By the time they pulled up outside the flat it was too late to start cooking rhubarb crumble. Sep only popped in to grab his half and then he kissed Christina on the cheek and left. She looked at the dark pink stems in the sink and her mouth watered imagining the tart taste in her mouth. She drank a glass of water and headed to bed. That night there was no one to see her fitful fever, or see her eyes open and close like those of a madman. There was only the clammy feeling all over her body when she got up that betrayed anything at all, and that was swiftly washed away by the hot shower.
Get up. Shower. Work. Bed. Get up. Shower. Work. Bed. No Sep. No word from him at all. After several lonely days the gap left by Ricky felt real and enormous. Sep’s quick fix thrills seemed like drugs, picking you up just to let you fall from a bigger height in their absence.
Sandy came in to work one day in her usual cheery manner to find her friend sitting, dejected at her desk staring at the wall. Her face looked flushed, like someone playing tennis in the summer sun.
‘Hey you?’ Sandy beamed, trying to break the spell ‘Why the long face?’
‘Sandy!’ Christina shouted, it felt suddenly very good to have another person in her lonely world. It was the usual joy of seeing a friend after an absence but magnified by her prior loneliness. Her face only fell when she realised that in the days since she had last seen Sandy her entire world had changed and that Sandy was oblivious to it all.
She had to begin with Ricky, Sandy’s reactions varied from cooing and stroking her arm in sympathy to banging the desk in anger and declaring that she would leave his face on the wall next time she saw him.
‘Yeah so I’m all alone, I really need this fresh start in the countryside more than ever now.’
‘Why didn’t you call me?’ Sandy gently chastised.
‘I don’t know…’ Christina hesitated, she wanted to tell Sandy the truth but was afraid of opening a jealous rift, no matter how tiny, at a time when she really needed the full support of her friend. ‘…I spent a lot of the time daydreaming about Sep.’ She cringed as she spoke the last words.
‘Oh Christina! Another man is probably not what you need right now! And besides we hardly know him.’
Christina hated that she was suspicious of Sandy’s reaction, the childish notion that Sandy wanted him all to herself and was trying to put her off.
‘Well he’s been around to see me. Took me for a drive the night Ricky left…’ Christina left the sentence open ended, studying Sandy’s face for any readable reaction that might betray how she really felt about it.
‘He has?’ Sandy did look suspicious but not for the reason that Christina had in mind. ‘Christina, please tell me he has nothing to do with you and Ricky finishing?’
‘Of course not!’ Christina was taken aback by the accusation.
Sandy realised that the meaning of their words were lost in the exchange and their conversation was a crossfire, she decided to shut up and just hugged Christina. Sandy’s tenderness just made the pulling feeling where Christina’s heart was ache more. It felt good to have someone to lean on, who could let you hurt like you needed to. This was a totally different sense of release to that she experienced with Sep.
‘We should get to work.’ Sandy said pulling away, composing herself and constructing a smile that wanted to be sincere. She squeezed the tops of Sandy’s arms in affection and reassurance.
They plodded along through the morning. Earlier than usual, Christina suggested that they go to lunch, she wanted the opportunity to be outside in the air, walking with her friend.
‘Yup, sure. Let me just go and photocopy this’ Sandy said waving a letter in the air.
Christina smiled and starting saving a few things she was working on, on her computer. After five minutes she was tapping her pen on her desk, what was taking Sandy so long? She got up and headed down to the filing room, her hand on the doorknob in no time, she was about to walk in when she heard the low conversation.
‘… She’ll be leaving soon, I think it’s best if you just stay away’ Sandy’s hushed voice.
What the hell? What was going on? Were they talking about her? They must have been, Sandy was warning Sep off her.
Christina quickly retreated to the office, her head swimming, trying to make sense of it all. And making things worse was that excited fluttering in her stomach that she always got around Sep. He was here and he hadn’t even come to say hi. She was so full of conflicting emotions that it seemed just existing was painful. She bolted for the door and broke free from the artificial lights and her so called friends, almost running into the street.
‘I think it’s best if you just stay away. But that’s just my opinion, being as you asked. I think its way to soon after Ricky to ask her out. And she’s had other things on her plate, she doesn’t really know what she’s feeling now. Then again, it may do her some good to have some fun, some nights out, just know this if you hurt her your in big trouble Sep-ti-mus.’ Sandy pronounced each syllable of his name with emphasis, making it clear that while her tone said I’m just kidding, she wasn’t.
He winked at her. ‘I know how fragile she is right now, but I don’t know I’m like a moth to flame. I can’t stop thinking of her. I’ll just take everything slow, I’ll show her a good time. Scouts honour,’
‘You weren’t in Scouts.’ Sandy chortled, it was both a statement and a question.
‘No you’re right – I wasn’t’ Sep said in a deadpan voice before they both broke into a laugh.
‘We’ll you’d better go and ask the lovely Christina out on a date them. She said shooing him with her hands. ‘I’ll wait here until your finished.’
Sandy leant back against one of the cabinets and watched him shoot excitedly through the door. He was a bit of a dish, maybe a couple of nice dates with a hunky fella was the anecdote to all the sadness Christina had to deal with. It’d be a good tonic for anyone.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Sep’s abrupt reappearance.
‘She’s not there.’ He said looking puzzled.