She’d dressed with care, wearing a blue, gypsy skirt with her pretty sandals that had rhinestones set into the leather, and she had on a white blouse. Her hair was taken away from her face at the sides and clipped in place with a wooden barrette. Her make up was fresh and simple.
She knew that she looked good, but the moment that she walked to the bar and saw her husband hand in hand with the dark-haired woman, she felt like a middle aged frump and might as well have worn her gardening clothes.
Marian was even younger than Shelly had imagined. She couldn’t have been more than about twenty six. She had thick chestnut hair that fell in curls almost to her waist and a face that wouldn’t look out of place in a Loreal advert. Perhaps the worst insult of all was that John had gone for a woman who wore the perfect ten. Size fourteen wasn’t exactly elephantine, she told herself but it did no good, she felt old, used up and thrown out.
She forced her mouth into a smile and applied some teeth as she approached them. John moved closer in welcome, he was about to embrace her. She took a step backwards; he’d lost the right to ever touch her.
‘John,’ she said in greeting.
He hovered awkwardly and then recovered, as though remembering his prize exhibit. He put an arm protectively around Marian’s shoulder to move her toward Shelly. He grinned like a boy in a toy shop, ‘Shelly, this is Marian.’ He might as well have said, ‘Na, na, na, nana, look wh-at I’ve got.’
The women shook hands in cool appraisal, each sizing up the other’s jugular. Shelly couldn’t get over one fact: Marian was pregnant. She’d known what to expect. Pauline had told her that Marian was big, but she hadn’t expected it to impact on her own gut so much. She felt as though she’d been punched. She’d wanted another child with John for so long.
‘Michelle, how nice to finally meet you,’ the woman oozed insincerity. She was used to breaking balls in the boardroom and smoozing new clients at business dinners, Shelly wanted her to know that she’d met her match. Marian might speak Japanese, but Shelly spoke fluent Sammy and that was the hardest language in the world to break down.
‘I wish I could say the same,’ she replied, ‘but that would be so, what is it they say on the television shows, these days? Oh yes, that would be so fake. I’m here for my son, if you’re taking him out next weekend, you need to know what you’re letting yourself in for. He bites, you know? Did John tell you that?’
Before Marian could answer, John cut in with a forced and indisputably fake laugh. ‘Ha ha, I told you she has a sense of humour. Shall we get a table?’
They found a quiet table in the corner of the room and John brought over their drinks. Shelly wanted vodka but had to settle for just the cola accompaniment because she was driving. Marian had a glass of water. Shelly would have laid money on it not being out of a tap. There was an uncomfortable silence but Shelly decided that she might as well try and enjoy herself now that she was here. ‘So, he told you that I have a sense of humour, did he? How very magnanimous of him. Unfortunately, he hasn’t. You may have noticed that about him, already.’
Marian took her time to answer, she raised the glass to her lips and drank delicately before placing it carefully back on the table mat. She left no lipstick mark on the rim—expensive. ‘No actually, he didn’t. He was lying. He’s said remarkably little about you. But then, I knew that we would have nothing in common, so I haven’t asked.’
Ouch, the cat has claws. ‘We do have my husband in common. Frankly, I can’t see what you see in him, but there’s no accounting for taste. When I got him, I took him from new, unused love, unattached. I never imagined that he’d be the type of man to take up with—’
‘Ladies, please, we came here to talk about Sammy. He’s what’s important here, not you two scoring points off each other. Frankly, I’m disappointed in both of you. You’re behaving like children.’
‘Talk to your new woman by all means, John, but thank God, these days I don’t answer to anybody,least of all you and I can behave any way I damn well please.’
Marian also tagged onto John’s little speech, ‘Oh, darling, just allow me one more swat at the tennis ball—yes, we have your husband in common, Michelle, but not for much longer. One of the reason’s we came here tonight is to tell you that he’s divorcing you.’
