Nobody but Him

By: Victoria Purman

Lizzie looked into the mirror at their reflections. Julia’s dark curls and pale skin contrasted with Lizzie’s tanned blondeness and Julia envied the fact that she still looked like the perfect beach babe, even at thirty-two.

Julia gave her head a little shake. ‘No, I don’t have the lurgy.’

‘That’s a relief, but something happened at Table 13, right?’

Julia brushed her palms against her black skirt, trying to divert Lizzie’s attention. As if that was going to work. Not for the first time that night, she created a smile out of nowhere.

‘Nothing happened. Why do you ask?’

‘Well, apparently you can’t work here ever again. You’re sacked and I’m pissed off.’

Julia’s head was a jumble. Nothing about the evening was making sense. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘I’m already short a waitress on a long weekend Saturday night and now Ryan-bloody-Blackburn’s sacked you. He thinks just because he’s gorgeous he can get away with shit like that.’ Lizzie shook her head in disbelief, then paused, narrowed her eyes suspiciously at her best friend. ‘Oh yeah. And he seems to know you, by the way.’

Julia felt a pulse throb in her head, struggled a little to find the words. ‘I know I’ve been gone a long time, Lizzie, but when I last lived in this town, customers didn’t have the gall to start telling pubs who they can and can’t employ. What an enormous jerk.’ What an enormous handsome jerk.

Lizzie laughed in frustration. ‘Jools … you’re not listening. God’s gift to women out there? With the shoulders? He owns this place.’

A million questions popped like firecrackers in Julia’s head. She took a calming breath and fished around for the most important one.

‘Whoa. Wait a minute. What did you say?’ Pressing her index fingers to each temple was doing nothing for the throbbing.

‘Which part don’t you understand? The God’s gift part, or maybe the shoulders …’

Julia steadied herself. ‘Did you say that Ry Blackburn owns the Middle Point pub?’

‘Yeah, for a month now.’ Lizzie’s face creased in confusion. ‘Hang on, Jools. Nothing about tonight is making any sense to me. Are you going to tell me how you know him?’

Clutching her stomach, Julia sank back against the basin, wondering where the hell to start that particular story. She’d never revealed any of it to Lizzie, and standing in the ladies’ loo with terribly unflattering overhead fluorescent lighting didn’t seem like the right place to tell her. That particular story needed a long lunch, comfy chairs and at least three bottles of wine.

‘Let’s just say we knew each other once, a really long time ago.’ Julia could see questions on Lizzie’s face but was thankful her friend knew her well enough not to push.

‘Okay then. He wants me to pay you for tonight and throw you some extra for your trouble.’

Julia grinned wryly, took a deep breath. ‘I don’t think there’s enough money in the world for my troubles.’

Lizzie grabbed her in a tight hug and planted a loud kiss on each cheek.

‘Tomorrow. You. Me. A four-course meal of spag bol, white wine, red wine and chocolate, I promise. But you have to promise to tell me everything. Right now, I need to get back out there.’

‘Of course you do. I’m so sorry about tonight.’ Julia managed a sad smile.

‘It’s not your fault. Will it make you feel better if we workshop some form of revenge?’ Lizzie winked at her as she pulled the door open.

Julia smiled. After all these years, her best friend still knew exactly the right thing to say.

It was icy and blustery on the streets of Middle Point but Julia was glad of the ten-minute walk home in the dark.

Above her, the streetlights flickered, crackling on and off in electrical spasms, shuddering as the wind swung the power lines back and forth. The throb of the ocean’s waves calmed her, as ever, and she took in the salty trace of the ocean in the air. In the morning she knew she would be able to stare out to sea again, but at this time of night, it was nothing but a mysterious blackness, unlit by street lights or any big city’s luminous haze. She could easily hide in this darkness.

She needed time to clear her head. After talking with Lizzie, she’d grabbed her bag and coat and left the pub through the back door, navigating her way through the dimly lit car park to the side laneway and then out on to the esplanade. No, it hadn’t been a coward’s retreat, she’d convinced herself, but the safest way out of the place. How could she leave through the dining room and risk locking eyes with Ry? Her convenient escape would guarantee she could slip away unnoticed, at no risk of seeing him ever again. She still had some stubborn pride, after all, which she feared would be sorely tested if she were forced to slink past Ry, his wife and in-laws on the way out. A walk of shame from the sacked maidservant. That’s how city people had viewed her when she was a teenager serving them at the general store. Just another anonymous, interchangeable local girl there for the service of the holidaymakers and the weekenders.

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