Once Were Friends - A Prologue by Patti Roberts

Becky's earliest Christmas memory was when she was about four years old. She remembered a gift from under the tree which was wrapped in shiny red and green striped paper covered in tiny Santas.
Once Were Friends - A Prologue
Once Were Friends - A Prologue by Patti Roberts
"This is for you, Becky." Inside the wrapping paper was a beautiful doll with long, wavy, auburn hair. It was the most beautiful doll Becky had ever seen. "What's her name?" she had asked, her eyes unable to leave the doll's beautiful face. Twenty-four years later. BECKY JENSEN'S FACEBOOK STATUS: In life, it is said that everything happens for a reason. So I ask you this, Cancer, what is your reason? Fresh tears blurred Becky Jensen's vision as she gripped the steering wheel of her Mazda and stared straight ahead through the streaky windscreen. The wind and snow swirled outside, blurring the oncoming traffic. The roads were busy; people had left work early for their last-minute Christmas shopping. Shopping, however, was the last thing on Becky's mind this Christmas Eve. At twenty-eight, apart from her mother's death, Becky had lived a pretty uneventful, run-of-the-mill kind of life. On the radio, Mariah Carey was singing "All I Want For Christmas". Becky sang along to the words of the song, right up until the hiccoughs made it impossible for her to continue. The song had been one of her mother's favourite Christmas carols. Two years ago, before her mother, Victoria, had fallen ill, they had learned the words off by heart. Once all the dirty dishes from lunch were washed and put away, everyone would huddle together in front of the fireplace in the lounge room. Becky and Victoria both dressed up in Santa costumes and performed the song in front of their family and friends. It was a Jensen family tradition. They all had to sing a song, read a passage out of one of their favourite books, or read a poem which reflected the Christmas Spirit. Costumes were optional but were usually worn by everyone. The Christmas holidays had always been such a happy time in the Jensen household. Although Becky had moved out of the family home a few years earlier, she had never thought for a single moment that the Jensen family’s Christmases would ever change. She remembered her unbridled excitement as a little girl. She would run down the stairs on Christmas morning, her fingers brushing over the ivy and tinsel-encrusted banister that Victoria decorated every year, along with the rest of the household, inside and out. Victoria would stand outside in the snow in her rubber boots, look up at the brightly coloured house covered in a million and one twinkling Christmas lights, and say, "Eat your heart out, Clark Griswold." Inside the house, the scents of cinnamon and nutmeg wafted from the kitchen, and the merry sound of Christmas carols filled every nook and cranny of the house. Every morning, Becky would find her father, William, waiting by the beautifully decorated tree. He would be dressed up as a jolly, fat Santa, his long white whiskers askew on his chin and a pair of fragile-looking spectacles perched precariously on the tip of his nose. Victoria would be sitting on the old sofa. Grandma Jensen's Christmas doilies with festive motives would be hanging over the back of the cushions and on the armrests. Victoria would be smiling and patting the cushion beside her, inviting Becky to come and join her. Once seated beside her mother, William would begin singing along to the carols on the stereo and, one by one, he would hand out the brightly wrapped presents from under the tree. At lunchtime, Grandma and Uncle Steve would arrive, their arms piled high with more gifts. That seemed so very long ago now, Becky thought, checking her rear-view mirror and changing lanes. A horn blared out behind her, but she just gritted her teeth and ignored the temptation of holding up her middle finger. Victoria's death a year ago had changed Christmas forever. No, that was not the truth. Cancer had changed Christmas forever, as it spread stealthily throughout Victoria's body, killing her one cell at a time, transforming Victoria into a lifeless shell of a woman, whom she had barely recognized at the end. Becky pulled on the steering wheel, fitting the car into a parking space outside the cemetery, and then turned off the ignition. She sat there for a long moment, just staring at the rows upon rows of bone-coloured gravestones. Rows of concrete markers, she thought, with the sole purpose of navigating mourners to the final resting places of the departed. After a time, she reached down to the floor of the passenger seat, picked up her bag, and slipped the strap over her shoulder. She dropped the car keys in a side pocket and zipped it up, then gathered up a bunch of roses and lilies from the passenger seat beside her. Taking a long breath, preparing herself for the freezing temperatures, she pushed open the car door and swung her legs out. Immediately the icy fingers of winter ran up her legs, like the hands of an overeager schoolboy on a mission to reach third base. Awkwardly, Becky pulled her long coat firmly around her with one hand, then walked carefully along the well-worn path, gravel, and slush crunching perilously beneath her boots. It wasn't quite six o'clock, but the sky was already turning dark, preparing for nightfall. She looked at her watch. She still had over an hour before she was scheduled to meet up with Roger, her boyfriend, and Mandy, her best friend since school, for drinks at the Red Lion Pub. Afterwards they would head off for something to eat. Roger had mentioned in the morning that he was in the mood for a curry, so curry it would be, most likely at the Mint Leaf restaurant, which was a short stroll from the pub. She didn't mind one way or the other and had said so as he pecked her on the cheek and ran out the door on his way to work at the bank, a piece of toast in one hand and a black leather briefcase in the other. She smiled a sad smile, remembering how her mother had given him the leather briefcase on his birthday, shortly after they had started dating. God. That feels like a million years ago, she thought, rubbing her temples with her fingertips as she watched him leave. "Red Lion at seven, okay?" he had called, the door slamming shut behind him before she'd had time to answer. Becky had sat back down at the breakfast table, picked up a crust off Roger's plate and popped it in her mouth. "Eat your crusts, Becky Jensen," her mother would tell her as a child, using her full name whenever she wanted Becky to pay attention. They'll make your hair curly. Her mother had been wrong about that; Becky's hair was long and straight, just the odd kink here and there, but curly it was not. She let out a long sigh, unable to comprehend why Roger had made no mention that he remembered it was exactly a year ago that her mother had died. Didn't he think that she might need a special hug before he slipped out of the door half an hour before necessary to catch the tube into work, which was something she had noticed him doing more frequently over the last few months? And what was that horrible new cologne he had taken to wearing? When exactly had he stopped wearing Calvin Klein, and started wearing this new, heavier scent that brought on an instant headache the moment it wafted out of the bathroom in the mornings? She made a mental note to tell him that whatever it was, it gave her a headache that took half the day to shake off. Becky's shoulders drooped as she walked along between rows of neatly kept gravestones. Finally, she came to an abrupt halt. "Merry Christmas, Mum," she said, brushing a thin layer of snow off the words 'Victoria Jensen. Beloved wife of William Jensen and mother to Rebecca Jensen'. She leaned down, placing the bunch of red roses and white lilies at the base of the headstone. "I miss you, Mum. I miss Christmas with you. I miss everything with you..." She wiped away a tear, dug out a handkerchief from the front pocket of her heavy woollen coat, and blew her nose in the red paisley linen. Her mother hadn’t liked tissues. Disgusting things, she'd say, handing Becky a nicely ironed handkerchief from the pocket of her apron. It was always a pretty handkerchief, too, trimmed with a white crochet border, with her mother's initials embroidered in one corner. Her mother had loved nothing more than to sit in her armchair beside the wood-burning fireplace on winter nights, crocheting, knitting, and embroidering, while she watched her favourite game shows on the television. Sometimes she would make Becky her own handkerchiefs, pretty floral and paisley ones, with the initials B. J. in the corner, and didn't Becky cop a world of ridicule for that at school. "Becky blowjob, Becky blowjob," Betsy Cramer and her brown-noser friends would chant as she passed them in the hall in middle school. The worst part was, Betsy would never have ever seen the initials on the corner of her handkerchief if Becky hadn't offered it to Betsy in the girls’ toilets the day another girl had punched Betsy in the nose and made it bleed. From there on in, the nickname had stuck, even though Becky had secretly taken to using tissues. It wasn't until two years later, when Betsy Cramer's family had moved abroad to live in Australia, that the nickname had eventually been forgotten. Becky never did take her handkerchiefs to school after that, but she never told her mother, who, up until the final weeks leading up to her death, had still taken much pride in making the pretty handkerchiefs for her. Even after that doctor's appointment. The one where Victoria was diagnosed with cancer, which, unknown to them all, had been secretly gathering up its troops, preparing for its hostile and deadly takeover just months after her previous doctor's appointment, her mother was still quite content crocheting, sewing, embroidering, or knitting away until her father pushed open the front door in the evenings. Becky had fallen apart at hearing the news, but her mother and father had continued to soldier on as though nothing had changed until everything did. Whenever Becky had tried to talk about her mother's illness, ask if there was anything she could do, her mother would just shake her head, and act as though she'd just been diagnosed with the flu. "Nothing that a bowl of homemade chicken soup and a nice warm bath couldn't fix." It was one thing to have a positive outlook, Becky thought, but surely total denial was not the solution to her mother's recovery? She had gone home that same day and typed 'pancreatic cancer' into the google search bar. She clicked on a site called 'My Health News' and started reading. '"As a group, pancreatic cancers come with a very low survival rate — seventy-five percent of patients die less than a year after diagnosis, and ninety-four percent die within five years. Pancreatic cancers have a poor prognosis because they are often not detected until the late stages of the disease, and are usually resistant to chemotherapy. One reason is that the cancer is quite often not found until its late stages," Mitchell Duffy, director of research and scientific affairs, told My Health News in an interview last year. "By the time most patients are diagnosed, the disease has already spread," Duffy said. "The cancer often escapes early detection because patients display few warning signs that anything is wrong. When patients do experience symptoms, they are often vague aches and pains, such as indigestion or back pain, which can be attributed to many other, less serious ailments."' Becky had slammed closed the lid of the laptop, curled up on the sofa fully dressed, and cried herself to sleep. At home, everything remained eerily the same. "Hello," William would call out as soon as he came through the door, just as he always had. "What's for dinner, my love?" he'd ask. Under his arm, he would be carrying a shopping bag holding a bottle of wine. On Thursdays, he would bring home roses and lilies, her mother's favourites. Victoria would instantly put down whatever she had been working on. On this particular night, she had been busily knitting a jumper for William. She quickly bundled it up, put it in her knitting bag and hid it under the timber coffee table. It would be the last Christmas present Victoria would give her husband. Victoria had held a finger to her lips and winked at Becky, who was curled up on the sofa reading a book. She ruffled the top of Becky's head as she passed, just as she'd done when Becky had been a little girl. She flicked through the television channels until she found the evening news. Moments later, she was slipping her hands into oven gloves, taking a shepherd's pie out of the oven and putting it in the centre of the kitchen table, filling the small kitchen with the delicious smells of lamb, onions and melted cheese on mashed potatoes. The evening routine was as regular as clockwork. "Becky, put your book down now and go and wash your hands for dinner," Victoria would say, busily setting the table. "Are you sure Roger can't make it for dinner? I've cooked enough for all of us." "No, Mum. Roger is working late again tonight." Victoria nodded. "He's doing an awful lot of overtime these days. Is he still thinking about putting a deposit on that nice house down the street? He'll certainly be able to afford it in no time with all the extra money he must be making." "I think he's gone cold on the idea," Becky replied, walking down the hall to the bathroom to wash her hands for dinner. "He's got his mind set on buying something a little smaller and closer to work." The truth was, ever since Victoria was diagnosed with cancer, Roger couldn't stand to be anywhere near her. It was as though he were afraid that cancer might be contagious, so working late had become his alibi for missing Thursday night dinners at the Jensens' household, and just about every other family gathering where Victoria would be present. He was quite relieved when, only a year later, Victoria passed away, taking the cancerous germs with her to the grave. Becky knew without a doubt that her father's new wife, Felicity, who was almost young enough to be her sister, could never replace her mother. Apart from Felicity's long red hair - which both Mandy and Becky hated to admit was movie-star-worthy - D-cup bra and long legs, Becky had no idea what her father had ever seen in the woman. Perhaps that was all he was interested in seeing, big boobs and long legs. Felicity would never have William's dinner ready for him when he got home from work. Felicity did not like cooking or baking treats for her father, as her mother had done. Felicity preferred eating out or, if the weather was bad, ordering in. The first time Becky had met Felicity had been at an evening dinner, just eight months after Victoria's death. Hiding behind a napkin, her Uncle Steve had leaned over and whispered in her ear, "My brother is having a midlife crisis," the day William had introduced Felicity to them at the family dinner. Becky had squeezed her paper napkin so tightly in her fist, just listening to the sound of Felicity's chirpy little voice, that her knuckles had turned bone-white. A few moments later she'd sprung up from her chair, cutting Felicity off mid-sentence as she talked incessantly about office stationery, and working for William in the office at his business, Will's Wheels. Becky had dragged a mystified Roger up roughly by his elbow, the fork he'd been holding slipping from his fingers and clattering noisily onto his plate, instantly silencing everyone sitting around the table. "I'm sorry, Dad," Becky had eventually spluttered without so much of a glance in Felicity's direction, "but Roger and I really do have to get going. I've got this overdue article that I have to have finished by the morning." She shot a conspiratorial glance at Uncle Steve, hoping that he would corroborate her lie. "Yes," Uncle Steve had said, wagging his finger at her and dragging his napkin across his mouth. He folded the napkin and placed it on the table. "Make sure the article is on my desk first thing in the morning, young lady. We can't go to press without it." He pushed back his chair and stood, kissed her on the cheek, then slapped Roger joyfully on the back. "Chin up, old man," he said to the frowning Roger, a saying that had Roger flinching every time he heard it. Becky often suspected that it was why her uncle said it in the first place, to annoy Roger. Uncle Steve had never been that fond of Roger, believing Becky deserved and could do, a lot better. He'd all but said so every time Becky had mentioned Roger's name in passing conversations. Roger had complained all the way home. "Where does he get off calling me an old man?" "You know it's just a saying," Becky had said irritably, trying to hold back tears. "And what was all that crap about an article? What article? You really embarrassed me back there, by the way, dragging me up from the table like that. You could have at least waited until I finished my dinner. I was really enjoying it." He slammed his hand down on the horn. "Green light, fuckwit. Come on. Hurry the fuck up," Roger shouted angrily through the windscreen as he shook his fist. He turned and shot a quick glance at Becky. "How the hell did your dad manage to score a sweet piece of arse like that at his age anyway? Good on him, I say." He didn’t wait for a reply. He pumped the horn again. Becky glared at Roger in disbelief and imagined punching him in the nose, really hard. "My father had a tart sitting in my mother's chair, eating off one of my mother's special occasion plates, that's why I had to get out of there, Roger, but I don't expect you to understand that." Roger shook his head. "What is that supposed to mean?" "Forget it." "It's not as though your mum would care about a bunch of dumb plates, Beck, she's dead." "I know that," Becky snapped. "Then don't you think William deserves to move on and be happy?" Becky clenched her teeth together. "He could have waited for a while, that's all I'm saying. Mum hasn't even been gone a year and he's already," her voice broke, "fucking some gold-digging tart that is almost young enough to be my sister, in my mother's bed. So no, I don't want my father to be happy. Not yet, and certainly not with her. Full stop." Roger shrugged. "I don't get you women." As soon as Becky arrived at the office the next morning, she called William. "What are you thinking, Dad? Have you gone completely bonkers?" she'd asked. "Mum's not been gone a year, and you've already got a big-breasted, red-headed tart in your bed. A bed you shared with Mum for thirty years, I might add. Don't you love Mum anymore? Have you forgotten about her already?" Her father's voice sounded tired. "Please don't talk like that, Beck. I miss your mother every day, but I'm not a young man and I'm not used to being alone. It's okay for you; you've got Roger. But I'm here in this big house all by myself. I can't do it, Beck, and your mother would want me to be happy... no one will ever replace your mother. A man could never be that lucky twice. Victoria was the love of my life, Beck, but she's gone. Felicity was there when I needed someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, and, well, she makes me happy." "She's your secretary, Dad." "You'd like her if you gave her a chance... Your mum-" "She's so plastic, Dad. And I bet those perfect boobs of hers are fake." "Beck, stop it. Don't think for one moment that me moving on diminishes the love I had for your mother because it doesn't. I just want to be happy. I deserve to be happy, don't I? Your mother thought so." "Yes, Dad," she'd said, starting to cry. "I know Mum would want you to be happy. I want you to be happy, too, but not with your bloody secretary. It's so bloody cliché. Will you promise me, please, that you will not rush in and do anything without thinking about it first, Dad? I think the best thing you can do is give yourself some time to adjust to all this before jumping into anything new, don't you? That's what you'd say to me in the same situation." "Becky..." her father began. She heard the strain in her father's voice, and it pained her more than he could possibly imagine. "You know I love you, Dad, but will you please just think about what I've said?" "Yes. I'll think about it, Beck," William replied. And then what had her father gone and done? He'd gone and married Felicity just weeks later. That's what he had done. And on top of that, her father had taken the new Mrs. Jensen on a Jamaican honeymoon, and right now, Becky imagined they'd be sitting around a shimmering, crystal-blue swimming pool fashioned into the shape of a tropical lagoon. Felicity would be wearing a tiny bikini and a big stylish hat that dipped down one side of her face, making her look like a famous actress. She'd be wearing designer sunglasses, too, and her makeup would be perfect, just like it always was. She would be sipping on a rainbow-coloured cocktail, of course, accessorised with wedges of exotic fruit and a pretty little umbrella. The sun would be tanning her ivory skin a golden brown, while Becky stood freezing half to death in a cemetery, which she supposed would be rather convenient if she did happen to freeze to death. How dare he? Becky thought angrily as she pulled the hood of her coat up over her head, looking nothing like a famous actress. The least her father could do was be here for the first anniversary of her mother's death. Would that have been so hard? Victoria would never have disrespected William in this way. Fresh tears sprang to Becky's eyes, and she shuddered as a frigid gust of wind slapped her coat around her legs, snapping her from her thoughts. Snow began to fall again, blanketing the frozen ice-slick all around her in a fresh layer of pure white. Becky closed her eyes for a moment. Angel’s kisses from heaven, she imagined Victoria saying this as she'd held out her hands to catch the falling flakes. Her mother had said that each year, as the first snow of winter had begun to fall. Becky held out her gloved hands. "Look, Mum. Angel’s kisses from heaven." Chapter 2 - Have A Plan. "If you fail to plan, Becky, you are planning to fail," her mother would tell her as she jotted down a list of items required to make the recipes she'd added to her weekly menu planner. Victoria was always saying inspirational quotes like that, and as a child, Becky had thought that her mother must have written the book. Becky walked back to her car with her arms wrapped tightly around herself. She unlocked the car door and climbed in, sitting in silence for a long moment, staring out blankly at all the snow topped tombstones. On the drive back into town, she quickly glanced at her watch. Her mother would be very pleased to know that the plans she'd made today were well ahead of schedule. This was more due to the fact that the traffic from the cemetery back to Westminster was not as busy as she'd thought it would be. She thought about a conversation that she'd recently had with Roger. She'd lost count of how many times he'd said, "For God's sake, Beck, can't you just go with the flow... be more spontaneous? Why do you always have to have everything planned out days, even weeks, in advance? I bet you can tell me what you've got planned for dinner next Thursday." She had stared up at him. "I don't think you realize how much money I save us every week by checking out the weekly specials," she had retorted, scanning the online specials from Waitrose on her computer screen. "Going with the flow, Roger, does not save us money or get the bills paid." She tapped her finger on the luminescent screen. "Look at this. Four lightly coated Pollock fillets for under two pounds. That's half price." She added two boxes to her virtual trolley, while Roger rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Well, fine then," he'd said, lacing up his runners before storming into the bathroom. A moment later, a sickly waft of cologne had chased him through the door. "You can stay here and do the shopping if you want to, but I'm going for a jog." He was wearing a new Ralph Lauren t-shirt, and had styled his hair. "Bit fancy for a jog, don't you think?" she said, rubbing her temples with the balls of her fingers in a futile attempt to ward off the impending headache. "I might call into the pub on the way back and catch up with some of the lads from work." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and slipped his wallet and iPod into his back pocket. She smiled. "I'll join you as soon as I've finished this." "Sure," he replied without looking at her. He worked the tiny ear pods into his ears while making his way to the door. "Which pub?" she called after him, but the door was already closing behind him. She sighed, got up out of her chair at the small kitchen table, poured a glass of water and swallowed two Panadols that she'd found in the zip compartment in her bag. Sitting back down, she decided she'd call him when she'd finished her online shopping. She searched the site and added two boxes of Panadol to her trolley. She sat back in her seat and surveyed the ceiling for inspiration, then she looked back at the computer screen and searched for scented candles and a nice bottle of wine. A romantic evening, she had decided, was well and truly overdue. Perhaps that was all that was needed to whip their lacklustre sex life back into shape. How long had it been since they'd made love? Two months, or was it three? She couldn't remember. She found a nice bottle of Brancott Estate Merlot/Cabernet from Australia for ten pounds and added it to her trolley, then moved onto finding a lamb roast, Roger's favourite. She wouldn't go to the pub, she'd print out the shopping list and go shopping instead, surprise Roger with a lavish roast lamb dinner with all the trimmings. "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, dear," her mother would say, scooping spoonsful of mashed potato onto the top of a shepherd's pie. "The experts will tell you that the universal language is maths. That Mathematics is the only language shared by all human beings regardless of culture, religion, or gender. But I disagree. I believe it's a good, hearty meal." Becky had never known what to make of that, so she'd just smiled and said, "You are probably right, Mum." Somewhere in a bottom drawer in her bedroom was a sexy, red satin nightdress that Roger had bought her a year ago. "It just doesn't feel appropriate, what with Mum being so sick," she'd told Roger when she'd unwrapped the box he'd given her. Exasperated, he'd replied, "I didn't buy it for your Mum, Beck. I bought it for you. I don't know. I just thought that something pretty might make you feel a bit happier. You're always so sad these days." Shortly afterwards, Victoria had died, and the box with the pretty red satin nightdress had been placed in the bottom drawer and forgotten about. Printing out her online shopping list, Becky had got up from the kitchen table, dressed, and then gone shopping. She'd also make sure to remember to look for that pretty red nightdress when she got home. A few hours later, with scented candles flickering all around the apartment, a bottle of wine chilling on the table, and a roast lamb dinner in the oven, Becky had decided that just about all the bases for a romantic night were covered. Standing on her tiptoes in front of the mirror in her bedroom, she turned one way, then the other, admiring her reflection in the mirror as she adjusted the spaghetti straps on her shoulders. She took a long, speculative look at her reflection, then, putting her hands under the silky nightdress, she slid the matching thong down her legs and quickly shoved it back in the drawer, just as she heard the squeak of the front door opening. BECKY JENSEN'S FACEBOOK STATUS: Christmas Eve. Meeting Roger and Mandy for drinks at the pub. Becky could hear music and voices coming from the Red Lion as soon as she turned the corner into Parliament Street. She smiled pleasantly as she edged her way through a group of people who were talking and smoking outside the pub. It was busy inside, with people congregated around the bar in different groups. A cacophony of voices and music melded together in an incomprehensible din, as voices rose and fell, fighting to be heard. Some people were holding pretty carry-bags with colourful store logos, laden with last-minute Christmas shopping for family and friends. She craned her neck, scanning the mashing, animated bodies for Roger and Mandy, but couldn't find them anywhere. She looked at her watch, and realized that she was nearly twenty minutes early, and that she had obviously arrived before them. Deciding she still had plenty of time before they would arrive, she threaded her way through the mingling bodies and headed towards the ladies’ bathroom. Once inside, she would call Roger to let him know she'd arrived early. She pushed open the door to the bathroom and set her shoulder bag down on the counter. Alone in the bathroom, she leaned forward and scrutinised herself in the mirror, turning her head one way, then the other. She checked her teeth, then ran a finger under both red-rimmed eyes, wiping away traces of tear-smudged mascara. From her shoulder bag she extracted a hairbrush, powder compact, and a rose-coloured lipstick. A thud and a giggle emanated from one of the stalls, letting her know she wasn't alone, as she'd first thought. She quickly brushed her hair and applied some lipstick, then pulled the phone out of a pocket in the side of her bag. "Shh," a girl in one of the cubicles whispered. A moment later, the girl giggled again. Becky took a quick peek under the cubicle door and discovered a pair of women's shoes and a pair of men's shoes partially covered by his trousers. Jesus, she thought, suppressing a chuckle when she realized the couple were having sex in the toilet. Leaning up against the bathroom counter, she dialled Roger's number and listened to the ringtone trilling in her ear. She couldn't wait to tell Roger and Mandy about the couple having sex in the toilet. Mandy would think the act risqué and so exciting. Roger would give the guy the thumbs up for his adept persuasion. Seconds later, a phone in the cubicle began to shrill. That's a timely coincidence, Becky thought, turning to gaze at her reflection again, running a finger over her bottom lip to perfect her lipstick. She would make a conscious effort to be happy tonight. Her mother would want her to be happy, she told herself, rolling her lips together. Another thud on the other side of the cubicle door had Becky smiling as she imagined someone losing his balance and falling against the wall. "Shit," a male voice muttered. Becky pulled the phone away from her ear. With her heart pounding, she held her breath, the smile collapsing from her face. The phone in the cubicle fell instantly silent. She felt something twist in her chest. This couldn't be happening to her. Surely, she was mistaken. The phone ringing in the cubicle was just a coincidence, wasn't it? Roger would never do anything like this to her... would he? She shook her head, shaking away her doubts. Of course, he wouldn't, she told herself. She was just being paranoid. She would go back out into the bar and Roger and Mandy would be waiting for her in their usual spot. The three of them had known each other now for years, and although Roger and Mandy had both started working at Templeton Investments together, and he complained about Mandy regularly, they were all friends. "I see her five days a week at work, surely I don't have to see her on the weekends as well?" he'd always grumbled when she and Mandy had made plans to catch up over the weekend. "It's hardly ever just the two of us. It's like the pair of you are joined at the hip or something. I always feel like I'm competing with her for your attention." Becky quickly gathered up her bag, pushed open the door to the bathroom, then let it close. You're just being stupid and paranoid, she thought. Roger would tell her that she'd read too many romance novels about cheating boyfriends. Mandy would tell her that women know these things, and suggest they stalk the said accused boyfriend until they found out what the cheating bastard was up to... or who, to be more precise. Mandy was so Charlie's Angels when it came to all this kind of stuff. The cubicle door squeaked opened a fraction. "It's all clear," the man whispered, stepping out, turning his back on the door and combing his fingers through his brown hair. "You go out first." He held the blond girl's face in his hands, kissing her. "See you out there in a sec, okay?" "Oh, crap," the girl said, buttoning up the top button of her green satin shirt, her feet frozen to the spot. "What's wrong?" the man asked, frowning at the look on her face, then slowly turned around. "Yes. Oh crap," Becky mimicked, stepping out from behind a partition to stare at the mortified faces of Mandy and Roger, wondering which one of them looked more horrified, and if either of them felt as sick to the stomach as she did at that moment. "Your fly is undone," she blurted, staring blankly at Roger. "Oh," he said feebly, reaching down to zip it up. "Thanks." Mandy stepped forward, her face glum, her arms up in a please-stay-calm gesture, which was totally lost on Becky. "I'm so sorry, Becky. We were going to tell you sooner, honest, but, well, you've been so upset over your mum and-" Without premeditation, Becky's arm lifted and, with one fluid motion, she punched Mandy square on the nose, sending her stumbling back and right into Roger's open arms. Mandy's hand shot up to her nose, and when she pulled her hand away, it was covered in blood. "Bloody hell, Beck. We just need to talk about this rationally, like adults. You didn't have to bloody punch me. Fuck. That. Hurt." Mandy looked at her hand again, then back up at Becky. "Jesus, Beck, you're like some ninja chick." "Good. It was meant to hurt! You just fucked my boyfriend." "Jesus, Beck. What's got into you?" Roger shouted, struggling to hold the stunned Mandy upright. "WHAT'S GOT INTO ME?" Becky shouted, rubbing her throbbing fist. Damn right it bloody hurt. How many times had her dad told her that if she was going to punch someone, to have her thumb on the outside, not tucked inside her fist. "Don't you mean what's got into Mandy? Oh wait, I know, your teeny, tiny, pathetic little dick, you cheating bastard!" She held up her fist to Roger, and he stepped backward, taking Mandy with him. "You're not worth it, you piece of shit." Then, feeling thoroughly humiliated, with her face burning and her heart pounding, Becky turned and bolted from the bathroom, slamming straight into a man carrying a loaded tray of glasses, sending him, and the glasses crashing to the floor. "I'm sorry, so very sorry," she blurted apologetically. "I. They. Sorry!" She ran through the pub, throngs of people parting like the Red Sea to let her pass. She didn't stop running until she was leaning against the side of her Mazda. Bending down and clasping her knees, she drew in long, laboured breaths as tears streamed down her face. Each breath became shorter, more difficult. Mentally, she began listing her symptoms. Racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, muscle tension. She ticked off all the boxes as she went. Christ! She was having a fucking panic attack. Relax, relax, relax, relax. This can't be happening. The last time she'd had a panic attack was when her father had called her and said," You'd better come to the hospital, Becky. It's time..." She squeezed her eyes shut. How long had they been carrying on behind her back? How long had they been lying, stealing secret looks, remembering stolen, sordid moments? A day, a week, months... years? How could she have been so dense, so blind and ignorant to what was going on right under her very nose? She'd been so trusting that even if there had been signs, she would have ignored them, shrugged off any doubts she may have had as a bout of silly paranoia. She thought about the night she'd cooked the lamb roast for Roger, and how humiliated she'd felt at his blatant disinterest. She had dimmed the lights and set the table with white linen napkins and scented candles. He'd come home late from the pub, and she had tip-toed up behind him as he leaned down and peered into the oven to see what she'd been cooking for dinner. "Smells great," he'd called out, not knowing she was standing right behind him. He had stood up and closed the oven door. "Thank you," she had replied, slipping her hands over his eyes. He'd reached up and peeled her hands away, then turned to face her. The look on his face had made her blush and shrink away from him. "Why in God's name are you dressed up like that?" he'd asked, shaking his head as he flicked on the kitchen light. He walked over to the refrigerator, peered inside, and grabbed a beer. Twisting the cap off, he leaned up against the kitchen bench and took a swig of his beer. "So, when's dinner going to be ready? I'm starving." The humiliating memory of it churned in her stomach. She fell onto her knees on the pavement, throwing up unceremoniously in the gutter beside her car. Dragging her hand across her mouth, she began thinking about the week they'd spent at the beach only a few weekends earlier, and how lovely it had been. How lovely she had thought Roger for suggesting it. He'd even said it would be okay if Mandy and her brother, Clive, who'd just returned from working overseas in Japan for five years, wanted to come along. Okay, the weekend hadn’t been perfect, not the way it had once been between them, but it had still been fun, hadn't it? "More the merrier, right?" he'd said, showing her the posh, upmarket accommodation he'd booked online. They would go to the annual Guy Fawkes Night at Porthminster beach, he'd said, the last time he'd been to St Ives had been when he was a teenager, and how great it had been with the whole family being there together. It had been the last family vacation Roger had shared with his family before his parents' bitter divorce had split the family right down the middle only months later. Dad had got custody of Roger and his elder brother, and Mum had custody of his two sisters, who had all gone to live with his mother's new boyfriend in Scotland. It was a shit deal, Roger had said, whenever the conversation about his parents' divorce had come up. "It will be fun," Mandy had gushed over the phone when she'd called Becky to talk about it. Mandy had bubbled over with excitement about the prospect of all four of them driving down to St Ives, and how much fun it would be catching up with her brother after all this time apart. "He's so grown up now, Becky. And soooo handsome. You'll just love him. Oh, wait... you already do love him," she'd giggled. "Shut up," Becky had snapped, putting her hand over the phone and hoping Roger hadn't heard. "That was a million years ago, and I was just a kid." "Well you're not a kid any more, are you?" Mandy said, tapping her fingernails against the phone. Becky glared, plonking herself down on the corner of her bed. "Roger and I are practically married." The tapping sound of Mandy's nail on the side of the phone fell silent. "Mandy? Are you still there?" "Yes. Look, I have to go. Talk to you tomorrow, okay?" Mandy said, quickly hanging up the phone. Becky stared at the phone in her hand. What was going on with her friend? One moment she was all happy-go-lucky, and the next she was distant and moody. The memory had Becky's head swimming dizzily. She dragged herself up out of the gutter, unlocked the car door, and fell in behind the steering wheel. She dumped her handbag onto the passenger seat and stared through the windscreen. One at a time, the pieces to the jigsaw puzzle were slowly falling into place. After a few unfocused moments, she twisted the rear-view mirror and stared at her reflection, wondering how long she'd looked so miserable. So unlovable. And when exactly was it that her best friend had changed from being a lovely, loyal friend, who had punched bathroom bullies in the face for her, into this boyfriend-stealing bitch? Had she been so withdrawn from everyone and everything since her mother's death that she had just never noticed what was going on right in front of her this entire time? She knocked her head on the steering wheel, thinking back over the weekend away. They'd all piled into her car before sunup the next morning, ensuring that they would have plenty of time to visit Bristol for some sightseeing and lunch. BECKY JENSEN'S FACEBOOK STATUS: All packed up and ready to go – First stop: Bristol, for sightseeing and lunch. Roger drove with Clive riding shotgun. Mandy and Becky had sat in the back, examining Mandy's French manicured nails, which she'd had done especially for the mini break. At noon, Clive pulled off the motorway, following Roger's directions, which inevitably sent them around in circles. Nearly an hour later, they eventually found the right exit, and drove the rest of the way to Bristol with the music turned up loud, expressly to drown out Roger's incessant declarations of, "I'm fucking starving to death. How much longer? Why didn't you pack more snacks, Becky? Jesus." When they eventually found somewhere to park, they forwent the sightseeing to seek out a place to eat instead. It was the only legal option they could come up with to shut Roger up. Tucked away at the end of a small but bustling cul-de-sac in Clifton Village, they stumbled across the Primrose Café. The café was busy, customers sitting around the little square tables scattered outside the café, enjoying the sunny day. Waitresses in crisp blue aprons wove in and out between the tables. "This looks lovely," Becky said, taking in the surroundings, her mouth watering as a concoction of delicious aromas wafted around her. "But it looks really expensive." Clive waved away her concerns. "Forget about that. Order whatever you want, okay? My shout," he said, pulling out one of the blue plastic chairs and sitting down. Pretty terracotta flower boxes overflowing with primroses framed the windows of the café, perfuming the cool breeze with a hint of rose, fused with brewing coffee and scented teas. On the street, an old man was selling locally grown produce piled up artfully on a trolley. The man chatted and smiled at customers as he went about his business arranging boxes of cabbages, radishes, apples and baby carrots. "I'm bloody starving," Roger had said enthusiastically, flicking through the menu. He’d ordered a deluxe fishfinger sandwich with salmon goujons, mayonnaise, chilli jam, tomato and spinach on farmhouse white bread. Mandy ordered the same. Clive had said he needed something far more manly, and had ordered a beefburger stacked with bacon, globs of melted cheese, fresh tomato and lashings of tomato and chilli relish. Becky had studied the menu a moment longer, and had eventually opted for a grilled tortilla wrap filled with butternut squash, gorgonzola, spinach, and caramelised onion with a mixed salad, and a side of sweet potato wedges, to which Roger had casually helped himself until they were all gone. Becky had wanted to slap his hand away when he reached for the last one and popped it into his mouth. She always found his annoying habit of just helping himself without asking so rude and disrespectful. Refraining from slapping his hand, she had just glared at him instead, which of course, he completely ignored. After Roger had finished his meal, he quickly wiped his mouth, threw the napkin on top of his plate, and stood up, excusing himself from the table. He'd seen an ATM just around the corner from the café, and he wanted to take out some cash. A few seconds later, Mandy stood up, too, saying she'd go with him. She'd seen a newsagent, and wanted to buy a couple of magazines for the rest of the trip. Within moments, and without another word, they'd quickly disappeared down the street, leaving Becky and Clive alone. Clive swallowed a bite of his food. "I'm fine here by myself," he said, "if you need to go get something, too?" Becky shook her head, still chewing a mouthful of food. After a moment, she said, "I don't need anything." She pointed at his chin with her fork. "You have a little..." "Oh," Clive said, putting down his knife to pick up his napkin. He dragged it across his chin. "Thank you." He smiled at her. Clive could not understand why she was still with Roger after all this time. He honestly believed she deserved someone so much better; someone like him, for example. Perhaps this trip would give them both an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. Becky shrugged. "No problem." She studied his face with innocent interest as he smiled at her. His long lashes framed captivating blue eyes that sparkled with mischievous abandon. He really had grown into a very handsome man, with a killer smile and a gloriously sexy body. His once-gangly arms and legs were now muscular and toned. His fair hair was shorter, and most certainly cleaner. His chest was broader... Suddenly she blushed profusely, as though she'd just been caught perving at him in the shower. She quickly put down her knife and fork and grabbed her bag. Setting it on her lap, she began rummaging through its contents, looking for an imaginary, lost anything. You're with Roger, she reminded herself. But Mandy had been correct. She positively still had a huge crush on Clive. So much so that perhaps she was just a little bit more in love with him than she cared to admit. Lust, she thought, correcting herself. How could she possibly be in love with someone she'd only known as a gawky teenager? Seventeen years ago, she'd been just twelve. He'd been sixteen, and hadn't taken a scrap of notice of her. What had he called them back then? Laurel and Hardy. She had been Laurel – tall, thin, shy and awkward. And Mandy had been Hardy – plump, outspoken and funny. Becky was still thin, but had eventually filled out in all the right places, and had lost the awkwardness that had come with being a skinny, flat-chested adolescent. Mandy had turned into a curvaceous woman early in her teens, and had got her period just shy of two years ahead of Becky, making Becky feel boyish and stupid alongside her amply-busted best friend. She remembered how stupid she'd felt changing in front of all the other girls after PE, when she'd been the only girl in the room still not wearing a bra. She'd heard the remark "you must have been hiding behind the door when boobs were being handed out" more times than she wished to remember. Mandy had been so kind to her, so nurturing, like a protective sibling, telling Becky not to worry about those stupid trolls, that she would probably grow up to be a famous model like Twiggy. "Just you wait and see," Mandy had said. "They will all be so jealous of you when they are married, fat and pregnant. How envious they'll be when they see you posing on the front of Vogue while they are stuck at home changing dirty nappies." Becky had cringed, and wondered if she would ever want to have children. Perhaps with the right man she might. She'd thought about Clive, and how handsome he would look on their wedding day. They would have a romantic honeymoon in Paris, and stay in the most expensive hotel. So yes, she'd concluded. With the right man, she would. Maybe after a glamorous modelling career, she would make beautiful babies with Clive. Could life really turn out the way you wanted it to? Perhaps ignorance really was bliss. "You okay?" Clive asked, looking quizzically at Becky, whose eyes had glazed over and appeared to be staring straight through him. Becky shook her head. "What?" she asked over the clatter of empty dishes being collected from the tables around them, her cheeks turning red. "Dessert?" a waitress asked, and Becky shook her head again. Clive shook his head and turned back to Becky. "You looked like you were a million miles away just now." She zipped up her bag. "Yes. Sorry. Just thinking about things." She shook her head. "It's nothing, really." Clive fiddled with his napkin, studying it as though he couldn't quite make out where he'd seen it before. "Becky?" Her eyes shifted from his strong hands to his lips, then up to those adorable, sparkling eyes. "Yes," she replied hesitantly, swallowing, then holding her breath. "Well. Um. I was wondering-" "We all ready to go?" Roger asked, rubbing his hands together, a broad smile on his face, reminding Becky of the cat that caught the canary. Mandy was standing directly behind him, smiling and combing her fingers through her long fair hair. She looked as though she'd applied a fresh slick of lipstick without using the aid of a mirror. "No magazine?" Becky asked. Mandy shrugged, adjusting the strap of her shoulder bag. "Yeah. No. Didn't have anything I wanted. Anyway, I still haven't finished the ones I've got. We going? I can't wait to check into the hotel. It looked so bloody awesome online." "Sure," Clive said, quickly looking away from Becky. He tossed the napkin on the table and stood up. "Let's go." The rest of the journey to St Ives had been subdued, except for Roger and Clive singing along to Queen's greatest hits on the stereo. They had played "We Will Rock You" five times in a row, each time exchanging the words ‘rock you’ to ‘fuck you’ just as they had all done a million times as they had sung along to the song in their teens. Mandy had lifted her head out of the magazine she'd been reading, glanced over at Becky, and shaken her head before going back to her reading. Becky felt a little envious of Mandy's ability to read in a moving vehicle. Every time Becky tried to read, she turned green and wanted to throw up. She pushed a pillow up against the window instead, and rested her head against the cool fabric and tried to sleep, but Queen were having none of that. She remembered how grateful she had been when she’d cracked open her eyes to look out of the car window and seen the blue sign that read, Welcome to ST IVES. TWINNED WITH CAMARET SUR MER. Guy Fawkes Night, at Porthminster beach that evening, had been a lot of fun, even romantic, as she held hands with Roger and rested her head on his shoulder. Afterwards, they'd all walked back with a group of people to the Sloop Inn, and drunk Cripple Dick ale and shooters until closing time. They had staggered along the cobbled path towards their hotel, singing, giggling and laughing until their voices became hoarse. "We will, we will, FUCK YOU!" A short time later, Mandy stopped singing, stopped walking, and stood, rocking and swaying on the spot like a fishing boat moored in the harbour. "Way too much fresh air," she mumbled, her hand shooting to her mouth. Clive laughed. "Yeah, right. That's what it is. Too much fresh air. Nothing to do with the copious amounts of ale and shooters you consumed," he said, shaking his head. "My little sister has morphed into a raging pisshead." Mandy grinned sarcastically. She held up her other hand, ran over to a white stone wall, leaned up against it with her arms stretched out in front of her then, with her legs parted, threw up on the pavement. "Always carrots," she groaned. "How is that even possible?" She examined the pool of vomit at her feet. "I haven't eaten carrots for weeks." Becky ran to her side, and held back her hair. "Here," she said, retrieving a handkerchief from her bag and handing it to her friend. Mandy wiped her mouth, then studied the handkerchief in her hand. "One of your mum's," she slurred, leaning her back up against the cold wall. "I really miss your mum," she whispered. "Yeah. Me too," Becky whispered back, putting her arm around Mandy's shoulders. "I'm really sorry," Mandy said, unable to meet Becky's eyes. "It's not your fault," Becky said, hugging her. "Come on, you two. Have your deep and meaningful girl talk back at the hotel," Roger grumbled, cupping his hands over his mouth and breathing into them. "I'm freezing my nuts off, here." Mandy nodded. "I'm okay now, she said, unwrapping herself from Becky's arms. She handed the handkerchief back to Becky. "That's okay. I have plenty. You keep it," she said, pushing Mandy's hand away. Becky began to walk away, then stumbled, twisting her ankle on the cobble stones. She fell against Clive, who'd wrapped his arms around her protectively. "It's all this frigging fresh air, I'm telling you," Mandy giggled. Clive let go of Becky's arm and then leaned down. "Come on, up you get," he'd said, slapping his back. "You can't walk on that ankle. I'll piggy-back you." "We should just catch a cab," Becky said, holding onto Clive's arm, wincing at the sharp pain that tore up her leg. "Quicker just to walk. Come on," he said again, manoeuvring her onto his back. Laughing, Becky eventually succumbed, and hopped up onto Clive's back, wrapping her legs around his waist. Roger, not wanting to be outdone, puffed up his chest then leaned down, offering his own back to Mandy. "Get on, you. But I swear to God, if you throw up on any part of me, just the tiniest bit, you're walking." Mandy clapped her hands together. "Yay! Piggy-back races," she said enthusiastically, obviously feeling much better. "I say we all come back here for New Year’s," Clive said, starting to jog, bouncing Becky up and down on his back and making her laugh even louder. "I second that," Mandy called out, her feet knocking against Roger's thighs. "Come on. Giddy up, horsey." Back in their hotel room, Becky said, "This is the most amazing place." She fell back onto the crisp, white Egyptian cotton sheets on the bed, her arms stretched out above her head. "Listen to those waves crashing on the beach. Don't they sound amazing? So romantic..." Roger fell onto the bed with just his t-shirt on, pulled the sheets across his body and grunted. "Whatever. You're drunk. Go to sleep." Becky reached under the covers and slipped her arms around him. "Don't be such a grouch," she murmured in his ear. Her hands slipped between his legs, searching, stroking until he grew hard. He moaned, rolled over, then, wordlessly, he gripped her thighs and pulled her on top of him. As drunk as Roger was, as drunk as they both were, they still made love to the thundering waves hammering on the beach outside before falling into a dreamless sleep. The next morning, Becky woke up to an empty bed and a note on the pillow beside her. She picked it up and read it. Gone for a jog. Need to clear my head. Back soon. Still naked, Becky stretched, then slid out of the bed. Testing her ankle and feeling only a little twinge of pain, she wrapped herself in one of the fluffy white robes and walked to the window. An odd, ominous feeling lingered in the back of her mind, a feeling that she couldn't quite put her finger on. She pulled back the heavy blue and cream curtains and peered outside, the ominous feeling instantly forgotten. The ocean stretched out for miles, meeting a clear blue horizon where a brilliant sun hung in the sky like a golden orb. The largest seagulls she had ever seen squawked noisily, flapping their wings, dipping and rising, as numerous fishing boats bobbed up and down, like toy boats in a giant bathtub. It was picture perfect, a glorious day, and she felt better than she had in a very long time. She strolled into the bathroom, everything so white and sparkling. Twin hand basins, twin mirrors, a deep bathtub. She turned on the taps, filling the tub with steaming hot water. She tipped in some lavender scented bath oil and let the bathrobe fall onto the tiled floor. She tested the water with her toe then stepped in, sinking into the depths of the water as she exhaled, a flurry of bubbles washing away the residual smells of liquor, cigarettes, and sex from the night before. The sex hadn't been gentle, or romantic, but it had been sex, something they had not done in a very long while, it seemed. Perhaps they had needed this weekend away more than she'd realized to get their relationship back on track. Perhaps she should have suggested that they had come alone, just the two of them, when Roger had first mentioned the trip away to her, instead of agreeing to let Mandy and Clive come along with them. She stayed in the bath until the water began to cool around her, crinkling her skin. She dried herself and quickly got dressed in a pink halter-neck bikini, corduroy jeans and a white mohair jumper. She picked up her phone and dialled Mandy's mobile. Holding the phone against her ear, she peered back out of the window, admiring the perpetual waves rolling over the ocean, reminding her of white horses on an endless journey to shore. "Hi," Mandy replied, sounding a little hesitant. "Hi back. I didn't wake you, did I? I know how you love to sleep in. Are you feeling okay?" "I'm fine, and no, you didn't wake me." "Good. Roger went for a jog, so I thought we could stroll down to the terrace for a coffee before breakfast, then hit the indoor pool. It looks fabulous. Maybe the spa after lunch, and a massage? What do you think? I know I won't be able to talk Roger into it." Silence. "You still there?" Becky asked, checking her phone. "Um, yes. That sounds great. I'll join you in about..." she paused. "Twenty minutes, okay? I just got back from a walk along the beach." "Really? I thought I'd have to bang on your door and drag you out of bed by the ankles to wake you up this morning." "Why don't you give Clive a call? I'm sure he'd love to join you for coffee, and he loves to swim. He likes you, you know." "Oh, why did you have to go and say that? Now I'm just going to feel all girly and awkward around him." "You like him, too, don't you?" "You know I do, he's a nice guy. Everyone likes Clive. But I think you've forgotten one thing?" "What? Roger?" "Yes, Roger. Of course Roger. Who else would I be talking about?" "Things change," Mandy replied. "I know Roger and you have been going through a rough patch, and I just thought... well, you know I only want you to be happy..." Becky turned her back to the window and lowered her head. "I know you do. You're such a good friend. I don't know what I would do without you, but I think things are going to get better with Roger and me. I think this weekend was exactly what we needed. We had sex last night. We haven’t had sex for ages," she said in a small, embarrassed voice. More silence. "Mandy?" "Yes. I'm still here. What do you mean, things are going to get better? What did Roger say?" Mandy asked. "Just because you had drunk sex, well, I don't think that really means anything, do you?" "I'll tell you everything later. Just hurry up and get ready, okay?" Becky pulled her head up off the steering wheel, slammed the palm of her hand down on the car horn, and screamed. Had the whole weekend been a plan concocted by Mandy and Roger to get her and Clive together? Had Clive been part of the plan, too? Was it just a coincidence that Mandy and Roger had both woken up early the next morning? Had they planned to meet up at the beach all along? Had they walked along the beach hand-in-hand as they watched the sun come up, secretly planning their next move, or had they torn off each other's clothes in Mandy's room and fucked their brains out while she slept blissfully unaware and alone in her bed? She thought about what her mother would have said. "Let him go, love. There are plenty of other fish in the sea." "Good riddance, you're better off without the cheating scumbag," her Uncle Steve would say, giving her a hug and letting her cry against his chest. Her father would let out a sigh and shake his head. "There are plenty of other fish in the sea, Becky. That's what your Mum would say." And he would be correct because, even though he had married wretched Felicity, her father still loved her mother, and knew exactly what Victoria would have said about any situation - the good and the bad. Flicking her long red hair over her shoulder, as though about to part with some sage advice, Felicity would say... Becky pulled her hand off the horn and slumped back against the car seat. She didn’t give a flying fuck what Felicity would say. She pulled a handkerchief from her bag and blew her nose. A man poked his head around the open car door. "You okay in there, wee lassie?" "Fine. Thank you," Becky said, forcing a smile and pulling the car door closed, suddenly realising how cold she was. She jerked the seatbelt over her shoulder, once, twice, then buckled it up. She turned the keys in the ignition and turned up the heat, filling the interior of the car with hot air. When she pulled the car out into the street to drive home to her apartment, Cliff Richard was singing "Mistletoe And Wine". Once home, Becky threw her bag on the kitchen table and went directly to the freezer, retrieved a bag of frozen prawns she'd bought from a fresh seafood market because Roger loved prawns, wrapped them up in a tea towel and put them into a plastic carry-bag, then left. "We'll see how much you like them in a few days," she said, running down the stairs to her car. BECKY JENSEN'S FACEBOOK STATUS: I hate Cancer! I hate my cheating boyfriend! I hate my best friend! I hate Christmas! Ten minutes later, she pulled up outside Mandy's apartment. She unlocked the front door with her own key, and made her way quickly up the stairs to Mandy's bedroom, the bag of prawns in her hand. She strategically concealed prawns around the room. She put them under the bed, behind the closet, and in the back of drawers, where she discovered a photo of a naked Roger laying in Mandy's bed with a wide grin on his face. She tossed in another handful of prawns and covered them with clothing before slamming the drawer shut. In another drawer, she found Mandy's journal. She picked it up, toying with the idea of reading it, then shoved it back in the drawer. She wasn't that kind of person. Downstairs, she darted around from room to room, hiding prawns under the sofa, behind picture frames, under a lampshade, and in the back of the oven. She gave a satisfied nod at a job well done. She was especially pleased with knowing that the next time Mandy opened the oven, the stink would sit the bitch down on her arse. Four Years Ago. Becky lounged on the couch with Mandy watching television and reading magazines. It was a Saturday night, and they were at Mandy's flat, dressed in their pyjamas. Half a bottle of white wine, two wine glasses, and a half-eaten block of chocolate sat on the coffee table next to a pile of magazines and a pizza box. Roger was at the pub with his mates, celebrating the win of their footy team, so, according to Mandy, a girls' night in was definitely the go. Mandy sat up and broke into a gaggle of giggles. "Look at this," she said, handing the magazine to Becky. The article in the magazine was about a woman who had hidden prawns in her cheating boyfriend's apartment. They read the rest of the article together, then looked at each other, and burst out laughing. Mandy brushed tears from her cheeks. "My face hurts from laughing," Becky said, holding her face in her hands. Mandy hugged her torso and tried to stop laughing. "What a classic revenge story. I would so do that," she breathed between chuckles, her eyes shining with tears. Becky expression grew serious. "Not a chance," she said, shaking her head. "No one would ever cheat on you, Mandy. Look at you. You're perfect. But I may need your help one day..." Mandy started giggling again, which set off Becky. "Don't be ridiculous, Beck. You and Roger are solid as, like Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Such a gorgeous couple." Becky looked at Mandy. "But Ryan and Rachel broke up." "Oh, I didn't know that. Bad comparison." Mandy smiled, and they burst into laughter again. A few moments later, Becky said, "You really think that Roger is into me?" "Are you kidding me? He is absolutely so into you. You don't have a thing to worry about, Beck. Roger talks about you all the time at work. Beck this, Becky that. The way he goes on and on about you makes me want to projectile vomit... I would do anything to have a boyfriend like Roger. I'm so jealous of you." She refilled Becky's glass and handed it to her, then snapped a piece of chocolate off the block and popped it into her mouth. "I gotta go pee." She started off down the narrow hall. "You're so lucky to have Roger. I only wish that I could find someone like him," she called out from the lavatory. Becky looked back at the sofa where she had shared so many great times with Mandy, then leaned down and picked up a pretty, hand-painted pottery vase from the centre of the small coffee table. Wiping tears off her cheeks with the back of her other hand, she considered smashing it into a thousand pieces. She put it back down. She recalled the day she had bought it for Mandy at St Ives from an arts and craft market, just because Mandy had fallen in love with it the moment she'd seen it, but it was just too expensive for her to buy... She took the last prawn out of the bag, dropped it down the narrow neck of the vase and turned away. In the kitchen, she shoved the empty plastic bag into the bottom of the rubbish bin, beneath a stack of empty plastic containers from the Indian takeaway down the street, then stopped and stared wide-eyed at a small blue box almost concealed by a drizzle of curry sauce. She picked the blue box up carefully, avoiding the greasy curry sliding down the side of the packet. Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Test. "What? Oh. My. God. You've got to be freaking kidding me." She dumped the box back in the trash, washed her hands in the sink, and then ran back up the stairs and into Mandy's bedroom. She was that kind of person, after all. Pulling open the top drawer of the dresser, she pushed clothes aside, then slammed it shut. "Second drawer, idiot," she said, starting to feel sick again. She pulled open the second drawer, found the book, and flicked through the pages until she came to the last insertion. Roger still hasn't told Becky, and I feel terrible about that. He says he is waiting for a good time. But is there ever a good time when it comes to telling your girlfriend that you are in love with her best friend? I took another pregnancy test today, just to make sure. POSITIVE. I AM GOING TO HAVE A BABY. I CAN'T BELIEVE IT! I'M GOING TO BE A MUMMY!!! My first thought was to call Becky. I've always called Becky when something fantastic happens... or something terrible. But this isn't terrible, this is wonderful. I want to tell everyone, but I can't. Not even Roger. Not until he tells Becky that it's over, and that he is in love with me. New Year’s. I will tell him on New Year’s, not before. It will be a wonderful start to the New Year. I will tell him when we go to St Ives for New Year’s. It would be kind of an anniversary for us. Back to the place where our beautiful little baby was conceived! Oh my god. I wonder if it will be a girl or a boy. I was always going to call my baby Becky, if I had a little girl, but I guess I can't do that now. I hope it is a little boy, and looks just like his daddy. How adorable. I'm so excited I can't sleep. I wish I could call Becky... The words began to blur together on the page. She had read enough. She closed the book, placing it back in the second drawer and closing it. Now it all made sense. Why Mandy hadn't been drinking like a fish at the office Christmas party last week, like she usually did. Free alcohol was free alcohol, after all. Why she had opted to be the designated driver – for the first time ever. The pain in Becky's heart was excruciating. It was as though she'd just learned that her two best friends had died in a head-on collision, leaving her to mourn them and pick up the pieces on her own. Head bowed, she walked back down the stairs like a woman on death row, walked out the front door, locked it and turned around, smashing straight into a body, her nose flattening up against a man's broad chest. Her heart lurched and she squeezed her eyes closed. Please don't let it be Roger, I couldn't bear it. Or what would be even worse, both of them, Roger and Mandy together. "Hey there, are you okay?" Clive asked, holding her at arm's length and trying to study her face. He lifted her chin with his finger and was horrified when he saw her eyes, red and puffy from crying. Becky's eyes blinked open and she stared open-mouthed into Clive's face, tears streaming down her cheeks. She saw pity twisting his brow, darkening his eyes. His shoulders slumped, and she could literally see his chest deflating like a popped balloon. "They told you, didn't they?" She shook her head, stepping back, her hands planted firmly on his broad chest, and she pushed him away. "You knew?" she asked in a low, mortified tone. "Yes. No. Well I just-" "You know what, Clive, I don't care. Not any more. I just... DO NOT GIVE A FLYING FUCK," she shouted, shaking her head and stamping her feet. She wanted to stop saying fuck so much - her mother would be horrified at all of her horrid cursing. "Nice girls don't talk like that," her mother would tell her in no uncertain terms. Clive reached for her arm, but she shrugged away, as though his touch would contaminate her with a flesh-eating fungus. "You can all just go get lost," she said, taking Mandy's key off her keyring with shaking hands and tossing it in a nearby shrub, top-heavy with the weight of new snow. Clive offered her an outstretched hand, which she ignored. "Becky... I... listen-" Holding up her own hand, she shot him a steely glare, silencing him. Clive's arm dropped limply to his side. His sigh told her he’d realized that this was a battle he was not going to win. She held his gaze. "I don't care, Clive," she said between clenched teeth. "Nothing you say will make any difference. It. Won't. Change. Anything." She turned her back and walked away. Suddenly she stopped, and turned back around to face him. "Merry fucking Christmas, Clive." Sorry Mum. I'll stop swearing tomorrow. I promise. "You deserve someone a lot better than Roger, Becky," he said in a last ditch effort to stop her from walking away. Becky spun around. "Like you, Clive? Do I deserve someone better, like you?" "Why