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A Friend In Need
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Kate Hawkins

Modern Fiction

15



My hands were shaking as I wiped the monitor and keyboard. The smell of the chemical cleaner was making my stomach churn. I hadn’t been able to eat any lunch that day, the thought of what I was going to do had taken away my appetite.  I picked up my cleaning materials and looked around the office It was late; most of the office staff had left hours ago. I’d seen only a few workaholics typing away in the semi-dark, light from the monitors casting odd shaped shadows across faces as I worked my way from desk to desk. Now my heart started beating faster.  I heard footsteps behind me but it was only one of the late-nighters on their way home for the night. As he walked past me his laptop bag bumped against my leg. He glanced up:

“G’Night” I called. A grunt in reply as he passed me and walked out into the hallway. Grumpy so and so I thought. I gazed around the office but couldn’t see anyone else in sight. I smiled as I looked back at the desk I’d just finished cleaning. Nothing untoward to be seen, everything was back in place

Phoof. Easy as taking sweets from the Pick-A-Mix. Okay – not something I do now, but I’m not the only one am I? I think everyone did it– well until they closed our Woolies down anyway. This was definitely more of an adrenaline rush though.
Now all I had to do was wipe down the rest of the desks, getting rid of coffee rings and crumbs and I was finished for the night. I put the cleaning materials back in the cupboard, locked the door then handed my key and my access pass in to the security guard.

I smiled and waved goodbye, breathing a sigh of relief as I walked out through the revolving doors.
Thank God for that. Finished, and hopefully I wouldn’t have to go back again. Last night had been really scary. I’d had to duck into the men’s loo at one point. Lucky I’d heard the footsteps coming back down the corridor really.
As I drove home I thought back to how this all started.

“I think Chris is having an affair”.

I looked up from my baguette at Sam. Hmm – no smile, no give away twinkling eye. It looked as if Sam was being serious about this.

“Okay – tell me”. I said “I’ve got time; I don’t have to be back in the office for an hour”

Sam and I had been friends for a long time. We’d met at uni, both doing the same History degree. We’d seen each other through bad dates, good dates, drunken dates. Sam met Chris at the student union in our last year. They’d become an item immediately. We kept in touch though, after graduating. I’d been a guest at their wedding and was god-mother to their daughter, Laura Georgina – named after me! Then when Sam’s company DocsRUs moved in to offices on the same business park as the company I work for, Tarco, we started meeting up for a coffee or lunch. It’s really good – both offices have restaurants – so we let each other in to our own building and have lunch. We’ve been doing it for so long now, there are people in DocsRUs that greet me by name, thinking I actually work with Sam.

“Oh shit, Gina. Look, I went on Chris’s laptop at home to check something; I can’t even remember what it was now. Then when I was on line, an email arrived for Chris. You know how it comes up on the bottom of the screen?  So, it wasn’t as if I was peeping or checking up or anything. Well it was from a travel agent, with a booking for a double room in a hotel in Edinburgh – next week!

I looked at Sam
“So? It could be a surprise weekend away for you both, couldn’t it? That’s not proof of anything”

Sam looked at me with scorn:

“Since when has Chris been romantic? Remember the last time I tried something like that – I got my head bit off for not thinking about the inconvenience of having to pack at the last minute, having to cancel a squash game.”
I tried to think of another reason – could it be for someone else? No, same thing applied, Chris wouldn’t put anything on a credit card for anyone else.

Sam went on to explain that several times recently Chris had put the phone down suddenly or had rushed to the door when the post arrived.

Sam looked at me “See what I mean, there has to be something going on. Chris is hiding something from me, I know it.”
“What do you want to do?” I asked, surreptitiously glancing at my watch, I didn’t have much time left before I needed to get back to Terco.

“I want to find out, I really want to know whether I’m right – and if so who it is”

A couple of people at the next table looked around. Sam was getting rather loud and the cafeteria was emptying as people made their way back to work.

I thought quickly and suggested that we meet up after work at our local pub. “Think about it this afternoon and if you really want to find out, we’ll work out a way. I’ll turn detective – deerstalker hat and pipe if you like”.
Sam smiled at that image and we arranged to meet up at 6:30… not too late, so Sam could still get home in time to give Laura her bath, one bedtime routine that couldn’t be missed.

