The rest of Jenny’s week passed by uneventfully, aside from the persistent phone calls from her sister. Every time Bridgette tried calling, which was at least once a day, Jenny sent her straight through to voicemail. She knew she’d have to speak to her again at some stage, and to her parents too, but she just couldn’t face it. Not yet. On Sunday morning she had at least three attempted calls, one of which was from her parent’s house, and she was teetering on the edge of giving in and ringing them back, when she received a message from Ellen.
Hi Jen & Petra. Are you both still coming to my place on Tuesday, for our girls’ dinner?
Hi! Great to get your msg, I was just about to give in and ring my parents. Yes, I’m definitely keen for dinner on Tues.
Jenny pushed the send button, and walked into her kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. It was wet and cold outside, and her insides needed warming. Just as she poured the boiling water into a mug, her mobile beeped.
I’m keen for dinner. Can I bring something this time Ellen? Dessert maybe? I make a fucking mean apple crumble.
Jen - are you still not talking to your parents? Maybe it’s time to build some bridges? Family are so important, I bet your parents fucking miss you.
Jenny frowned to herself. Strange message for Petra to send, coming from the woman who calls her husband The Fucking Bastard. She knows what assholes my parents are. Before Jenny could think of a response, her mobile beeped again.
Oh, Petra, I forgot - you were meeting your daughters this weekend weren’t you? How did it go?
p.s. an apple crumble sounds fantastic.
Right, mystery solved, Jenny thought, sipping her tea. No wonder Petra’s so pro-family today.
It went really really well. My girls are so fucking beautiful. I’ve missed them so much. Even TFB was kind.
The Fucking Bastard.
Jenny laughed to herself. Petra was undoubtedly narky, foul-mouthed and kind of scary in an I-wouldn’t-want-to-get-on-your-bad-side kind of way, but she couldn’t help liking her. Picturing Petra in her mind, Jenny once again thought about the ugly scar on her eyebrow and wondered what had caused it. Not for the first time, she wondered if The Fucking Bastard was physically abusive. And not for the first time, she dismissed the idea - you’d have to have a death wish to want to beat Petra up. So how did it happen then?
Jenny suddenly thought of Suzanne, and she typed out another message to Ellen and Petra.
Hey, should we invite Suze?
It was a few minutes before either Ellen or Petra replied, and Jenny was beginning to think they were ignoring her suggestion on purpose.
You know Jen, if you had said that a month ago, I would have pleaded not to. But, after our last meeting, I think you’re right. We should.
My fucking sentiments exactly.
I’ll send her a message, and let her know.
Great, thanks Ellen. I’ll see you guys in a few days.
p.s. I’d like to bring something as well. Can I bring some wine?
Sure Jen. That would be great. See you Tuesday xx
Jenny didn’t even notice the kisses at the end of the message this time, until her mobile beeped again.
Ellen, seriously, I’m not that fucking way inclined. Is our girl’s dinner going to turn into some fucking sordid orgy or something?
Jenny gasped, and was about to type out a reply when Petra sent another message.
Just kidding. See you bitches in a couple days x
Laughing out loud, Jenny put her phone down and wandered over to her kitchen window with her cup of tea. The rain was pelting down, and Jenny noticed a stooped figure walking along the pavement without an umbrella. Or even a jacket. Come to think of it, Jenny thought to herself, that looks a lot like Neil. She squinted through the rain. It IS him. She watched as he stopped further down the road, and huddled inside a bus shelter. God, it must be awful being homeless, let alone in this weather.
Jenny only took a moment to decide on a course of action. Putting her cup of tea down on the kitchen counter, she walked to her door, grabbed a few things hanging from the hooks beside it, and walked out of her apartment. Heading down stairs and hitting the street below, Jenny felt like the rain was punching her in the face, trying to knock some sense into her. Before it had a chance to succeed, she found herself running to the bus stop down the road.
