Get Away with Martha Hall
It was a lot less boring in the shop since Lauren had persuaded her father to get a computer and broadband. Naturally, he’d been resistant, Lauren would’ve been disappointed if he’d been anything other, but eventually she’d managed to drag him down to the public library and showed him everything she’d learnt from Cody: eBay, Amazon Marketplace, any number of second hand book dealers. She even showed him the site for Cody Brucker Books, although that had given her a twinge of something close to and as inexplicable as homesickness. Alistair Ray wouldn’t admit it, but she’d looked at him enough over the past twenty eight years to know when he was actually quite impressed. Later that week, after a lot of contemplation, he capitulated. Ray and Daughter Books entered the twenty first century. It was a qualified success, but Lauren was confident business would pick up. In the autumn, she might even sign up for some courses; if they were going to do this, they should do it properly.
Having access to the internet meant she also had email. Having email meant speaking to Cody on a regular, almost daily, basis. They mostly talked about business, about books; rarely, she noticed, did they talk about Julia. Lauren didn’t even know if she had an email address and couldn’t bring herself to ask Cody. What would be the point? They were thousands of miles apart. Lauren only realised she had the sea glass in her mouth when the bell above the door chimed and it fell out when she opened her mouth to speak.
“Hello, can I help you at all?”
The woman shifted nervously just inside the door, as if unsure she wanted to come in. Lauren grinned at her.
“They’re only books, they’re not gonna bite. Neither am I for that matter”
The woman was attention grabbing; good looking and fit, and, if Lauren wasn’t mistaken, a lesbian. Her dark hair was cut short, a little floppy at the front, she had to push it off her forehead, and she had an incredible pair of eyes. Very pale grey. The woman coughed to clear her throat and then spoke. Not local, well, not originally. London, it sounded like.
“Are you Lauren?”
“I most certainly am. Is there something I can do for you?”
The woman pushed her hair out of her eyes again before shoving her hands in the pockets of her baggy jeans.
“My name is Jo”
“Nice to meet you Jo”
The woman, Jo, gave her a half smile.
“I don’t know if that’s really true”
Intrigued, Lauren indicated the armchair, and Jo sat on the edge of it, her hands rubbing her knees.
“I’m – well, I hope I still am – a friend of Martha’s. Martha Hall”
“O, o right”
Lauren couldn’t hide her surprise hearing that name. Curiosity piqued, she took a good look at Jo. If she’d seen the woman on the street she would never have thought she was a friend of Martha’s, in fact, going by her track record, she’d expect Martha to run a mile. But then she remembered Andrea Monroe
Andie Monroe was a typical sporty girl, playing football not only for the school but for the County under eighteens. She was such a stereotype with her short hair and almost suicidal competitiveness; Lauren had never seen another girl prepared to head or chest the ball like Andie. She was also a girl who spent most of her life in changing rooms and wasn’t afraid to wander around half naked in front of other girls. One day, after netball, Andie was walking back to her peg with her towel wrapped around her waist rather than chest like everyone else. Lauren glanced away quickly, not wanting to be caught breaking the unspoken rule of not looking. She turned to speak to Matty but Matty was transfixed. Lauren followed her sightline and saw water droplets on Andie Monroe’s broad shoulders, glinting in the over head lights before slowly dripping caressively down to her chest. The nipples in the centre of Andie’s small, round breasts were pink and taut in the cool air. Matty, in turn, was clutching her towel around her own small breasts so tightly her knuckles were white. Her dark blonde hair was wet and falling across her face, mostly concealing the deep flush on her cheeks. Her concentration on Andie’s body was total, and Lauren had felt a stab of intense jealousy. Looking at Jo, she felt a similar pang. Martha Hall had a type; she had a taste for tomboys.
Jo was looking down at her skate trainers. Whatever was going on, she was obviously unhappy.
“Would you like some tea?”
Startled, Jo looked up and Lauren met silver grey eyes. She smiled at the other woman.
“It is the British panacea”
Jo chuckled. A nice, warm sound.
“I guess it is. Is there anything in life that can’t be solved with a cup of tea?”
“Nothing I’ve yet found, that’s for sure”
While the kettle boiled, Lauren watched Jo. She hadn’t moved from the chair but was glancing around the room at the books.
