At birth, a human holds two-hundred and seventy bones, as our bodies decay and bones fuse together it settles at a reasonable two-hundred and six.
Settling and decaying was how Sara felt scraping her makeup on. The soft bristles wiped away her aging skin, with ease her freshly painted mask settled back into its normal pores. After thirty minutes of horrifyingly gazing at her own reflection, the plumped up dewy skin of her youth had returned. The skin that had witnessed the trapping of her nineteen-year-old self when her now husband stole the best years from her. Sara had not always felt like this. There was a time when every part of her was alive and not just the rotting flesh shell that held in her hopes and dreams. Shortly before she had married, her then best friend Julia had given her the best advice she never took.
“You’re too young to get married. He’s twenty years older than you. It won’t work, you need to live your life, listen to Julia…” Sara repeated her words out loud. “I should have listened to Julia…”
With one last glance into her mirror, Sara dusted out the creases in her dress and dragged herself down the never-ending stairs to where a once attractive man stood.
“I’ll be away for the next three weeks Sara, try and keep yourself busy.” The loveless words wandered through the empty home.
That was the relationship Bryan wanted. Loveless. Just for show, a younger wife to play ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ within his business circle, only Sara was now thirty-five and nearing her sell-by date in his views. His views were the only ones that mattered in his house. Something that Sara slowly started to learn after her third year of marriage, after the warmth had faded from this once charming man. She knew she was his fourth wife and expected to be his last but nothing in Bryan’s fast lifestyle ever lasted. Unfortunately, Sara at nineteen did not realise and Sara at thirty-five did not want to accept. Naïve to think that she was marrying for something more than a bank account, Sara wanted excitement in her life. To find adventure with the man she wholeheartedly loved. That would never be the case.
Though three weeks to play the part of a devoted wife pining for her husband as she really sat in the bliss of silence was something that Sara could accept. Pulling out her little purple diary she flicked through to this week’s itinerary. Her finger landed on Tuesday, October eleventh, today she was meeting her beloved friend Imogen for coffee after Imogen had dropped her children off at school but before her nanny brought back the youngest to her in the afternoon. Prime time for the two friends. If Sara would be honest with herself she would clearly recognise that they were not friends in the most orthodox sense of the word. More of a convenience friendship. Imogen lived only a few houses down from Sara and much like Sara, Imogen married young to an older man who is constantly away on business. If that business was including holidays away from his growing family to spend time with one of the many women he managed then his business was booming. Now, that is not to say either of these women were victims of terrible husbands. Of course, Imogen had been through her fair share of gardeners and the odd electrician, filling Sara in with the excitement and gossip of her small life. Though in Sara’s case, a sadness always dawned upon her. These women knew what they were marrying into and knew how to live the life, she did not.
“So, any gossip?” Imogen perched at the edge of the slack, brown leather couch in their favourite, and only, coffee shop.
“I wish, it’s a small town nothing much ever happens. How about you?” Sara was right, it was a small town just a regular suburban American town, the gossip Imogen was referring to, as always, was who was sleeping with who. Or what new affair had surfaced.
“It’s a small town but come on Sara sweetie, there’s so much that takes place! Did you hear about Faye’s husband being caught with their gardener? What a scandal!” Imogen continued to gossip about the affair between one man and his garden help as Sara’s mind wandered off into the safety of her own daydream. Something that was desperately needed when taking coffee with the most prolific gossip mill.
This was their friendship. Sara pretending to listen to Imogen’s boring, endless gossip while Imogen made Sara feel like she was not completely alone. Often during these coffee mornings, Sara found herself back to when she had real friends, like Julia. To when they would stay up all night as friends do talking about the adventures they would go on, throwing caution to any breeze. Anything to escape from their current lives. They were young then and it seemed possible to go travelling without a care or move to another city without a job to go to. Most people grow out of this knowing that at some point they must become a mature, sensible adult. Not Julia. Not Sara. They made a promise that one day they would travel. The promise was made sixteen years ago and not one that was kept. It was broken the day Sara married, when Julia never arrived at the venue the night before, leaving Sara to search for her best friend. When she finally got back to the hotel room a postcard was left on Sara’s pillow with only the word ‘life’ written across a sunset picture.
“Sara, do you agree?” Imogen asked becoming annoyed.
“So, you agree that Faye drove her husband to sleep with another man? Seriously?”
“Couldn’t you hear the sarcasm?”
“No, you’re not very good at that…” Again, Imogen began to talk while Sara half listened, half looking out the window into the street. Imogen had just finished telling Sara why she thought Faye and her husband had an odd relationship when something caught Sara’s eye. A face she had not seen in such a long time. A homely face that she was now almost running towards, leaving Imogen mid-sentence and alone.
“Jesus Christ, you really did become the desperate housewife.”
“You recognise me?”
“Not the old you no, that died the day you signed a prenup. But whatever you have been injecting your face with is working, I need that!” Julia started to laugh. She had the sort of laugh that would paint a smile on your face even if she had just slapped you with an insult.
“Where did you go? Why did you leave that night?”
“Botox is killing your memory doll. That was the night we had planned three years before. That was the date we were going to travel. I got my ticket and you said you would get yours.”
“I was engaged though you knew that.”
“You got engaged after three months of knowing the guy and set the date for three months after. I had already bought a none refundable ticket to Edinburgh, Scotland, before you even met him, like you were meant to. I hoped after we had talked you would see sense and leave.”
“So why didn’t you tell me?”
“What was the point? We said we would meet at Benny’s Books before we went to the airport and when you didn’t show I knew you hadn’t changed your mind. So, I left a postcard in your room and underneath it, the letter.”
“The one with all the places I was going and the dates in case you changed your mind.”
“I never got that letter.”
“No, I guess that was stupid of me, Bryan probably still has it.”
As the initial sting faded to a gentle throb, the pain between two old friends lingered but the unanswered questions and years of life they had both lived needed to be told. Sara invited Julia to her home so they could learn what had happened in the past sixteen years.
Normally coffee would have been made, but this was something momentous, worthy of opening the good champagne. Despite Bryan’s forewarnings that he expected the wine and champagne to still be intact. He liked Sara to remain sober in case alcohol gave her ideas of leaving before he was finished with her. With every sip years melted away taking them back to how they were long before marriage and travelling began. Sara described in detail her life so far, the parties she was expected to attend, the dresses she was expected to wear, even down to the friends she was expected to have. Of course, this took no longer than twenty minutes.
“It has just taken you twenty minutes to describe the last part of your life Sara, that was never you. That’s not how you wanted to live your life.”
“I know. Tell me about yours so I can at least imagine some adventure!” