85. IV

Morphine suits me. I’m dopey, happy, sleepy. I thought I’d be more grumpy from lack of food, but after eight hours, I’d gone past wanting it. I was definitely not bashful. A dozen strangers saw me naked, bleeding onto clean sheets.

Tea. Toast. Jam. Water. Co-codamol. Ibuprofen. Sofa. Film. Bed. Repeat every six hours for three days. Jet lag. Nausea. Period pains. Hangover.

Room number four. My nurse is called Ivy Rose and she’s my kind Irish mother for the day. I think she knows she has a beautiful name and pretends I’ve never said it before, every time I tell her. I thank everyone in a uniform for looking after me. I’ll be on my own soon. Independent. Just me and Siri. She can remind me to take my meds, ring people for me, and change the channel on the TV, but she can’t loosen bottle tops, or lift a kettle.

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78. Before Sunrise

“We need grapes, celery, olives, honey, crackers and three, maybe four types of cheese. A strong cheddar, something gooey, like a Brie or Camembert, a Cheshire or goats cheese and something unusual. I read they sell their own chutney here. See what they’ve got in.”

The boyfriend knows me so well. He knows I love cheese but the smell sometimes makes me nauseous. It’s a memory from the time I got food poisoning from one or a combination of shellfish and unpasteurised cheese. The whole experience made me so nervous I didn’t eat cheese for years afterwards. From eating cheese every day, to giving up dairy overnight. Thinking logically, it was probably the mussels that gave me food poisoning, rather than a few slices of cheese. Oysters are my favourite food these days and I’m back to eating cheese every day. You can get over anything with enough time and the right mindset.

I used to wonder what it would be like to run into you again. Would everything that happened between us be all water under the bridge? Would we pick up where we left off? The polite awkwardness of two people who’d seen each other at their most vulnerable but it all ending in a devastating, shattering, messy breakup? If we had met for the first time when we were older, would things have been different? Was it all bad timing?

I’d long-since forgotten about that summer until today. I’ve lived my whole life again since then. My name isn’t even the same.

To think I nearly gave up my University place to stay with you. You were the most important thing in my life and it now seems ridiculous that I would even comprehend missing such an opportunity. Even though I was absolutely sure we were forever, I couldn’t imagine three years apart. It was your mum who convinced me to go in the end. She said that if we were meant to be together then we would find a way. That if I didn’t go, I might resent you later. I did feel bitterness towards you, but not about college. I do regret though, not thanking her for being so kind to me, before she passed.

I think you must have recognised me before I noticed you. Something made me look over towards the back of the shop and there you were, holding a box. You were stood absolutely still. Frozen with fear. It was if you didn’t move, then you might be invisible. But I did see you, and although you had lowered you eyes, to avoid mine, I could see that you were more than frightened. Red-cheeked, shoulders hunched over, cowering, submissive. You were literally petrified. Terrified. Why would you be afraid of me?

I didn’t feel awkward. I didn’t hate you. How could I? I didn’t know you. For a micro-second I thought about saying hello, but it seemed pointless. “Great shop. Good to see you. Sorry about your mum.” It all seemed so wrong somehow. You looked so scared that I didn’t want to put you through that. You might not have any control over me anymore but I wasn’t going to be mean about it. I’d had plenty of your anxiety and anger dressed up in teenage bravado the first time round. You’d lived in my head for far too long, and I wasn’t going to invite you back in. I’d rather not know anything about who you are now. Just remember us as we were. We went to the same school and that’s as much as I’d ever admit out loud. What good would it do to muddy the waters now?

I walked over to the counter and placed the two boxes of cracker biscuits I’d chosen, next to the jar of olives. I said to the boyfriend,

“I’ll wait for you outside.” Then I left, without looking back.

A few minutes later, he came out of the shop, jute bag in one hand, sunglasses in the other and wandered over to the gift shop whose window I was looking into.

“Too cheesy for you? ” he asked.

“Something like that.” I replied.

70. Hitch

“I don’t know how they had the nerve. I really don’t.” Louise takes a big sip of her wine, almost a gulp. “And to think of all that effort we went to. It cost us nearly £800. What a fucking cheek.”

I take the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the metal bucket, wipe the drips from the bottom of it with the white cloth that’s loosely tied around the neck, and top up our glasses.

Our waitress arrives with a small bowl of fat, bright green olives, a basket of sourdough, and a shallow saucer of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

“Thank you.” I say to the waitress, smiling at her. I offer Louise a briny olive, and she prods at one with a little wooden toothpick then pops it into her mouth.

