Walking into her apartment later that night, Jenny closed the door behind her and sagged against the doorframe in relief. What a weird evening, she thought, as she hung her handbag and keys on two hooks beside the door and placed her sneakers on the shoe stand. Pumping a few squirts of disinfectant on her hands, Jenny looked around her apartment fondly. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
A shrill ring from the house phone startled her, and Jenny quickly crossed the tiled entrance of her apartment to its sleek modern kitchen.
‘Hello? Jenny speaking.’
‘Mon, it’s me,’ came a familiar voice from the other end.
‘Hi Bridge.’ It was Bridgette, Jenny’s identical twin sister. ‘How are you?’
‘Oh Mon, I’m terrible! TERRIBLE! You know Luke, that guy from work I was telling you about?’
Jenny racked her brain, but couldn’t recall hearing about a Luke. A Grant, a Paul and a Steve maybe. But definitely not a Luke. ‘Maybe. What about him?’
‘He’s dumped me!’ Bridgette sobbed down the phone. ‘I can’t believe it.’
Jenny rolled her eyes. This was not an unusual or unexpected conversation to have with her sister. ‘I didn’t know you were officially going out with anyone Bridge. Aren’t you seeing Steve, and that guy with the squeaky voice, Grant or Glenn or something?’
There was a loaded period of silence on the other end of the line, as Bridgette’s sobbing stopped. ‘It’s Graham actually. And that’s just casual. Luke and I went out for drinks last week. He’s a doctor at the hospital. I asked when he wanted to see me again, and he said…’ Bridgette sniffed loudly, ‘he said that he’d rather just be friends and keep things uncomplicated since we work together. Uncomplicated? What the hell? Of course you wouldn’t understand Mon, the last date you went on was, well, when was it anyway? High school?’
‘For your information,’ Jenny felt herself wind up like a spring, ‘I am happily single, and did you ever think that maybe I don’t want to go on a date? And Bridge, can you please stop calling me that?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, of course you want to go on a date. Everyone wants to go on a date, even hermits like you.’ Bridgette paused for breath. ‘Stop calling you what?’
‘You know what – Mon. My name is not Monica.’
‘For God’s sake Mon, get a sense of humour would you? If you weren’t such a clean freak, it wouldn’t be your nickname. You haven’t minded for the past ten years, so why care now? Why are you so sensitive tonight anyway?’
‘Well, I had my first...’ Jenny hesitated. She had told Bridgette about having to attend the meetings, of course, but she probably didn’t remember and probably wouldn’t be interested.
‘Your first what? Orgasm?’ Bridgette interrupted impatiently, with a cackle of laughter. ‘It’s about time. Though, I have to say, I’m surprised you could relax enough to get yourself off.’
‘Piss off Bridge,’ Jenny hissed down the phone angrily.
‘Fark, keep your knickers on. Just making a joke. Anyway, I have to go, I can see Paul’s calling on my mobile. Bye Mon.’
Without waiting for a response, Bridgette had hung up. Jenny took a deep breath and put the phone down, before reaching over to switch on the jug. Tea. That was what she needed. Lots of strong hot tea. And maybe a new sister, a boyfriend and a personality transplant while she was at it. But let’s start with the tea.
Sitting down at the small white breakfast bar in her kitchen, Jenny took a sip of her drink and thought about her conversation with her sister. Why DO I suddenly care about that nickname anyway? Actually, she’s wrong, it’s not sudden – I HAVE minded for the past ten years. I’ve minded a lot. But why haven’t I said anything before?
It wasn’t fair – Bridgette was just so normal. And it didn’t make sense. They were identical twins, they shared the same DNA. They should be two peas in a pod. Jenny could never work out how they had ended up so different – not just in personality, but in looks too. Though their differences in the looks department were primarily of their own doing: while Jenny wore her hair in a sleek dark bob, Bridgette had grown hers long and highlighted it. Jenny’s brown eyes were hidden behind thick glasses, while Bridgette’s eyes were her best feature - she wore contacts and three coats of mascara on her lashes to ensure they were noticed. Jenny was slim and extremely toned from hours spent cleaning and tidying and worrying, while Bridgette had become voluptuously plump consuming too many of the chocolates that her nursing patients gave her. In fact, they looked so different that people were often surprised they were sisters at all, let alone identical twins.
