Annie sat at the bottom of the stairs looking at the back of the blue front door, the house still reverberating from it being slammed closed. She sat motionless staring at the door and its shaking hinges. Her hands were on her lap clutching each other, her shoulders hunched. She expected a wave of sorrow to engulf her but it didn’t. Instead she just sat, frozen, staring at the door and staring after the man who had walked out of it.
Annie wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting on the bottom step for when a chill crept over her. She shivered and hugged her knees into her chest. As she finally looked away from the front door, she realized how dark it had become. Only the outside street light was illuminating the hallway.
She stood slowly, stretching her stiff legs and turned on the hall light. She crept into the kitchen and turned on the kettle. The stillness of the house unsettled her so she switched on the radio. Annie made a cup of tea and mounted the stairs to bed. As she got undressed and put on her warm comfortable pyjamas, she realized she would have the bed to herself tonight. She wouldn’t have to worry about rolling Paul onto his side to stop him snoring. She wouldn’t have to worry about being woken up at 5:30 when his alarm went off. He was gone and she knew he wasn’t coming back.
As Annie climbed into the bed, the enormity of what had unfolded that afternoon engulfed her. She placed her head onto the pillow exhausted. She was drained of tears, tired from the arguing and numb to her new single reality. She closed her eyes and was asleep within minutes.
The next morning as Annie woke up and looked around her purple bedroom, she felt like she had been hit by a bus. She turned to her side and reached her hands out to the other side of her double bed. She felt the coolness of the sheets beneath her palm, reminding her that that side of the bed had not been slept in. She recoiled from the coolness and tucked her hand firmly under her pillow.
Annie looked around the room searching for some comfort. As she glanced at her dressing table, she noticed the pile of wedding booklets. Over the past few years, Annie had attended a lot of weddings. She had watched all her close friends, Paul’s best friends and even some of her younger cousins, get married. Following each wedding she had taken home the wedding booklet and kept all in a neat pile on her dressing table. Annie had hoped she could take the best parts from each wedding and use them for her own in the future.
One large tear fell from her face and splattered the purple duvet cover. Annie watched as the patch on her duvet grew darker. As the tears fell, Annie sobbed with her whole body, her shoulders shaking with grief and her stomach aching with anxiety. Annie realized why she had not cried last night. She wasn’t sad that Paul had left, she was sad that the hopes of the life she wanted were now fading. Her hopes of being a blushing bride, just like all her friends had been, looked lost. She heaved again, her tears now drowning her as her body gasped for air. The natural progression from Bride to Mother now unattainable. She could almost hear her body clock ticking as she shook in the bed.
Doubts crept into Annie’s mind. Maybe she should have convinced Paul to stay. Maybe things would have got better if they had married or had a child. Sorrow and confusion consumed her thoughts for the day. All day she remained in her bed, alternating between crying and a fitful sleep.
The next few days passed in a haze for Annie. She stalked from her bed to the sofa, occasionally stopping by the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Her only contact with the outside world was to open the front door and mumble thanks to the delivery driver as he left her takeaway food.
Annie stared at her phone wondering why Paul had not texted or rung. She wondered where he was and what he was doing. For 10 years she knew his every move. Monday and Wednesday nights, football training; Thursday, pints with the lads. She knew he liked to put on his comfortable tracksuit bottoms and watch the Discovery channel after a bad day at work. She knew he secretly smiled, while watching Sex in the City over the top of his laptop, even though he denied it and lambasted the programme from his armchair. His clothes were still drying on the clothes horse in the corner and she wondered what he might be wearing and where the hell he was.
“Oh God, I hope he’s ok,” Annie said aloud as an uneasy feeling came over her. She contemplated calling him or texting him, just to check he was ok. But if she called, she may be giving him false hope. She didn’t want him to think a reconciliation was on the cards, or did she? Annie agonized over what to do. The battle between her caring protective instincts and her rational brain continued for most of the day. Eventually she decided to call her friend Christine and ask her to check up on him.
“Well, hello stranger,” came the sarcastic tones of Christine down the phone. “So, you are not dead in a ditch then. Nice to know. Although I was getting used to the idea of having to find a new best friend. I was thinking of Sarah Maloney, she’s great craic and waaay better connected than you,” Christine joked.
“Ha, Ha, Chrissy. Firstly, we both know you hate Sarah Maloney and secondly, I am sorry for not getting in touch or answering your texts but it’s, well it’s, it’s, it’s because Paul and I broke up.”
Silence came from the other end of the phone.
“Chrissy are you there?” Annie asked anxiously.
“Yea, yea I’m here. I think I’m just in shock. Did you say you and Paul broke up?”
“Yea that’s right and I am really worried. I haven’t seen or heard from him since and I …”
“Stay where you are Annie. I’m on my way”.
Annie tried to protest but it was too late, Chrissy had already hung up.
Twenty minutes later the doorbell rang. Annie took a deep breath and steadied herself for the questions. She hadn’t spoken to anyone all week, as she didn’t know what to say to people. She didn’t want to actually have to deal with their break up. She was now going to have to face it and she squirmed as she headed towards the door.
Annie had not even opened the front door fully, before Chrissy barged past her with shopping bags and a flailing handbag thrown over her shoulder.
“I never liked him. You were too good for him. What a shit! All you’ve done for him and this, this is how he repays you for it. Shit. Absolute shit!” Chrissy shouted from the kitchen waving her hands about while simultaneously filling up two large glasses of wine and emptying a truckload of chocolate and jellies onto the kitchen table.
