“You might want to visit the restroom,” I whisper to Melissa. “You’re losing your dress.”
I’m not a spiteful person — really, I’m not — but it’s very satisfying to have Oliver looking at me as if I’m a present he can’t wait to get home and unwrap, while oblivious to the fact that Melissa’s dress, identical to mine, is doing a pretty good job of unwrapping itself in the presence of 150 co-workers and their partners.
Melissa looks down, sees she is showing more décolletage than is usual or advisable, gives a squawk, and teeters off across the dance floor towards the bathrooms.
Halfway across the polished wooden boards she turns an ankle on her 5-inch heels, staggers, slides a few feet, and sits down heavily in front of one of the DJ’s speakers. Her dress is so tight and her heels are so high that she can’t gain enough balance or traction to get up again, and has to be helped to her feet by a couple of women who are doing their best not to laugh.
On the other side of the room, holding court with the wives of senior executives, Caroline Michaels — she of last year’s nursery school war — is not so polite. In a lull between songs we can hear her laughing.
“Oh my goodness!” she shrieks, her native Essex showing through the usual, careful, cut-glass-accent veneer. She needs some dim sum to sop up that wine she’s knocking back. “Did you see that? How hilarious. Who is that?”
I turn to Oliver and murmur in his ear, “Shall I tell her about Melissa and Terry, or do you want to?”
Oliver freezes in his listening position. “What?”
I smile at Anita, who is still standing nearby, slightly open-mouthed, no doubt trying to reconcile the lovey-dovey picture of me and a smitten Oliver with the rumours that have been circulating.
You know — the ones about him and Melissa, the rumours that have been such a source of entertainment for the Coffee Morning Posse over the last few months.
Clearly, so that Anita can hear, I say, “Shall I tell Caroline that the trollop on the dance floor has been shagging her husband, or will you?”
Anita’s mouth drops fully open.
Wearing red makes me feel so brave. I must wear it more often.
“How do you know?” Oliver asks after a pause.
OK. The red dress doesn’t make me brave enough to admit to snooping through his phone.
Oliver shakes his head.
I wonder, briefly, if women’s intuition would allow me to know about the promotion and big pay rise that Oliver has turned down, but decide regretfully that would be pushing even his credulity.
Anita at last snaps her jaw shut. “Melissa Connor? Terry Michaels?” she tries to say. It comes out as a kind of croak.
“Yep,” I say.
“Oh, Libby.” She looks as if she’s going to cry. “I’m so sorry. And we all thought—”
I make a cutting gesture across my throat. I don’t really blame Anita in all this. She’s not the gossipy type, and you can’t help what you hear.
Oliver’s been watching me and Anita, back and forth.
“Would either of you like to explain what’s going on?”
Instead of answering, Anita raises a hand in apology and trots off to speak with Julia, another of the English wives. Julia is in the odd position of being a friend of Anita’s and on civil speaking terms with Caroline. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but there’s a lot of whispering on Anita’s part and wide-eyed shock from Julia. Both women keep looking over at Caroline.
“I think the best way to describe it is ‘Putting some affairs in order’,” I tell him, as I watch Julia slowly walk across the room to chat with Caroline.
* * *
In the restroom, I finally get this goddamned dress pulled up at the top and down at the bottom instead of the other way round.
It was, like, so embarrassing what happened out there, falling over and all, and I stay in one of the stalls for twenty minutes until someone bangs on the door and asks if I’m OK.
I’m tempted to say I’ve got this novocaine virus that’s going around on some cruise ship in Europe — that would empty the place pretty quick, right? — but I keep quiet and rustle paper around, and whoever it is goes away.
Guess I can’t stay in here all night, anyway. I’ve paid for my ticket, and I intend to get my money’s worth of alcohol.
I figure I’ve been in the restrooms about a half hour, which is enough time for people to forget me falling over on the dance floor. And if they do remember, with a bit of luck they’ll think it was Libby Patrick, since we’re wearing the same dress.
When I get outside and into the crowd, I can’t help but notice some strange looks coming my way — all from the English wives crowd.
Snotty bitches. Geez. You’d think they’d never seen anyone slip on a shiny floor, right?
I look around for Oliver — I don’t know if this red-haddock plan of flirting with him is fooling anyone, but it sure as hell is fun — and see he’s still standing close to Libby, like they’re zipped together down one side, so I go off to find some more wine at the bar.
Except I don’t get that far.
* * *
I’m so glad I came. This is better than EastEnders, better than Corrie, and more Desperate than Housewives.
“Out!” Caroline screams at Melissa, who stands stock still with a plastic cup of Chardonnay in her hand. Caroline’s accent is now pure TOWIE, with no traces of refinement left. “Out! Go find another stinking job! Go find another stinking man!”
Husband Terry cowers behind her, making little mewling noises of protest. Caroline whips round and snaps at him to shut the f*** up.
My, our true colours really are showing tonight, aren’t they?
The DJ has stopped the music, and the party crowd is silent, watching the drama.
“Who knew about this?” Caroline darts suspicious glances around. “Someone must have. Making me look like a fool.”
You know, I’m so fed up with Caroline’s bullying. Like mother, like son. I walk up to her.
“You were happy enough to make me look like a fool,” I say loudly. “Everyone was talking about Melissa and my husband. Including you. Remember?”
All the wives in the crowd look down and shuffle their feet.
“And it wasn’t true. I’d like everyone to know that. And an apology would be good, too.”
I hold out my hand to Oliver. He takes it. As we make our way to the door, the crowd parts, almost respectfully.
* * *
“We might have to find another house to live in, of course,” Oliver says on the way home.
“Charlie’s old house still isn’t rented. We could move there.” I look outside at the Christmas lights in all the Woodhaven gardens. “It’s bigger, of course. Don’t know if we could afford it.”
Oliver drives on for a while, then says, “I’ve been offered a promotion. Didn’t want to tell you, not before I’d decided what to do, but I think I’m going to take it. I made that decision tonight.”
Of course. Oliver doesn’t have to keep his silence about our landlady and his boss any more. His acceptance of the job would be honourable now.
“Tell me all about it,” I say. “Is it more money?”
And as he begins to outline the details I’d already read on his BlackBerry, I smile into the darkness.
* * *
Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #67 – Lights in the rearview mirror
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