You Can Talk To Me
11:31: After advising Lucy and Max to take a break from their summit in the park, the four of us started to hunt for food. Rita walked ahead with Lucy, both of them being circled by an excitable Daniel doing his Spitfire impression. I walked behind them with Max, neither of us saying a word. I got a small nod of acknowledgement when he stood up from the bench, but that was all.
Initially we headed for the Landmarc. Max was convinced they were serving food from around 10am. We got there around 11:15 and the place was locked up tight, which unleashed a hungry exchange of abuse between the warring couple. And then once again it was the little terror from Amsterdam who saved the day. “Fish & chips!” he shouted repeatedly. “Fish & chips!”
“I know just the place!” I said, rubbing my hand on his head. (Back in ‘the day’ there would have been amusing hi-five-ing going on with the whole place/plaice pun, but unsurprisingly not today!)
The fish & chip shop is already packed by the time we walk through the glass doors. The smell of greasy batter fills my mouth with saliva and in an instant I’m starving after that heavy night of alcohol soaked up by just scones and sandwiches. As we stand there waiting to be served both me and Max spot our reflections in the large mirror by the fish tank. We’re both a complete mess. Well, with Max looking slightly more dishevelled and, lets face it, defeated, he wins extra points on that I guess. When the not-entirely unattractive red-haired waitress comes to show us to our tables, we make it clear that, as before in the park, we want to be close but not too close. Lucy and Max take a table by the window, opting to sit opposite each other rather than side by side as they so often used to. I catch a glimpse of Lucy’s face as she sits down on the wood-effect chairs, and I realise that for the first time in all the time I’ve known her she’s a complete emotional wreck, which makes her even harder to read. Suddenly I have no idea how this is going to work out for the two of them.
“We’ll be just out here okay?” Rita points to some seats on the other side of the glass patio doors. Lucy just waves while Max is barely able to make a grunt of acknowledgment.
I let Rita pick her seat first and then pick the one opposite her, partly because I think that sitting next to her is a little inappropriate, but also because Daniel can’t seem to decide which side of his mother he wants to sit. When we’re all settled we all take in the views around us. This place definitely has one of the best views any business could hope for. From Rita’s seat she’s able to get the amazing view of the Dorset coast line, with that distant blue horizon housing a few boats and cruise liners and the golden sandy beaches stretching for miles in either direction. And from my seat I get the view of that sodding IMAX building. She’s looking over my shoulder, I assume to keep an eye on what’s going on inside. I turn my head to check for myself. They don’t seem to be talking that much, but they’re not shouting at each other either which is something, I guess. I can’t see her face as she’s sat with her back at us, but it’s easy to see Max, sat there with his head stuck in a position evoking both sincere regret and almost child-like hope.
“Hi sorry to keep you waiting” the waitress announces with way too much fake enthusiasm for this early on a Sunday. I didn’t think we’d been sat down that long. We certainly hadn’t looked at the menu. “What can I get you?”
While we take a few rushed seconds to decide what type of deep-fried fish we’d like to join with the chips in a battle to raise our cholesterol levels through the roof I notice something on the red-heads wrist - a Landmarc wristband. I almost ask her how her night was there, if it’s still a good night out like it was ten years ago, but given the bags under her eyes it’s fairly easy to tell how hung-over she is. Yep, Landmarc still looked to be a good night out.
“I can’t believe that place is still open” Rita says after we place our order and watch the waitress scurry inside away from the blinding daylight. “Do you remember how awful it was?”
“Well not really, I was either busy working or drunk! And anyway you were there almost every week. In fact you were practically a groupie!”
“Yes well I was young and stupid back then!”
“Yeah, those were the days!” I say with a mock look of regret on my face. In truth I realise I’ve never actually left those days behind, and by the way Rita was talking earlier I have to wonder if she has either.
Daniel starts to rock on his chair, pushing his hands between his legs – a universal sign for a desperate visit to the bathroom. Rita excuses them both and grabs her son by the hand, leading him back inside the restaurant and leaving me alone with my thoughts. Doesn’t last long, not that I don’t have a tonne of thoughts going through this head of mine, but thankfully my phone starts to ring. I answer without even checking the number.
“Dan is that you?”
“Suzy?” I lift the phone away to double-check. Yep, it’s her. Talk about perfect timing.
