Jenny sat in her car for a full five minutes, crying frustrated tears. She was so busy sobbing that she nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a knock on her car window.
‘Mon? I mean, Jen? Is that really you?’
Jenny looked up and saw her sister’s surprised face peering in at her. She looked at Bridgette’s dishevelled clothes, and the pair of heels swinging from her hand. She was obviously doing the walk of shame, at 2pm in the afternoon. Typical Bridge. Jenny almost smiled, despite her situation.
She rolled down her window. ‘Hi Bridge.’
Bridgette examined Jenny’s tear-streaked face. ‘What the fuck happened to you? Are you okay?’
Jenny shook her head, and Bridgette motioned for her to get out of the car. ‘Come on then, this is totally weird, but let’s get you inside.’
Walking towards Bridgette’s front door, Jenny felt a wave of apprehension. She hadn’t been inside her sister’s flat since, well, since a very long time ago. And it wasn’t a pleasant memory.
Bridgette sensed her distress. ‘Settle down, there’s no-one else home. And our cleaner will have been this morning.’
Jenny glanced at her in surprise. ‘You’ve got a cleaner?’
Bridgette rolled her eyes. ‘Yes, we have a cleaner, it’s not a hovel. Contrary to your expectations, I’m not a dirty pig. Well, I pay someone to make sure I’m not.’
Jenny looked down at the heels in Bridgette’s hand, and Bridgette followed her gaze. ‘Okay, okay, I’m a dirty stop-out maybe, but not a dirty pig. Anyway, wait until you hear about this guy. I mean, honestly, who would have thought a surgeon would be able to…’
Jenny followed Bridgette into her flat, soothed by her constant chatter and almost able to forget her own awful predicament. Almost. Phil. He’s NEVER going to look at me the same now. The one guy who’s even considered me worth something in years, and he’s going to hate me. Jenny let out a sob and Bridgette, who had gone ahead into the kitchen to turn on the kettle, poked her head back out.
‘Seriously Jen, this is a fucking tidy flat. It’s just been cleaned, you don’t need to cry about it.’
Jenny laughed, despite herself. ‘It’s not your flat Bridge.’ She looked around, taking in the lounge. It was clean. And tidy. Not to Jenny’s standard, obviously, but it was… okay. ‘This actually looks nice, Bridge.’ She glanced at the artwork on the walls, a series of paintings all in bright hues of orange and yellow. The colours were both startling, and somehow calming. ‘Wow, these are great. Where did you get them from?’
Bridgette looked confused, as if Jenny was speaking a foreign language. ‘They’re mine Jen. I’ve actually done quite a bit of painting lately.’ Jenny stared at her in shock. My sister is a talented painter. How did I not know this? Once again, she had the unnerving feeling that it wasn’t just her sister who had been completely self-absorbed all these years, and it wasn’t just herself affected by all her weird cleaning habits and obsessions.
Bridgette shrugged. ‘I’ve been doing some sculptures, too. Mostly clay. I’ve got a kiln out the back, and I’ve turned the garden shed into a little studio.’
Jenny shook her head, ‘I had no idea.’
Bridgette walked back into the kitchen, and Jenny could hear her taking cups out of her cupboard. ‘Of course you didn’t. Right, I’m making tea. Will you have one?’
‘Oh, um…’ Jenny thought about Bridgette’s hands, which had just been carrying her heels, holding a tea cup. ‘Oh, no, I don’t think so.’
Bridgette sighed impatiently. ‘Get in here, and clean your own cup. You’ve turned up at my flat unannounced, which you’ve never ever done in our lives to date, crying your eyes out in your car no less, the least you can do is drink a cup of tea.’
‘Ok, ok. I’m coming.’ Jenny walked into the kitchen, and Bridgette stood back sipping her own tea, watching while Jenny used dishwashing liquid to wash a cup, her hands, and the handle of the milk bottle and kettle, before finally pouring herself a cup of tea.
‘I see you’re still nuts-o then.’
Jenny turned to Bridgette, intending to make a sharp response, when she saw the genuine concern on her sister’s face. She shrugged. ‘Yep, I guess so.’
‘Come on, into the lounge.’ Bridgette turned around and led Jenny back into the lounge, where she settled herself on one of the couches. Jenny followed her, and looked at the seating options. There were two couches, and a leather armchair. Leather was the more desirable option, as it harboured less germs and was easily wipeable. She put her tea cup on a coaster on the coffee table, and took some disinfectant wipes out of her bag to clean the armchair before sitting down. Bridgette waited patiently for Jenny to settle herself down.
‘Ok, Jen. Spill. Who is he?’
Jenny looked at her in surprise. ‘How’d you know it’s a “he”?’
Bridgette shook her head. ‘For a smart woman, you always were a bit on the thick side. Of course it’s a man. Tell me what’s happened.’
Fifteen minutes later, Jenny was almost finished. The tale was nearly told. And, in the light of day, she felt better for having been able to talk about it. To her sister. Who, surprisingly, had listened intently making all the right aghast and outraged noises at all the right times.
