“So, basically, in summary, don’t fuck it up.”
Debbie laughs shortly, and then zips up her travel bag. “I think you might be over thinking this Sheila.”
Sheila is sitting cross legged on Debbie’s bed. She holds up a finger, a lecturer presenting an interesting new concept.
“Or... you are under thinking it”
Debbie motions at Sheila to get off her bed. “You’re going to make me late. And, this isn’t a thing. It’s a plane journey. We’ve spent longer together, we’re fine, I don’t need a crisis talk-“
Sheila steeples her fingers under her chin, and Debbie can’t even remember how she got in here. Debbie must have invited her in, but it feels more like Sheila snuck under the door.
“What’s the ideal outcome here? Let’s talk goals.”
“Sheila, please get off my bed I’m going to be late-“
“No you won’t, you’ve got ages until you have to go... so what’s the goal? What does success look like?”
“Why are you talking like this?”
Sheila shrugs. “I found a book called ‘Middle Management - Motivating Motion’ and you know I love alliteration.”
“Sounds like a book about creating healthy bowel movements” Debbie mutters darkly. Sheila folds her arms.
“Talking problems through aloud can reveal previously hidden solutions.”
“Oh, my god, please stop talking like that-“
Sheila interrupts her. “Are we speaking it out loud yet?”
Debbie rolls her eyes. “Okay, now you sound like you are summoning a demon-“
“You can’t cope when Ruth sleeps with someone, because you are jealous, because you want to sleep wi-“
“Okay, wow” says Debbie loudly, trying to drown out the end of Sheila’s sentence. “Jesus… do you want to try and announce that any louder? Parade down the corridor wearing a sandwich board?”
Sheila gets off the bed. “The first stage of solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. Also, that wasn’t a denial.”
“You are a problem, I acknowledge that.”
Sheila grins, and then reaches out to rub Debbie on the arm, in a simple fond gesture that surprises Debbie.
“You know, you are lucky that Ruth seems to like you no matter what you do, because there’s no way you’d be able to charm her with that attitude.”
“Will you please- anyway, if she liked me she wouldn’t have slept with Mark, so…”
Sheila rolls her eyes. “Sure Debbie. Because that was about Ruth’s overwhelming attraction to Mark.”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
“You can’t fight the moonlight Debbie.”
“No, you need to explain that last bit for me again.”
“Debbie, you’re going to miss the plane.”
So that was helpful.
She is speaking it out loud. Thinking it out loud, anyway.
Ruth. She’s attracted to Ruth. Of all the weird places her life could go… this doesn’t feel that surprising at all. Of course she’s attracted to Ruth. The revelation makes a great deal of the other weird moments in her life make sense.
It’s a strange thought though. A… ha, a queer thought. One that makes her blush, and worry at the edge of her thumb because it’s new, it’s all so new, and Debbie did not sign up to suddenly feeling like a clumsy teenager again.
What do girls even… do? In bed? Is there some kind of protocol? Debbie half wishes she’d been more receptive to Mark vague suggestions about threesomes, in the early eighties when that sort of thing was the vogue in their social circle. At least then she’d have some kind of road map.
God, she hopes there isn’t a mindreader in here, because this is embarrassing on several different levels.
Ruth taps her on the knee, startling Debbie away from an extremely unchaste line of thought.
“Hey. Come on, that’s our plane they’re announcing.”
Anyway. It’s just a plane journey. It’s less than an hour. They’ve spent more time than this together before. And, helpfully, they don’t even have to look at each other. Debbie is finding that it is easier to keep her brain on track if she doesn’t have to look at Ruth.
In fact, Debbie maybe relaxes too much, because after about ten minutes of gentle chat about how Randy is doing, Debbie ends up bitching about Mark’s new woman.
“I don’t care about Mark any more, we’re past that, we’re actually getting on well, all things considered. But, shit. This…. Susan, she’s not… ugh this sounds terrible but-”
Ruth guesses the end of her sentence, because apparently Debbie is really obvious sometimes. Ruth grins to herself.
“You don’t think she’s as pretty as you?”
Debbie rolls her eyes at herself, and then shrugs.
“Yes? I mean, no… I mean, maybe that is how pretty I am, and I’ve been walking around with this false sense of… like, maybe I am on the same level as Susan from the office? She… I don’t understand what he sees in her that is better than me?”
Debbie’s fishing for compliments. She knows she is. But she can’t seem to help it. Ruth stretches a little in her seat.
“Well, I don’t know, she probably isn’t prettier than you… just on the balance of probabilities. Maybe he was after the contrast.”
Debbie nods in agreement, because Susan does seem too different to be a straight swap.
