11 months ago
‘He said what?’ yelps Evie incredulously, staring at Nicola. ‘You can’t be serious. Please tell me you didn’t agree to sell your home.’ They are in her flat and are about to tuck into a takeaway which has just been delivered. Evie was in the process of unwrapping it when Nicola quietly told her about Alex’s proposition. She immediately stopped, her hands in the air.
Nicola’s elbows are slumped on the other side of the kitchen divider, her chin glumly resting on her hands. ‘No of course I didn’t,’ she says irritably. I couldn’t quite believe that he would even think I would. And get rid of Sonny too.’ She shakes her head sadly.
‘And the bastard wanted to use your money to buy a nice convenient flat for him to live in. Was he really serious? You would have been fucking mental to go along with that. ‘She pours them both another generous vodka and passes over a bottle of cranberry juice. ‘Do you want ice?’ she asks. Nicola shakes her head. Edie continues to unwrap the Chinese, decanting it onto plates.
‘So, what happened when you told him to go fuck himself?’ She studies Nicola closely. ‘You did tell him that didn’t you?’
Nicola doesn’t answer but takes a long gulp of vodka. Evie stares at her sternly and then sighs dramatically. ‘You didn’t, did you? So, what did you tell him Nicola?’
Nicola clears her throat noisily and says almost in a whisper: ‘I said he might like to move in with me instead.’
‘Whaaat! You are not serious.’ Evie bursts out laughing. ‘Are you for real? Can’t you see what a manipulating fucker this guy is. First, he tries to stop you seeing anyone except him, then he tries to con you into selling your house so that you can buy a flat, FOR HIM!
‘And all because he’s a half decent shag and he says nice – and completely insincere – things about you in public while tearing you to bits in private.’ She shakes her head and takes a long gulp of vodka followed by a large forkful of chicken fried rice.’
She sighs dramatically. ‘Go on, tell me what he said, why don’t you?’
‘He said he would think about it. I haven’t seen him since.’
Evie bursts out laughing again. ‘He no doubt thinks you will come running, your tail between your legs, begging him not to leave you and that you will sell everything you own and send Sonny to the glue works if that’s what he would like.’
She eyes Nicola up carefully. ‘You aren’t going to do that are you? If you even think it, I will tie you to that chair and feed you bananas anally until you come to your senses.’
It’s Nicola’s turn to snigger. ‘No Evie, despite what you may think I am not completely stupid. I really have no intention of selling my lovely house and for Sonny. . .’ She shakes her head and begins to tuck in to her sweet and sour chicken.
She finally looks up. ‘If he does come back saying he would like to move in, it will be on my terms, not his and as for buying a flat, that’s never, ever, going to be on the agenda. . .’ She pauses and grins at Evie mischievously. . . ‘No matter how good a shag he is.’
The intercom buzzes and they both stare at it. ‘You expecting a visitor?’ asks Nicola. Evie shakes her head. ‘Probably a delivery.’ She walks over and asks who it is.
‘It’s Alex,’ says a voice. ‘Is Nicola with you? I need to speak to her. Could you let me in please.’ She turns and stares at Nicola who makes a face and then just shrugs. Evie presses the button and a minute or so later there is a rap at the door.
Evie opens it and without saying anything walks over to the divider staring at him with an intimidating glare.
‘What’s so important that you have to come here,’ asks Nicola taking a long gulp of vodka and glancing at Evie, who does the same. ‘Has somebody died? Or perhaps you have decided to become an astronaut and are heading for one of Saturn’s moons.’
‘He would be gone for a very, very, long time if he is,’ says Evie conversationally, to Nicola, ignoring Alex, who is standing at the end of the divider staring at them both.
‘They say your toenails grow enormously in space,’ says Nicola. ‘You can’t trim them either because they would float all over the cabin. Imagine that?’
‘That’s gross,’ exclaims Evie. Pity he’s going there. If he went to Mars instead, he would become a Martian. Could you live with a Martian Nicola? You would never know if he’s about to turn into a little green man and sprout a small, strange proboscis in his trousers.’ They both collapse in a fit of giggles at that.