She heard John gasp, but didn't look up at him, she was focused on Marian's perfect smile when he spoke.‘Marian, shut up. How dare you blurt it out like that? You promised me that you wouldn't say anything. We agreed that I’d broach the subject when I felt that the time was right. That was a cruel thing to do. You had no right to do that.’ John seemed genuinely upset and Shelly was flattered, until she reminded herself what a two-timing toe-rag he was.
‘And when would that time be? Marian shot back at him, the smile gone, lips tight and her eyes furious, 'when our child begins university?’ She unconsciously stroked her stomach and that single movement hurt Shelly more deeply than any catty words could.
John and Marian continued their personal argument for another couple of rounds worth of retorts. Shelly was grateful, it gave her those few seconds to examine her feelings. Her husband wanted a divorce, presumably to marry another woman, and she felt, what?
She prodded the emotion to see if it was real. It had come as a shock, she hadn’t been expecting it. She should have been devastated, tearful, certainly upset. She felt none of these things. The closest she could come to defining what she did feel was, happiness. She was going to be her own woman, with her own name, in her own right. Maybe she would also meet somebody else, one day. She could travel the world, her and Sammy. She wouldn’t of course, break in routine—foreign postage costs—the dog—difficult, but she could and that thought pleased her.
‘Shelly, I’m sorry. We’ll get together, another, more appropriate, time. It must have come as a shock, we’ll talk then.’
‘No, don’t be silly. We’ll talk now. I agree. It’s for the best. No reason to draw it out any longer. I’ve been waiting for the right time to broach the subject, myself. Aren't we both silly? I want the house.’
She smiled a simpering smile at Marian, ‘For Sammy, you understand.’
Marian answered her smile with one equally cool and picked up her glass.
‘…and we’re going to have to sort out some kind of fund for Sammy, in the future. Because of his disabilities your duty of care won’t end when he turns eighteen. I’m sorry if that’s inconvenient with your new family, but that’s the way it is, I’m afraid.’
‘Of course. Of course. That all sounds very reasonable. Naturally, I want what’s best for Sammy. Anything else that he needs, just let me know. We don't have to make this ugly, do we?’
‘No, not at all. Ugly would be terrible. Oh, but if anything happens to me, he’ll come to you. So, Marian here had better get used to him, she might find herself playing mummy, one day. It’s all for the best.’ Her hunch had paid off, Marian looked horrified. In that second, Shelly knew that Marian didn’t want to meet Sammy at all. John wanted her to. Sammy was going to tear that woman to pieces on Saturday, mentally if not physically. She grinned inwardly; let’s see what a soupcon of Sammy can do to your happy little love-in, she thought, maliciously.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, nothing’s going to happen to you, Shelly. You’re always so morbid.’
‘You’d better hope that nothing happens to me, sweetcheeks, because that would really screw your plans up, wouldn’t it. I just hope, for Sammy’s sake, that it never comes to it.’ She picked up her coke,’ Cheers, by the way.’ She took a deep slug and the bubbles made her eyes water. She just hoped that the effect was sparkling rather than panda. ‘I think we’re done here, aren’t we John?’ She gathered up her jacket and bag. ‘Be at the house at ten sharp, and you don’t let Sammy out of your sight, your lady friend isn’t used to him, yet.’ She rose, ‘No offense, by the way.’
‘Shame. Oh, by the way, what colour’s your car?’
Her brow furrowed in confusion. ‘Yellow, why?’
Shelly sucked in air through her teeth and shook her head. ‘Ooh, yellow, that’s bad. That’s really bad. I hope it’s well covered on insurance. Ciao.’ She blew air kisses before turning away with a smile, but not before she’d seen the stricken look on Marian’s face. She walked slowly enjoying the new air in her step and also the receding panic in their voices.
‘Baby, what did she mean? What’s wrong with my car?’ She sounded quite common when she was upset.
‘Baby, baby, nothing, she’s winding you up. Yellow is fine…of course blue would have been better, but we should be okay with yellow…