“Because you love him!” “He’s a man; there’ll be a simple reason behind it.”
Margo’s words woke Sophie the next morning, and in the cold light of day, she knew the older woman was right. Bill had told her he missed her, he loved her. Why would he suddenly change that opinion? And why wouldn’t he tell her?
She’d emailed him the previous night, all about Margo’s offer, Vincenza was nowhere to be seen, loved up with Ed, and quite rightly so, which left her less than friendly friend. She hoped that Bill would offer her some advice, though she wasn’t exactly sure what she expected him to say.
She was still flummoxed about everything when she made her way into town; the quest for a grand opening dress was starting to become a panic. She had three interviews the following day, and another two the day after. After that there was just two days to her launch, she had no idea how she was going to fit everything in. She had to buy a dress today, or there just wouldn’t be enough time!
After two hours of fruitless search, her phone rang. Vincenza.
“How’s the shopping stranger?”
Sophie collapsed onto a bench on the busy High Street, “I have NO clue what to wear! I’m at a loss. Wish you were here!”
“Well I just happen to have finished work early, and I have trade discount! Where are you?”
A further two hours later and Vin was as frustrated as Sophie, “I have never known someone as difficult to dress as you!”
Sophie glanced sideways at her, “I take it that’s not a compliment!”
Vin sighed, “Everything that would be instinctive for you swamps your personality. You need something light, cheeky, but I can’t find it! And that’s not like me!”
Sophie nodded, “maybe I’m destined to wear jeans!”
Leading her by the elbow, Vin deviated them into a wine bar, “liquid refreshment! And you shall NOT wear jeans!”
With a glass of wine each, they sat near the bar and sighed simultaneously.
“Have you invited Nick yet?” Vin asked, sitting back in her chair. The frosty relationship between Sophie and her brother had been better of late, but she knew it was difficult for her friend to merge the family/friend boundaries.
“I’m going for dinner there tomorrow. I haven’t mentioned it yet. I’m not sure they’ll come.”
Vin shook her head, “if they don’t that’s because you haven’t given them enough warning. They might struggle to get a babysitter.”
Sophie sighed, “it’s all too much to organise. I’m amazed I’ve got this far!”
“You’ve been super organised, Bill would be so proud! I can’t wait to tell him! He must be chuffed to be up to fifth in the race!”
Sophie shrugged noncommittally; she’d still not told her friend that things were more frosty than with her brother. But her lack of enthusiasm didn’t go unmissed.
“What is it?”
Sophie tried to brush it off, but Vin was like a dog with a bone, persistent and relentless.
“Ok, Ok. He’s been really cool this week...” she told her friend about his distance and again struggled to fight back tears.
Vin was furious, “the bastard! I can’t believe this is because he’s busy! And you’ve done nothing wrong! I’ll kill him when I see him. Shall I call him?”
Sophie shrugged, “he’s not answering my calls. You might have more luck.”
Back at the house, still dressless, Sophie was no happier, and now she had the trauma of dinner at her brother’s. Just before leaving, she checked her emails in a hopeful fashion, then saw one entry there from firstname.lastname@example.org and couldn’t fight the smile.
Clicking on it, the screen opened up, she felt her heart breaking all over again.
“If it helps you follow your dreams then you should go for it. It’s a quaint shop, and will give you some focus between commissions. I’ve been approached by a couple of European based teams; I may extend my stay until I’ve sorted out whether I’m going to look to cycle more. Hope you and Vin and the house are ok. Bill.”
She’d asked for advice, and he’d given it. But his concern for her was lumped in with his concern for his house. Vin was right. He was a bastard! She hoped he had good news coming out of this trip, and wanted nothing less than success for him in the future, but at the moment, if he stood in front of her she’d slap his face.
Closing her laptop she gathered her bag and made for the tube and Nick’s house.
Sara as usual was serenely glamorous as she hugged her then dragged her into the house. Callie danced from foot to foot waiting for her chance...to launch herself at her auntie.
