This Wretched Heart

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Pretender

'Keep you in the dark, you know they all pretend.'

The Pretender by the Foo Fighters.

Peter

He didn’t know what to do. He felt like a big eunuch. Every time he thought about it, bile would rise in his stomach and a cold sweat would spread all over his body. How did he not sense the pulsing energy between them, the change of pitch in both their voices the nervous giggles and constant sideways glances they cast him? The worst part is that it reminded him of what he and Lara used to be like in the early days. He wasn’t only jealous of what was happening right in front of him but also nostalgic for the days when they used to be like that. His emotions were ranging from crazed fury to denial.He refused to become the ‘jealous husband-type’, he had always been puzzled by men who punched out other guys for even looking sideways at their women. Granted he felt that this scenario was more than just glancing but then again he wasn’t certain. Was it fair of him to freak out just because they were both attracted to each other? Would behaving like a caveman make him more attractive and manly to Lara ?

‘ I’d fucking put a stop to it mate.’ Joe had declared ‘Can you imagine if it was the other way around. I mean what the fuck is going on here?’

Joe was right of course, Lara would have hit the roof if she saw him behaving like this with another woman. He felt partly to blame though. He must have been completely preoccupied or out of his mind not to have noticed this from the start. He could would nearly bowl over in shame when he thought of all the situations he had put them in together. Had Lara tried to tell him? Maybe she had. She hadn’t seemed overly enthused at the beginning when he had gone to the cinema and drinks with Sam. He had thought that this was just rivalry for Sam’s friendship. Then she had been reluctant about Marrakesh and he had put it down to a lack of adventurous spirit. That had been the turning point, he could see it now. Lara had seen Sam in all his glory over there and now he wondered was there any going back. I mean even he had been impressed with the guy’s ability to be completely at ease in a different culture. He had shown them both such a good time.He hadn’t even given it a second thought when he went to bed early that evening, another incident to feel stupid about. He had been glad for a change that Lara would have some company and that she wouldn’t be left sitting alone on their last night of holidays. He had slept peacefully and felt refreshed the next morning at breakfast.

‘ Glad I went to bed early.’ He had beamed at them both, retrospect adding a clownish grin. Lara had just spilled some coffee on the table and Fatima the maid was mopping it up. Sam had just come down at the same time.

‘ Good good , at least you’re not sick for our flight.’ He had smiled strangely at Peter, who thought it was just a ‘too early in the morning’ thing.

‘ Did you go to bed very late?’ He turned to Lara.

‘ Oh not too late, you were so sound asleep when I did.' Her eyes were fixed on the coffee stain. ’ I think I’ve ruined this.’ Her gulp audible in the early morning air.

‘ It’s ok Lara Bell.’ He was taken aback ‘ I’m sure they can get rid of it.'

She looked up then and their eyes met. He wasn’t sure if it was the look of sadness that seemed to come from hers or the melancholy posture of Sam who was helping himself to a croissant from the cart, but suddenly he knew, just like that. It was as if a filter had been removed from his memories and all the moments that he had been blind to, suddenly revealed themselves. He sat back in his chair with shock. Thankfully, they didn’t look at each other. He might have killed himself if they had. He wasn’t sure ,what, if anything had happened the night before but in that moment everything was different.

The taxi drive to the airport was subdued as he gazed out the window, the red buildings of the city glowing with the early rising sun. The hustle and bustle was just getting started and the rows of palm trees seemed to stand in salute as they raced out of the city, the crowded streets giving way to sparser pastures. As they passed the fields of red soil, lined with green rows of vegetables, he noticed the small flat roofed houses of the poorer farmers. As they slowed at a police stop he could make out in the distance a young woman of about twenty , sitting on a donkey. They were making their way towards the main road. He wondered what her life was like. What filled her mind with worry ? He envied what he imagined , a more simple existence of getting up early every day and working either at home with her mother, baking the days breads or travelling to the shops as she was now to get their groceries. Would she fall in love he wondered ? Did they arrange marriages still ? He would normally have asked Sam.

On the plane, Sam had given his aisle seat to a woman so she could sit behind her husband which meant he had to sit apart from them. Lara and he, had quietly sat side by side neither of them falling asleep. She had seemed engrossed in a novel and he had let his earphones do the talking. Things had been amicable enough at the airport. He couldn’t bring himself to be rude to a guy who had given him the most amazing holiday experience he had ever had and probably ever would. He had convinced himself throughout the plane ride that he imagined everything that morning and he was just being foolish. He wasn’t about to ruin things just because of a sixth sense. Lara seemed less tense as they said their goodbyes and when she and Sam hugged he didn’t get any weird vibes. He had resolved at that point to not let the jealousy get to him and of course there would have been a strange vibe the morning that they were leaving such a beautiful country. Lara hated her job after all and the thoughts of going back must have been making her feel blue. He had completely convinced himself that everything was ok and that nothing absolutely nothing was going on. Yes maybe there was chemistry between them and he was seeing that now for the first time but that didn’t mean they would or wanted to do anything about it. After years of convincing Lara to trust him, the least he could do was trust that she wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. Besides Sam was his friend too and he felt that he knew the guy well enough at this stage to know that he wasn’t after his wife.To convince himself that he was ok , he invited a somewhat bemused Sam over for dinner a few days later as a thank you for the trip.

