Happy is not exactly how I would describe it, but I suppose there is nothing I can do against it. "But if it doesn't work, we will talk about it again?" I raise my objections mildly.
She pats my thigh. "It'll work, Martin. I will make it work."
"The school wouldn't close if you cut your workload down."
"Thanks very much for your confidence in me!" Louisa always seems to be peeved when I say anything about her work. "Actually, many told me that I do make a difference to the school."
"Of course you do."
"But maybe you think it's just not a very demanding job. After all, it's not the medical profession."
"It is very demanding."
"So too demanding for me, you mean?"
"I didn't say any such thing!"
"So why are you against me keeping my job? Why can't you see that the school needs me?"
"Everyone is replaceable."
Louisa stares at me and I prepare for a major blow. Much to my astonishment, Louisa turns silent and, after a short pause, speaks quietly.
"I know everyone can be replaced. Maybe that's what I'm afraid of. I don't want to be replaced."
"For everyone in this village, you'll always be head teacher."
"I don't know. I mean, I came back here as a teacher, and I couldn't stand working under another head. I had to pull myself together not to tell him how to do his job."
"But then again, Mr. eh…Sprain, was completely potty."
"Strain…his name was Strain. Oh Martin, when will you ever learn to use the right names? And he wasn't potty, he was ill."
"Which made him mentally unstable."
"Whatever. Fact is that I didn't like it, and I don't want to downgrade. I need this position, maybe because I worked too hard to get it. You don't know how it is to work under someone else."
"Do you think I started as head surgeon? I had to work my way up like anyone else."
"Working your way up is alright. Working it down not so."
"Yes," I gulp.
Louisa looks at me guiltily and places her hand softly on my thigh. "Sorry, I forgot."
I nod. It still hurts when I am reminded on my incapacity as a surgeon. I look her into her eyes. "But sometimes, something good comes out of it."
She rubs my thigh and smiles at me.
"Did it? For you?"
I reach over to James, to fondle his tiny foot. Then I look into Louisa's mesmerizing eyes and nod. Louisa's face clouds.
"You're really making me feel bad, you know."
"Not intentionally, I know, but I feel so selfish. You're giving up practically everything – the job you love and at which you're good at, London, where you feel more comfortable and your daily routine, which worked like clockwork, I suppose. But I simply cannot give up my job. Just think what happened when I wrote my resignation to go to London with you – I came crawling back and had to call myself lucky that they hadn't already replaced me. I need this security."
"So you don't expect it'll work between us?"
"No, it's not that – I just need a safety blanket. I've been let down too often."
"I won't let you down. Not anymore."
"I need to know that I am free to go and free to stay. I don't want to feel trapped and I don't want to be dependent on you. Besides, I actually do believe the school needs me."
"At work, we will always be replaceable. I worked ridiculously long hours as a surgeon. I had to. The work had to be done, and who else should do it? After my haemophobia had developed, they kept on operating. Of course they did. They had to. Someone else worked the long hours - who else should do it?"
"The only place where we can't ever be replaced is the family. No one can take your place as a mother or a father."
"They can leave you, and you have to go on."
"But didn't you miss your Mum? As a teenager? Maybe even when you got your A-levels? Didn't you want her to be there, to be proud of you?"
"I suppose so. It's silly, really."
"No, it's natural. Mummy hated me. She really thought I ruined her life by simply being alive. Nevertheless, although she sent me to boarding school as soon as possible, just to get rid of me – despite all that, I wanted her love, her support, and I wanted to be there for her."
"And Dad. Always belittling me. Always having demands on me. I worked hard not to disappoint him too much."
"All my life I have had to work hard, had to be better than anyone else to be at least accepted and maybe just a little bit respected. All my life, as soon as I slipped slightly, it was of great satisfaction to everyone."
"But not James. He trusted me without me having to do anything about it. I didn't even deserve it, given that I was about to leave him for my job. I want to earn his trust, justify what he has given me. Do I make any sense at all?"
I see Louisa looking at me and the softness of her eyes makes my heart melt. She looks at me for a very long time.
"Yes, Martin. You do make sense. Lots of sense." She wipes away a single tear trickling down her cheek. "That was so sweet of you. If we aren't careful, you'll develop into a softie."
"Great." I grunt. These comments are exactly what I need. I switch the engine on.
To be continued…