The second Kate got into the car she could tell something was wrong. An instant stomach ache settled itself inside her as she wondered if she had done the wrong thing persuading Ryan to tell Polly how he felt. The idea she was wrong confused her because when they had spoken in the bedroom, she felt sure that there was no way honesty wasn’t the best policy. Yet, the look on Polly’s face as she focused on the road in front of them told her she might have been mistaken.
“You ok?” She asked, trying to keep her voice as casual as possible.
“Mmmmhmmm,” said Polly, indicating to turn left using the right indicator.
“Bad day?” Kate decided there was no point in playing dumb; she reasoned with herself that even if she hadn’t spoken to Ryan she would know from Kate’s behaviour that something was up with her sister, so it felt natural to question her on it.
“Oh… no.” Polly distractedly indicated into the university car park and Kate pulled up the hood on her jumper in case any of her colleagues saw her turning up to the book club after having called in with period pains for the third time in two months. Kate decided not to push things with Polly. Her emotions were never far below her skin and so if she wasn’t instantly spilling her feelings then there must be a reason and it was probably better not to press too hard.
They pushed the door open into the seminar room being used for the meeting and took their seats on the plastic chairs. Kate avoided eye contact with Clara - she’d realised there was a deliciousness in being an adult and being able to pick and choose who you were friends with. She fully intended to exercise her right to not have to be friends with mean girls if she didn’t want to. She’d explained all about Clara to Ewan over dinner the previous night.
“I just don’t really know what I did wrong. I don’t really know where to go from here.” Kate had said through a mouthful of quiche.
“This is delicious,” said Ewan through a similar mouthload, “And why do you need to go anywhere from there?”
“What do you mean?” Asked Kate, swallowing.
“I mean… why not just accept you’re not friends with her and that’s ok? You don’t have to be rude, but you also don’t have to be friends if you don’t like each other.”
The idea had blown Kate’s mind. She was so used to needing everyone to like her that the idea that she could judge Clara’s behaviour and just decide not to be friends with her was a core rocking moment. She ate the rest of the quiche in wonderment - realising Ewan might just have his head screwed on more than most people she knew. He seemed so comfortable in himself. Her world had truly opened up in the last few weeks. She’d been trying to learn from Graeme how to be happy being silent, and now here was Ewan teaching her about how to have healthy adult relationships. At this rate she might be normal by Christmas.
The group discussed the rest of Interview with the Vampire, and how they felt about it since finishing the entire book. Kate had been planning to keep very quiet in case what she had to say was wrong or provoked an argument but since her chat with Ewan she had decided to plough on with her opinions and if people didn’t like them, or her, then that was ok. Well, not ok - she would prefer they did like her. But better they heard what she had to say and made their own minds up than she remained silent eternally just in case.
“Wonderful! Ah it’s so nice seeing new faces here. So, what shall we read next… the floor is open to suggestions…” said Sasha, checking her watch and raising her eyebrows in surprise at how long the discussion had gone on.
“How about The Handmaid’s Tale?” Piped up Clara almost immediately, “Everyone is talking about the TV show and we’ve never done an Atwood, and I think some of the themes of female value based on reproduction might be…”
“No!” Polly almost shouted it across the circle, causing even Frank’s head to snap up and Kate was pretty sure he’d been asleep for the last 30 minutes of the discussion, “No… no I can’t do that.”
“Alright,” Clara said, disgruntled, “There’s no need to shout. Look I know we got off to a bad start but…”
“It’s not that. I just can’t do a book about having babies or anything. No. I can’t. Oh for god’s sake I thought I was done with all this?” Kate was astonished to see Polly burst into tears. Lovely Sasha was quick to dart across the circle and kneel down in front of her. Where did she get tissues from? Kate wondered, she wished she was the sort of adult who always tissues ready for this kind of thing. Then she realised she looked very cold still sitting still while her sister sobbed. She darted out of her seat and over to Polly. “Oh my god - I’m so sorry, I’m so embarrassed. What am I like sitting here crying all like this? I just… oh fuck it. My husband wants another baby… we already have 4 children. I *just* got back to working full time and not being covered in vomit and shit constantly and now he wants to start again? But how do I say no? How can I tell him he can’t reproduce… that’s not my decision, so should he leave me and go and have a kid with someone else if I can’t give him what he wants or is it ok for me to say no? And what does it say about me as a mother that I can look at my four perfect children and not want more of them, not want to give them anyone else. Am I denying the existence of someone brilliant because I want to watch Masterchef without pausing it eighteen times an episode?”
Polly’s questions reeled out of her mouth without space for anyone gathered round to even begin to answer. With each question mark Kate felt her stomach swooping lower and lower into her feet. The guilt. Oh god why did she get involved in Polly and Ryan’s marriage? Ryan knew what he was doing - he had had it all under control just waiting until his feelings blew over and then Kate had come along and made him talk about it. This is why she usually kept her mouth shut and just kept out of things - it was simpler and it led to far less crying. She looked at Polly, whose mascara was running in two enormous black rivers down her cheeks.
“Maybe I should get you home Poll?” Kate tried, but Polly wailed again.
“But I can’t go home because Ryan’s there and I can’t face talking to him yet… I won’t know what to say and it’ll end up sounding like I don’t love him or our family or something.”
“Poll, he’d never think that… he knows you love him, and he loves you - he knew it was unlikely you’d want a baby. That’s why he was keeping the storage locker secret.”
At the mention of the storage locker several eyes in the circle widened and Kate kicked herself, mentally. “Come on Poll,” she continued, “Let’s go back to mine and we can have a drink there before you go back home.” Kate looked up at Sasha, “Could you text me and let me know what the book will be and we’ll make sure we’ve read it by next time?”
Sasha nodded warmly and Kate led a sniffing Polly out of the seminar room and towards her car.
When they got back to Kate’s house she settled Polly onto the sofa and disappeared into the kitchen to find something alcoholic they could drink. She felt terribly guilty and worried. There was something so deeply, world shatteringly wrong about Polly being upset and Kate couldn’t handle the idea of there being a problem in Polly and Ryan’s marriage.
When she arrived back in the living room with a mixture of Amaretto and apple juice in each hand, she was surprised to see Ewan sitting on the opposite sofa to Polly, deep in conversation.
“Why don’t you just say that to him, he sounds like a nice guy - I’m sure he’d understand?” Ewan was saying. Kate was surprised to glean from that that Polly had opened up to Ewan.
“But… that’s not what married people with children do?” Polly said quietly, accepting the glass from Kate with a suspicious sniff.
“What isn’t?” Kate asked, sipping her drink which tasted remarkably like a toffee apple.
“Going on a trip!” Ewan said cheerily, “Polly said she just needed a break before she could consider what she wanted and I said, why don’t you just go for it? Why does loving someone mean you have to accept the normal way of living? If you both love each other you’ll come back from your trip still loving each other, and if a trip is enough to break you then, were you that happy anyway?”
“I could have the kids while you’re away!” Kate piped up, trying to remove any barriers to Polly’s happiness that she could.
“Oh, no.” Polly said suddenly, looking up, “I was thinking it would be us that go?”