Monday, May 25, 2020
Tuesday and Wednesday dawned, bloomed and reset with not a word from Norman. Emma endured with increasing pangs of sadness that there was nothing from Theo either.
‘What if it had been a one night stand to him?’ She wondered, cringing inside at the thought of her text message sitting unreplied to in his inbox.
‘Well if it was, then it was.’ She tried to be cool and detached about it but she felt stupid. She had no problem with having had sex with him - meaningless sex was no problem in her worldview. Sex was sex was sex. No morals attached. What was gnawing at her was the knowledge that to her it hadn’t been meaningless sex; that was the bit she couldn’t get past. The feeling of stupidity that she had slept with him believing it to be the beginning of something, when it might have been the whole.
‘But even if that was the case - why feel stupid? Why do you have to feel stupid for having liked him and for having then taken it further? So it didn’t work? Why is hope and emotion stupid?’ Her intrusive arguments fought for herself and for a higher self esteem and she struggled to answer her own questions. Unfortunately for the defensive part of herself, she kept coming up against the same backstop of infallible truth:
‘The stupidity comes because you barely know him and you moved across the country for him. Without him knowing. Based on watching him across the office and liking the way he smells.’
The memory of his scent made her stomach twist again. She thought shyly of the shirt that was now tucked in a corner of her bedroom. Of course she had sniffed it. Of course she had more than sniffed it - of course she had buried her face in it and inhaled that sweet sweaty, perfumed, cottony smell of the expensive masculine office day. She had managed to stop herself going so far as to sleeping with it in the bed and for that, Emma thanked herself every morning when she woke up and felt a little less pathetic.
Days in the shop with Fiona had really given her a distraction as the two of them bounced around. Fiona was on a giddy high. Emma watched her carefully for signs of it cracking but Fiona seemed to really be bouncing back well from Norman’s betrayal. She was smiley, quick to laughter and fiercely excitable about the future and herself. It was extremely contagious and Emma found her hours in the shop passed quickly and happily.
They were both very excited about Thursday night - Fiona had insisted she was not going to sit in and mope on the night she would have been out with Norman.
“No, I’m not doing it Em. We’re going out on the town - at some point I’ll be selling that chunk of a ring for a pretty penny and we’re going to pre-emptively spend some of my winnings on getting very full of delicious food. I can’t wait to wear my new dress.”
She was insistant and Emma was game. They were going to close the shop bang on time and then both dash home to get properly ready. No half hearted change of clothes and splash of make up in the staff room - back to their own houses to get really and truly dolled up. Emma had her favourite jumpsuit lined up ready to wear. She loved that outfit but rarely wore it to avoid that awful feeling of having to sit practically naked in the toilets every time she needed a wee. A dinner with Fiona was the perfect time to wear it though - dinner was sophisticated.
They giggled their way through Thursday and both squealed with excitement as the clock ticked to 6pm and they switched all the lights off immediately, locked the door from the outside and ran for buses.
“I’ll cash up in the morning!” Giggled Fiona, “See you in a bit!”
Back in her flat Emma turned the Dolly Parton up loud and poured herself a getting ready wine. The jumpsuit was laid out on the bed with heels tucked on the floor beneath it. She showered, dried her hair very carefully and curled the ends into large, gentle waves. She enjoyed a luxurious half an hour at the mirror with her make up - primer, foundation, bronzer, blusher, liner, shadows, highlighter, mascara… it all went on. Layering up and sculpting a new, temporary face on the base face she also liked. She spritzed perfume into the air and then walked under it like she’d seen people do in films. She then also spritzed it onto her wrists and neck as the gentle mist in her hair didn’t feel like enough.
She carefully pulled on her outfit and added the shoes and some ear rings. Beaming from ear to ear she threw keys, phone, cash, ID and a debit card into a ridiculously small but ridiculously pretty clutch bag and headed out the door.
‘Jacket be damned!’ She thought delightedly to herself, ‘If I get cold I get cold - I look too good to cover up.”
