desert night', as the brochure put it. The desert sky was alright, but it was way past my dining hour, the food was not entirely what my stomach is used to and the babbling of the storyteller got on my nerves. However, Louisa thought it was romantic, and proved it to me afterwards.

So, all in all, we had a good time together.

This time the timing of the conference is anything but ideal. It is close to the end of term, close enough to curse them for not waiting for just three weeks longer. As it is a very busy time for Louisa, there is no chance that she could have taken time off work, not even the four days for the conference, and definitely no time for an added holiday.

So I will have to do without her and James for a few days.

I will miss James' bedtime routine. Whenever I can, I try to be home when he is put to bed to read to him. I never would have believed it, but when I read those absolutely stupid stories to him and see him hanging on every word, the stress of the day is forgotten. I feel peaceful and calm in those quiet moments when the world is reduced to James in his bed and Louisa sitting by my side. Sometimes she slides her hand into mine, holding it tenderly, sometimes her hand is on my thigh. I feel at home and I'm happy that James doesn't share my childhood experiences.

I think, in general, he has quite a happy childhood and I'm eternally grateful to Louisa that she has given me that. I'm glad that she got pregnant. I'm glad that the thought of abortion never crossed her mind, even when her outlook was a bit bleak at that time. I'm glad that she came back to Portwenn. I'm even glad for those stupid accidents on those ghastly moors because it stopped me from rushing to London against my better judgement. Most of all, I'm glad that she gave me another chance after James' birth and agreed to join me in London.

I have it all now.

I am at the top of my profession again, the 'big chief', and I am highly regarded in my job. I have had some illustrious patients over the last couple of years, but their arteries were just in the same devastating condition as those of any Tom, Dick or Harry. At least the rector is quite happy about those patients as it brings reputation as well as money.

I have the prospect to work on a new research program, testing new operating procedures for stroke patients with blood clots in their brain which are too big to be dissolved by drugs. It will be a joined research program with Plymouth University. We have a strategy meeting in a fortnight and I'm looking forward to this challenge.

I have a gorgeous, healthy son which gives me so much love and trust that my heart bursts whenever I can spend some time with him. It is something I never planned on having, so I enjoy the miraculous gift even more.

I have Louisa. For three years now we've lived together, loved together, spent time together. She is a benefit in more than one way. First and foremost, I love her, still love her, and can't imagine that I will ever stop loving her. She made me do things I never would have done on my own.

She supports me whenever doubts creep in. She comforts me when something at the hospital isn't going to plan. Even I lose patients from time to time. It is liberating to be with her. It makes my life richer. As a benefit I didn't expect, she also helps me in my job. I'm convinced that I might not have gotten some of the sponsorships for my college nor some donations for research projects if it hadn't been for Louisa. Negotiations for new projects always also include social events. I always underestimated the importance of these business lunches. I was always crap at it. Now, I can take Louisa with me, as most take their partners if they have time and are at hand.

I leave the social aspects to her and I can see that she twists everyone around her little finger in no time. Somehow she manages to charm the male parties without making the respective female partners jealous. She's a marvel. I've never landed so many contracts with sponsors ever before and I know that the main merit is with Louisa.

Good thing is that she really enjoys these evenings. She looks forward to every one of them so I don't have to feel guilty that I might use her. After one evening, last year, she smiled at me on our way home. I was puzzled. She was especially attentive to me the whole night, until I finally asked how I deserved this.

'You're such a darling. You don't even realise.' Indeed, I didn't. 'The room was packed with gorgeous women tonight, many of them considerably younger and, well, more attractive, I suppose, but you never looked at one of them even once. You only had eyes for me. I love you.' Louisa had said and tiptoed to kiss me.

However, Louisa was wrong. I noticed all the women quite clearly that evening and couldn't help to feel incredibly proud to have the most attractive and intelligent partner, which by the way had the finest character of them all. Actually, I do notice other women more than I had before, just to find out that there is no better catch for me in any way.

So I should call myself lucky and count my blessings.

But something doesn't feel right.

To be continued…