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Jennifer V Nolan-Gill

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Poppy
by Jennifer V Nolan-Gill   

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Copyright:  Nov 10, 2008
Fiction


Set in Manchester, Poppy is the story of a young woman desperately trying to find the balance between her career and love-life.

Poppy panics when she realises her career in marketing has stalled.  In desperation, she sleeps with her boss Max who is, unbeknown to her, also having an affair with her mum.  We follow Poppy on her destructive path whilst dipping in and out of the lives of her nearest and dearest; her sister Daisy who, after escaping a violent marriage has to cope with becoming a widower, her mum Jane who is going through a mid-life crisis, and her best friend Colin who is struggling to tell his homophobic parents that he is gay.  Just when things look impossible for Poppy, a light appears in the darkness; her ex-boyfriend Jack, who tries his hardest to sweep her off her feet.

Excerpt
Poppy

Chapter One

‘God, I only came here for a pre-pack salad.’
Poppy stood in the queue at Asda, clutching her bag of salad tightly. She tried to control her breathing, but it came out in short, sharp gasps.
‘Sorry, did you say something?’ asked the fat woman behind her with the overflowing trolley.
Poppy ignored her. She could feel the tightness in her chest, like a ball of elastic bands, trying to stop her from breathing. The pins and needles started down her legs and arms. Her feet felt as if she were stood in a patch of sinking sand, the floor bending beneath her weight.
She could feel people staring at her.
Who’s the mad woman with the bag of pre-pack salad?
It was only when her eyesight started to falter that she made a run for it. The salad was discarded in the fat woman’s shopping trolley. Probably needs it more than me, she thought. She ran towards the double doors - the doors of safety, but each step felt like an eternity. The floor was stretching out before her like in a horror film. The shoppers whizzed by in a colourful frenzy.
Poppy burst out into the freezing air and collapsed onto the taxi-waiting bench. Her lungs were burning from gulping the cold air too fast and her legs like jelly. Her face was drenched with sweat, or tears, or both. She fumbled in her bag for a fag, lit it up and took a long, soothing drag.
‘What the hell was that?’ she mumbled through wafts of smoke. Poppy knew it was a panic attack, but couldn’t quite believe she was capable of having one.
She brushed down her suit, picked up her bag and made across the car park in search of her red mini. Climbing into the car, she glanced at the clock. Only ten minutes had passed since she had climbed out of the car with the intention of getting a salad to go with tea. It felt like an hour. She still had half an hour left before she had to be back at work. She reached for her phone.
‘Hi Poppy, thought you were working today.’
‘Hi mum, I am. I’m on my dinner. Just wondered what you were doing later.’
‘Not much really, just getting on with some ironing and making your dad’s tea, why?’
‘Do you think you can stretch to making mine too?’
‘Yeah course; we’re having steak and chips. It’ll be ready for half six. Poppy, are you ok?’
‘Yeah, yeah I’m fine. Just can’t be bothered cooking tonight, that’s all.’
‘Ok, I’ll see you tonight.’
‘Ok, bye mum.’
Poppy put the phone on the passenger seat. She didn’t really want tea at her mum’s but at that time, she just wanted to talk to someone. Being on her own didn’t seem like a great prospect.
God, I’ll be laughing about this tonight, she thought.

Jane flicked the kettle on. Carl would be home in an hour, which meant another night of waiting on him hand and foot.
Why the hell do I bloody do it? she thought to herself, staring out of the kitchen window.
The garden was looking more than a little drab. Carl hadn’t got off his backside to sweep away the autumn leaves for months. Now her prided lawn looked like a multi-coloured dumping ground.
‘Because I love him,’ she said, not liking how the words came out; forced and false.
She’d gotten so used to saying it, she’d forgotten what it really meant to love someone.
God, I don’t love him.
How could she? Every waking hour he spent telling her how much of a rubbish wife she was, how selfish and clingy she was. And all she did was run around after him. Make his tea, put the kettle on, do his washing.
After fifteen years of marriage, she was nothing but a glorified butler.
She finished making her coffee, then remembered that Poppy was coming round for tea. She got three steaks out of the freezer and slapped them onto the chopping board to defrost.
It would be nice to have Poppy round for tea. She didn’t get to see her very often now she was working at Coleman & Co. The poor girl worked all the hours she could, in hope of a promotion. Ambitious. Nothing wrong with that.
She just wished Poppy would come round more often. The only company Jane had during the week was Richard and Judy and Jeremy Kyle.
Weekends she spent being talked down to and wishing she had never given up her job as a seamstress. Come to think of it, she was sure that was Carl’s idea.

