tagNovels and NovellasSixes and Sevens Pt. 06

Sixes and Sevens Pt. 06


Chapter 11

"Aidan?" Julie said, after he identified himself on the phone. "Caroline says you'll meet me."

"Yes, that's right," he said guardedly.

"Thank you," she said. "When would be convenient?"

It sounded to him as if they were making a business or medical appointment.

"Tomorrow?" he hazarded. "How about the Hare and Hounds?"

There were too many people who knew him at the Plough and he wanted this to be private, otherwise he knew he would never hear the end of it.

"Fine," she said. That word again! It was agreement, but there was an undertow he could not fathom.

"Seven thirty?"

"Thank you Aidan," she said, though there was no appreciable excitement in her voice.

When she came through the door he was surprised. Even in her raincoat, he could see she was thinner but still beautiful. He felt an immediate reaction and it worried him.

He signalled to her and she came towards him. There was no smile on her face, she was almost wooden in her expression.

"When will this rain ever end?" she said, not expecting an answer, taking off her wet coat. She was wearing a skirt and her legs were also thinner. She always was slim, he remembered, but it was clear there had really been some weight loss.

"The usual?" he asked as she sat down opposite him and she nodded, and for the first time there was the vestige of a smile on her lips. He got her drink and another for himself.

"Thanks," she said. No more. Silence.

"Lost weight?" he said.

"Yes," she said wearily. "I have no appetite."


"I'm depressed, or so the doctor said," she said in a monotone. "She wanted to put me on pills for depression, but I'm not taking pills. I don't want to get addicted."

"What did you want to talk about?" he asked at length after they had both taken a drink.

"Kevin told me that you'd walk out if I begged to come back to you, so I won't say that, much as I might want that to happen. I want to talk about us. I should have done that at the start."

She stopped and glanced at his face as if to ask permission to continue.

"Ok," he said. "Let's do that."

"I've been a fool," she said, eyes on her drink, "but that's obvious to everyone, even me! Looking back I can't understand why I was so angry with you."

"I can," he interjected. "You thought I was screwing Vicky. I'd told you when you met her that we had a brief fling at University and realised it would never go anywhere, but for some reason you got it into your head that my late nights were spent in her bed. Where that came from I just don't know."

She sat still for a long moment. Then she spoke. "I know where: it was Caroline."

Aidan was dumbfounded. "Caroline?" he stuttered. "What did she know?"

"Nothing, nothing," Julie said sadly. "She went on and on about you being alone with her night after night, how it couldn't have been just work, that no one worked that hard in accountancy, and if you remember you were always so dog-tired that we didn't have much of a love life. She put that down to you doing it with her night after night."

"And you believed her."

"No!" Julie became animated. "Not at first, but she went on and on, it was like a drip feed. Then when Vicky went on holiday, Caroline kept on and on that she hadn't gone away at all, but was making more time for you.

"Then you came home with the story that Vicky had food poisoning and we wouldn't be going on holiday, and of course Caroline put it to me that you cared more for her than for me, and she and I should go away together. You were already having a good time with Vicky, she and I would do the same."

"Caroline was married, Julie," he said, no more than that.

Julie nodded. "She's always been a bit wild, well you know that. I think she saw it as a chance to have the sort of fun she had before she was married and a mother, without losing her steady husband and secure family life."

"And I caught you."

"Yes." She sat still and solemn. Then continued.

"You said to come and see you to talk, and I had some hope. Then when I came round Vicky was in your bed. I didn't believe she'd been on holiday, but that you'd got her over to get revenge on me. Seeing her naked in our bed did for me, I'm afraid. I couldn't see a way back after that.

"You know, Caroline was in the shit with Kevin but she was still telling me you were a bastard, and it proved you never loved me. I believed her, and seeing you with different women didn't help."

"But Kevin must have told you..."

"Yes, yes," she sighed. "He did. Called me a lot of names as well. Caroline kept quiet while he told me, but tried to counter it when we were alone. When I met you with that American girl, I told Caroliine, and she kept on about how I'd said she was so fit. She kept telling me you'd moved on. Then the girl - Samantha wasn't it - left."

She paused, as if she did not know what to say. Aidan wondered where this was going.

