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If only, p.6

If Only..., page 6

 

If Only...
 


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  Steph’s fork freezes on its way to her mouth. “That’s not fair, Evie.”

  “Why isn’t it?” I snap. “What’s not fair is that he’s out, having a nice, normal life . . . a life my brother can’t have.”

  “Evie,” she says sternly. “Now, I know I can say this to you because you’re my best friend and we’re at the stage in our lives where it’s okay to be brutally honest with each other, but whether it’s fair or not doesn’t really come into it. You always knew he’d be getting out one day, and you need to remember what I told you then.”

  “Steph, I jus—”

  “I know what you’re going to say,” she interrupts, “but no.”

  “No?” I repeat as I blink at her. My eyes slide to Georgia who is eating her Chinese, looking completely oblivious, but I know she’s listening to every word.

  “No, Evie,” she whispers. “Don’t let how much time he has or hasn’t done drive you insane. He was handed ten years, which is what the law in this country deemed acceptable. Now you need to accept it.”

  I shake my head and some of my anger evaporates as her words sink in. “He was sentenced to ten years, but it’s only been eight and he’s definitely been out for a while,” I huff. “Why are they allowed to leave early?”

  “Good behaviour,” Georgia chimes in. “If they’re a good prisoner and they don’t cause trouble, then they let them out to make more room.”

  “What a joke,” I grumble.

  Steph and Georgia look at each other again, but neither of them say anything. We eat our food and chat about stupid, girly stuff. We talk about chick films and the new barman at the pub and the weather.

  When we’ve cleared our plates away and drunk another glass of wine, Georgia finally pulls out a chair and waves her scissors at me.

  “Yippee!” I shriek as I skip to the chair and plop myself down in it.

  “What’re we doing with your colour?” she asks, running her fingers through my long hair.

  “I don’t mind,” I say. “Do what you want.”

  “Oh, no,” she teases, waving a colouring brush at me. “You really shouldn’t say that to a hairdresser.”

  I grin at her. “I slapped my first love today, who also happens to be one of my current managers.

  Georgia looks up at me, shocked. “You slapped him?”

  I nod. “I think I need a hairdo that says fuck you.”

  Four hours later, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and fluff my new hair. Georgia has done an amazing job. She’s chopped it to the middle of my back and styled it with big, soft waves. She’s given me the ombre look, so my dark hair fades to lighter brown towards the ends. It looks incredible, and I really hope it still looks this good when I wake up in the morning.

  Steph knocks and then stands in the doorway. “It looks mint,” she says. “Cole won’t know what’s hit him tomorrow.”

  “Oh, I hope he doesn’t think I’ve done this for him,” I say.

  She shakes her head and blows me a kiss. “For what it’s worth, I think you should consider forgiving him. For what happened with Nico anyway. I’m not sure about the other bit.” And then she runs away before I have a chance to reply.

  Cole

  It’s the week before college starts and I’ve spent all day trailing in and out of shops with Evie. I hate shopping. Even Evie hates shopping, but she’s been grieving for her dad and hasn’t had a chance to get any of the stuff she needs until now.

  “Shall we just stay in and have a takeaway tonight?” she asks. I’m lounging on Evie’s bed and she’s standing in front of her wardrobe, having just filled it with everything she bought in town. “I haven’t really got anything to wear to go out and I’m not really in the mood, to be honest.”

  “I’m not bothered, babe. I’ll do whatever you want to do.”

  She smiles, closes the door and then walks towards me, stopping when she’s in front of me. “Thanks for helping to carry my bags today.”

  I smile and lean forwards, wrapping my arms around her waist. I rest my head against her stomach and squeeze her. I feel her fingers moving through my hair and tingles shoot down my spine. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you, Evie.”

  “Uh—oh.”

