Summary: Armed with several degrees in psychology, sociology, and literary studies, as well as a particular set of skills and abilities, Gemma Wright works as a muse for artists in various creative fields. She can inspire a hit album; pull a popular novelist out of a writer’s block; or organize an international tour for a dance company.
Gemma has strict rules and a precise plan for her personal life – and Jack Richards, a famous mystery writer, definitely doesn’t fit her criteria. Perhaps, his direct competitor, John Barnett, with his soft manners and seemingly humble disposition, is a better match for Gemma than the dark and handsome Richards.
Understanding others and leading them to the fulfilling and rewarding life is Gemma’s specialty, but does she know the answers to the same questions when it comes to her own life?
“Nothing’s going on, Thea,” you mumble, and she waves her hand, summoning a waiter.
“Care for a shot, love? If memory serves me right, those few times I saw your arsed up, it had something to do with Dr. Sexy, and we ended up drinking vodka.”
“Vodka was later.” That was after the ridiculous auction, right after your break up with Phil. And you drank then to stop yourself from giving John a ring and inviting him for a consensual and thorough one-off. God, it feels like it’s been in a different life. “The time you’re thinking about was when you and I had wine, and it was mostly about Phil, not John. And no, I don’t want anything.”
A waiter pops a lager and a rum in front of Thea; and a second later the bottom of her now empty shot glass clanks on the table. She pins you down with an intense glare.
“Was our moose riding mate telling the truth? Is Dr. Sexy out of his bloody mind?” Thea isn’t one for pussyfooting, is she?
“No…” you answer, and you sure as hell don’t sound convincing. “The bird she mentioned is John’s TA. And…”
“And they’re shagging?” Ladies and gentlemen! Thea Martin, Master of Subtlety and Delicate Phrasing.
“Thea, I don’t want to have this idiotic conversation! I don’t want to be one of those women who whine about their partners to their girlfriends, over a drink, in a manky pub!” you cry out; and even over Fratellis’ Henrietta it seems everyone heard you and turned their heads to look.
“Yeah, you clearly want to be one of those women who bottle this fuckery up like a bloody stoic, and then their hair starts falling out!” she shouts back at you. Trust Thea to dig her heels in at the very wrong moment. “I’m your fucking best friend. And I bet it’s been fucking going on for… how long? Couple months at least? Yeah, Leary? And I’m learning about it from some daft Canadian in a jumper made of candy floss!”
You glare at her – but when did it stop her?
“So, is your husband sleeping with his secretary, or not?” she hollers, and she’s right. You’ve properly bottled it up, and there’s the cork! It just popped out, and is flying through the pub in a fucking beautiful arch.
“No, my husband isn’t sleeping with his TA!” you yell back, with all your lung capacity. “But he wants to!”
Here we go. Here’s the answer. Hanging above your table.
You pick up Thea’s lager and take one big gulp. She signals a waiter.
“Go for it, Wrennie.” She gives you a soft smile, and brushes her hand to your shoulder. “C’mon, you need to talk about it. I fucking know you. You’ll be in pain, and keep your gob shut. Remember when you cancelled your wedding?”
“Vaguely,” you bite back, and she gives you a pointed look from under a raised perfect eyebrow.
“You were half dead, and we couldn’t help you because you shut down; and Lan was considering slipping some tequila in your morning tea, we were so worried. So, talk. Well?”
You properly don’t want to.
“I’m never around, he feels old. She looks at him like he’s a new pair of Louboutins.” That’s a neat summary, isn’t it?
“Basically, she’s his equivalent of buying a red Ferrari?” Thea asks, and all you have left to do is nod.
“And what do you think about it?” She finishes her lager, watching you over the rim.
“I think that he has every right to buy a Ferrari if he wants to. If he’s not happy with his current car.” You point at your chest with your index finger. “Or he can just continue looking at Ferrari’s around him.”
“And if he decides to take one of them for a test drive?” Thea asks, and you throw a sad look into her glass.
“Then it’ll hurt very, very much,” you mutter, and then hide your face in your hands. You suddenly feel tired. And in pain. And scared.
You want everything to be simple, and easy, and you want to be happy. You want one job; you want to come back home from it, and have dinner with John; you want to be able to take a shower without falling asleep leaning against the wall. You want to see more than a glimpse of your husband a day. Your relationship right now is a PowerPoint presentation of the wonderful man you’ve married, but never see. Here’s a picture of John brushing teeth when you rush out to go to a seminar. Here’s John loading a dish-washing machine when you’re dragging yourself by him towards the bedroom. Here’s John sleeping when you’re back home. Here’s John sleeping when you’re leaving for the lab.
“He might be already sleeping with her,” you mutter. The lager is working. “And the worst thing is that I have no energy to ‘keep my eye on him,’ as our pink clad chum suggested. I just don’t see him enough. He might shave his beard, and I’d probably notice a week later.”
