The Best Of Friends
A friend has news for the bride in this observant short story by Pauline Bradbury.
I felt sick at hurting Mel, but how could I keep this from her?
SO you’re all right, Mel?” It was out before I could stop myself. Mel put down her coffee cup with a clatter. “Why?” she demanded. “Why ask that? Is there something wrong?”
“No, no.” I tried to smooth it over. “I just thought you looked a bit down.”
“Down? How do you mean? Like ill?”
“Just, maybe a bit pale? Or it could be the lighting in here.”
Mel relaxed and picked up her cup again.
“It’s probably that,” she agreed. “Although it could be because I’m wearing different make-up. I’m experimenting.
“I wondered if I might look good as a kind of ethereal bride. You know, pale and interesting.”
I bit into my doughnut, playing for time, because we’d touched on what had been on my mind at the start of this conversation.
Mel’s wedding. Mel and Stu.
We had all been at school together: Mel, Stu, me and my Dave. Best buddies then and since. I knew them as well as I knew myself. Or thought I did.
Now, I wasn’t so sure about Stu. That was the problem, and it was why I’d asked Mel if she was OK.
Of course she was, because she hadn’t seen what I had seen.
“Fiona, you’re away with the fairies.” Mel interrupted my thoughts.
A good thing, too, I thought, hoping my face wasn’t revealing my misgivings.
“I was thinking about you being an ethereal bride,” I lied. “I’m not sure it’s the best look for you, with your red hair and freckles.”
“Not to mention my figure.”
“Your figure is gorgeous,” I assured her promptly. “You’re perfectly proportioned . . .”
“If not a size ten any more.” Mel sighed. “But
Stu doesn’t seem to mind.”
I concentrated on the jammy middle of the doughnut. The girl I had seen Stu with was as thin as the proverbial rake.
I wouldn’t have thought anything of it if she and Stu had been talking on the pavement, or even in a shop.
But they were in a narrow alleyway between the cinema and my office block.
I’d been coming back from the sandwich bar clutching my egg mayo when I’d glanced sideways, just long enough to recognise Stu.
He was standing in front of this girl, one hand on the wall behind her, his face close to her blonde head.
I scuttled back to the office and up the stairs.
When I reached my floor I found I’d been squeezing the sandwich so tightly it was a mangled mess, and my breath was coming in short gasps.
“Blimey, you look rough, Fiona.” The girl who sat across from me was just heading out.
“I’ve been racing around. I need a carb fix.”
I smiled weakly, holding aloft the wrecked sandwich.
I wouldn’t be able to eat it now. I had too much to worry about.
The next time the four of us met up, Stu was just as loving towards Mel. Kissing the top of her head when he brought over the drinks, running a hand through her long red hair, and keeping his arm round her shoulders as we sat chatting.
Dave and I don’t go in for public shows of affection. Not even privately, much, either, if I think about it.
But we’re all made differently.
So here we were – Mel, with her head full of wedding plans, and me wondering if I should tell her.
I took the easy way out. “I think I might have to have my bridesmaid dress let out a bit,” I told her instead.
“Probably because you can never resist a doughnut.” Mel eyed the sticky jam drops on my plate. “Or a Danish, or . . .”
“True,” I said. “I’ll try to be good until your big day.”
Ten days went by and my fears began to fade. Mel seemed fine.
Maybe I’d imagined it, I thought. Maybe I’d jumped to conclusions and there was a rational explanation.
I hoped so. I didn’t want to see my friend being hurt.
Then it happened again. I’d taken to going out for a jog some evenings to try to make a difference to the fit of the bridesmaid’s dress.
Stu’s car went by, and his passenger was that same girl. The car was travelling slowly enough for me to get a good look.
It was definitely her. “Crumbs,” I said aloud. “What’s Stu playing at?
At least they didn’t look happy, I consoled myself.
They’d both been frowning, as if they were in the middle of an argument. What a mess.
As if to emphasise the situation, there she was on the other side of the square, near the bus shelter.
Tall and thin, with the highest of heels and a bit flashily dressed for my taste.
Stu must have dropped her off, I reckoned.
I crossed the road to get a closer look, and casually stopped as if to read the timetable.
She wasn’t frowning now. Instead, there was a secretive smile