Katie laid the dress on her bed. She was in a towel, wet from the shower, about to get ready for her birthday party. Mateo had told her—after he’d chased Sergio out of the restaurant—that the party was cancelled, but on Saturday morning, as they were getting ready to open, Maeve had come in. She’d gone to Mateo’s office, and there’d been a muffled argument. When she came out, she’d told Katie the party was going ahead.
Katie had started to apologise—she felt responsible for Mateo finding out about Sergio’s stealing—but Maeve had stopped her. ‘It’s better that we know, darling,’ she’d said. She’d reached out to touch Katie as she said it, her hand circling Katie’s forearm. ‘Gosh,’ she’d said. ‘You’re a skinny little thing, aren’t you?’
And she was. The dress she’d bought for the party was two sizes smaller than she usually wore, and she was able to slip into it with ease. So why didn’t she feel happier?
‘Come with me,’ Aidan pleaded. ‘It’ll be fun.’
‘No,’ Holly said. She’d put the invitation to the party at Abramo’s in the recycling. Aidan had fished it out and put it on the fridge.
‘When you’re up to your elbows in nappies,’ he argued, ‘you’ll regret not going.’
‘Why are you so desperate to go?’
‘Maeve Agresta’s hosting. You know how much I love her.’
‘You love her TV show.’
‘I love her. I want to see her up close.’
Aidan was hard to say no to. Holly sighed. ‘I don’t have anything to wear.’
‘Holly,’ Aidan smiled, ‘you work in a department store.’
Maeve’s decorators had filled the restaurant with flowers, and turned the bar into a carnival float. The waitresses were in jewelled outfits with feather headdresses, and calypso music was playing so loudly that Mateo came out of his office to complain.
‘What do you think?’ Maeve asked, when she saw him.
‘It’s not very Italian.’
‘Not everything has to be Italian, darling.’
‘This is an Italian restaurant.’
‘Lighten up. I know you’re angry…’
‘Why aren’t you angry? You’re a shareholder. The boy was stealing from you as much as from me.’
‘I warned you. I told you Sergio was struggling.’
‘So it’s my fault?’
‘You were too busy chasing waitresses to be a father to him, Mateo. He stole from the restaurant because he knows it matters more to you than he does.’ She dared him—that face again!—to argue. ‘Now, our guests will be here in a few hours. If you’re not going to help, I suggest you go back to your office.’
‘Fine,’ Mateo snapped. ‘Turn the music down. It’s too loud.’
Robbie whistled when Katie walked in dressed for the party. ‘Look at you,’ he called. She blushed. It was unlike Robbie to pay attention to her while he was working.
He was setting up a grill on the terrace. Maeve was giving orders to the waitresses. ‘What should I do?’ Katie asked.
‘Have a cocktail,’ Maeve said, ‘This is your party, darling. Enjoy yourself.’ She steered her towards the bar, then hurried off to fuss with the decorations.
Katie hopped onto a seat and watched the hustle and bustle. She knew it was Maeve’s party more than hers, but it was nice to feel at the centre of things. She wondered what Angel would make of it. What she’d say if she saw her with Robbie. If she saw her in this dress. If she saw how much weight she’d lost. And then she realised she didn’t have to wonder.
You can come if you want. Angel was working the fitting rooms when she sneaked a look at her phone and saw Katie’s text. She’d forgotten it was her birthday, hadn’t realised the party at Abramo’s was in her honour, and wasn’t sure how—or whether—to respond. It was strange hearing from Katie out of the blue.
She was mulling her reply when Holly appeared with an armful of dresses. ‘Going somewhere?’ Angel asked, showing her to a cubicle.
‘This party at Abramo’s tonight,’ Holly replied. ‘If any of these fit.’
‘You’re going to that?’
‘Unfortunately, yes. Are you?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Angel said. She glanced at her phone. ‘Maybe.’
Because it was a bank holiday, Andy was keeping the twins until Tuesday morning, which meant Erin was eating dinner alone. It was warm, and the kitchen window was open. She’d heard the preparations for the party throughout the day, the bangs and shouts reminding her of the night of the fire. Now, she was distracted by the sounds of the party getting started, fidgety and uncomfortable in her seat, pushing food around her plate.
Jen had called her that morning. ‘We’re going to this party,’ she’d purred into the phone, ‘Colin got an invite from a client. It’s supposed to be very exclusive. Maeve Agresta’s going to be there.’
Erin hadn’t bothered to tell her that she had her own invitation to the party. Nor had she mentioned that she’d known Maeve for twenty years, something Jen would have been aware of if she paid any attention to the details of Erin’s life.
She got up from the table and emptied her plate into the bin. She wanted, suddenly, desperately, to go and buy a bottle of wine. Camilla, her psychologist, had predicted that Erin would find it hard to maintain sobriety. You were right, she thought, slipping into her shoes.
When she came out on to Pechey Terrace, the street was busy with people on their way into the party, bustling past Erin in their fancy outfits. She wondered if Colin and Jen were among those already inside, enjoying Mateo’s hospitality. It occurred to her that there might be a better solution to her discomfort than buying a bottle of wine. She could go inside and tell them the truth.
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E.L. Drayton, The Storyteller, writes blog posts about her decades-long journey as a creative writer. She also writes short fiction every Friday that can be read in one sitting. New serialised fiction series begins summer 2022, with chapters released weekly! If you need more convincing, here’s a FREE download of some of her best short stories.
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