‘So, now Phil thinks I’m a disgusting slapper, and Troy humiliated him in front of me, and that’s it… My one chance for an actual relationship has well and truly turned to custard.’
Bridgette clicked her tongue a few times, and then whistled. ‘Holy shit balls, Jen. Who would’ve guessed? Troy, obviously, sounds like a complete and utter creep. But, I reckon you probably humiliated him more by telling him exactly what he’s like and driving off, than just by setting the fire alarm. He sounds like the kind of guy who’d be quite happy to hang around outside the building nude.’
Jenny looked at her sister in surprise, she hadn’t thought about that.
Bridgette continued. ‘As for this Phil guy, yep, you’ve really messed things up, but I don’t think it’s a complete lost cause. Except, it sounds as if you aren’t really that keen anyway – going out with him just because he’s the first person who’s wanted to ask you out maybe isn’t the best reason…but if you DO decide you want to, well I bet after seeing you in that outfit, which – fyi – is sensational,’ Bridgette looked at Jenny’s lean physique with more than a little envy, ‘he might be pissed off, but he damn well wants to get in your knickers now.’
Jenny sighed heavily. ’That’s another problem Bridge. Even if I did give it a chance, and if I did develop, you know, romantic feelings about him, I just don’t know if I’m capable of actually acting on them. You know, touching and stuff. So, even if it isn’t a lost cause, it kind of still is.’
Bridgette rolled her eyes. ‘For someone so smart, you really can’t think outside of the box can you? It’s obvious. Phone sex.’
Jenny choked on a mouthful of tea. ‘What?’
‘Phone sex. You know, you ring each other, talk about all the stuff you want to do, except you don’t actually do it, and you can pleasure yourselves in the comfort of your own home. It’s almost as good as the real thing. In fact, remember that guy I was seeing who moved to Aussie?’ Jenny shook her head as Bridgette continued. ’Well, if I remember rightly, sometimes it’s better than the real thing.’
Jenny felt herself squirm with embarrassment.
‘I keep thinking I must be dreaming,’ Bridgette suddenly said. ‘My sister, sitting here in my house, drinking tea and talking about relationship disasters. It’s so normal that I feel like we’re in the twilight zone. I think I might still be drunk,’ she looked at the clock on the wall behind Jenny’s head, ‘except it’s mid-afternoon and I can’t be.’ She winked at Jenny. ‘Not after the naked workout I’ve had all morning, all the alcohol has well and truly been dissolved.’
Jenny laughed. ‘I know, right. It’s weird. That I’m here. I’m, um, sorry I haven’t been able to do this sooner. Or, well, ever.’
Bridgette shrugged. ‘You’re here now. Wait until I tell Mum! She is going to DIE when she hears.’
Jenny felt herself stiffen. ‘Oh, Bridge, I don’t think…’
‘Jennifer Sullivan, you have just arrived on my doorstep, crying with man troubles no less, and sitting down on my actual furniture to have a cup of tea. I HAVE to tell Mum. It’ll probably be the proudest moment in her life.’ Bridgette eyed her sister. ‘You know, you really should get in touch. It’s been… tough on her. She worries about you.’
‘She doesn’t worry about me Bridge. She’s embarrassed of me, she just wants me to be someone I’m not. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wishes I hadn’t been born.’
Bridgette looked at her in shock. ‘Don’t be so fucking ridiculous. She loves you Jen, more than me if I’m honest. She might seem like a tough old bag sometimes, but she’s done a lot, changed a lot, to make things easier for you over the years.’
Jenny grimaced and nodded. ‘I’ve actually been thinking about that a bit lately. Okay, fine. I’ll ring her when I get home.’
An hour later, Bridgette walked Jenny out to her car. Before they had a chance to say goodbye, two cyclists pulled up beside them.
‘Jen! Howaya? What’s the craic?’
Jenny looked at the owner of the voice, and realised with surprise that it was Grayson. She felt a strong sense of the universe tilting ever so slightly. It was weird to see him out in the real world.
‘Grayson, hi!’ Jenny smiled at him. He and his female companion were wearing cycling shorts and those odd-looking streamlined helmets you see on professional cyclists on TV. Jenny smiled at the girl on the bike beside him. There was something really familiar about her. Maybe familiar wasn’t the right word. Grayson caught her glance, and motioned at his companion with one hand.
‘Jen, this is Belinda. Belinda, Jen.’
Belinda smiled, revealing a mouth full of very large white teeth. ‘Hi Jen.’
Her eyes were huge, and chocolate brown. Her face was long, almost like it had been stretched. Jenny couldn’t pull her eyes away from her.
Jenny realised her sister was still standing beside her, and a quick glance at her confirmed that she was also finding it hard to stop looking at Belinda. ‘Hi Belinda. Um, this is my twin sister, Bridgette.’
Jenny watched as Grayson looked from her to her sister. ‘Howaya Bridgette? I think I’ve heard about ya.’ Grayson suddenly looked self-conscious. ‘Er, just that Jen’s got a twin, ya know?’
