Thursday 14 February 2013

Short Story: The Night Before Valentine's Day

The house was eerily quiet without Ethan. The rooms seemed bare, sapped of life and energy, the kitchen in particular. Jade wandered into the cool room, squinting as the harsh strip light illuminated the space devoid of Ethan and the piles of dishes that usually cluttered the worktops. Jade hadn’t been able to sleep earlier and had resorted to scrubbing every last dish and the worktops now gleamed after the thorough going over she’d treated them to. Her best friend had caught Jade with her head in the fridge, cleaning the inside to within an inch of its life. She’d made Jade a mug of hot chocolate and sent her up to bed. Nicola had gone up herself and was now tucked up in the spare room, sleeping soundly in her zebra-print pyjamas. Lucky cow. Jade still couldn’t sleep, despite the hot chocolate and the supposedly soothing sounds of whales wafting from the stereo. She was back in the kitchen but there was nothing left to clean. Unless you counted the oven, which Jade did not. She’d never been that desperate for a distraction and besides, chiselling away at the oven would ruin her nails, if the fridge hadn’t already.
                Jade held her hands out in front of her face to examine them and was relieved to see her nails were still perfect; gleaming pink with white tips and a single butterfly shaped diamante, tiny and silver, sitting upon her ring finger. Her engagement ring glistened from that very finger, bringing with it the memory of Ethan on bended knee in the sitting room, his hopeful features glowing pink and blue as the fairy lights from their first shared Christmas tree shone down on him.
                She’d said yes immediately, not even needing a nanosecond to consider the question. Ethan was everything to Jade and though they’d only lived together for a couple of months, it was already impossible to imagine him not being there when she went to sleep or there when she woke again.
                But he wasn’t there now. And he wouldn’t be there in the morning.
                “Still can’t sleep?”
                Jade jumped at the sound of the unexpected voice behind her. She hadn’t heard Nicola stir or her footsteps on the stairs. Had her best friend been training as some sort of ninja on the sly?
                “No and I don’t think I’ll sleep at all tonight.” The bed was too vast without Ethan, the sheets too cold.
                “Nervous about tomorrow?”
                Jade’s chest rumbled with laughter but nothing but a squeak left her lips. “Nervous? I’m way beyond nervous. Look.” She thrust a manicured hand towards Nicola, which trembled beneath her nose. “It’s all happening so fast, Nic. One minute Ethan’s proposing, the next I’m less than twelve hours from walking down the aisle.” She lowered her voice, dropping her gaze to Nicola’s black and white striped pyjama bottoms. “I don’t think I can do it.”
                “You’ve been engaged for over two years. Your engagement couldn’t have gone any slower.” Nicola smiled but her mouth sagged when the gesture wasn’t returned. “Are you seriously getting cold feet?”
                “Not cold feet exactly. More like cool feet.” Jade closed her eyes as she struggled to put into words the strange mix of emotions whirlpooling around her body. “I know I love Ethan. I can’t imagine not being with him. But I’m not sure I’m ready for marriage. It’s so grown up, isn’t it?”
                Nicola placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder and attempted to eradicate all traces of mirth from her voice. “I hate to break this to you, honey, but you’re thirty two. You are a grown up.”
                Jade managed to crack a brief smile. “Says who? Nobody told me.” The smile disappeared as she groaned, slumping against the shiny worktop. “But marriage though, Nic? Marriage? It’s forever.”
                “It’s Ethan forever.” Nicola assumed the reminder would perk Jade up. It didn’t. “What’s wrong with Ethan? You love Ethan.”
                “I know. I do. I really do.”
                “But it’s the little things.”
                “Like?” Nicola knew Ethan almost as well as Jade did. They’d all grown up together, although there had been no romance until a drunken confession of lust four years ago. To Nicola, Ethan seemed like the perfect boyfriend and husband-to-be. Although, to be fair, Nicola had a habit of attracting losers, ego maniacs and thieves so as long as a man could hold down a job, unglue themselves from their bathroom mirror and didn’t steal her dead grandmother’s ruby ring, he’d score highly in Nicola’s opinion.
                Jade considered the question. It was difficult to put her finger on her fears when put on the spot. “He snores.” There, she’d said it. Jade breathed a sigh of relief.          
                Nicola gave a hoot. An actual hoot as her eyes and mouth widened. “You snore too! Do you remember our first sleepover? We were nine. We didn’t have another until we were fourteen because I refused to sleep within a five mile radius of you again.”
                Jade batted away Nicola’s point with her hand. “We lived three streets away so you didn’t even sleep a mile away from me.”
                Nicola crossed the kitchen and pulled out a chair, plonking herself down and resting her elbows on the table. “So that’s it then? Ethan snores?”