I have to confess that I wasn’t really concentrating that afternoon, but I was only chairing a meeting on prioritising the team workload for the next quarter, so if I was quiet, the team just assumed I was thinking hard about their tasks. If only. This wasn’t the first time Chris had cheated on Sam, but then it wasn’t as if Sam hadn’t returned the favour. So why was this time different?

I asked Sam the same question as we sat with glasses of Viognier in a quiet corner of The White Swan, our preferred local for a post-work drink.

“I don’t know, but there’s something this time. Chris has been quiet for a while. No sex either – not for a month now and you know that’s not like us. A new suit in the wardrobe, much smarter and it looks Designer.”
Sam gave a big sigh and took a large gulp of the wine.
Oh oh, not a good sign. This was looking more and more serious.
I stared at Sam, trying to think this through. Then I took a deep breath and asked:

“Okay, what do you want to do? What do you want me to do?”
“Help me Gina. Help me find out if I’m right, if this time my marriage is about to go down the pan. Please?”

“Shit – are you sure. You can’t turn the clock back once you find out. What if it is true, are you ready to deal with it?”

“I’m sure. This is tearing me apart. I’m a wreck. I can’t concentrate at work. I’m snappy at home. I even logged on to Chris’ laptop again but the password’s been changed. I don’t know whether Chris is hiding something really fucking bad, or whether I’m just being paranoid, but I need to know Gina. I have to know the truth”.

I finished my drink whilst thinking about how you snoop on someone, what would be the signs to look out for. This really wasn’t something I had any experience of. My past boyfriends, whilst some of them had been real pigs, hadn’t cheated on me, well not that I was aware of anyway. On the whole, we’d parted amicably, without recriminations. I’d cried on Sam’s shoulder, we’d get drunk together, and then I’d get over it. So far, my heart was firmly untouched, so I didn’t really understand what Sam was going through; but my best friend needed me this time. It was payback for all the times in the past that Sam had helped me. So I sat up straight and said;

“Okay, I’ll do it. I don’t know what I’ll do exactly, but I’ll find out for you. I’ll find out whether Chris is having an affair.”
“You have to tell me the truth though Gina. Promise you won’t lie just to spare my feelings.”

“I promise” I said, not knowing whether to cross my fingers behind my back or not. Oh well – I’ll cross that bridge when I find out what Chris is playing at.

At home I sat in front of the lap-top, Google search open, wondering where to start. I switched on the TV for some company, some background noise. Why is there never anything on? 200 channels and I still can’t find anything new to watch. Hmm – Channel 5, Gadget show. Christ – teddy bears with build in cameras, what the hell next will they invent.

I enter the camera bear into Google search, more to keep my hands occupied than anything else. That rather big bar of galaxy was calling out to me, but my bikini was calling the louder. I did not want to go on holiday with a jelly belly.  

Cool – there was one that looked like Pooh Bear. Cameras that looked like bed-side lamps!  Why would anyone want one? I read through the blurb. God – how to spy on your Nanny! What the hell will they think of next?   Hey, this site is really helpful though – I click on a link to a company offering surveillance equipment. This is really, really interesting. A way to remotely connect to someone’s computer, without them knowing, I stare at the screen in disbelief; but It’s true – you really can buy a little gadget – legally – in this country, that let’s you do something that really looked illegal to me.

I spent the next half an hour, reading about the items you can buy. I never even knew this world existed. I checked the URL and the business address a couple of times – yep – definitely a UK based firm. Weird, God knows how they sell these things legally. Telephone bugs, hidden cameras, voice recorders. I imaged myself creeping around, taking secret photos of Chris. Nope – that image just didn’t ring true. I’d have to disguise myself and the car first.  Hide a camera in their house? The idea was ludicrous. Did I really think that Chris would be cheating on Sam in their own home?