“And they never said anything?

Louise shakes her head, chewing in that peculiar way people do when they’re negotiating a fruit stone with their tongue.

“We wouldn’t have even known until the actual day if Pete’s brother hadn’t phoned us. He thought we were invited to the actual wedding. Apparently there was about 50 people there. It was a proper sit-down meal with wedding cake and champagne toasts and everything. I mean, I know people have a rehearsal dinner with close family the night before, but it’s not on is it? To actually get married and then have another wedding the day after but not tell the second wedding people? It’s like they had a fake wedding just for the photos and presents.”

“I bet Pete wasn’t best pleased.” I say.

“No he fucking wasn’t. When he found out he was livid. Two days we booked off work for that, plus hotel, and a new suit. I didn’t get a new dress, but I got some new shoes and a bag. This one actually. ”

She hold up a baby blue, butter-soft Coach hobo bag.

“That’s gorgeous.” I say, reaching for it to feel the leather.

“The actual wedding had a free bar. The fake wedding had one glass of prosecco each and the buffet ran out of food. Pete says he went over to the table where the glasses of prosecco were to get us one, and there was a bloke already there, who…”  she raises and pushes her palm into a stop signal for emphasis, “get this, Pete says he saw this bloke neck two glasses down then carry off another four with him.”

“Classy.” I say, disdainfully. “What is it with free booze that makes people so bloody greedy and selfish?”

“Dunno” she says. “Cos it’s free I s’pose.”

“Did they give a reason why they did it?”

“Well, apparently, the person from their church who they wanted to do the ceremony wasn’t ordained, so they decided to have the registry office one the day before, then their friend could still “marry them” the day after. That’s their excuse anyway.” She does air quotes when she says “marry them.”

“That’s fair enough I guess.” I say, “But it still doesn’t explain why they weren’t upfront about it. Why not just tell people? They could have made up their own minds then about whether they wanted to go or not.”

Louise sighs. “It just made us feel like we were worse than second-best. Like leftovers. If they had just told us that they were getting married, and only having a dinner for close friends and family, then it might have been ok. But I don’t get their logic of not telling us at all though. It’s not like were weren’t gonna find out.”

I dabble a piece of bread into the oil and vinegar mixture and chew it.

“I’m not gonna say anything to them though. No point.” She says. ” It’s done now. Bloody annoying though. I wouldn’t dare. Cheeky bastards.”

Louise glances at her phone for a second, taps the screen and swipes it. “They didn’t have a wedding list. It was one of those ‘your presence is present enough, but we really want you to give us some money so we can go travelling’ invitations. So, we were going to give them £100 and a bottle of champagne, but when Pete found out, he took £50 out of the envelope and put the champagne in our fridge.”

“Good for him.” I said emphatically. “What was the cake like?”

The atmosphere immediately changes, like it does just before a thunderstorm. I feel like I’ve said the wrong thing and started a chain reaction.

“No cake. Just one of those stupid ‘candy buffets’ with the jars of sweets and little scoops with the stripy paper bags. So, all we’d had all day was crisps, some sausage rolls and haribos. So not only was there not enough food, we didn’t even get a cup of tea or any wedding cake. You know what I’m like when I don’t have any food. Especially when I’ve had a drink. Well, we didn’t hang around for long. We left at about three and told Pete’s brother that we were going to check into the hotel and get some food, and that we would be back later. So we went to the hotel, got changed, had a burger and chips and a couple of beers. I had a nap, Pete had a shower and we watched a bit of telly, but we didn’t actually go back to the wedding do until about eight o’clock, in our jeans, just to show our faces and have a bit of a dance.”

“I can’t fault you.” I said.

“Oh did I tell you, we’re going to Copenhagen next weekend.” She says, excitedly.

“No I didn’t know. It’s Letitia’s wedding next Saturday. You’re not going then? To be honest, I’d rather be in Copenhagen. I love it there.” I reply.

“Oh yeah, I remember you saying. We got an invite but I think it was just out of politeness really. We can’t go because Pete’s brother used to go out with Letitia and what with them looking so similar, he thought it might be awkward. Some of the old dears might get them muddled up and you don’t want to see the face of your ex on your wedding day. So we said we were on holiday. I’ll send them a card with a twenty quid Markses voucher inside.”

“Yeah, we won’t stay long at the evening do. It’s my 5k on Sunday.”

“Oh, that breast cancer run for your auntie. I miss her I do, she was so nice.”

We raise our glasses in a silent toast to absent friends and the conversation takes a natural pause whilst we process.