‘Laurel.’ She inclines her head formally and glides out of the door.
Once she’s definitely gone, I dump the piss-tea in the sink and pour myself a large glass of wine instead. How such a bitter woman raised such a sweet man is a mystery to me.
I sit down on the sofa, feeling very alone. Lucille came here for one reason and one reason only: to make sure I’m aware that Oscar is spending half the week in Brussels with his far more suitable ex-girlfriend. His ex-girlfriend who he didn’t think to mention was now working under him.
The one person I’d love to pick the phone up and talk to now is Sarah. I almost try her number, but what am I going to say if she actually answers? Hi, Sarah, I need someone to talk to because I’ve discovered that my husband is spending too much time with his ex? I somehow doubt she’d be a sympathetic ear. Instead I reach for my laptop and open Facebook. I’m not friends on there with Cressida, but Oscar is, and it’s a moment’s work to hop on to her page from his. Much of it’s set to private, aside from the few posts she wants the world to see, shots of her sophisticated lifestyle in Brussels. I click through until I find one of her in a group outside a bar, Oscar laughing beside her at the table.
Edinburgh in the sunshine is bloody cracking. I’ve been here for a little more than a year now and it’s really starting to feel like home. I know the streets without asking for directions – well, most of them – and I’ve got muscles in my calves I never had before because the whole place seems to be built on one huge sodding mountain. When I first arrived I found the looming granite buildings austere, but perhaps it was more a reflection of my state of mind than the gothic architecture. I see the city now for what it is: vibrant, buzzing, welcoming. I’m still not keen on bagpipes though.
‘Got you one in, Jack.’ Lorne, my huge, bearded producer spots me and raises a pint glass towards me across the beer garden. We’re having our team meeting in the pub, because that’s the way we roll.
‘No Verity today?’ Haley, my assistant, raises her eyebrows at me as I flop down at the table.
‘Nope,’ I say. ‘We’ve amicably parted ways.’
There’s six of us round the table in all, and the others make an oooooh noise in unison. I flick them the Vs.
Haley tries to be grown-up, which is ironic given that she’s the youngest member of the team.
‘Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.’
I shrug. ‘You didn’t.’
‘Shit, man,’ Lorne says, doleful. ‘Sorry we took the piss.’
I shrug again. In truth, I’m not overly upset. It’s been on the cards for a while; Verity has been getting more and more demanding in every sense of the word. She wanted more of everything than I have to give her: my time, my energy, my emotions. I don’t think either of us will find the separation too hard to get past; she was constantly hung up on Sarah and Laurie anyway, always pushing me to say she’s prettier, more successful, more fun than them. The competitiveness wearied me; it was more about being the best than being the best for me. I wasn’t the best for her, either. Our interests were wildly different; I don’t understand the rules of polo and I’m not especially keen on learning. I know that makes me sound like an ass; in truth I don’t have it in me for a relationship right now, with Verity or anyone else.
I lift my pint. ‘To freedom.’
Beside me, Lorne laughs and mutters something sarcastic about Braveheart.
I’ve just been for a job interview, and I’m rewarding myself with a coffee in the sunshine outside a cafe in Borough Market when someone pauses beside my table.
‘Sarah.’ I stand, shocked to see her unexpectedly, even more shocked that she’s stopped to speak to me. ‘How’ve you been?’
She nods. ‘Yeah, you know. Same old same old. You?’
It’s so painfully stilted, I could cry. ‘I’ve just had an interview for a new job.’
I want her to press me for the details, but she doesn’t. ‘Can you stay for coffee?’
She looks at my cup, deliberating. ‘I can’t, I’m expected somewhere.’
The joy of speaking to her is so searing, so absolute, that I want to hang on to the edge of her jacket to stop her from leaving. My disappointment must be written all over my face, because the smallest of smiles crosses her lips.
‘Another time though, Lu, yes?’
I nod. ‘Shall I call you?’
‘Or I’ll call you. Either way.’
She lifts her hand in farewell, and then melts into the bustle of the market crowd. A few seconds later, my phone buzzes.
Fingers crossed for the job. S x
I can’t stop the gulp of tears. I was sickly nervous all morning about the interview for a job on the features desk of a glossy women’s mag, and now I couldn’t care less if I get it or not because I just got something far more precious. I think I might have got my best friend back – some small part of her, at least. I feel like chucking the coffee in the nearest plant pot and ordering a cocktail.
‘Happy birthday, dear Thomas,
Happy birthday to you!’
We all clap, and the baby laughs like a contented loon.
‘I can’t believe he’s one already,’ I say, bouncing him on my hip as I’ve watched Anna do for most of the weekend. My sister-in-law is fully immersed in parenthood, never knowingly seen without a muslin cloth over her shoulder or the hip rest slung round her waist in readiness for Tom’s chubby little behind to land on it. I’ll give it to him: he’s super-cute. All blond curls and pudge, with a couple of tiny white bottom teeth and peaches in his cheeks. For one so tiny, he’s completely dominated the weekend; everything is geared around being compatible with a baby.
‘He looks good on you, Laurie.’
‘Don’t say another word.’ I shoot my mum a warning look.
She shrugs, laughing. ‘I was just thinking …’
What everyone else is thinking, I think but don’t say. When are we likely to hear the patter of tiny feet is pretty much the first thing most people ask us now that we’re married, with the notable exception of Lucille, who probably falls to her knees beside her bed every night and prays that I’m barren. It’s 2014 not 1420, I want to yell when yet another colleague asks me if we’re thinking of kids. What if I want a career first?
Daryl puts his arm round my shoulders in welcome solidarity, and straight away the baby fusses to be handed over to his dad. ‘Put it off for as long as possible, sis. Your life will never be the same again afterwards.’
I’m relieved that Oscar has already left for home, thus avoiding this entire conversation. He left the party early because he’s flying out to Brussels tonight in readiness for a prolonged five-day stretch; they’re in the middle of crucial takeover negotiations and he needs to be there to oversee things. I haven’t allowed myself to quiz him over whether or not Cressida will be there for the duration too; he’s promised me there’s nothing for me to worry about where she’s concerned and I’m choosing to wholeheartedly believe him. He was right after all – I knew that Cressida worked for the same company – I just didn’t know they worked in such close proximity. But Oscar assures me that they didn’t, right up until the week before Lucille visited me to crow about it. Thankfully, I’m not the jealous type, and he’s never given me any reason to think he still harbours feelings for her. They have to work together – it happens. They have to work together in a different country – to be fair, that probably happens less often, but I trust Oscar, and that’s that. So with him on his way to Brussels, I’ve decided to stay over with my folks until tomorrow afternoon. I’m trying my best to stick to my New Year’s resolution where they’re concerned, if not where Lucille is.
Is it terrible to say I feel slightly more relaxed since I waved him off? He’s never anything but complimentary about my parents, yet still I always feel slightly awkward when we’re all together, as if without me there’d just be three strangers in a room. I spent a chunk of our train journey pretending to sleep, when actually what I was doing was assembling a small selection of subjects I could bring up. Holidays, work (mine more than Oscar’s, for obvious reasons), the new colour we’re painting the bathroom, that kind of thing. I hadn’t counted on baby Tom, of course. There’s no conversational lulls with a baby around, so all in all it’s been a pleasant family weekend. I find that I almost don’t want to go back to London tomorrow, back to our lonely, quiet flat.