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Authors: Sheila O'Flanagan

From The Heart (9 page)

BOOK: From The Heart
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‘Oh, bloody hell.’ She sounded annoyed now. ‘I’d love to have gone, really. But we’re having dinner tonight. He’s booked it and everything.’
More chatter from Janine, which made the girl smile.
‘I don’t know. I mean, Jan, I should know, shouldn’t I?’ She said this with a question in her voice but without conviction, a fact that Janine clearly picked up on.
‘Well, if you’re really in love with someone and they’re in love with you then the whole engagement thing shouldn’t really come as a surprise, should it? I mean, you’d have talked about it already, wouldn’t you? And we haven’t.’
So it was kind of serious with her Tom. Serious enough from her point of view to have been thinking about solitaire diamonds and floating white dresses. She extended her left hand and gazed at her fingers as she spoke.
‘But I still feel bad about it,’ she continued. ‘I haven’t seen you or the others in ages.’
They warn you about that, don’t they? About not dropping your girlfriends when you have a man in your life. I remembered, guiltily, that I hadn’t called Leanne in ages either. But that was because the last time we’d talked she’d lectured me about Ian, telling me that I was only with him because he was seriously gorgeous and seriously rich and that we had sweet FA in common. She was seriously jealous, of course.
‘No,’ said the girl opposite me. ‘We didn’t get to see it after all.’
She paused and listened before replying. ‘We would have. He wanted to. He just wasn’t able to. And next thing it was too late.’
I wondered what that was all about. I get really pissed off about people having conversations on their phones in public places but I can’t help listening and getting involved. I wanted to know what Janine was saying to make the girl opposite frown.
‘He sent me flowers the next day,’ she told her. ‘Roses. With a card saying, “To Cheryl with all my love”.’
Cheryl. She looked a bit like a Cheryl, I supposed.
‘He’s not like that,’ said Cheryl, her voice now tinged with anger. ‘Honestly, Janine, you’re getting it a bit out of proportion. And a few minutes ago you were asking me about getting engaged to him!’
True, I thought. Maybe Janine wasn’t such a good friend. Maybe she was just trying to stir it up and maybe she was seriously jealous like Leanne with me. ‘He’s using you, Natalie,’ she said. ‘He wants someone around when he’s stuck and he’s out with other women whenever you’re not there.’ I was able to knock that one on the head fairly quickly. I was always there for him.
‘I’ve got to go,’ said Cheryl suddenly. ‘I’ve another call coming in. I’ll talk to you soon.’
There wasn’t another call coming in to Cheryl’s phone but she’d clearly got fed up with talking to Janine. I didn’t blame her. After all, everyone bangs on about how great your friends are and how important their opinions might be and how, in the end, women support each other all the time, but the bottom line was that me and Cheryl both had jealous friends who didn’t realise that the relationship we had with our boyfriends was just as important. Leanne wasn’t going out with anyone at the moment and that, in my view, was why she was so het up about Ian. I’d bet any money that Janine didn’t have a boyfriend either.
Then Cheryl’s phone did ring again. This time she smiled as she answered it.
‘Hello, darling.’
It was the wonderful Tom, I guessed. She was besotted with him. I could hear it in her voice.
‘Oh, no, Tom – why?’ She looked aghast. ‘. . . Yes, but, well I’ve just told Janine that I couldn’t go out with them because I was going out with you and she said that they were going to ask Martina instead . . . A few minutes earlier . . .’ She was looking at her left hand again. ‘. . . No, but you told me you booked it so I didn’t want to let you down . . . of course I realise that you have to work but . . .’
I watched her face. This had happened before. I knew it had. She had that kind of resigned expression that means the excuse has already been used. And she’s accepting it even if she isn’t very happy about it.
‘It’s not that,’ she told Tom. ‘It’s just – well, this is always happening.’ She bit her lip and listened again. ‘No, I’m not going to ring Janine back . . . Because I already told her I was going out with you . . . No. Oh, come on Tom! Give me a break.’
That’s something else that men don’t understand. Presumably if Cheryl had told Tom that she couldn’t go out with him he’d simply ring up his mates and happily announce, ‘Guess what, I’m free after all,’ and head off to the match or the pub or whatever with them even if he’d told them five minutes earlier that he couldn’t go. But with women . . . I don’t know. Maybe we think we’re losing face or something if we’re supposed to be going out with a guy and it gets called off. I mean, it’s totally stupid but that’s the way it works.