Going downstairs in heels is never easy and Emma wobbled a lot bit but maintained her dignity - reaching the front door having stayed upright. Her phone started buzzing in her bag just as she shut the door behind her. She pulled it out and clocked Fiona’s name on the screen.
“Hey babe, just leaving.”
“Emma I can’t.” Fiona sounded awful, Emma stopped dead.
“Fiona, what’s happened?” The sound of sniffling and little popping half sobs was unbearable.
“I put the dress on, and I walked past the full length mirror and I just… stopped. I felt like I was playing dress up. Oh god what are we thinking going out celebrating? I haven’t got anything to celebrate? I’m a stupid, old, single idiot who genuinely thought having an affair with a married man was going to lead to happiness. Now it’s over with him - I have to try and start again and I thought it would be fun to go out in the dress I was meant to be wearing with him?”
“Oh Fiona… ok, well, look - we won’t go out then. I’ll come to you and we’ll get some ice cream and we’ll…”
Fiona cut her off, “No. No, I can’t. I just need to be on my own.”
“Fiona, no!” Emma looked around her at the empty street for inspiration in how to get through to Fiona with something helpful, “No, don’t be daft - I’ll come over and we will just sit in silence if need be. Come on, I’m all dressed up now.”
“No, Emma, I can’t.” Fiona was getting quieter and quieter on the other end of the line.
“You can, Fi. Look, just give me your address and I’ll be round with a pizza and some wine and I’ll bring pyjamas and we can just sit together. I don’t want you to be on your own.”
“No, I want to be on my own. I think I would feel even sadder and stupider having an emergency pyjama party. I’m sorry Em, I know I’m being a terrible friend but I just need to sit and stare and think for a bit.”
“Oh Fi… no… I can’t bear the thought of that. Please let me come over? Come on, give me your address.” Emma felt twitchy and desperate. She was completely stuck.
“No. Em, I absolutely promise I’m not going to do anything stupid - but I was trying to run before I could walk. I owe you one, ok? I’ll text you later.”
The line went dead and Emma stood on the pavement feeling ridiculously overdressed all of a sudden and stuck for how to help. She had a vague idea of the area Fiona lived in but she’d never been there. Her address would be in the shop somewhere but Emma didn’t have a key. She tried to phone Fiona back but it went straight to voicemail so she fired off a text message begging for her address and permission to come round.
“Are you ok?” Jack appeared behind her, making her jump.
“Oh god! Oh, Jack. You made me jump. Yeah, hello.” Emma ruffled Elliott’s head absent mindedly. Elliott managed not to jump at her and Emma wondered briefly if he understood how pretty her jumpsuit was.
‘Probably.’ She thought, ‘He is a bizarrely clever dog.’
“Are you ok? You look a bit lost.” Jack was smiling at her.
“Er, well, a bit of Fiona drama. She broke up with Norman on Monday and we were supposed to be going out for a celebratory dinner tonight but she’s just phoned in a bit of a state and cancelled.” Emma’s arms drooped helplessly at her side.
“Oh dear, is she alright?” Asked Jack.
“I don’t think so. But, I can’t really help - I don’t know her address and she’s switched off her phone.” Just at that second Emma’s phone buzzed and she looked at a text message from Fiona, “She’s just text to say please don’t worry - she just wants to be alone. Well, I guess that’s it then.” Emma turned to head inside.
“Hang on a minute - you’re already dressed up now.” Jack caught the door.
“All dressed up and nowhere to go!” Emma laughed, stepping through into the hall.
“Give me five minutes.” Said Jack, “I can’t bear the thought of you not being taken out when you’ve gone to this much effort getting ready. Could we go out?”
Emma’s legs instantly started fizzing. Could they go out? Why not? Was that weird? Why would it be weird?
“Er, yeah - sure. If you want to? If you don’t have plans?” Emma stuttered.
Jack laughed, “I don’t have plans. Give me five minutes to try and look like I’ve made an effort too.” With that he was gone, taking the steps two at a time up to his flat with Elliott hot on his heels. Emma wasn’t sure what to do - she couldn’t stay stood in the hall like a lemon while he got changed. She padded up to her flat and poured another small wine, leaving the flat door ajar.
