Three hours later she sat in The Crushed Grape, a trendy new wine bar that had been called the Red Lion up until a few months ago. It had been her and Vin’s favourite pub in the whole of London, and whilst they hated the new refit, the new yuppie crowd, they kept meeting there, though they never referred to it by anything other than its original name. Sophie was still floating, and had ordered a bottle of champagne and now sat in a booth waiting. She’d sent a message to Bill, but realised that it was the early hours of the morning in Australia, so there was no way she could call him.
Filling one of the flutes, she was about to sip at the straw coloured bubbles when the door opened and Vincenza burst in. She was a real sight to behold, with her dark Italian colouring, her petite frame and wild fashion sense, today she had a patterned A-line dress over vivid purple leggings with royal blue Uggs, she looked fantastic. As an artist Sophie always imagined she’d be more outlandish, but she was a person who didn’t take comfort for granted, so she had distinct favourites. And she didn’t feel bland in her black dress and plain black shoes.
With a squeal Vincenza rushed over to hug her friend. “Amazing, amazing I’m SO pleased!” They hugged for an age, then Sophie nodded in the direction of the champagne. “So we REALLY celebrate, hey?”
The champagne didn’t last long, and soon they were eating olives and cheese as they moved onto white wine. They knew a few people who came in and out as they’d spent a lot of time there over the years, so they were never short of conversation. The evening flew, and it was almost ten pm when Edward arrived.
A rather drunk Sophie smiled at him, “Ed my boy! I’m so glad you pulled your head out of your arse and realised that this girl is a keeper!”
She put her arm around Vincenza’s shoulders and squeezed her, Vin was too tipsy to get embarrassed, and she brushed her friend off then accepted a passionate kiss to die for from Ed. Groaning Sophie looked around; suddenly the mood of the evening had changed.
“Frank!” She called out to the bar man, propping herself at the end of the bar, “can I have a beer?”
He nodded from his location at the other end of the busy bar, then as he made some other drinks, they were regulars here and Frank was an old friend. With a shout, he slid an open bottle along the bar to her in Western Saloon fashion. Grinning at him, she lifted it to her lips and took a long drink. She’d settled with Frank later, he trusted her.
The back of the room had become an impromptu dance floor for a hen party all of whom wore matching pink t-shirts and tacky silver wigs. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’d obviously commandeered the jukebox and the music was cheesier than Vin’s europop.
“This was looking to be a celebration...now I’m just sad and lonely.” She said the words aloud but no one could hear over the pumping beat of Tiffany and the very ironic I think we’re alone now! Vin waved to her, but she wasn’t about to disturb her and Ed, they needed time together. Glancing at her phone she sighed, no response from Bill. Tears prickled behind her eyes, but she wouldn’t cry, not today.
Frank’s girlfriend Emma dragged Sophie up for a dance as the music changed to Pour some sugar on me, well if it was air guitars you were talking about! Sophie took the challenge with aplomb, laughing out loud at the antics of the others.
Vin and Ed were still tickling tonsils at the back of the pub, so obviously besotted with each other and Sophie really didn’t want to spoil that. Back at the bar, she waved to Frank and he finished serving a couple of the hens before sliding her another bottle.
“I’ll get that!” A voice spoke from over her shoulder.
Sophie recognised the voice, and whilst she’d have given anything for it to be Bill, it wasn’t, it couldn’t be. And Miles Langley was no alternative.
Turning slowly she tried to smile, but it was the last thing she felt like, he was immaculate as usual in a pin stripe suit, his dark hair neat, his jaw clean shaven. Instead of relief at suddenly having company, someone to talk to, she was angry, annoyed at his appearance in her life...again. “Miles, it’s ok. Honestly, I’ve got this.” Hoiking her bottom onto a barstool, she tried to discourage his attention, but instead he pulled up a stool next to her.
Groaning she turned to him, “I’m not good company I’m afraid.”
He shrugged, “me neither, but it beats drinking alone, hey?”
It didn’t, not really. But she couldn’t stop him sitting there, if she left then Vin would start panicking and she was happy with Ed for a while. She could sit and be neutral, she knew that.
“So you didn’t get back to me about us going out the other night.”
Controlling her anger at him was a fine line, taking a deep breath she turned to him and shrugged, “I’ve been in Paris...Miles, I can’t do this. Bill...”
