This Man Confessed (Page 79)

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‘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? F*****g 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.

‘Hello, Ruth.’ I sound normal enough.

‘Ava, how are you?’ She sounds normal, too.

‘Good, thank you.’

‘I was waiting for you to call. Did you forget about me?’ She laughs.

Actually, I did. Her lesbian crush has made way for other more important things. ‘Not at all, Ruth. I was going to call you later.’ I’m lying through the skin of my teeth.

‘Oh, well I beat you to it, then. Can we meet tomorrow?’

I sink into my chair, my mind whizzing through a million excuses to put her off, but I know I have to face this head on. I can be professional. ‘Sure, how about one-ish?’

‘Perfect. I look forward to it. Bye!’ She hangs up, and I hang my head. I bet she is. I’ll be wearing trousers tomorrow, and I won’t be making too much of an effort either.

Tom lowers his fashion specs to the end of his nose. ‘Dumped?’ he asks. I don’t need to push for an elaboration on his one word question.

‘It’s complicated.’ I brush him off and start to mark up some drawings, but something catches my attention outside the office.

My brother.

He’s standing on the pavement looking into the office and after what seems like an age of us staring at each other, he pushes his way through the door. ‘Hi,’ He smiles.

My hand comes up in a little wave gesture. ‘Hi,’ I whisper. We’re in that awkward place again.

‘Lunch?’ he asks hopefully.

I smile and collect my bag, joining him at the front of the office. My simmering anger has cooled, but I’ll re-stoke it later. Right now, I want to fix things with Dan, get things back on track before he goes back to Australia. He’s been a complete arsehole, but I can’t hold grudges, not with my brother. ‘Tom, I’ll be back in an hour.’

‘Hmmm,’ he replies. I look back and see him staring dreamily at Dan. ‘Bye, Ava’s brother.’ he croons, waving a limp wrist and actually fluttering his lashes. I purse my lips and shake my head, especially when Dan’s eyes enlarge in alarm and he starts walking backwards.

‘Urm, yeah,’ He coughs and straightens his shoulders in an obvious attempt to make himself look more manly. ‘See ya,’ His voice has gone deeper, too.

I laugh. ‘Come on,’ I push Dan through the door. ‘You have an admirer.’

‘Great.’ he quips. ‘Not that I’m homophobic or anything. You know, whatever tickles your fancy.’

‘I think Tom wants to tickle your fancy.’

‘Ava!’ He looks at me in horror, but then breaks out in a grin. ‘He’s got taste, obviously.’

‘I don’t want to burst your bubble, but he’s like that with most men. You’re nothing special.’

We start walking side by side down Bruton Street, towards Starbucks. ‘Thanks,’ Dan laughs, nudging my shoulder.

I nudge him right back and smile up at him. We’re going to be okay.

* * *

Dan sets down the coffees and his sandwich, and I immediately tip three sachets of sugar into my cup, momentarily unaware that what I’m doing is completely out of the ordinary, until I look up and see Dan’s brow all knitted as he watches me stir it in. ‘Since when have you taken sugar in your coffee?’

I freeze mid-stir, frantically searching my brain for a viable excuse. We’ve not talked, but things are comfortable. Advising him that I’m pregnant will catapult us straight back to awkwardness, so I’m going to be a total shitbag and wait for him to go back to Australia, then I’ll get our mum to tell him. ‘I’m knackered. I need a sugar hit.’ It’s the best I come up with.

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