“See anything you fancy?”
“I notice there are a lot of travel books”
“Yes, my father indulged me in my shop floor travels”
Jo finally smiled a full smile. A nice, warm smile.
“Did you go anywhere exciting?”
“Where didn’t I go? The best was Japan. Although I think it was 1930s Japan”
“Time as well as space? That’s an achievement”
“Diverting as this is, I’m sure you didn’t seek me out to discuss time travel”
Jo took the proffered mug, blowing on the hot liquid to both cool it and play for time. She sighed.
“No, I came because I hoped you might talk about Martha”
“I have to be honest with you, Jo. It’s a year since I last saw her and before that I’d not seen her for nine years. I’m sure there are people in London who know her better now”
Jo was quiet for a couple of minutes, slowly sipping her tea.
“I’m not sure how well they know her. I’m not sure anyone does. Did you know she came back to find you?”
“Dad said she came in the shop. I didn’t realise it was specially for me”
“Well, she did. It was when I met her”
“Here in the shop?”
“No, in the public toilets on the prom”
“It’s a long story. Thing is, she told me that she’d come to find you because she was afraid that she’d broken your heart”
Lauren viewed Jo over the rim of her mug, holding the other woman’s gaze for a long moment. She took a gulp of her drink.
“What has she told you?”
“Nothing more than that. That she was afraid she’d broken your heart”
There was a trace of bitterness in Lauren’s voice when she spoke; she couldn’t help it, even after ten years.
“To tell you the truth, yes, she did”
“If it’s any consolation, I believe she truly regrets it”
“I’m surprised she even remembers”
Jo’s gaze was steady.
“We both know that’s not true”
With a slightly shaky hand, Lauren took another drink.
“Thank you for telling me”
“It’s just – I know you were close at one time. And I wanted to talk to someone who’s had that connection with her”
“Are you in love with her?”
She knew she’d blurted it out, and her tone had been almost accusatory. So did Jo, judging by the blush that coloured her face.
“I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter if I am. I’ve blown it”
“By getting into something stupid with Marco Santini”
“O Christ, that arsehole. What happened?”
“Turned out my cock was bigger than his cock”
Lauren frowned her incomprehension.
“Never mind. Suffice to say, he took it out on Martha. She’s not talking to me, which is fair enough because I was an idiot. But I’m worried about her. I don’t think she’s talking to anyone”
Lauren sat back in her chair, not really sure what to say. Martha hadn’t been a part of her life for so long it was hard to engage, or to work out what Jo was really saying. One thing was evident though, Jo was upset. She was trying to dismiss her own hurt but it was written in her body language.
“Erm, if you give her a little time, I’m sure she’ll come round. I mean, I knew the teenaged Martha Hall, not the grown up, but I’m not sure people change that much”
Jo looked up at her, her eyes had darkened and clouded, her expression was almost beseeching.
“I know this is a lot to ask but do you think you could try and talk to her?”
Lauren laughed, but then saw that Jo was perfectly serious. Earnestly so.
“O I don’t know, mate. It’s been a very long time and we’ve parted on bad terms twice now. And I think I’m probably the world’s worst person for talking anyone around”
Jo’s expression turned to one of disappointment and then defeat. She stood up and placed her unfinished tea carefully on the table near the till.
“Thanks for your time. It was nice meeting you”
The door closed with such finality, it was more that Lauren could bear and she sprang from her chair, running to the door. Jo was a little way down the street.
The woman spun around and looked at Lauren hopefully.
“Come on then, we’ll need to plan a campaign of action”
Martha sat on the sofa. When she purchased it, she thought she’d done well. The leather chesterfield was in keeping with the period living room, but it had been bought for style not comfort, and she longed for the hideous but soft and enveloping sofa of her childhood. Long and wide enough to accommodate three adults and any number of children, you could sleep the sleep of the dead on it. No matter how many cushions and throws she spread over this one, it rarely yielded and rarely warmed. You certainly couldn’t sleep on it. Martha knew: over the last few days she’d tried. For some reason she couldn’t bring herself to go upstairs. She was camped out in the living room with the curtains drawn against the unforgiving sunlight and the uncompromising night. In the corner, the TV carried on, hysterical but mute, the bright colours and heightened emotion of daytime television. A low budget game show had given way to a piece of fluff chat show that Martha had appeared on more than once. The host was losing his hair, she noticed. What was left had been artfully constructed to try and cover up the gaps but was fighting a losing battle. Men should age with dignity. If it bothers you, shave it off. That’s what Marco did.