Tom ended the conversation, Cheryl closed her little snap-shut phone and gazed out of the train window at the backs of the houses we hurtled past. And then I noticed a tear tipping over the brim of her eye and rolling slowly down her cheek.
I bit my lip. There was something sadly wrong with her relationship if she was crying over this. I felt uncomfortable at having listened, at having sneaked a look into her life. She wiped the tear away and turned back into the carriage, opening up her phone again. She hit speed-dial.
‘Tom, hi.’
Maybe she was going to break up with him, I thought. Maybe she’d decided that being with the girls was more important after all.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I hung up on you.’
I hadn’t noticed that. I’d assumed that after she’d said ‘Give me a break’ he’d said something else before they’d stopped talking because she hadn’t closed the phone straight away. But apparently not, they’d ended on a sour note and now she was retrieving the situation.
‘Yes, well it was a hard day,’ she said. ‘That bastard Moriarty went on and on at me.’ She rubbed the bridge of her nose. ‘I was looking forward to seeing you.’ She winced at whatever he said and then responded with, ‘I don’t mean to be.’
He was calling her possessive. I knew. That was the rock on which Alan and I had perished and the same with Michael. And so the first time that Ian had suggested it to me I’d backed right off and now he thought that I really didn’t care where he was or who he was with. As if.
‘Oh, look, Tom – it doesn’t matter. No, I can’t go tomorrow evening. I have that interview, remember?’ She listened to him again. ‘No, with the computer company. I told you about it.’
I was rapidly going off Tom. He really didn’t give a toss about her, did he? He’d broken their date and now he was asking her to go somewhere with him when he knew she already had to be somewhere else. Surely he should remember her having an interview? That was important, wasn’t it? A life-changing kind of thing.
‘I will not wear my blue dress to the interview!’ She sounded quite annoyed. ‘I’m wearing my suit.’
She didn’t actually look like the kind of girl who’d even own a suit, but then I have a horrible habit of making snap judgments about people and maybe she was really Office Barbie after all.
‘Why don’t you pick me up afterwards? I’ll be finished by eight.’
He clearly asked her why she wasn’t having the interview during working hours because she said, rather tersely, that it was impossible to get the time off and she’d already used a doctor’s appointment and a visit to the dentist in the last few weeks. Obviously Cheryl was desperate to change jobs. I knew the feeling. I was thinking strongly about it myself after today’s disaster.
‘OK, it doesn’t matter. I’ll call you after it anyway to let you know how I got on.’
But he won’t care, I thought suddenly. He doesn’t care. He only cares about himself. I jumped as my own phone rang. It was Ian.
‘Hi,’ I said happily. ‘How are you?’
‘Guess what!’ He sounded very pleased with himself.
‘What?’
‘I’m going to Milan.’
‘Milan!’ I was suitably impressed. ‘When?’
‘Tomorrow,’ he said. ‘Tanya was supposed to go but she’s got a flu bug or something and can’t so they’re sending me instead.’
‘That’s great,’ I said insincerely. ‘For how long?’
‘A whole week.’
‘I’ll miss you,’ I told him.
‘Oh well.’ He laughed. ‘All in the line of duty.’
‘Yes. I’ll see you tonight anyway,’ I said. ‘Give you a goodbye kiss. Maybe more if you’re lucky.’
‘Ah, well, Natalie, sorry about this but I can’t make it tonight.’
I gritted my teeth. ‘But you said yesterday that we’d go for a drink.’
‘I know,’ he told me. ‘I can’t though. Sorry.’
‘So you broke a date with me last night and you’re standing me up tonight and you’re going to Milan tomorrow?’ I kept my voice as light as possible but he could hear my anger all the same.
‘Chill out, Nats,’ he said. ‘We don’t have to be in each other’s pockets all the time, do we?’
‘No,’ I said. I wanted to add that he just didn’t seem to care any more but I didn’t because that would make me sound pathetic.
‘Anyway I’ll bring you back a little something from Milan,’ he promised.
‘Prada?’ I suggested.
He laughed. ‘Do they do key rings?’
‘Don’t you dare bring me back a key ring,’ I warned. ‘A bag or a belt at least.’