I made my choice; the key logger looked as if it could be something I could use.  I clicked on shopping basket and bought both types, and then the page showed the other things that people had also bought. Who uses all this stuff? I added a subscription to use an online firm which uses radio mast triangulation to track the whereabouts of the mobile phone. You are supposed to allow access to other people as trusted friends, but if Chris leaves the phone around, well I’ll chance it – you only pay 50p per hit and it only guarantees location to within a 100metres, but it should certainly show if Chris is at work – or play!  

Oh – I went back to the Spy Site and I ordered the teddy bear camera (just for fun).

Two days later my packages arrived – I’d paid extra for the express delivery. I opened the smaller one first. Okay, it’s real. Inside some bubble wrap are the two key-loggers. I half expected to hear police knocking at the door as I opened the wrapping, or a phone call – some mysterious voice saying

“We know what you’re doing”.

I know; too much imagination. Too many late night horror films. Okay, enough already; time to get a grip. I read through the instructions for the computer gadget. One looked just like the purple connector you see all the time on computers connecting the keyboard.  The other was for a USB adaptor. Okay – I just need to get hold of Chris’s computer. Then every keystroke will be logged and recorded on this little gizmo, and I can access the information remotely.  This thing will record chat-rooms, emails, instant messaging, the web sites visited as well as all the document typing.  
Wow, maybe I should use this at work. I could find out what the blazes is actually going on behind the closed management doors. Are we really going to be taken over? Should I be looking for a new job now? Then I imagine the implications. My boss, holding the key-logger in his hand as Security escorts me from the premises. Okay, not very dignified I admit to myself. So, I’ll just have to keep going for coffee with his P.A. instead. That way I get the juicy gossip of who’s sleeping around as well.

Okay all I have to do is record everything on Chris’s PC and then study it all later. Well that’ll be easy then! I sat staring at the two rather innocuous looking plugs things. God, this is stupid, who am I kidding, and how the fucking hell do I put this “secretly” onto Chris’s PC?

Second package, a little larger than the first. Hmm  - and actually the teddy bear is a rather cute Winnie the Pooh– do I give it away as a present? Or, it would make a rather interesting addition to the bedroom – Mine!  

Next day I phoned Sam to ask whether Chris used a keyboard at home. Not totally good news. Chris just uses the laptop at home, so the little bug would not exactly be hidden now would it! – But, does use a docking station at work.
I also checked whether Sam would be able to get hold of Chris’s phone so that we could activate the “Where Are You” software. Apparently this company has worked out that a lot of texts are sent saying “where are you”. So this software does it for you, as long as the person you are calling has agreed to let you know where they are.

This part proved really easy. Sam phoned the site and set me up as a trusted friend whilst Chris was in the shower.
Phase one complete. Now, phase two, how the hell was I going to get the key-logging  gizmo onto Chris’s computer.

Then, eating my dinner that evening I suddenly had a brain wave. Suzie! Suzie used to work with me, but left to set up her own cleaning company when she found that project work and young children just didn’t go together.
I could pick her brains about how to get into Chris’s office. Maybe she knew someone who would do this for me. No, I’d have to do it myself. I couldn’t let anyone else know what I was up to. Hopefully she would know which firm cleaned the offices anyway.

Bugger – too late to phone now, Suzie kept earlier hours now that she had the kids – if you phoned after Nine at night, it had to be for a very good reason – like you’d died, or at the very least broken both legs.

Next morning I phoned Suzie:

We exchanged the usual pleasantries, I asked about her kids, how life was going.

“Now I know you want something. You never usually ask daft questions. Come clean, ha ha!”

Okay – that was Suzie’s idea of a joke – Her company was called “Come Clean”.

“Suzie I need a favour.” I said. I thought quickly, I hadn’t really planned out what I was going to say here, and Suzie wouldn’t be really sympathetic. She knew the past history of Sam having a one-night stand.  Plus her husband had run off with the babysitter. Yes – I know, what a cliché. The girl was 21, in her final year at Uni – Media Studies! No, I’m being bitchy, she wasn’t totally thick, she snared a bloke from right under his wife’s nose and that took some skill and confidence. Oh – and she was tiny; with long blonde hair and eyelashes to die for, which she had obviously used to good effect.
Then inspiration struck and I spoke quickly, as I rather hastily thought out my plan.

