Another story in my song title series. This might not as well know, but was a hit for New Zealander, John Rowles in 1968.
Jenny had been my best friend since our schooldays, but the past few weeks she seemed to have changed.
‘Sorry, Mary. I’m too busy for coffee today. Perhaps in a week or so? Got to rush. Bye.’
It had become a tradition we would meet in the café in town every Thursday lunchtime to put the world to rights, but this was the third time she had made an excuse. Even stranger, was when I mentioned it to my husband John, he was reticent and tried to change the subject.
‘Perhaps she’s got things to do. You don’t need to live in each other’s pockets, even if you are friends. What’s for dinner?’
He’d been acting oddly too, breaking off phone conversations when I came in the room, or changing his voice from whispered secrets to sounding as if he was giving instructions to one of his colleagues. We’d been childhood sweethearts and I believed we had a happy marriage. To celebrate our silver wedding anniversary, he’d surprised me with a cruise and we’d had a wonderful time, but now it seemed he had something on his mind.
‘John, my birthday’s at the end of the month, and I was wondering about booking somewhere for a nice meal. Half a century! Who’d believe it? What do you think? Or perhaps we could have a small party here, invite a few friends round?’
‘You’d better count me out for that weekend,’ he replied. ‘There’s a business trip coming up, and I might not be back in time. I’ll bring in a bottle of wine, but it could be very late before I get home, especially if the plane’s delayed. Leave it for now, perhaps we can do something the week after.’
Great. It looked as if I’d be spending the evening on my own, watching TV with a cup of cocoa. Now I really felt old. Well if that’s the way it was, I’d make my own arrangements.
‘Hi, Jen. What are you doing on the 29th? John’s just told me he’ll be away, so I thought we could go out somewhere for a meal to celebrate.’
‘Oh. Hi Mary. Sorry, I’ll be away that weekend. Another time perhaps.’
‘Oh, OK. You didn’t mention it before. Going anywhere nice? Have you got a new man on the scene you haven’t told me about?’
Jenny had split with her husband ten years previously, and her disastrous marriage had made her somewhat wary of men. She’d been well rid of him; he’d been a drunkard and a bully, so it had taken a lot for her to start dating again. I’d been there to support her when she made the final break, and introduced her to one or two of John’s friends.
‘You’re so lucky to have someone like John,’ she’d told me at the time. ‘Hard working, reliable and good looking too. Let me know if you ever get fed up with him.’
I’d laughed at the time, but now suspicion crept into my mind. Why hadn’t she mentioned about being away? She knew when my birthday was, and had always celebrated with me.
‘Hello, Jen? You still there?’ She hadn’t answered my question. Perhaps she was trying to think up an excuse. I was sure I heard a man’s voice in the background, and the phone sounded muffled, as if she was covering it with her hand. She knew I’d be pleased if she’d found someone, so why all the secrecy?
‘Er, yes, sorry Mary. It’s complicated. Look, I’ll tell you more another time. See you.’
With that the phone went dead. Well blow her, then, if that’s how she felt. I had other friends. Calls to Sue and Jackie produced the same result; everyone seemed to have picked that Saturday to have something better to do. John was quiet during the weekend, and I wasn’t brave enough to have it out with him. Perhaps I was just feeling hurt, and letting my imagination run away with me. I knew he had to spend a few days away from Monday for some important meetings. When he got back we could have a proper talk; he’d cuddle me and put my mind at rest, so it wasn’t fair to upset him when he had a lot on his mind. I’d always trusted him before; why should this time be any different? And if there was a problem between us, well, I’d worry about that when the time came.
With the house empty it was a good excuse to do some spring cleaning. By Tuesday the kitchen was gleaming, with every single cupboard emptied, the contents sorted and replaced, and I felt satisfaction at a job well done. Wednesday I went through the wardrobes and had two big bags ready to take to the charity shop. Thursday morning, I tried Jen’s mobile but it went straight to voicemail, so either she was avoiding me or out somewhere with her new man. After delivering to the charity shop, I popped into the supermarket for a few bits, then, feeling hungry, decided to treat myself to lunch out.
