Oh To Be Noticed!
By Pauline Barclay
It was the fourth time Sue had walked past the car showroom. Each time she lingered a few moments longer, peering through the crystal-clear glass at the beautiful car: bright red, sleek and deliciously sexy. What she would give to open the driver’s door, slip into the soft leather seat and imagine she was cruising through the English countryside with the wind in her hair and the warm summer sun kissing her face. She had never experienced the exhilaration she imagined came with driving an open top sports car, but she was certain she would enjoy every moment, given the opportunity.
Spying her reflection in the showroom window she smiled at the slim woman gazing back at her. Michael had said she would never stick to a diet long enough to lose weight, she winced as she recalled his hurtful words. Michael was tall with a light frame and, unlike her, weight would not stick to him if it was super glued to his bones. By contrast, weight had shadowed her ever since she’d had the children and that was over twenty years ago. And whilst she had played mother, housekeeper, part time worker and loving wife, Michael had climbed the corporate ladder with regular promotions, turning him into a confident and successful man. Her years at home had had the opposite effect. Instead of feeling the success of bringing up two well-adjusted children, she’d felt lost and worthless. Embarking on her diet had had the most amazing effect on her body and, equally on her confidence. For the first time in years she felt alive and vibrant, but the downside was that Michael was too wrapped up in business to see the real effort she had made. She wondered if her husband had noticed anything because she was now six stone lighter and wearing a size twelve outfit. Even to her own critical eye she looked ten years younger. Surely, he could see all of this, too? But instead of feeling jubilant at her success, she was saddened at Michael’s indifference.
There must be something I can do, she thought, as her gaze raked over the car in the showroom, and like a bulb lighting up a dark room, she saw the answer staring her in the face. Just thinking about the idea had a giggle rising in her throat. There was no doubt in her mind that Michael would certainly notice her if she roared up the drive behind the wheel of this flirty little motor. ‘I can dream,’ she said in a hushed whisper, and as the words slipped through her glossy lips the clock tower, opposite the showroom, chimed one.
‘Oh my goodness!’ she cried, realising she was half an hour late for lunch with her friend, Liz. With reluctance, Sue pulled her gaze away from the car that had been her source of distraction and set off down the road, her indulgent dream melting away as she pictured the stern look on Liz’s face at her tardiness.
Sue and Liz met on the last Friday of every month for lunch and had done for over ten years. The time and venue never varied: 12.30 precisely in Shadows, a small restaurant that looked no different today as it had the first Friday they had pushed open the heavy glazed door. Change was not something her friend, Liz, indulged in.
Turning the corner into Dove Street, Sue’s steps were arrested as she saw Michael slip into the driver’s seat of his, silver, Mercedes. She raised her hand and waved and was about to call out when he sped off down the road. Dropping her hand down to her side, she felt a flush of embarrassment at her exuberant behavior as amused faces smiled as they hurried past. She frowned, Michael had her believing that life at the office was filled with back-to-back meetings ensconced in a stuffy boardroom. Now as she stood in the middle of the pavement, Sue watched as the Mercedes’ brake lights flicked red before the car disappeared around the corner. She gritted her teeth certain he had seen her. Maybe I do need to do something breathtaking for him to notice me, she thought, resurrecting the picture of the little sports car, her smile returning.
Knowing she was late, Sue hurried along the tree-lined avenue and now all she could see in her mind’s eye was a fuming Liz sitting at their usual table quaffing wine whilst tapping her fingers impatiently on the table cloth. With every step her anxiety was replaced with amusement as she thought about the monotonous and predictable lunch she was busting a gut to get to. Suddenly, she let out a loud chuckle. For once, she didn’t care if anyone on the pavement heard her outcry, because the new Sue was not only slimmer, but a little less timid. She had worked on both these areas and was determined not to let a late lunch spoil months of determination. Let her fume, she thought, and slowed her pace.
Liz, three years Sue’s junior, had celebrated her fortieth birthday the previous year and since she had married her wealthy husband fifteen years earlier, she had never turned her hand to a day’s work. Even the household chores were efficiently dealt with by their daily. And, with no offspring, Sue marveled at how Liz filled her days. Unlike her own life which was constantly on call with a part time job and the children, even if they were grown up. How they were still friends she had no idea; chalk and cheese came to mind.