‘ You’re not sick of me yet ?’ Sam grinned and Peter was relieved.

‘ We would love to have you over right Lara?’ He had seen people do this in the movies and never understood why. Now he wanted for one last time see if she would act strangely together . That would be the last time he would give it a second thought.

‘ We would love to of course!’ She smiled brightly and so did her eyes.

‘ GOD I’m such a dick’ Peter rested his head against the cool stainless steel fridge.

Joe smiled at him sympathetically ‘ We all know that mate but stop beating yourself up about it.’

Dinner, needless to say had not gone well, not for him anyway. When he saw how they were acting around each other all of his misgivings came back.Lara had seemed jumpy as she helped him in the kitchen and overly affectionate. Sam had arrived and not given her a hug which he had always done. Conversation had been stilted and Peter’s mind had become darker and darker until he could no longer pretend to act civilly.

‘ What’s wrong Peter?’ Lara seemed genuinely intrigued and concerned.

‘ I think I’m more tired than I thought.’ He bet they were hoping he would go to bed early again. 'Fuck you both.' He wanted to shout.

‘ Well dinner was lovely so it’s no wonder , I’ll leave you to it , thanks guys.’ Sam stood up to leave and Lara’s face visibly dropped. He could see her try to smile but this one was forced and came out like a grimace.

‘ I’ll be pretty busy in the Bistro the next few weeks so mightn’t catch up for a while.’ The sadness he felt caught him off-guard. Why did it have to be this way ? Why couldn’t they all have continued as friends? He couldn’t watch them though, he couldn’t sit back and see them try to hide what had now become much too obvious.

‘ Of course no worries.’

‘ I’ll be the same Sam.’ Lara gulped ‘I have so much to catch up on.'

‘ Ok...’ This time his voice was subdued and Peter felt a physical pang of pity take over him.

‘ But that doesn’t mean we can’t all get together at the weekends at some point’.

Joe had guffawed when he told him.‘ Why the fuck would you say that ? Sure just hand him Lara, naked for fuck’s sake’.

He had laughed despite himself. He didn’t know what had taken over him. In that moment he just knew that it felt wrong to be mean to Sam. He didn’t know for certain what had happened between them and he had always prided himself on being fair above all things. He felt it was wrong to just cut him off without any explanation. He would just have to talk to Lara first, after all she was the only one who could tell him whether he was being ridiculous. And where he was burdened with a perhaps ridiculous sense of fairness she had always been prone to being overly honest when it came to their relationship.

‘ I have so much that I don’t tell people about, that I need to be honest with you at least.’ that was her explanation , the many times he would roll his eyes when she confessed to not liking his dinner or that, ‘no’ that T-shirt did make him look like a twit. Lara would tell him, Lara would be honest.Weeks had passed but he still couldn’t bring himself to ask her. Neither of them had seen Sam. Lara had seemed melancholy but not heartbroken. Things between them were as they always were. She had stopped going for jogs in the evening citing exhaustion. They sat together watching films, drinking wine and he wondered had he perhaps been completely mistaken ?Eventually he had drunkenly asked her and she had laughed it off quite believably. Then one evening she had called him out of the blue from town on her way home from work.

‘ So guess who I just bumped into ?’ He could hear a strange chirpiness to her voice.

‘ Who ??’ He had no idea.

‘ Jane’. She paused and he wasn’t sure whether he was meant to say anything.

‘ And guess who she was on a date with ?’ Wow the girl really moved quickly. Hadn’t she just left her husband?

‘ Sam’. His heart stopped as his mind tried to digest that nugget.

‘ Sam ?’ He stopped himself saying ‘ Our Sam?’ and instead said ‘ Your friend Sam ?’

‘ Well I would have said our friend but yeah they were both on the tram and I bumped into them, it was very weird and funny really’.

‘ Weird ? How come ?’ He had to remind himself that she had promised him there was nothing between them but he was still trying to gauge her mood after seeing her two ‘friends’ out on a date. Especially when she would have been caught off guard. He was caught off guard for God’s sake. How had the two hooked up ? Had they had an instant connection from when they met at their house ? He tried to remember but couldn’t see anything. He had been drinking after all.

‘ It’s weird isn’t it ? considering they only met the one time in our house’.

‘ Yeah maybe they exchanged numbers when we weren’t looking.’

‘ I don’t think so...’. He could hear her mind churning. ‘ Maybe they bumped into each other later.'

‘ Well it doesn’t really matter either way.'He was pushing it ‘I’d say they’d make a great couple.' It was mean, he knew, cruel even if had been right about her and Sam but he just had to hear her reaction.

‘ I was thinking the same thing, I mean they both come from rich houses so at least they have all of that in common.' She wasn’t being shallow he knew that it was true that he had found it strange in ways to relate to Sam when it came to money.

'I think I was a little annoyed that neither of them had filled me in but I guess why would they ?' She was not reacting like a heartbroken woman and relief poured over him.

‘ Anyway I thought we could out for dinner for a change’.

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