فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

Talking Isn’t Always Easy

It’s still my thirtieth birthday - yes, doesn’t time pass slowly when you’re having fun? Barry has suggested we stay in this restaurant now, so here we are, sitting at a table for two with romantic music playing in the background. Brad and Tania the Terrible are still here. I can see them looking into each other’s eyes at their own table for two at the other end of the room.

This is how I’m feeling: Old. Fat. Foolish. Jealous.

You’ll probably be thinking that things can’t get any worse. If you are, then you’re quite wrong. Barry’s looking at me with a pleased kind of expression on his face.

‘What is it?’ I ask, feeling immediately suspicious, but just as I do I notice that the entire restaurant staff are walking towards me, smiling in just the same way Barry’s smiling. They stop a metre or so away from our table, all except one girl who’s holding a large bunch of balloons.

‘Happy birthday, Alex,’ she says, and ties the balloons to the back of my chair. Then she steps back to join the rest of the staff and they all start to sing. Very loudly.

‘Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Alex. Happy birthday to you!’

The balloons surround my face: green, blue, yellow and red. I want to die.

Then, just when I think the nightmare’s over, one of the waiters gives a cough before making an announcement.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he shouts, so loudly Mum and

Dad can probably hear him in Rottingdean. ‘Today is Alex Faye’s thirtieth birthday! Thirty today! Three cheers for Alex!’

Then everybody in the restaurant joins in. ‘Hooray!’ they cheer. ‘Hooray! Hooray!’

I try to speak. I’m only able to whisper very very quietly. ‘Thank you,’ I say. ‘Thank you very much.’

Over on the other side of the restaurant I can see Brad and Tania laughing, and now I can add something else to my list of how I’m feeling: embarrassed.

I now feel old, fat, foolish, jealous and embarrassed.

Thank you Barry. Thank you life. Thank you very much.

On the other side of the table, I notice that Barry’s still looking pleased with himself. He has no idea how I feel at all. He thinks - he actually thinks - he’s done something special for me. Barry has been my boyfriend for two years. Two years. And he has no idea at all that this is the worst day of my entire life.

‘Good news!’ he says, spreading butter on some bread. ‘My company heard today from the Council about that work for the motorway bridges. We got it!’

‘Good,’ I say automatically, watching him eat his bread. I don’t feel at all hungry at the moment myself. In fact, right now I don’t feel as if I shall ever want to eat anything again. This is funny in a way, because Barry and I actually met because of a plate of food.

I was at a friend’s wedding party, and there was lots of delicious food. I was very hungry so I had piled my plate with food and, I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, I dropped the plate. Some of the food landed on my new dress, but most of it went on Barry. The messiest food went on Barry.

Amazingly, he didn’t shout at me. You see, even then he was too nice! We just found, a kitchen and cleaned our clothes up a little and then we sat and chatted. Barry was really interested in everything I had to say. I liked that.

‘It does mean I’ll be working away from home for a while though,’ he’s saying to me now. ‘We won’t see so much of each other for a few weeks.’

This is my chance to tell him. I lick my lips, feeling suddenly nervous. Then when I’m just about to speak, I suddenly notice something happening at Brad and Tania’s table, something that makes me feel very happy indeed. Brad and Tania are having an argument!

‘Alex?’ Barry says. ‘Didn’t you hear what I said? I said I’ll miss you.’

‘Yes, yes,’ I say impatiently, trying to hear Brad and Tania’s conversation.

‘It’s not my fault, Tania,’ I can hear him saying. ‘I had no idea. No idea at all. Believe me.’

‘But what will people think?’ Tania cries. ‘Everyone will be talking about it! It’s horrible. Horrible!’

What? What will everyone be talking about? What’s horrible? What?

‘Alex?’

‘Hmm?’ I realise Barry’s speaking to me.

‘I asked you if you would miss me too.’

‘Yes, yes, of course I will,’ I answer without thinking, looking at the couple on the far side of the room. As I watch, Tania gets to her feet. Picking up her handbag, she walks quickly away from the table. Brad gets up more slowly, putting some money down on the table before he starts to follow her.

