Bill’s bed. She couldn’t believe how close to him she felt in his room, in his bed. And she could think again now that she wasn’t so tired. Being ultra organised, Sophie started making lists of things she had to do. It didn’t leave a lot of time to think about the man whose bed she slept in. She sent him odd emails, but other than the one impersonal reply she’d had to congratulate her on her job, she heard nothing back. And despite it all, she had too much pride to phone him anymore, she’d spent so long speaking to his answer phone, and she couldn’t do it any longer.
Jumping up from yet another good night’s sleep; she consulted the jotter pad beside the bed. Today was all about sorting out the pieces that she’d exhibit and the layout. Margo was joining her at the gallery and they were hoping to influence Michael into their own thoughts. Her other job was to look for somewhere else to live. Whatever happened she couldn’t stay here at Bill’s, she had to move on. He’d treated her so badly, disappearing without trace, no contact...that couldn’t be a man who loved her. But she also wanted to treat Margo, as a thank you for her unending support.
Lifting out of her reverie, she checked her laptop, there were three stages to go in the Australian race, and due to a nasty crash two days earlier, Johnny Peters the British favourite was out, a broken collar bone ending any chance of victory. It meant that Bill was in a good position to be the new British number one, and so see every one push him for a victory. After all, he was in ninth position and there was very little in it. She was so tempted again to call him to congratulate him. But no, he was a bastard; he was failing as the man who said he loved her, and as a friend. Sighing she reached for her phone and sent him a quick text. She couldn’t ignore his good fortune, she wasn’t like him.
Dressing she grabbed a piece of toast then made for ARTistic. As usual, Margo was pottering around in her little world, Sophie hated that her friend had to close the shop to accompany her, but it was quiet anyway, and most customers were regulars. Margo grinned at her friend as she heard the front door open.
“Ah Sophie! I’m just SO excited to be going ‘uptown’!”
Sophie giggled, “I’m SO glad you’re coming! I’m SO excited!”
Within ten minutes they were in a cab cutting across town.
Michael was nothing but a perfectionist, but as this was her first, and quite likely her only exhibition, she wasn’t about to back down over anything, and Margo was like her second in command fighting for her devotedly. And they won. Michael was crushed into submission on all counts, and mainly due to Margo’s’ dogged determination.
Standing the petite octogenarian smiled at her former colleague, “Michael, I’m SO glad that you have the same vision as us!”
She screen kissed him rather dramatically, then led the laughing Sophie out into the street.
“Margo, I insist on lunch, on me! My treat!”
Margo looked at her, almost making to protest, then she smiled, “why I’d love to! Bugger the shop!”
She’d never eaten at any of London’s Michelin starred restaurants, but today she was throwing caution to the wind. She deserved the treat, and so did Margo. She was a legendary friend. They were met at the door by a maître’d, for a moment he looked them both up and down in a Pretty Woman derogatory fashion.
“I’m afraid we’re fully booked for lunch.”
Sophie smiled, “I’m so glad to hear that. I’ve got a reservation, in the name of Beck...” she glanced over her shoulder at Margo and grinned, “and we’ll be drinking a bottle of your finest champagne!”
He gasped for a moment, but then led them to a table.
Margo leaned across and hissed, “Sophie! This will bankrupt you!”
Sophie shrugged, letting out a peal of laughter, “I don’t give a shit! This is the highlight of my life, and it’s all thanks to you! I’ve got some room on my credit card, and I intend to blow it! Margo, you’ve done so much for me!”
Margo sighed, wishing that her own family appreciated her that much. “I only wish one of my daughter’s in law, or even grandchildren were as much fun as you. We’re like kindred spirits, how we found each other in this quagmire of a world I’ll never know. But it was destiny!”
Sophie couldn’t have put it better herself.
The champagne arrived, she’d have to sell five paintings to pay for it, but Sophie didn’t care.
“So how are things with your sons?” She asked as she sipped the sparkling drink appreciatively.
Margo groaned, “Not good. They want me to move out of the City; apparently middle class suburbia needs a retired artist.”
“But you love the shop, you love Camden. You can’t move!”
Margo accepted a menu from the waiter with a gracious smile, then turned back to Sophie, “I’m fighting it, but not doing very well. I’m working on a compromise.”
Sophie opened her leather bound menu and groaned in appreciation at the list of desirable food. Finally glancing back up to her friend she sighed, “What does that mean?”
“I’m giving up the shop.”