At the sound of her footsteps Neil looked up, his eyes widening in surprise when he saw who it was. Jenny glanced at his feet, and noticed he was still wearing the shoes she had given him. Skidding to a halt just inside the shelter of the bus stop, Jenny suddenly felt shy. Uncertain. She didn’t know anything about this guy, aside from his name. The petrol-vomit-dog-poo smell was still hanging in a cloud around him, but it seemed a bit less strong. A bit less suffocating. Maybe the rain has washed it away a bit, Jenny wondered.
‘Um, hi Neil, you might not remember me…’
Neil smiled, revealing his dirty yellow teeth. ‘Jenny, course I remember ya.’ He pointed down at his shoes. ‘How could I forget? Watcha doing out in this rain then?’ He looked at the bus timetable on the wall of the shelter. ‘No buses due here for half an hour.’
‘Oh, well, I actually live nearby. And, um, I saw you walk past on the street. I thought you might like these.’
Jenny held out the items she had been carrying in her arms, and Neil looked at them. An umbrella, and a poncho. Neil was silent, and Jenny began to wonder if she had really overdone it this time. Would he refuse her charity maybe? Tell her to fuck off?
‘Er, well, it’s a spare umbrella, you know. So, it’s not like it’s charity or anything. And the poncho’s a bit big for me, I thought maybe you could use it. Otherwise it’d only go to waste.’
Neil cleared his throat a few times, and smiled at Jenny. ‘You’re a kind girl, Jenny. Thank you.’
Jenny nodded her head in embarrassment, and handed the umbrella and poncho to Neil, who took them with shivering hands. She suddenly realised how puny her offerings were, in the face of this man’s dreadful existence.
‘Right, well, I should go. Um, take care.’ Jenny started to turn around, embarrassed.
‘Thanks,’ Neil said, ‘I mean it.’
Jenny nodded, and pulled her own jacket tighter around her as she ran out into the rain. Arriving back at her apartment complex, she walked up the staircase slowly, thinking about Neil. What could I do for him? If I gave him money would he just buy booze? His clothes are so rank. She shivered at the thought of touching them. He doesn’t even have a jacket. It suddenly occurred to her that Neil was a similar size to her father. Maybe Dad would donate some of his old clothes?
Before she could decide whether to ring her parents and ask them, she was at her front door. She pulled her keys out of her bag, and looked at the door handle as she unlocked it.
Did I disinfect my hands on the way out? I can’t have, I was in such a hurry. Holy crapoly, I didn’t disinfect my hands on the way out! Jenny smiled to herself as she pushed open her front door and walked inside. After hanging her coat on it’s hook and placing her shoes in their spot on the rack, Jenny walked through to her kitchen. And there, sitting on the bench, was her half-drunk cup of tea. There was even a small ring of tea underneath her cup, which must have been caused by the splash when she put it down in a hurry.
Jenny felt her pulse quicken, and clapped her hands in excitement. No. Fucking. Way…I left my tea cup out and just walked out of the house. Just like that. I just walked out without even putting it away. I. Left. A. Mess.
‘That’s right Universe, I LEFT A MESS!’ Jenny did a little victory dance, and then looked at the offending tea cup. ‘I’m like, almost very nearly a normal person.’ She looked at the tea cup again, and felt herself take a step towards it. Slowly she took another step, and another. As soon as the cup was within arm’s reach, she had emptied it into the sink, placed it in the dishwasher, wiped up the tea ring on the bench and rinsed the sink. Finishing, Jenny sagged against the bench, a rush of relief filling her.
‘Bugger it anyway,’ she muttered.
Two days later, and it was Tuesday. Jenny had a busy morning editing a marketing brochure for one of her clients and barely stopped long enough to drink her coffee, so when lunchtime rolled around she was keen to get out of the house for half an hour. I may as well pick up the wine for dinner at Ellen’s tonight, she thought to herself as she shut down her computer. I wonder if Neil will be outside the liquor shop today. What can I bring him? She went into the kitchen and had a look in her fridge. A fruit smoothie? Yoghurt?
Deciding on both, she put them in a bag and headed out of her apartment. Reaching the street below, Jenny took a few deep breaths of the fresh spring air. From the clear blue sky, you’d never guess that just two days ago the wind and rain had nearly beaten her off her feet.