“Sure, or maybe she’s just a nicer person than me, she wouldn’t have to work hard. I just… I’d feel better if she was prettier, you know? Although, I also wouldn’t, so… and I’m sure she’s younger than me, so maybe it’s that, maybe Mark could tell I was getting old…”
Ruth laughs a little, and then looks down at her knees.
“Okay, you aren’t going to stop being beautiful Debbie. That’s… you are always going to be… you were always just more than Mark could handle. And he’s realised that, and pitched at more his speed.”
Debbie doesn’t say anything, and then takes a large gulp from her glass of water (and oh how she wishes it was wine.) She tips her head to one side briefly as she swallows.
“Well. I hope she gives him a bit more peace than I did, I was not easy at all.”
Ruth snorts, and says “No, I can imagine…”. Debbie smiles a little at her, and watches as Ruth’s face falls a little, as a new thought seems to strike her. And then the thought is in the air, offered up for inspection and reaction.
“Is that why… you were so mad at me? Because he went for someone like me when he had someone like you? Because I wasn’t as pretty as you?”
“No. Nothing at all to do with anything like that.” Debbie says firmly. She leans her head back on the seat behind her, and considers how to answer this without allowing the entire charade to collapse. She frowns, and then rubs at her temple. “I guess… I was mad at you because you fucked my husband? And… I hadn’t even considered that you would do that. I thought… god this makes me sound like I have an extremely lofty opinion of myself. But, I thought you were supposed to value me too much. Our friendship, you know.”
Ruth looks down, and Debbie really doesn’t want to make her feel guilty, that isn’t the point anymore. “Yeah… I don’t… I guess I wanted to show you that I was the same as you, somehow. And I was… mad that you seemed to think your life was perfect, when it clearly wasn’t, and… oh, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Debbie feels the corner of her mouth twist, because it really isn’t a good enough reason but Debbie is going to have to take it, allow herself to forgive Ruth, if they are ever going to wade their way out of this mess.
“Wow” she says with a smile and a gentle tone, so Ruth knows that she isn’t angry. “What a prize to fall out over. Mark’s decidedly average dick.”
Ruth shrugs, still looking glum. “I’m sorry”, she says. Debbie sighs, and then pats Ruth on the back of the hand once, a pat that turns into a rub and Debbie has to remove her hand before it becomes a stroke.
“Oh, whatever. I broke your leg whilst high on drugs. We should probably call a truce, and move the fuck on.”
Ruth tips her head back on to the headrest, and sighs.
“Yeah, we probably should.”
At the taxi rank, Debbie turns to Ruth, hitching her bag higher on her shoulder.
“So, um, how do you want to do this? Are you planning on going straight to Russell’s, because in that case you won’t want me tagging along, we should get separate cabs-”
Ruth blinks a few times, looking oddly nervous.
“Oh, uh, he’s probably at work, actually. I didn’t really warn him I was coming, I was going to… I don’t know. Surprise him. Before dumping him, god that sounds so stupid, but I hadn’t fully decided if I wanted him to know I was coming in case I… you know. Lost my nerve?”
Debbie doesn’t really understand how Ruth thought that was a good plan, but she shrugs.
“Well, you could come take Randy out with me? You can practice your ‘I’m sorry’ blinks on him?”
“Is that a good idea? Also what do you mean, my blinks?”
Debbie shrugs, looking around herself.
“Oh, you know… you have this thing you do when you’re emotional… with your eyes. You uh, you go all blinky-”
Ruth laughs, and then folds her arms. “Wow, thank you. I go all blinky. That is-”
“Anyway” Debbie says firmly, keen to draw a line under whatever the fuck just came out of her mouth, “Uh, yeah, of course it’s a good idea for you to come with me to see Randy, the ratio of adult to child should always be as high as possible. Also, either Mark is going to answer the door, or Susan, and I honestly don’t know which will be more fun…”
It’s Susan, who opens the door. She smiles at Debbie in recognition, because she is nice, isn’t she? How awful. This is the same woman that Debbie snarled at over the phone, having a massive overreaction to a simple question about a bed frame, and yet here she is, smiling.
“Hi Debbie, how great that you could come over, Randy is going to be so excited… oh, hello?”
It’s one of those moments in which Debbie literally can’t restrain herself, and because she isn’t nice not really.
“Susan, this is Ruth, who technically triggered the collapse of my marriage. Ruth, this is Susan, the lady benefiting from the collapse of my marriage. You two have so much in common…”
Susan truly is a champ, because she just smooths on past this with the ease of grease, and motions for them both to come in to collect Randy. Ruth jabs Debbie in the ribs as they follow Susan in, and hisses at her “Really?”
“What? You’ve got to let me have at least one moment like that, otherwise what was the point of getting divorced in the first place?”
Mark is sitting at the breakfast table with a paper, but he stands up hastily at the sight of them both. Randy is sitting in his chair, and bounces at the sight of Debbie. Debbie is straight over to him, and scoops him up and out of his chair and into her arms.
