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Authors: Erin Kaye

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance

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BOOK: The Art of Friendship
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Silently Kirsty cursed Janice for persuading her to meet Vincent for a drink – and herself for going along with it, in spite of her misgivings about the man. The date had been a disaster. She should have known. When Vincent wasn’t staring at her cleavage, he was eyeing up other women in the room. No wonder he was single.

‘Aye, it was Vincent Agnew alright.’

She’d only done it to get Janice off her back. Now all she cared about was making it clear to Chris that she and Vincent weren’t an item. ‘I’m not seeing him, you know,’ she said, far too quickly. It sounded like an apology.

‘You’re not?’

Kirsty shook her head almost violently and laughed. ‘God no, I mean I just met him for a drink that once. All he talked
about was golf and his Mercedes. I never saw him again. Why do you ask?’

Was it possible that Chris was jealous? She held her breath.

‘Well, that’s a relief,’ he said, blew air out softly through his nose and placed his palms on his thighs. ‘I don’t usually go round slandering people, Kirsty. But Vincent Agnew is trouble. He’s a reputation as a gambler and he likes the drink too. Let’s just say that he’s not the sort of bloke I’d be happy for my daughter to bring home.’

‘You have a daughter,’ echoed Kirsty faintly and she put her hand to her throat.

‘Two actually. All grown up with kids of their own. I’m a grandfather now,’ he said and chuckled. He picked up the empty cup and looked inside it. ‘Can you believe it?’

‘No,’ she managed to say, forcing her lips into a smile that felt more like a grimace. Why should she be surprised by this news? Given Chris’s age, it was only natural that he should have a family. And probably a wife too. She wondered what she was like. She’d known him for two and a half years, and yet she knew so very little about him.

‘I hope I haven’t spoken out of turn, Kirsty. But I just couldn’t stand by and let you get involved with someone like that. Not without saying something.’ He smiled then and added, ‘I’m as bad as Harry in some ways, you know. I suppose it’s because you’re on your own. I hope you don’t find that patronising. Or mind my interfering.’

‘No, no, not at all,’ said Kirsty, stumbling over the words.

‘I haven’t offended you, have I?’ He reached out and patted her hands.

She coughed and said, ‘No.’ She cleared her throat and went on, ‘No, not at all, Chris. I appreciate the concern. I really do. But you’ve no need to worry on that front. I won’t be seeing Vincent Agnew again.’

‘Good,’ he said and gave the table a slap with the flat of his hand. ‘You know what, Kirsty?’ She thought she detected a catch in his voice. ‘You’re a lovely woman. I think you can do a whole lot better than the Vincent Agnews of this world.’

And with that he got up abruptly, went over to the sink, rinsed his cup and set it upside-down on the draining board. A simple gesture, yet one that spoke of thoughtfulness.

‘Oh, there was one last thing I meant to ask you,’ said Chris.

‘Yes?’

‘Would you like to pay me by direct debit now instead of cash? You can set up the payment with your bank and then you just cancel it in the autumn. Saves having to scrabble round every week finding cash. Most of my customers like the idea.’

‘Oh,’ said Kirsty and added instinctively, ‘No. I don’t think I’d like that.’ Handing cash over was a good excuse for instigating a conversation and it meant that Chris had to come at a time when she was in. ‘I like to see you.’

‘You do?’ he said and stood stock still.

‘Yes. I like to talk to you,’ she said, and added hastily, ‘I mean it’s important that…that we talk about what you’re doing in the garden.’

‘Yes, of course. Well, whatever suits you. I really don’t mind.’

‘Cash then. I’ll give you cash like before.’

‘Okay,’ he said, zipped up his coat and put up the hood, ready to face the elements. ‘I’ll be off then,’ he said as he made for the back door. ‘See you in a few weeks. And good luck with the new job.’

After he’d gone, Kirsty went upstairs and energetically stripped both boys’ beds. When the sheets, pillowcases and rocket-covered duvet covers were heaped on the floor in a tangle of dark blue cotton, she sat down on David’s bed
clutching the nearly-bald panda he clung to every night in bed, even though he was nearly ten.

She should’ve asked Chris about his wife when he mentioned his daughters. She could’ve slipped the question in quite naturally and it wouldn’t have seemed like she was prying. Now the moment had passed and she was sure she wouldn’t have the courage to raise it again.