‘Good,’ I’m only faintly conscious of Barry saying to me as Tania walks past us, ‘because I really care about you, Alex, I really do.’

‘What?’ I’m not listening to Barry because Brad’s walking towards me now, and he’s looking at me. Even in the middle of a crisis he’s staring at me in that special way. It must mean something. It must.

He stops briefly at our table. ‘Happy birthday, Alex,’ he says in his attractive deep voice. ‘Remember, don’t stay up too late!’ Then he leaves the restaurant.

‘Who was that?’ Barry asks.

‘My boss.’

‘Oh.’ Barry looks thoughtful for a while, then smiles. ‘They don’t seem very happy, do they?’ he says. ‘Not like us. We never argue, do we?’


I wake up the next morning feeling terrible. Not because I drank too much wine last night this time, but just because I don’t like myself very much. Barry has gone away to build bridges for motorways with no idea that I don’t want to be his girlfriend any longer. If I ever do write my adventure book it will be impossible to base the character of the girl on myself. I’m too frightened even to talk to my boyfriend.

Still, I’ve woken up early enough to walk to work for once, so after checking that my shoes are the same colour, I leave my flat and walk down the street to the seafront.

Even feeling as miserable as I do, I notice the sea looks almost as blue as it does in the summer. It’s a beautiful day, cold but sunny with only a gentle wind. It isn’t a day to feel miserable for long, and by the time I reach the Grand Hotel the sunshine has cheered me up.

I wonder if Kitten’s still staying at the hotel and whether she has forgiven Puppy yet. And then I remember Brad and Tania’s argument and smile. I still have no idea what it was about, but it really did sound serious. Perhaps they have broken up. Perhaps Brad’s now a free man!

Feeling suddenly keen to arrive at work, I begin to walk faster. If Brad and Tania have broken up, he’ll probably be a little sad for a while I suppose. He’ll need someone to talk to. As I hurry along, I imagine him talking to me about it. Perhaps we’ll go to the Sea View Cafe again, or maybe we’ll just sit in the gallery. Anyway, it will just be me and him. I’ll listen to him. I’ll be understanding. (Though not too understanding.) He’ll look into my eyes as he talks, and suddenly he’ll realise he doesn’t care about breaking up with Tania after all…

By the time I reach Ship Street I’m so anxious to arrive at work, I’m practically running. I rush around the corner and… bang straight into someone.

‘Brad!’

‘For goodness’ sake, Alex!’ Brad is standing in the middle of the pavement, and he has to reach out to stop me from falling over. ‘Can’t you look where you’re going?’ ‘Sorry,’ I say breathlessly. ‘I didn’t see you.’

‘Obviously not.’ He lets go of my arms but doesn’t start walking. Instead he turns to look up the road in the direction of the gallery, and I suddenly get the feeling that something’s wrong.

‘What is it?’ I ask, and when he points, I notice a small crowd of people standing outside the gallery. They all seem to be holding cameras.

‘Who are they?’ I ask, feeling puzzled, and Brad frowns.

‘Journalists,’ he says. ‘Come on, we’ll get into the gallery round the back.’ And the next moment he has turned down a narrow path between two buildings.

‘Brad,’ I say, following him, ‘what’s going on?’

‘Shh!’ He hurries along, keeping close to the wall as if he’s a private detective in a film. Either that or a criminal on the run from the police!

‘Brad, are you in some sort of trouble?’ I ask, but he doesn’t answer and just keeps on hurrying along the narrow pathway. I can smell food - fish - and realise we’re now behind the fish restaurant. The path is taking us behind the shops and restaurants in Ship Street. Yes, there’s the back of the art gallery.

‘I wish you’d tell me what’s happening,’ I say.

‘Shh!’ he says as he looks around, and I realise he’s checking to see if there are any journalists about.

By now I’m almost dying of curiosity. Yesterday was strange enough with the gallery being closed, but this is a real mystery. And suddenly I remember Tania’s words in the restaurant last night. ‘What will people think?’ she said. And, ‘Everyone will be talking about it!’ There must be some connection between these journalists and what she was talking about.

But what?

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