“I need to get an idea of what it’s like being a cleaner in a big office. We’re going to be changing our cleaning routines here at Terco and I’ve been asked to put a proposal together. I want to get some idea of what it’s like and I don’t want to do it here… as the cleaning staff may wonder what the hell I’m up to. So…”

“You want to shadow some of my cleaners? Okay – we can sort that out” said Suzie.

I explained that I really wanted to go a bit more in-depth and maybe go undercover as a cleaner, but it had to be in a big office, you know like Critique?  Not that I was casting aspersions on Suzie’s company. She was doing really, really well, but it needed to be a company about the same size as Terco. Then I shut up and reflexively bit my thumbnail. Ugh, yuck, that bitter stuff I’d painted on worked, now my mouth tasted like soapy cheese. Had I insulted Suzie?  There was silence on the other end of the phone.

“You’re mad. You do know that don’t you? Okay – let me think for a minute. I’ve always got gaps at some of the smaller offices. – You really want a big office though don’t you? “

So Suzie told me she would go away and think about it. She would have a chat with some of her contacts and get back to me. Now I just had to wait. I couldn’t push her, or she’d start getting suspicious.  I’d promised Sam though that I’d help, so I would. Whilst I was waiting for Suzie to get back to me I’d just keep an eye on Chris by using the phone thingy.

Over the next couple of days, whenever I thought about it, what ever the time, I’d send the message through to Chris’s phone and check the location.  When I wasn’t sure of where Chris was, I forwarded the map locations for Sam to check.  Sam’s parents, Chris’s Mum’s house. I recognised the location for the gym, then for the shopping centre. Once the map showed the area on the outskirts of town, which neither Sam or I could work out why Chris would need to visit. So I drove home that way but I couldn’t see anything unusual. Just a row of estate agents, travel agents and the ubiquitous phone shops.

Another two days past before Suzie called me. She’d talked to her colleagues and had passed on my request and had come up trumps. The manager of one of the national firms had said that I could join her crew for a couple of days. One of her girls, Julie, is going to have her wisdom teeth out next week – so they have to put someone in to replace her in the Critique offices.
My heart was now in my mouth. Critique was the firm where Chris worked. This was going so smoothly, I was afraid to breathe in case I broke the chain of good luck.
“I’ll take it. It’ll be fun. You know me, I have to know what I’m talking about. I hate working in the dark; I have to learn all about whatever it is I have to do.”

“You’re mad” said Suzie “but okay, come around next Monday and I’ll take to meet the manager, so she can take you through the ropes.
“You’re a star. Thank you. I’ll take you out to lunch to say thank you properly” I said – remembering not to say “dinner” as Suzie, didn’t like leaving her two kids with childminders now.

Later I phoned Sam and arranged to meet for a coffee to talk through the arrangements. Sam confirmed that Chris would be in the office on Monday and Tuesday. Christ, I was starting to feel like Kinsey Milhone, or maybe Stephanie Plum. Okay, I know, I have terrible reading habits, but a girl has to relax and I really like reading about Stephanie Plum, not many books get me laughing out loud – but these do… though you do get some funny looks if you are on the train to London at the time.

I met with Suzie on Monday as planned and she introduced me to the manager who had agreed to help. I’d worried about what to wear – my usual office clothes – trouser suit, flirty blouse and heels, wouldn’t exactly fit the profile. I’d phoned Suzie to check, but she’d told me not to worry, the cleaning company would provide the uniform. Not something I’d ever worn before, I’d never even been in the Girl Guides. I was starting to feel like a real undercover agent.  Then thinking that to myself, I realised that I really, really needed to get a better life!

I shuddered as I put on the uniform. I never wear black, I’m too pale skinned so I just look totally washed out. Still, more camouflage I suppose.

We drove around to Critique together in the company van, where I was introduced to Security and the cleaning staff. Julie was fantastic. She talked fast and walked fast, but her cleaning speed was incredible. I’ve never seen a floor mopped that fast before. Once she was sure I’d picked up the routine, she left me to clean the 6th floor myself. I was just pushing the vacuum cleaner down the corridor when I saw Chris’s name plaque on the desk partition.