  I laugh and then pull back to look up at her properly. Grief has dulled her sparkle. When I used to look at her, it was as if she was lit up from the inside out by something. Her skin would gleam, her eyes would twinkle and everything about her just screamed life. But now she’s half the girl she used to be. She’s thinner, more fragile, she cries at the drop of a hat, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it hurt any less for her. I would take away her pain if I could. I’d gladly rip my heart out and shove it into her chest if it meant I could go to bed at night not worrying about if she was crying herself to sleep or not.

  “What have you done?”

  I blink up at her, realising I was in a bit of a trance. I lean forward again, cup the back of her head and bring her face level with mine. “I love you,” I say, staring deep into her eyes. “I’m in love with you. I think you’ve known it for a while, and I was always okay with you thinking it, but I’m not anymore. I need to say it, and I needed for you to hear it.”

  She closes her eyes for a second. When she opens them again, I see a twinkle that wasn’t there before. She takes a deep breath and crushes her lips to mine for a searing hot second. Then she pulls away, leaving me breathless and wanting more, but I’m not sure if I can have it. Evie hasn’t hugged, touched or kissed me properly since her dad died. I don’t think I’ve done something to upset her, which means she’s hurting a lot more than anyone actually realises.

  “Talk to me,” I whisper. “I don’t care what it is, or if you think it’s silly or whatever. Just tell me, Evie. Let me back in.”

  “I’m just sad, Cole. All of the time. Bone-achingly sad. And it doesn’t matter what I do, I never feel any better. Sometimes—like today—it wasn’t so bad, but I feel that sickening sadness, the sort that takes over your heart and mind. It’s like that every single day, and it’s hard to see anything else when I feel like that.”

  My eyes move over her face as I tuck a piece of her long hair behind her ear. “Those feelings are okay to have, Evie. They’re normal. Grief is a process, and as much as that makes something monumental sound so insignificant, it is. There are feelings and emotions that everyone has to go through at some point.”

  “I know that,” she says.

  “What I’m trying to say,” I tell her, realising I’m not doing this very well, “is that I don’t want you worrying about how you feel. It’s bad enough that you have to feel like that. But I know you, and you’ll also be worrying that it’s not normal or that you’re not doing it right, which will make everything ten times worse.”

  Tears spring from her eyes and roll down her cheek. “What should I do?”

  “What do you want to do?”

  “I want to feel like me again. I want to be able to miss him without feeling like I’m the one that’s actually died.”

  I take a deep breath, hating how sad she sounds. “Have you told your mum about how you feel?”

  She shakes her head.

  “Are you going to?”

  She shakes her head again, letting the tears hang off her chin.

  “I think you should,” I say. “I think you should tell her, and then she can decide if you need to see a doctor or something.”

  “I’m not mad,” she says.

  “I never said that. It’s just that sometimes people find themselves stuck in a big, horrible hole of grief and they just need a teeny bit of help getting out, that’s all. It doesn’t mean you’re nuts or that your brain is fried. It just means you’re struggling to deal with a very, very strong emotion and you just need some guidance on how to steer yourself in the right direction.”

  She gives me a small smile and sits on my thigh. “Since when did you get so clever?”

  “I’ve always been clever,” I say
quickly, tapping her nose with my finger. “I’ve just been hiding it with all my wit and good humour.”

  She laughs and snuggles into the space between my jaw and shoulder. “I love you too,” she whispers. “And you’re right, I did know that you loved me. Just because you said it doesn’t mean I know it any more. I knew you loved me because you showed me, and that’s what counts. People throw the word around too much, I think. Saying it doesn’t make someone feel it. Showing them you love them without even realising you’re doing it is what makes people know it and feel it. You’ve definitely shown me, and I definitely feel it.”

  I smile and drop a quick kiss onto her lips. “Good. And I hope you know that I plan on showing you that I love you for a very long time.”

  “I hope so,” she whispers.

  Evie

  I pull at the hem of my dress and fiddle with my necklace as we walk up the driveway to Gerard’s house.