not? You can't deny there is something between us. I feel it, and I'm pretty sure you feel it, too." "Well, you are right about one thing. There is something between us. Your sister. She was my best friend, Clive, and she's been screwing my boyfriend. I can just imagine how that is going to work out. I can just see it now, sitting around the table at Christmas time celebrating Christmas lunch. Tell me, would we have Christmases at their house or our house? Even if there was something between us, Clive, don't you see it could never work? Not now, anyway. Mandy saw to that." "I don't have all the answers, Beck. But don't we owe it to ourselves to give it a chance? See where things lead before we start planning Christmas lunches? I just think you need time to see things from a different perspective." "A different perspective? Really? Because the way I see it is, I never want to see either of their faces again. Ever. She's your sister. You have to see her, I don't." She turned back around and headed for her car, leaving Clive standing on the doorstep staring after her. On the drive home, she wanted nothing more than to call in on her best friend, and tell her what she had just done. Over copious amounts of wine, they would laugh about the stink of the rotting prawns until their faces hurt and they were completely out of breath, tears running down their cheeks, wine squirting out of their noses. That's all it would take, a good cry and a good laugh, and she would be back on her feet, her best friend by her side. Together, there was nothing that they could not get through. But of course, she couldn't do that. Not now. Not ever again. Mandy was no longer her best friend, and she suspected that Mandy hadn't been her friend for quite some time now. She thought about whose betrayal had hurt her most, then realized they had both hurt her equally, in the worst possible way. Betrayal was betrayal, no matter how you looked at it. "Damn you both to fucking hell," she shouted through a fresh wave of hiccups and sobs. She opened her apartment door slowly, listening for any sounds to indicate that Roger had come home, but heard nothing. She quickly packed a small overnight bag, scribbled a note on a piece of paper, telling Roger that she was staying at her parents' house for a few days, and that he should pack up his belongings over the weekend, and get the fuck out. She said she didn't want to speak with either of them, so don't bother calling. PS. Leave the keys to the apartment on the table, you lying, cheating, fuckwit of a bastard piece of bat shit. I hope your tiny little dick drops off and Mandy chokes on it. PPS. Congratulations, you're going to be a daddy. Now Mandy would have no choice but to tell him... "Wouldn't it be funny if he thought I was pregnant," she mused. "That will really give the wanker something to think about. Bastard!" Picking up her overnight bag, she plucked a red scarf from the coat stand in the hall and wrapped it around her neck, then stormed out of the apartment and ran back down the stairs as fast as her legs would carry her. Chapter 3 - Yesterday's Girlfriend. BECKY JENSEN'S FACEBOOK STATUS: How could they be such arseholes??? Becky drove the long way back to her parents' house, past the little tree-line park she had played in as a child. The sprinkle of white snow settling on the branches of the Christmas tree in the centre of the park created a magical Christmas-card setting. She quickly yanked on the steering wheel, turning her car around to pull over onto the side of the road. Tugging her coat tightly around herself, she stepped out of the car and pulled the woollen hood of her coat up over her head. She walked towards the lonely tree, her boots sinking into the white ground until she stood at its base. Looking around, she discovered she was alone in the park. Of course, she was alone, she thought, rubbing her gloved hands together to dispel the frosty chill in her fingers. Normal people would be warm in their homes, sitting around decorated dining-room tables with family and friends, eating a lovely homemade Christmas Eve dinner, or screwing someone else's boyfriend in a lavatory at the pub. Roger hadn't been the perfect boyfriend, but he had been her boyfriend, and they had shared some wonderful Christmases together over the years. Now Roger was Mandy's boyfriend, and most likely, Mandy's future husband and they would be spending their Christmases together without her from now on. She was the third wheel now, not Mandy, who had often bestowed the title upon herself on numerous outings that the three of them had shared. Being the ex-girlfriend was far worse than being the third wheel, Becky decided, blowing a warm breath into her cupped hands. More thoughts came, torturing her further still. Mandy would be the mother of Roger's children, and she would be nothing. Not the best friend they would lovingly refer to as Aunt Becky - Aunt Becky who would babysit their children when mummy and daddy were out on a date night, rekindling the romance in their sleep-deprived relationship. No, she would be none of those things. She was yesterday's girlfriend - the kind of girlfriend who wasn't quite worthy of being a wife or a mummy. Yesterday's best friend – the kind of friend who had been good enough to share a few laughs with, but now that you were in a serious relationship and about to have a baby, well... "What was her name again? Becky, wasn't it? Didn't her mother die of cancer on Christmas day a few years back? Whatever happened to her?" Or worse, they would cross the street when they saw her coming in the opposite direction, or push their stroller into the nearest store, anything to avoid an awkward confrontation. The frigid air sent a flurry of wind whipping around her legs, and she shuddered as a gut-wrenching sob escaped from somewhere deep down inside her. Giving in to her misery, Becky dropped to her knees and stared blankly ahead. She wanted her life back. She wanted to turn the clock back two years, before everything in her life turned to shit. She buried her face in her gloved hands. Loud, uncontrollable sobs tore through her body until there was nothing left to give. After a long moment, she stood up, gazing up at the angel at the top of the tree. Her breath was visible, floating in the air as she exhaled. "I don't want to be this sad, pathetic person anymore. I need to get out of here, to be anywhere but here." The angel rocked back and forth in the flurry of fresh snow. Becky closed her eyes tight. "Please," she whispered. "Help me." "And where would you go, if you could have this wish of yours?" a man's voice asked from beside her. Becky's eyes sprang open, and she stepped backward, nearly losing her balance in the snow. A man in a long coat and bowler hat was standing beside her. His gloved hands were clasped behind his back, and he was staring up at the angel swaying on the top of the tree. "Sorry," he said, his eyes remaining fixed on the angel. "I didn't mean to frighten you." "You didn't," Becky lied, clearing her throat. He was tall, thin, and dressed in a matching grey coat and hat. He reminded her of Doctor Who, one of her childhood heroes. She smiled, imagining how fabulous it would be if he could whisk her away to some faraway place in his TARDIS. She turned back to look up at the angel. "Lovely, isn't she?" The man nodded. "She sure is." He turned and looked down at Becky, a serious look on his face. "Nice scarf," he said. "It was my mother's," she replied, her hand reaching up to stroke the soft woollen scarf looped around her neck. "You didn't answer my question," he said after a moment. He took a pack of Chesterfields out of his coat pocket, tapped it on his hand, and offered her one. She waved her hand at the open pack of cigarettes. "No, thanks. I don't smoke. What question?" "Good for you, disgusting habit. Do you mind if I smoke?" She shook her head. "Your lungs." He placed a cigarette in his mouth, flicked open a lighter, and inhaled. "Yes, very true. My lungs." He studied her profile for a moment as she turned to gaze back up at the angel. "You said you wanted to get away from here. Where would you go?" He tilted his head back, and one by one, he exhaled five perfectly round smoke rings. "Scotland, maybe," she replied. "Oh, be brave. You look like you could use a little adventure. Think of somewhere a little farther afield." "You know, maybe I will have a cigarette." He took a cigarette from his pack, lighted it, and then handed it to her. "Your lungs," he warned. "Two packs of these things a day will kill you. And I should know." Becky frowned, then took the cigarette. She tilted her head up to look at him, then smiled. She liked this game. "Paris." It was almost a dare. She took a long draw on the cigarette, then exhaled in a splutter of coughing. "I don't think I should smoke," she said in between wheezing gasps while pulverising the discarded cigarette in the snow with her boot. "I agree," the smoking man said, giving her a wink. "Anyway, back to our game. It's your wish, so make it worthwhile." "Italy," she said, laughing. "Come on... Italy's barely five minutes from here. Farther," he encouraged her, drawing back on his cigarette. "Australia," she said triumphantly. "That's more like it, dear girl. Australia it is," he said, dropping his cigarette on the ground and rubbing it out in the snow with the toe of his shiny black shoe. Noticing his shoelace was undone, he leaned down and began tying it up, whistling the tune, "White Christmas". Suddenly, a brisk wind whipped around Becky, blowing the scarf from around her neck and sending it twirling in the air as though it were as weightless as a feather. Within moments, the blood-red scarf spiralled earthward, until it rested at the base of the Christmas tree, like a fresh wound bleeding into the white snow. She ran to get it, blinking tiny snowflakes from her eyelashes. Picking it up, she quickly draped it back around her neck. "Well, it certainly would be nice," she said, twirling around to answer the stranger, feeling jubilant and completely caught up in the thrill of the moment. She frowned, scanning the park, but he had gone. She looked at the spot where he'd been standing alongside her only seconds ago, but the only footprints that remained in the snow were her own. The smoking man had vanished as quickly as he had appeared, leaving her completely alone in the park. "Bloody hell, I'm losing my bloody mind," she sighed, trudging through the thick snow back to her car, looping the scarf securely around her neck. Chapter 4 - Lemons. BECKY JENSEN'S FACEBOOK STATUS: I think I'm going mad! After a long soak in a piping hot bath, into which she had emptied half a bottle of Felicity's rose scented bath oil, Becky stomped down the stairs in an old pair of purple flannel pyjamas covered in gold stars, which she'd found in a box marked 'Becky – clothes for charity'. Her old bedroom, she decided, resembled a parallel universe where her teenage self, her best friend Mandy, and her mother still existed. Coming to a standstill in the dimly lit kitchen, she stared at the fridge door. On her feet was a pair of fluffy rabbit slippers with long pink ears, which had been a gift from Victoria when she'd turned thirteen. No, she'd been fourteen. At the time, she'd thought them a little childish, but she had pushed her feet into them enthusiastically, telling her mother that she loved them. Feeling guilty with the memory, she dropped her head and stared at the slippers. Wriggling her toes, she made the long rabbit ears flap up and down. "I really do love them, Mum," she whispered. She looked back up, her eyes returning to the refrigerator door. Great quote, she thought, reading the giant lemon magnet on her parents' fridge, which read, 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade'. She still thought of the fridge as her parents' fridge, not her father and Felicity's fridge. It would never be Felicity's fridge. Becky opened the fridge door and stared at the meagre contents, completely uninterested until she spotted half a bottle of lemonade and a heart-shaped box of Thornton's chocolates. "YES. Comfort food." She tucked the box of chocolates under one arm. The bottle of lemonade definitely had potential written all over it. She preferred the quote, 'If life gives you lemons, find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party'. Of course, she didn't have any friends to party with, only cheating ex-friends, so it wouldn't be much of a party. She let the fridge door swing shut and unscrewed the cap of the lemonade bottle. It made a pathetic little hissing sound. Flat. She didn’t care. It suited her mood perfectly. With a plan fixed in her mind, she grabbed an unopened bottle of vodka off the kitchen counter, uncapped it, and carefully poured a generous amount into the lemonade bottle until it was full. It was time to drown her sorrows, she decided. She could, and would, berate herself in the morning when she woke up with a massive hangover, feeling even sorrier for herself than she did right now. "Cheers," she said, holding up the bottle, then taking a good long swig. "Fuck you, fuck you, crap, shit, and fuck. YOU." She wondered if Roger and Mandy were fucking right now and if they were deliriously grateful that their dirty little secret was out in the open at last. Now they were free to move in together and raise their darling little baby together, the bastards, while she sat all alone watching reruns of Friends on Comedy Central. The word 'friends' put a bitter taste in her mouth, so she took another swig of the vodka to wash it down, and wondered why the word 'fuck' made her feel so liberated every time she said it. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." She walked into the living room, knocking over all the framed photographs of Felicity with the tip of her finger. "Whoops, whoops, whoops..." She paused, picking up a photograph of her mother taken the Christmas before she fell ill. "You were right about Roger, Mum. He is a pretentious tosser." "Arsehole," she added with venom, putting the picture back down carefully and taking another swig of vodka. She flopped down onto the sofa, put the bottle and her feet up on the new glass-topped coffee table, obviously an addition by Felicity, and pried open the box of chocolates. She popped one into her mouth, savouring the chocolate and strawberry flavours as they melted together in her mouth. Squirming, she reached down and pried the remote control out from under her bottom. "Oh, right." She pointed the remote at the television as though she were wielding a deadly weapon. The television blazed into life. Renée Zellweger was miming the words to, "All By Myself", from the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary. "You and me, sister," Becky said, turning the volume up, raising the lemonade bottle above her head, then lowering it and taking another swig. "You and me, Bridget, and your crusty knickers. Everyone else can just go get buggered." She popped another chocolate into her mouth. Her mobile rang on the coffee table. She leaned forward and picked it up, looking at the screen. Roger. Phff. She pushed 'accept'. "Fuck off, you cheating tosser, arsehole," she slurred with a mouthful of chocolate, then hung up, giggling. The phone rang again, and without looking at it, she let it go straight to messages. Moments later, the phone rang again. "Bugger me if I'm not popular tonight." She picked up the phone and read the screen. Mandy. She accepted the call and held the phone out in front of her. "Bugger OFF, you two-faced cow," she yelled into the phone, then switched it off and tossed it back on the coffee table. By the time Cyndi Lauper was singing "It's Raining Men", and Mark Darcy was taking another swing at Daniel Cleaver, Becky was running up the stairs two at a time in her bunny slippers. She pushed the bathroom door open, fell on her knees, and with her arms wrapped securely around the toilet bowl for dear life, she threw up. "No carrots," she said, peering into the toilet bowl, strangely pleased with herself. After five minutes of hiccoughing and throwing up, she raked strands of damp hair off her face and tucked it behind her ears. Standing, she flushed the toilet, then staggered to the hand basin. Leaning against the rim, she studied her reflection in the mirror: the dark rings under her eyes, her downturned lips. "God, you look bloody miserable. No wonder he left you." She leaned down, splashed cold water on her face, then cupped her hands and filled them with water. She took long slurps of the water, washing away the vile taste of vomit in her mouth. What was left of her waterproof mascara ran down her face, making her look like a racoon on crack. She moaned, patting her face dry with a fluffy pink towel. Putting the towel down, she slowly pulled open the double mirrored doors to the medicine cabinet and peered inside. The first thing she noticed was all the pretty perfume bottles and beauty products filling the shelves, where boxes upon boxes of her mother's medication had once been stacked. Xeloda oral, Tarceva oral, Cisplatin IV, Oxaliplatin IV. The list of unpronounceable medications had been a mile long, and at the end of the day, totally fucking ineffective. Delicately, she pushed aside pretty bottles with names such as Be Delicious, Charlie, Fifth Avenue, Anything, Poeme, Beautiful... Vampire..." Vampire? Really? She had never heard of that one, but the brand name suited Felicity perfectly! She gave herself a squirt, then sneezed five times in a row. Screwing up her nose, she quickly returned the bottle to the shelf. There were various tubs of night creams, day creams, cuticle creams, hand creams, cold cream, rejuvenating creams... How much cream did one woman need? Eye cream. Becky picked up the tiny jar, unscrewed the lid and applied some of the cream under her eyelids before returning the jar to the shelf. A perfume bottle tilted back and forth as she knocked it with the back of her hand. She made a mad grab for it, knocking a box off the shelf and into the hand basin. She picked up the box. Tampons! Frowning, she stared at the box in mute horror as a terrible thought struck her, punching her in the gut like a giant, iron fist. Her period was late... LATE. "Jesus-effing-holy-mother-of-God." The words spilled out of her mouth like a river of molten lava as the enormity of the situation burned into her pounding skull. Her chest tightened as she tried doing the maths in her head, but adding two and two together was proving to be a monumental task. She sat down on the edge of the bath, steadying herself on the basin, her bunny rabbit slippers tapping out an SOS on the tiled floor. The last time she'd had sex with Roger had been in St Ives. Drunk sex. The very same weekend that Mandy had fallen pregnant if Mandy's calculations in her diary had been correct. What if she was pregnant with Roger's baby, too? She'd thought about having a baby with Roger; they had even talked about it before her mother fell ill, but the thought of it now was akin to being hit by a frigging giant asteroid. Hell, right now she considered throwing herself under a giant asteroid... Good lord, this horrific nightmare was getting worse by the second and could very well be growing arms and legs, head, spine, fingers, toes. A whole frigging baby, a whole little person, for Christ's sake. She gagged, clutched her stomach fiercely, then puked into the shiny pink basin. The last thing she needed now was a baby. If she was pregnant, there was no way she wanted to keep it. She wanted to talk to her mother. Her mother would know what to do. But she couldn't. She wanted to talk to Mandy. Mandy would make her feel better and tell her everything had just been a terrible mistake, a terrible misunderstanding, and that she was so very, very sorry. If only that were true. She wanted to talk to Roger, tell him she was carrying his baby and that they would just have to put the whole sordid mess behind them and work everything out for the sake of the child. They had their problems, yes, but didn't everyone? They were just going through a slump in their relationship. They could work out this one little indiscretion, couldn't they? She had heard lots of stories about couples having this exact same problem, and they had worked it out. Yes, they could work this out, too. Like bloody hell they could. She squeezed her eyes shut. "Please, please, please don't be pregnant." The clock downstairs chimed midnight. "Merry fucking Christmas, Becky Jensen. You didn't see this one coming, did you?" But maybe she had known. Maybe she had seen what was coming all along. The betrayal, the lies, the stolen glances, the stinking new cologne. But rather than deal with the elephant in the room, she had chosen to stick her head in the sand like a coward and ignore all the tell-tale signs. It had been easier, more manageable, that way, less painful, less real... right up until now. Now it was all very fucking real. The whole stinking truth had taken on a twisted black form and was now staring her straight in the face, and there was no crater deep enough on the planet for her to crawl into and hide. Chapter 5 - The Princess And The Movie Star. BECKY JENSEN'S FACEBOOK STATUS: Christmas Day – My first Christmas without Mum. If you know someone who tries to drown their sorrows with booze, you might tell them that sorrow knows how to swim. "Sit up, dear girl. You look like you could use a coffee, at least," Uncle Steve said, moving the yellow bucket aside gingerly with his foot and sitting down next to Becky on the sofa. He put two mugs down on the coffee table and picked up the remote control, turning down the volume on the television. Becky moaned, wiped a string of saliva off her chin, swung her legs over the side of the sofa and sat up with one eye still closed. "I feel like shite." "You look like shite," Uncle Steve agreed wholeheartedly, his brow deeply furrowed. She glared at him, then looked at the television screen, her shoulders slumped. Emma Thomson was crying in her bedroom with the song "Both Sides Now" playing remorsefully in the background. "Love Actually," Becky murmured. "Mum really loved this movie." "I know," he said, deep in thought. He put an arm around her shoulders, and she fell against his chest, tears streaming down her cheeks. "It's Christmas Day," she blurted between sobs. "Mum's been gone a whole year, and I miss her like it was just yesterday." "Me too, love," he nodded, his arm still wrapped around her shoulder. No matter how many times you've experienced it, no matter how old you are, death is never easy for those of us left behind grieving. He looked at the bucket and the discarded chocolate box next to the empty vodka bottle. "Looks like you've started celebrating Christmas early if that empty bottle of vodka is any indication." She'd gone back for the vodka after she’d finished the lemonade, not that she could remember emptying the bottle. "Roger. He cheated on me, Uncle Steve." He sighed. "Ahh, I see." He paused for a moment and scratched his head. "You'll get over him, Beck." She shook her head, her face distorted by pain. "You will, love. And one day you'll look back on all this and wonder what the hell you ever saw in him." "I caught him banging Mandy in the loo at the Red Lion. If it had happened to anyone else, I'd probably be laughing about it right now." She looked away, her face crumbling as fresh tears pooled in her eyes. "Sod him, Beck. You can do better than the likes of him. Never did like that lad. Always thought he was better than anyone else. Mandy though, bleeding hell... I never saw that one coming." He shook his head. "You don't need either of them, love." "I know you're right. I know I'll get over him eventually, but-" A sob broke free, choking off her words. She took a long breath and started again. "It's Mandy's betrayal that I don't think I'll ever get over. She was my best friend. I confided in her with everything. Everything. There isn't anything she doesn't know about me, and she does this. She could have anyone, and she does this, to me. That's what hurts the most, crushes me the most. How is a person meant to get over a betrayal like that unscathed?" Uncle Steve shook his head. "I don't know." "I just wanted someone to love me," she sobbed. "You know, like Dad loved Mum before that bloody tart Felicity came along and blindsided him." "That's all any of us ever want, love, even your dad. And by the way, I love you." "And I love you, too, but it isn't the same thing, is it?" He nodded. "No. It isn't." "I feel like a prize idiot. How could I have not known?" "Love is blind," Uncle Steve offered. "That is a complete understatement. I'm so done with men," Becky said. "And best friends." "Love makes us vulnerable; it makes fools out of us all at one time or another. No one is immune to a broken heart; just look at Lady Di. Even princesses have their hearts trodden on and smashed into a million tiny little pieces." Becky nodded. "And drop dead gorgeous guys, like Robert Pattinson." "Who?" "Robert Pattinson. You know, the guy from Twilight." Uncle Steve nodded. "Oh yes. Poor lad. Must have felt like a right tosser, the whole nonsense playing out in the tabloids like that for the whole world to read about. Enough to drive even the best of us into therapy." They sat in silence for a long moment, listening to the television. "But you know, the thing about romance is," Thomas Brodie-Sangster's character, Sam, was saying to his step-dad in Love Actually, "people only get together right at the very end..." "From the mouth of babes, ay," Uncle Steve said, giving Becky a reassuring one-armed hug. "Let's say you don't give up on your happy ending just yet, hey?" Becky sniffed. "Princess Di never got her happy ending." "No. That is true. No happy ending for our Princess Di." Becky turned to face her uncle. "You think I should try and work it out with Roger?" "Good heavens, no. Throw that shite mongrel to the curb. He doesn't deserve you, love. If he doesn't know by now how wonderful you are, then he never will. "What I'm saying is, don’t give up on finding the right one just yet, okay? You're way too young to be so cynical about love." "Like you, you mean?" she said, nudging him with her elbow and giving him a wry smile. "That's different, love. I'm an old man, and anyway, who says I've given up? I'm just waiting for the right girl to come along." "You're not going to say I told you so? About Roger being a complete and utter prat, I mean," she said, turning her head on Uncle Steve's shoulder and wiping her nose across his jumper. "I always knew you didn't like him." "Okay, playing the Devil's advocate, here. And this comes from an old guy that has screwed up every relationship he's ever had. But did you ever consider for one moment that maybe catching Roger cheating on you is the best thing that could have happened? That just maybe you dodged a bullet? Imagine if you were, say, ten minutes late. Maybe five years down the track, you've got a kid, another one on the way, and you catch him cheating with God knows who. Wouldn't that be worse?" He held Becky at arm's length. "My dear girl, you don't need me to tell you something you already know." He plucked a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and handed it to her. "Now, blow your nose. This happens to be one of my favourite jumpers - your mother knitted it for me - so I don’t need you wiping your snotty nose all over it. And drink your coffee before it goes cold while I choof off into the kitchen and cook us some bacon and eggs for breakfast." Becky nodded in thanks, then blew her nose. "Okay then." Uncle Steve pushed himself up with his hands. He patted the top of Becky’s head as he walked past to the kitchen. "Chin up, kiddo. This too shall pass. Nice slippers, by the way." "Merry Christmas, Uncle Steve," Becky said, then blew her nose again. Uncle Steve stopped, then turned around. He walked promptly back into the lounge room and kissed the top of Becky’s