Jane sat down on her creamy tweed sofa, sipping her coffee. Maybe she should get a part time job. It would give her an excuse to get out of the house. She wondered if Scents would have her back part time.
She looked around at her too-familiar surroundings. The beige carpet had seen better days. The bald spot where Carl sat watching TV was getting worse. The chocolate and cream wallpaper was already out of date, and she desperately wanted to go black and white like in all the interior design magazines she flicked through in Asda. A part time job would help pay for it.
Jane jumped and spilt her coffee on the sofa as the front door swung open.
‘Hi Mum,’ Poppy said, throwing down her handbag.
‘You’re early, I thought you said you were at work.’
‘I sneaked out early. Max was in a meeting anyway.’
Poppy unbuttoned her green overcoat and slung it on the back of the sofa.
‘Dad at work?’
‘Yeah, he’ll be home soon.’
Home. Back in his castle with his doting servant.
‘What’s for tea?’
‘Steak and chips. Your favourite.’
Poppy smiled. Steak and chips had been her favourite meal when she was fifteen. She didn’t have the heart to tell her she’d have preferred a simple pasta and Greek salad.
‘Want a brew? Kettle’s just boiled.’
‘Yeah, tea please.’
Poppy settled herself on the sofa, slipping off her shoes and folding her feet underneath her.
‘Sugar?’ Jane shouted from the kitchen.
‘Two please.’
‘So how come you decided to grace us with your presence tonight?’ Jane asked, passing her the cup of tea.
‘Not been shopping yet. Got nothing in,’ she lied.
‘Right.’
‘Oh, ok. I just didn’t fancy going back to an empty house,’ she said, sipping her tea. ‘I had this weird thing in Asda. Can’t really explain.’
Jane frowned. ‘What do you mean, weird thing?’
‘I had a panic attack,’ she said quietly. ‘At least, that’s what I think it was.’
‘You want to get yourself to the doctors.’
‘Mum, it’s not that bad. Probably drank too much coffee or something.’
‘Working too hard more likely.’
‘Yeah, so what’ve you been up to?’ Poppy said, changing the subject.
‘I don’t love your Dad.’
What the hell did I say that for?
Poppy nearly choked on her tea.
‘What?’
‘Nothing. I shouldn’t have said.’
Shit, how am I going to get out of this one?
‘You said you didn’t…’
‘I know what I said.’
‘Mum, are you ok? Is Dad having an affair?’
Jane laughed.
‘Well, that would explain a lot of things, but no, he’s not. I’m just, well, I don’t know. Can we change the subject?’
‘Are you two getting divorced?’ Poppy’s voice was getting a little too high pitched. Why the hell did she…
‘Mum.’
‘No, we’re not. I’m just lonely. He treats me like a servant.
‘Oh.’
Poppy didn’t really know what to say.
‘Are you having an affair?’
‘Of course I’m bloody not, now shut up, I can hear your Dad’s car.’

Poppy nestled the phone between her head and shoulder.
‘So what did she say?’
‘She said she didn’t love Dad anymore.’
‘Is that it? I mean, did she say anything else?’
Poppy was beginning to wish she hadn’t phoned Daisy now. What if she told Mum?
‘Just that neither of them were having an affair and they weren’t getting divorced.’
‘Shit.’
‘I know. I didn’t know what to say. Dad came in then so I couldn’t coax anything else out of her.’
‘Do you think they’ll get divorced?’
‘Not really sure what’s gone on. Listen, don’t say anything, she’ll kill me.’
‘Yeah sure, just keep me updated okay.’
‘I will. I’ll speak to you tomorrow when I’ve had chance to speak to Mum.’
‘Okay, bye.’
Poppy put the phone down. She wasn’t really sure she should have told Daisy, but who else could she talk to?
Colin had been a bit side-tracked recently. She didn’t know why he didn’t just come out and tell his parents he was gay. It wasn’t that bad.
She put her feet up on the over-sized flower pot her mum bought her last Christmas. It was getting a bit chilly to be sat in the garden, but she was enjoying the fresh air.
She was trying not to think about it, but her mind kept wandering back to what happened in Asda.
Maybe I’m working too hard.
She’d been working at Collerman & Co for two years now and she was still only a marketing assistant. To Poppy, it was no better than being a secretary.
She knew there was an opening coming up as an assistant marketing executive. Still only assistant, but higher up on the ladder. The only problem was that every time she did something great, like secure a contract over the phone, someone else took the credit.
Poppy sat up straight and placed her palms on the cool garden table.
This was it. From now on she was going to have to be sneaky. If she secured a deal, she’d go straight to Max with it.
She needed this promotion.
Poppy went inside the house and shut the door. She plonked herself on the sofa and flicked through the TV channels.
Why the hell do I pay for this? Hundreds of channels; nothing on.
She turned the TV off. The house was too quiet. She thought about taking a walk, then changed her mind.
What if I have another panic attack?
She could still feel the tight ball in her chest. The flashed of colours as people rushed past. The sickly feeling in her stomach.
No. She wasn’t going to let that happen again. She was in control of her body, and she would stay in control.