  “Stop messing,” hisses Steph. She strides in front of me and rings the doorbell before turning back around to face me. “I mean it, Evie. You look amazing. Your dress is gorgeous. Your hair is fit and your face is beautiful.”

  I frown at her and click my tongue. “You know I don’t like it when you say stuff like that to me. I wasn’t fidgeting because I was worried about how I look.”

  “I know why you’re fidgeting.”

  “Well then—”

  “Ahh, there you are!” Gerard beams as he swings the door wide open. “I was wondering where you’d got to.” His eyes flash across to Steph and I see a curious look pass across his face. “And this lovely lady must be Stephanie?”

  Steph smiles and then holds out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr Boss Man.”

  I roll my eyes and watch as his eyes travel up Steph’s tattooed arm. “Er, yes. Nice to meet you too.” He quickly shakes her hand and then steps back, inviting us into his huge hallway. “Well, come on in. Everyone is on the back patio, and the food is just about ready.”

  It’s Gerard’s thirtieth wedding anniversary and they’re throwing a huge barbeque at their home. When I last checked the guest list, there were over a hundred people invited, with eighty-five of them already accepting—and that was four weeks ago. Gerard and his wife are very popular people by the looks of it.

  “Oooh, great. I’m starving.”

  “When are you ever not starving, Evie?” he asks as we walk inside the house.

  I hold up my bottle bag and card and say, “Where are you putting the presents?”

  He nods towards the living room. “In there, on the floor. Mrs Boss Man will sort them out tomorrow,” he says, grinning at Steph.

  “I’ll just pop them down then,” I tell him, looping the bottle bag over my wrist.

  “Okay, luv. I’ll take Steph through.”

  She shrugs and nods at me as I stare at her. Steph doesn’t know anyone else at this party except me, and I’m not sure I’d be okay with being led into a party full of strangers. Then again, Steph has never been afraid of what normal people are afraid of.

  I push open the door to the living room and walk straight into something very hard, and because my hands are full, I can’t stop my chest and forehead from colliding with whatever or whomever it is.

  “Oh, God,” I mumble, staggering backwards. I’m about to crash into the edge of the door when I feel a tight grip on my arm, causing me to stumble forward again. That’s when I smell him. Then I suddenly don’t care about creasing the envelope or crushing the card. I put my hands to his chest and push him away from me.

  “It’s you,” I breathe.

  When I look up at his face, I think I catch a ghost of a smile at the edge of his mouth. “Yes,” he says simply.

  For some strange reason, I hold up the bag and card to show him. “I’m just dropping these off.”

  “I thought you might have been.” He steps back, gesturing to the room full of presents. “Knock yourself out, Evie.”

  I narrow my eyes at him. “Who do you think you are?”

  He chuckles and shakes his head.

  “Don’t laugh at me, Cole,” I snap.

  He sighs and leans back against the wall, and it’s then that I notice what he’s wearing. He’s in casual, navy-blue chinos and a relaxed-looking white shirt with a couple of the buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

  He looks good enough to eat. I feel my eyes widen when I realise what I’ve just thought, and turn away from him.

  “Why weren’t you in the office today?” he asks.

  I shake my head. “It’s none of your business.”

  “I think you’ll find it is,” he says. I hear him take a step towards me, but I don’t turn around. “You’re lining into me now, remember? That means it’s definitely my business if you’re not in.”

  How dare he throw that in my face? I try and remain calm. If I show any sign that he’s pissed me off, I’m quite sure he’ll enjoy it. And I’m not starting those games with him. “I had a dentist appointment this morning so I worked from home.”

  “Do you do that a lot?”

  “What? Go to the dentist? It’s not a code word for something else, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

  I’m desperate to turn around to see what’s playing across his face, but instead my eyes wander over all of the neatly wrapped presents and the ridiculous number of bottle bags that I can see. I’m glad I got them vouchers; the wine was just a consolation present. It looks like they received more than enough.

  “No,” he says. “I mean the working-from-home thing.”

  I shrug. “Only if I have an appointment.”

