The following morning, Jenny was making a coffee when her landline rang.
‘Hello? Jenny speaking.’
‘Jen, it’s me.’
‘Ams, hi! I was just thinking about calling you.’ Jenny smiled to herself, it was always great to hear her best friend’s voice. ‘I haven’t even heard how your mini break away with the axe murderer was.’
‘Ha ha, very funny. He’s not an axe murderer, and it was…’ Amber paused on the other end of the line, and then sighed happily. ’It was wonderful Jen. He’s wonderful.’
‘Oh, I’m so happy to hear that Ams. What time did you get back on Sunday night?’
‘Ah, well, I didn’t come back Sunday night actually.’
‘Seriously? You stayed an extra night? Did you go into work late yesterday? There’s one for the books.’
Amber’s voice lowered, almost to a whisper. ‘I’m actually still in Taupo.’
‘WHAAAT? You’re still there? What about your dogs? What about work?’
‘My neighbour’s feeding and walking them for me. And, er, I called in sick.’
‘Let me get this straight. You, the workaholic, called in sick for two whole days? TWO whole days? What did you say you have – heart burn? Love-sickness?’
Amber laughed. ‘Not exactly. I said I’ve got a nasty case of gastro. No-one can argue with that. We’re going to head back tomorrow afternoon. Anyway, enough about me. How are you?’
‘I’m okay. Actually, I’m pretty good, all things considered. Guess what I did last night? Go on, guess. You’ll never guess.’
‘I don’t know, Jen. Cleaned the toilet wearing nothing but a pair of rubber gloves?’
’What? No, no, nothing like that. Well, actually, I did do that this morning if you must know. But that’s not it. Something out of the ordinary.’
‘I really don’t know Jen, tell me.’
‘I went, um, I’m not sure what you call it, but I went to the supermarket with some of the people from my support group, and we did that banana in the trolley thing, you know, you do it when…’
’Woah, hang on just a minute, you went to date night at the supermarket? You actually went inside a supermarket? And, for date night? Oh my God Jen, that’s so awesome! Absolutely unbelievable, but awesome. How did it go? Did you meet anyone?’
Jenny told Amber about the evening, and the embarrassing situation with the blonde God and his model girlfriend. ‘So, it was actually a disaster, but I felt, um, proud of myself in a way.’
‘That’s amazing Jen, I’m so proud of you too!’ Amber cleared her throat suddenly. ‘So, does that mean you might be more inclined to say yes to that speed dating night I told you about?’
Jenny considered this for a moment. ‘I don’t know, maybe. It’s just, what could I possibly say to someone in a few minutes to explain, well… me. And not just explain me, but make them like me at the same time. When is it again?’
‘Not this Friday, but next. Go on Jen, we can have a few drinks, have a laugh together.’
‘Are you sure you still want to come though? Now you’re dating Mr. Dreamboat?’
‘Of course I do. He won’t mind. Well, I don’t think he will. I’m sure he’ll understand.’
‘Could I ask a couple of people from my group whether they want to come too?’
‘Oh, okay,’ Amber sounded unsure. ‘That should be fine. They won’t, um, do anything weird will they?’
‘Ams, did you forget something?’
’You invited me remember.’
Jenny hung up the phone a few minutes later, and took a sip of her coffee. I’m contemplating speed dating? I must be a raving lunatic. Jenny caught sight of her reflection in the kitchen window, and smiled ruefully. Yes, of course she was.
Jenny was so busy over the weekend finishing projects for two new clients, that Sunday evening came around quickly. Too quickly. Once more she found herself on the weekly pilgrimage to her parents’ house for dinner. When she arrived, she shook her head in frustration as she noticed Bridgette’s car parked haphazardly across her parent’s driveway once again and had to scan the street for a park. She was in luck, two houses down there was a space. Pulling her car in and turning off the engine, Jenny psyched herself up for the evening ahead. Opening her door, she heard a voice call her name.
Jenny looked across the road, and saw Anthony from her support group waving at her.
Anthony waited for a car to drive past, and then walked over to meet her. ‘Hey, what are you doing in these parts?’
‘Oh, my parents live here.’ Jenny pointed at her parent’s house, two doors down. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’m selling a house in the area, actually.’ Anthony pointed at the real estate sign he had just installed across the road, in front of a lovely two storeyed villa. ‘Since that last incident at work, I’ve been busting my ass trying to make up for it. This villa would be a great property to sell.’ He suddenly fixed his salesman stare on her. Jenny’s eyes widened.
‘I’ll stop you right there Anthony. There is no way in hell I buy a house across the road from my parents. I’d rather live in the sewer,’ Jenny grimaced, ‘and that’s saying something.’