Marco. She had listened to each of his messages five times before erasing them. He was prepared to forgive her little indiscretion as long as it was just that: a little indiscretion, one she was never to breathe a word of to anyone. She should realise how lucky she was having him there to look after her, look out for her; it wasn’t everyone who would be so caring and have her best interests at heart, the world was full of sharks. She’d better shape up and get her act together because nobody was indispensable, did he make himself clear? Crystal.
Others had called too: her mother, Janine. After a flurry of increasingly frantic and then sadly resigned messages, Jo had stopped phoning her. Not that Martha blamed her. Jo. Martha coughed against the constriction in her chest, pulling her knees up under her chin. On the TV, a grinning nodding dog was granting equally grinning punters all their insurance wishes with such a definite affirmative she could feel the positivity from across the room. If only life was that easy. If only you could ask for what you wanted and the nodding dog would chortle Aw yus and that would be that. She only had herself to blame. She’d made it Jo’s fault and sent her away, should she be surprised that Jo had then left? She rested her forehead on her knees, her face and eyes burning.
The phone rang and Martha let it go through to the answering machine as she had all the other calls. There was a pause and then a voice that made her head snap up.
“Matty? It’s – well – it’s Lauren. If you’re there, please pick up. O Jesus, I can’t believe I just said that, what a clich –”
“Matty – Christ woman, you scared me”
“H-how did you get my number?”
“Your friend Jo”
“Jo – ?”
“Yes, she came to the shop. She’s worried about you. Actually, more than worried. She was really upset”
Martha started to cry, trying to be quiet, but she couldn’t stop the sob.
“O Matty, sweetheart”
“You don’t have to be sorry, love. Listen, why don’t you come home for a bit?”
“Yes, to Broadhaven. I reckon a bit of sea air will do you good. You can stay with us”
“At the shop?”
“Why not? We’ve got a spare room. Okay, I’d have to turf Dad’s crap out but it needs sorting anyway”
“Won’t he mind?”
“Why should he? You know what he’s like, he’ll be grumpy as all hell but he’ll secretly be pleased you’re here. Say yes, Matty”
Martha took a deep breath. It was all a bit too much to take; Lauren sounded exactly the same as when she was a teenager, that husky edge that had been anomalous in a fourteen year old now sounded perfect on a woman nearing her thirties. And Jo, Jo had been in the shop. Jo and Lauren had been in the same space, breathing the same air and talking about her.
“How about it?”
What else could she say?
Alistair Ray slid his glasses to the end of his nose and looked at the young woman standing in the doorway. Six months had passed since she’d come looking for Lauren. He’d recognised her then, but now it would’ve been harder if he hadn’t been expecting her. She was still timid, holding back a little in the door, but looked different from how she had in the winter. He blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail that some how made her seem younger than twenty eight. She was wearing minimal make up, or at least it appeared that way: the merest hint of pale lipstick, liner and mascara that accentuated already enormous blue eyes. Her skin was naturally tanned and had a healthy glow that seemed at odds with the air of despondency that clung to her. Lauren had hinted that something was amiss with her old friend but had not elucidated.
Lauren herself was a changed woman, even more than when she came back from her sojourn in the Colonies. Then she had been somehow calmer; Alistair was surprised that seven months away could make such a difference, but the restlessness at his daughter’s core was apparently assuaged, she seemed more relaxed in her body and mind. The imminent arrival of little Matty, however, had brought a level of excitement he hadn’t seen in her for over ten years. She’d set about clearing out his office, which she insisted on referring to as the spare room, with a fevered determination that made him question she was his progeny at all. Matty would need somewhere to sleep, she had insisted. What’s wrong with a hotel? he’d asked only to receive the sort of withering look one expects from a teenager, not a grown woman. Matty needed her, she said, and would not be staying in some soulless hotel room. There was something about her when she looked at him that way, something that caused a long forgotten tightness in Alistair Ray’s chest and made him seek shelter in Andy McNabb. Lauren probably didn’t even know how like her mother she looked.