"Aidan," she said after a pause. "Can you forgive me? I miss you so much. I don't mean I could move back with you," she added hastily.

Aidan shook his head and her face fell. He noticed, and felt a twinge of guilt and a sense he wanted to ease her sadness a little.

"Julie..." he said, and stopped.

She waited patiently while he got his ideas together.

"Oh dear," he said with a wry smile, "I hope this comes out as I hope it will. Here goes. First, I don't hate you, and if you need forgiveness you're forgiven.

"But let's get the negatives out of the way first. The last thing I want is for you to get your hopes up that we will get back together. I have to tell you I think it's most unlikely. I've been through hell over the past few months, both the women I was in love with trashed my love."

Julie raised an eyebrow at that, wondering which of the other women she had seen him with had dumped him, but he was continuing.

"In addition you trashed me twice, once with Xavier, then Gary, I think his name was. I really don't think I will get over that; I'll always be waiting for the next time you'll dump me. I simply can't trust you with the rest of my life. Last time, after Xavier, we started out distant and grew together, and I got over your time with him. The problem is, I think you might think it will be the same this time. Well, it won't be."

She gave a half smile and nodded. He continued.

"Ok, if that's absolutely clear, I'm happy for us to spend time together, but you have to understand that I may be going out with other women as well. After being burnt, I'm in no hurry to put my hand in the fire again. I'm not going to get serious with you or anyone else any time soon.

"We always got on together and had good times long before we became an item, and I think we can be like that again, but that's as far as I can go."

She made as if to speak, but he held up a hand.

"Just one more thing," he said, "it's not true that there's only one man for each woman and only one woman for each man in the world. That's a naïve view of the world and patently false. You know that. There are lots of men out there who would be a perfect match for you.

"You should realise that, and keep an open mind as to finding someone else to settle down with. If and when that happens with either of us, we part. We could hardly carry on seeing each other if either of us were committed to someone else. Best to think of me as a bridging friend. I don't want you hanging on hoping things will change - the years are passing by, you know."

She looked shell-shocked. He got up and went for more drinks. By the time he returned she looked resigned, but calm.

She took a drink and looked at him. "Ok," she said, "I have to accept what you say. I'm a bit disappointed, but I feel better about us now. It was sort of unfinished before - my fault."

"Not altogether your fault," he corrected her, "I could have come round to Kevin's and talked with you. It was obstinacy on my part. I'm glad we've cleared the air."

They talked for a hour or so, mainly about Kevin and Caroline's ongoing efforts at reconciliation, which in Julie's opinion was not going well. Aidan told her of Caroline's approach to him, but Julie was not sure she was sincere, which unsettled Aidan. He wondered if Kevin and Caroline had a future after all.

Aidan and Julie agreed that to begin with they would invite each other to events like plays, films. concerts and gigs by bands they knew each other liked, and if that worked they might invite each other for meals at restaurants and then at their flats, and evenings watching films at home.

By the time they had finished, Julie had a smile on her face and already looked less drawn. Aidan commented on her smile and she blushed.

"I haven't had much to smile about," she said as a parting shot as they left the pub together. He walked her under his umbrella back to her new flat, her arm in his, and her breast making itself felt. They stopped and faced each other.

"Good night Julie," Aidan said, and as it seemed natural to him, he kissed her gently and briefly on her lips.

Her eyes filled with tears and she mumbled "Good Night," before turning away and entering the building.

Aidan wondered if this was a good idea after all. He shook his umbrella of surplus water, put it back up and went home.

The following Thursday, Julie phoned suggesting they go somewhere on the Friday evening. Aidan said there was a film he wanted to see, and they agreed to meet at the cinema. Afterwards they went for a drink in a nearby pub.

They chatted about the film and then Julie surprised him with a question. It was not a difficult question, only sudden and unexpected.

"So what happened with Samantha?" she asked.

"She went home to Vancouver," he answered. His tone was bland as if he did not care.

"I thought from seeing you with her, she would be staying."

"She only had a visitor's visa."

Aidan could see that Julie knew he was evading the answer she was looking for, but it was really none of her business.

"How did you meet her? In Edinburgh?"

Aidan wondered briefly how she knew, but immediately remembered telling Kevin.

"We came across each other in a hotel reception area. She had lost her passport, so I helped her out. Once she got her replacement she went home."