“Uhhh-” says Mark, as Susan manages to say brightly “Coffee, for anyone?”
Debbie kisses Randy a couple of times, and then says “Oh, not for me, we’re going to head straight out once we’ve got this little one ready.”
Mark suddenly looks like an actor who has forgotten his lines. He looks between Debbie and Ruth.
Debbie relents after a moment, because even if Susan is forever going to have the title of ‘nice one’, it doesn’t mean that she needs to cling to the title of ‘evil one’ throughout her whole existence.
“Ruth’s going to help me out today.”
“You… okay? Uh. Hello Ruth.”
“Hello Mark” Ruth says cautiously, glancing to Debbie for a guide of how she’s supposed to approach this scenario.
Debbie relents a little further, and shrugs aimlessly.
“I’m fine guys. I’m not… having a moment. Ruth is…. I’m over what happened Mark. Ruth is genuinely just here to help out with Randy, not as some prop in a hurt parade I was planning to unveil. You can relax down from DefCon four.”
Mark nods after a second, and then gestures as Randy.
“He’s been griping a little; I think he’s teething…”
They make it through, and then somehow make it out of the door; Ruth carrying Randy, Debbie carrying the baggage train that always accompanies Randy.
Mark had been so relieved Debbie wasn’t going to lead some kind of round table talk about his failings as a lover that he’d allowed Debbie to borrow the car, and Debbie piles everything into the trunk unceremoniously, shutting it with a firm sense of relief.
She starts the car, and then, when she glances across at Ruth to check she is okay, Debbie discovers that Ruth is already looking at her, softly.
“What?” Debbie says, clamping down on a smile, though she can’t do much about her blush.
“You were gentle with him. Mark.”
Debbie shrugs, clearing her throat and turning the key in the ignition.
“Well. I’ve exhausted that particular vein of outrage, it wasn’t doing anyone any good, including me.”
Ruth doesn’t say anything for a moment, long enough for Debbie to pull out of the drive and head left on impulse, towards the play park.
And then she says “She is nowhere near as beautiful as you are.”
Debbie closes her eyes for a split second, and she’s been called beautiful before, but it is different, somehow, now that it is….
“Well, duh”, she manages, and smiles.
The day passes in a blink, a joyous blink, but a blink nevertheless.
Debbie had forgotten how good Ruth was with Randy, how she just seems to slip into a different version of herself for babies and young children. She has young nieces, Debbie remembers, a fact dredged from one of those old coffee morning when Debbie had always talked too much about herself and not given the appropriate amount of time to Ruth’s life.
But Ruth feeds Randy his pap easily, and soothes him when he starts wailing, and plays with him, and it’s all just…
It’s a lot.
So like Debbie says. It’s gone in a blink.
And suddenly it’s time for Ruth to go and visit Russell.
“I….ugh, I just can’t figure out…”
They’re sitting in the back of a cab, which Mark had called for them, once Debbie had taken Randy to his cot and read to him until he fell asleep. The driver doesn’t seem in any rush, and rolls through the streets as through they have all the time in the world.
He’s heading towards Russell’s address. The plan was for Ruth to stay with Russell, and some how break it off with him in the morning, if that is what she really wanted. And Debbie was going to use this cab to head for the hotel she usually stays in when she comes home (since she, Mark and Susan had wordlessly decided that relations would be easier if they weren’t all sleeping in the same house, at least for now).
But Ruth has been having a fractured conversation with herself for a few minutes now, about feeling awkward and reluctance and a general hesitation to move on to the next step of the evening.
Debbie glances at her, watching the shadows move across her face as the street lights slide by.
“Do you really want to? Go visit him, I mean.”
Ruth sighs, and then holds up a hand in helpless indecision.
“I’ve come all this way. And… I have to go and do the eye thing that I apparently do.”
Debbie smiles at her.
“You do do an eye thing, are you telling me it’s involuntary?”
Ruth laughs slightly, and then tips her head back onto the seat, looking at Debbie.
“No. I don’t really want to go see him. But I should.”
Debbie shrugs, suddenly trying and failing to remember what a casual tone of voice sounds like.
“Well. We could…. he doesn’t know you are here, does he? You could… blow it off, if you wanted to. And we could go for a drink instead?”
Ruth smiles at the idea, and Debbie is watching the curve of her lips.
“You are a bad influence.”
Debbie laughs at that. “That’s what your mom always used to say about me.”
Ruth grins at her, and then shrugs.
“She wasn’t wrong though, was she?”
“No” says Debbie, entirely unrepentant. Ruth looks at her for a moment, and then flips a hand in the air.
“Okay. A drink. For some dutch courage.”
“For the blinks” Debbie says solemnly, and earns a laugh.