Natalie stood by herself on the terrace. Glass of champagne in hand, she looked like she was just enjoying the view. Inside she was seething and needed time out before she said something that sounded worse than she intended. She hadn’t been able to get hold of Matt all afternoon. Then, finally, just before she was due to leave for the party, she got a text.
“Sorry. Phone probs. Cycling around Island. Mx”
It seemed innocuous. The percentage of men in the Islands afflicted by ‘going out on a bike’ was reaching pandemic proportions. And everyone suffered ‘phone problems’ at some point. Didn’t they?
However, the problem wasn’t really Matt’s phone. Or his cycling. Natalie couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but over the past few months she’d felt a distance between them. The initial lockdown had made them spend more time closer together than at any point in their lives. But the closer they were physically, the further apart they seemed in every other way.
It was as if Matt had nowhere to escape except his head and the longer they spent together working from home, without the regular breaks office life and business trips usually provided, the more Natalie felt excluded from what was going on inside it.
Natalie hadn’t specifically told Matt what time they needed to leave for the party, but then he hadn’t specifically told her he was going to be out all afternoon on his bike. The tension was implicit rather than explicit, still too nuanced to be classified as ‘passive aggressive’, yet the resentment was building.
She spotted Molly across the terrace, walking in with Henry. They had clearly got past the point where every interaction had to involve the other’s feelings, but they still managed to act like a couple, in public at least.
“Sweetie! You look gorgeous!” Molly bounded up, her big smile instantly making Natalie feel at least 10% more buoyant. “Wow, that kayaking has really toned your arms. If only I could incorporate some paddle action into sorting the garden, we’d have the perfect exercise.”
Henry nodded at her, pleasantly, taking in the scene. After a few minutes of listening to the girls’ chat, he asked where Matt was.
“Out cycling.” Natalie finally admitted, keeping her tone light.
Molly gave Henry a look and he left, muttering something about going to find more drinks.
“Well, at least it gets him out of the house.” Molly began. “Is he coming later?”
Natalie shrugged. She didn’t have the energy to lie. She just felt a bit flat. Not really the spirit for being at a party, especially by herself.
“I’m probably not going to stop long anyway. It has been a tricky week.” Natalie didn’t want to tell Molly about the difficult conversation she’d had with the Managing Director that afternoon, as a rule, she kept a Mini Wall of China between business and social. You never knew who knew who.
Instead she began telling Molly about her strange encounter on her Kayak, the man with suntanned buttocks, and the woman on the terrace.
By the time she had finished, Molly was weeping with laughter, and she felt a bit more cheerful.
“But who could they be?” Molly asked. It doesn’t sound like anyone who actually lives down at Belcroute.”
“It was just so weird.” Natalie said. “One minute I was kayaking past a couple enjoying breakfast on the terrace. The next there was a naked man crashing through the underground, pursued by a mad man.”
“Do you think he was really mad?” Molly asked. “I mean in the sense of being insane, not just cross.”
“Well, I’m not sure. Isn’t anger a route to madness? Crimes of passion involving loss of control and all that.”
“Possibly. I’m just wondering whether this is like a ‘Beast of Jersey’ sort of madman, or a ‘I’ve caught you sleeping with my wife and I’m going to chop your balls off’ sort of mad man. One is slightly less dangerous for everyone else.”
“Good point. I have a feeling it might have been the latter. He had awfully nicely toned buttocks. The naked man. Not the angry one. I didn’t see those but have a feeling they might have looked quite angry too.”
Henry approached bringing an open bottle of champagne.
“Sorry girls. This is all I could find,” he said, replenishing their glasses. “There has been a bit of an incident with the catering staff. Francine’s latest beau backed into a waiter and appears to have rekindled the Falklands War.”
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, or actual events is purely coincidental.