Reaching Cheep Liquor, Jenny scanned the empty carpark and the surrounding streets. There was no sign of Neil. Shrugging, she walked inside the shop.
The big bearded guy was, as usual, sitting behind the front counter. Except this time, he was reading. He looked up from his magazine when Jenny entered the shop, and smiled. ‘Morning,’ he greeted her.
‘Morning,’ Jenny replied. She pointed over at the wine aisles. ‘Just getting some wine.’
Big Beardy Guy nodded, and turned back to his magazine. Jenny scanned the aisles, and decided to buy a red and a white. Reading the labels, she started to panic. Ellen wasn’t a cheap wine drinker, that much Jenny was sure of. Damn, why did I offer to bring wine?
Jenny was busy berating herself, and missed what Big Beardy Guy called out to her. She raised her head over one of the wine aisles.
‘Sorry, what was that?’
‘I said, what kind of wine are you looking for?’
Jenny looked at him and blinked, slowly. She doubted he had the same taste as Ellen. ‘Uh, a red and a white.’
‘Right. Cos we’ve got a special on the Saint Clair Pinot, which is a very good wine. In terms of whites, you can’t go wrong with the Ara Pathway Sav.’
Jenny coughed to hide her surprise. ‘Great, thanks.’ Locating the suggested bottles, she picked them up and walked to the entrance of the shop.
‘Thanks, for the recommendations,’ Jenny said as she put the bottles on the counter. ‘Do you know a lot about wine?’ Jenny’s cheeks suddenly flamed scarlet as she realised how condescending that must sound to someone who works in, or maybe even owns, a liquor shop.
Big Beardy Guy smiled sheepishly, and held up his magazine for Jenny to see. Cuisine. He opened the magazine to the section on wines, and held it out for Jenny to take a look. Jenny’s hands remained at her sides, but she could see both the wines he had suggested were listed on the page. They both laughed.
After Big Beardy Guy rang up her purchase and Jenny had dropped the exact cash on the counter, she glanced at the shop entrance. ‘Have you seen Neil around today?’
‘Neil? Who’s Neil?’
Jenny was taken aback. This guy probably saw Neil almost every single working day, loitering outside asking his customers for cigarettes, and yet had no clue what his name was. ‘The old, er, homeless guy.’
Big Beardy Guy shook his head. ‘Well, I’ll be. Nah, haven’t seen him today.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Probably a bit early.’
‘Do you know where he lives? Or, rather, sleeps?’
Big Beardy Guy narrowed his eyes. ‘Why?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I guess, I want to help him.’ She held up the plastic bag in her hand, which had the smoothie and yoghurt in it. ‘I was going to give him some food.’
Big Beardy Guy smiled. ’You’re a nice ‘un. Just leave it here, I’ll pass it on to him once he makes an appearance.’
‘Great, thanks. Just tell him Jenny left it here for him.’
Jenny was just walking out with her wine, when she turned back to him. ‘Can you make sure you put it in the fridge? You know, while you wait for him. Just, stuff like that goes bad, the bacteria can make you sick…’
Jenny trailed off as she registered the disbelief on Big Beardy Guy’s face. ‘Uh, yeah, anyway. Catch you round. Thanks for the wine tips.’
Big Beardy Guy waved. ‘Bye Jenny.’
Later that evening, Jenny was walking up Ellen’s front pathway with a bottle of wine in each hand. She was on time, but seemed to be the last to arrive - Petra’s car was already parked across the road, and she guessed the brand new BMW next to it would be Suzanne’s.
Swallowing the butterflies in her stomach, Jenny started walking up the steps to the front door. Before she had a chance to shuffle one of the bottles under her arm to ring the bell, the door swung open. Just like the last time she had visited, a waft of warm delicious smelling air blew out the door and into her face, and Ellen greeted her with a wide smile.
‘Jen, great to see you! Come in, come in. The others are already here.’
Jenny smiled and held the bottles out to Ellen. ‘Ah, here. I bought some wine, but I’m not that experienced buying it. Hope these are okay?’
