The Surprise Guest ~ By Simon Hall

team-1226184_640‘I thought it was supposed to be a girls’ night,’ Gayle said, parking her bag on one of the four chairs set for dinner, whilst frowning at the place reserved for Mr. Goodman.

‘You’ll understand when you meet him,’ Roz replied from the kitchen, doing a juggling saucepans whilst slamming the oven door shut with a foot dance.

‘Yeah, he’s just your sort of guy,’ Ange added, filling up her own glass to the brim before she risked sparing some wine for Gayle.

‘You’re not matchmaking, are you? Look, I’m not over David yet and…’

‘It’s ok,’ Roz soothed, now performing like an illusionist as her slight form appeared and disappeared amid clouds of steam. ‘He’s no threat, you’ll see.’

‘Yeah, he’s the one kind of guy who’s actually worth having around,’ Ange giggled, between deep gulps. ‘But the lovely Goodman’s late – yet again.’

It was their first dinner together, so Gayle didn’t protest. Roz had been a wonderful friend through the split with plenty of coffee break confessionals and comforting tales of her own wars of the heart. Ange was a neighbour “in the same leaky boat and a laugh”, so a girls’ unity night had been arranged.

‘The agenda is to drink and bitch away to our hearts’ content,’ Roz concluded. ‘The night’s titled – Men, eh?’

**

First course was a salad with no dressing, not many leaves, and even less taste. It demanded the politest of eating.

‘My creation,’ Ange said, patting the curves of her figure. ‘Got to keep trim on the million to one shot you actually meet a semi decent bloke,’ she added, swigging more wine without a hint of irony.

‘How’re you feeling, love?’ Roz asked, tidying her kitchen-ruffled bob.

‘Oh, up and down,’ Gayle replied.

‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of up and down myself!’ Ange interjected, but was gently shushed by her friend.

‘It was right to go our separate ways,’ Gayle continued, making the most of a rare opportunity to say a few words. ‘We hadn’t been getting on for ages. But you know how it is. I get lonely sometimes, miss him, and wonder if we should have stuck it out.’

‘You’ll get through,’ Roz replied. ‘At least yours isn’t bitter. We’re still wrestling down to the last light bulb.’

‘Wish I could get my ex to fight,’ Ange added, with a surprise show of feeling. ‘He’s too loved up with this new woman to bother with me. Thin as a rake, younger than him, too. I don’t know what she sees in him. Maybe she likes blink sex.’

‘Blink sex?’ Gayle asked.

‘Blink and you’ll miss it!’

Ange tried a cackle of a laugh, but it didn’t quite work. The background music faded and switched to a ballad about the joys of love. Diplomatically, Roz turned it down.

The little lounge, dimly lit and coloured the default cream of the rented home, slipped into a silence for the first time that night.

‘Blooming Goodman’s always late,’ Ange announced, but no one picked up the theme and they continued the feast of leaves to the ceramic beat of cheap cutlery on even cheaper plates.

**

The main course was trout, which at least had the decency to look like, and taste of fish.

‘I wouldn’t mind being alone if only he wasn’t so damned happy,’ Ange snarled, waving her wine glass. ‘I have to walk round town all the time with a smile on my face, just in case they see me. It really hurts after a while.’

‘How’s the online dating thing going?’ Roz asked.

‘Awful. One bloke smelled of damp, but you can’t tell that from a computer, can you? Another started going on about how wonderful an invention Viagra was. Subtle as a sledgehammer, that boy.’

‘Sounds like he was made for you,’ Roz countered, prompting the sunshine of the first genuine laughter of the night.

‘I went out with a guy for a coffee, but couldn’t stop thinking about Mike,’ she continued, more quietly. ‘Weird, eh? We only speak through the solicitors and even that’s more like yelling, but you can’t get them out of your head.’

‘Who is this Mr. Goodman?’ Gayle asked, to change the subject. ‘Is he even coming?’

‘He’ll be here in a minute, just in time for pudding,’ Roz replied. ‘You know men. They’re only interested in the best bits.’

**

The trio took a break for coffee before they moved on to dessert. Ange bolted her ice cream, ‘In case it goes all melty,’ and switched back to wine, red this time. Her teeth grew darker as she ranted about a woman being better off on her own.

‘You’re probably right,’ the other two agreed, after a long pause.

‘Excusey moi for a minute,’ Ange said and headed out of the room, winking at Roz.

‘What was that about?’ Gayle asked.

‘Just too much wine, probably.’

The pots and pans were sending out guilt vibes, as they do, so Roz started loading the dishwasher, refusing Gayle’s offer of help. The doorbell rang, clear over the clattering.

‘It’s probably Goodman, at last. Can you get it?’ Roz asked Gayle, and she made for the door, put on a welcoming smile, but found no one there. She stepped out onto the drive, looked around, but the dark curve of the street was deserted except for badly parked cars.

Returning to the lounge she found Roz and Ange grinning, their glasses raised high. ‘Get it?’ Ange said. ‘That was Goodman at the door. He’s actually been with us all night.’

‘But so has Goodwoman,’ Roz added. ‘Three good women, in fact. Who’ll all look after each other through this. Won’t we?’

Gayle stood for a moment, then joined in the clinking of glasses and group hug. Ange was about to pour out more wine when she stopped in an instant, interrupted by the ring of the doorbell.

Simon Hall for Pf Magazine

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