Shrink­ing Vi­o­let by Francesca Ca­paldi

She had never told Seth how she re­ally felt about him. Was it now too late?

The People's Friend - - This Week -

VI­O­LET looked up from her book, twist­ing round to watch Seth’s ap­proach. She’d seen his tall re­flec­tion in the glass panel ahead.

“Hi, blondie,” he said, bend­ing down to kiss her cheek and ruf­fle her short curls at the same time.

“Ooh, your face is so cold!” She pushed him away play­fully.

“Are you sur­prised?” He re­moved his gloves. “Sorry I’m late. Work’s been a pain. Would you like an­other one of those?” He pointed at her cap­puc­cino.

“Go on, then. I could do with the warmth.” She rubbed her hands to­gether.

Vi­o­let watched him stroll to the counter, his words elic­it­ing a smile from the young girl in the black apron. He’d al­ways had that ef­fect on peo­ple, even at school. Yet the closer their friend­ship be­came, the more unattain­able he seemed.

Al­most as unattain­able as her best friend, Oona, who Seth in his turn had ad­mired since their school days.

“Have you done any­thing about your job sta­tus?” he asked on his re­turn.

“I made a New Year’s res­o­lu­tion day be­fore yes­ter­day, nurs­ing a slight hang­over.”

He chuck­led.

“It was a great night at the An­chor on New Year’s Eve with the band, wasn’t it?”

“As al­ways.” “Lis­ten, you don’t want your de­gree to go to waste. Look how much ef­fort you put in, work­ing a full-time job at the same time.”

“I know, Seth. I can’t see any prospects for me at Sharp and Part­ners. But it’s been such a long time since I ap­plied for jobs that I feel out of my depth.”

“You shouldn’t. You were al­ways the bright­est of our gang at school.”

“I’m not sure that’s true, but thanks.” She sipped her cof­fee, glow­ing at his com­pli­ment. “Talk­ing about the gang, I saw Greg a few days ago.”

“Re­ally? Where?” “Shuf­fling out of the cof­fee shop, head down and hands in pock­ets, as usual.” Seth shook his head. “There’s an­other one who’s never known his worth.”

“Won­der if he’s still play­ing gui­tar.”

“He is, but not per­form­ing. He gives les­sons at the mu­sic school. I bumped into him a few months ago. I need to con­tact him, but he’s not an­swer­ing his mo­bile.”

“You need to con­tact him?”

He took a swig of the cof­fee be­fore re­ply­ing.

“I want to in­vite him to Oona’s party.”

Vi­o­let laughed. “Can’t she do that her­self?”

“She’s al­ways been a bit ner­vous around him. No idea why.”

She nod­ded.

“Yes, it’s weird, given how con­fi­dent she is. Pity he doesn’t per­form any more. I loved lis­ten­ing to him at school.”

Seth took an­other sip, all the time re­gard­ing her.

“I know. You had a thing for him, didn’t you?”

“No! He was a good mu­si­cian. He should have done more – con­certs, record­ings. Made some­thing of him­self.”

“Yeah. He was an­other Shrink­ing Vi­o­let.”

She tut­ted.

“Not that old school nick­name.”

“Sorry. Change of sub­ject: have you got an out­fit for Oona’s party? You know she likes us to dress up.”

Oona’s usual Twelfth Night do for her birth­day. She’d been hold­ing them since she was fif­teen.

“Not yet. You know I’ve never been keen on par­ties. I might even duck out.” Seth gulped.

“Don’t you dare. Any­way, there might be a few sur­prises. You know what Oona’s like.”

“Yes. Re­mem­ber the jug­gling act?” “Ex­actly.” He nod­ded. “I’ll see.”

Seth drained the last of his cof­fee.

“I can’t stay.” “Do­ing any­thing in­ter­est­ing?”

“Oona is, um, cut­ting my hair.” A flush crept across his face.

“Oh. You’re not go­ing to cut it too short, are you?”

She sur­veyed his shoul­der-length mop. It was the first thing she’d no­ticed about him, all those years back.

“No, just a trim to neaten it up.”

Oona, a pro­fes­sional hair­dresser, al­ways cut Vi­o­let’s hair. It had never oc­curred to her she might do Seth’s too.

“OK. See you soon.” “Satur­day, if not be­fore.” He picked up his ruck­sack.

Vi­o­let strug­gled with the lock on her front door. Her fin­ger­tips, ex­posed in the fin­ger­less gloves, were frozen.

She thought of what Seth had said. It wasn’t the first time Oona and he had met up on their own. She’d seen them hav­ing cof­fee to­gether just be­fore Christ­mas, in what Vi­o­let thought of as “their” café.

Big deal, her sen­si­ble side told her. You have cof­fee with him all the time. It doesn’t mean a thing, more’s the pity.

She fi­nally got the key in the lock and turned it. She dropped her bag in the hall and went to the kitchen, try­ing to de­cide what to make for din­ner. Some­thing hot and com­fort­ing.

Oona had promised her that she would never pur­sue Seth, know­ing how Vi­o­let felt about him. But that was nearly 15 years ago. Oona prob­a­bly as­sumed Vi­o­let was over him by now.

And could she re­ally be ex­pected to hold to that prom­ise after all this time?

The fol­low­ing day at work was a hard one. Her spir­its needed a lift by the end, and see­ing Seth had al­ways been the quick­est tonic.

After work she waited out­side the build­ing, stomp­ing her booted feet and wind­ing her scarf an­other turn around her neck.

Her breath formed a thick, icy fog. She hoped Seth wouldn’t be do­ing over­time tonight.

Ten min­utes later she saw him. He had a beanie pulled down over his head, so she couldn’t see his new hair­cut.