I stared at the name and gnawed on my bottom lip, but I didn’t have my gadgets with me.  They were still in my handbag in the boot of my car. Then I heard footsteps in the corridor behind me. I glanced up and saw Chris just walking down towards the desk. My chest hurt. BREATHE, and think.

I turned around and saw signs for the toilets. I walked quickly towards them. Shit – it was the Men’s loo. Okay – inside – then, luck was with me again. A cleaning sign was hanging on the inside. I hung it quickly on the outside of the door. Locked myself inside and slid slowly down to the floor, holding my head. Christ – what if Chris had spotted me, asked what the hell I was doing, dressed as a cleaner, wandering around the Critique offices?

My heart-rate slowly returned to normal and I wondered how long I should wait. I put my ears to the door, wondering if I would be able to hear anything. Then right outside the door I heard a thud, a sound of papers sliding across the floor and a heartfelt “Fuck”. Then the sound of papers being gathered up and footsteps receding out of sound.

I opened the door and peered outside. No sign of Chris, but there was Julie looking around for me.

“Just checking the men’s loos. Thought I heard something”.
She looked at me as if I was mad. I probably was. Then said:
“Come on, let’s get this floor finished, then we can go home”.

The next evening I returned alone.  I left my car in the nearby multi-storey car park, changing into my cleaners outfit in the ladies loo, then putting my own clothes in my car for later. I didn’t think that turning up to work as a cleaner in my brand new Eos would really fit the profile. Then I walked the short distance across the road and signed-in with Security.

I picked up my cleaner’s kit and worked my way through the office. I left the 6th floor until last, but just to be on the safe side, I sent the “where are you” query to Chris’s phone. The picture came back quickly and looked as if it was coming from Sam & Chris’s home, so I relaxed a little.

But I needn’t have worried, everything went smoothly. I plugged the little device in between the existing keyboard plug and the workstation.  God I’m good – the next James Bond…  The name’s Bond, Gina Bond. – Well it made me smile anyway. Then the reaction set in and my hands were shaking as a wiped down the desk area. Then that stupid bloody man just barged passed me and I’ll have a bruise where his bag hit me. Still I kept it cool and stayed in character until I left the office.

I sat in my car for a while until I felt ready to drive. I sent Sam a text message to say job done, keeping it ambiguous in case Chris read the message then drove home.

I sat on the sofa with a very, very large glass of red wine, whilst I logged on and set up the password at my end. The next time Chris’ logged on my gadget would start recording everything – every chat, email, internet chat room, even documents would be copied. I’d be able to look at anything, even  the deleted items wouldn’t be safe from me. God, this is a very powerful tool. You could use it for industrial espionage, not just snooping on a love-rat.

For two days I left it alone.  My conscience was pricking at me, would I really be able to invade someone’s privacy and what the hell would I do if I did find out something? Sam kept badgering me with emails and text messages though and I couldn’t hold out any longer.

When I got home from work that night, I logged on and activated the software, entering the password which would let me see everything that Chris had done.
I decided to just download any internet site visits at first. I really, really didn’t want to have to start reading though any e-mails.  I ran a filter on the word “hotel” and three links were immediately shown. Shit – there’s the hotel in Edinburgh which started all this.

I bit my lip, then entered the hotel name in the search against the emails. Four emails were listed.  My hands were shaking as I opened the first email.
 This was just an automated read-receipt. I opened the second.

To Chris Atkins.
Thank you for choosing the Edinburgh Best City Hotel. Your booking reference is: FG2V5.
Room Type: Suite.
Date of arrival 17th June.
Cancellation must be received by 16:00 of the day prior to the booking, or you may be charged for the booking.
Thank you once again for choosing a City Hotel.

I stared at the email. This made it real. Before I’d only half believed Sam, I read it again, then opened the other two emails.

To Chris Atkins
Thank you for your enquiry about late arrival at the hotel.
We can confirm that the room will be kept available for a late check-in.
Room service is available until midnight, after this time, light snacks and drinks may still be ordered.
Thank you once again for choosing a City Hotel.


Then the final email:
To Chris Atkins
Thank you for your enquiry about the leisure facilities. We can confirm that the spa treatments you requested have been booked. These are:
Indian head massage (2)
Sauna (1)
Manicure (1)
Hot stones treatment (2).

