“When Friends are Tested.” A Saturn Herald Short Story by Penny Nair Price
It was yet another busy day in the office. Carla had been much happier at work since Mandy arrived. They could do lunch on a Friday at the cafe around the corner, though they had to adhere to a strictly one- hour break and then it was back in the office typing away and answering the phone in the plush carpeted typing pool complete with modern oak designed cubicles with printer and wordprocessor installed in each.
When weekends came, Carla and Mandy could go shopping and either see a film or go to the theatre and if not, have a meal together in Mandy’s flat, which meant a nice cocktail too, usually made with vodka and some fresh ingredients, such as cucumber, mint or fresh lemon or orange juice and then lots of chit chat and discussing fashion, film, travel, politics, and of course ….men!
Mandy had an absolute catch not long after starting work at Scott and Smith Financial Advisers. She had a friend who organised conferences and dinner engagements for corporate customers in another field and both Mandy and Carla were invited to come and give a bit of feminine company to computer specialists who were attending a week-long event in London culminating in a dinner dance. As one might or might not expect, most of them were men. Mandy and Carla went along only to find Mandy’s old friend was one of the computer experts, whom she had worked for as a secretary in the past and he was now a widow with two sons. He asked her for a date and his relief at meeting her was etched on his face as he smiled, laughed, and hugged her before a sit down four-course meal of the highest quality, with theatrically dressed waiting for service, music, and afterward, dancing and revelry.
It wasn’t long before Mandy and her “catch” – Brian, we’re inviting Carla to come to his house at weekends to cook and enjoy the quality time together, including barbeques in the garden and having friends round and mixing with his children and their contacts. The two ladies also worked on Brian’s allotment where he also spent hours on his flowers, herbs, and fruits and vegetables. Even though he had a busy day job, Brian always had time for his homespun activities which truly impressed Carla, and she began thinking wedding bells would soon ring for her firm friend Mandy and Brian.
Where Brian worked in his computer technician and general whizz pc operative capacity was not far away from where Carla actually lived. It seemed only courteous to one day invite him to take tea with her at her house before he would be taking the long tube journey home from work. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding, and there again perhaps not! Brian came round to Carla’s house where she had got ready to serve him tea and a homemade carrot and walnut cake, by way of showing her friendship and solidarity with Brian, Mandy, his children, and his friends. Brian arrived brandishing not one but two bottles of carefully selected wines, one white and one red. The Chablis made from The Chardonnay grape bore an exclusive and expensive label and the Pinot Noir was a rare New Zealand red from the mountains.
Carla knew then that Brian intended to really relax and had to quickly summon up a couple of prawns and cucumber sandwiches and some crisps and two wine glasses to make the evening complete. Despite the fact that Brian had carrot and walnut cake, sandwiches and crisps, tea, and two or three glasses of wine, one fact suddenly became obvious….he was showing no intention of going home…..
Carla was a woman of the world. She had studied. She had travelled. She had been married. She had children who were grown and doing their own thing with their own children. Carla was also slim, elegant, and beautiful, with a full head of auburn hair that hardly betrayed one grey one – that ran in the family. She also had faith in Brian and Mandy making it to the altar and was very happy for them.
However, her loyalty to Mandy was challenged when, after she and Brian had sunk a couple of glasses of wine from both bottles, she found a tentative arm being put around her shoulders and two big green eyes shining and staring right into her eyes with a pouted pair of lips coming towards her. She backed off making an excuse that she had to visit the loo. Brian steadied himself on the sofa and awaited her return. She quizzed herself on how long Brian and Carla had been an item – at least six months! No way was she going to then let Brian seduce her!
The statement that then greeted Mandy was astonishing to her. “” Which bedroom are we going to spend the night together in? I think I may need a little lie down first…”
“Brian. It’s time for you to leave. I have no intention to let you stay here. What would Carla say? I will call you a cab if you don’t want to take the underground. It’ll be here in five minutes. Can you pay?”
“Pay? Pay for what?” gurgled Brian, worse for the drink. “I didn’t know you charged”. Brian’s eyes rolled around and he made himself even more comfortable in the settee, plumping a cushion for his head. Carla was horrified and taken aback. “I don’t charge for anything Brian! I am asking you if you can pay for your cab home.” But there was no sense coming from Brian. “But Carla, I want you tonight, come upstairs and lay down with me.”
“Brian. You are my best friend’s boyfriend. I am not going to spend the night with you.”
Carla got on her mobile to call a cab. Brian continued to bleat that he wanted to spend the night with Carla and to request yet another glass of wine on a relatively empty tummy. He cosied himself up on the settee, grabbing a spread and wrapping it around his shoulders, and seemed to be trying to make himself look cuddleable and enchanting. Carla was confused and enraged.
Suddenly the doorbell went and Carla helped Brian up from the sofa, poured him into his overcoat and handed him his briefcase. “Here’s your ride home. Phone me when you get back.” The cabby opened his back door and Brian stepped in and made himself comfortable with the cabby making sure he was cosy and safe. The car drove off and Carla waved.
Carla waited up for a call from Brian. Sure enough, one hour later he called to say he was home. “But next time I come and visit you, Carla, I do expect to spend the night with you.” This was a red rag to a bull for Carla. “That is it. I am telling Mandy all about this.” She said to herself in the mirror, as she was cleansing and moisturising before bed – and work tomorrow.
The next time that Carla went to stay with Mandy, they set off for Brian’s house just before he was away for a weekend conference in Paris. Mandy and Carla would stay there and do some cooking and work on his allotment. In the evening Carla opened up to Mandy about Brian’s behaviour at her house over a couple of Gin and Tonics and some wine and dolmades. Of course, everyone wants witnesses to events where contentious issues are at the core and Carla’s lodger had come into play who had seen and heard some of the conversation and Brian’s talk where there had clearly been an element of “in vino veritas” so Carla could say that Mandy could talk to her lodger for proof. Of course, Mandy would know anyway that Carla – her good friend, would not lie about Brian’s behaviour.
“I am so surprised and disappointed about what you’ve told me about Brian, Mandy. We are more or less engaged and we’ve talked about a wedding. I will sleep on it and decide what to do tomorrow. But I am glad you’ve told me. I am now wondering what he’ll be up to whilst he is in France. It’s so disappointing… really.” Carla held her cheeks in her hands and pulled a face.
Carla decided to finish with Brian as a boyfriend but kept in distant touch with him due to work. For a few years, Mandy and Carla stayed firm friends then drifted apart. Mandy was still on Brian’s email and long after he had retired, she received an email to say that Carla had died of a stroke but he hadn’t seen her for twelve years. Brian would be nearly ninety now and probably still being a flirt and unreliable in a relationship. Mandy kept herself single as she had seen too many love cheats for her to trust men anymore but she was happy. She had platonic male friends, some gay some single some divorced, and playing the field.