“You never liked him and you are only telling me now, ten years later?” Annie enquired as she slumped into the kitchen chair and leaned onto the table. As she reached for the glass of wine, she noticed Chrissy was already half way through hers.
“Well, obviously he was great at the start. They are all great at the start. But, clearly, he’s a shit. How the hell could he break up with you? Like, look at you! He just takes your best years and then dumps you. Can you believe it, I can’t cope! What an absolute dick!” Chrissy was in full flow pacing up and down the kitchen floor, spilling wine from her glass as she gestured every “shit” to emphasize her point.
Annie looked into her wine glass and began slowly turning the stem between her thumb and index finger.
“Oh Jesus!” Chrissy exclaimed. “There’s more isn’t there? I don’t think I brought enough wine for this!”
“Well, no, there’s not more, it’s just, well, oh god. It’s just that I was the one who broke it off.” It was now Chrissy’s turn to slump into a chair at the kitchen table. She was finally silenced. The women looked into their wine glasses as the silence sat between them.
“You broke up with him?” Chrissy croaked eventually. “I don’t understand. You always got on so well, you never gave out about him. Were you unhappy? You never said anything, I can’t believe it.”
Annie gulped a large mouthful of the Shiraz and let the red liquid slowly fall down the back of her throat to steady herself. She then began to unburden herself of all the years of doubts. Annie never said a bad word against Paul. She described him as a good man, he worked hard and they got along great. They had a good life together but over the last few years Annie had noticed that something wasn’t quite right. She couldn’t put her finger on when or why they had stopped sleeping together. She didn’t know when exactly she realized she wanted more than he could offer her. She wanted to be challenged and excited, to feel alive both mentally and sexually.
Chrissy was watching her intently as she spoke. She filled up their wine glasses, nodded at appropriate times and demolished half the mountain of chocolate she had brought for Annie.
“However,” Annie paused, “ now that I have told Paul all that, I feel like I have made a huge mistake! I think I have just watched too many rom coms and have got carried away with a fairy-tale and gathered some romantic notions of the perfect man. That it should all be exciting and sexy but maybe having a really nice friend as your partner, is what it actually is all about, in the real world. Maybe I have just gone and ruined everything! I have Cher’s “Turn back time” song playing on repeat in my head and I cannot turn it off!” Annie placed her forehead onto the kitchen table and wailed.
“It’s ok Annie, don’t worry it’s ok,” Chrissy soothed while standing to attention. “Cher is good. Let’s use Cher. Let’s channel our inner Cher’s right now. Cher, Cher, Cher,” Chrissy muttered as she resumed her pacing back and forth across the kitchen floor.
“Ha, Ha, I’ve got it! Is it in his kiss! The Shoop Shoop Song!” Chrissy grabbed her phone excitedly and furiously tapped on it until the room was suddenly filled with the deep tones of Cher and the Shoop Shoop song.
Annie shook her head.
“I know he loved me, that was never an issue. Oh God, you should have seen him last week, he was so upset. I have never seen him cry before. In ten years never a tear and I made him cry last week. Oh god I feel awful!” Annie began to cry again.
“No Annie, it’s for you! If you loved him, you would know by the way you kissed him. And, seeing as you have probably been having saucier kisses with your grandmother lately, then I think Cher is trying to tell you something. Cher is trying to tell you that you don’t love him any more.”
Another silence hung in the air between them as Cher’s shoop shoops petered out.
Some time and some more chocolate bars later, Chrissy sprang into action again.
“Right if you don’t love him any more we need to find you someone you do love. Get in the shower, we are going out!”
Two hours and many arguments later, Annie and Chrissy walked into their local nightclub. Annie hadn’t been here for years and it seemed so much smaller now than when she was a teenager.
“I am still really worried about Paul, Chrissy. He was so upset the other night when he left the house. I hope he hasn’t done anything stupid. Can you please just check on him? I promise I’ll be in better form and lighten up a bit after that.”
Chrissy rolled her eyes to the heavens, pulled out her phone and dialled Paul’s number. Annie crammed her ear against the other side of the phone and placed her arm around Chrissy’s waist, pulling her closer so she could listen. Each ring made Annie’s heart beat faster and her palms become sweaty. The ringing stopped and Paul’s voicemail kicked in.
“Oh Shit! Oh God what I have I done!” wailed Annie. She pushed her hair back behind her ears, shifted her weight between her two legs and looked at Chrissy searching for some reassurance.
“It’s fine. It’s totally fine. Let’s just order a drink and we can try again” Chrissys voice feigned an optimism she didn’t have as the girls ordered their drinks.
“I should have checked in on him sooner. I should have called his mates and told them. Oh God Chrissy, what if something has happened him and it’s all my fault!” Annie wiped her sweaty palms down her thighs and began taking deep breaths.
“Jesus Annie, now you have me worried. Right let’s try again”. Chrissy took out her phone and careful dialled Paul’s number again. Again Annie crammed her ear up to the phone and squeezed Chrissy tight. The ringing sound seemed to echo around the bar as they both willed Paul to answer.
“Hello, Paul’s phone,” followed by a girly giggly came down the phone line. Annie froze to the spot while Chrissy, sprang into action.
“Two shots of tequila please,” she called to the barman as she man-handled the frozen Annie off her shoulder and onto the bar stool.