Poppy knew something had woken her up, but wasn’t sure what it was. She lay there in the darkness, listening to her own breathing.
She heard the rain splattering on the window sill and realised she’d left the window open. She slowly opened her eyes and crawled out of her warm bed.
The curtains were drenched with rain. She stood on the window ledge and pulled the window shut. The light tapping of the rain on the window pane was comforting.
She climbed back into bed and cocooned herself in the quilt. Her alarm clock was lit up luminous red and indicated that it was 4.30am.
She hated waking up in the middle of the night. It reminded her how alone she was. The king size bed swallowed her up and she longed for a pair of muscular arms to wrap around her and tell her everything would be okay.
What if I’m alone forever?
She imagined lying there in thirty years time, still on her own. Despite the warmth of the quilt, Poppy shivered.
She forced herself to put those thoughts away at the back of her mind for now. Five in the morning was not the time to be thinking about such things.
She tried thinking about her bedroom when she was little. She remembered the wallpaper; pink and lime green with bold, chunky flowers.
The small bookshelf above her bed, straining under the weight of all the R.L.Stine and Stephen King novels.
A time and place when she had complete freedom. The dreams of becoming a successful business woman and owning a holiday home in the South of France.
Poppy slowly drifted into a deep sleep, dreaming of a time long forgotten.

‘Two more roasted duck,’ Colin shouted over the noise of the kitchen.
He got to work on the grilled pear desserts, slicing them in two and stuffing them with cream cheese.
He glanced at the clock. Only twenty minutes till clocking off time.
He looked around the kitchen. Half an hour ago everyone had been rushing about. Pots had been boiling over, smoke wafting about where the trainee had burnt the pancakes.
Now, the lunch hour rush had simmered down and the last remaining customers were being served.
He drizzled the pears with the honey glaze and passed them to the waiter.
Colin had worked at Kay’s Restaurant for four years. In that time he’d gone from being a ditzy trainee to a fine chef.
He started cleaning his work surface. In half an hour, mark would be there to meet him. After cooking him dinner, Colin then had to meet Poppy and Daisy in the pub.
He looked out at the tables to make sure there were no stragglers and saw Mark sitting by the door. He gave a little wave and held up a shopping bag.
The ingredients for dinner.
Mark liked to show up early, and almost always brought him a gift. Colin couldn’t figure out whether he was just being sweet or if he was trying to catch him getting up to something.
He couldn’t even look at another bloke without getting the third degree off Mark.
He loved him though. A bit of jealousy wasn’t going to ruin it.
Colin finished cleaning up and changed into fresh clothes.
He opened the fire escape to find mark stood there leaning against the bone bin.
‘I wouldn’t lean against that if I were you, it stinks.’
Mark peered round him into the kitchen, and when he saw no one else was there, he planted a wet smacker on Colin’s lips. Colin wiped his mouth.
‘So what ingredients have you brought me today then?’ he asked, looking suspiciously at Mark’s shopping bag. ‘Nothing eccentric, I hope. I’ve got to meet the girls at eight.’
‘It’s a surprise,’ Mark said, shifting the bag behind his back. ‘And I’m cooking for you today.’
Colin raised his eyebrows.
‘As long as you don’t poison me.’
The couple linked arms and started the walk through the park to Mark’s flat, just as great big raindrops splattered down on them. Mark retrieved a floral umbrella from his inside pocket.
‘Found it on the bus,’ he smirked.
‘So, have you told your parents about us yet?’ Mark looked hopeful. ‘I can’t wait to meet them.’
Colin stared across the park at the women gathering their children under the shelter.
‘They don’t even know I’m gay yet Mark. Give me a chance.’ He saw Mark’s face drop.
‘It’s just hard. Got to wait for the right moment. They’re the biggest homophobes I’ve ever met, I’m scared that’s all.’
Mark cuddled up close to him under the brolley.
‘Okay, I’ll stop pressurising you. Just doesn’t feel proper not meeting your parents.’
‘I’ve not met yours yet.’
‘Only cos’ they live in bloody Ireland.’
They both laughed.
‘I’ll tell them soon,’ Colin said, looking into Mark’s eyes. ‘I promise.’

