An extract from this chapter where Georgia (her marriage now broken down) is out with new friends she has met on her PGCE course. It's the night she meets a new man...
A few weeks later in June, summer definitely here to stay, Georgia was invited on a girls’ night out in a little village a few junctions up the M1. She was excited about going out somewhere new with the three other girls she most got on with on her course and organised the boys’ sleepover at her sister’s house. The village was the home town of one of the girls who was house-sitting over the weekend while her parents were away. Since they could all drive they decided on a night out further afield than Enfield, Finchley or Southgate where they lived. Somewhere new would be fun, thought Georgia.
‘Look, it’s not a problem. I’m happy to have them and if you decide to stay over then you won’t be worrying about them. Honest…go…have fun,’ said her sister, as Georgia dumped the boys’ overnight bags in her hallway.
Georgia felt relaxed, free and as she drove back home to get ready she blasted up the music in the car and sang loudly to George Michael’s ‘Outside’, attracting the attention of two guys in the Audi next to her as she stopped at the lights. She laughed, and then embarrassed looked straight ahead until the lights turned green and she shot off ahead of them.
She climbed into her navy jersey dress, with sheer chiffon sleeves which hung like bells to her elbows. She gently tugged at the zip at the back, just managing to pull it all the way and smiled at herself as the hall mirror outside her room, reflected her image back at her, the dress hugging her curves perfectly. She put on a pair of sheer tights and the high sling-back shoes she’d bought on a whim when in New York with Thalia. Her make-up was understated but the smoky blue eyeliner she’d used really stood out against her dark eyes and complimented the blue of her dress. She felt oddly nervous, but wasn’t quite sure why. She had printed out her route; she knew exactly where to pick up the motorway and where to come off. But she was jittery all the same and wondered if it was because she was seeing the girls outside of their usual environment. She had to admit she was a little worried they would have nothing in common with her; they were after all in their mid to late twenties, with no dependents, unlike her, who was carrying an airport load of oversized and overweight baggage around with her like a huge tag marked ‘damaged goods’ or ‘heavy heart’ around her wrist for all to gawp at.
She shook off the feeling and smiled at herself, catching a glimpse of her reflection in the dressing table mirror, bright white teeth shining back at her, cheeks glowing peach from her light touch of blusher. She would be fine.
The village seemed tiny with what looked like one main high street running through it. From what she could see as she drove tentatively, mentally noting the ‘speed camera’ signs there was a fire station, a Post Office, a Co-op, and a one storey building brandishing a carrot orange sign, ‘The Playtime Box’, across the front of it, which she assumed was a play group or nursery. Spotting an ornate ‘The Indian Marquee’ restaurant sign up ahead, she pulled neatly into the first available parking space on the left hand side of the road, careful not to bump the kerb which was unusually high.
Getting out of the car, the air was fresh and still. Georgia thought it was a beautiful evening and she could hear the twitter of bird song in the trees on the opposite pavement, the low branches weighted down with masses of powder blossom. A row of tiny cottages, painted in a range of pastel tones, were lined up across the narrow street, a pretty window box sitting on the sill of one whose wooden frame was splintered with peeling paint, once white, was now faded and yellowed by the sun. She was relaxed and ready to enjoy her evening.
She locked the car with a click of the ignition key and with a spring in her step, walked up the three steps leading to the main doors of the restaurant. As she pushed the door of the restaurant, a waiter pulled it open at the same time, and the welcome coolness of the air-conditioning hit her as she walked in, she put on her best smile.
Two of the girls were already seated at a table situated almost opposite the doorway. Paula waved at her while Jade gave her a big smile. Paula had long straight hair which cascaded past her shoulders, ebony black eyes and small tight lips which hardly moved when she spoke. Jade was fairer, her hair highlighted and shiny, was cut into a feathered bob which softened the otherwise rectangular cheek bones and pointed chin in her elf-like face.
‘Hi,’ said Georgia, as she bent over and kissed both of them in turn, on each cheek, ‘Greek style,’ she joked, as they hugged her.
‘Hi, you. You look lovely,’ said Jade, as Georgia shrugged off her Levi’s denim jacket and handed it to the waiter, loitering behind her. ‘Thank you. Wasn’t sure what to wear but hey, it’s stretchy so I can eat as much as I like. Smells delicious.’ Georgia breathed in the aromatic smell from the food being served to a couple seated at an adjacent table. ‘And the truth be told, I’m so hungry. I didn’t eat lunch as I was trying to finish that assignment.’
‘Oh, wow. I’ve not even started it,’ said Paula tossing her hair over her shoulder.