‘They can’t be that bad, surely?’
Jenny was about to answer, when a voice called out to her from the front door of her parent’s house. ‘Jennifer! What are you doing out on the street. The casserole’s ready.’
Jenny closed her eyes, mortified. When she opened them, Anthony smiled at her kindly and then waved over at her mother. ‘Hi Jenny’s mother.’
Jenny watched the rainbow of emotions play out on her mother’s face – suspicion, wariness, hope, excitement, delirious joy. ‘Hello,’ Ona called out to Anthony, ’Jenny didn’t tell me she was bringing a friend to dinner. This is a bit… unexpected.’
‘Oh no, we just happened to bump into each other. I’m selling the house across the road.’ Anthony pointed at the villa.
‘Oh.’ If she hadn’t been so embarrassed, Jenny would have laughed at the obvious disappointment on her mother’s face. ‘Well, okay. See you inside Jennifer.’
Anthony grinned at Jenny, as her mother disappeared into the house. ‘Is it you or your mum that wants to find you a boyfriend?’
‘Um, me. No, her. Oh, both of us I guess.’ Jenny looked at the ground. ‘I’d better go in, or she’ll call the cops.’
‘God, don’t let her do that, they get enough calls about me as it is – I’d better clear off.’ Anthony and Jenny smiled at each other. ‘Have a good evening Jenny, I’ll see you on Tuesday at the next meeting?’
‘Yep, see you then.’
Jenny turned around and began walking to her parent’s front door. She noticed a curtain twitch beside the entrance window. Honestly, still spying on me like I’m a bloody child.
‘I can see you there, Mum,’ she called out.
The twitching curtain fell still, and there was the sound of retreating footsteps inside. The front door had been left slightly ajar, and Jenny smiled to herself as she pushed it open with her elbow and walked inside.
Sitting at the dinner table eating hot apple crumble for dessert, Jenny zoned out as Bridgette regaled them all with another of her nursing stories. She was just thinking about the supermarket fiasco, her cheeks colouring involuntarily, when her mother’s voice broke her reverie.
‘Jennifer? I asked you a question.’
‘Sorry, Mum. What did you say?’
‘I asked you how you know that real estate agent outside this evening.’
Jenny sighed, and looked at her watch. Damn, it’s taken an hour for her to bring it up. I thought she was going to let it go. Immediately the Frozen movie theme song was playing in her head, a song she knew well via the screeching kids in a neighbouring apartment, and she smiled as she imagined jumping up on the table and belting it out at the top of her voice. Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let them know. But now they knooowwww…
‘You’re smiling, Jennifer. Why are you smiling?’
‘Yeah Mon, what’s the deal?’ Bridgette asked with interest. ‘Mum said this guy looks like Tom Selleck? Whoever that is.’
Trevor tut-tutted at his daughter’s ignorance, and then looked at Jenny. ‘Is this a new man on the scene, Mon?’
‘That’s not my name, Dad.’
‘God, Mon, Jen, whatever.’ Bridgette rolled her eyes in exasperation. ‘Get over it. Answer the fucking question.’
‘Bridgette, please! There’s no need for that language.’ Ona turned back to Jenny. ‘Now, Jennifer, can you please enlighten me as to how you know this man?’
‘He’s in my support group, if you must know. That’s how I know him.’
‘Shit,’ Bridgette whistled, ’another clean freak. How many are there in this group of yours anyway?’
Jenny decided to let the clean freak comment slide, there was no harm in allowing her family to think the support group was only for people with the same issues as herself. ‘There’s eight of us, plus the coordinator.’
Trevor clicked his tongue, and really looked at Jenny for what seemed the first time in years. ‘How are the group sessions going Mon? Sorry, Jennifer?’
’Just Jenny, Dad, please. They’re going well, they seem to be…’
Bridgette, sensing some kind of artic melt happening in favour of her sister, immediately brought the conversation back to herself.
‘Mum, Dad, guess what?’
You’re going to jail for interrupting? Jenny thought to herself, angrily. You’ve got a new job on the other side of the world and you’re moving away forever? Better yet, you’ve got a terminal illness? No, too far. A new job, that’ll do nicely. In the Bermuda Triangle.
‘I got a promotion!’ Bridgette practically shouted the news across the table. Jenny tuned out as Bridgette filled their parents in on the news, and watched enviously as both her mother and father hopped out of their chairs to give Bridgette a hug.
‘This calls for a celebration,’ Ona said happily. ‘Can you get a bottle of bubbles out of the fridge Trev?’
As Jenny watched her Dad walk out of the dining room, she felt Bridgette’s eyes on her. ‘Are you going to congratulate me, Mon?’