Daisy applied her blusher, took a second look in the mirror and slapped on a bit more.
It was the second time in a month he’d bruised her face. At least if he bruised her arms or legs she could keep it hidden.
Now she looked like a tart. She studied the bruise, already turning purple underneath the pink blusher.
He’d snapped because she was going to meet Poppy and hadn’t made his tea.
They’d only been married for two months when Jay had started hitting her. It was like living with Jekyll and Hyde; sweet one minute, a monster the next.
She slipped off her shoes and crept down the stairs. She could hear the TV blasting in the living room. Hopefully he would be asleep by the time she got home.
‘Asleep or in a good mood,’ she thought hopefully.
Daisy got as far as the bottom stair when Jay appeared in the hallway.
‘Going somewhere?’ he said, swaying from side to side.
Shit, he’s been drinking.
‘Where the hell do you think you’re going with all that make-up on?’
‘I told you, I’m going to meet Poppy that’s all,’ she said, trying to slip past him.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and shoved her up against the wall, smearing her lipstick with his fingers.
‘Why do you have to wear so much slap to visit your sister?’ he slurred.
His breath stank of lager and cigarettes, making her feel dizzy.
‘I was covering the bruise that you gave me,’ she screamed back, shaking all over.
Daisy pushed him back. He lost his footing over the edge of the carpet and feel on his bum with a bump. He looked at her startled.
God, he doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember hitting me.
Daisy ran for the door, slamming it behind her. She could hear him muttering to himself.
He would be asleep when she got in. He could sleep for a week after a drink.
She put her shoes on and got into the car. Still shaking, she straightened her hair and wiped off her lipstick in the rear-view mirror. Taking a deep breath, she started the engine.
If anyone noticed her bruise, she’d just say she fell.
Yes, she’d got drunk and fell in the bathroom.

Poppy flung her coat over the bar stool and plonked herself down.
‘Red wine please,’ she shouted to the young girl behind the bar, who was engrossed in a copy of TV Quick.
‘When you’re ready.’
She smiled as the young girl jumped up from her stool and chucked the magazine under the bar. Poppy’s first job was behind a bar. Her Auntie May and Uncle Jeff owned a small local in Salford. She’d worked there under-aged, between exams and college interviews. It was probably what gave her the ambition to work in marketing. It built her confidence and gave her that love of people she’d be broke without.
‘Thanks love,’ she said as the girl served her a glass of house red.
Poppy glanced at the clock. It was twenty past eight. Colin and Daisy were supposed to be there twenty minutes ago. She reached for her mobile as Colin came up behind her and kissed her shoulder.
‘Alright sis.’
‘Alright bro.’
This was a joke between her, Colin and Daisy. When they all went out together, Poppy and Daisy would pretend Colin was their brother. Sometimes, if one of them was trying to get rid of some unwanted attention, they would pretend to be partners. Poppy found this hilarious because Colin was the campest guy she’d ever come across.
‘Daisy not here yet?’ Colin said looking around. ‘I’ve not seen her for weeks.’
‘No, not yet.’
Poppy was worried about Daisy. She hadn’t been acting herself recently. She seemed to shrink inside herself and become defensive at the slightest thing.
Maybe she’s pregnant, Poppy thought. It would certainly explain a few things.
‘Col, have you noticed anything about Daisy recently?’ she said, sipping on her wine.
‘Not really seen much of her lately, but yeah she’s been acting a bit strange.’
Poppy slid closer to Colin.
‘Do you think she might be pregnant?’ she whispered.
Colin raised his eyebrows so high, she thought they might drop off.
‘Why, do you?’
‘I’m not sure,’ she said, confused. ‘Something is definitely going on with her, and we’re going to find out.’
‘And how do you suppose we do that?’
‘We ask her silly.’
Colin frowned.
‘If she was going to tell us, she would have by now.’
‘She might be waiting for us to ask.’
Colin turned quickly to the bar maid and ordered a gin and tonic. Daisy stood behind them.
‘My ears were burning,’ she said, disapprovingly.
Poppy had to think fast.
‘Colin was just saying how long it’s been since we all got together for a drink. That you’re always busy.’
‘Yeah well, I’m thinking of getting a new kitchen and bathroom fitted. Been getting quotes and stuff.’
Poppy glanced at Colin. She knew that Jay would never let Daisy go round getting quotes. He was the business man. He would know someone who could do it cheap for them.
Daisy ordered a glass of orange juice.
‘Not drinking?’ Poppy smiled at Colin.
‘No, I’ll have one later.’
‘Come on let’s sit over there.’
Daisy took her drink and walked towards the corner table near the dart board; their usual spot.
‘Just ask her,’ Colin whispered as he brushed past Poppy.
Poppy took a deep breath and sat down.
‘What’ve you done to your face?’ Colin almost shouted, causing Daisy to blush a deep red.
‘Fell over next door’s cat, taking the rubbish out,’ she said, a little too quickly.
What happened to getting pissed and falling over?
‘Daisy, we’ve got something to ask you,’ Colin said, nudging Poppy under the table.
Poppy shrugged her shoulders and stared at Colin as if she didn’t know what he was going on about. Colin huffed.
‘Are you pregnant?’
Daisy nearly choked on her orange. ‘No I bloody well am not.’
Poppy kicked Colin. ‘See, I told you.’
He held his hands up in disbelief, but refrained from saying anything.
I like how she’s blamed this on me.
Daisy was quick to change the subject.
‘Let’s order some proper drinks in, and then you Colin, can tell us all about how you’re going to tell your parents about Mark.’
Colin went to the bar and ordered a bottle of whiskey and three shot glasses. If Daisy was hiding something, she wouldn’t be able to keep it hidden after a few of those.