Ellen nodded, and glanced at the labels of the bottles. Jenny noticed her eyes widen in surprise. ‘Wow, great choices Jen. This red is delicious.’
Ellen turned and headed down the hallway towards the kitchen, indicating that Jenny should follow her.
‘How’d you know I was at the door?’ Jenny said to her retreating back. ‘Before I knocked, I mean. You did that the other night too.’
Ellen glanced back over her shoulder and winked. ‘Security cameras. With my job, and extra-curricular activities, you can never be too careful.’
Walking into the kitchen, the smell made Jenny’s stomach growl in anticipation. Suzanne and Petra were seated at a large rustic-but-outrageously-expensive looking wooden table in one corner of the kitchen, drinking wine and deep in conversation. They turned towards the kitchen door as Jenny and Ellen walked through, and both of them smiled warmly at Jenny.
‘Hi Jen,’ Suze patted a seat beside her. ‘Come and have a drink.’
‘Sav okay, doll?’ Petra held up a bottle of white.
Ellen walked over to the table and placed the bottles Jenny had bought down on the table. ‘Nevermind that muck, Jenny bought these.’
Petra shrugged, as if a bottle of wine was a bottle of wine. But Suzanne looked at the labels of both bottles and nodded her approval. Jenny grinned, and took a moment to say a silent thanks to Big Beardy Guy.
Jenny walked around to the chair Suzanne had offered her. Super, it’s leather, she thought absently, easier to clean. Taking her bag off her shoulder, Jenny reached inside for her disinfectant wipes, but hesitated for a second before pulling them out. She glanced at the others. Ellen was getting more wine glasses out of a cupboard, while Suzanne was opening the bottle of red Jenny had bought. Only Petra was watching, and she winked at Jenny encouragingly.
‘So, what have I missed?’ Jenny asked, wiping down her chair and place setting before taking a seat.
Ellen poured the open bottle of red into three glasses, before handing the bottle and a glass to Jenny so that she could pour her own. ‘Petra was just telling us about her weekend with the BFG.’
Petra snorted. ‘BFG? My arse. He might be big, but he’s definitely not friendly. And he might have a giant ego, but he’s not actually a giant. No, Ellen, my sexually addicted friend, it’s TFB. The Fucking Bastard.’
Ellen laughed. ‘What did I say?’
‘The BFG!’ Jenny giggled, as she took a sip of wine.
Suzanne looked at the three of them blankly. ‘What’s the BFG?’
After the laughter had died down, and Petra had patiently explained what the BFG was all about, she continued her update on her family visit. By all accounts, everything had gone swimmingly, and Petra had been invited over the following weekend for pizza and a DVD.
‘That’s so great, Petra.’ Jenny smiled at her warmly. ‘I’m really happy for you.’
Petra smiled, and took a sip of her wine. ‘You know, I think I’ve fucking turned a corner. I don’t know when it bloody happened, but I feel… different.’
’You are different,’ Ellen agreed. ‘I mean, you’re still terrifying and you swear more than any other woman I’ve ever met, but you’re definitely not the same person who walked into our first support group meeting.’
‘None of us are,’ Suzanne observed. The others turned to look at her, and nodded.
’What’s been happening for you Suze?’ Petra asked. ‘Any news on the job front?’
‘No, not yet.’ Suzanne sighed. ‘Not much call for spoilt shopaholics with no qualifications.’
Ellen reached across the table and patted her shoulder. ‘You’ll find something, I’m sure.’
Jenny watched Ellen’s affectionate pat, and wished she was able to do it herself. But I’d still rather scratch my own eyes out than touch her. She looked at the three other women. They might not be the same people they were at the start of our meetings, but I’m still a nut job. Jenny shook her head slightly, and tuned back in to what was being said around the table.
Petra had just asked Suzanne whether she’d had any serious boyfriends in her past. Jenny’s ears perked up and she forgot to feel sorry for herself.
