2..’Ladies That Lunch’- short story

 

I am hoping to publish these as a series of short stories about the things that happen during lunch with our ladies.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I told myself, looking in at the ladies already seated for lunch. We met once a month, a different venue but the same bunch. These were the girls, or women now, that new more about me than anyone else. I told them everything. Not today. I couldn’t tell them about last night. Knowing how good they were at sniffing out secrets, I would need my wits about me today.

I pushed open the door to the swanky new Italian restaurant. This would definitely have been Maddies choice. The others would never have chosen a place loaded with carbs and dairy. Even the salad would be doused with lashings of gorgeous oils. I should warn the waiter now, ‘hold the dressings; hold the fat; hell even hold the taste.’ I could hear the high pitch shrills of their banter fill the room. A twenty something hunk of pure gorgeousness took my coat and I followed the noise to my girls.

“Libby.” The squeal of my name came from several places at once. I gave my best and brightest smile and said my hellos. Hoping that my guilt ridden face wouldn’t betray me.

Sitting down amongst them, the feeling of betrayal and guilt washed over me. Images of the night before danced in front of my eyes taunting me with their desire to be set free. It wasn’t just the images in my head that were making me nervous. Lori was doing a good hob of that too. Sat opposite me was my best of all best friends. There wasn’t anything in my life that I kept from Lori. I couldn’t she was like a sniffer dog on hunt day. When I eventually summoned the courage to meet her eyes I saw it. That unmistakeable glint. The look she always gave me when she knew I was hiding something.

We always arrived to our lunch gatherings together, but not today. I’d rung her and told her I had a meeting. Thank god for mobiles, at least I didn’t have to admit I wasn’t at home or hadn’t been since yesterday afternoon. Another image played in my mind, bringing a warm building feeling with it. I was sure I could still feel his hands on my back then pushing up through my hair. I shuddered.

The ice in the glass crashed against my teeth as I gulped down some water. Trying desperately to douse the flames taking hold inside.

“Libby, come on, tell us what you’ve been up to?”

The last mouthful of water stalled at the back of my throat. My eyes streaming as I coughed and spluttered my way to Liarsville.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh come on, you’re the only single one now. We rely on you to keep us entertained with stories of romance and great sex.”

Maddie was beaming at me, and I sighed in relief. Since Daryl left me two years ago, I was the odd one out. The Divorcee. I wouldn’t be on my own for long though, at least two of them were heading in that direction. Isabelle joined the conversation, once bored with the limited view she had of our gorgeous waiter.

“Oh fuck the romance,” she said, bluntly. “Just tell us about the sex.”

Maddie feigned shock and Lori twisted her hands together, staring at me. “Yes Libs, tell us about the great sex you’ve been having.” Lori’s eyes were wide and her lips slightly curled at the edges. I bit hard on the side of my lip. Any grin or overly excited facial expression would set them on the hunt.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you girls, but it’s been a while so there isn’t anything to tell.” My hand flew in the air immediately summoning Mr. Gorgeousness himself over. “Can we order some drinks please.” Distracting them seemed like the only way to avoid lying to them.

A sharp pain pulsed through my leg, the result of Lori kicking me under the table.

“Toilet. Now.” She said, through gritted teeth, while the others batted their eyes and flirted their way through a simple drink order. I reluctantly rose from the table, followed very closely by Lori. The toilets were glaringly white. I must have have missed the ‘don’t forget your sunglasses’ notice on the door. My head was still pounding from too much brandy and not enough sleep.

“Talk.”

At five feet eleven inches Lori towered over me. A good six inches shorter meant I always wore heels around her, but today even they couldn’t help. I felt miniscule, small and insignificant.

“What do you want me to talk about?” I asked, nervously fiddling with the fake white lilies in the fake crystal bowl.

“I had to go into town this morning, so I popped in to your office to see if we could meet up early. But surprise, surprise no one had seen you since yesterday afternoon.” Lori folded her arms and stared down at me.