Standing outside Shadows, Sue took a deep breath and pushed the heavy door open. With a new confidence she strode into the dimly lit restaurant and immediately spied Liz sitting at their usual table. Splashing a smile across her face, she finger waved at her friend and braced herself for a reprimand. She plonked down on the chair opposite and shook her head. 'Liz, I’m so sorry to be late, but you would never believe...'
'Whoa! Stop there,’ Liz said in a friendly voice, and at the same time pushed a large glass of white wine towards her. ‘It's not the end of the world, it happens from time to time,’ Liz added, picking up her own drink which held barely a few drops. Liz reached over clinked glasses and said, ‘Cheers me dears!’
Shocked at Liz’s laid back reaction, Sue suddenly lost the power of speech. Placing the glass to her lips, she gulped at her wine. She had taken too much and tried to hide the choke that was creeping up her throat from her greed. In an effort to contain herself, she peered over the top of her glass at her friend and wondered what was so different about Liz today. Normally she went into a great sulk and refused to discuss anything until she had apologized, groveled, and explained her lateness.
'Are you all right?’ Sue asked, her tone cautious as she stared with wide open eyes at Liz.
'Yes I’m fine, but do take that look of surprise off your face, sweetie, it doesn't suit you.’
Sweetie! She had never been called that in all the years she had known Liz. In fact, she had never been called sweetie by anyone. Heavens! If the person sitting opposite didn’t look like Liz, she would swear she was sitting with a stranger.
Sue stared at her. Oh my God, the woman must be heading for a breakdown. Had she neglected her friend over the last few months and missed the vital signs? She had been so preoccupied with her new self, her diet, clothes and, of course, trying to get her husband to notice her.
‘Liz, I am so sorry...’
Raising her right hand, palm facing forward, Liz interrupted. 'I’m the one who’s sorry, because I have something to tell you and I confess I should have told you sooner. Indeed, much sooner,’ Liz gushed out, her face flushed. ‘I suppose I've lived in my own little over protected cocoon and never thought that things would change.’ Turning her attention from Sue, Liz gazed around the small restaurant. ‘Talking of change, do you mind if we eat somewhere different today? It's important to me.’
'What? Yes, yes of course. If that's what you want, but I don’t understand.’
'Don’t worry,’ Liz reassured her, taking hold of the bottle and refilling Sue’s glass. ‘You know I’ve never been one for great changes in my life, just call me Miss Predictable, but...’
Sue raised her hand to disagree, but Liz ploughed on. ‘Don't answer sweetie, things are about to change.’
From the corner of her eye, Sue eyed the amount of wine Liz had poured and wondered if she could manage any more. Already she was feeling light headed. ‘Are you not joining me?’ she asked, trying to sound normal whilst noting Liz’s glass was empty.
‘One glass is more than enough for me; I’ll settle for water if you don’t mind. Anyway, I need to keep a clear head with what I have to tell you.’
Water? Sue gasped as Liz filled a tumbler from a jug she had not noticed until now. What next? she wondered.
'Finish your wine and then we’ll set off to that exclusive restaurant on Main Avenue,’ Liz said, as if she was talking about popping into Macdonald’s rather than the most expensive place in town.
'Don’t you think it’s a bit pricey for lunch?’ Sue asked, wondering if she was strong enough to take much more of this.
'Who’s counting the cost? I'll be paying.' Sue shook her head, momentarily lost for words, as Liz beckoned the waiter over. ‘Would you bring me the bill? I must apologize, but we won’t be eating here today.’
Sue bit down on her bottom lip as she took in the expression on the waiter’s face. It seemed that not only was his face reflecting the shock from the words Liz had uttered, having waited on them religiously for the past decade, but he appeared to have lost the power of speech. With his mouth hanging open, he nodded and backed away, almost knocking over a vacant chair at the next table.
Twenty minutes later, Sue and Liz entered the Velvet Grange restaurant. Immediately, an impeccably dressed maître d appeared at their side and without delay showed them to a table overlooking the park.
A bottle of expensive champagne sat in a stainless steel cooler filled with ice and, no sooner had they been seated, the champagne was opened and two flutes filled. Sue gazed on, her mind now numb from two large glasses of wine and everything that was happening. Riding a rollercoaster would not have had her feeling more disorientated.
'To change,’ Liz said, raising her glass.
Taking hold of the other glass, Sue’s hand trembled as she raised it to meet Liz’s. ‘To change,’ she repeated, and realized that if she carried on like this she would be squiffy.