Chapter Two

Colin woke up with a shrill ringing in his ears. He flung out his arm to turn the alarm off, and realised it was the front door bell.
‘Oh my god, my head.’
As his eyes strained to open, he crawled out of bed to find he was still fully dressed.
‘Colin will you get the door, it’s one of your friends,’ his mum shouted from the bathroom.
‘Probably Poppy,’ he thought.
He opened the front door to Mark, standing in t-shirt and shorts.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’ he whispered.
‘Just thought I’d see how your night with the girls went.’
‘Are you going to Hawaii or something?’ Colin said, studying Mark’s multi-coloured shorts with humour. ‘It’s bloody freezing.’
‘That’s because you’re hung-over. Is your mum in?’ he said, peering through the doorway.
‘Yes, so go away. I’ll ring you when she goes to work.’
‘Oh come on, she’ll never guess. I’ll act as straight as I can.’
Colin smirked.
‘Yeah, whatever. Just come straight up to my room, and don’t make a noise.’
Colin shut the front door behind him and followed Mark up to his bedroom.
‘So how did last night go?’ Mark said, plonking himself down on the bed.
‘Very weird. Never drank so much in my life. Those girls are a bad influence.’
Mark laughed.
‘More like you’re the bad influence!’
Colin sat with his head in his hands.
‘Please don’t laugh too loud, my head’s killing.’
‘Too much dirty beer. I’ll make you some breakfast when your mum’s gone to work if you want.’
‘Can’t even think of food.’
‘You’ve got to be in work today.’
Colin looked at the clock.
‘Shit, it’s twenty past nine. I have to be in work for eleven.’
‘Phone in sick.’
‘I can’t. I’m the only one in this afternoon, and I can’t leave the trainee on his own. Fucking useless, he is.’
Mark kneeled behind him on the bed, and rubbed his shoulders.
‘Ah, let me make you feel better.’
‘My mum’s still here,’ he said, not wanting him to stop.
‘We’ll be quiet.’
Mark shifted round and kissed his neck.
‘This’ll make you feel better.’
He lifted up his top and kissed his belly button. Colin just lay back and let Mark do the work. He unbuttoned his belt.
‘Are you going to work today or…’
Colin’s mum walked into the bedroom and stopped mid-sentence.
‘What the hell?’
‘Oh shit, mum.’ Colin grabbed his pants and pulled them back up. Mark just sat knelt on the floor, his mouth wide open.
‘Julie have you seen my wallet?’
Shit, Dad.
‘What the bleeding hell is going on here?’
‘I think I’ll go,’ Mark said shifting towards the door, but Julie blocked it.
‘Colin, what were you doing?’
He looked from his mum to his dad, wondering what to say.
I was getting a fuckin’ blowjob, and you barged in and ruined it.
Words seemed to complicated, so he just shrugged, blushing from his neck up.
Colin’s dad suddenly lunged forward to grab him, but Julie blocked his path.
‘Neil, no. Let’s just go.’
She closed the door, and they heard them whispering frantically, walking down the stairs.
Colin looked at Mark.
‘Well that’s done it. They’ll probably never speak to me ever again.’
Mark looked ill. ‘At least they know now.’
‘Just get out for fuck sake. I’ll see you after work.’
He heard the front door slamming, knowing that Mark was disappointed he hadn’t been more upfront with his parents.
Ten minutes later, the door slammed again. They’d gone to work.
Colin busied himself getting ready for work, his hang-over long forgotten.
What a fuckin’ morning.

Jane ordered a large glass of pinot grigio and sat in the quietest corner she could find.
There were so many groups of friends and couples in there, she was beginning to think it was a bad idea coming on her own. Maybe she should have invited Daisy along. She’d not been acting herself recently. That slimy husband of hers was at fault, she thought. There was something about him she couldn’t put her finger on, but it wasn’t good.
She spotted Poppy’s boss sat at the bar. Wow, he got more handsome every time she saw him.
He turned around suddenly, catching her off-guard.
Oh God, he’s noticed me.
She tried to play it cool. She gave him a brief nod and looked out of the window.
‘Alright, you’re Poppy’s mum aren’t you?’ he said, sitting down opposite her.
They’d only met once, when Poppy had dragged her to the Christmas office party. He’d been steaming drunk and had referred to her as a sexy momma. She’d ignored him at the time, but thinking about it now made her blush.
‘Hi, yes I’m Jane. Max isn’t it?’
He nodded.
She put her arm out to shake his hand but he gripped her fingers and kissed the top of her hand ever so gently. It sent goose bumps right up her arm.
Embarrassed, she hid her arm under the table and with the other, took a huge gulp of her wine.
‘So what’s a gorgeous looking lady like you doing on her own in here?’ he asked smiling.
‘I just wanted a quiet drink,’ she replied, then added; ‘Poppy, ‘erm Daisy was supposed to meet me, but ‘erm something came up.’
God, I sound like a complete ditz.
She didn’t want to tell him the real reason she was there on her own; because she felt too alone at home, and she was hoping to meet some rich, handsome man to sweep her off her feet.
‘So where’s your husband?’
‘He’s working.’
I’ve got to get out of here.
She swigged the rest of her wine and went to grab her bag.
‘Going so soon?’
‘Yeah, I’ve got Carl’s tea to make.’
‘Shame,’ he said, that smirk appearing briefly. ‘I was going to ask if you fancied a drink at my apartment. It’s only across the road.’
He pointed to the luxurious new apartments across the street. She’d thought only footballers would be able to afford one of those.
What the hell, Carl’s at work; he’ll never find out. It’s only a drink anyway.
‘Okay, a quick one will be fine,’ Jane said, not realising why Max was grinning.

