Diamonds are a teens bes.., p.16

  Diamonds are a Teen's Best Friend, p.16

Diamonds are a Teen's Best Friend
 

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  Alexa pauses for just a second. “Yes. I would,” she speaks up again.

  That’s the thing about Alexa: she really would ask. I sigh, and now it’s me who points a finger. “Don’t you dare ask him for me.” And it’s nice to know I can point a finger at her when she needs a good “telling” as well as her doing it to me. Finger pointing should be mutual between best friends, I always think.

  I try not to scratch any itches for the rest of my day at the library. As it turns out, it’s quite easy to keep from worrying about the fact that my father could be getting blond-bombshelled as I re-shelve books, because I spend my time worrying about Toby and me instead.

  Now that Alexa has noticed he’s acting weird too, it’s hard to keep denying the fact that things aren’t like they used to be between us. He just seems so preoccupied lately. We used to do heaps of things together, but these days he’s always busy.

  I look across to the aisle beside me, over the top of the beat-up metal trolley holding yet another stack of books for us to put back on the shelves. (Undergraduate students are so annoying. Why do they need to take out so many books? And if they don’t want them, why can’t they put them back where they found them rather than leave them lying around on the desks? Wow. I think this job is ageing me. I’ve become a nagging parent . . .) Beyond the trolley is Toby. I stand and stare at him for ages, but as per usual these days, he doesn’t notice me. I think about Alexa’s words. Maybe I should confront him. Maybe I should just push that trolley of mine aside right now, go on over and ask him what’s going on with us. I could. I really could . . . I could put the book I’m holding in its rightful place on the shelf in front of me, then go on over and ask him.

  Yeah, sure. Like that’s ever going to happen.

  Because it’s just not Nessa Mulholland style, is it? That’s Alexa Milton style. No, what I’ll do instead is obsess and worry, and work it all up into something it never was in the first place. Much more fun and . . .

  A familiar noise interrupts me from my personality bashing, and my head zips over to look at Toby again. Another text! I can’t believe it! That’s the fifth one this afternoon. He whips his phone out of his pocket and reads the text, chuckling to himself as he replies. I watch him the entire time and again, he doesn’t notice me. Finally, he slips his phone back in his pocket and begins re-shelving books once more.

  And me? Well, I can’t help myself. “Who was that?” I ask super-casually, book balanced in one hand, like I’m not really interested at all.

  “Oh, er . . . a friend. Just a friend.”

  I push the book back into place with a thud. “That’s nice.” I give Toby the chance to fill in the blanks, but it doesn’t happen. “Hey, do you want to go get some gelato this afternoon or something? I found this great place in the West Village.”

  “Oh, er . . . I can’t. I’ve made plans. Sorry.”

  I push another book, then another, onto the shelves in front of me. “Right. Okay.”

  “Nessa?”

  I don’t meet Toby’s eyes as I keep on re-shelving. “Mmm?”

  “Maybe tomorrow, after work?”

  “Mmm,” I say again.

  Right. That’s it. Tonight I’m going to try to work out just how to phrase that question of Alexa’s. That “Don’t pull your ‘I’ve already made plans’ line on me, buddy” question that I so want to ask my so-called boyfriend, but don’t have the guts to attempt to ask.

  By 4 p.m., the end of the library working day, all I want to do is go home, turn the AC up and snuggle under my doona (nothing can hurt you under your doona). I race back home, texting Alexa as I go, telling her I’ll catch up with her tomorrow. As the elevator doors finally open, I breathe a sigh of relief.

  A sigh that instantly catches in my throat and ends up half-choking me to death.

  “Nessa, are you all right?” my dad asks. “Are you catching a cold?”

  Choke, gasp, hack. “I’m fine. Just fine.” I can’t take my eyes off the vision sitting at the kitchen bench. The vision sitting on Holly’s seat, wearing (it must be) Holly’s Sass & Bide jacket. Her favorite one. Her customized one.

  “Good, good.” My dad returns to the kitchen. “I’m just making some coffee. Did you want something? Susannah’s having a mineral water.”

  I gasp, my eyes moving to the counter. And there it is. One of Holly’s bottles of San Pellegrino. She’s addicted to the stuff. Lives on it.

  “Maybe you are catching something,” my dad says, his eyes following mine and landing on the bottle I’m still staring at. “Or perhaps you’re a little dehydrated. Have you been drinking enough water in the heat?”

  “I’m fine.”

  Susannah stands. “I’m just going to duck back off home then,” she says, heading for the elevator. “So silly . . .” She waves a hand. “It was so hot this morning, I completely forgot to pack anything warm. I had to borrow this jacket of Holly’s. I have to say, she’s got great taste, and even better air-conditioning.”

  My eyes narrow. Yes, great taste and great air-conditioning that you’re stealing, I think to myself, watching Susannah warily as she approaches me. First Holly’s jacket, then her mineral water and air-conditioning. And tomorrow . . . what? Her fiancé? Her talented, witty and charming stepdaughter-to-be? (That’s me, btw.)