‘That way he’ll know I’m not hiding - I’m just having a sit.’
‘Is it a bit prostitutey?’
‘Sex-worker.’ She corrected herself, ‘Also, what?! Where have you got that from?’
Emma shook the stupid thoughts away and tried to focus. There was a light knock at the door and Jack’s head appeared round it.
“Ready?” She said, springing up and sloshing wine on to the floor. It narrowly missed her leg and she hoped Jack hadn’t noticed.
“Ready.” He said, and held the door wide for her to join him in the hall. He was ready. He smelled incredible - a low, musky, spicy scent that you could barely catch on a breath but that teased around the edges making you want to get closer to have more of it.
‘Or maybe you’re just looking for any excuse to get closer?’ She teased herself.
They walked into town, chatting lightly - Emma was so surprised by talking to Jack. She could go minutes without noticing what she was thinking - she would just be conversing and enjoying and listening to his responses.
‘Is this how other people find all conversations?’ She thought, breaking her streak of not having an extra layer of thought process hovering above the basic functioning ones, ‘Just easy?’ It was an interesting concept.
They arrived at a lovely looking restaurant Emma would never have noticed if she’d been passing it alone - it was unassuming and small with a menu in a glass box outside. Jack stopped by the menu.
“How does this look?” He asked her and she scanned the lists. It looked delicious was the answer and she told him so. They headed inside.
The head waiter had a tiny table available and they gratefully sat down, Jack folding his long legs into the space available.
“This place is lovely.” Emma said over the menu, wondering how she was going to narrow her choices down to just one starter, main and dessert.
“Yeah, I’ve been wanting to come here for a while.” Said Jack, “It’s always so full - when somewhere is this full that often you know it’s good!”
They chose a wine and Emma briefly considered swirling it and trying it before taking a proper sip and then decided against. What was the point? She was going to drink it and she was reassured to see Jack just get stuck in as well.
“Well, thank you for rescuing me. It was looking like being a really sad night for me otherwise!”
Conversation felt a bit harder now they were in the formal setting of the restaurant - Emma thought it was the eye contact. Talking was so much easier without eye contact.
“It’s absolutely my pleasure. I’m glad I got home when I did - imagine if I’d just missed you and you were already in watching the TV! Like noticing it’s raining after the washing is already soaked. Nightmare!” He had such a lovely twinkle in his eye, “Where were you going to go with Fiona?”
“Oh, I can’t remember what it was called but it was properly fancy - she showed me about the website.” Emma explained to Jack the debacle with the ring and filled him in on the gory details of Norman’s car. Jack smiled.
“Poor Norman,” he said wryly, “What a dick move. Asking for Helen back and then racing to Fiona when he got spurned? Do you know the worst part though, someone will have him - you know? He’s boring and rude and horrible but someone will have him. Let’s just hope it’s no one we know.”
“Oh no, I was going to go out with him for dinner tomorrow?” Emma teased, eyes wide with mock innocence.
“The heart wants what it wants,” Jack shook his head sadly, “But I for one think you can do better.”
“Oh do you?” Said Emma.
‘YOU’RE FLIRTING!’ Screamed her brain and she wholeheartedly agreed with it.
“I do.” Jack nodded, putting on a pompous serious face, “The thing is Emma - from the moment I saw your little face in the hall and you were trying to be so polite even though my dog had broken into your flat and pooped on your mat, and you’d stepped in it and…” he couldn’t carry on because he was laughing too much, he got it under control and then carried on, “I just have been fascinated by you. I don’t know if you know this but every emotion you have has its own facial expression and they play across your face like the bloody Northern Lights. I feel like your brain is working at 90 miles an hour and then no matter how much I wonder what you’re going to say, you say it and I could never have guessed that’s what it would turn out to be.”
Emma thought this might be one of the most romantic things anyone had ever said to her. She stared at him, imagining kissing him, trying to think of all the times he might have been watching her to have noticed all this about her face. Then she blushed furiously at the thought that he was now watching her thinking and that her face must be changing and flinching just like he’d described.
