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Three’s a crowd- Extract

JESS

I’m packing up and I’m leaving. Leaving is final. Leaving will set me free.

I’m letting go of what was and what will never be again. I’m leaving because sometimes things can’t be fixed. Sometimes things are not broken, but shattered. Ever tried to glue back a shattered glass? Impossible.

I stand at the top of the stairs with my suitcases, a back pack and a Tesco bag stuffed with clothes. I wish I could walk out the door elegantly like they do in films but the bags are awkward. I want to take them all at once too. Going back up the stairs wouldn’t  give the drama I was hoping for. So, I stumble down the stairs, banging the cases on every step and ripping the wallpaper with the rucksack zips. The noise summons him out of the kitchen. He is cooking toast. How can he be hungry at a time like this? Is his heart not too broken to stomach food?

“You’re really going then?” He licks the peanut butter from the knife in his hand.

“What do you think?”

“Well you’ve got bags, so I guess you’re off. You want a slice of toast?”

“You insensitive shit. You don’t even care that I’m going, do you?”

“You won’t go. Or you will, but you’ll be back before I’ve finished my toast.”

“Watch me.” I try to comfortably pick up all the bags again and open the front door. It isn’t locked.

“You want a hand getting to the car with that lot?”

“Fuck you.” He licked the knife again.

“You’ll be back. See you in a week.”

How was he so sure I’d be back. Leaving this time meant leaving. I’d even packed my toothbrush, that’s how I knew it was for good. Last time I heard about him kissing some slut I did come back, yes. But that was different. This was an affair. This wasn’t something to forgive. That slut had been at my wedding, she’d got front row seats while had our first dance. The whole time she knew more about my husband than I did.

JAKE

I was cooking toast. I just fancied a bit of toast. It wasn’t trying to be an ‘insensitive shit’, I was hungry. She’d sprung the whole affair thing on my when I walked through the door, starving from a day at the office.

When I got home she was sat up straight on the edge of the brown cuddle chair. Her legs were crossed and her arms folded. I knew there was something wrong. I searched my mind and begged for it to be that I’d left the heating on all day, or she’d found out it was actually me who ran over the cats tail and cost us £200 in vets bills. Anything but her finding out about my other her.

“Who’s Jenny?”

“What do you mean who’s Jenny?” I said. My voice came out so high that it almost went through the roof.

“Jenny. Pub Jenny. The Cross Keys Jenny. The legs spread Jenny.” She uncrossed her legs, arms and ran at me like a spider. I dropped my bag on the floor to protect my face as she slapped me. It didn’t hurt. Jess is small and thin. “You’ve been shagging her, you shit.”

Busted. How could she know? I got the files out of my brain. The ones I’d logged under “how Jess could find out.” These were the options. Jenny told her. Luke, my best mate told her. She guessed because she was the one I never spoke about. She was tricking me.

Deny it all until proven guilty was my tactic.

“Where did you get this from?”

She stopped hitting me and breathlessly said, “she told me.” Back in the brain files I looked under “What to do if Jenny tells.”

“Jenny, you got this from Jenny?” I laughed. “She’s obsessed with me.” I grabbed her hands and looked into her eyes. “She won’t leave me alone, babe. She wants to break us up. She’s jealous.”

“You’re full of crap, Jake. She told me everything.” She wriggled her hands free and jabbed me in the shoulder with her sharp finger. “You know what, I believe her too. She knows too much.”

“Babe, she knows so much because she’s obsessed. Literally. Ask Luke.”

She shot off up the stairs crying. I didn’t chase her. Truth is I was shaking. My heart was bouncing about in my chest. I felt sick. I’d been caught and she wasn’t having my brain files of lies. She was on to me and my game was over.

Plan B. I act casual, like I’ve got nothing to hide. So, while she was upstairs banging about I splashed my face with cold water and I made a couple of slices of toast because I was hungry and eating calms you down.

JENNY

What did he expect me to do? Sit back and watch him have it all?

He pulls his pants back on and goes home to her while I go home to my roast dinner for one and the TV? Roast dinner for one is such a cliché too. God, I hated myself buying that. It’s not even easy to cook you know, part has to go in the oven, part in the microwave- the whole things gets right in the way of my programs.

So I told her. Stop judging me. I didn’t ruin a happy marriage. It wasn’t happy and it was ruined the day Jake started coming in the Keys.

I tried to stop, I did. I’m not a bad person. God, stop with the looks. Why is it that the other woman always gets the judgement- what about Jake, or even Jess? Clearly Jake wasn’t happy and Jess wasn’t giving him enough- frigid apparently.

I kind of always knew it would be me who told her. Anyway, I’d had enough of the sneaking around and he wasn’t going to get the ball rolling, not while he had his cake and he got to eat it too. And boy did he.