‘We’ll see. Look, Nats, got to go. Talk soon.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Talk soon.’
My phone wasn’t a trendy little snap-shut one like Cheryl’s. I simply hit the red key. Then I glanced up. She was looking at me and her gaze was speculative. Clearly Cheryl had been listening in to my conversation in the same way as I’d listened in to hers. Our eyes met. She shrugged. I smiled.
And then I did something I rarely do on the train. I spoke to her. A complete stranger. ‘My boyfriend’s going to Italy,’ I said. ‘Lucky him.’
‘I couldn’t help overhearing,’ she said.
‘He works in advertising,’ I told her. ‘It’s his job.’
‘Even luckier.’
‘And if he brings me back something by Prada . . .’ I smiled happily.
‘If he comes back at all,’ she said.
I stared at her and she looked embarrassed. ‘Sorry.’
‘He’s going for a week,’ I told her. ‘That’s all.’
‘And you’re not meeting him tonight.’
‘Butt out,’ I snapped angrily. ‘If I want that kind of shit I can talk to any of my friends.’
I was really annoyed. How dare that girl listen in to my personal conversation and draw all the wrong conclusions! OK, Ian was going away for a week. But he was going to bring home a present for me. Sure, he wasn’t able to meet me tonight. But he probably had things to do. And fine, he’d broken our date the night before. He’d had his reasons. Work reasons, he’d told me. Something to do with having to be at IceCool all night. It wasn’t anything like her boyfriend who clearly didn’t give a shit about her and who kept her hanging on so pathetically that even her friends felt sorry for her.
I
felt sorry for her, for God’s sake, and I was a complete stranger.
The train sped southwards around the curve of the bay. I’d be glad to get home. My headache was as bad as ever.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said again suddenly. ‘I shouldn’t have listened.’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ I told her. ‘I didn’t think much of your boyfriend either.’
Her eyes filled with tears and I squirmed uncomfortably in the seat.
‘Everyone says he’s using me,’ she said. ‘But I love him. He’s kind. Nobody sees that side of him because he’s a bit silly when we’re together with other people. But he’s great really.’
‘So’s mine,’ I said.
Both of us got off the train at Sandycove. I wondered if this was her usual commuting train. You tend to recognise the people who get the same train as you in the evening. I normally got the one a bit earlier.
‘Looks like we’re both at a bit of a loose end this evening,’ I said suddenly. ‘Fancy a drink?’
She looked surprised but said yes. So the next thing I knew we were sitting in the pub, two glasses of Miller on the table in front of us. And she was telling me all about Tom who worked in graphic design and who was such a pet really, although she didn’t think he was the commitment kind. I told her all about my lovely, lovely Ian and wondered if he was the commitment kind either. And then we told each other, over another couple of Millers, that neither of us was really looking for commitment. But it was nice to know it was a possibility. Which it probably wasn’t with Tom. Or with Ian.
‘You know,’ she said much later, ‘I don’t know if either of them are worth it.’
‘I want Ian to be worth it,’ I told her. ‘I really do.’
‘I want Tom to be worth it too. I had a messy break-up before. I don’t want to go through it all again.’
She was quite a nice girl, was Cheryl. I liked her. I didn’t want her to have a messy break up with Tom either.
‘But you will break up with him?’
She looked at me miserably. ‘He’ll break up with me first.’
‘And Ian will break up with me too.’ I knew I was right. I kept making excuses for him but I was being naïve. Me and Ian weren’t meant to be together. Just because I wanted something to happen didn’t mean that it would.
‘Give me your phone,’ I said.
She looked at me in surprise but handed it over.
‘Tom’s number?’
‘Speed-dial four,’ she said.
I hit the button and waited until he answered. He sounded peevish, I thought.
‘What is it, Cheryl?’ he asked. ‘I told you I was busy.’ I wondered where exactly he was busy. It was ominously quiet in the background. Maybe he was working late or whatever excuse it was he’d given her but somehow I didn’t think so.
‘This isn’t Cheryl,’ I said. ‘This is Natalie.’
‘Natalie?’ He sounded confused. ‘But you’re calling from Cheryl’s phone.’
‘Calling on Cheryl’s behalf,’ I said. ‘Calling to tell you it’s over.’
Cheryl looked at me in astonishment. She made a half-hearted attempt to retrieve the phone and then sat back again.
BOOK: From The Heart
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