The two words were sung out by my best friends as I walked into the restaurant and approached the reserved table. These three ever-reliable women had arrived ahead of me, ready with a bottle of Prosecco and beautifully wrapped gifts.
I smiled my thanks. Swallowed my guilt.
‘Aaaw, you guys are the best. Thank you,’ I said. I took the remaining seat at the table for four next to Eliza. Opposite her was Jemima, and me, Katie.
‘Congratulations,’ said Eliza, wrapping her arm around my shoulders and pulling me in for a squeeze. ‘Two years since you left him. Two years of freedom, of happiness. How do you feel?’
How do I feel? No way could I answer that honestly.
‘Great,’ I lied. I took a sip of my drink. The bubbles exploded in my mouth; a fruity dance on my tongue. I sipped again. ‘Yeah, really great. It’s as if I can’t find the right words.’
Lame, Bridget. Very lame.
Katie didn’t seem to notice my pathetic excuse and thrust a gift across the table. ‘This is for you. We didn’t want to make a huge deal like last year, but we each decided to get you something small. We love you, Bridge. We’re here for you. Always.’
‘Thanks, Katie.’ I opened the present. Inside was a box, probably a candle or similar; the scent was potent, flowery, yet a woody undertone. Lifting the flap of the box, I saw a glass container filled with potpourri. ‘I know exactly where I’ll put this at home.’ I blew her a kiss.
‘What’s up with you?’ asked Jemima, narrowing her eyes. She was always going to be one that would notice. Sharp as a tack. She had known when Rob and I started to tank too, but I pretended we were fine until she called bullshit and demanded the truth.
‘Nothing,’ I responded. I avoided looking at her. Sipped my bubbles again.
‘Don’t believe you.’ Jem crossed her arms. Stared. This was her MO; she knew I’d cave. I knew I’d cave.
‘Jemima,’ said Eliza. The one who liked harmony. Always smoothing over any bumps in our fab-four friendship. ‘Perhaps now isn’t the best time to do this.’
‘No time like the present, right Bridge?’ Jem asked. She was still staring at me. ‘You’re seeing him again, aren’t you? That’s why you didn’t want us to pick you up tonight. He was there, at your place. In the home you bought after he trashed your life. Your safe haven. You fucken invited him back didn’t you?’ Jem’s eyes flashed. God she was scary when angered.
I sat still, with my eyes on my almost-empty glass, my hands in my lap.
‘Bridget,’ snapped Jemima. ‘We need an answer.’
I nodded. Jemima stood quickly; her chair scraped along the wooden floorboards. She grabbed her handbag and stormed out of the restaurant, without a word or glance in my direction.
‘Bridge, you’re an idiot,’ said Katie. This surprised me. She was the soft one. ‘We helped you get out. We fixed you, put you back together. How could you do this?’
I had no answer. I didn’t know why I took him back. But my night with the girls was over. I watched as Eliza and Katie left together, leaving me with the bill. I cried as I paid it, and then hurried back home to Rob.