“Oh.”

She stood inches from my face. “Oh! Is that all you can say?”

I turned away from her and gripped the cold enamel bowl perched on the immaculate white worktop. My mind flicked like a movie reel, editing the stuff I definitely couldn’t tell her. Especially not in the ladies loos.

I twisted the tap and let the cold water drench me fingers. They were almost numb when Lori put her hand on my shoulder.

“Libs, is something wrong? You’re scaring the shit out of me.”

I looked at her face in the mirror and my eyes filled with tears.

“Lore, I can’t tell you here. Can we leave it for now?” splashing water on my face I felt the sting of tears heat my cold cheeks.

“Sure.” Lori said, patting my back. She was a hell of a blood hound when it came to sniffing out a good story, but she was also a devoted friend. She knew when to back down.

I straightened myself up. “How do I look?”

Lori pinched my cheeks gently and tousled my hair around my ears. “Perfect.” She said, with one of her beaming smiles.

Heading back out to the rest of the group my heart sank again. Mel was here. I so wasn’t in the mood for her today. Guilt tore at my insides as soon as I looked at her. The pit of my stomach snarled and twisted, sending shots of hot bile to my throat.

“Hi Libby, Lori. What have you two been gossiping about in the toilets?”

Her razor sharp voice matched the cutting look in her eyes. Like a vulture she prayed on the weak and vulnerable. Right now I was both.

“Us gossip? No we don’t gossip, we merely exchange opinions.” Lori glared and Mel pulled her lips to a tight line. There was definitely no love lost between these two ladies.

The whole table held it’s breath for another quick and vicious remark from Mel. Nothing came.

“Let’s order,” Issy butted in. She grabbed the menus and tossed them around the table. I knew very well that everyone had scoured the menu at least twice and knew exactly what they were having, but I was glad for Issy’s quick thinking. Mel couldn’t contain her bitchy ness for long though and homed in on Maddie. Giving out another of her classic put downs.

“Oh Maddie, you’ve had your hair cut.”

Maddies hand went immediately to her new layered bob. The straightening irons had obliterated the ends so she had no choice but to go shorter. I saw the nervous smile creep across her face. She was beautiful. She could have shaved her head and every guy in a ten mile radius would still swoon after her. The great thing about her was that she didn’t know it. She considered her self average.

“You know the good thing about hair is that it grows.” Mel was positively beaming. “It will look great in a couple of weeks.” She blew Maddie a fake kiss and carried on looking over the menu.

Maddies face crumbled and her bottom lip quivered frantically. Her looks were her weak point and Mel knew it.

“You nasty piece of work.”

I’d been so busy looking at Maddie I hadn’t notice Lori lean pass me. Her finger pointed viciously towards Mel. And I thought for one God awful moment I was going to be in the middle of some horrendous cat fight.

Mel squeaked in mock horror. “Libby, if you can’t control your friend you really shouldn’t bring her. I mean it’s not as if she is one of us.”

I turned my head slowly to my right.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, through painfully gritted teeth. My head pounded under the pressure.

“Well look at her.” Mel glanced around the table at the other women, looking for some sort of acknowledgement. She huffed when she didn’t get it.

 “I would imagine a trip to the hairdressers and a visit from the fashion police is long overdue.” She chuckled at her own form of joke and a foul sounding snort left her mouth. Audible gasps of sheer shock and horror echoed around the table. My hand moved to stop Lori getting out of her eat and dragging Mel back off her chair.

The nasty piece of work didn’t wait for my reply.

“Actually Libs, I think she’s rubbing off on you. You’re not looking too great yourself lately. I mean no wonder Daryl left.” Another chuckle left her mouth and again she looked to the others. Everything slowed around me. She so didn’t just go there. Did she?  I looked at her long and hard. Her fake eyelashes framed over made up eyes that a drag queen would have been proud of. Her skin colour could only be described as orange. Fake tan and too much bronzer caked itself to her over plumped cheeks. The bright red lipstick punctuated her face, making her look like a cross between Coco the clown and Vegas show girl. And she had the cheek to give me advice on how I looked.