The walk home from work was slow and agonising for Colin. Things would have been a whole lot better if he’d just told them himself.
It was his Dad he dreaded seeing the most. He remembered the look on his face; the disgust.
He reached the front door. Time to face the music. He closed the front door behind him and took a few deep breaths.
The house was rather quiet for this time of day. He wondered if they were waiting for him in the living room. With a burst of adrenaline, he walked into the living room. No one there.
He tried the kitchen, which too, was empty.
Phew, not home from work yet.
Colin was relieved, but a bit disappointed. He’d got himself all worked up for nothing.
Grabbing his laptop from the kitchen table, he made his way up the stairs to his bedroom.
‘I’ll get on with the new menu,’ he thought aloud.
Colin opened his bedroom door.
Oh shit.
He picked his way through the boxes and sat down on the edge of the bed, head in hands.
They’d packed his stuff. His room was filled with brown moving boxes, all neatly labelled.
‘Shit, shit, shit.’
Where the hell did they expect him to go?
The shock was wearing off now, giving way to anger.
Why the hell couldn’t they just accept who he was.
I shag men, not kill animals.
He picked up a discarded shoe and threw it at the bedroom door, splintering the wood. He looked around the room in despair. It looked like a spare room.
Everything Colin owned was packed away neatly in the labelled boxes. Even his posters of horror films he’d nicked from Blockbuster were gone. Just the grey blu-tac in patterns around the wall remained.
His whole bloody life in boxes.
Who the hell do they think they are?
He sat and cried. He wondered if he could stand having a girlfriend, just to keep them sweet.
Yes. That’s what he’d do. He’d just see Mark at weekends at his place. Say he’d got a new hobby or something. Hell, he might even get married. The amount of married men he’d been with; he wouldn’t be the first.
He picked up his phone. Ready to call his mum, revealing he wasn’t gay after all. It was all a huge mistake.
He thought of the words he was going to say, but hearing them in his head made him realise how stupid they were.
He was gay. End of.
He put the phone down, then picked it back up again.
‘Hi Joe, you still got that flat to rent?’


‘Want a cup of tea before I go to work?’
‘No thanks,’ Jane grumbled.
She sat up in bed, and slowly opened her eyes.
Why does he have to be nice to me this morning?
She watched as Carl put his tie on and gathered his things from the bedside cabinet.
‘Have a good night last night?’ he said.
‘Bit boring, really,’ she replied, thinking of the things Max had done to her the night before.
Carl kissed her head, and left for work. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the front door slam and the car engine start.
What have I done?
She crawled out of bed, struggling with the feelings of guilt, mixed with a hangover and remembering the raw passion she’d felt the night before.
As she showered, she could still feel the light touch of his hands all over her body. Carl hadn’t touched her like that for a long time.
God, I need to talk to somebody.
She knew she couldn’t tell Poppy. She’d kill her. Poppy had been sucking up to Max for months to get that promotion, and if Jane had ruined it all for a night in the sack, she’d never forgive her.
The only person she could talk to was Daisy, and she’d been away with the fairies for weeks.
She picked up the phone and hit speed dial for Daisy.
No answer.
Someone knocked on the door, and Jane jumped with fright imagining it to be Max. She peeped through the curtains and saw Daisy standing there waving to let her in.
She unlocked the door.
‘I was just trying to ring you,’ she said, ushering her inside.
‘I get bored sitting in that house all day. Wondered if you fancied lunch or something.’
Finally, she’s back to her old self.
Daisy used to come round nearly every day of the week for lunch. She stopped coming a few weeks after her and Jay got married.
‘Yes, of course. We’ll eat out though.’
Jane didn’t want to be in the house when she told her what she’d done.
‘I’ll be ready in about ten minutes, make yourself a brew,’ she said, then noticed the black eye.
‘What have you done to your face?’
Daisy’s hand flew up to her face. She panicked, trying to remember if she’d put her cover-up on.
‘Fell over that stupid cat next door didn’t I!’
‘Oh, right,’ Jane replied, not quite believing her, but she was so nervous about telling her about Max, she didn’t give it a second thought.
Jane rushed upstairs and got herself dressed. She didn’t know how Daisy would react when she told her she’d been unfaithful to her Dad.
‘Hopefully, she’ll understand,’ she thought to herself.