Sophie almost dropped her glass, “what? You can’t!”
Margo sighed, “I have to. It is getting harder to manage, and if I close the shop, I can still keep the house, and I’ll have more time to see the family...meet them in the middle. They’re all worried about me; they think that I’m going to be beaten up and robbed...then they can’t physically help me with my shop. This works, as much as I hate the thought, and I am tired Sophie.”
“You say they worry, but not enough to do anything to help!”
It was a catty comment from Sophie, but a true one, she was so angry with Margo’s family. She was such a wonderful and interesting woman, she was better than two grannies and a mother rolled into one. In fact she was more than all three to Sophie.
“Let me help you more. Let me man the shop for you, or cash up, go to the bank...”
Margo smiled, then turned to order foie gras and Dover sole, pausing as Sophie ordered lobster salad and wood pigeon breast. “Sophie, I love you for the suggestion, but it is in no way going to sway the family. And to be honest, I find the hours are getting harder. I’m not lying when I say I’m tired, the shop could be much more than it is, if someone young and business minded took it over.”
Sophie slumped back in her seat, how disastrous, losing so much in one swoop, Bill, her home and now her mentor and friend. She blinked away the tears that threatened to fall, and she tried to smile. Margo reached out and placed a hand over hers.
“Those tears can’t be for me!”
Blinking furiously Sophie shook her head, “partly! I mean...Oh I don’t know!”
Sophie hadn’t told anyone that Bill had failed to contact. She’d played it down to Vin, and not mentioned anything to anyone else. But now with Margo looking at her earnestly, she felt her defences crumble. She couldn't imagine losing the older woman too. It was all too much.
“It’s Bill...” and then the whole sorry sob-filled story came out. Him telling her he loved her, then the silence, the impersonal email, and then even more silence.
Margo believed in soul mates, she’d met hers, and she truly believed that Sophie had met hers. Bill had ticked every box with his chivalry, his friendship. Shaking Sophie’s hands, she gathered her attention.
“I don’t believe he’s running away.”
“There’s no other explanation. If there was any other reason, anything I’d done or said, then he’d tell me. I mean we’re friends, first and for most. And I honestly can’t stay at that house. So not only have I lost him, but I’ve got to move out too. Preferably before he gets home, though I don’t see me having the time...”
“Don’t rush into these things darling. He’s a man; there’ll be a simple reason behind it. You know how basically men think.”
“Even if there was a disaster, then why would he rain on my parade, spoil my big moment. Margo, he’s my mate, my friend! And he’s let me down at the most important time of my life. How can I forgive that?”
Margo smiled, leaning back in his seat, “because you love him! You can’t let him walk away. Something must have happened, you just need to work out what.”
Sophie rushed to change the subject. She wanted to enjoy the meal, and not be thinking about her heartbreak.
As they pondered dessert, they’d discussed the intricacies of the exhibition, and the conversation had now turned to Sophie’s clothes. She had no idea what to wear, and she’d blown a huge chunk of cash on this meal. But since Michael had offered her the chance to exhibit her phone hadn’t stopped ringing. She had interviews with The Sunday Times, The Express as well as several London papers. She’d be photographed too. But the important thing in Margo’s eyes was the night itself.
But Sophie just wasn’t that girly girl.
“You know I was talking about giving up the shop.”
Margo was replete, the champagne had relaxed her, and the rich food had satiated her. When Sophie nodded, she smiled. “I hope you don’t see this in the wrong light...but I want you to have it.”
Laughing, she replied immediately, “I told you I’d help you. I mean if I had enough money I most definitely would take it off your hands, but I couldn’t afford that if I sold ALL my work next week.”
Shaking her head the older woman protested, “that’s not what I meant; I want you to have it. There’s no lease, I own the building, it’s got insurance...and that apartment in the attic, you could make the store room a studio, you always talked about teaching, you could run classes...”
Sophie stopped her, “you can’t give me that, it’s obscene. And it’s your inheritance, your family...”
“Phft! Like they need yet MORE money! And as you so rightly pointed out, they don’t care about me, they don’t care that ARTistic is my every hope and dream. To quote you, not one of them ‘gives a shit’! But you do, and you’d keep it going, let my legacy live on. And I like that thought.”
That night as Sophie climbed into Bill’s more than comfortable bed, she sighed, she’d denied she could take it, that this was too much for her to consider. Margo had agreed to give her time to think, but she couldn’t take that as a gift. Could she?
Where was Bill when she needed him? He’d know what to do.