"You got on well together."

It was a statement not a question.

"Yes, we did."

"Honestly Aidan, it's like trying to get blood out of a stone."

"Julie, it's none of your business, is it? Ok. We got on well together, we slept together, she was great in the sack, we did things together; it was fun. We both knew she was going home. She wanted to be near her parents and family, I can't leave my company to set up in Vancouver, can I? So we parted. Does that answer your question fully?"

"Yes, thank you Aidan."

She smiled at him, and he could not help thinking she had in some sense won a victory. What sort of victory, he had not a clue, and he realised he did not care.

The following week Vicky invited him to dinner with her and her new boyfriend Brendan, and Kathy invited him to a symphony concert. Julie rang during the week but he forestalled her with his previous appointments. He pointed out the following week would be full as Vicky and he would be getting all their contracts completed in time for the Christmas break, otherwise January would become more hell than it usually was. He would see her at the family's Christmas celebrations.

The cards began to drop through his letterbox. He had kept up with many of his friends from university and from school, and he enjoyed reading their notes informing him of marriages and births.

Then two cards arrived on the same day from Canada in among others. He put them on the table and went to work. When he got home he moved them to the sideboard and made himself some dinner. The cards seemed to glower at him, daring him to open them. He watched the news after dinner. He vacuumed the floor in the living room. Then he sighed as if defeated, sat down and opened the cards.

The first was from Sam's parents. The message thanked him once again for his kindness to their daughter, and wished him blessings in the New Year.

The second was from Sam. The greeting was minimal, 'All my Love, Sam.' On the facing, blank page she had written a note.

Dearest Aidan,

I look back at our time together with fond wistfulness. How happy I was! I enjoyed your emails so much. Then they stopped. Did I say something to annoy you? Please tell me what I've done wrong. I emailed to ask you this, but you haven't replied. I'm so unhappy. I miss you so much.

All my love, Your Sam.

Aidan sat down. He stared at the words, then he stared some more. It still did not make sense. Perhaps, he thought, I should have read her emails. Too late.

She had a boyfriend of a few years, and she was writing stuff like this? He wondered for a long time whether to ignore it, as he had since he learned of her boyfriend, or should he send one last email. It came to him that when he stopped mailing her, she could have phoned him but did not. Why?

He decided to leave things as they were for the time being at least. He put the cards on display on the sideboard, alongside the others. He had not sent Sam or her parents a card, but then he did not know their postal address.

Christmas came and went. Kevin, Caroline and Julie were at Aidan's parents' for Christmas lunch along with Aidan. In previous years the four of them went to Caroline's and Julie's parents for Boxing Day, but this year, Aidan did not go. Julie looked disappointed but Aidan affected not to notice.

On the Sunday after Christmas Aidan invited the office staff and their partners to a party in his flat. Vicky, Greg and Sheila insisted on coming at midday to help prepare everything, and he was grateful: there seemed to be a lot more work in preparation for the party than he had thought.

Greg and Sheila left to get ready and pick up their partners, but Vicky had brought her party gear with her, and Brendan, her boyfriend, was joining her at the flat. As Aidan washed up, Vicky wandered round the living room, picking up the cards and reading the inscriptions.

"Aidan?" came her voice from the living room.

"Yes, what is it?"

"This card," she said, "From Samantha."


"When her parents rang you," she asked, "Did you cut her off? No more contact?"

"Yes, she lied."

"You didn't ask her if it was true, what her mum and dad said?"

"Why should I?" he said coming into the living room. "Her parents would know if she was seeing someone for a couple of years don't you think?"

"But she doesn't know why you stopped, and she's very upset. Have you replied?"

"Oh damn!" he said, "I was undecided what to do about her, and with Christmas coming and all, I forgot about it."

"It wouldn't hurt, would it," she persisted, "to put her out of her misery? At least she'd know why."

"Are you nagging me Vicky?" he asked, letting his annoyance show.

"Yes," she said with a wide grin, and he couldn't be irked with her any more.

"All right," he said rather petulantly, "I'll put it to the top of my list for tomorrow."

"Ok," she said gaily. "See that you do!" and she gave a little mocking laugh. He sighed.