“I’ve never seen the northern lights.” She said and Jack laughed so loudly several people turned round to see what had happened. She couldn’t help but join in.
“There you go. I wouldn’t have predicted for a moment that THAT’S what you’d pick up on there.”
He was still giggling when the waiter came over to take their order. Dinner was fun and easy - they ate and drank and when they’d finished a bottle they ordered another one and drank that too.
Emma was deliriously happy and very tipsy by the time they found themselves outside her flat door having walked home, hands occasionally brushing. She hesitated on the doorstep.
“Thank you,” she said, suddenly shy wondering whether he was going to kiss her or whether she should kiss him, “This was great.”
“Yeah, yeah - it was. Thank you.” He said, but didn’t lean in for a kiss. He hooked his little finger against her hand for the briefest of seconds and then let go, “Thank you for a lovely meal - I’ll see you soon.” And then he was gone up the stairs.
Emma’s world tilted - why hadn’t they kissed? So, was that like a friend dinner? No, he was into her, wasn’t he? The wine was making it hard to understand things and she decided that she’d been drunk a few times too often lately.
‘Focus on the good.’ She told herself, and then went into her flat. Pulling out her phone to text Fiona as she did so.
Friday, May 22, 2020
Emma licked her lips, looking at her friend twirling happily in her purple dress in the middle of the shop. It looked like a scene from a child’s imagination; the princess in her dress dancing amongst the sparkling Christmas scene. Emma felt the unruly tears pricking at the back of her eyes yet again as her heart rate increased and a creeping heat raced across the skin of her chest and arms. It occurred to her that this noticeably increased proximity to tears was coming hand in hand with caring about the people around her. She’d always been proud of herself for not crying at all but now she was beginning to see that a lack of tears in her life had perhaps just indicated a lack of things she cared enough about?
The sight of Fiona in front of her - happy, excited and dangerously close to a precipice of disappointment was truly awful. Heartbreaking felt like an overblown word to use but as she watched and felt the physical pain behind her ribs it was the only word that felt applicable.
“It’s gorgeous.” She muttered through a cracking throat.
“I love it.” Fiona gushed, “I just feel perfect in it - you know? I feel so dainty and fun. I can’t wait to wear it. I’m going to go and take it off before I spill something on it and spoil it before I’ve even worn it.”
Fiona skipped down the stairs and Emma watched her go. She felt desolate: at once filled with a twitching energy but also block heavy. Fireflies encased in concrete. Emma stared at the door down to the staff room and pleaded with herself to get this right. Slowly, she dragged herself over to the glass shop door and shot the bolt, turning the sign round to indicate the shop’s closure. Then, she took a deep breath and headed down the stairs after Fiona.
“Are you decent?” She called into the staff room through the half open door.
“Almost, you ok?” Fiona’s voice was muffled. Emma hesitated another few seconds and then pushed the door open and took a seat on one of the little stools.
“Fi, I’ve just shut the shop for a second, I need to have a word.” Emma’s finger tips felt freezing - she hoped all the blood was rushing to her brain to help her construct this conversation. She wanted to savour every moment before she said what she had to say; knowing that these could be the last few moments of her friendship with Fiona if things went badly again.
“Are you alright Em? You look white as a sheet.” Fiona was pulling on her top and dragging a stool over to sit by Emma. She took one of Emma’s hands in her own. “What’s happened?”
Emma swallowed, and did her best to look Fiona full in the face. “I, um, I talked a little bit to Helen when we put the tree into her car.”
Fiona stiffened, “Right.”
“She told me, she said that after the boat day when she’d kicked Norman out, Norman had turned back up at the house asking her to take him back.” Emma paused, eyeing Fiona for any signs of reaction. Fiona’s back was tense and frozen but her face remained passive, Emma continued, “She wasn’t sure if you knew that he’d done that. She, um, she said she noticed the ring that you are wearing and, she said, she said Norman had offered it to her as a gift to try and persuade her to take him back. Fi, I’m so sorry - I don’t know if she’s telling the truth obviously, I don’t know - but, it seems like she’s trying to say he offered her the ring and then when she said no he took the same ring and tried to get back together with you.”