And now the resurgent ball of energy that was Lauren Emily Ray burst out of the back of the shop where she’d been pretending to update their new website and swept a bewildered Matty into her arms before Alistair had a chance to say hello.
“Lauren, let the girl in”
Lauren only released her slightly, one arm still tight around little Matty’s shoulder. The girl’s eyes were still huge and the resemblance to a blue eyed doe was extraordinary.
“H-hello, Mr. Ray”
“Enchanting to see you again, Matty”
She frowned slightly, unsure how to take his tone. He tried to smile reassuringly, but the frown deepened. He sighed inwardly.
“Please come in and make yourself at home”
Lauren, on the other hand, had a smile as wide as the beach at low tide and the sunshine in her eyes.
“C’mon, Mat. I’ve cleared the spare room for you”
But Matty maintained eye contact with Alistair, a tentative smile ghosting her face.
“Mr. Ray, I do appreciate you letting me stay. It means an awful lot to me”
Suddenly flustered, Alistair had to bite his tongue not to blurt out what he was thinking: hurt my daughter again and I will eviscerate you. Instead, he smiled again and nodded.
It was strange being back here, with Lauren acting as if it was only ten days that had passed rather than years. In fact, it was as if the last decade had never happened; as if Martha had never moved away, as if Lauren had never kissed her and Martha had never run away from her. Lauren’s arm felt nice around her shoulder, warm and reassuring, and she leant into it. For a moment she could pretend everything was fine, ignoring the discomfort that pooled in the pit of her stomach at the understandable distrust in Mr. Ray’s expression. Martha couldn’t blame him.
Lauren had opened up to her, been vulnerable and exposed, and what had Martha done? She’d pushed her away both physically and emotionally. The devastation on Lauren’s face as it crumpled was more than Martha could bear, more than could be obliterated with half a bottle of Bacardi. The apprehensive press of soft lips on hers had caused her breath to catch, her heart to flutter, but it was too much, too frightening, and she had turned from Lauren to Billy McKenzie, a fair haired boy everyone fancied. His kiss left her cold and confused, the alcohol heating her blood and muddling her head. Billy’s hands were all over her and she did nothing to stop him. Her hangover the next day was brutal and she was glad of it; the pain in her head taking her mind off the soreness in her vagina. Crouching over the toilet, she spewed up the night before, tears streaming down her face.
Jemma Jordan’s party was meant to celebrate the end of A levels, mark the end of their school lives. At the end of the summer everyone would be going their separate ways, off to university or into jobs. Martha hadn’t wanted to go to college and her parents, for once, hadn’t pushed. Neither of them had gone to university, her father joining the police force as soon as he was old enough, her mother working in the electricity showroom until Martha was born. After that, she had worked part time in a pharmacy. Martha didn’t really know what she wanted to do but her father made it very clear that now she’d finished with school, she would have to pull her weight and Martha was happy with that. She wanted to get started with her life. She’d been looking forward to the party for weeks, but now she wished she’d never gone. If only she’d stayed at home with her mum and dad watching telly, none of this would’ve happened.
But she’d been so excited, planning and re-planning what she would wear. Knowing Lauren would not be interested, she went shopping with Sasha and Michelle, the three girls winding themselves up into a state usually brought on by too much sugar. There had only been one moment of calm in the whole day, in the changing rooms of Top Shop; Martha had tried on the little blue dress that would cost her all the money she’d put aside. The other two had sneered at it, saying it an old woman’s dress but she knew better. It was simple but sophisticated, and she knew the second she slipped it over her head that she had to have it. She smoothed the dress over her chest, her stomach and hips, it was beautiful. She pulled her hair back and on the top of her head. It made her look at least twenty three. She let her hands fall and stepped closer to the full length mirror, running her fingers over the contours of her face, her shoulders, the gentle swell of her breasts. She watched as her reflection bit her bottom lip. Not for the first time she wished her breasts were fuller. She pushed them together, transfixed by her sudden, if temporary, cleavage.
“Matty, get a wriggle on”
Sasha’s voice broke the spell and she dropped her hands. Yes, she had to have the dress.
