I run upstairs fast and pick the paper straight up, being immediately greeted with a bunch of pamphlets, stapled to the corner of a letter. The letter is a scan appointment. The pamphlets are a wealth of information on abortion. The information sinks in very fast, and as I lift my eyes to the top of the letter, I notice my name and address. No, not my address. It’s Matt’s address.
I gasp and screw the paper up, throwing it at the wall on an infuriated yell. I’m so fucking stupid. I’ve not changed my address with the surgery. I’ve not changed my address with anyone. All of my mail has been going to Matt’s and clearly the fucking bastard has been opening it. He must’ve been in his element to find this. What the hell is wrong with him, the nasty fucking lowlife? My damn emotions are all over the place. I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m blood boiling mad.
At the risk of lashing out on the door or the wall or anything I can lay my hands on, I throw myself in the shower instead.
* * *
I’m still shaking with anger when I walk into the penthouse foyer only half an hour later. I’m already late, but my work, for the first time ever, is the least of my priorities. And it’s a good thing because I’m standing staring blankly at the keypad, with not the first idea of what numbers to punch in. I glance back at the door, contemplating nipping back in to ask Cathy, but I decide against it, instead bashing in the code of the fire exit door and pushing my way through. I need to burn off some of this fury before I’m in the close proximity of people. I might rip someone’s head off, and I want to save my wrath for Matt.
‘Good Morning, Mrs Ward.’ Casey’s friendly voice is the first thing I hear when I exit the stairwell, panting from exhaustion as oppose to panting with anger.
‘Casey,’ I puff, putting my heels back on.
He looks me up and down. God only knows what I must look like. I didn’t even bother to use a mirror, instead blasting my hair and firing pins in all over my head where I felt they needed to be. ‘Are you okay?’ he asks.
‘Congratulations,’ he says. I look at him in alarm. Jesse wouldn’t share our good news with the new concierge. He doesn’t like him. ‘On getting married,’ Casey adds. ‘I didn’t know.’
I’m frowning. Would Jesse have told him that? Probably. He was probably trampling at the time, stamping his ownership. ‘Thanks,’ I stalk past him and slip my shades on before I hit the sunshine, hoping the oversized things might conceal most of my harassed face. John’s here. He shrugs, and I shake my head. ‘I’m not coming with you, John.’ I fire my key fob at my Mini and start across the car park.
‘Come on, girl. Let’s not push it.’ His voice is a low rumble, even though he’s pleading with me.
‘John, I’m sorry, but I’m driving myself today.’ I insist in the firmest tone I can find. It’s hard. I just want to cry some more. He’s so mad with me, but he still sent John to take me to work. As usual, he just can’t help it. I stop and swing around to face the big friendly giant. He’s standing at the hood of his Range Rover, holding his big arms out to me pleadingly. ‘Is he okay?’ I ask.
‘No, he’s gone mother fucking crazy, girl. What’s going on?’
‘Nothing,’ I say quietly, feeling so thankful that John is unaware to why Jesse has lost the plot. He’s probably too ashamed of me to admit it to anyone, and he has every right to be.
‘Nothing?’ He laughs, but then his frightening face turns deadly serious. ‘It’s nothing to do with that Danish mother fucker?’
‘No,’ I shake my head, thinking Mikael might be something else for Jesse to fly off the handle about.
‘Are you okay?’ His wraparounds are still firmly in place, but I know he’s looking at my stomach. He thinks something has happened to the baby.
I nod, my hand naturally sliding across my cornflower blue shift dress and onto my navel. ‘Fine, John.’
‘Ava, girl, let me take you to work so I can at least go back to The Manor and tell him I got you there safely.’ He gestures towards his shining heap of black metal.
It’s hard for me to refuse John. He’s thinking about Jesse, and I know that he cares about me. Under any other circumstances, I would, but I have an ex to deal with, and I can’t wait to rip him to shreds. ‘I’m sorry, John.’ I jump in my car and dial Casey to open the gates. No code, no gate device. Anyone would think that he was trying to keep me prisoner. I leave a clearly exasperated John in the Car park of Lusso and drive myself to work.
* * *
The look I flash all of my work colleagues the second I walk into the office makes them cautiously put their heads back down to work. Mindless chit-chat and feigning happiness is not something I can be bothered to do today. I need to focus on getting through the day as quickly and as quietly as possible. Interacting with anyone is a risk I can’t take. I might explode, and then all of my fury will be wasted.
I’m left to work in peace, my only distraction being my racing imagination, which is flicking from what Jesse will be doing now, to what I’m going to do to Matt. I’m surviving fine, until Patrick perches on the edge of my new desk. I see him before I hear him, which has absolutely never happened. The creak that I usually get in warning is absent, and it throws me a little. I grew rather fond of the familiar sound of my boss perching on my desk, even if it did make me hold my breath and pray for reinforced wood.
‘Flower, update me. We’ve not spoken for a few days. My fault, I know.’
I don’t need this. My brain is awash with everything, except work, and I’m dreading the Mikael question. I’m living on borrowed time here, I realise that, but I can’t broach this now. ‘There’s not a lot to report, really.’ I continue composing the email that I’ve been working on for the last hour. I’m two lines in, and it’s only a simple sample request to a manufacturer.
‘Oh, everything’s in order, then?’
‘Yes, everything.’ I sound short and terse, but I’m trying my best not to be.