“Hi,” he said, spot­ting her.

“Have you time for a cof­fee? I’ve got some­thing to tell you.”

“Sorry, I, um, said I’d call round Oona’s. She wants my ex­pert ad­vice on some­thing.”

He looked ahead, not at her, his face grow­ing hot de­spite the chill.

Seth had never been good at sub­terfuge. At least he wasn’t deny­ing he was see­ing her. Then again, he was a struc­tural en­gi­neer, and Oona had been talk­ing about build­ing an ex­ten­sion for a while now.

Vi­o­let smiled through her dis­ap­point­ment.

“Any­way,” he said, “I’ll see you to­mor­row at the party. You can tell me then.”

“Like I told you, Seth, I might not go.”

He walked away back­wards.

“Come on, Vi­o­let. Please?” He put his hands up in a beg­ging po­si­tion. “It would mean a lot to me and Oona.”

She pan­icked and agreed so he wouldn’t keep ask­ing.

“Good.” He waved and headed quickly down a side street, one that would take him to Oona’s house.

She put her hand up in farewell, her smile fad­ing as soon as he was out of sight.

All Satur­day morn­ing she kept go­ing over the party in her head. Yes, she would go; no, she wouldn’t.

She was still un­de­cided at lunchtime.

Go­ing through the mo­tions, she picked out a dress, then shoes and a bag.

Vi­o­let was paint­ing her nails, still un­de­cided, when some­thing oc­curred to her: Oona usu­ally asked her to help be­fore the par­ties, but hadn’t this year.

She’d ring, vol­un­teer her ser­vices. She might get a clearer idea of what was go­ing on.

“Ab­so­lutely no need, sweetie,” Oona said when Vi­o­let phoned her. “I’m su­per-or­gan­ised this year. Just come along at sev­en­thirty and en­joy.”

She hung up be­fore Vi­o­let had a chance to make any kind of ex­cuse. Point­less any­way. If there was some­thing go­ing on be­tween Oona and Seth, she would jolly well have to get used to it.

The party had been go­ing a good half hour.

Vi­o­let was mak­ing small talk with old school chums, lean­ing in to hear them over the mu­sic.

Seth had been milling around, plac­ing the odd plate of food on the ta­ble, oc­ca­sion­ally stop­ping for smil­ing chats with Oona.

His hair didn’t look any dif­fer­ent.

Above the door were what looked like ban­ners, cov­ered over with sheets of paper. Her heart plum­meted. No prizes for guess­ing what they might be.

She’d checked Oona’s hand sur­rep­ti­tiously when she’d kissed her and given her the birth­day present. No ring. Yet.

As Vi­o­let went to com­pli­ment an old school ac­quain­tance, the mu­sic was turned off and Oona clapped her hands to get peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.

“I have some­thing to an­nounce; well, Seth and I do.”

Seth stepped for­ward to stand next to her.

Vi­o­let turned to see how many peo­ple were be­tween her and the door, and whether it was pos­si­ble to leave un­no­ticed. It wasn’t.

Her throat felt full and her eyes stung with threat­en­ing tears.

“First of all, wel­come, ev­ery­one, to my an­nual Twelfth Night bash, but it isn’t just a birth­day party for me this year.”

Here it came.

“It’s a bit late in the day, but we want this also to be a cel­e­bra­tion for Vi­o­let, who passed her de­gree with first-class hon­ours last sum­mer.”

There was a round of ap­plause.

“Come here, Vi­o­let.” Oona beck­oned her over.

Vi­o­let’s heart raced as she snaked her way through the crowd.

Seth stretched up and pulled at the paper cov­ers to re­veal ban­ners. Con­grat­u­la­tions on your exam suc­cess!

Reach­ing Oona, Vi­o­let smiled shyly at the clap­ping crowd be­fore catch­ing Seth’s eye. He was grin­ning broadly, his eyes shin­ing with pride.

“As a spe­cial treat for Vi­o­let and me, we have Greg Adams here to play some Span­ish gui­tar for us,” Oona said. “He took a lot of per­suad­ing. Thank you to Seth for set­ting that up, and for help­ing me or­gan­ise the party.”

Greg slunk out from the kitchen with his gui­tar, peep­ing timidly at the au­di­ence. When he spot­ted Oona he gave her a rare, beam­ing smile be­fore sit­ting to be­gin his set.

When Greg stopped for a break, Vi­o­let found Seth stand­ing next to her.

“Your hair doesn’t look any dif­fer­ent,” she said, grin­ning.

He touched it self­con­sciously

“No. Sorry about the skul­dug­gery. You know I’m no good at it. But you’re such a Shrink­ing Vi­o­let you would have run a mile if you’d known the party was for you, too.”

“You’re right, but you’ll have to stop call­ing me that. I ap­plied for four jobs yes­ter­day! It’s what I wanted to tell you about over cof­fee.”

“Well done, you!” “Was Greg hard to per­suade?”

“He’s as bad as you. But, de­spite what Oona just said, it was her go­ing to speak to him that fi­nally made him say yes. Reckon he’s been car­ry­ing a torch for her since school.”

She raised her eyes heav­en­ward.

“You don’t say! All the boys had a thing for Oona.” “Apart from me.” “You did.”

“Well, for a term or so. But there was some­one I liked much, much more.” Vi­o­let took a deep breath. “Who was that?”

He looked at her, eyes nar­rowed.

“Are you se­ri­ous?” “Oh, you don’t mean –!” There was ap­plause and they looked up to see Greg mooching back to his seat.

Seth touched her shoul­der.

“Let’s meet up for a cof­fee to­mor­row, at our café, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Let’s make it lunch. I’ve plenty to tell you, too.” ■

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