The silence in the staff room was crushing. It pressed into Emma’s ears causing a high whine. It smothered her chest and held her limbs in a tight squeeze. Fiona sat before her like a statue - that she had not dropped Emma’s hand was the only solace Emma could find in the entire scene.
Minutes passed and Emma sat, letting Fiona soak, waiting for a response. Eventually Fiona’s hand twitched and she retracted it from Emma’s. Emma felt fear shoot through her spine. Fiona was still, then she launched herself at Emma, flinging her arms around Emma and pressing her body into a desperate hug. Emma could feel Fiona sobbing against her and she wrapped her arms around her; holding her tight and letting her weep.
Fiona cried and cried - enormous body juddering sobs breaking over Emma like waves on a shore. Emma let her. She stroked Fiona’s hair and rubbed slow, long routes down her back. Eventually the energy and depth to Fiona’s crying began to abate and Emma let her lie against her in misery. She could feel the wetness from Fiona’s tears through her uniform. Silence settled again in the staff room - only the sound of gentle breathing and the occasional damp sniff breaking the peace.
“Are you ok?” Emma whispered, knowing the answer but needing to ask it anyway.
“Yeah,” Emma was surprised to hear a small laugh in Fiona’s answer, “I’m a very stupid woman, aren’t I?”
Emma squeezed her tighter again, “No, no you’re not stupid at all. You’re trusting and that’s different.”
“You don’t think there’s much chance of her lying, do you?” Fiona didn’t sound hopeful but Emma chewed the question over carefully anyway to make sure she believed her own answer.
“I don’t think so. I think if she was just out to hurt you or cause a fuss she’d have wanted more of a scene? She said she was leaving it up to me whether or not I told you. So, I think if she was trying to split you two up and make sure you were miserable, she’d have told you herself to make sure you knew? The spiteful thing to do would have been to shout at you in the shop when she saw the ring?”
Emma felt Fiona nodding against her and then she shifted back on her stool and began working the ring off her finger.
“What do you want to do?” Emma asked.
Emma laughed. “OK, I’m in. How?”
“So many different ways.” Said Fiona. Emma laughed again and stood up to stretch her aching back. “I feel so very, very stupid.” Fiona looked like she might cry again and Emma realised the fine line between Fiona’s humour and her breaking point.
“I understand,” Emma said carefully, “But, I want you to know you shouldn’t. You gave him a chance - that’s all. You hadn’t declared everything to be brilliant. You were seeing how things went. Well, they’ve went badly. You’d only be stupid if you knew this now and carried on with him.”
Fiona nodded and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She tapped at the screen and then held the phone up to her head. “Hello love, it’s me. Are you around today? Oh… oh that’s nice. I was just wondering - do you think you could pick me up from work today? I’ve got a splitting head ache and it would be nice not to get the bus. Is that ok? Oh amazing. Thank you darling. See you later.”
She hung up the phone. Emma stared at her. “Was that Norman?”
“It was. I’m going to lure him down here and then have it out with him. If only I had time to organise a frigging flash mob.” Fiona stood up, straightened her uniform and made her way back up the stairs to the sales floor. Emma watched her go in amazement. This was exciting.
There were barely twenty minutes of opening time left but each separate, painful minute dragged its heels before ticking to completion. Emma watched Fiona undulate between stiff-lipped strength to wobbling misery several times in those twenty minutes. She kept repeating various sentences on the subject of how stupid she felt and each time Emma leapt in to assure her that following your heart wasn’t stupid or some such supportive sentiment.
Watching Fiona and listening to the words coming out of her own mouth she felt her resolve growing to enjoy spending time time with Theo.
‘So what if it didn’t get off to the best start? So what if it’s a bit weird that I moved here after him? It’s not stupid of me to want to see where things go. I like him. He’s nice. Why not?’ She felt curiously uplifted.