What did this mean – was it two treatments or a treatment for two people?
There must be more mails – where were Chris’s emails to the hotel.  I opened the sent items folder and repeated the search. The result was two emails.

The first was the mail to the hotel booking the leisure facilities. Damn – there is another name here, so it was for two people. My eyes blurred as I stared at the screen. Oh Sam! Oh Chris! What the fuck are you doing. Now, who the hell is B Fleming?, and why did that name seem familiar.

Something in the back of my mind kept mulling this over. I was sure I had heard that name before. It was no good, I would have to see if sleeping on it would help. I went to bed with a really heavy heart. Tomorrow I would see Sam. I would have proof that something was definitely going on. I have to see if Sam wanted me to carry on checking up on Chris. Oh God, would Sam want me to go to Edinburgh and actually check up on Chris in person?

I slept poorly that night. Strange dreams woke me up. Chris chasing me down a hotel corridor. Sam turning up on my doorstep, but with a huge carrier bag, not  a suitcase.
In the morning after I’d showered, I put extra concealer under my eyes, an extra lick of mascara and a bright lipstick to add some colour. Okay, I was ready to face the world, if not quite ready to face Sam.
The day passed in a blur at work. I wasn’t sure if I’d made a lot of sense, but no-one seemed to notice my lack of focus and at last I logged off and left the office. I drove to the pub where I’d agreed to meet Sam. I’d printed off copies of the emails and they were folded up in my bag (Radley, pink with cupcakes, a joke between friends as I love my cake and a Christmas present from Sam and Chris).

I pulled in to the car park and switched off the engine. Good, Sam hadn’t arrived yet. I sat there in the quiet, eyes closed, trying to gather strength to go into the pub and wait for Sam.

As I sat there, images from the past came into my mind. Pictures of Chris and Sam’s wedding. Of Laura being born. The Christening. Fleeting glimpses of other people. Sam’s parents, always there, always looking so proud and happy. Then another face and a voice in my head:

“Gina, have you met my Mum?” Then another voice:
“Oh, please, not so formal. Mrs Fleming sounds so old, do please call me Barbara.”

B Fleming – Barbara – Chris’s Mum. Oh God, what had I nearly done.  I picked up my mobile, I’d call Sam – no I’d text,  I wasn’t ready to talk yet.

running late, get the drinks in and wait for me… lol G.

Then I made a call:
“Hi Chris, its Gina. How are you? Are you free – can I come round for a coffee? Yes, now if that’s okay with you?”

I drove out of the car-park, and then the short distance to Chris and Sam’s house. Laura was watching out for me from the sitting room window and as I drove up the drive she opened the door and stood in the doorway, jumping up and down waving, desperate to show me that she had now lost a bottom tooth. Really cute, gorgeous, beautiful little girl. Of course I’m biased, I’m her god-mother.
Why did I ever think that Chris would jeopardise her marriage?  There had to be a better explanation and all I had to do was get Chris to tell me what it was. Chris let Laura watch Nickelodeon on the TV, and we went through into the kitchen. Chris put the kettle on and made us both mugs of instant coffee. Which I pretend to enjoy every time I go there, but in my mind I always wonder why anyone bothers drinking the stuff. It doesn’t smell like coffee, it doesn’t taste like coffee. The most you can say is that you get a hot drink. We catch up for a bit about life in general, eventually I put my mug down but I’m still not quite sure what to say.

“What’s up Gina, you look very serious?” Chris smiled, but she didn’t look like the usual bubbly Chris of old. “Boyfriend trouble?”

I smiled, Chris was used to me turning up and laying out my woes about the men in my life.

“No, not this time. Look, I’m going to be really very rude now, so tell me to shut up and mind my own business, but is everything okay between you and Sam?”

Chris looked at me across the coffee mug.
“Why, has Sam said something to you?”

“No of course not. He never discusses really personal things with me, you know that. It’s just that he seems a bit down – and you look really down in the dumps, and I just wondered, well, is there anything wrong – or anything I can do to help?”