‘Really? Oh, I couldn’t leave it any later. I’d be panicking about not getting it done. You know it’s for Wednesday right?’
‘Well, I s’pose with the kids you need to plan ahead more than we do,’ said Jade.
‘Well, I’ve always been a planner. But yeah, you’re right.’
‘Hi. Sorry I’m late,’ said Julianna, interrupting them, hair in a chignon and the highest thigh high boots in black leather covering light blue jeans that looked sprayed on. Georgia smiled at her guessing she was late on purpose wanting to make an entrance; out of all of them she loved being in the spotlight.
‘Hi,’ they all echoed.
‘I haven’t been here long, so don’t worry,’ said Georgia, ‘Really easy to find wasn’t it? I hardly looked down at the directions. And the village looks cute, all those quaint little houses.’
‘Yeah, looks lovely. What a great place to grow up in.’ Juliana said to Jade as she pulled out a chair and sat down but not before scanning the restaurant to see who else was in there.
‘Hope you don’t mind but we ordered poppadums and all the bits while we were waiting,’ said Paula.
‘Not at all,’ said Georgia, tucking in, ‘suits me fine.’
‘I like the look of that guy over there,’ said Julianna.
‘What guy?’ asked Jade. ‘We haven’t noticed anyone…too interested in the food.’
‘That guy. And who’s with him…hiding behind the pillar?’ asked Julianna, peering across the restaurant more carefully at a guy who seemed to be talking to a huge potted palm across from him.
‘Not noticed.’ said Georgia.
‘Well I’m sure we could find out.’ Julianna rummaged around in her bag asking for a pen and paper. Georgia pulled a page out of her notebook and a pen.
Who are you with? Georgia wrote out in her neat writing.
‘Fabulous Georgia. Let’s have some fun.’ Juliana’s eyes sparkled as she spoke.
‘You’re never going to send a note to him?’
‘Yep that’s exactly what we’re doing.’ Georgia looked straight at Jade who almost choked on her poppadum.
Georgia folded the piece of paper in half and called the waiter over. ‘Can you please hand this to that guy over there?’ She pointed in the direction of the pillar and taking the note from her, Georgia noticed he walked off with a smirk on his face.
‘So what do you recommend? It’s your local after all.’ Paula took hold of her hair and placed it over her shoulder again.
‘Well, everything really. I’ve been here so many times over the years I think I’ve eaten or at least tried everything once, if not twice.’
‘Don’t look up but that guy has just looked over.’ Juliana kicked Georgia under the table gently.
‘Let’s see if he responds,’ giggled Georgia, being the most carefree she’d felt in a long time she was gearing up for a good laugh.
‘Now let’s focus on ordering,’ said Jade as she opened the leather-bound menu in front of her.
The girls took their time choosing from the menu but eventually, through giggles and lots of laughter, they ordered a mish-mash of starters and mains to share, a bottle of still water and a bottle of sparkling water, a diet coke for Paula and a G&T for Jade. Jade was the only one drinking.
‘Do you think we’ve ordered enough?’ asked Paula, when the waiter came over.
‘I think so,’ he said, nodding politely as he read out their order from his pad.
‘And one portion of that, please,’ teased Georgia as he walked off, pointing to his derrière. The girls were in fits.
‘You are just too mad. I think I’ve met my match.’ Georgia picked up a hint of uncertainty in Juliana’s voice and Georgia wondered if she didn’t like not being the centre of attention.
The girls talked for a while, filling the time with banter and easy chatter which Georgia really enjoyed, nothing heavy and nothing about divorce or settlements. The waiter deposited the drinks on the table, careful not to lose the balance of the metal tray he held and he handed a note to Georgia.
‘It’s a reply,’ she whispered conspiratorially to the girls, getting flustered as she tried to make out the scribble in front of her.
‘Here let me look,’ said Juliana, grabbing the note and reading out loud, ‘Who wants to know?’
‘Damn. What do we say to that?’ asked Jade.
Georgia, the pen ready in her hand, turned to Paula and thinking for a couple of seconds, grabbed back the note and wrote, ‘The brunette’.
‘But we’re all brunettes, kind of,’ said Julianna, looking up from her mobile phone distractedly.
‘Exactly,’ said Georgia, laughing, ‘That’ll confuse him.’ The girls roared with laughter but not Julianna who had a strained smile etched on her face.
They ate their meal passing dishes back and forth between them.
‘And we were worried about not having ordered enough. Look at all the rice still left,’ said Paula. She leaned back in her seat unbuttoning the side clasp to ease the waist band of her trousers. ‘Oh what a relief. That’s so much better. I thought I was going to pop.’