“Hi did you call me last night?”
“I did, I totally did!” I don’t know why I feel the need to emphasise the fact, especially considering I’m fully expecting her to tell me to not ring again, ever.
“Sorry I didn’t realise, Ryan had my phone last night.”
“Yeah, my brother. We went to see one of his gigs last night.”
Oh it was her brother. Yeah never liked him, ungrateful little shit.
“So is everything okay?” she asks. “What’s going on with your show? Everyone’s talking about it.”
I take all of seven seconds to tell her everything’s fine, before asking how she is. “You all set for tonight?”
“Yeah, I’m here already!” she says. It’s easy to hear the smile on her face. She must be so excited. This day has been on the cards for months. “Just going through some last minute details.” She’s very calm and business like. I can’t help but think that she should be all stern and cold, but she sounds as sweet as ever. “So how’s Bournemouth? You seen any blasts from your past yet?”
And right on cue I receive a swift kick to my right shin. The Dutch Terror has returned, with stressed out mother in tow. “Yeah a big one actually! Listen I’ve got to go, but maybe we can meet up soon, or…”
“No, no, no, what the hell is this?”
Okay, not the response I was looking for!
“Dan I’m sorry some idiot has messed up a drinks delivery, I’ve got to go.” The phone goes dead, leaving me with a distinctly empty feeling in my stomach. I’ll admit I was kind of fishing for another invite to the party tonight. Would’ve been nice if she’d asked if I was still going.
“Everything okay?” Rita sits down, her face a mixture of genuine concern and slight repulsion. Given by the hyena type grin across her sons face I’m going to guess he’s responsible for the latter – at least I hope!
“Yeah fine, just catching up with a few people that’s all.”
“Is it that obvious?” I ask, as three perspiring glasses of watered down cola arrive unannounced on the table, much to the joy of Daniel.
“Just a lucky guess.” She hands me a magazine, which I hope she picked up from the waiting area and not from the recent trip to the toilet. But all too soon that important question is eclipsed by a more pressing one.
The front page The Gossip Monger (which if I’m honest isn’t really the kind of mag you’d want your family to read for fear of melting their brains!) is crammed full of hints to such staple stories involving an American actress who’s been unlucky in love again, and the footballer caught by his wife sending sex-texts to a porn star, and the model who’s been seen out with some unidentified new bloke with a ring on her wedding finger, and the ageing pop star who has gone on yet another shopping spree for a…..
“What the fuck?” She never even gave a hint of a new guy. For all I knew she was still with that Wayne Francis bastard, but this dude here doesn’t look like the chisel-jawed hard-pec’d dumb-ass actor I’d expected. He looks way too refined. And what the fuck is that on her hand?
“So I assume you didn’t know?” Rita asks.
I finally look up, fully aware that my face is contorted with agonising confusion and, well, jealousy. I look around and notice that a few strange eyes are staring at me, including the ‘innocent’ eyes of Daniel. I may have asked my last question a little too loudly.
I quickly press re-dial on the phone, only it goes straight to her voicemail. Suzy asks me to leave a message. Granted she must be busy, but she owes me an explanation God-damn-it! She mentions another number which I should ring in case it’s an emergency. I catch a glimpse of Rita and Daniel playing, and the food is on the way. Who the hell am I to demand of Suzy what the hell she’s doing? I left her. I messed this up. Did I honestly think a woman like that wouldn’t get snapped up? Well she did, by Wayne Bastard. But that never felt real. I didn’t take it seriously, and from what I can tell neither did she. I decide to make an effort to not think about it while we eat. Change the subject. Put it to the back of my mind and see what happens.
“So?” Rita asks. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, brilliant” I reply, trying desperately to not sound sarcastic but I suspect failing slightly.
“Want to talk about it?”
Here is a woman who’s been dumped by some Italian sounding jackass and a kid who won’t hardly see his father. It seems a bit unfair to spoil what little chance they have of a break. “I guess I just wanted to say that, well, it’s been really good to catch up that’s all!”
“Oh absolutely” she enthuses, thankfully without a hint of sarcasm that I still half expected. “Nothing like a walk down memory lane is there?”
The word ‘constipation’ springs to my mind, but thankfully I don’t say it.