It was a beautiful day so I decided to go to a pub I rarely visited, and sit in the garden rather than the usual café. Placing my order at the bar, I went outside and selected one of the small booths as although the sun was shining, there was still a chilly wind. The food was good, and with nothing to rush home for, I was enjoying reading my book when passing voices disturbed me. Peering out I recognised John and Jenny, deep in conversation. They both had their backs to me, and obviously hadn’t noticed me hidden away, but were close enough for me to hear their voices.
‘OK, that’s all sorted then. I’ll see you next week as arranged, but I think she’s getting suspicious,’ I heard John say.
‘Hush, not a word to Mary,’ Jenny answered. ‘She’ll find out soon enough. Take care, and I’ll see you soon.’ She gave him a hug before they went their separate ways, and I leaned back into the privacy of the corner. They’d always been affectionate with each other so why did this feel different? What were they doing meeting in secret? Once the coast was clear, I headed home and was wallowing in the bath when I heard John’s voice.
‘It’s only me, Mary. Are you upstairs? The meeting finished earlier than I expected, but I’ve already eaten so don’t worry about dinner. I’ve got some work to do. I’ll be in the study for a while.’
‘OK,’ I called back, then decided to confront him. ‘How was your meeting? What time did you get back? I thought I saw you in town lunchtime.’
‘I didn’t think you ever went to that pub,’ he said, then realised his mistake. At that moment his mobile rang, and he grabbed at it as a life-saver, and started a long business discussion. ‘Sorry, love,’ he mouthed, ‘I’ve got to take this.’
At least this time I knew he was telling the truth as I’d seen his boss’s name come up on the screen. He was out most of the weekend, entertaining clients, or so he said, working long hours during the week, and off again early Thursday morning. When a huge bunch of flowers arrived from John on Saturday morning for my birthday, I was tempted to throw them in the bin. In the afternoon my sister phoned.
‘Happy, birthday, Mary. Get your glad-rags on, we’ll be picking you up at 7.’
‘Thanks, Maggie, but to be honest I don’t feel up to going out tonight.’
‘Hush, Mary. Not a word, just be ready and wear something nice.’
I was tempted not to go, but in the end decided there was no point sitting around moping, and was ready and wearing my sexiest dress when she arrived in a cab.
‘Where are we going? What’s wrong with the car?’ I asked.
‘Wait and see, and nothing,’ she answered, then refused to answer any questions until twenty minutes later we pulled into the impressive grounds of The Grange.
‘This looks lovely,’ I said. ‘I’ve always wanted to go here. Pity John couldn’t be with us,’ then had to dive into the ladies before I disgraced myself by bursting into tears. When I emerged, Maggie was nowhere in sight, but the reception desk directed me towards closed doors which appeared to lead to a room which was in darkness. Assuming there’d been a mistake I turned just as the lights came on, a band struck up with ‘”Happy Birthday,” and I found myself facing a beautiful ballroom filled with my friends and family. At the front was John, with a grinning Jenny standing just behind him.
‘We thought we’d been rumbled when we met last week to finalise the arrangements,’ Jenny said. ‘John wanted to tell you but I insisted it would be more fun if it was a surprise.’
‘Happy birthday, darling,’ John said as he led me onto the dance floor. ‘It was difficult not to let it slip, but Jen kept nagging me, “Hush, not a word to Mary,” so I hope it was worth it. Love you always.’
‘You’re forgiven,’ I told him, knowing all my misgivings were unfounded.
© Voinks April 2019
Next week there will be a change from my short stories. It’s not about my books (which you can find here) 😀
Amazon US author page
Amazon UK author page
and it will be Saturday rather than Sunday, just for one week. Intrigued? Pop by then to see what it’s all about.