He grinned, “if he’s fool enough to leave you out alone then that’s his problem!” The look had a lecherous quality to her and her anger soon became repulsion.
She snapped, “he’s in Australia, and I miss him, ok?”
Miles never lost that overconfident expression, and coupled with his nonchalant shrug, she really felt like punching his nose. Instead she drained her beer, completely, then turned to Miles.
“I’m going to the bathroom.”
Sliding across the room between the other drunken revellers she took a few deep breaths, she knew that her frustration at Bill being away was making her more grouchy, after all she could handle Miles, he was no threat to her, and she could handle him with her eyes closed.
Using the bathroom she ran cold water and splashed it on her face. She was going to leave, she’d had her fun and she wanted to find Vincenza and tell her she was going.
“What are you doing with him?” Vin hissed as Edward made for the bar to replenish their drinks. “He’s trouble!”
Sophie nodded, “I know. I think he came here deliberately...but I’ve told him to piss off, don’t worry.”
Vin reached for her hand, “you ok?”
Sophie nodded, “I’m good, I just need to head home. I’m shattered.”
Vin’s heart bled for her friend, she looked so sad on a day when all her dreams had come true, “he’ll call you know, and he’ll be more pleased than anyone else.” As Sophie nodded in agreement, Vincenza saw the tears well in her eyes, “it’s another couple of weeks. Then you’ll have him all to yourself. Ok?”
“I know. You home tonight?” When she shook her head Sophie grinned, “I’ll lock up, that’s all. Have a good night.”
Miles was still at the bar, stood nursing his beer, Sophie reached for her coat, “did you come here deliberately to see me?”
He’d make an extremely good poker player as his face didn’t change as he looked at her, “I’ve heard it’s nice in here...nice clientele and all that.” Make of that what you will his eyes said with arrogance.
She stared at him for an age, then sighed, “I was wrong to ever meet you for dinner, there was never anything between us, and you were wrong to insinuate there was. Now if you don’t mind.”
With that she stood and stormed out of the pub.
She’d got to the bus stop when she realised that she hadn’t waved goodbye to Vin. Damn! She reached into her bag for her phone, a text would have to suffice, Sophie had told her she was leaving, but she should have let her know she was going. Pulling things out of her bag she groaned, no sign of it. She’d last seen it when she checked for any message from Bill. She must’ve left it on the bar. Hopefully Frank had seen it. She’d collect it tomorrow...but then she’d not see any message from Bill, he might call...
Cursing under her breath she turned around and stomped back to the pub.
“Frank, did I leave my phone here?” Fortunately Miles had disappeared so she didn’t have to deal with him.
Frank nodded, “your mate handed it to me, the guy you were sat with.”
Mate? She sighed, as if. Taking the handset she waved to Vincenza and her friend waved back. Then left. Instead of the bus she got a taxi, stuff the cost.
The next two days were living chaos. She had so much to do and so little time. The launch was planned for three weeks time; Michael liked one of her styles of painting and recommended she create a series of linked pictures, if she could. But that took inspiration. But her muse had been silent.
She’d not heard from Bill since her text to say she’d got the exhibition. The race was trundling on and he was racing well. There was no injury, crash or disaster to explain his absence. On the third morning she finally had an email from him.
“Congrats Sophie. I knew you could do it.”
No kisses, no personalisation and not even a ‘Bill’.
Every piece of work she created was hard. She put blood, sweat and most of all tears into it. But instead of the bright attractive work her exhibition was based on, she seemed to be showing her uncertainty, her abandonment via her art.
Not that she’d told anyone. The last thing she needed was Vincenza realising that Bill had suddenly stopped contacting her, she didn’t even tell Margo. Instead every time she opened her bedroom door, she plastered on a smile and acted as though life was the greatest it could be.
Michael surprisingly loved her additional pieces, and rather than thinking they were out of sync with the rest of her collection, he thought they complimented it. So suddenly there was no real reason to pull herself out of her sadness.
One night when she couldn’t sleep, she climbed down the stairs to his room. The house was deserted; Vin was at Ed’s, so she was ultra lonely. In Bill’s room there was a serenity that she’d not found anywhere else. Slipping under his cool dark duvet, she buried her face into his pillow, “Bill!” She moaned, “how can you change so quickly?”
But for the first time in the week, she’d slept. Soundly.