It was finally time to close the shop and Emma waited with Fiona on the pavement out front. Norman would arrive any minute now and Emma was fizzing with anticipation at what to expect from Fiona. Fiona was cool as a cucumber. She stood mildly on the pavement watching people pass by and scanning the road for signs of Norman’s car. Eventually it pulled up.
Norman climbed out of the drivers side and made his way over to Fiona. Emma tensed.
“Hello you two, my what a sight for sore eyes. How is your head my darling?” Norman leaned in to kiss Fiona having done an over the top faux bow to Emma. Fiona stayed stock still, “Are you ok?” He asked, noticing the lack of reception from either of them.
“I’m not ok, no. I saw Helen today. She informed me that before you came to my door telling me how delighted you were to be rid of her, you first went to see her to see if she would take you back. She also told me that this ring -“ She held her hand up, waggling the ring in his face, “Was first offered to her. You then brought it round to mine and like a fucking idiot I lapped up every word you said and put it on my finger.”
Norman stood, gaping at her - jaw working but no words developing on his tongue. Fiona took a breath and continued, “You are a lying, cheating, slimy, money obsessed bastard Norman and I am done with you. We are over - I am worth more than you could ever offer me.”
Fiona pulled the ring off her finger and for a horrified moment Emma thought she was going to fling it into the street but Fiona was cannier than that. She marched towards Norman’s car and began scraping the diamond down the side leaving an enormous scratch in the paintwork. Norman shrieked.
“What are you doing you madwoman? Stop it!” He lurched towards Fiona but she whipped around and stared him into stillness.
“Don’t you come near me! Don’t you touch me! I don’t think I could ever upset you or hurt your feelings Norman because I’m not entirely sure you have any. But I can ruin something you like - you see this?” She gouged another huge scrape down the car, hatching across it great sweeping slashes. “This is how I feel inside. You feel this sadness about your precious car? That’s how you’ve made me feel about myself - maybe you can understand when you see it in money form. You’ve made me feel stupid. And worthless. Well I am done. I don’t want to hear from you again.”
She scribbled viciously at the car with the ring and then paced back to Emma.
“I want my ring back.” Norman shouted after her. Fiona spun on her heel to face him.
“You can absolutely get fucked on that count. It was a gift.” She dropped the ring into her pocket, took Emma’s arm and they marched off. It wasn’t the direction of the bus stop that either of them needed but Emma didn’t say anything. A few people had gathered on the street and were gaping at the drama, one was even filming. Emma made a mental note to do some googling later on and see if they became internet famous.
They walked for a few minutes until Emma felt like Fiona had had time to catch her breath and calm down. “Are you ok?” She asked her.
Fiona nodded - eyes shining. “I am!”
“I thought you were going to throw that ring at him!” Emma giggled, “Scratching the car was inspired!”
“Throw it? Are you joking? It’s worth a fortune. I will be selling this first chance I get. You and I are going out for a very expensive meal on Thursday.”
Choose a cocktail:
- Raspberry daiquiri
- Pornstar martini
- Espresso martini
- Old fashioned
- Pina Colada
Thursday, May 21, 2020
The shop on Monday was bright and quiet. At 11am a delivery truck pulled up outside and Emma and Fiona helped the driver to unload that week’s stock into the middle of the shop floor. They cross checked the boxes onto the itemised sheet and signed to say it was all received and then went about unpacking the items to the shelves or the stock room. Emma moved all the customer special orders over to one side and once all the general stock was away and cleared up she dug out the notebook with phone numbers in to begin calling people and let them know their items had arrived. She noticed with anticipation that the Christmas Tree for Helen had arrived and was now leaning menacingly against the wall.
“What do you want me to do?” She asked Fiona as Fiona pulled out the vacuum cleaner to remove the box detritus from the carpet.
“I want you to call her and tell her that the tree is here.” Said Fiona primly, “It’s a lot of money - that’s our target for today right there.”