‘Congratulations Bridge,’ Jenny answered automatically, ‘that’s great news. I’m really pleased for you.’
Trevor returned with the bottle, and four glasses. After filling them, he handed them around the table, and then held his up waiting for the others to follow. ‘Congratulations Bridge, darling, well done.’
Jenny watched her family hold their glasses up and clink them together, and then felt their eyes swivel in her direction. She could see her father’s fingerprints on the glass of champagne in front of her, and she just couldn’t bring herself to pick it up and put it to her lips. Even just the thought of it made her gag.
Jenny looked at her mother, the woman who gave birth to her, and wished for the millionth trillionth gazillionth time that she would show some sort of sympathy, or understanding. Even just a little bit. Shaking her head slowly in the direction of her champagne glass, which sat untouched, Jenny forced herself to smile as she held up the wine glass she had sterilised earlier. ‘Such great news Bridge, cheers.’
The following morning, Jenny was standing at her kitchen window deep in thought when her mobile beeped. Looking at the screen, she saw it was a message from Anthony.
How is everyone? Ready for tomorrow’s meeting?
It wasn’t long before another message popped up.
I think you were right about the gym Anthony – the unisex sauna isn’t helping me reach my goals… In fact, just the opposite. I might volunteer to speak tomorrow. Unless someone else wants to?
Well, that’s going to make for an interesting evening, Jenny thought as she walked over to the fridge and took out a Spirulina smoothie she had made for herself earlier. Taking it back to the kitchen table with her, she picked up her mobile again.
I was wondering where u got 2 Ellen! Does it make u feel any beta knowin I stopped at the servo on the way hme & got 2 mince pies, a big bag of twisties & a litre of coke?
Yes, in a way.
And I don’t even want to tell you what I’ve got in my pockets right now!
Jenny laughed out loud to herself. She was starting to enjoy being a part of this group. Starting to feel like she actually belonged to this weird bunch of strangely-similar-but-wildly-different people. Jenny’s laughter stopped abruptly when she read the next message that came up on her mobile.
Hi. Do any of you know of any cheap apartments going for rent? I need to find somewhere to live. Fucking ASAP.
Jenny contemplated what might have happened, and thought once more of the angry scar on Petra’s eyebrow. She quickly typed a message.
Petra, are you okay?
Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks. I just need to find somewhere else to live. Temporarily. Orders from The Fucking Bastard (husband).
Jenny looked around her apartment. Could she stay here? With me? Even the thought of having someone actually stay over in her apartment for a night filled her with dread, let alone having someone live with her. No, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Another message appeared on her mobile.
I might be able to help you out Petra. We have a rentals department at the real estate company I work for. Give me a ring on my mobile and I’ll see what we can do.
That’s grand, Anthony! Sorry to hear you have to move Petra. Hope you sort somethin’ out soon.
Any craic over the weekend?
Jenny hadn’t seen any messages come through from Grayson before, and she couldn’t help but read it quickly – imagining he probably wrote it while emailing someone else, making himself a coffee and filling out a betting slip. All at the same time. She wasn’t sure what ‘craic’ meant, but she didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Grayson, what the hell? I do NOT do crack, thank you very fucking much. I am NOT a junkie.
Jaysus, it’s just a saying! Calm your tits. ‘Any craic’ or ‘what’s the craic’ just means did anyone get up to anything interesting over the weekend.
Oh, right. Sorry.
Hey Gray – havnt seen u msg b4. Howz it goin?
I’m grand, lad. Haven’t had time to msg before now, too busy working (read: betting). Last week made me realise a few things. How’s the running going?
Slowly – but surely. I’m heading out 4 a run now actually. C u all tomorw.
Catch you later Phil. So, Jenny – how was the family dinner last night? Does your mum think we’re an ‘item’? Hope I didn’t cause too much of a scandal?
Jenny thought back over the previous night, and sighed heavily before typing a message back to Anthony.
Don’t even ask! I’d rather sign up for two hours of Chinese water torture than endure two more hours of watching my parents fawn over my sister. The only time they don’t ignore me, is when they express their deep disappointment in me.
Jenny wondered if she’d said too much, and waited nervously for a response.
That’s rough. I can sympathise – it sounds a bit like the way my ex-wife treats me. And my kids, actually.
Jenny, why don’t you just say no? I mean, if you don’t want to go to the dinner, don’t fucking go.
I agree honey. Why do you have to subject yourself to it every week?
Because they’re your ma and da, right?
Jenny read their messages and felt her eyes fill with tears. They’re right. Why don’t I just say no? I’m a grown up, I don’t have to be treated like a child anymore. Maybe I won’t go next week. Jenny shook her head, and caught her reflection in the window as she did. As if.