* * *
The two of us spend the next half hour or so talking about fairly mundane stuff, like music or films - anything but relationships. To be honest it’s nice not to talk about work or anything for that matter to do with real life, for both of us I think. The fish & chips soon vanish from our plates, thanks in no small way to Daniel whose appetite seems more fitting for one of those obese American dudes you always see on the TV who’s been locked up in a shed for twenty-four hours with nothing to eat but bird seed. I catch a glimpse of my watch and realise I should start thinking about heading to the station if I want to catch the 14:14 back to Waterloo, although at the moment I’m wondering why I should even bother. Without warning both mine and Rita’s names are called out. It’s not Max or Lucy – they’re still locked away in crunch talks inside the restaurant. Rita waves the voice and its two guests over to our table, and soon enough we have a bonus mini-reunion. Rick, Jenna and Raph were apparently just out for a walk when their hangover got the better of them. No sign of Karim or Brad – apparently they weren’t even up yet and still had to pack for their train journey to London.
“Well it’s a good job you don’t work on the TV!” Rick jokes, referring to my recent facial injuries. “I thought you only got kicked in one side of your head?”
I try to find some kind of witty retort to keep the mood light and breezy but come up short. “Long story!”
The three of them soon notice the Emergency Marital Summit going on inside and start asking questions that no one has the answers to. Thankfully Daniel is on hand to distract us by demanding to play an impromptu game of football right here on the balcony. Rick makes an all too brief attempt to calm him down before his attention is drawn to a flock of seagulls pecking away at a stray chip in the corner. “Great kid!” he says, slightly out of breath. An uncomfortable silence descends on us once again, until a sudden bolt of lightning strikes the table.
“So we’re adopting!” Jenna declares, unable to hide her excitement. You can see everyone else’s faces change as smiles quickly wash over them. I hope mine did too!
Rick nods enthusiastically “Finally got the go-ahead through the post yesterday!” he says.
“That’s great news!” Rita says, leaning in to hug the adoptive-parents-to-be.
“Yeah, so when do you pick the kid up?” I ask. I mean I’m happy for them but really not sure of what to say.
“It’s not like picking up a puppy from the dog-shelter silly” Jenna jokes, lightly tapping me on the leg. “We’ve just got the go ahead from the agency. Now we’re deemed suitable we can start looking for a kid.”
We spend a while on the topic while the Shapiro’s explain the highly complex procedure, with the aid of Raph who’s been good enough to take them through the whole legal side. I nearly ask them why they don’t just go to Uganda or Botswana as seems to be the in thing with celebs these days (I believe it’s called Doing A Madonna), but reign myself in.
Soon enough this little re-reunion gets in to full swing and a couple of pitchers of Pimms find their way on to our table. We all regress a little – enough to find remembering our university day shenanigans funny but without losing too much self-respect. Everyone’s laughing and joking, the sun is beating down, little Daniel is chasing after the pigeons with another bottle of cola in his hand. It’s a good way to end the trip.
“Hi guys” is the trying-to-sound-happy-but-failing-miserably attempt from Lucy. No one is quite sure how to react but she tries to make it as quick and pain free as possible. “Can’t stop I’ve gotta go save my sister from the boys.” She wishes us all a good time and walks away, promptly followed by Rita and several sets of concerned eyes.
“That doesn’t look good!” Rick observes through his glass while trying to distract Daniel from the alcohol soaked fruit at the bottom of the pitcher. I look around to see if I can find Max. I can’t see him at the table they were sat at, and he’s not in the door way waiting for Lucy. I excuse myself and go see what’s going on.
I catch up with Lucy and Rita and the main entrance and there’s still no sign of him. The two of them are talking until I get within earshot of them, then its complete silence. “Everything okay?”
The way the different light from inside the restaurants and out there in the sun-soaked outdoors is catching Lucy’s face it’s safe to say that last question is going top three! She’s knackered. I mean she still manages to force a smile but I worry if she stretches her mouth even more you’ll be able to see just how hollow she is right now. It’s a horrible thing to see. Oddly, I flash-back to Suzy on her doorstep.
“I’m going home” she says, rubbing me on the shoulder. I worry she’s spoken in the singular and not the plural “It was good seeing you again Dan.” There’s no mention of meeting up again at a later date, or even staying in touch. And there’s still no mention of Max.