It had been worth every penny. Sasha and Michelle were like little girls playing dress up next to her, with all the subtlety of ten year olds let loose at the make up counter. She was aware of eyes on her; Billy McKenzie was standing in the kitchen, leaning against the counter, a beer bottle in one hand. He was laughing with some other boys from their year but was looking directly at her, his eyes sweeping her body. She felt herself colour at such blatant interest, a little thrilled. Lots of girls wanted to be with Billy and would be incredibly jealous. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and gave him a shy smile as she reached around him to get a Breezer. All thoughts of Billy McKenzie, however, deserted her when she saw Lauren sitting on the stairs by herself. She was wearing a yellow shirt of cotton so soft Martha’s fingers itched to touch it. Lauren looked up and seeing Martha, her serious face had opened up in a smile of such radiance Martha felt her pulse quicken and was drawn towards its magnetic north.
Lauren dropped her arm, briefly resting the palm of her hand in the small of Martha’s back before leaning down to pick up Martha’s suitcase.
“You remember the way, don’t you?”
Martha nodded and made for the rear of the shop where she knew she’d find the stairs. When she reached the door, she turned around to face Lauren, tentatively putting the tips of her fingers very lightly on Lauren’s breast bone.
“Lauren – thank you for this”
Lauren covered Martha’s hand with her free one and gave her one of those dazzling smiles, squeezing her fingers.
“It’s great to have you here”
Looking up, Martha notice the light glinting off something hanging around Lauren’s neck. She reached up and touched smooth glass.
“This is nice”
When Lauren didn’t respond, Martha glanced up at her. Lauren’s brown eyes were distant, cloudy. Martha let the blue glass drop back against Lauren’s chest, not wanting to pry. Lauren cleared her throat.
“C’mon, let’s get you settled in”
Martha was sitting at the kitchen table peering into her mug. She’d barely touched her tea, Lauren noticed. Lauren didn’t have to ask if she was unhappy, everything about Martha’s body language told her she was. It was in the defeated slump of her shoulders, her downcast eyes, even her ponytail seemed to droop. She’d only been there for less than an hour, and Lauren was unsure if it was too early to ask what was going on. But she hated to see the light gone out of her.
“Do you feel like talking?”
As if startled to realise she wasn’t alone in the room, Martha looked up.
“Talk? What about?”
“Well, whatever you feel like”
Martha’s glance returned to the red and white checks of the table cloth, she ran a thumb nail across the squares, making apparently random patterns.
“I hate that you’re so unhappy”
Martha let out a small laugh and rubbed her face with the heels of her hands.
“It’s nothing I haven’t brought on myself”
“That’s life for you”
“Don’t you ever wish things had been different?”
“Of course, but how would we ever get anything done if all we ever did was think about what we could’ve done?”
Martha gave her a wry smile.
“You should’ve been a teacher. That’s the sort of thing they used to say”
Lauren stretched her arms over her head.
“Maybe I should’ve. I think I’d have made a good teacher”
“You would. Lauren – why – why did you never – why didn’t you do something like that? Why did you – ?”
Martha nodded. Lauren felt a heavy sigh escape her chest. It was a good question, and one she wasn’t sure she was ready to answer, either to Martha or herself. Maybe it was too early for both of them to talk.
“Do you fancy going out tonight?”
“Yeah, why not? Though not that place we went to last summer. It was a bit pretentious”
“I can’t believe you never came in here” Lauren put their drinks down on the table, slipping onto the stool in front of Martha. Martha smiled at her.
“My father would’ve had kittens if he’d caught me drinking in the Boatman”
“Just what are you implying, Ms. Hall?”
Martha’s full laugh relieved a little of the heaviness in Lauren’s chest, and she grinned at Martha. Martha, in turn, leant over the table and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper that wasn’t a whisper at all.
“That this is a hot bed of underage drinking. Look at those children over there”
Lauren followed the direction Martha’s head was tipped. By the bar stood a small group, three boys and two girls who were trying to act as if they were at least nineteen but were no more than fifteen. To say that Little Tony was turning a blind eye was an understatement, but the Boatman had always had the feeling of a youth club; in a town that offered little for young people, it was almost community minded. Lauren turned back to Martha.
“Good thing Inspector Hall’s not around then, eh?”
