The Best Of Friends

A friend has news for the bride in this ob­ser­vant short story by Pauline Brad­bury.

The People's Friend Special - - REAL LIFE -

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

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