It was a night of laughter and celebration. But when John dies in a dreadful accident, his girlfriend Emma is plunged into despair. She loved John more than life itself - and now death has taken him from her. She feels nothing, she has lost everything, her world spins out of control. Or so she thinks. For Emma has friends - good friends who rally round. But the memory of that night returns to haunt each of them in different and trying ways. And Emma knows that is she is ever to laugh at life again, or find the love she once had, she will have to let go of the man she thought she couldn't live without. She must let go and trust her heart.
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Anna McPartlin, who was shortlisted for Newcomer of the Year in the 2007 Irish Book Awards, was formerly a stand-up comedian and a cabaret performer. She lives in Dublin with her husband, Donal.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Thin Blue Line
It was early March and raining. The clouds were relieving themselves with a ferocity akin to a drunk urinating after fourteen pints.I looked through the frosted glass, imagining the impact the downpour would have on my whites blowing wildly in the accompanying gale. Then back to the floor, immediately noticing the slight yellowing in the grouting around the toilet.
Men, I thought.How hard is it to aim for the loo? I briefly contemplated how it was that my boyfriend could manage to clear a pool table with pinpoint accuracy, park a car in a space the size of a stamp and yet when it came to pointing his mickey in the direction of a large bowl, he had the judgment of a drunken schoolboy. The edge of the bath felt cold under my skirt.
Three minutes can be a long time. I wondered would it feel so long if I were defusing a bomb. I started to count the seconds but quickly lost interest. The mirror needed cleaning.I'd do it tomorrow.I absentmindedly played with the stick in my hand until I remembered that I'd just peed on it.I put it down. I brushed invisible fluff from my skirt, this being a habit I had picked up from my father although obviously he was not a skirt wearer. It was our response to nerves. Some people wring their hands; my dad and I clean our clothes.
The first time I really noticed our shared trait was when my brother, age seventeen, announced that, instead of becoming the doctor my parents had dreamed of, he was going to become a priest. My mother, mortified by the thought that she would lose her son to an absent God, spent an entire evening screaming shrilly before breaking down and taking to her bed for four days. My dad sat silently cleaning his suit. He didn't say anything but his disappointment was profound. I remember that I wasn't too pushed at the time. As a self-obsessed teenage girl, I didn't share the same concerns about Noel's sacrifice as my parents, although I admit that the thought of having a priest in the family was slightly embarrassing to me.
We weren't very close then. He was your typical nerd, bookish, intense and politically aware. He studied hard, brought out the bins without being asked and was an ardent Doctor Who fan. He never smoked, never indulged in underage drinking or for that matter in girls. For a while I thought he was gay, but that theory passed when I realized that to be gay you had to be interesting. Still, we were adults now and, although I could never understand his utter devotion to The Almighty, times had changed and all the traits that made for a nerdish teenager guaranteed a fascinating adult. I now counted Father Noel as one of my best friends.
I was twenty-six years old. I was in love and living with John, my childhood sweetheart. I had the pleasure of watching my lover grow from a fair-haired, blue-eyed, idealistic boy to a fair-haired, blue-eyed, self-assured man. We'd been together nearly twelve years and for me he was definitely The One. We'd been living together happily since college. We were renting a nice place -- two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a cute sitting room -- just off Stephen's Green and although it was small and sometimes smelled of sweet old lady, it wasn't that expensive, which was amazing considering the location. I had a good job. Teaching was never my life's dream, but then I considered myself lucky to have been unburdened by ambition. Teaching seemed as good a job as any. Some days I liked the kids and some days I didn't, but it was steady. I was home most days by four thirty and I had three months off in the summer. John was still in college doing a PhD in psychology, but he also managed to hold down four shifts a week as a bartender. Some weeks he'd bring home more money than I would and he maintained that he learned more from drunks than he would in college.
We were happy. We were a well-adjusted happy couple.We had a good life, good prospects and good friends. There are a lot of people who would like to have the kind of security we had with one another.
My mother had often pondered aloud as to when John and I would think about marriage. I'd tell her to mind her own business. She'd note that I was her business. We'd fight about the issue of privacy versus a mother's love. At twenty-six I felt too young to marry and this feeling remained, despite my mother constantly reminding me that she had two young children by the age of twenty-four.