“Ok.” Said Emma, playing along with Fiona’s act that this was a normal item and a normal customer. She worked her way through the different objects and phone numbers - deliberately leaving the tree until last but telling herself it was because it was the biggest item.
“I’m going to take my lunch is that alright?” Fiona called over and Emma nodded - smiling openly at her.
“Of course, it’s quiet right now.”
“See you in a bit.” Said Fiona, grabbing her bag and disappearing out of the door. Emma decided to take this opportunity to call Helen and she dialled the number in, hearing three rings and then the sound of the phone being answered.
“Hi, is that… Helen?” She faltered, desperately wanting to ask more formally but realising she didn’t know the surname or title that Helen chose.
‘Of course she says ‘Speaking’. That’s such a cool way to answer your phone - I should start doing that.’ Emma thought, unable to not be impressed with the cool detachment of Helen.
“It’s Emma here from the Christmas Shop. The Christmas Tree you ordered has come in today, we can hold it for up to -“
“I’ll be in this afternoon - thanks very much for calling. Thank you, Emma.”
“Oh, oh right. Ok - very good. See you this afternoon.”
Emma hung up and paused for a second just staring at the phone and contemplating what this meant. Helen had to know Fiona worked here - right? Was there going to be some kind of show down? It didn’t really feel like Helen’s style. Surely, if she was going for a big blow out it would have happened at the boat wouldn’t it? So, was there a chance she had no idea and just genuinely wanted a Christmas Tree on the 1st June? Surely not…?
There was nothing to be done except wait and see, Emma decided. Fiona bustled back into the shop with a big smile on her face and a large cardboard bag in her hand from the fancy clothes shop on the corner. Emma liked seeing her happy, she readied herself to tell Fiona about the incoming Helen bullet.
“So, I called Helen and she’s going to pop in this afternoon to get it.” Emma offered.
“Ok, that’s great - not bad for a Monday in June.” Fiona had either had a mind wipe and forgotten who Helen was, or was deliberately blocking out the possible outcomes of Helen arriving.
“Do you want to be - somewhere else when she gets here?” Emma felt like she had no option but to try and prod Fiona into a practical response. It seemed to work as Fiona’s head snapped up to face Emma.
“No.” She said, and her shoulders relaxed, “No, I don’t. If she wants to talk to me then I’m happy to do that. I owe her an apology, lots of them. She can have them if she wants, but, if she wants to shout at me or whatever then - fine. It won’t be nice, but fine. I deserve it. I’m not hiding any more. I’m having a go at being an adult in an adult relationship.”
Emma nodded, taking all this in. It seemed eminently reasonable, she admire Fiona’s ability to make her mind up and weather the storm.
“Ok.” She said. They both spent the afternoon jumping at every jangle of the bell. Emma even spent her lunch break hovering on the stairs just in case she was needed to jump in and disentangle a fight on the shop floor.
The clock was edging closer to 5pm and Emma was beginning to think that maybe Helen wasn’t going to come after all, when the door opened and there she was in a cloud of perfume with immaculately coiffed hair. Emma froze. Fiona, to her credit, smiled and said hello from her position behind the till. Helen crossed the shop.
Emma couldn’t keep her mind from playing her clips of nature documentaries: a tiger stalking a fawn, two bulls gearing up to bash heads, a killer whale stalking a hapless seal.
“I’ve come to collect my tree.” Said Helen politely to Fiona.
“Yes we have it here - would you like me to get it out of the box for you to check out?” Fiona was good.
“No, I’m sure it’s fine. And it’s returnable if there’s anything wrong?”
“Within 14 days. Yes.”
Emma felt like she was in an alternate universe. ‘How are they doing this?’ She was shrieking inside. ‘How are they playing it so cool? Even if Helen didn’t know Fiona worked here before, she does now?! Why isn’t there any shouting?’ The tension was killing Emma - making the small of her back a tense, tight knot of muscle.
Helen pulled a card out of her wallet and Fiona keyed the amount into the till and then passed the card reader across to Helen. For the first time, Emma saw Helen falter, and then with an almost imperceptible shake of the head she pushed her card into the machine and tapped in her pin. The receipts printed with a low mechanical whirr and the transaction was complete.