JESS

I got myself a little room in a hotel. It is nothing special, at thirty pounds  a night I wouldn’t expect much. Got to hand it to the cleaners though, the place is spotless. Towels are a little rough, but they dry you better so that’s okay.

I spruced up the room when I checked in, just to make sure the place shone and felt warmer, cosy and more like home. I added a few little touches, a picture of me and my sister for the bedside table and a bunch of daffodils in a mug on the windowsill.

It will do. I’m not ready to fight for the house, not yet. Though, he had been unfaithful so it was well within my rights to stay there and for him to go. I just don’t have the fight in me. I feel like a balloon that has been at a party too long, all shrivelled up and deflated.

I flick through the four channels on the TV. The hotel doesn’t have free view, or Wi-Fi, but it will do. The only thing on is a home show, I turn it off because it reminds me of where I am not.

My phone has messages on it from my sister but I still haven’t replied because I’m not sure how to tell her where I am. Why my life changed on a Friday afternoon.  I curl up into a ball and I fall asleep on top of the crispy hotel sheets and bobbly blankets. It is no Hilton, but it will do.

I wake up an hour later, a bit annoyed that more time hadn’t passed. Sleeping is the perfect way to waste time because you can’t think your normal thoughts when you are dreaming. I can’t think about him, or her. I can’t replay the moment she stood on my door step, straight faced. All I do is replay her words.

When I’m walking I say the words to the beat of my feet. I. Slept. With. Jake. I’m. Sor-ry.

Bitch.

My head is heavy from sleep, I need fresh air. I brush my hair into a low pony tail, slip on my shoes, grab my bag and leave my room.  Before my brain has time to think my feet have taken me outside to the car. I drive and find myself at my parent’s house. It’s time. It’s time they knew what perfect Jake has done to their daughter. It’s time they knew the truth. I look down at my arm, the scar is still there, but I don’t think I’ll tell them everything. One thing  at a time.

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The Test of a Good Woman

  I believe you shouldn’t judge a woman by the way she looks, smells, or wears her hair. Yeah, okay so all that is important- I’m not after a troll who smells like a trucker- but I think you can tell all you need to know about a woman by what she eats, how she eats. I’ve been on a lot of dates, and this isn’t me bragging clearly I’m no good at it after 34 long years of being single, but I’ve always had a keen eye for knowing what women are really like behind that first date smile. I cant tell from the moment I see them, but from the moment I see what they order.

Take Sue. Sue was a red haired, fiery woman in a tight dress and thick heels. I met Sue in a club and told her I’d take her out after a few Martinis. I liked the way she flicked her tongue round her straw and tried to catch it in her mouth. Sue smoothed her Lycra skirt to her bare thighs and sat, with her spine curved at the bottom, on the chair. Her necklace hung low, a locket, and if things went well at dinner I was planning on asking to see inside it. She circled her shoulders in time with the music and held the menu in both hands. The waiter came and she peered over the top of the menu, winked at me and said, “I’ll have the oysters.” Looking at me the whole time she ordered. I don’t have to spell it out, she knew what she wanted and I like that. I also like a woman who can order and order well. Oysters are good on any occasion, on your own on a Friday night even, and if what they say is true then even better with someone else. I ordered a light soup, simple and easy, a classic.

                Sue started off impressively and I really thought I might get to know what was in the locket, somewhere I hadn’t got in years. I froze to watch her take the fish, hoping that she didn’t fail at the first hurdle. Her thick eye lashes were spread like spider’s legs and her pupils round and dark between them, not looking away as she pulled the oyster closer to her lips. Her red, thick lips. She scooped under to loosen the flesh from the shell and sucked. The noise echoed through the entire room, shaking the pictures on the wall and I’m sure I heard a mirror crack. After what seemed like 20 minutes of slurping and staring she’d sucked it all in. Then she chewed. Sloppy, mouth open along with heavy breathing, worn out from shoulder dancing I guess. I looked down into my asparagus soup and weighed up the pros of drowning myself in it.

Hannah was sweet. I met her on the sea front; she worked on the ice cream parlour and served me a 2 scoop of rum and raison for the price of one. Maybe her mum had told her that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I picked her up in my duck egg mini. I always drive; I don’t cloud my judgement with drink. Concentrating on every mouthful they take requires a clear head. I got carried away once with a woman a few years back, ended up drinking a couple of bottles of wine with her. I thought she was the one. In the meal I must have missed crucial signs or just let them go because after the 2nd bottle she burped right in my face. From then on I’ve always driven. Hannah kept tucking her hair behind her ears, even when it was already there. She pursued her lips and looked up at me over the menu, but when I made eye contact she looked away and giggled. I ordered fizzy water on ice and she followed suit. When the waiter came Hannah gestured towards me to order first and said the dreaded words, “I’ll have what you’re having.” I ordered the hottest curry on the menu and watched her sweat and sniff with every mouthful.

