Friends

17 April 2012

Trust Not The Vow ...- Chapter 26

Rachel and Gary went back to living together, no questions asked, no excuses made. Gary resumed his affair with Terry (lately returned from Brussels) though he did not admit it, simply passing him off as a drinking partner who liked all-night poker games. At least Gary was home more, the long trips up and down the country having ceased. He was in for every meal. And so virtually was Rachel's mother, she and her rapidly increasing lump. Amy had changed since Toby died; she was more tolerant and understanding. When Gary laughingly told Rachel it must be the baby's influence, she acknowledged that he was probably right. The new personality took some getting used to.

Over lunch one day at Chaplins, where Rachel met Eric on a weekly basis - further communication being achieved by phone, Rachel declared her worries over her forthcoming big sister role.

‘You could pretend the child is your own,’ he said.

‘That's the trouble. I'm not afraid of handling a baby; it’s just that I might get too attached and fret when it was taken away.’

‘Are you jealous, Rachel?’

‘Oh, Eric. If you only knew. I've tried to fight it. I just hope that by the time mother goes into labour I will have sorted my feelings into some kind of order.’

Eric lifted the bottle of white wine from the cooler to refill Rachel's glass. ‘I wouldn't worry unduly, dear girl. Things have a habit of turning out right. I fancy you will be the child's perfect second mother. I also have a notion that your mother will be happy to allow it.’

‘You think so?’

‘Your own upbringing proves it. Were it not for your dear departed father you would have been the subject of neglect. I am surprised your mother wasn't hauled before the courts for ill-treating you. While you are on hand to protect your new sibling, I believe you will enjoy it.’

Thoughtfully, Rachel speared a piece of broccoli. ‘I'm ever so grateful for all your counselling, Eric. I don't know how I'd have coped without it.’ Seeing his contented smile, she added. ‘Seems to me we'll never have a lunch date that's free of my problems. I wish there was something I could do to lighten them for you.’

‘My dear girl, what rubbish you talk. Do you still not understand what joy you bring to my meagre existence? I am not here solely as adviser, you know. As a matter of fact, I rejoice in your company. I am proud, Rachel, proud to be with you. And grateful.’ Eric picked up his glass and threw the remaining wine down his throat. ‘There,’ he said as he set the glass down. ‘Now you know.’

IN TRUTH, Rachel enjoyed the new setup, with the three of them mucking in. Having the most time available, Amy carried out the shopping; Rachel did the cooking, and Gary, when not lounging in front of the television, helped with the washing up. After dinner, Amy and Rachel would tackle their knitting. Rachel was making headway with hers and had already produced some neat white outfits for Sarah or Jim when she or he arrived. Sarah had been the name of Grandmother Maitland, Rachel's maternal grandmother, and Jim, or James, was the name her father chose the week before he died.

Gary took an extraordinary interest in the forthcoming birth and pampered Amy no end. He would not let her stand for long periods and barred her from drinking alcohol. Every night, even though Amy repeatedly told him that exercise was good for her, he drove her home. He would then go on to see Terry. Even though Amy complained he was cutting short her evenings, Gary firmly denied her the short walk home.

Rachel secretly relished the fact that time spent with his paramour was being docked, albeit by only an hour. She liked seeing him in the mornings, too, to give him breakfast and watch him shave, although why he couldn't do his ablutions at Terry's place was beyond her.

THE morning Gary's two love bites were on show, Rachel discussed the situation with Cynthia and Ralph. She had not aimed to tell Ralph, but he squatted on the edge of her desk, coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other, when she was in the middle of her narrative. Unwilling to stop, she continued talking. His look of disbelief amused her when she demonstrated the position of the two love bites, one each side of Gary's neck, like dangling earrings beneath his lobes, and he spluttered coffee all over his sleeve when she submitted an absurd theory that he had two boy friends, one for each side.

‘How can you joke?’ he asked, wide eyed and incredulous.

‘It's getting easier.’

It was only natural that he should be curious and Rachel wondered if that was why he invited her to lunch. She did hint that Cynthia might be hungry, but Cynthia quickly informed her she had urgent shopping to do.