She’d gone too far this time and she knew it. She faced me, twisting her fingers in her poker straight, bleach blonde; wannabe WAG, hair extensions and tried to force a laugh.

“Oh come on, like you all weren’t thinking it. She looked along the line of women facing her. Blank angry faces stared back. “If you want to keep your man you have to look good. Take me; Sam would never cheat on me. He knows I can have any guy I want.”

She was looking so defiant I wanted to stuff her face in the steaming bowl of pasta that had just arrived. I imagined myself doing it and smiling afterwards. I let out a huge puff or air. Not even realising I’d been holding it in.

“So you think I deserved my husband cheating on me?” I asked, calmly, not taking my eyes from her.

“Well if you’d kept him happy and looked after yourself a bit more then he wouldn’t have needed to stray. It isn’t rocket science now is it?” She raised her eyes and held her orange tinged palms out towards the totally gob smacked women in front of her.

“So loving him wasn’t enough?” I asked again, amazed at how calm I was being. But my insides weren’t calm they already knew where I was headed with this and were ready for war.

“Love? Love has got nothing to do with it.” She practically spat the words back at me. The poor waiter continued to bring the rest of our food and tip toed around us.

“Why do you say that? You love Sam don’t you?” I bit the side of my lip, more words threatening to escape.

“Hell no. I married Sam because I knew he was going to be loaded some day. And I wasn’t wrong. Anyway I told him I was pregnant and he had to marry me.” Her smile was vicious and I held onto my dignity and didn’t slap it from her face.

“But you don’t have kids.” Lori chipped in over my shoulder and took the words right out of my mouth.

“Oh God, I wasn’t really pregnant. I told him I lost it a few weeks later. The wedding was already planned so we just went with it. I knew he wouldn’t want to upset every involved. He’s such a wimp.” Her grin said it all. She was proud as a peacock. Tossing her hair like show feathers. I felt like my heart was being crushed in the palm of her hand. My temper was at boiling point and I was silently cursing whoever invited her today. We’d all come to the same conclusion months ago. She was poison.

I wanted to shoot her down. Make her feel as bad as she’d made us all feel over the years we’d known her. But I knew I didn’t have it in me. Just when I’d decided I had to get out of the place my phone vibrated on the glass table top. I looked at it and then at Mel. Something was bubbling inside of me and my fingers twitched impatiently. At first I though of not answering. The caller ID told me exactly who it was and this really wasn’t the time or place. After a ten second burst of Clare de lune, I answered it.

“Hi. I’m at lunch with the girls.” I paused and waited for his response. He didn’t care he said he needed to hear my voice. He wanted to see me again tonight. I took deep breaths, totally aware that four pairs of eyes were glaring at me and the same amount of ears were straining to hear the other side to the conversation.

“I had an amazing time last night,” he said, a hint of boyish charm filtered down the phone.

“Me too and tonight would be great.” I felt a hint of a blush hit my cheek as a low squeal came from Lori behind me. Mel rubbed cream in her hands, pretending not to care or to listen. But I knew she was.

His tone turned serious. “Libby, I’m going to tell her. I can’t stay with someone who doesn’t love me. Especially if I don’t lover her back. It’s a waste. I love you. You know that don’t you?” he stopped talking. My reply was needed.

“I know. You should tell her.”

A shot of air gushed from his mouth and I half expected to feel it hit the side of my face. “You mean it? I can tell her?”

“Yes. And I love you too.”

Lori squealed again and Mel rolled her eyes. She was busy filing her nails now. I still hadn’t taken my eyes from her. She gave me the oddest look when I held the phone out to her.

“It’s your husband,” I said, calmly. “He wants to speak to you.”

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