‘Not really. Well…’ Suzanne paused, as if weighing up whether to say anything. ’There was this one guy. We were together for nearly a year. I was only twenty, but I thought he was The One, that we’d get married. Have kids. You know, all that stuff.’ Suzanne looked embarrassed, and the other women smiled encouragingly.
‘So, what happened?’ Petra asked.
‘Oh, just the usual sad story I guess. He broke my heart. Cheated on me. And…um, stole a heap of money.’
‘Seriously?’ Jenny was shocked.
‘Fucking bastard,’ Petra spat.
Suzanne nodded sadly. ‘I loved him, and I thought he loved me. Turns out he was just after my money. Well, my parent’s money. He told me all sorts of lies about what he did for a living - I thought he was an Investment Banker.’
Ellen topped up their glasses, and then turned to Suzanne. ‘So, what did he do for a living?’
‘Gym Instructor. I should have guessed, Investment Bankers are never that gorgeous.’ Suzanne sighed heavily. ’He was so dreamy. Blonde hair, giant muscles. These amazing green eyes. Really affectionate, always touching me and calling me babe.’
Ellen put the empty bottle of wine down on the table with a thump, and exchanged glances with Petra and Jenny. ‘Just for the record, what was his name?’
‘Troy. Why’s that?’
Jenny, who had taken a gulp of wine just as Suzanne answered, coughed violently as she tried to get her head around it. Surely not. It cannot be the same fucking guy. It just can’t. That is waaay too weird. It’s not possible. It can’t be, we’re jumping to conclusions. But, who else could it be?
Suzanne looked at their shocked faces with alarm. ‘What? What is it?’
‘Well,’ Petra grimaced, ‘this is fucking awkward.’
‘Before we tell this story, I think we’re going to need more wine,’ Ellen exclaimed. The others looked at her doubtfully, aware that they had to drive home afterwards. Ellen looked thoughtful. ‘You could stay here? If you wanted. There’s plenty of room.’
If Jenny hadn’t been so terrified of the idea herself, she would have laughed at the look on Suzanne’s face. She shook her head at Ellen. ‘It’s so nice of you to offer, but I, um, I just couldn’t. Coming over for dinner is one thing but, you know, sleeping in someone else’s sheets…’ Don’t gag. Just don’t gag. It’s no big deal, you’re not going to be sick Jenny. Do. Not. Gag.
‘And I’ve got an early start at the hospital tomorrow,’ Petra said with a shrug, taking another sip from her wine glass and then holding it in front of her to examine it’s contents sadly. ‘Probably should make this my last one.’
Ellen nodded at the two of them, and raised an eyebrow at Suzanne who had a distinct deer-in-headlights stare going on.
‘Soz, Ellen, but I’m not into lezzer action or anything. I thought this was just a dinner party.’
Ellen blinked slowly, and then rolled her eyes dramatically. ‘For goodness sake Suze, I’m addicted to sex, but I’m not a predator. You’re way too young for me. Plus you’re not even my type.’
Suzanne looked confused, and then a tad offended. Jenny and Petra looked at each other and shared a smirk, before Petra broke the awkward silence.
‘Right, Suze, we’ve got a story to tell. About your ex, Troy. And you are seriously not going to fucking believe it.’
With all eyes on her, Petra began to connect the dots. It took at least ten minutes of explaining and then re-explaining before Suzanne had the full picture.
‘O. M. G. So, what you’re telling me,’ Suzanne looked at the three other women, ‘is that the guy who thought Jenny was a loony in the supermarket and then tried to take her home a few months later, on the same day as he set up Ellen to have sex in front of a bunch of pervs, is also the same gorgeous fuckwit who lied his way into my life, broke my heart and stole a bunch of money from me?’
When the story was said out loud like that, Jenny had a hard time believing it herself. Petra and Ellen nodded at Suzanne.
Suzanne shook her head slowly, and clicked her tongue a few times as she mulled it over. Then she opened her blue eyes wide and looked at each of the other women in turn.
‘I just have one other question.’ Petra, Ellen and Jenny looked at her expectantly. ‘What the hell are we going to do about it?’