‘Are you okay, flower?’ My boss’s concern is clear, when he should actually be telling me to buck up and answer him properly.
I stop typing and turn to face my cuddly bear of an employer. ‘I’m sorry. Yes, I’m fine, but I’ve got a heap of things I want to get done before the day’s out.’ I mentally applaud myself for blagging my way through that whole little speech. I did sound fine and like I was keen to get on, something Patrick will never argue with.
‘Excellent!’ He laughs. ‘I’ll leave you to it, then. I’ll be in my office.’ He lifts from the desk and for the first time in four years, it doesn’t creak, but I still wince anyway.
‘Ava, I’m sorry to bother you,’ Sal’s apprehensive voice almost makes me feel guilty.
‘What’s up, Sal?’ I look up at our plain-Jane, turned office siren, and force a smile, until I see the plaid skirt. It’s back, and I was so busy throwing cautionary looks at everyone when I arrived this morning, I hadn’t noticed. I also hadn’t noticed the lack of polished nails or scoop neck top. Or the face that looks like it’s just been dealt the most dreadful news. She’s been dumped.
‘Patrick has asked me to run through all of the invoices due for payment. Here’s a list.’ She hands me a printout of clients. ‘All of the highlighted sections are due within a week, and he’d like you all to gently remind your clients so we get the payments on time.’
I frown and cast my eyes over the spread sheet. ‘But they’re not due yet. I can’t remind them when they’ve not even forgotten.’ It’s embarrassing enough chasing overdue invoices.
She shrugs. ‘I’m just the messenger.’
‘He’s never asked us to do this before.’
‘I’m just the messenger!’ she snaps, and I recoil in my chair. Then she bursts into tears. I should be jumping up and soothing her, but I’m just sitting here, watching her wail all over my desk. She’s snorting and sniffling, attracting the attention of everyone, including Patrick, who has ventured from his office to see what the commotion is all about, but he retreats hastily when he spots Sal in tears. Tom and Victoria sit tapping their pens, neither one of them coming to aid me in my distress. And I am distressed. I don’t know what to do with her, but as no one else seems to be willing, it’s down to me to sort her out. I slide the spread sheet into my tray and stand, taking Sal’s elbow and leading her into the toilets, where I stuff her hands full of tissue and wait silently for her to pull herself together.
After a good five minutes, she finally speaks. ‘I hate men.’ Is all she says.
It makes me smile. I think every woman on the planet has said that line at some point in their life. ‘Things not too good between you and…’
‘Don’t say his name!’ she blurts. ‘I never want to hear it again.’
It’s a good job because I can’t remember it. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘No.’ she spits, rubbing away at her cheeks. There is no make-up transferring onto the tissue. She has well and truly returned to boring Sal. ‘Never!’ she adds on a filthy look.
I’m relieved. My brain wouldn’t absorb it, even if she did tell me. I’d be listening, but not engaging. ‘Okay,’ I rub her arm in a gesture to suggest that I understand when I’m actually more relieved.
‘He’s here, then he’s not. He calls, then he doesn’t. What does that mean?’ She looks at me expectantly, like I might know the answer.
‘You mean he’s messing you around?’ I’m engaging.
‘I’m on call when he wants, so yes. I sit around waiting for him to ring me, and when he does want to see me, it’s lovely, but all he wants to talk about is me. My friends. My job.’ She sniffles a bit more. ‘When will he want to have sex?’
I cough on a laugh. ‘You’re worried because he hasn’t tried to get you in bed?’ That’s a rarity. She should be pleased.
‘Yes!’ She collapses against the wall. ‘I don’t know how much more we can talk.’
‘It’s nice that he wants to get to know you, Sal. Too many men are after one thing.’ Is she sexually frustrated? Or is she sexually clueless? Has she ever even had sex? I can’t imagine it, and if I go by the deepening red of her cheeks, then I think I might have my answer. Sal’s a virgin? Fucking hell! How old is she, anyway?
I’m suddenly more than ready to engage, but Victoria’s head pops around the door, halting my intended interrogation tactics. ‘Ava, your phone is ringing off the hook.’ She can’t resist a quick inspection of herself in the mirror before she leaves.
‘Sal, I’d better get that.’ It might be Jesse, and he’ll be beside himself. ‘Will you be okay?’
She nods, sniffles and blows her nose before running her teary eyes all over me. ‘Are you feeling better?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ I frown, forgetting my recent absences from work. I’m not ready to share my news yet.
‘You don’t look it. What’s wrong, anyway?’
I search my brain for a feasible reason for my constant dashing to the toilet and bad moods. ‘Tummy bug.’ is the best that I come up with.
‘And married life? Good? Honeymoon?’
I stand for a few silent moments, wondering how this turned around on me. ‘All great.’ I lie. ‘Maybe we’ll catch a holiday soon. Jesse’s busy.’ I lie again, but Sal is one of the few people in my life who hasn’t worked out my bad habit, so I’m confident that I’ve not been rumbled. I leave her before she can pry any further and rush back to my desk, hoping to find a mass of missed calls from Jesse. I’m sorely disappointed. It’s Ruth Quinn. I haven’t spoken to her since I abandoned our meeting, and I’m not sure I want to, but it starts wailing again in my hand. I don’t need to call her back. She’s going to call me until I answer, and I can’t avoid her forever.