“Great, that’s all gone through.” Said Fiona, smiling up at Helen and offering her the receipt and her card back. Helen took them both, tucking everything back into her handbag.
“Would you mind giving me a hand getting it out to my car? I’m just parked down the street.” Asked Helen. Emma sprang forward, desperate to move.
“Of course, yes.” She helped Helen to lift the tree up and Fiona held the door open for them as they carried it out to Helen’s car. Helen opened the enormous boot and they slid the tree in - both a little out of breath from the exertion. Helen shut the boot and stood with one hand on the boot of the car - she looked worn out. Emma’s heart pinged.
“Are you ok?” Emma asked, tentatively. She had never felt so out of her depth or confused in a social situation.
“I am.” Helen said, with false confidence, “That was difficult. I just needed to see she was just a woman. Just a woman. Poor woman.”
Emma didn’t know what to say back. It didn’t really feel like a time for tribalism - there were no real winners here she thought. Helen looked up at her and held her eyes before licking her lips and beginning to speak.
“Emma, I’m going to tell you something and leave it up to you what you do with this information.” Emma swallowed, “After that day at the marina I kicked Norman out. Obviously it is not in Norman’s nature to accept that he can’t have what he wants and he had a go at winning me back. He turned up at the house begging for a second chance and offering me a large diamond and ruby ring as an apology. I can’t help but notice that Fiona is now wearing that ring and I would assume she does not know that he first used it to try and win me back before offering it to her. I… I don’t think I need to help her in any way, but, well, there’s the information. You can tell her or not - you know what’s best.” Helen nodded - it felt more for herself than for Emma and Emma stood still on the street blinking stupidly.
She found her voice and nodded back at Helen, “Right, ok. Yes, no, she doesn’t know that. That’s good of you to say.”
“Well, I don’t know. Half of me wants to run back in and do her some real damage.” Helen smiled a sad smile, “But the other half knows Norman, and knows it wouldn’t make me feel better to willingly let someone else get hurt. Even if she didn’t give me the same respect.” Helen shook her keys and moved to climb into her car. Emma was left dumbstruck as the car pulled away. She swore that fi you cut that woman in half there would be class printed straight through her. As she paced back to the shop she wondered what it was about Norman that managed to get perfectly pleasant, sane women to want to be with him? There was one obvious answer but she really didn’t want to think about that. It must be the money.
She pushed open the door to the shop, her legs feeling heavy and slow. What on earth was she going to say to Fiona? There were no customers in the shop and Fiona looked up from behind the till.
“Well, that was painless.” Fiona said brightly and Emma felt like she caught a note of fake bravado in it.
“Yeah.” How on earth was she going to begin this sentence? There was no way she couldn’t tell her, was there?
“Do you want to see the dress I bought?” Fiona’s words burrowed through Emma’s foggy thoughts.
“Yes, yes please.” She said, trying to smile as genuinely as she could. Fiona popping downstairs to get the dress would buy her some more time to think. While Fiona was gone a man came in looking for a trinket and as he left Emma realised she had no idea if she’d managed to say a single word to him as she mechanically put the purchase through the till.
Fiona reappeared wearing an absolutely beautiful soft purple evening dress. She looked lovely and was smiling from ear to ear.
“Isn’t it perfect?” She said, twirling to show off the full movement in the skirt, “It’s for dinner. Norman has said he’s taking me out somewhere really special on Thursday. Oh Emma, I really think it’s going to be different. After we left the pub last night he came back to mine and he was so down to earth and lovely. We just watched a documentary and went to bed - it felt like a real, proper relationship. Neither of us was tense or angry or worried and I wasn’t needy. It was lovely. For the first time in a long time I’m really, genuinely excited about where things could be going for me.”
Emma blinked. Mouth dry. What could she say back?
- Tell Fiona immediately
- Tell Fiona after the fancy dinner
- Tell Norman to tell Fiona
- Not tell Fiona at all