“I LOVE my wall Aunty Yophie, it’s THE best!”
Sophie smiled kissing her head; she’d not visited since she’d sent the wall size mural of an Enchanted Forest over to the house. She’d promised it to Callie for a few months, and it was the first real piece of her recent bout of inspiration.
So kicking off her shoes as she was dragged upstairs, Sophie followed her darling niece to her room.
An hour later both Callie and Ethan were asleep, and Nick was sitting opposite her at the dinner table.
“So father called me today.”
Sophie nearly dropped her wine glass, neither of them had heard from their parents in over six months. “Why?”
Nick shrugged, “seems they’re coming home and need somewhere to stay for a few weeks. They’re going to Sri Lanka before Christmas. He tried to make out that they were choosing to come home first.”
“Because they care SO much!” Her voice oozed sarcasm.
Sara held up her hand, “they’re still Callie and Ethan’s grandparents; we should at least accommodate them.”
Nick turned to his wife, “they’ve seen the kids a maximum of five times...they didn’t give a shit about their own kids, why would they care about ours.”
Sophie agreed, “for anyone else I’d say give them another chance, but look how screwed us two are because of them!”
Nick laughed, “cheers! But no Sara, I won’t have them here.”
Despite their bravado, Sophie knew that like her, Nick craved a sign that they did care for their children. Every time they came home both kids tiptoed around them praying for a sign. But there’d never been anything. Suddenly she thought of the flat above Margo’s shop...that could be an option.
“Well I’ve got a possibility...” But first she had to explain about her exhibition, Margo, and finally the fact that she wanted to give her the shop.
Nick was speechless, truly speechless for the first time in his life, when he mustered up words, Sophie was stunned to see tears in his eyes, “I can’t believe it!” Standing he came around the table and pulled her into his arms, his face buried in her hair. And suddenly it was all too much for Sophie she’d had so much emotional trauma, that ever winding rollercoaster, that she started to cry too, not noisy sobs, just tears, rolling down her cheeks, drenching her brother's shoulder. They stood together for an age, and when they pulled apart she looked at his traumatised face.
“Why couldn’t they love us Nick? Why weren’t we enough?”
He shrugged, “all I know from having my two is that it’s not our fault. They didn’t deserve us, and we have to stop looking for something we’re never going to find. We’ve both made it. We’re both independent, successful, without them. And we maybe have to divide from them forever?”
Sara had made herself scarce, but was coming into the room with coffee when she overheard the last part of the conversation.
“I disagree. Bring them in to your lives again. Now you two are finally on the same page, both happy, both successful you don’t need them. You’ll see. But if you ignore them, push them away, you’ll always be part of the reason why you have no relationship. It’s amazing that you’re both so normal after all they did...or rather didn’t!”
Sophie grinned, “well he’s not!” She dropped a dig into Nick’s ribs and he immediately pulled her into a head lock. They hadn’t play fought since they were kids. Maybe things were looking up.
“So will you come on Friday?”
Sophie was insisting on going home after dinner, she was too busy to risk staying, so Nick was compromising by paying for her taxi. “Try stopping us!”
As she watched the lights of inner London flash past her window, she couldn’t remember being more in control. Her and Nick were finally friends, allies, and it felt great. If only things were better with Bill.
“So have you got something to wear? Wasn’t that yesterday’s agenda?” Margo was supervising Sophie packing up her pictures ready for transport to the gallery.
Sophie paused and shook her head, “no. And I’ve got interviews the rest of the day. It’s all a big mess!”
“But you’ve cleared the air with Nick?”
Sophie nodded, “the best thing that could have happened really. Though it doesn’t solve my clothing issue!”
“I have...well...” Sophie looked up at Margo, she rarely struggled for words. “You can say no, but I have a vintage...no it’s older than that.”
The older woman chuckled, “my wedding dress...it’s old, but classic...and I’ve hoped it’d get another airing before I die. How do you feel about a 1950’s wedding dress?”