  He snorts. “It’s only a dentist appointment, Evie. In the future, I’d like you to come into work afterwards, or if it’s in the middle of the day, just leave to go to the appointment and then come back. You’re the PA, and there’s only so much you can do at home. I can’t believe Gerard even allows it.”

  “It’s got nothing to do with you,” I hiss, spinning around. He’s so close that all I have to do to poke him in his chest is lift my hand. I prod at him until he starts to back away. “And for your information, I wasn’t allowed to come back to work. I had to be sedated to have some work done. So if I were you, I’d be very careful about how much you wind me up. You never know how my drug-induced brain will work. Without breaking eye contact with him, I say, “I might even accidentally start talking too much, and then what would happen?”

  “That sounds like a threat,” he says smoothly.

  I raise my eyebrows at him. “Take it how you want.”

  I turn and place my bag and card in the middle of the floor with the other presents. When I stand up and turn back around, Cole is frowning at me. “You were actually sedated?”

  I nod.

  “And you think coming to a party on the same night is a good idea?”

  I smirk at him. “Yup.”

  “I hope you’re planning on remaining sober for the night.”

  I feel myself scowling at him. “And I hope you go and fuck yourself.”

  He opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, I stride past him and grab the door handle. Because of where he’s standing, the door doesn’t quite open wide enough and I have to squeeze through the gap he’s created. Turns out it’s smaller than I thought, and I feel my bum brushing against his hip as I pass by.

  Anger flies through my body at the position he’s put me in and the words he’s thrown at me, but there’s something else there too. There’s a fire in my belly that’s only simmering right now, but I can feel it warming me, making me fully aware that it’s there. It’s been eight years since I’ve felt that fire, and I’m a little shocked at feeling it now. Shocked and annoyed. Why is it still him? Why is my heart completely ignoring my brain?

  When I’m in the hallway and he’s still in the living room, I pull the door shut a little harder than necessary and slump back against it.

  “There you are!” says Steph. She walks from the kitchen towards me and starts to wave
her phone in the air. “I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to go. That was my mum on the phone.”

  “Is she okay?” I say, wondering why I sound so out of breath.

  “She’s fallen over in the garden and twisted her ankle, silly cow. I’m gonna have to drive her up to A&E.”

  “Oh, no.”

  “She’ll be fine,” she says with a wave of her hand. “I’ve told her I’m here, so it’s going to be at least an hour before I get to her with the tubes and the buses.”

  “Do you want me to come with you?” I offer. I actually wouldn’t mind leaving the party right now.

  “God, no,” she says. “It’s bad enough she’s ruined my night; I don’t want her ruining yours too.”

  It’s already ruined.

  I walk to the end of the driveway with her, telling her about what just happened with Cole. She gives me a quick hug, instructs me to go and get shit-faced then puke all over him, and jogs down the lane until she gets to the bus stop.

  “What’s your favourite dinosaur?”

  I hear myself giggle as I blink at Stuart. My eyes never leave his blurry face as I pour the remainder of my vodka and cranberry down my throat. When I’m done, I put the glass down carefully and try to wipe my mouth without him seeing. “What sort of question is that?”

  Stuart flicks his fag over the ashtray, forcing the grey bits of ash to scatter across the bottom of it. “Everyone has a favourite dinosaur,” he tells me, as if this is something I should know. “I read it once.”

  I start to think about it, and then the answer seems to just pop into my head. “Brachiosaurus,” I blurt.

  He rolls his eyes and stumps his fag out. “That’s such a girl dinosaur. You all pick that one.”

  “Well, maybe it’s because we like that it’s big but it’s a veggie.”

  “Gay,” he sighs.

  “Well, what’s yours? A T-Rex?”

  He tips his head back and laughs. “I didn’t know there were any others.”

  I pick up the bottle of vodka that I stashed under my seat and pour the clear liquid into my glass. “I need some lemonade or Diet Coke.”

 
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