He stares at them both in bewilderment. ‘What are you both on about? I just thought Nicola might like to know that I would love to accept her invitation to move in.’ He walks over and puts his arm around her protectively. She looks up at him but does not move any closer.
‘I think you two need to go somewhere and have a long talk,’ says Evie glaring at him. ‘I have to say that I think it bloody unreal that you choose to come here and make an announcement like that.’
Nicola shrugs off his arm. ‘I am in the middle of my meal too,’ she says cooly. ‘We can talk about that some other time.’ She glances at Evie and then turns to Alex. ‘Thanks awfully for coming.’ And then turns to her sweet and sour without looking at him. Evie walks to the door and holds it open.
Alex walks slowly out without a word, scowling at her as he does. Evie slams the door behind him. ‘He did that quite deliberately,’ she declares, walking back to the divider. ‘He had a bloody nerve coming here and he knew it.’ She sits and leans on the divider, giving Nicola a searching look.
‘It’s his way of claiming ownership. You do realise that, don’t you? It was all about him trying to show me that you belong to him and that you will go running to him every time.’
Nicola shakes her head in exasperation. ‘I am not going to be owned by anyone, still less by a Martian and I don’t care what he has in his trousers, I make my own decisions. I will not be ruled by him, whatever he may think.’ She smiles at the mention of the Martian.
‘So, what are you going to do?’ Evie sighs, finishing her Chinese and topping up their vodkas.
‘I probably will let him move in and we will see how it works out for a month or two. If it doesn’t, he will be moving out, I can promise you that.’ She gives Evie a reassuring nod and before she can respond, adds: But I haven’t made my mind up yet. I want to give it some thought first.’
Evie frowns. She suspects Nicola has made her mind up but is not prepared to admit it. She is also certain it will not end well. ‘I know you, Nicola. You are determined to do it. I can tell. God knows why. What on earth do you see in him?’
Nicola just stares at the divider; her brow furrowed and does not answer. Evie shrugs: ‘OK, it’s your life but I think you are making a mistake. Yes, I admit I can’t stand the guy. I think he’s unscrupulous, manipulative, and superficial. He will increasingly attempt to isolate you from Pam and me and even your mother so that the entire focus of your life will be on him.’
Nicola still doesn’t respond. Evie pauses for a while and then says finally: ‘I wouldn’t mind betting that he even tries to get you to move jobs to one where you don’t meet people. That would be typical controlling behaviour.’
Nicola stands and shakes her head. ‘Well, I can assure you that isn’t going to happen either. I love my job and nothing he says or does is going to change that. She walks around the divider and puts her arm around her friend. ‘I know you don’t understand, and I can’t really explain it, but this is something I just have to do. Yes, I may well regret it and in a few months’ time you will be able to sneer at me telling me that you told me so and I will then re-join the ‘All men are bastards’ club.’
For the next hour the prickly subject of Alex is forgotten. Instead, they compile a list of all the people they most dislike, starting with the Prime Minister and working their way downwards – or upwards depending on your point of view.
Later, after an empty vodka bottle had joined the remains of Chinese lying scattered on the divider, Nicola decides it is time to ring for a taxi leaving Evie to stagger her way to bed.
Nicola is not in the mood for idle, inconsequential, chatter and makes that clear to the driver as she closes the car door. He mutters something in response which she cannot quite hear but which she suspects may have included the word ‘bitch’. She doesn’t care. She needs to think.
They are not far from her home when ‘Puddles’, the ringtone on her mobile sounds. She picks up. It’s Alicia, a friend from the office. Why would she be ringing at this time of night?
As soon as she picks up, Alicia says a little breathlessly. ‘Nicola, can we meet . . . soon.’ And before Nicola can ask why, she goes on: ‘There is something I think you should know, but not on the phone,’ she says mysteriously. ‘I’ll meet you in Café Nero by the office at 10 tomorrow. That OK?’
‘We’re at your home,’ says the driver. ‘Or shall we just sit here all night?’
‘Piss off,’ she says handing over £10.