The fact that Bridgette was a nurse was a constant source of wonder to Jenny – with all that vomit and wee and poo and blood and whatever other bodily fluids she had to handle, it was probably the last job in the world that Jenny herself would have considered. Bridgette had no problem wiping someone else’s bum. Jenny would rather stab herself in the eyeball with a fork (disinfected, of course) than look at someone else’s faeces, never mind wipe it up. Jenny herself had become a Virtual Assistant, which still confused her parents who didn’t believe it was an actual job, and she had built up a loyal and long-term client base. She loved the organisation, diary management, planning and editing that kept her busy on a daily basis, but even more importantly it was a job that needed absolutely no direct physical contact with another human being – no shaking hands, no sharing crockery, no communal toilets… All her work was done online, and over the phone. Without other people’s judgements on her personal traits and behaviours, Jenny had flourished workwise – her thoroughness and shrewd observations had made it an extremely lucrative career for her, and after a couple of years she had been able to buy her own apartment.
Finishing her cup of tea, Jenny looked at the clock. 9.15pm. May as well get a bit of work done before bed. Putting her mug in the dishwasher, Jenny wiped a tiny speck of tea off the counter before walking through to the spare bedroom she had converted into her office.
Waiting for her laptop to power on, Jenny went around her apartment closing her curtains to ward off the chilly winter’s evening. Satisfied that every fold of material was straight, she sat down at her desk, cleaned her keyboard with a disinfectant wipe and logged in to her email account.
Scanning her inbox, there were several new emails from clients and a couple of newsletters, but right at the top a new email had arrived from Maddison Brown. Jenny clicked on it.
To: “Fairside Addiction Support Group” <email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; J.Matson@hotmail.co.nz; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Petra.McDonald@clear.net.nz; Suze94@hotmail.co.nz>
Date: Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Subject: Support Group
It was great to meet you all tonight. I hope that you all found our meeting beneficial, and are feeling positive about your own personal goals for these sessions.
I just wanted to take a minute to remind you about our group rules around confidentiality, and respect – in our meetings, but also outside of them.
I will look forward to seeing you all again in two weeks. If you want to contact me outside of our sessions, you can do so via this email address or the mobile number on my business cards.
Jenny read the email twice, before concentrating on the email addresses within the group list. Ant must be Anthony. No prizes for guessing who Sexy Stuart is – I hope that’s not her work email. J.Matson must be Jonty. Suze94, surely 94 isn’t the year Suzanne was born? That would make her, what, 22 years old! No way. So, who is whereissherger?
Jenny typed Shergar into Wikipedia, and scanned the first few sentences with surprise. Shergar, a famous Irish racehorse, was stolen from a stud in County Kildare in 1983 by masked gunmen, never to be seen again. That has to be Grayson’s email address then.
Jenny was just about to continue reading, when her phone rang. Standing reluctantly, Jenny went to the kitchen to pick it up.
‘Bridge, it’s late!’
There was a moment’s silence on the other end.
‘It’s not Bridge, Jen. It’s me, Amber. Sorry to call you so late. Were you in bed?’
Aside from online acquaintances and direct family members, Amber was Jenny’s only real-life in-the-flesh friend. They had been friends since school days.
‘No, sorry, Ams – I thought you were my Evil Twin.’ Jenny grimaced, and knew Amber would be doing the same on the other end of the line.
‘What’s she done now then?’ Amber asked.
‘Oh, nothing out of the ordinary really. Just some more man drama. How’re you doing? Good day?’
‘Fine, fine,’ Amber replied impatiently. ‘So, how was it?’
‘How was what?’
Amber tut-tutted. ‘Your meeting tonight, obviously! Honestly, how could you forget? You did go didn’t you? What was it like, tell me everything. And don’t leave anything out.’
Jenny smiled. Her sister and her parents may not have remembered or cared (or been too embarrassed to ask), but Amber had.
‘Okay, but it’s confidential, obviously – and I can’t tell you any names. Actually, I’d better not tell you what they said or who they are, but I’ll tell you a bit about why everyone’s there. Holy crap though Ams, there are some right proper nuts.’
‘Oooo, I can’t wait to hear,’ Amber took a loud slurp of tea on the other end of the line, ’and tell me about the hall, and where did you sit, and did you have to use the toilet, and were there any men in the group. Any attractive men. Don’t leave anything out.’
Jenny carried the phone into the office and sat down in a Lazy Boy chair in the corner of the room, wondering who she should start with first. The sex addict, the angry drug addict physio with the scar, or the kleptomaniac?