“In more ways than one”
They fell quiet for a little while, Martha watching the room and Lauren trying to surreptitiously watch Martha. She had an amazing ability to blend into almost any environment; she was probably known by everyone there but they didn’t seem to notice her. Perhaps it was expectation: no one expected to see Martha Hall in the Jolly Boatman on a Wednesday night. She was by far the best looking person in the place, but no one had come over to bother them.
“How do you do that?”
Martha was puzzled.
“You’re an award winning chameleon. Everyone is looking straight through you”
Martha raised an eyebrow.
“It’s my secret power, it would seem. People see what they want to see”
The sadness suffused her face again, Lauren fought the temptation to reach out and touch her. She seemed so lost and distant for a moment, but then she shook her head and smiled.
“I was just thinking about Jo”
Lauren looked at her closely, making sure that her own expression was neutral.
“She seems nice”
Martha was also attempting to appear casual, but there was a tension in her body.
“She is. Very nice. She reminds me a bit of you, to be honest”
“Except I’m not very nice”
“We both know that’s rubbish”
“Can I ask you something?”
Martha took a large gulp of her gin and tonic. She made direct eye contact, as if she knew what Lauren was about to ask without her having to articulate the words.
“Have you slept with her?”
The eye contact stayed rock solid.
When it came to it, Lauren wasn’t surprised. It explained a lot.
“She said she met you in the winter”
“Yes, I came back to find you”
“And you found her instead”
Martha looked at her directly for another couple of seconds and then let her gaze drop to her drink.
“You were off finding yourself”
The defensiveness in her voice was hard to miss. Lauren instantly regretted her own tone.
“Took me quite a long time to do that. Actually, I’m still not sure I did”
Blue glass clattered against her teeth; unconsciously, she flicked her tongue over the smooth surface. Aware that Martha was watching her, she let it fall out of her mouth. Martha touched the damp glass.
“Tell me about this”
Lauren felt the heat flood her face at the thought of Julia. Martha was quiet, patiently watching her, waiting for her to answer.
“There was a woman in America. She gave it to me so that I wouldn’t forget her”
“That’s not likely, is it?”
Lauren shook her head, lost for words and swamped with loneliness. She managed a weak smile when Martha reached out and put a hand on her arm, squeezing gently.
“We’re a right pair, aren’t we?”
Lauren sat back and gulped down her pint.
“We certainly are. Question is: what are we going to do about it?”
“If I knew the answer to that do you think I’d be sitting in the pub with you?”
Lauren laughed then.
“I’ll have you know you could do a lot worse”
“I don’t doubt that for a moment”
Jo loved the end of the pier, beyond the rollercoaster and the merry-go-round. It was where the anglers came regardless of what nature threw at them; the rain would see them in slickers, caps pulled down round their ears; the sun would see them in the same caps, their weather beaten skin exposed through string vests or cut off T shirts. They were tough and resilient as any cliff face or wrought iron pier strut. They ignored Jo in the same way they ignored the claxon and techno of the dodgems. The fish weren’t bothered by the noise, it would seem. Jo didn’t even know if fish could hear. Maybe the vibrations attracted them to the turbulent water that eddied around this feat of Victorian civil engineering. Whatever it was, the long rods of the fishermen were often bent almost double, each man cajoling the others on, mocking or admiring the catch when it was eventually hauled in.
Jo had started to take her camera with her, a piece about the anglers formulating in her head. It could go down well in one of the supplements; Guardian Weekend or The Independent. The men had nodded when she asked if she could take their pictures and paid no further attention to her, feeling no need to posture or show off, and that suited her fine. Towards the end she would see if any of them would be prepared to be interviewed; there were two that looked hopeful, she thought, a pair of red headed twins who were about the same age as Martha. As she zoomed in on one of the twins, only distinguishable from his brother by the AFC Broadhaven cap semi-permanently perched on the back of his head, she wondered if he knew Martha, if they’d all grown up together. The camera whirred as it grabbed the man’s image, freeze framed on the display screen. His voice startled her when he spoke.
“You should take a photo of her”
“Yeah, she’s famous”
She looked over to where the twins were indicating and felt her heart skip erratically.