But Ballyfergus was a small place and Chris must be relatively well-known. Someone would be able to tell her. His wife might be dead – God rest her soul – or he could be divorced. Or maybe never married in the first place. She would not give up hope just yet.

She carried the washing downstairs, knelt on the floor and stuffed it into the washing machine. Then she stood up, threw in a washing tablet, closed the door with her knee and paused momentarily. All she could think about was Chris. She put her fingertips to her lips and breathed in deeply. What was she thinking?

He was, she guessed, about ten years older than she. He was undeniably handsome and yet, though Kirsty had always liked him, she had not thought of him romantically before. Now she couldn’t get him out of her mind.

She imagined what it would be like to be enveloped in his arms, to feel his rugged cheek pressed against her forehead. She shook her head and smiled. She was acting like a besotted teenager. But daft though it might be at her age, it also felt good. There was nothing wrong with a bit of fantasising, was there? For one thing it was harmless and for another, it restored her belief in love – a faith that she feared had been lost to her for ever.

The very next night Kirsty sat at the usual table in No.11 waiting for her friends.

‘It’s great to have something to celebrate!’ said Patsy
brightly when she arrived with Janice. Though she was smart in a green wrap-dress and black boots, she looked a little jaded to Kirsty. ‘Congratulations on your new job!’

Janice leant across the table and air-kissed the place beside either side of Kirsty’s cheeks. Her lips were carefully glossed to match her thin red jumper, cinched at the waist with a plaited black leather belt. Although Kirsty had made an effort and changed into smart black jeans, a shirt and belted ‘boyfriend’ cardigan, she still managed to feel underdressed. But then she always felt underdressed around Janice.

‘Well done, Kirsty. Though we always knew you’d get the job, didn’t we, Patsy?’ Patsy nodded. ‘Now where’s Clare?’ Janice swivelled round to look at the door, a clutch of bangles on her wrist clinking against one another.

‘She should be here any minute,’ explained Kirsty. ‘She came over with the kids today. They had an early tea together before I took Adam and David over to their grandparents’. She’s probably running a bit late.’

It wasn’t long before Clare arrived, casual in jeans and a grey t-shirt. She was followed shortly by Danny, dressed all in black save for a white bartender’s apron that reached below his knees. In one hand he held a steel ice bucket, in the other the stems of four wine glasses were wedged between his fingers.

‘A little bird told me you ladies have something to celebrate tonight.’ He winked at Patsy and set the ice bucket, beaded with condensation, on the table. Then he placed the wine glasses, one by one, alongside it. ‘This is for you and it’s on the house,’ he said pulling a bottle of white wine from the ice and presenting it to Kirsty with a flourish.

Kirsty put a hand on her breast. ‘Oh, Danny. Thank you. That is such a lovely thing to do.’

‘That’s why No.11 is the best wee bar in Ballyfergus,’ he said, gave her a cheeky wink and disappeared.

Janice filled the glasses and handed them round while they all remarked on Danny’s thoughtfulness. ‘Here’s to Kirsty’s success now and in the future,’ she toasted, holding her glass aloft and momentarily drawing the attention of people seated nearby.

Kirsty reddened and ducked her head.

Everyone took a sip of wine and Janice said, ‘You must be so excited.’

‘Yes, I am,’ said Kirsty, looking at Clare. ‘I was telling Clare earlier that I’m really looking forward to getting started. And earning some money. I’m nervous too. It’s been a long time since I went out to work.’

‘You’ll be absolutely fine, Kirsty. The museum is lucky to get someone of your calibre,’ said Clare loyally, her plain features illuminated by a warm smile. The others murmured their agreement.

‘That’s sweet of you to say so,’ said Kirsty, both a little embarrassed and heartened by their confidence in her. She twirled the glass in her hand and, staring at it, said, ‘There’s just one thing.’

‘What’s that?’ said Clare.

‘I haven’t told Dorothy and Harry yet.’

‘What job you take has got nothing to do with them,’ said Patsy firmly.

Kirsty sighed and looked at her friend. She opened her mouth to explain that it had everything to do with them, then closed it again. Patsy would not understand. None of them would. It would be hard to take on any job without her in-laws’ support. And she was certain that the best she could hope for on this particular occasion was resentful acceptance.

‘They might surprise you,’ said Clare quietly.

‘I doubt it.’

‘Well, there’s only one way to find out,’ said Patsy pragmatically.