Placing the glass to her lips, she surreptitiously studied her friend in an attempt to see a hint of the old Liz she had known for years. She couldn’t, instead found herself blurting out, 'I can’t wait any longer, and before you have me three sheets to the wind, I think you’d better tell me what’s going on!’
Reaching across the linen covered table, Liz took hold of Sue’s hand. 'We’ve been good friends for more years than I can count, but sometimes things happen and you can’t do anything about them, no matter how hard you try. And, believe you me, I have tried.’ Averting her gaze to something over Sue’s shoulder, Liz continued. ‘Maybe I should have said something months ago, but I didn't know how and I didn’t want to spoil everything that was happening to you. I’ve watched you change from a quiet, shy, miserable woman to a slim and beautiful confident person. I love the new you. It’s just great.’
Sue listened to her friend’s words and wished Michael could see what Liz saw in her. Though he had muttered something about a surprise as he had headed out the door, in his usual rush, for the office that morning.
‘You see, six months ago Tony and I decided it was time to go our separate ways,’ Liz’s voice cut through her thoughts.
‘What?’ Sue blurted out.
‘Please,’ Liz said softly. ‘It was all amicable. Anyway, the divorce came through last week.’
Sue listened, astonished, as she sipped on her bubbles and wondered what was coming next.
‘As you know, Tony was always out with some pretty girl. He thought I had no idea, but of course I did. His latest fling was pregnant and he wanted to marry her but, you see,’ Liz stared at Sue, then looked down before adding, ‘I’ve also found someone else and what with Tony being wrapped up in his own world, he had absolutely no idea.’
Breathless with all she had heard, Sue stared at Liz. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
'Don't worry, Sue, everything’s going to be just fine. I really couldn’t be happier.'
‘Oh Liz, I don’t know what to say!’ Sue cried, finding her voice.
‘I just hope you’ll be happy for me. That’s all I want...for you to be happy too, to understand.’
A lump of emotion rose in Sue’s throat. She’d had so much going on in her head these last few months, she had hardly known what time of day it was let alone what was going on right in front of her nose. Feeling she had neglected her friend, Sue jumped up from her chair, hurried to the other side of the table and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. ‘Of course I’m happy for you!’ Then standing up, she laughed out loud. 'My God, when you want to change things, you really go to town, don’t you?’
Liz smiled and nodded. ‘Now,’ she said, reaching down and picking up a package the size of a shoebox. ‘This is for you, from me.’
‘Goodness,’ Sue said, reaching over she took the box. She looked at the label and stifled a chuckle. Happy Birthday, Sweetie xxx. Gently she shook the box. ‘Don’t tell me it’s a brick from the top of the chimney,’ she jested.
Liz giggled. ‘The only thing I ask is that you don’t open it until you’re back at home. Please?’
Looking crestfallen, Sue nodded. ‘If you insist.’
An hour later and standing at the entrance of the restaurant clutching the gift bag that held the present, Sue turned to her friend. ‘Thank you again, I’ve no idea what it could be,’ she said, jiggling the bag.
Liz threw her arms around Sue and hugged her tightly. Several seconds passed before she released her grip. ‘It’s the least I could give you,’ she said. ‘You deserve it.’
Shocked at such a show of affection, Sue opened her mouth to speak then thought better of it. She’d had enough surprises. Adjusting her jacket, she couldn’t believe she had been hugged; her friend had almost squeezed the life out of her! Never before had Liz hugged her.
With an emotional goodbye from Liz, Sue tucked her handbag under her left arm and clutching the gift bag she retraced the steps she had taken earlier. As she reached the car showroom, she stopped, thoughts of the sports car forgotten with all the day’s revelations. Turning to the big window, Sue peered in and smiled. It was still there. Now all she needed to do was find a way to buy it, she giggled to herself as she tried to walk home in a soberly manner.
With Liz’s words still spinning around in her head, Sue placed her the key in the lock before pushing open the front door and stepping inside. After the hiatus of the afternoon the house appeared silent and tranquil. Slipping her jacket off, she dropped it over the coat rack and carried the gift bag down the hall. As soon as she entered the spacious kitchen she saw it sitting on the table. ‘What a coincidence,’ she said to the silent room and lifted the box from the gift bag, Liz had given her.