The party was a success. The people enjoyed the buffet, drank the drinks and everyone met everyone else and their other halves. It was not a wild affair, and there was no sneaking off to the bedrooms.

Aidan and Vicky made a little speech between them saying how well they had all settled in together, and how successful the first five months had been. There would be a pro-rata bonus for everyone if their progress as a firm continued in the uncertainties of that year. Needless to say that went down well.

Aidan got a kiss and a hug from Sheila, and a more intense, nay smouldering kiss from Kathy, who grinned mischievously when she let him go. She had come alone to the party, so there was no boyfriend to take offence! She was a little tipsy, and had flirted with Aidan outrageously all night.

Vicky, Brendan and Kathy stayed behind afterwards to tidy up. Vicky insisted they did this so that Aidan would not have to face the chaos next morning. When they were leaving Vicky asked Kathy if she would like a lift, but she said she had her own car. There followed a discussion as to her fitness to drive, and Aidan offered to put her up for the night, so she could take her car back the next day.

Vicky raised an eyebrow, but Aidan smiled blandly, and Kathy giggled and said she would 'take good care of the boss'.

"That's what I'm afraid of," said Vicky with a worried frown.

Aidan laughed. "Her virtue, such as it is," he said, "is quite safe with me."

"Ooh! Cheeky!" giggled Kathy.

Vicky raised her eyes to heaven, and kissed Aidan. Brendan shook his hand and they were gone.

As soon as the door closed, Kathy's demeanour changed. "You're quite safe Aidan," she said with a grin, "I may be a little the worse for drink, but I know what I'm doing, and what I'm not going to do."

"And you're quite safe with me," he replied. "We have an agreement, don't we?"

She nodded, and changed the subject. "Vicky said you got a message from Sam," she said. "This it?" taking the card from the sideboard. She read it without waiting for his reply, which he did not bother to give.

"Oh, Aidan, she's totally in love with you!"

She looked at him dewey eyed. She was after all quite young, Aidan thought.

"You think so?" he said. "If she were 'totally in love' she'd be here, instead of in Vancouver with her boyfriend."

"Hmm" she replied, which indicated she was not convinced. Aidan repeated to himself that she, being young, was a hopeless romantic.

"I promised Vicky I'd write back to her tomorrow," he said. "Now it's time to put you to bed."

"Ooh, daddy!" she mocked. "Do I get a nice story?"

"You'll get a smack bottom if you don't get yourself off to bed."

"Promises, promises! Show me to my bedroom."

He did, and he watched her in, and she turned with a naughty look and unzipped her dress, letting the bodice fall forward. He shut the bedroom door before she could reveal what she was or was not beneath. He heard her dirty laughter as he went back shaking his head but with a smile on his face, and put the flat to bed in its turn, then went to his own.

He was woken at ten by Kathy bringing him a mug of tea. It was a Monday, but the office was not going to be open until after New Year.

"Morning!" she greeted.

"Hi, Kathy," he returned.

He sat up, revealing his bare chest. She was dressed in a tee shit and jeans, and he realised she must have brought them with her 'just in case'.

She set the mug down on the bedside table, and then sat on the bed.

"I'm off now," she said. "Thanks for the bed. Was I out of order last night?"

"Delightfully so!" he smiled. "It was a side of you I did not know, and I enjoyed every minute of it!"

"That's a relief," she sighed. She leaned forward and kissed him slowly on his lips. Then jumped up and made for the door.

"Bye!" she sang, and skipped out of the room and out of the flat. Youth!

He realised he should have offered her breakfast. Too late.

He arrived in the living room to a spotlessly clean flat. The kitchen sparkled and even the floor had been mopped and dried. He realised Katy must have done it before she went. He smiled; she was a good natured girl who might flirt but never overstepped the mark.

On the table he saw a piece of paper.

Dear Bossman,

Hope you like the flat. Vicky said to nag you about writing to your best girl!

Consider yourself nagged.

Love, Kathy.

he thought, 'love'. She has a delicacy about her; she's someone special. We're lucky to have her. Best girl? I don't think so.

He ate a breakfast of grapefruit and muesli, made coffee, then set himself to write the email. He could not find the words to create exactly the effect he wanted. His first attempt was very, very long, and poured out all his feelings about their relationship and her deception. He tinkered around with it, and then deleted the whole thing and started again.

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