  “So embarrassing!” Susannah prattles on. “I’ll have it dry-cleaned right away, William.”

  This time, I manage to stifle my choke. William? Whatever happened to “Professor Mulholland”? William?! And what was that . . . look, that coquettish glance she just threw him? What was that about?

  Thankfully, my dad doesn’t look up from his new toy, his coffee machine. (Holly wouldn’t let me tell him how much she paid for it, but for that price I think it should’ve come with a full-time barista chained to it as one of its attachments.)

  “I hope that’s okay,” Susannah tries again. She’s obviously used to her coquettish glances being noticed and isn’t embarrassed to draw attention to them.

  “Hmmm. Sorry?” Dad looks up at last. “Oh yes, of course. Don’t worry about it. Holly won’t be needing the jacket for some time. I’m sure she wouldn’t even notice it was missing anyway. She has so many lovely clothes.”

  My eyebrows raise at this. I tell you what, if I came home and some wannabe-actor-slash-sociologist (and believe me, they’re the worst kinds of slash people, forget about those actor-slash-models and the waiter-slash-artists) was sitting in my apartment, in my customized designer jacket, drinking my mineral water and throwing coquettish glances at my fiancé, I might just notice something was amiss. A Miss who’s now, thankfully, leaving.

  “Well, I’ll have to thank Holly for keeping me from freezing!” Susannah says. “I’ll see you in a couple of hours. Bye, Nessa!” She steps into the elevator. “See you soon.”

  I don’t answer, but I do watch her as she leaves, my eyes following the elevator doors as they slowly shut. “Take your time,” I say under my breath.

  “Did you say something?” my dad calls out over the hum of the coffee machine, which chooses this moment to hurl itself into high gear. (All this for a cup of coffee. Hasn’t he heard of Starbucks? There’s one on both corners of our block.)

  I walk on over to the kitchen. “I only said that you should be sure not to make a sad old philandering fool of yourself while your fiancée’s out of town,” I say as I sit down in my usual spot at the bench.

  My dad switches the coffee machine off. “Sorry, pumpkin. What was that? I couldn’t hear you over the coffee machine.”

  Ha ha. Funny that.

  “Oh nothing,” I reply airily. “I just said work was okay.” Now there’s an even bigger lie. I think of Toby and his “call” and his texts and the way he’s generally been ignoring me, and try not to sigh.

  My dad tilts his head to one side and rests a hand on the bench in front of me. “Are you okay with Susannah staying with us? I did mean to tell you about it, but it must have slipped my mind.”

  T
hings have a tendency to slip my dad’s mind. Like just about everything except work. And whether we have enough coffee. And if I’m grounded or not. He always remembers those things.

  “I know it’s a bit strange, having a stranger around,” he continues, “but she’s a very nice lady and we really do need to get things finished off before this blessed wedding. We worked flat out today.”

  I nod again but inside my head, several words scream out at me. Nice lady? Hello?! Irini, our cleaning lady, is a “nice lady”. She has twelve grandchildren, always wants to show you their photos and brings Marc little boxes of her home-cooked Greek shortbread. (With all these old ladies cooking for him, I’m surprised he isn’t the size of a house by now.) My English teacher is a “nice lady”. She donates a lot of time at a respite care center. Dad and I know quite a few “nice ladies” in fact, and Susannah is not one of them. No. What Susannah is, is a man magnet. She’s a foiler (one of those women you see at the hairdresser with industrial-size rolls of tin foil all over their heads in an attempt to stay blond). She’s a fake. Fake nails, fake tan, fake teeth.

  And there’s another important word that’s just exited my father’s mouth and made my ears prick up. And that would be the word “blessed”. Blessed wedding. As in vows, Dad. Sacred vows. So don’t go working “flat out” with anyone but Holly, capische?

  “Nessa? Did you just say ‘capische’?” My dad is staring at me, worriedly.

  I sit up in my seat. Oops. Some of that must have accidentally slipped out. “I was, um . . . just thinking about Irini’s shortbread.” Where did that come from? How does that make any sense?

  “Oh, no,” my dad says. “Irini’s Greek, sweetheart. ‘Capische’ is Italian.”

  Well, phew. Saved once again by my ever-educating dad.

  At least it looks like there’s going to be one benefit to the Susannah “flat out” Tribeca tour: I think we’re going to be ordering in every evening. Tonight, after she returned, we had Mexican, which I’m vetoing from now on because of Susannah’s mole-sauce finger licking. Could she be any more of a blatant hussy? I think not.

  Plus, she was still wearing Holly’s jacket when she came back from her trip to her own apartment, even though I turned the AC off and opened up all the windows. Hello? It’s hot outside. Hot. Doesn’t she get that? No, I guess not. I guess she’s going to sit around and do the “I’m sooo tiny and sooo cold” shiver the whole time she’s here.

  “Hmpf” as Vera would say.

