Friends

15 July 2011

WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR? (repeat)

Sheila Pickering was rich. She was also my friend. My rich friend. We had been mates since senior school, ever since the weekend her sister got married and I was an invited guest. Sheila was one of those dark-eyed lovelies one sees in Spanish pictures, usually wearing colourful clothes and brandishing an ornate fan. Mum had one in our hall for years until Dad smashed it with a beer bottle during one of his drunken fits.

Throughout the school years Sheila and I were inseparable. It was a strange friendship. She had everything and I, being the daughter of impoverished parents, had nothing. I used to wear her clothes because we were of identical build and the same colouring. My three younger sisters would regard me enviously when I turned up on Sunday nights wearing Sheila's pink mohair twin-set and black pencil skirt. Never once did I wonder what her mother would say about my friend's disappearing apparel. I got other things as well, handbags, flimsy scarves and gloves. On occasions, when we set out to congregate on the street corner with the lads, Sheila would lend me a coat but that always had to be returned lest Mrs Pickering complained to her husband about Sheila's carelessness.

Sheila's ambition when we left school was to be a top-notch buyer. With that in mind she went to work at a big departmental store, while I slogged away in a factory. She even did well for boy friends, always ending up with the pick of the bunch. Not for her the greasy haired, spotty faced youths I mixed with.

When she was twenty she met the actor, suave and handsome Casey Murchison. I was never quite sure if it was his money or his looks that swept her off her feet. Whatever it was, by twenty-one she was married and had a child on the way.

*******

Sheila Murchison was now my rich and famous friend. Casey proved to be a man whose acting abilities were simply phenomenal. He was sought after by film directors and dishy women. After Sheila lost her third baby Casey started to travel, visiting locations all over the world while Sheila played the lady in their London residence … and I still toiled at the factory.

I married, of course. Twice. My first husband was Cedric Messenger. A gambler. He liked to bet on horses, football, the dogs, and the weather. He spent all our money and rarely won. Sheila was great, giving me money and clothes like the old days.

My second attempt at wedded bliss was better. Even Sheila approved. Charlie May was fifteen years older than me and suffered with multiple sclerosis. That's why I worked and he didn't. I sometimes got a bit worried when he had a flutter on the horses - thinking of Cedric, I suppose, who never won.

Whenever I worked overtime Sheila Murchison, my rich, famous and very best friend, took Charlie out. She settled him in her limousine, his wheelchair in the boot, and off they would go to tour the park and call at the shops or maybe visit the theatre. While I slaved long hours at the factory.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't jealous. On the contrary, I was pleased that Charlie had the opportunity to see the sights. Left to me he wouldn't get the chance, you see, not while I was working at the factory.

*******

Sheila Murchison took Charlie to see Evita. Not the big show, the one people rave over. This one was staged by Actors Galore, the local drama group. They got home much later than I expected, which was a shame since for once I wasn't working. I'd come home unexpectedly early, it being Charlie's birthday.

Charlie was flushed with excitement when Sheila wheeled him in. 'Oh, Lottie,' he cried. 'Have I got news for you.'

Panic swirled around my innards. I'm a stranger to excitement and unsolicited news terrifies me. I think it's with working so long at that dreary factory … there's never a happy face to be seen in there. Anyway, I pushed away my apprehension and waited to hear the news. I looked to Sheila for some kind of enlightenment but she just stood behind Charlie's chair gripping the handles and grinning like the proverbial cat.

'Will you tell Lottie or shall I?' asked Charlie of Sheila. She inclined her head in his direction to indicate that he should do it.

Manoeuvring his wheelchair to my seat by the fire, Charlie took my hand. 'I won the raffle at the drama group,' he said. He looked me square in the eyes so I knew he wasn't having me on.

Fingering the frayed edge of my apron pocket, I looked away and breathed deeply to quell the suspense.

Charlie squeezed my hand. 'I had the winning ticket,' he said.

'And I had the third,' announced Sheila.

My voice croaked as I timorously asked what they'd won.

Charlie and Sheila spoke in unison.

'A holiday ...'

'A hamper ...'

Roaring with laughter, they tried again.

'In Florida,' said Charlie.

'For Christmas,' said Sheila.