Bridgette smiled, and said hello. There was a brief moment of silence, and Jenny looked at the ground awkwardly. ‘Er, right,’ Grayson filled the silence, ‘we’d better get off. You goin’ to the gym Jen?’
It occurred to Jenny that Grayson must have been talking to Phil, and had probably heard the whole sorry story. ‘What? Why?’ she asked sharply.
Grayson smirked and eyed her appreciatively, ‘er, your um, outfit.’
Belinda reached over and punched him on the arm good naturedly. ‘Come on you dirty old man, let’s go.’ Grayson smiled back at her, and they started to pedal off. ‘Lovely to meet you both,’ Belinda called out.
‘See ya the week after next Jen,’ Grayson waved, before turning round to face the road.
Jenny and Bridgette watched as the two of them cycled away, laughing loudly at something Grayson had said.
‘So, where’d you know the Irish guy from?’ Bridgette asked, dragging her eyes away from their retreating backs to look at Jenny.
‘Um, he’s in my support group.’
Bridgette’s eyes widened. ‘Wow, he doesn’t strike me as a clean freak.’
‘Well, that’s because he’s not.’
‘Right. So what’s his deal then?’
Jenny looked thoughtful, and glanced down the street to make sure Grayson was well and truly out of earshot. ‘I can’t tell you any details, okay? It’s confidential.’
Bridgette laughed. ‘Well, from the looks of his girlfriend, I’d say he’s into something equestrian-related.’
Jenny looked at her in shock. ‘What do you mean? How did you know?’
‘Belinda, his girlfriend. Surely you noticed she has a very strong resemblance to a certain animal?’
Jenny blinked a few times as she realised that Bridgette was absolutely right. Grayson, the gambling addict who was trying to stay away from the geegees, was dating a woman who looked remarkably like a horse.
‘Bridgette, honestly…’ Jenny looked at her with something close to awe, ‘you’ve actually smacked the nail right on the head.’
When Jenny arrived back at her own apartment, she let herself in her front door and felt some of the day’s stress finally leave her shoulders. It was good to be home. Jenny looked down at her outfit. But it’ll be even better when I get these stripper gym clothes off and scorch myself in a hot shower.
Nearly an hour later, her skin bright red from the combination of extremely hot water and over-vigorous scrubbing with a loofah brush, Jenny put on her pyjamas and settled herself down on her couch with a mohair blanket and a glass of red wine. It wasn’t even six in the evening, but she felt an overwhelming urge to lay in the foetal position watching reality TV and licking her wounds.
Realising she hadn’t checked her mobile since she left the gym earlier that day, she fished it out of her bag. There were seventeen new messages waiting for her.
Shit, I never got back to the girls about what happened! Jenny realised they would all have been waiting for an update, and would be anticipating the worst.
She scrolled through the messages, all from Ellen, Petra and Suze, asking how it went, replying to each other and speculating as to why they hadn’t heard from Jenny yet. Suze even suggested at one point that maybe Jenny had gone further with Troy than planned. Yuk, as if! Jenny thought in disgust.
The last message was from Ellen.
Seriously Jen, are you okay? Put us out of our misery. What happened?
Jenny took a sip of wine, and put her glass back down on a coaster on her coffee table.
Sorry I haven’t been in touch. The plan was an unmitigated disaster. I still can’t believe what happened.
Oh shit Jen, doesn’t sound good. If that fuckwit did anything to hurt you, I’ll fucking kill him.
Thanks Petra, but he didn’t touch me. It was just… awful. Phil turned up.
Apparently everyone had been waiting by their phones, as Suze replied in seconds.
Holy shit! Phil, from our group?
Jenny shook her head, as she thought about the look on Phil’s face when Troy had sauntered out in the nude, and then he’d seen that awful red leather riding crop in her hand. Jenny took a gulp of red wine from her glass, trying to wash down the feeling of shame that was sticking in her throat.
Jen, where are you?
I’m just at home, E. In my pjs on the couch, drinking red wine.
I’ll be there in ten minutes.
Jenny read Ellen’s message and expected to feel nervous that she was on her way over. Instead, she felt relief.
Ellen, true to her word, arrived shortly afterwards. Jenny let her into her apartment, and gave her a small smile. ‘Come in.’
Ellen took off her shoes and reached for the bottle of disinfectant on the hall table to wash her hands. Jenny turned and started walking towards the lounge, her slippers making a shuffling sound, as Ellen followed behind. Jenny pointed to a second glass of red wine on the coffee table. ‘I’ve already poured one for you and,’ she looked at her own glass, ‘another one for me.’
‘Thanks hun. I came in a taxi and I’ve got another bottle in my bag – I had the feeling we might be needing it.’ Ellen sat on the couch beside Jenny, and put a hand on her knee. Jenny looked at it, and although she desperately wanted the comfort, she couldn’t help but flinch. She almost felt sorry when Ellen realised what she was doing and removed her hand. Almost.
‘Okay, Jen, tell me everything and don’t leave anything out.’