"It was a different time," I used to say and that was true. Most of my mother's friends were married with kids by the time they reached their mid-twenties. I was from a completely different generation. The Show Band versus the MTV generation. While she grew up on Dickie Rock, I gyrated to Madonna. Before meeting my dad, her idea of a fun night out was lining up against the wall at the local dance hoping one of the lads would pick her for a waltz. I, on the other hand, was from the disco generation. Besides, none of my friends were married.
OK, that's a lie. Anne and Richard met in college. She was the middle child of a middle-class family from Swords. He was the son of one of the richest landowners in Kildare. They met in a queue to sign up for an amateur drama group during orientation week. They got talking, abandoned the queue to get coffee. After that, they were inseparable. They married a year after college. Big deal, they were the only ones.
Clodagh, my best friend since age four, hadn't managed to hold down a relationship over four months. She had emerged from college a tenacious, intelligent, hardworking career woman, managing to work her way up to senior account manager of a large advertising firm within three years. She succeeded in all she did, with the small exception of her romantic life, and that perceived failure hurt her.
Then there was John's best friend, Seán, dark, brooding, dry and beautiful. Clo called him "the living David." He had not only made his way through eighty percent of the girls in the Trinity Arts block, he'd also managed to nail a few lecturers along the way. His longest relationship to date had been with an American girl called Candyapple (her real name, I kid you not) during a summer we all spent working in New Jersey. She was your typical coffee-skinned, brown-eyed, big-breasted, small-waisted nightmare. She had long curly brown hair that somehow reminded Anne of the Queen guitarist Brian May. Seán called her "Delicious"; the rest of us called her "Brian." They lasted six weeks. He left college and after a few false starts he fell on his feet, landing a job as editor of a men's magazine. His quick wit, sincere worship of football and encyclopedic female carnal knowledge ensured his continuing success. Relationships didn't matter and marriage and family certainly was not a priority.
John loved our life. You know those smug couples you meet and instantly hate? He could be smug like that. He never seemed to care that Seán had his pick of women through college. He didn't even mind that he had only ever had sex with one person. He was content, loved up, happy. He was rare. We were rare.
The first time we had sex we were both sixteen. We were in a tent on the side of a hill in Wicklow. It was a warm summer night, not a cloud in sight. The moon was full, round and bright, the sky was navy and thick like velvet, the trees were towering, leafy and smelled of sun. No wind, no breeze, the world seemed still. We had our little campfire, a picnic basket, a packet of condoms and a bottle of wine, which we both merely sipped, our underdeveloped taste buds mistaking its fruity freshness for the taste of rancid crap. Kissing turned to cuddling, which turned to snuggling, which led to nuzzling, graduating to feverish genital rubbing and one hymen later we were lying in one another's arms looking up at the cigarette stains on the blue nylon tent, wondering what all the fuss was about.
Clo had warned me that practice made perfect. We managed it four times before we returned to our respective parents, proud and full of secrets.
I wasn't ready. I felt sick, praying it was stress-related and not morning sickness.
Oh fuck. What will I do? I don't want to be a mother. I don't want to be a wife. I don't want to feel like I'm my mother before I've lived. I want to do things, I'm not sure what. I want to experience different places, I don't know where. I'm not ready.
I hadn't mentioned to John that my period was over two weeks late nor had I mentioned that I had bought a pregnancy test. I wasn't used to keeping secrets from him but I was sure that I was right not to involve him in this.
Why worry him?
The problem was I wasn't sure if he would be worried. He smiled when my mother teased us about marriage and babies. He'd take time in a supermarket to stop and smile at a dribbling child, while I would push through the throng, impatient with everything bar getting what we'd come for and leaving.
He would be excited, I could feel it in my bones. Worse than that, he would want the baby. There would be no furrowed brows or tearful decisions to be made. There would be excitement and planning and books and baby clothes. My stomach started to hurt.
I'm not ready.
My hands were shaking as I turned the stick.
Please don't be blue, please God, don't be blue!
My eyes were closed although I don't remember voluntarily closing them. I sighed deeply and this reminded me that I was a smoker so I lay the stick down and ran to my bedroom to grab a packet of cigarettes. I returned and lit up. I inhaled deeply, determined to enjoy what could be my last cigarette for a long time. My intention was to finish the entire cigarette before unveiling my future. However, this plan was obliterated by the sound of John's key in the front door. I hastily put the cigarette out by dousing it in cold water with one hand while waving madly with the other in an attempt to dissipate the smoke, which seemed to billow arou...
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