Sharron, or Shaz as she liked to be called worked at the supermarket. She made me laugh when she came up behind me and said, “You going to pay for that you thieving bastard.” When I turned around she had her hand covering her mouth, as red as onions. “Oh, God, I thought you were someone else,” she said.  She put her arm around my wrist and begged me not to tell customer services that she’d called me a bastard. I agreed as long as she came on a date with me. She was a big girl with a pretty, sweet face. Thin red lips, big blue eyes and blonde hair shaped to her round face. At dinner she wore jeans, heels and a top which was floaty and forgiving. She ordered her own drink, a large Nantua Les Deux- a complex and buttery wine. I knew she had good taste.  Then she ordered the food, “I’ll have the avocado salad please. No sides thank you.” How could such a good wine order go with such a terrible food order. I must have paused mouth open for a moment or two because the waiter had to call me twice. “And for you, Sir?” he said. “Sir?” I ordered the Chicken in a soft cheese sauce, with a side of vegetables and new potatoes.

When the waiter packed up his note pad and left, she said: “It’s a gland problem, my weight. I eat light.” I laughed and said something vaguely sympathetic, “my sister suffers with that too”. Don’t get me wrong, I would have believed her if it hadn’t been that when I dropped my napkin I noticed two chocolate wrappers in her open bag, and what I had thought had been a mole on her face began to look more and more like Cadburys. I don’t date liars.

Jane. If I was one of those men who judge a woman by her name I wouldn’t have bothered with Jane. I’d known her years, we worked together, drank coffee together, filed stuff together, then I bumped into her in town and we got talking.

On our date she had her hair to her shoulders and flat to her head. She wore jeans and a white shirt with a pair of black boots. She ordered a white wine and she didn’t mind which- I think she chose the cheapest. Out of work and worried that I’d ask her to split the bill. She took her time over the menu, really analysed it as though it was important data and we were at a meeting. The conversation flowed well as we spoke about people who we used to know, where they were now, where we were now. The waiter came over, smartly dressed with a napkin tucked into his belt. She smiled at him and closed the menu in front of her. “Please may I have the chicken in a white wine sauce but without the sauce.” Her order was dry chicken and boiled potatoes with no butter. It was dry and plain. If I’d have judged her by her clothes or her name then I could have saved myself three hours of my life listening to the plainness of hers. She’d never even been on holiday and stopped after one glass of wine because of a fear of getting drunk.

Tina was a food critic, so I let her pick the place. She said she wanted to try out a new Thai restaurant uptown.  She sat straight like she was balancing books on her head, wearing a tight black dress to her knees, low cut at the back. Tina had short black hair and thin red lips painted with bright red. She inspected the cutlery and wiped it over with her napkin. When she eventually had cleaned everything on the table she opened to the wine. She curled her lip and flared her nostrils at the list. “Oh I guess we will have to have the Belondrade y Lrton, it’s the only half decent one on here.” When the young Spanish waiter came to tell us that they were out of Belondrade y Lurton Tina’s lips went even thinner. “What kind of establishment is this? Why don’t you just tell me what to have rather than me even look at the menu.” The waiter hung his head and apologised but she didn’t stop. “Oh stop with your sorry mams, please. I would have thought a place like this would have a proper waiter not some spotty teen saving for his first car. Please, bring me the manager.” Then I got an emergency phone call and dove out of the restaurant.

That was how I met Lucy. I bumped in to her as I was running out of the resturant, half expecting Tina to chase me with a well polished knife. 

“Watch it,” she said. Coffee all over her parker. I tried to rub her down but it meant touching her breast and she didn’t take well to that one.  “Where you going in such a rush?” she said.

“Bad date.”

“Did you throw a coffee over her too?”

I laughed, “Let me buy you a coffee, please to make up for this one.”

“You don’t hang about, straight back on the bandwagon, you get knocked down, you get right back up,” she said.

“Well you know, can’t hang about. At my age most the good ones are taken.” Hannah looked young under the street lamp in her 20’s I guessed. She had soft blonde hair, flowing over the hood of her coat. I could see her hot breath in the cold night and she was shivering a little.

                “Don’t want coffee though, I’m starving. You can buy me a burger instead.”

“Alright, know any good burger places?”

“All stop serving at 10, ‘cept that burger van.”

“Bit cold though, isn’t it.” I know it was forward, I rubbed her arms to try and warm her, it just felt like something I should do.

“It’s alright, there’s a wind shelter over there.”

 We ate burger and chips together on a bench. We sat close to each other to keep warm, our thighs touching. She got sauce on her face and didn’t get embarrassed about it, she wiped it away and we moved on. She chewed with her mouth closed, and covered her mouth when she laughed. She was a casual diner, cool and easy to please, she was herself. That was how I met Lucy.

 

 

 

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