There’s another beer in front of you, and you mentally check your schedule. There’s so much to do tomorrow… Or you can just drink half of this beer, slip into coma, wake up tomorrow around two, be sick all day, and stay home for two days. Sadly, you feel too much like an adult for that.
“And what are you going to do about it, Wren?” Thea asks. She’s finally getting sloshed. She speaks slowly, and her giant hazel eyes are unfocused.
“I’m going to call us cabs, and we will both go home, to our men.”
“Sod it, I just realised… Have you heard her?” Thea suddenly snorts. “The pink chick… She said you needed to fight for your man!”
You help Thea to get up, and the two of you slowly head to the exit.
“I’ve heard her. But trust me, my ‘other woman’ will stomp me into dirt with her perfect stilettos. The sheer size difference, phew!” You wave your hand above your hand, mimicking Eva’s height.
“I think the Canadian meant a lot of blow jobs, and other stuff you normally wouldn’t let him do to you,” Thea announces, and you push her further, leaving the table with a couple of suddenly very interested looking blokes behind the two of you. “Isn’t it what you monogamous chicks do? Keep him happy between the sheets, so he doesn’t bolt.” Thea gives out a sarcastic laugh.
“How’s Jimmy doing these days?” you ask her. You might be a bit dischuffed. She’s one of you horrid ‘monogamous women’ now. No need to be snooty about it.
“Gets plenty of blow jobs,” she answers haughtily, and you steer her through the crowd. Some guy calls after her, and you give her a forceful nudge through the door.
“So, no bolting attempts?” you ask, and start looking for your phone in your clutch.
“Nah. Where will he go?” Thea gives out a dismissive huff. “And me too. I think we’re stuck together.”
The two of you are outside, she pulls the sides of her coat tightly around her glorious tits. She’s unstable on her stilts, and looks very grumpy.
“Fuck me, it’s boring…” She exhales a small cloud of steam and drops her head back, staring into the grey sky. “Monogamy sucks cock. And shag has gotten dull. Like a vinyl…” She twirls her finger in the air. “Same thing, again and again…”
You’ve finally gotten her a cab; you kiss her cheek, and send her off. When you’ve climbed into yours and given the cabbie the address, you drop your head onto the back of the seat and watch the city rush by.
Your shag isn’t boring, and not at all repetitive. Your shag is magnificent. It’s not that frequent, especially compared to what you two have had before; but Christmas was wonderful. And then a churning disgusting thought comes. What if he’s sleeping with the dominatrix, and that’s him compensating, because he’s feeling guilty? Maybe him being so understanding about your studies, and making you dinners, and charging your laptop at night – all that is to make him feel less gutted about shagging his TA?
Or maybe you’re just bladdered, and your thoughts tangle, and you’re an idiot.
A decision comes – as most of your big decisions do – as if out of nowhere, and it leaves no doubt. Your plan is to do exactly nothing.
In some strange way you feel like it’s just none of your business what John and his TA feel towards each other, and what sort of relationship they decide to build. Among other things, you strongly believe that if he shags her, he’ll just tell you everything, and you once again will have to look for a new flat. You wouldn’t be able to afford the one you live in right now.
Four months later, in the middle of a surprisingly warm spring, and unsurprisingly excruciating end of the semester, you have a nervous breakdown. You’re in the underground. A panic attack comes; and none of usual management mechanisms helps. An ambulance is called, you’re pumped with drugs. John is on a conference. Without his TA. It’s a three day, over the weekend trip.
The next day you return home. You refused the prescription drugs. You’re a ginger, and you know only too well the addictivity rates. You’ve also hadenough experience with withdrawal and ‘brain zaps’ in your teen years, to try anything of the sort again. You sign up to weekly therapy sessions, so that they allow you to continue your studies.
You never tell John what happened. You have two alternative explanations why. Firstly, he’s no imbecile. He can’t possibly be unaware of what Eva’s doing. If so, whether he reciprocates, or not, and whether they actually are involved, or not – either way, he will feel guilty, thinking this drama contributed into your breakdown. It didn’t. You are so overtired that you simply had no brain capacity to dedicate to it. You compartmentalized it after Christmas, and bashed on.
Secondly, it’s not that improbable that you’re punishing him – in a sort of masochistic, perverse way. You’re keeping him out of your life, in the best passive-aggressive move one can make. One of those that a person can later throw into the other’s face like a very dramatic accusation. ‘I had suicidal thoughts and almost jumped under the train, and you didn’t notice anything!’ or some other kind of psychotic rubbish. You hope you’re better and smarter than that.
And then one evening you come home from work, and he’s lying on the sofa, in his usual manner – reading glasses on the tip of his nose, fingers lazily flipping pages, and you toe off your shoes, put your handbag on the table by the door, come up to him, and ask, “Are you having an affair with your TA?”