When they arrived at the café, Jane was almost bursting with impatience. She couldn’t wait to get it off her chest. She felt as though if she shared her secret, it would halve the guilt she was feeling.
They sat in a window seat, and as Daisy browsed the menu, Jane was thinking of how to bring the subject of adultery into the conversation.
‘I’m having scrambled eggs and beans on toast. You?’
‘Yeah, the same,’ Jane replied, not really hearing her.
They ordered their food.
‘What’s up Mum? You’ve been acting strange since this morning.’
Oh crap, this is it.
‘I did something really stupid last night.’
Daisy put her cup of tea down, and leaned forward.
‘What?’
‘I slept with someone else.’
Daisy sat back in her seat, not knowing whether to laugh or take her seriously.
‘What, other than Dad?’
‘It was Poppy’s boss, Max.’
She watched Daisy’s face, trying to figure out what reaction she was going to get.
‘Have you told Dad?’
‘Of course I haven’t told him, are you mad?’
Daisy laughed. It was not the reaction Jane was expecting.
‘What’re you laughing at? It’s not funny!’
The waitress arrived with their food, as Daisy tried to control her giggles.
‘I know, sorry. It’s very serious,’ she said, still smirking. ‘Is it going to happen again?’
‘No,’ she said, then added; ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Poppy told me what you said the other day.’
The little sod!
‘It’s ok Mum. I’m not mad.’
Jane breathed a sigh of relief.
‘We lived with Dad for years remember. We know what it’s like.’
She felt like reaching over the table and giving Daisy a big hug.
‘Thanks babe, you don’t know what that means to me.’
She reached over and squeezed her hand.
‘Just don’t tell Poppy.’
‘I won’t,’ Daisy replied, thinking of the conversation she was going to have with Poppy later that day. She knew Poppy would find it as funny as she did. She just wouldn’t mention that it was Max. She stifled another giggle as she pictured her Mum being charmed by slimy Max.
Jane tucked into her eggs and toast, feeling much better.
‘Maybe it will happen again,’ she thought, thinking again of his soft touch and the flattering words being whispered into her ear.
Maybe.

Poppy slammed her folders down on the bench. She’d come all this way to pitch the latest non-alcoholic drink to Green’s wine bar and she’d left the samples at home.
There wasn’t a chance they would agree to buy it without so much of a taste of it. She knew Max would hit the roof, but she didn’t see any point in attending the meeting without the samples.
A few months previous, hell a few weeks previous and Poppy would have charged in there and made the sale. Samples or no samples.
Now, the very thought of trying to persuade two strangers to part with their hard-earned cash was a daunting prospect.
God, I don’t even know what the owners name is.
She could feel the tight ball in her chest getting tighter and tighter.
‘Oh, not again,’ she groaned.
She remembered what Colin had told her to do.
She took a deep breath, counted to ten and put her head between her legs.
The blood rushed to her head, making her temples throb. It made her feel slightly drunk.
She looked down at her new red shoes. They seemed like a good idea at the time.
I wonder if I click my heels three times, they’ll send me home.
Poppy giggled drunkenly and clicked her heels together. She gingerly opened her eyes.
Well, I’m not home, but at least my train is here.
Poppy got up slowly and boarded the train. She’d never felt so ashamed of herself before.
This was supposed to be her chance. Her chance to shine. Max knew that it was a long shot, asking a wine bar to buy a non-alcoholic drink. That’s why he sent Poppy. He wanted her to prove herself. Now she’d messed up her chance, and she probably wouldn’t get the promotion.
Unless I sleep with the boss.
She knew what a womaniser Max was. He’d even tried it on with her Mum at the Christmas party.
She sat opposite a frail looking woman. Covered in bruises from head to toe.
Probably a prostitute, she thought, but then was shocked of how much she reminded her of Daisy. If she wasn’t pregnant, then what was wrong?
Daisy had always been so confident and out-going. The past few months, she’d hardly seen the real Daisy at all. She was always in her own little world; quiet and defensive. Those strange bruises and marks kept appearing on her body.
‘Oh my shit.’
All of a sudden it hit Poppy. The bruises, the defensiveness, the quietness. It all pointed to one thing. That husband of hers was beating her up.
The promotion and Max were long forgotten. Poppy knew she had to do something; but what?
She fished her phone out of her handbag and dialled Colin’s number.
When he answered, she could hear the bustle of the kitchen’s in the background. He was at work.
‘Colin, it’s Poppy. I need to meet you now.’
‘Poppy I’m at work, can it wait until tonight?’
Poppy was getting impatient.
‘No it bloody can’t. It’s Daisy. Can’t explain now, but meet me in the pub in twenty minutes. It’s urgent.’
She ended the call before he could refuse. She glanced around the train to find that people were staring at her.
‘What the bloody hell are you looking at?’ she snapped at the prostitute, then felt bad and said; ‘Sorry, bad day.’

