By Jacqueline Cooper
‘He wants you to go to him to sign the divorce papers? Don’t you dare!’ Sally’s mum sounded outraged at the very idea. ‘You were at that man’s beck and call for 10 years. Let him come to you if he wants something. In fact let him come here to the house. I’ll get your Aunt Tricia and Aunt Betty round,’ she said grimly.
For a moment Sally pictured her soon-to-be ex-husband walking in to face her mum and the aunts, who’d be sitting in a row on the settee, arms crossed over ample bosoms, ready to lay into him. The image made her smile but she knew it would never happen. Greg, her ex, was the biggest wimp going. He wouldn’t dare face her family. Her mum used to think the sun shone out of him, so once the truth about their marriage finally came out, mum had taken it particularly hard, especially when Sally had to move back in to the family home until she got back on her feet. At thirty years old she’d ended up sleeping in her old bedroom, working two jobs to pay off her half of the debts she hadn’t even known Greg was running up.
She’d believed him when he said his fancy new car was a company car. She’d taken him at his word when he told her that his expensive phone and hi spec computer were second hand. She thought the luxury holidays they took three times a year were bonuses for Greg exceeding sales targets. She even believed he was ‘working late at the office.’ Looking back, she cringed at how naïve she had been.
She hadn’t even enjoyed the holidays due to the hours she’d had to put in at the gym beforehand, because Greg liked his wife to turn heads.
‘He won’t come here,’ she told her mother.
‘Just as well,’ her mum huffed. ‘Your dad would kill him.’
That was probably true. Her dad had liked him too. Truth was, everyone had liked Greg, and everyone had been furious at the way he had played them.
Sally’s three sisters were equally adamant she shouldn’t make things easy.
‘He ran you ragged for years,’ said one.
‘Just because he wants to take his bimbo to Las Vegas to get married,’ said another. ‘He’s so sure of you, he’s already booked the wedding. Don’t you dare go.’
‘Make him come to you. In fact, make him crawl. Ruin his plans the way he ruined your life.’
Had Greg ruined her life? She was still single but her debts were finally paid off. She had even done a course on horticulture at the local college and started her own gardening business – a career Greg would never have approved of.
When they were together she’d needed a prestigious position he could brag about. Many a time she’d come home exhausted from a long commute to find him pacing impatiently because he had made dinner plans without telling her. Instead of beans on toast in front of the TV she’d been looking forward to, she’d donned the clothes he’d laid out for her and headed out on his arm.
Unlike her family, Sally’s friends did want her to meet him and sign the papers, but only after she’d endured a complete makeover. Haircut, push up bra, killer heels, scarlet lipstick. They meticulously worked out every detail. One of them had a crash diet she swore would flat out guarantee Sally would stop traffic.
Over several bottles of wine they planned her triumphal march into Greg’s office, showing him exactly what he had lost.
Sally began to believe everyone might be right. Why should she make things easy for him? This time, she had the power. And why not glam up? She still cleaned up pretty well and despite the crash diet suggestion, her figure wasn’t too bad – all those hours digging people’s gardens had toned her better than any gym.
Gradually she began to warm to the idea. In fact, maybe she could pretend to have a wonderful new relationship of her own? Jeff, the man she’d taken on to help her with the heavier gardening work, happened to be gorgeous, single, and very easy on the eye. She was sure he’d be up for playing the trophy boyfriend if she asked him. To be honest, the idea of spending more time with Jeff held quite an appeal.
Her phone rang while she was contemplating this thought.
‘I need those papers signed today,’ Greg said without any greeting. ‘When can you get here?’
Sally looked down at her muddy jeans and work boots. ‘Actually, Greg, I’m busy-’
He sighed impatiently. ‘Lorraine said you’d be difficult. Look, don’t demean yourself like this Sally. Why can’t you just accept that I’m moving on?’
‘- but I’ll meet you later,’ she finished.
‘Oh. Okay. Lorraine and I are going to lunch to celebrate. Meet me there.’ He named the very expensive restaurant where he’d proposed to her all those years ago.
Sally picked up a couple of cold drinks from the chill box in the truck and carried them out to the garden where Jeff was digging out a new pond. It was a warm day and he’d removed his shirt. What Sally had said to Greg was true. She was busy. No way would she miss a diet coke moment with Jeff.
‘Everything okay?’ Jeff asked, wiping his brow with his forearm before accepting a can of coke.
‘Yes. I’ve got to go out in a bit.’
He tipped his head back and drank and Sally sighed happily.
An hour later, as ready as she would ever be, Sally drove into town. Before leaving the car she checked her appearance in the rear view mirror one last time, resisting the urge to fuss with her hair. Then, shoulders back, she walked into the restaurant.
The head waiter recognised her from old times. Possibly he remembered how she’d secretly added to the tip to make up for Greg’s meanness. His face remained impassive but he gave her a subtle thumbs up.
Grinning, Sally straightened her back and swept through the restaurant. Heads turned. Jaws dropped. She’d gone all out. Her friends would be proud.
Greg’s eyes popped like a cartoon character when she stopped at his table. Lorraine stared at her, slack jawed and speechless.
‘Sally!’ For once Greg sounded flustered. ‘What’s the meaning of this!’
Give him what for, mum had said.
Make him wait,’ her sisters had told her.
Dress to the nines to show him what he’s missing.
She looked down at her muddy jeans. Her faded t-shirt was covered in grass stains. She’d tied her long blond hair loosely with a simple rubber band. She had no gorgeous man on her arm. All the advice still rang in Sally’s ears but she knew her ex better than anyone. Her lack of effort spoke volumes and told him exactly what she thought of him.
Ignoring Greg’s fancy pen, she borrowed a cheap biro from a passing waiter and smiled sweetly at Greg. ‘Where do I sign?’
Jacqui Cooper currently lives in Yorkshire with her husband, a cat and a snake. The cat, she wanted, the snake, well that’s another story. She has always written but didn’t always submit her stories – until a couple of years ago when she gave herself a good talking to. Since then she has been published in People’s Friend and Take a Break. She has won the Henshaw Press short story competition and been placed or short listed in various others, including runner up in the inaugural 2015 Ann Summers short story competition. She also has a story in the Romantic Novelists Association anthology, Truly Madly, Deeply.