I looked from one to the other, finding their news difficult to assimilate. It was Sheila who finished the tale. Apparently Casey had provided the holiday as a prize and included with it two thousand pounds spending money. 'And it's yours,' she said, placing in my hands a buff envelope marked FIRST.

'But ...'

'It's yours,' she repeated.

Charlie beamed at me. 'The hamper's yours, too, Lottie.' He looked like a schoolboy the way his hair dangled over one eye. I felt tears sting my eyes and groped in the apron pocket for a hanky. I wasn't sad, you understand. No, sir! I was happy, deliriously and outrageously happy. I began to giggle and pretty soon Charlie joined in, while Sheila sat on our single armchair and chortled her lovely head off.

*******

Two months after our holiday, I totted up the expense sheet to see how much of the two thousand was left. I still felt indebted to Sheila, who had spent a lifetime waving away my gratitude, never once looking for a return. Not that I could give much back on the measly wage I picked up. I sighed with frustration when the total differed a third time and wished Charlie was available to have a go. But he was at a charity do at Sheila's mansion. I would have gone but for the overtime at the factory.

As I moved up the column a fourth time, I heard the front door slam. There was much tittering in the hall as Sheila struggled to get Charlie up the step. Laying down the pencil, I went to help, inching open the living room door in case Charlie was on the other side. I gazed with disbelief at the sight of him with my best friend, seeing their lips separate, noting the speed with which they pulled apart. They smiled at me.

Sheila remarked, 'I thought you were at the factory.'

Clearing his throat, Charlie began, 'Lottie ...'

'Don't tell me,' I countered, sarcastically. 'You were just kissing her goodnight.'

Sheila helped Charlie into the chair. 'We have something to tell you, Lottie.'

Indeed!

'Charlie and I ...'

I closed my eyes, not wanting to know what Charlie and her were about.

'We want to live together.'

Yeah?

Sheila lowered her voice. Very softly, she uttered one word, 'Repayment.'

I stared at her. 'Repayment?'

'In kind. Your husband for all the gifts and loans and favours.'

Charlie said nothing and neither did I. I wasn't exactly dumbstruck, but while Sheila explained how she and my husband had fallen in love and how obliging Casey had been over the divorce, I was envisaging a life without Charlie, leaving the factory and moving on. To Florida possibly, to the house where Casey Murchison, my very best and famous friend's husband, had invited me to stay.

12 comments:

Brian Miller said...

ugh, friends stealing loves...but seems she may get her own repayment out of this yet...

faye said...

Fantastic... how did I miss this the
first time.....???

I had to chuckle at the choice of Florida
as a getaway place...... hey c'mon over.

Hope the weekend is going well...
rainy here.. bla

Sharon J said...

Up until the end I was thinking what a wonderful friend Sheila was. How wrong can a person be? I know we can't choose who we fall in love with, but we don't always have to follow up on those feelings. I guess it's true what they say about "no such thing as a free lunch".

Montanagirl said...

Wow, that's quite a story! And was the ending happy for them as well as you?

Akelamalu said...

Well I suppose fair exchange is no robbery ;)

Ron said...

OH. MY. GOD!!!!!!

This was like an emotional rollercoaster ride, Valerie!

Here, I thought this was going to be some 'happily everafter' story and then BAM...you hit us with that ending!

What a little WITCH she was!

Isn't it something how you 'think' you know someone, yet their true colors come out later on?

Well, as Brian Miller shared....she may get her own repayment out of this yet!

Fabulous post, dear lady.

You truly know how to tell a story!

Have a great Saturday!

X

Pat said...

I really enjoyed this! Very well written and a great story line!

Valerie said...

More than likely, Brian.

Faye. I wish I could come over. Rainy here too.

Sharon, you're right, free lunches don't come easy.

Mona, Me? I wasn't in the story it at all.

Like it, Pearl.

Ron, thanks a lot. Did I lull you into a false sense of security ;O)

Glad you enjoyed it, Pat.

Don't unplug your hub said...

I need a bit of time to mull this over.

An English Shepherd said...

Great story :-)

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Fantastic story Valerie. Twists and turns and surprises till the very end. Wonderful imagination and lovely writing. I enjoyed it very much.

Best wishes,
Joseph

septembermom said...

Wonderfully done Valerie! You lift my spirit with your words always. Thank you!