There was only one sneaky whistle as they walked up the factory, likely on account of Ralph steering her with his hand on her elbow. He kept it there even when they joined the bunch of female personnel waiting for the lift. Rachel could almost feel their envious eyes boring into her back.

‘What will you have,’ Ralph asked, as they stopped to read the menu board.

‘Something with chips, I think.’

‘You'll get fat.’

‘I've been fat all my life.’

Apart from that spell of useless dieting which achieved nothing but a broken heart.

Quite openly, Ralph's eyes left her face and roved over her breasts and down to her legs. ‘You're far from fat,’ he said. ‘You're what I call attractively mouldable.’

Fortunately, the other girls had gone into the canteen and therefore would not see Rachel's crimson cheeks.

Seeing Ralph was paying, Rachel chose steak, egg and chips. He also had steak, but with salad. I'll have salad next time, she thought, as she carried the food to an empty table. Ralph was delayed at the till, waiting for the cashier to get change. He struck up a conversation with the woman behind him: Linda Belton, a motherly soul, herself a divorce‚.

With a pocketful of loose change, Ralph carried his tray to the table and began to unload his food. ‘My neighbour,’ he explained, nodding in Linda's direction. He took up his knife and fork. ‘Now then, I'm all ears and poised to hear your story.’

It took the whole lunch hour to tell him about Gary. Rachel felt quite depressed to think her life was so uneventful it could be condensed to sixty minutes.

Ralph summed up her current situation. ‘So, while he's sleeping with the boy friend, you're alone.’

‘Correct.’

‘Why not go and stay with your mother?’

‘I would never see Gary at all if I did. I love him, you see, for all his faults. I have to be with him whenever I can.’

Ralph shook his head, obviously taking her for a fool. ‘You wouldn't consider divorce?’

‘I did once. It got pushed to one side when Dad died.’

A pitying expression took over from Ralph's quizzical one. Tenderly wrapping his fingers round her wrist, he said, ‘If you ever need anything, or want someone to talk to, will you call me.’

‘It's not necessary, really.’

Delving into his inside pocket, Ralph pulled out his wallet. He selected a card on which he wrote his telephone number. ‘Just in case,’ he said, offering it to her. When she did not take it, he repeated, ‘Just in case, Rachel. You never know when you might need a friend.’ He inserted the card between two of her fingers. ‘Take it, just in case.’

Rachel read the number, then reached for her bag, murmuring her thanks as she slid it to a safe spot in the side pocket, with Eric's number and the note he left after staying the night.

CYNTHIA examined her purchases, dangling a charming lemon romper suit for them to see. ‘I couldn't resist this one,’ she said. ‘Do you like it?’

‘Very pretty,’ said Ralph, craning his neck to peer through the window into his office. ‘Ben's not back, I see.’ Pulling out his cigarettes he took up his favourite position on the corner of Rachel's desk. ‘I suppose you know he leaves next week?’

‘Yippee,’ cried Cynthia as she folded the suit and placed it in the polythene bag.

‘I'll be your boss proper then, Mrs Ledbetter. Think you'll be able to cope with me?’ Ralph sucked the smoke through the filter tip.

‘You'll be no problem,’ declared Cynthia, unwrapping a white teething ring and swinging it on its ribbon. ‘We've got you sussed, all right.’

Ralph swivelled his head and contemplated Rachel. His lively blue eyes penetrated hers so deeply that her head swam. ‘What about you, little one? Will you be happy working with me?’

‘I suppose so.’

Ralph nodded, then disposed of his nub and retreated to his office, babbling something about a collection as he went.

Cynthia had by this time reached the last of her packages. ‘This is for you,’ she said, and chucked it on Rachel's desk. It landed on top of the typewriter.

Rachel picked it up and looked inside, expecting to see a bag of toffees or tubes of mints. She was not prepared for what she saw. Slowly, she extracted a pale lilac silk scarf, painted with wild flowers and garden birds. ‘For me?’

‘Do you like it?’