  Anyway, after dinner I retire to my room (read: slink off so I don’t have to watch Susannah be cold for one minute longer). There’s nothing on TV, which is not surprising because I’m not allowed to have cable in my room. Dad thinks it will deaden my brain, which it probably will, but he manages to turn a blind eye to the cable hook-up in Holly’s bathroom, the main bedroom and the kitchen, all of which are, apparently, for her “work”. I flip open Sugar Kane, my trusted laptop. Then I spend some time texting Marc for a bit (What do you call a blond in a tree with a brief case? Answer: branch manager. What are the worst six years in a blond’s life? Answer: Third Grade) until he gets to be too much of a dumb blond joke pain, and then, for even more distraction, I try reading instead. But I can’t concentrate, my mind moving from one train of thought to another. I can’t stop thinking about a) the seven-month-itch thing, and b) the Toby thing.

  In the end, despite the presence of the finger-licker a couple of rooms over, it’s Toby I can’t stop thinking about. Toby and his text messages. And his calls. Alexa is right: if something feels wrong, I should just come right out and ask. I mean, what if it’s not even about me? What if something’s wrong with him at home? My dad likes to tell me almost on a daily basis that things aren’t always about me. What if, this time, they’re not? Maybe there’s something I could help him with. So, before I can talk myself out of it, I lunge for my phone and call him.

  “Hi, Nessa,” he answers right away. “Can you wait a second? I’m just seeing someone out the door.”

  “Sure,” I answer. I wait, hearing voices. A girl’s voice? Or maybe I’m imagining things. It seems to take forever for Toby to return.

  “Sorry about that,” he says.

  “That’s, um, okay,” I say slowly. Wrong thing to say, Nessa. Wrong thing to say. That would’ve been the perfect time to ask the question.

  “So what’s going on?” Toby fills the silence.

  I take a deep breath and fill him in. About Susannah. And the jacket. And the mole sauce.

  When I’m done (and this takes some time—I cut down on story embellishments for no man), I expect Toby to jump to Susannah’s defense, as I’m sure guys do for her all the time. Either that or I’m thinking he’ll tell me I’m over-dramatizing things, Alexa-style.

  But, surprisingly, Toby doesn’t do that at all.

  Instead, there is a long, long pause on the other end of the line.

  “Toby?” I say eventually. “Are you still there?”

  The silence continues for a while longer. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m here,” he says at last. “But I don’t think you’re going to like what I have to say.”

  On hearing this, the Mexican food in my stomach really starts shaking its maracas. This is it, my intestines tell me. He’s going to come clean about what’s going on. He’s going to tell me what all the calls and text messages have been about. He’s going . . .

  He’s going to break up with me.

  Or maybe not . . . Because when I tune back in, Toby isn’t talking about breaking up at all.

  “You saw it, right?”

  What? “Sorry, Toby? What did you just say?”

  “The film All About Eve. Remember it?”

  Hang on. All About Eve—it rings a bell. It was one of the movies I watched with Toby, one of his Bette Davis ones. And it had been the very first film of his I’d watched because Marilyn Monroe had been in it.

  “Yes,” I tell him. “Why?”

  “You remember the plot?”

  I bite my lip and think back. Let’s see. It was all about . . . Oh.

  “Oh . . .” I breathe into the phone. I remember the plot now all right. A little too vividly for my liking, in fact. All About Eve had been about this really famous actor, Margo, who let this girl, Eve, a groupie of hers, into her life and took her under her wing as her unofficial secretary. Big mistake. Because what Margo soon found out was that Eve didn’t want to take dictation. She wanted to take over Margo’s life. Including her career, her friends and her partner. And I can’t remember the film perfectly, but there was plenty of backstage brouhaha, and I’m pretty sure one of the things Eve did was la-dee-da around, trying on Margo’s things. Just like Susannah’s been doing today.

  Gulp.

  “Maybe you don’t have a Seven Year Itch problem at all, Nessa,” Toby chuckles. “Maybe you have an All About Eve problem. Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tomorrow, huh?”

  And, just like that, Toby is gone.

  Slowly, very slowly, I pull the phone away from my ear and stare at the wall. The wall that’s dividing me from my own evil Eve. As I stare, the breeze picks up outside, ruffling the curtains in my room and moving inside to cool me down. Even though I’m hot and sticky and tired, I hardly notice. Which is funny, because if it had been last week, I would have enjoyed that breeze. If it had been last week, I would’ve turned my face to it. Embraced it.

  But that was last week, when the two people sitting out there were my dad and his fiancée, sickeningly in love. Last week I had a boyfriend who didn’t practically hang up the phone on me. Last week I was having my PPP summer.

  Well, adieu to last week. Because now I’ve hit this week and all I’m starting to feel is SSS (sick, sick, sick). Something’s telling me that the lead-up to this wedding is not going to be smooth sailing.

  Double gulp.

  I guess, as Bette/Margo herself said in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

  Buy The Seven Month Itch now!


  ***

 
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