                Jade pulled herself up from her slouched position on the worktop, straightening and tugging her shoulders back. “No, of course it isn’t just that. I’m not completely insane.”
                Nicola could have quite happily debated that point but thought better of it. As best friend and maid of honour, it was Nicola’s job to soothe and iron out any worries her friend – insane or otherwise – may be experiencing.
                “So what else is it?”
                Jade joined Nicola at the table, dropping into the chair as though all the stuffing had been knocked out of her.
                “He’s obsessed with football. Playing and watching.”
                “But that’s great.”
                Jade eyed her friend from across the table. “How, exactly?” Coming second to a bunch of blokes and a ball wasn’t what Jade would class as ‘great’.
                “Think of all the shopping we can do while he’s out playing football.” Jade raised her shoulders in a half arsed attempt at a shrug. “And he looks hot in a pair of shorts.”
                The corners of Jade’s mouth twitched into a reluctant smile. “Ethan does have fantastic legs.” Her smile blossomed as she pictured her fiancĂ© in a pair of shorts but it soon drooped again. “But he reads The Sun. The Sun.”
                “But you like the free tv guide that you get at the weekend.”
                Jade nodded. “That’s true, I suppose. I do like to know what’s coming up in the soaps.”
                “There you go.” Nicola reached across the table to give Jade’s hand a squeeze. “Is there anything else?”
                Jade gave a slow shrug of her shoulders. There must be more to her wobble than snoring, football and shite newspapers. She glanced around the kitchen for inspiration and it hit her full force in the gut. She gave a whimper, her Bambi-like eyes returning to Nicola’s.
                “He can’t wash up properly. He does everything in the wrong order and he rushes, too bloody eager to watch football or something so there’s always crusty bits of food left and I end up washing it all again.”
                Ok, this one was more difficult but not impossible. Ethan was pretty damn perfect so all Nicola had to do was counter his lack of dish washing skills with something he was wonderful at.
                “But he can cook.” And he did, almost every day. Willingly. Nicola’s eyes narrowed. Was Jade really unaware of what a lucky cow she was?
                “He has terrible taste in films!” Jade threw it out there, a last-ditch attempt to convince them both that she shouldn’t go through with the wedding.              
                “That’s true. Ethan’s taste in films is rubbish.” Nicola held up a finger, silencing Jade before she could make the order to call of the wedding. “But you’ll have a lifetime to teach him to love You’ve Got Mail just as much as you do.” Nicola could tell her friend was still teetering on the edge so she slammed her palm down on the table top and adopted her most stern voice. “You know this is all superficial stuff, right? Ethan is a good bloke. He’ll be a good husband. The best. You seem to be forgetting his good points. Tell them to me. Right now.”
                The last order was said so sharply, Jade’s eyes widened in fear and she began rattling off Ethan’s finer points without pausing for breath.
                “He’s great with his sister’s kids. Really great. I don’t have a clue what to do with them but Ethan’s a natural. He gets stuck in with them, teaching them football and playing with Barbies. He even changes nappies.” Nicola raised an eyebrow but kept quiet. It seemed Jade was on a roll. “He’s really nice to my mum and he doesn’t mind when she phones us three or four times a week to come and fix something at the house. He doesn’t complain. He just goes and fixes it. And he pretends to like her rank jam roly-poly .” Jade and Nicola both shuddered. “He never forgets to put the bins out and he brings me breakfast in bed before he leaves for every football match.”
                “He does?” Nicola had never wanted to slap someone across the chops more. Lucky cow didn’t even cover begin to cover it.
                Jade nodded and continued unprompted, definitely on a roll now. “He has a great career with brilliant prospects. He doesn’t bat an eyelid when we take over the sitting room for a girlie night in and he can recite every word from every episode of Friends.” The fear in Jade’s eyes was replaced with pride at this last admission. “He wasn’t even a fan until we moved in together.”
                “See? He’s brilliant.”
                Jade grinned. “He is, isn’t he?”
                “So brilliant I’m insanely jealous.”
                “And he loves me.”
                “He adores you, Jade.”
                “And I adore him, I really do. I’m being an idiot, aren’t I?”
                “The biggest idiot.”
                “Thanks for talking me round.”
                Nicola gave a shrug. “It’s my job.”
                Jade yawned suddenly, wide and loud, taking them both by surprise. “I’d better get to bed. I’ve got an important and busy day ahead of me tomorrow. Goodnight, Nic.”
                "Goodnight, Jade. No more wobbles, ok?"
                "No more wobbles. I promise."
                The two girls dragged their weary bodies up the stairs, climbed into bed and the house was quiet once more, preparing itself for the chaos that only the morning of a wedding could bring.


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