Poppy sat near the dart board, twiddling her hair. She saw Colin storm past the window, still in his kitchen whites, looking far from amused.
‘What the bloody hell is this about?’ he said, sitting down at the table. ‘It’s lunch hour and the restaurant’s the busiest it’s been this week.’
He caught sight of the look on Poppy’s face.
‘Is Daisy okay?’ he said, softening his tone and slightly panicking.
‘No she bloody well isn’t. It’s that husband of hers. He’s been hitting her.’
‘What?’ Colin was clearly shocked. ‘How do you know?’
‘I just know,’ Poppy said quietly. ‘I’ve been through it before with Anthony, haven’t I. I know the signs.’ Poppy put her head in her hands. ‘She’s not been herself, she’s been turning up to the pub covered in bruises, and being all defensive…’
‘Have you asked her?’
‘Of course I haven’t. I knew there was something fishy about that Jay. Mum’s never liked him.’
Colin pulled his phone out of his pocket.
‘What’re you doing?’
‘I’m phoning Daisy. We need to ask her.’
‘No you can’t. She might be with him,’ Poppy panicked.
‘Trust me.’
Colin dialled her number.
‘Hi Daisy, we’re in the pub. Can you meet us?’ Colin winked at Poppy.
‘Yes, it’s quite important. We need to talk to you about something.’
He nodded. ‘Okay, see you in ten.’
‘Well, what did she say?’
‘She’ll be here in ten minutes. Turns out she was sat at home bored anyway.’
Poppy breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Okay, so now we need to think of what we’re going to say.’
Colin shrugged.
‘Well we can’t just ask her out right.’
‘Why not?’ Colin said. ‘I’ll go and get the drinks in.’

Daisy put the phone down confused.
If they were going to go on about her being pregnant again… She thought she’d proved that the other night, by getting as drunk as she’d ever been.
Luckily, Jay had been fast asleep on the sofa when she’d got in, and he’d already left for work when she got up.
She’d spent the whole day feeling like a complete idiot for ever letting him get that sort of hold on her. If Poppy or Colin asked her what was wrong today, she was going to tell them. She didn’t even bother putting her usual cover-up make-up on. Besides, after the lunch with her Mum, she couldn’t wait to spill the beans to Poppy.
When she arrived at the pub, Poppy and Colin were sat huddled in the corner, where they’d been sat the night before. The smell of alcohol made her feel sick, but she went over anyway.
She saw them both drinking brandy, and realised that this time, it must be serious.
‘Hi guys,’ she said, as upbeat as she could manage.
‘Wow, that shiner really has developed,’ Colin said, getting a kick from Poppy under the table.
They look a bit too serious for my liking.
‘Poppy, are you okay?’
Poppy shook her head. ‘No not really. We need to ask you something.’
Oh shit.
‘Is that bastard of a husband beating you up?’
Colin had no tact.
‘Yes.’
Daisy surprised herself at how easy the word came out of her mouth.
Colin and Poppy both stared at her, dumbfounded.
‘He’s been doing it for months now. Since just after the wedding.’
Poppy burst into tears. Daisy swapped seats with Colin and gave her sister a hug.
Poppy laughed, embarrassed. ‘It should be me consoling you, not the other way around.’
‘You know you need to leave him, don’t you,’ Colin said, looking very serious.
‘I know. I just don’t know how to do it. He earns all the money, and his name is on the house. I’ll be left with nothing.’
‘You’ll be left with friends and family that won’t smack you around whenever we feel like it,’ Poppy said angrily. ‘You can move in with me for the time being.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course I’m sure. I’ve got a three bed roomed house there, with only me living in it.’
‘Fancy filling both spare rooms?’ Colin piped up.
‘Why, I thought you loved living at home.’
‘Well…’
Colin told the girls what had happened the day before.
Poppy nearly laughed, then realised how hurt he was.
‘So from now on, I’m homeless. They want me out by tonight.’
‘Looks like a house warming party’s in order,’ Daisy said, trying to lift the mood.
‘We need to sort out how we’re going to get you out of that house first.’
‘It’ll be easy. Jay’s at work from six every morning, until around seven. I could move all of my things out in an hour. Most of it belongs to him anyway.’
Colin looked at his watch.
‘Well, we’ve got two hours to get you out then.’


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