Letting the bag slip to the floor, Sue placed the box next to the one on the table. She saw they were the same size and, even more startling, they were wrapped in the same flowery gift paper. One gift tag read: Happy Birthday, Sweetie, the other: Happy Birthday, Sue. She pulled out a chair and sat down, she looked from one gift to the other. It was obvious that Michael and Liz had collaborated on a joint surprise for her. No doubt, Liz had instigated it, she thought. Although Michael rarely forgot her birthday, he wasn’t one for surprises. Even her fortieth had passed with little more than a token gift from him. But this? This was different. She’d had a little too much to drink and couldn’t stop the excitement bubbling up inside her.
Keeping her gaze on the colourful paper, Sue unwrapped Liz’s box and, opening the lid, she gasped. With her breath coming in short bursts, she ripped open Michael’s gift. The contents were the same. The only difference, Michael had added a note.
Hello Sue, this is for you to buy something special for your birthday. I’m afraid I won’t be celebrating it with you. You see... Sue read the rest of the note and everything snapped into focus. Michael had left her for Liz. She snorted as the understanding of what Liz had been trying to tell her, her unusual behaviour, and the unexpected hug, sunk in. My words, I must be so stupid! There she was trying to catch her husband’s eye and all the time he only had eyes for a boring, utterly predictable woman. She laughed out loud at the shock. Before her laughter subsided, tears spilt down her face. Sobs built in her throat threatening to choke her. Shocked at the betrayal she dropped to the floor. Leaning against one of the chairs she howled and wept until her throat was sore and there were no more tears left. Eventually she pushed herself back onto her feet and headed over to the sink, she turned on the tap and splashed cold water over her face, then plucked the hand towel from its hook and wiped it across her cheeks. Flinging the damp towel down on the side, she strode over to where both boxes sat. Staring down at their contents she could hardly believe that each was filled with bank notes. A sardonic burst of mirth escaped her lips and echoed around the room. ‘How cruel life can be,’ she said, taking handfuls of the crisp notes and sprinkling them over the table and floor like confetti.
Four days had passed since the shoebox day and Michael had not been off the phone. If he wasn’t saying he was sorry, he was hinting he had made a rash decision in leaving her. Sue was quite sure he was sorry and that he had made a rash decision or, in other words, a big mistake, but she was going to let him stew before she would utter one word to let him know what a first class fool he was. In the meantime, she had an appointment to go to.
As if it were déjà vu, Sue hurried along the tree-lined avenue and slowed only as she approached Benson’s. Taking a deep breath, she peered through the showroom window and her heart skipped a beat at the sight of the sexy red car. Feeling her face flush with excitement, she pushed open the door and was immediately met by Mr. Benson, a tall, grey haired gentleman dressed in a dark three piece suit.
‘Good Morning, Mrs. Potter, I’ve been waiting for you,’ he said, a smile filling his face and making him appear younger than his grey hair suggested. ‘Come on through, everything is ready for you.’
Sue followed, and within moments she was standing in front of the source of her daydreams. ‘May I sit in it?’ she asked, nerves making the palms of her hands sweat.
‘Of course! How else will you know if it’s for you?’ he responded, pulling open the door with a flourish.
Taking in the redolence of the car’s newness, Sue gingerly slipped into the cream leather seat. Taking hold of the steering wheel she gripped it tightly and gazed through the windscreen. In her mind she was already driving down the road and turning into her gravel drive just as Michael was arriving to collect the rest of his clothes. Her eyes shone as she imagined the look on his face when he understood what she had bought with all the money. Yes, he would notice her then.
‘What do you think?’ Mr. Benson asked, bringing Sue out of her revere.
‘It’s beautiful,’ she said, climbing out of the seat. ‘I could see myself driving a car like this.
‘A real eye catcher,’ he added, as he gently tapped the bonnet.
‘Oh, yes it is,’ she answered, still unsure she was doing the right thing. It was one thing letting Michael sweat, but another to rub salt into his wounds.
‘I could take you out for a spin in it if you like?’ he suggested. ‘I promise you wouldn’t want it back in the showroom after such an exhilarating drive.’
Seeing her husband’s face in her mind’s eye, Sue looked at Mr. Benson and, with a rush of confidence, gushed, ‘Why not?’ She knew that if she were to ever forgive Michael for his mistake, and for their marriage to work, she would try never to mention his infidelity, but with such a daily reminder sitting on the drive, she wouldn’t have to utter a single word.