Chris blinked, a tear ran very slowly down her cheek. She shook her head at me and got up. She blew her nose, put her head around the door to check that Laura was till watching the TV and then sat back down:

“This is really weird, you coming round right now, are you sure Sam hasn’t said something to you? Chris looked at me again, but I just shook my head at her:

 “Come on, tell Auntie Gina. What’s up Chris?”

Chris tucked her hair behind her ears and wrapped her hands around her coffee mug again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look so sad or tired as she started talking.

“I don’t think he loves me any more. Oh he loves me – but he’s not in love with me. He doesn’t hug me, or pinch my bum or – well any of the things he used to; I can’t remember the last time we had sex and I know why”

Chris looked at me then – her fingers were gripping the coffee mug so tightly I thought the mug might crack. Christ, what the hell was coming now. God, I should have just kept my mouth shut, stayed out of the whole business entirely. This wasn’t something that I was sure I had the skills to help with.
 
“It’s okay Gina, it’s not you. I know that”. I looked at Chris. God had she thought that Sam and I might be, urgh, yuck. I didn’t’ say it out loud but my face must have expressed something because Christ laughed. Not a lot and a bit sadly, but a definite laugh.

“Oy, that’s my husband you have just dismissed so rapidly – and in spite of everything I still think he’s gorgeous. Actually that’s the problem. I fancy him like mad, but he doesn’t fancy me back. It’s because I let myself go after Laura was born. I still haven’t lost all the weight I put on, and my bra could be used as a hammock my boobs are so big and droopy. He works with all those girls in the office and when I look at them, they’re all so much slimmer than me, or younger looking. So” Chris continued, sitting up a bit straighter;

“I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m going to have a boob job. I’ve booked it all – the hospital – and some recuperation time at a hotel. I’ve asked Mum to come with me and I’ve asked Sam’s Mum & Dad to come and stay and look after Laura. Now all I have to do is tell Sam”. Chris looked at me defiantly, daring me to tell her that she was being irrational.

“Okay – yes I think you’re a bloody idiot, you know how I feel about people having unnecessary surgery – but if it’s what you want, then of course I’ll back you up”.  I gulped. “I’ll even have Laura over to stay at my place if you like”.

Now Chris really laughed. Small children and a very nearly all white sitting room just do not go.

She told me that it wouldn’t be necessary, but thanks  anyway. Everything was sorted on the home front, but that she just hadn’t had the nerve to tell Sam yet.
“It’s never seemed to be the right time. Every time I thought, right, I’ll tell him now, I just lost the nerve. I even started to think that maybe even surgery wouldn’t help, but then he’d look at me sometimes and I’d think – it’s going to be okay, he really does love me, I just need to get myself back into shape. Okay, maybe it is all in my mind – but it is my mind, so if I think surgery will help, then it will won’t it?”

God, why hadn’t I noticed that Chris was this unhappy about her appearance? I know we hadn’t been shopping for ages and looking back some of her excuses now seemed rather feeble, but I felt guilty that I hadn’t noticed how unhappy she had become. I stood up and walked around to where she was sitting. Then I gave her a very big hug, called her a bloody idiot and said:

“Chris. Do something for me please? Sam is at the pub – we were supposed to be meeting up for a drink after work tonight. But I want you to go instead.  Look I’ll stay here and put Laura to bed. I’ll even read Angelina Ballerina, if you will go to the pub now and tell Sam everything you’ve just told me. Okay?”

 “Okay” She said. “I know, I’m an idiot, I should have talked this over with him first – or at least I should have told him immediately when I booked the op. I just kept putting it off and then it just became like this big wall of silence between us. The longer I waited, the harder it got to find the right way to tell him. Thanks Gina”
I called her a bloody idiot again, in particular for thinking that Sam didn’t fancy her, or lover her any more and that I was really sure that he would understand.

Chris went upstairs to touch up her make up and I went to tell Laura that her favourite (okay, ONLY!) auntie would be putting her to bed that night. That this was a very, very special treat and that Mummy would go out and meet with Daddy, so that we could have a very special bed-time just on our own. Laura looked a little doubtful at my logic, but gave me a gap-toothed smile
“Will you read me my favouretest book in the whole wide world Auntie G?”






© Kate Hawkins, 2008



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