head. "Merry Christmas to you too, sweetheart. Now drink your coffee then go brush your teeth; your breath smells like the bottom of a bird cage. Oh, and don't forget to take that bucket with you." He jabbed his finger towards the yellow bucket. Becky shrugged, offering up an ‘I'm sorry’ smile, then cupped a hand over her mouth and blew into it. She screwed up her nose. "Gawd, you're right about the bird cage." She picked up her mug, taking a mouthful to remedy the birdcage taste in the bottom of her mouth. "Mmmm," she murmured, leaning back onto the sofa and closing her eyes in satisfaction. "Nothing quite like a good cuppa to start off a rotten day," she said, mimicking the words she'd heard her mother declare way too many times to count. From the kitchen, Uncle Steve looked up from separating rinds of bacon and smiled at her over his shoulder. "Get your arse into the shower, miss. Breakfast will be ready in two shakes of a lamb's tail." Twenty minutes later, after bathing, brushing her teeth, and dressing in a pair of old track pants and a pullover with Cindi Lauper telling the world that "Girls just want to have fun", Becky walked down the stairs while coaxing an old pair of Spice Girls knickers out of her bottom. Knickers dislodged, she sat down opposite her uncle at the kitchen table. Smiling, she took the plate he passed her, and set it down on the table. "Thank you. This looks great." She picked up a piece of toast, dipped it in the soft yolk of the egg and took a bite. "Why did you do it, Uncle Steve? Stay single all these years, I mean. Wasn't there anyone you ever wanted to marry, spend your life with, and grow old with?" She tucked one leg up under the other and picked up a piece of bacon, popping it into her mouth. Uncle Steve sliced through his eggs and bacon with gusto. He swallowed, then shrugged, all the time looking plaintively at a spot on the kitchen wall while he considered her question. After a long moment, he said, "There was a woman, once, a long time ago. I met her here in London. I was in London visiting William and Victoria at the time. She was younger than me and wasn't ready to settle down into a serious relationship, let alone have kids, and, well, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. She'd been living in Scotland with her family at the time, and was in London visiting friends for a couple of weeks when we met. I was working for a newspaper in Ireland. She'd just started a new job in Scotland as a sales rep, which meant she'd be doing a lot of travelling. We lost contact for a while, up until recently, that is." He shrugged again. "Your mother always kept in contact with her, though. She was always writing letters, keeping her up to date with everything." He sighed, put down his fork and rubbed the back of his head, his eyes migrating to the framed family portrait on the wall, which was taken when Becky was little. Clasped in her arms was her favourite doll. "There were a couple of women here and there, as you know, but I never found anyone else quite like her." Becky racked her brains, trying to think who it might have been. Had her mother ever mentioned a woman that Uncle Steve had been madly in love with- and still was, if that faraway look in his eyes was anything to go by? Of course, she thought, almost saying it out loud. It had to be Marion, her mother's friend who was still living in Scotland. Marion had come to London for the funeral, and Uncle Steve had been so happy to see her that they had spent every possible moment together. It had been quite nice, seeing her uncle like that with a woman. It had even made her smile at the time, even though her paralyzing grief consumed her every other moment. Becky pushed a piece of bacon around on her plate. "So that's the whole story?" He shrugged. "Pretty much. After you were born, I got homesick, so I left Ireland and moved back home to London. I landed a good job at Book Talk Magazine, worked my way up through the ranks, and now I own the place, so..." He shrugged again. "Everything turned out the way it was supposed to." "Didn't you ever want kids?" For a moment her throat constricted, remembering her own predicament, the possibility that she could be pregnant. She shuddered, took another sip of her coffee, recoiling from the thought. She would cross that bridge when and if she had to. "I didn't need kids. I always had you." He picked up his fork and looked up at her, then frowned. "You okay? You look pale. Do you need the bucket?" he asked, half standing. She waved her hand. "No. I'm fine, really. Just the booze from last night making me feel a little queasy, that's all." She crossed her fingers under the table, hoping that was all it was. Uncle Steve sat back down. "You absolutely sure? You really don't look that great at all." Becky narrowed her eyes. "Thanks for that." He picked up his fork and stabbed a piece of bacon. "Just telling you the way it is, kiddo." She brushed a stray strand of hair off her face. "Anyway, that's not the same as having your own, though, is it?" "What's that?" he asked, looking back up at her. "Kids. Having your own kids." He shrugged, standing up. "I've always considered you the child I never had. And you will always be enough for me. Top-up for your coffee?" "Sure." She handed him her mug. A moment later, he returned with a fresh mug of coffee and an envelope. "This is for you," he said, handing it to her. "Merry Christmas." He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "What's this? I thought we weren't doing Christmas gifts this year. You insisted." "I lied. Take it. I think you'll find it's just what the doctor ordered, considering the circumstances." Becky thought about her odd encounter with the cigarette-smoking man in the park the night before. Sliding her finger under the seal of the envelope, she pried it open and peeked inside, then drew out the contents. She stared at the paper in her hand for a long moment. "Oh. My. God. This is an airline ticket." She shot to her feet, jumping up and down and wrapping her arms around her uncle's neck. "Thank you so much. I can't believe it," she squealed, then kissed him fervently on both cheeks. "Thank you. Thank you!" "You don't even know where you're going yet!" "It doesn't matter. Anywhere that isn't here would be brilliant right now. Present company excluded," she added quickly. Uncle Steve waved her off. "At least take a look before you get too excited; you might hate the idea." She unfolded the ticket to read the details. "Cairns, Australia... are you freaking kidding me?" She thought about the cigarette man again. Just a coincidence, she told herself. "Seven days. Do you think you can handle all that hot weather and glorious sunshine for seven long days? You come home the day after New Year's Eve." "Hmm, you are right. Let me think about it... Of course I can!" She looked at the ticket again, her hands shaking with enthusiasm. "But where the hell is... Cairns?" she asked, reading the ticket again. "Ever heard of the Great Barrier Reef?" "Yes. Isn't that where the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, was killed?" "Yes. Stay out of the ocean." "Australia. I can't believe it." "Well it isn't all holiday and sunshine, you know. You've got an assignment to do while you're there." "Assignment? What kind of an assignment?" Becky sat back at the table, the ticket still gripped firmly in her hand. "I want you to interview three authors. They've just opened up a writers' retreat overlooking a lake up on the Atherton Tablelands, which is just a short drive from Cairns. You'll be staying with them while you are there. You'll be there for the grand opening on New Year's Eve, then fly home the next day. Do you think that is something you could handle? If it isn't, just say so and-" She jumped back into her uncle's arms, hugging and squeezing him in a bear-like grip. Was this really happening? She was tempted to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming. "I can't believe this. It's almost too good to be true." With her arms still flung around Uncle Steve's neck, she studied the ticket in her hand behind his back. "It's all very real, I can assure you. Do I take it the plan meets with your approval?" he asked, laughing, a broad grin spreading across his face. Becky let go of Uncle Steve. "Yes, yes, yes. Absofuckinglutely, yes!" She pressed her fingertips to her lips, and giggled. "Sorry," she said quickly, apologising for swearing. Uncle Steve rolled his eyes, pulled out his chair and sat down. "I've heard a lot worse." She looked at the ticket again in awe, but then the smile on Becky's face suddenly collapsed, her eyes opened wide. "Holy crap on a cracker. The flight leaves first thing tomorrow morning." She turned and looked at her Uncle Steve. "I have so much to do. I have to go home and pack a suitcase... check my passport... What about Grandma?" "I've already arranged to pick Grandma up and bring her back here for Christmas lunch and dinner." The phone on the kitchen wall began to ring. "That'll be your dad. I told him we'd be spending Christmas Day here, as usual." Becky rushed to answer the phone. She wouldn't tell him about Roger. She didn't want him worrying about her while he was on his honeymoon, although the thought had crossed her mind. She took a deep breath and picked up the receiver. "Hello, Dad?" "Merry Christmas, Becky, love," her father said joyfully. "Merry Christmas to you too, Dad. Guess what? I'm going to Australia." There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone. "Dad? Are you still there? Can you hear me?" "Yes, love. I hear you..." A woman's voice over the loudspeaker announced the QANTAS flight to Sydney was now embarking. All around her, voices rose and fell as families, friends and lovers hugged, kissed and cried and said their farewells and Merry Christmases. Becky hugged Uncle Steve again, then checked her tickets. "Okay. So I'll be stopping over in Sydney, and then flying to Cairns. In about thirty hours from now, I'll be there. Thirty hours." She shook her head. "It's all exciting and a little bit scary at the same time. I keep thinking I've forgotten something." "You'll be fine. You remembered to pack a book to read on the flight? Your laptop and toothbrush, chargers?" Becky slapped her forehead. "Oh shit. That's what it is. I forgot my phone," she said, almost hysterical. "I can't believe I forgot my phone. I don't go anywhere without my phone. I put it on charge... I can't go to the shops without my phone, so I certainly can't go halfway around the world without it." Uncle Steve frowned. "A phone isn't life support, Beck. If you ask me, people are too damned wrapped up in all that social media crap nowadays. Everyone knowing everything about everyone all the damned time, right down to the medication they're taking for their latest bout of depression. If you ask me, social media like facebook and twitter are the culprits in the overwhelming increase of depression nowadays." He looked her in the eyes. "You can, and you will get on that plane without the bloody thing. You can't use it on the aircraft anyway." He gave her another hug. "Now go get your butt on that plane, or you won't be going anywhere. And Becky?" "Yes," she whispered, her chin quivering, her eyes pooling with tears. "Forget about all this Roger and Mandy stuff, okay?" Becky shook her head. "That isn't going to be easy." "Listen, Beck, it's going to be okay. You go and have a good time, alright? Don't let them take this holiday away from you. You deserve this time away. Use this time to heal, to collect yourself, and when you get back, I promise, you'll be refreshed and ready to move on with your life." Becky closed her eyes, then dropped her head. "I like your optimism, I really do, but I don't expect a seven-day holiday is going to work any miracles." Uncle Steve pushed her chin up gently with his finger and peered into her sad eyes. "Enough, okay? Look at me. I mean it. Have a good time. That's an order." He kissed her forehead. "Now dry those big, beautiful eyes and scoot, before I change my mind." Becky took a slow, long breath, then straightened up her shoulders. "Okay. I can do this." "Of course you can," Uncle Steve said. "You're a strong, independent girl, and unlike yourself, I have faith in you." "I'll call you when I get to the retreat." "I know you will. Now go." Thank you for reading ONCE WERE FRIENDS, the free prologue to Whoever said love was easy? I hope you loved meeting Becky Jensen. Find out what Becky does next in WHOEVER SAID LOVE WAS EASY. JOIN UP FOR PATTI ROBERTS NEWSLETTER: http://bit.ly/PattiRobertsNewsletter I appreciate your help in spreading the word, including telling a friend about this book. Your reviews help readers find books, not to mention help Indie authors like myself. Just a couple of sentences about the book would be perfect. Many thanks, Patti. Book club questions for discussion, and suggested topics for your book review. What did you think the book was about? Did you feel that the book fulfilled your expectations? Did you enjoy the book? Why? Why not? What about the plot? Did it pull you in; or did you feel you had to force yourself to read the book? How realistic was the characterization? Would you want to meet any of the characters? Did you like them? Hate them? Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not? If one (or more) of the characters made a choice that had moral implications, would you have made the same decision? Why? Why not? Where there passages of dialog that were funny or poignant or that encapsulate a particular character? If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask? Have you read other books by the same author? If so, how does this book compare? If not, does this book inspire you to read others? Did the book end the way you expected? Would you recommend this book to other readers? To your close friend?


Post a Comment

Read free eBooks, English Fiction, English Erotic Story

Delicious Digg Facebook Favorites More Stumbleupon Twitter