She was a little way off, leaning against the railing, gazing out to sea. There was no mistaking it, it was Martha, even though she was blending in, in her shorts and loose fitting T shirt, it was Martha Hall with the sunshine in her hair, hair that she was absentmindedly pushing behind her ear. Jo wanted to feel the silk of it between her fingers, wanted to go straight up to her and kiss her, but was unable to move. Without realising it until she saw Martha’s image on the viewfinder, Jo had brought the camera up to her face and snapped her picture. The act shocked her. Martha spent most of her life having her photograph taken whether she wanted it or not. Jo was not different from the paparazzi. She let her hand drop.
It really was Martha. Martha was in Broadhaven and hadn’t called to tell her. The weight of realisation jellied her legs and she had rest her back on the guard rail. What she saw next nearly made her puke: Martha turned and smiled at a dark haired woman Jo instantly recognised as Lauren Ray. Fuck.
“God, you have no idea how much I’ve wanted crab sticks”
“It’ll be all the artificial colouring and flavouring, Christ only knows what that stuff does to you. You do realise it’s probably never seen a crab in its life”
“Are you counting plastic ones?”
It was good to see Martha smile. It had been a week since Lauren had phoned her, five days since she’d arrived on the door step with a haunted look on her face. That hadn’t entirely vanished, it ghosted her eyes, but the smile had genuine warmth and her body had loosened a little. She looked fit and healthy, her skin glowing in the August sunshine. Martha would never have that pink and white bar of nougat British sun burn; she’d always been too classy for that. Her white T shirt and stone coloured shorts showed off her tanned and toned arms and legs, but like everything about Martha it wasn’t over the top. Just understatedly beautiful.
“Matty, do you ever have days when you look really shit?”
Martha wrinkled her nose.
“Of course I do”
“What about days where you’re got up like a dog’s dinner?”
“Where are you going with this?”
“I just wondered if you’re human”
“Hey, Lauren, Matty!”
Lauren turned towards the shouted greeting to see the Flynns waving at her. She waved back and grinned. She should’ve known the boys would be down here fishing, they were whenever they got the chance. Lauren buried her hands in her pockets and sauntered towards them.
Donovan shielded his eyes to look at her.
“You should’ve been here a couple of minutes ago”
“Why’s that, mate?”
“There was a woman taking pictures of us. Been down here a lot. Think she’s a journalist”
“A journalist – ?”
Martha was standing at her shoulder, her voice shaky. Donovan grinned at her.
“Yeah, and d’ya know what? She doesn’t half look like Lauren”
All of the colour had faded from Martha’s face. She’d gone from brown to grey in a matter of moments. She looked as if she couldn’t decide if she wanted to cry, faint or throw up.
“Maybe you should sit down, sweetheart”
Martha was sitting with her head in her hands. Lauren stroked the soft warm skin at the back of her neck, trying to soothe her.
“Why don’t you call her?”
Martha looked up at her, her blue eyes clouded with unhappiness.
“What would I say?”
“You could start with hello”
Martha shook her head.
“You know what, if I was in the same town as Julia, I’d go to her in an instant”
She hadn’t meant to sound judgemental, or melancholy for that matter, but Martha’s expression changed, had saddened, but not for herself.
“Julia? Is that the woman in America?”
“Are you in love with her?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what being in love is like anymore. The last time I was, it was with – ”
She couldn’t finish, her eyes dropping to her Converse. She felt Martha grab her arm.
“Was with me? But that was so long ago, Lauren. Are you telling me that you haven’t been in love with anyone since then?”
“I didn’t want to get close to anyone”
“Because – because – ”
Because they always leave. It was something she’d always known but never articulated. The people you love leave you. The only exception was her father and that was only because he would never leave the shop unless it was in a wooden box. Even knowing that, there had been nights when Lauren would wake up, sweat drenched and convinced of the worst, and would pad quietly to her father’s room to listen to his heavy, rhythmic breathing. Only then would her heart rate drop to normal, allowing her to go back to bed and sleep.
Lauren knew from an early age that Fate can be a complete bitch; it never pays to tempt her. Men might stay, but women always go.
“Sometimes you have to risk it, Lauren. You have to risk it to be happy”
“Like you are?”
Martha gave her a sad smile.
“I’ve always been good at giving advice I don’t follow”
“We’re both getting in the way of our own happiness”
“Then we should just stop”
“As simple as that?”
“As simple as that”
Concluded in part 11
Return to the Academy