They’d rushed back to Margo’s house, and Sophie was currently stood with her jaw on the floor. The dress was beautiful, off white, silk, sleeveless with a huge bow at the waist, the knee length skirt was full supported by tukle petticoats. It was a dress worthy of Audrey Hepburn or Natalie Wood, and Sophie was genuinely stunned.
“This must be worth a fortune Margo! I can’t wear it.”
She laughed, “of course you can. If you like it. You’d make an old woman very happy!”
“Like it? I LOVE it! Oh Margo!” She turned to embrace the woman and once again fought tears. “Stanley was SO lucky! It’s beautiful, I love it! Hell I love you Margo! I can’t ever thank you enough for all you’ve done for me!”
“The only thanks I require is you loving my shop for as long as you can. Have you thought about that?”
“It feels wrong, but I’ll do it, as long as I can pay you rent. I need to contribute something!”
Margo stroked her hair, a maternal gesture, “we’ll discuss the details after the exhibition.”
And it was on that high note that she headed for the first of many interviews.
Three days. Three days until her life changed. Sophie was ready, as ready as she could ever be and she wanted the three days to be done so that she could get rid of this nervous dread that filled her stomach. Six am Tuesday morning she found herself jogging over Primrose Hill and into the roads leading to the City. Her body screamed for a rest after forty minutes, so she stopped at a corner shop and bought some water.
As she stretched before the jog back, she heard an incredulous voice call her name.
“Sophie? Is that you?”
Turning she came face to face with a demure and immaculate Miles. She was a bath of sweat, and could only imagine how red her face was from the effort. Even a few weeks ago that would have mortified her. But today, looking at him, she didn’t care.
With a sigh she half smiled, “Miles. We have to stop meeting like this!”
He laughed, “purely coincidence this time I admit!”
She raised an eyebrow in question and he nodded, “I get that you love Bill, back in the wedding...I don’t know, I hoped we could rekindle old times...”
Holding up a hand, she silenced him, “Miles, let’s not confuse things. When I was a spotty nervous unloved child, you took pity on me. You flirted and teased me until I made a complete fool of myself. I’ll not beat around the bush, I know it was my fault, I made the fool of myself, but I was encouraged by your bitch of a sister, and you flattering me, it led me on! As you’ve probably led on dozens of women since! It’s horrible and unfair!”
Suddenly she wanted him to know exactly how she felt, because for the first time in as long as she could remember, her past didn’t haunt her, she wasn’t still reliving the trauma of her sixteenth birthday, it was the future and the NOW that worried her more.
“I never wanted to come to that wedding, to see you all again, but I was psychologically scarred by you and all you did. It changed me as a person, so I had to exorcise my demons. I had to be there.” She laughed at his stunned face, “I asked Bill to accompany me purely so you’d all think I was successful, a titled Baronet chasing after me, it would never happen, but he played the part SO well, and it was currency you money obsessed people understood! I knew Melody would be jealous - and she was...on her wedding day! And I knew that he would make me more attractive to someone like you! And it worked! You were interested, and it was what I thought I needed. But it wasn’t! What I needed was Bill, Bill loving me, wanting me! And that was all fake. So whilst I’m over you, over the past and frankly never want to see you again, I’m just as stuffed! SO please don’t make small talk, or ask me out for dinner when my heart is literally breaking!”
Wow! Speaking your mind really was cathartic! Sophie could almost feel a little relief and clarity at that outburst. And it took a moment to notice Miles’ response.
He floundered for a few seconds, genuinely looking stunned, “he wasn’t pretending to love you Sophie! William/Bill, whatever he goes by. He does love you...and I don’t think I helped!”
She glared at him, “what have you done?”
Miles shrugged nervously, “when you left your phone on the bar...it rang. It was him.”
“SHIT! What happened? What did you say?”
He shrugged, “not a lot, but he called me a bastard...”
Sophie started to run. It all suddenly make sense, Miles answering her phone was probably the only thing that would unsteady Bill. He did love her, and she’d inadvertently hurt him. She couldn’t get home fast enough!