The Replacement Wife (part one - Rebecca - IV.)
By Juliet OC
IV. Flynn came out of the kitchen as I was heading for a refill. He was carrying his flask of coffee, which he kept topped up all day. It was a cute quirk, a grown-up comforter. I smiled at the sight of him.
“Good morning boss – got your ‘flask of ambition’ there.”
“Cute,” he said. “Dolly Parton – nine to five?”
“No flies on you,” I said as we passed.
I sensed the turn of his head as I continued forward. “I really like your hair up.”
My spine tingled. “Thanks,” I glanced back at him and grinned.
He was a man who noticed things, which was an alien concept to me. What I was wearing, or if I had new shoes, or a new perfume. He even noticed my earrings and his favourites were some gold drops with a single pearl – one of Paul’s more extravagant presents, not doubt bought when he was high. His compliments were addictive and I had maxed out my credit card updating my working wardrobe including accessories.
I know the compliments weren’t limited to me. Only yesterday I had overheard him remarking on Maggie’s new hair colour. But the compliments he paid me were more intimate. Since we had gone for that drink, a few weeks ago, our relationship had changed, moved up a gear. He didn’t pretend to me that everything was all right anymore and I knew he was worried about Madeleine’s worsening condition and the fact she seemed oblivious to how ill she really was.
“She’s talking about going travelling. She wants to go to India, but she can barely walk and she falls asleep constantly because her painkillers are so strong.”
I felt deeply sorry for Flynn. He was on his own. Madeleine didn’t get on with her family very well and Flynn didn’t have anyone to share the burden with.
“I’m here for you,” I constantly told him. “When it gets too much, you know you can confide in me.”
“You have no idea how much I appreciate you,” he had told me on more than one occasion.
When I reached the kitchen, Maggie was holding court, Sara the captive audience. “He’s such a doll, though.”
“Who’s a doll?” I said, swilling my mug under the tap, hoping my cheeks were not flushed.
“Guess?” Sara said, nudging me.
I turned around. We all knew twice divorced Maggie had a dodgy taste in men, particularly after she announced a crush on boss-eyed Gordon Brown.
“No. Flynn. Bless him,” Maggie continued. “He always has a smile for you and never forgets what you tell him. He was asking about my Richie’s job interview with Amazon, which he didn’t get, but he didn’t want it anyway, and I said...”
“You already told us about Richie,” Sara interrupted.
“Yes. Well. My point is he never seems to let it get him down. He always has a smile for you and whenever I ask about his wife, he wells up with pride and tells me how strong and brave she is.”
“It must be hard, though,” Sara said, “I mean they’ve not been married that long. You expect the health bit of ‘in sickness and in health’ to last a bit longer.”
“It’s over four years,” I said.
“That might sound like forever to you young’uns but it isn’t.” Maggie peered over her round glasses at me.
“No you’re right Maggie,” Sara agreed. “Although I can’t help wonder if he is only with her because she is ill.” She stuck her tongue out at me behind Maggie’s back. “I mean their relationship can’t be what it was, if you get my drift.”
Maggie put her hands on her hips. “And what drift is that?”
“She means sex, Maggie,” I said a she turned to face Sara. I stuck out my tongue back at her.
“Well he’s hardly getting any, is he?” Sara said, sidling along the worktop towards the door.
“Really,” Maggie said, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment. “I am sure that is none of our business.”
“Just sayin’,” Sara just had to add, as she escaped through the door.
“Don’t mind Sara,” I said, trying not to burst out laughing. “She’s a nymphomaniac. She’s having treatment.”
“Now you’re just being silly,” Maggie said, gruffly. “I’ve been married twice. I am not as naïve as you both think. And I know when someone is getting a little too close to something they have no right to interfere in.”
Now my cheeks reddened, but I shrugged off her warning with a wave of my hand. “We have a laugh. He and I have a similar tastes. I take his mind of his problems. That’s all.”
Maggie pulled in her top lip. I know what she was thinking and she was wrong. Nothing was going to happen between us. Not while his wife was alive, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t fantasise about after. Where was the harm in that?
At the weekend, despite being broke, I dragged Sara around the shops looking for the perfect dress for the summer ball, settling on figure hugging red one with a square neck and a hemline that skimmed the top of my thighs.
“Now all I need are the perfect shoes,” I said, as we stopped for coffee and cake.
“Have you asked him yet if he’s bringing his wife?”
“No. Of course not. It’s none of my business.”
“Do you want me to?”
“No,” I said, sharply. “I know you, you’ll say something stupid.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, girlfriend,” she said, pretending to be cross.
“We’re just good friends. I’ve told you a million times.”
“Yeah, and I’m the queen of Sheba. It’s obvious you are totally besotted with him.”
“I’m not denying that – but he loves his wife.”
“And you’re sure of that?”
I remembered the conversation we’d had in the pub, when he said he wished she would hurry up and die. “Yes. No. I mean – he did love her. He said Madeleine saved him from death in suburbia.”
Sara pushed away her half eaten carrot cake. “And now you literally are saving him from death in suburbia.”
“But true.” She leant forward. “I bet you’ve already imagined doing it, haven’t you?”
I hid my face inside my mug of coffee. “Might have done.”
“Where? In his office, the photocopying room? Brian’s office, across his desk?”
“Please. Sara. Stop it. Shoes. We need to find shoes. I saw some in Cosmo. Nude ones with a gold heel. I must find some just like it, but for a tenth of the price.”
I was hoping Flynn would forget about the presentation he’d asked me to prepare, but the day before the ball, he announced I was to give it at the curriculum heads meeting that afternoon.
I was really nervous about it, but I didn’t want to let him down. He was the type of boss that empowered his staff and encouraged them to develop new skills. Since his appointment he’d promoted to Eric to the manager of information services, and new more confident man was emerging – although ultimately he was still a geek.
I mentioned this to him on the way to the theatre hall on the ground floor, jabbering about everything and nothing to keep my nerves at bay.
“You make people feel good about themselves.”
“That’s my intention,” he said. “You need to grasp life with both hands and not be frightened of it. You only ever regret the things you don’t do.”
“Totally,” I said, making most of the opportunity. “And it’s the summer ball tomorrow and I intend to party until dawn. What about you? Are you bringing Madeleine?”
The lift pinged open and we stepped out.
“No. I’ll be going on my own. Madeleine’s not up to it. She is staying with friends so I can relax for the night. I’ve booked a room at the hotel. How about you? Bringing anyone?”
“No. But you never know who I might meet, or who might surprise me.”
I could hear the murmurs of a packed room.
“I’ll expect a dance then.”
“You’re on,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Well. Here goes.”
“You’ll be fantastic,” Flynn said, squeezing my arm. “I just know it.”
It wasn’t until after the meeting, after I’d come down from the buzz, I fully processed what Flynn had said. He was coming to the ball alone and he booked a hotel room. Did it mean anything? Would I go through with it anyway? I’d always said I would never have a relationship with a married man, but this was different, wasn’t it? I texted Sara to see what she thought.
#He so wants you.# she replied.
#But we’re just good friends.#
#Yeah and I’ve just seen Elvis coming out of the lift.#