There was a short silence while they all considered this. Kirsty let out a long sigh and then said flatly, ‘I’ll have to tell them tomorrow.’

Janice broke the sombre mood. ‘I thought this was supposed to be a celebration?’ she said brightly. ‘Come on! Drink up, girls.’ She lowered her voice then and a conspiratorial smile spread across her face. ‘The wine’s very nice but you can’t have a proper celebration without champagne, now can you? And this time it’s on me!’

Harry came out as soon as Kirsty pulled the car up outside his house the next morning, as though he had been watching for her. He hailed her with a raised hand in the air, not so much a wave as a salute.

‘How are you, dear?’ he greeted her heartily as she stepped out of the car. ‘Did you have a good time with your friends last night?’

‘Great,’ said Kirsty, who was nursing a bit of a hangover. She gave Harry a brief kiss and patted him on the back. ‘Thanks for having the boys.’

‘Ach, we’ve had a great time with them,’ said Harry, with an indulgent shake of the head. He slowed to a halt just outside the open door, even though it was cold and neither of them had on an outdoor coat. He put his hands in the pockets of his sharp-creased trousers and rolled back slightly on the heels of his brown leather brogues. ‘I’ve been thinking, Kirsty, about what you said about going out to work. And I’m sorry I was a bit abrupt when we spoke about it before.’

‘Oh, Harry,’ said Kirsty, touched by his apology. ‘You don’t need to be worrying about that. It’s all forgotten.’

‘Well, I’ve given it some more thought and I should have
realised before.’ He said this with an air of confidence that set off alarm bells in Kirsty’s head.

‘Realised what?’ said Kirsty, raising her guard.

‘What if I said that I would make sure you and the boys were alright for money?’

‘I don’t follow…’ said Kirsty.

‘You’ve never asked Dorothy and me for a penny, Kirsty, and I respect you for that. I know that there was an insurance payout but all the same, it can’t have been easy. I don’t want you to feel you have to work just to make ends meet. You don’t have to. There’s money there for David and Adam. You might as well have some of it now if it makes life a bit easier.’

Kirsty’s heart sank. The last thing she wanted was to be having this conversation with Harry. She just wanted to get the boys and go home and daydream about Chris. She sighed. Poor Harry. He was right. She
was
going out to work to make ends meet – but taking this job was about much more than just money.

‘I’m okay for money, Harry. Really,’ she said firmly, and surprised herself by holding eye contact with Harry even though she was lying.

For the past three years she’d been living on the proceeds of the insurance policy. Of course, she’d always known that one day the money would run out and she would have to return to work. The mortgage had been repaid on Scott’s death but there were still utilities to meet and the ever-increasing cost of food. The boys had only been three and six when their father died and for two years after Scott’s death she had been petrified to let them out of her sight, entrusting them only to the care of her in-laws and Clare. She had put off returning to work as long as possible – but she could delay it no longer. And she no longer wanted to either. She was ready to face the world again.

A cloud passed over Harry’s face and Kirsty, both touched and frustrated, said, ‘Oh, Harry, it is sweet of you to offer and I really appreciate it. You keep the money for the boys – they’ll need it when they’re older for college and university and stuff.’ She paused, softened her tone and added, ‘One of the reasons I’m going out to work is because I need to move on from what’s happened. I need to rebuild my life, Harry.’

‘But what would Scott want?’ he said and eyeballed her. ‘For you and the boys.’

‘Scott’s not here any more,’ she parried straight back, and immediately regretted it.

Harry winced as though from some physical pain and she could’ve kicked herself for her insensitivity. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I shouldn’t have said that.’

Harry looked away, at the bird’s-eye view of Ballyfergus which spread out below them, the red-brick houses so tiny they looked like they were made of Lego bricks.

‘Scott loved this house,’ he said. ‘When he was a boy he used to say that it felt like being on top of the world.’ He shook his head. ‘I thought that you and he might live in it one day. After Dorothy and I were gone, I mean.’ He smiled at her then, his eyes glazed with tears that he would never shed, not in her presence anyway.

‘I’m so sorry, Harry.’

‘Well, it wasn’t to be.’

They stood side by side for a few moments, staring at the view of the town which Kirsty had come to love. She took a deep breath, exhaled and steeled herself for the delivery of unwelcome news.

BOOK: The Art of Friendship
3.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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