Shrinking Violet by Francesca Capaldi
She had never told Seth how she really felt about him. Was it now too late?
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.” ■