‘It's lovely. But it's not my birthday.’

‘I thought you could use a little cheering up,’ said Cynthia, a mite gruffly.

Rachel rushed over and flung her arms around her friend. ‘It's fantastic. What a lovely surprise.’ Spontaneously, she planted a kiss on Cynthia's cheek. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered.

‘Away, woman. You're making me feel humble.’

DURING the afternoon tea break, after listening to Rachel going on about Ralph and how he insisted on giving her his phone number, Cynthia expressed her approval. She agreed with his sentiment that one never knew when assistance might be needed and added that Gary could hardly be relied on to help if things went drastically wrong.

‘Aw, come on, Cynth, he's been a lot better lately.’

‘Only because your Mum's keeping him in order. He's still away nights. If my Curtis behaved like that I'd make him lick the muck off the yard before I let him in. You’re too soft, that's your trouble.’ Cynthia leaned back in her chair and rested her clasped hands on top of her belly. ‘Let's change the subject. I get really cross when I think about your Gary. It's not good for the baby if I get upset.’

Rachel dunked a biscuit in her tea. It was all very well for Cynthia to preach, everything was going well in her life. Without Gary she would have nothing at all, not even a home, for sure she could not stay there on her own. If ever she and Gary split up, she would have to move out and there was nowhere she could go. Only back home to mother, heaven forbid. Convinced that her ongoing love for Gary would survive his continual absences, all thoughts about her future security seemed inappropriate. Her love was strong enough to endure his feckless nature, yet somewhere in the vague depths of her soul she was aware of a sickening niggle, a tiny palpitating signal pointing to a time when her love would not be enough.

‘Are you listening?’

Cynthia's far away voice infiltrated Rachel's private deliberations.

Where were you, for goodness sake?’

‘I was miles away,’ Rachel said, brushing her fringe from her face.

‘No kidding!’

‘Sorry. What were you saying?’

‘Nothing much, merely pointing out that I think Ralph is very considerate and how I reckon he fancies you.’

‘You're barmy,’ Rachel said.

But Cynthia was quite serious; it showed in her voice when she answered: ‘Am I? I really don't think so.’

(to be continued)

13 comments:

Akelamalu said...

Oh what a tangled web you weave!

Brian Miller said...

what an uncomfortable arrangement they have...i rather like ralph though...perhaps he will be the hero yet...smiles.

Valerie said...

Lol, Pearl. I tried!

If he gets the chance, Brian.

Ron said...

Well, I went back and read Chapter 25 to catch myself up with this story.

WOW! I was shocked to read that Toby passed away AND Amy was pregnant!!!

Valerie, this story just keeps getting more and more intriguing. I'm wondering WHY Gary is being so attentive to Amy and her pregnancy. Um....you've got me thinking something.

Can't wait to read Chapter 27!

Have a super Tuesday, dear lady!

X

Banker Chick said...

Been reading but not commenting lately, I have finally caught up with this story.

Gill - That British Woman said...

interesting........when is the next installment?

Gill

Valerie said...

Aww Ron, you're a gem. I really didn't think you'd go back to the previous chapter. I thank you, 'cause otherwise you would have missed some vital bits. We're starting the big finish...grins.

Valerie said...

Hi Banker Chick. I didn't realise you were still reading. Not much further to go now.

Denise said...

Oh gosh, you should publish this Valerie!

Blogaire said...

Great piece of writing as usual Val! I am still laughing at the line ‘You're what I call attractively mouldable.’ Very funny, very original :) More please!

HermanTurnip said...

So many complications! How does Rachel have time for it all? This was a great entry, and I loved reading the words "ablutions", "sussed", and "barmy". Bonus points and a gold star are headed your way :-)

Bernie said...

I am forming some opinions my friend, hope I am right. Hope you are well......:-)Hugs

Montanagirl said...

I see I have missed a couple installments while I had company for 8 days straight...4 grandchildren total...kept me pretty busy. And so Rachel's Dad died, and now she has "Ralph" fancying her too....? Hmmmm. Keep up the good work, Val.