‘That’s why I wore this dress,’ piped up Georgia, and she shifted from left to right and back again as she sat in her seat, twisting her body back and forth inside her stretchy dress. The waiter appeared and Georgia noticed how he made an effort to hide the smirk on his face, as he placed another note on the table trying to avoid the splats of curry sauce and mango chutney.
‘Sorry about the mess,’ said Georgia, ‘My friends are not used to eating in public.’
‘Oh stop,’ said Jade giving Georgia a playful shove.
‘With a mate. Going to the Plum of Feathers after this. See you in there?’ read Paula.
‘I think he means ‘plume.’ Jade sniggered.
‘Good speller then,’ said Georgia, before she burst into a fit of giggles too. ‘Which one of us do you think he’s interested in?’ She looked up and he was staring straight at her; a wide grin across his face. Julianna caught Georgia staring and looked in his direction too but he didn’t change his gaze or look at her.
‘Who says he’s interested in any of us?’ Julianna shifted in her seat, pulling at her boots with splayed fingers careful not to break her painted talons.
‘Well, he wouldn’t have responded if he wasn’t and he wouldn’t have said he was going to the ‘plum’ either,’ said Georgia, almost choking on her glass of water as she laughed at her own joke.
‘Count me out,’ said Julianna, ‘I’ve got to make a move. Sorry. Had a great evening though.’
‘You okay? You’ve been a bit quiet tonight,’ said Jade to her.
‘Yeah, just tired and I’m not too sure of the route home so don’t want to leave it too late.’
‘You’re more than welcome to stay over with the girls. It’s not too late to change your mind. My parents’ Laura Ashley couch is really comfy.’
‘I’d rather get home tonight but thanks for the offer. Right, night darlings. See you at college on ‘deadline’ Wednesday,’ Julianna said, before leaving £30.00 cash on the table. ‘This should cover my meal and drink.’
As Julianna disappeared, she waved back at them through the open door. The guy they had been exchanging notes with followed her out. His mate close behind him looked over and gave Georgia a smile.
‘He’s with another bloke,’ said Jade, ‘Come on, let’s go to the pub. See what happens.’
‘Well, it had to be another bloke,’ said Georgia, laughing, ‘he was hardly going to be asking us to meet him in the pub with his girlfriend.’
‘True. But he could’ve been chatting to the palm all night,’ said Jade.
‘Ha, ha,’ said Georgia, ‘come on, let’s hit the pub but I’m not drinking a thing. I am so full.’
The next morning, Georgia woke before the others. She was used to getting up early with the boys and she decided to make breakfast for everyone. She took eggs, cheddar cheese and mushrooms from the fridge and cooked up a huge one pan omelette with six eggs. She had just put the bread in the toaster when Jade padded in, bare foot, with her bright fuschia-painted toes at odds with the cool grey of the kitchen units and pale stone-coloured Amtico flooring.
‘You’ve been busy. How long have you been up?’
‘Not that long, half an hour.’ She didn’t reveal Nicolas had sent her a text demanding to know where she was and why she wasn’t picking up the house phone. ‘You don’t mind me doing breakfast, do you?’
‘No of course not. It’s nice not having to make my own for a change,’ said Jade as she stifled a yawn. She grabbed a pencil from the pot on the counter and poked it into her Chinese bun. ‘Nice not to have to eat it on my own, too. Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome, hun. If I’d thought it through I could have brought some bits with me.’
‘Don’t be silly. Heard anything from Sean?’ asked Jade.
‘Actually yes I have. A couple of texts.’
‘Asked if we could meet up later but I’ve fobbed him off.’
‘Why? He seemed really nice last night and he lives near you. I knew it was you he was after. His face lit up when we walked into the pub; he couldn’t take his eyes off you.’
‘No really. I think he’s lovely. He was chatty. Offered to buy us all a drink and his eyes are just the most amazing colour…brown one minute and then green and then inbetween…and that thick hair. Ooh bet you could pull on that!’
‘Stop it…I didn’t notice. And anyway what about the boys? And he seems really young. Bet he’d have a heart attack if I was to mention the three boys and up-coming divorce.’
‘You don’t have to say anything yet. Go with the flow. Have a bit of fun.’ Jade was the only one of the uni crowd who knew her situation. She was very discreet and empathetic, having had a cousin who had gone through almost an identical break-up.
‘I’ll see. Not sure I want to get involved.’
‘Your call,’ said Jade, ‘but why walk away?’
‘Not walking away…just not sure yet.’
‘Take a chance. You deserve it. Now shall I wake Paula?’
‘Yep. All about ready, just need to butter the toast,’ she said, as the toaster popped.