“Where is he?” I blurt out, ignorant to whatever kind of protocol there must be for these situations.
“Went to get the car from the hotel. He’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Her and Rita move a little further away for a bit more privacy, and I stand here like the proverbial third wheel. I look back out to the balcony where Rick, Jenna and Raph seem to be deeply engrossed in the copy of Gossip Monger. Suddenly all three of them shoot their gaze in my direction. Desperate to not make eye contact I turn my head, catching a glimpse for myself of said publication. Why is it here? Is it to wrap the fish & chips up for takeaway? Christ I hope not, everyone would get food poisoning!
“Penny for your thoughts.” Rita smiles. I catch a glimpse of Lucy heading in to the toilets, rubbing her eyes.
“Save your money” I reply. “Not worth it.” It’s a little piece we used to do for amusement, more for ourselves than anyone else. One of those stupid couple things that only means something if you’re in said couple. Makes you feel close. I miss that. Suzy and me had something similar, not really a catchphrase or anything like that, but nicknames. Nothing special in that I guess, but it meant something. I was given the mantle of Gnasher after she saw a Denis The Menace cartoon and a photo of me with a questionable haircut. She got Mole-Butt after I found, well, a mole on her butt. (Look it never had to be original or inspiring okay!) But that was what we called each other in private, something that no one else knew about. I miss that.
“Hey do you remember that lecturer back at University?” Rita’s question pulls me back to Earth. “John Yule I think it was. Can’t remember what he taught now.”
“I don’t think he taught. I think he just picked a book at random and read it aloud for an hour. He loved the sound of his own voice!”
Rita looks at me as if to say ‘he’s not the only one’! She mentions something about a big scandal back when we were studying. This John Yule guy had only been there for a few years, but halfway through our second year a story ran in the local paper that accused him of somehow managing to gain access to a lot of the university funding and siphoning it off for himself, bit by bit. There was a huge outrage, lead by Dad now I remember as he had made a substantial donation to improve the library. “Anyway remember when we all got told in that lecture, and they told us not to believe everything they read in the paper?”
“Sure” I say. “But it was all true wasn’t it. I mean they had to extradite him from Australia!” See, convicts!
“Dan you’re missing the point.” Rita picks up another copy of Gossip Monger and holds it up. “How can you possibly know what this is without talking to her?”
I tell her I’m not stupid. I tell her of all the untrue shit that I’ve had printed and said about me over the years. I mean just look at this weekend, all complete bollocks.
“Then what are you worried about?” That motherly tone has really taken hold now.
“I was the one who left. I’ve got no right to ask her. And what if it’s true? What the hell will I do then?”
“At least you’ll know, and then you won’t be so tempted to ring her up in the middle of the night, or send her heart-breaking letters months down the line!” There’s a hint of frustration in her voice. I think she’s finally getting to say to me what I’ve been expecting her to say ever since I saw her in the hotel last night. “If you love her Dan, don’t wait any more to tell her. She deserves that much.”
Right on cue Lucy returns with her face looking a little fresher. She’s reading a text on her phone, and announces she’s leaving. “Max is outside with the car.”
Rita and me follow. I really should see Max, check if he’s okay. Not that I’ll be able to do much.
The three of us walk in virtual silence out of the restaurant, round the IMAX building and up Bath Road. There’s a Silver BMW parked in the small drop-off section of the plush Royal Bath hotel. Max is stood holding my bag, watched cautiously by an over-dressed door man who can’t seem to work out whether Max is a badly dressed terrorist or here to perform at some hastily arranged comedy hour as a fat Charlie Chaplin.
When we reach the car Lucy barely acknowledges Max. She turns to Rita, they exchange hugs and secret whispers before she climbs in to the car. I force a smile and thank Max for bringing my bag. I want to ask him how he’s doing but I’m running out of room for stupid questions on my list. I tell him to take care, we exchange a brief handshake. Fifteen seconds later the Miles’ are on their way home, to God knows what. Whatever happens is between the two of them. “What did she say?” I ask Rita. “Are they going to be ok?”
“I don’t know” she replies.
I was hoping for something a little more optimistic.
“I know something though” she says as she turns to look me straight in the eye. “Makes you realise how lucky you are doesn’t it?”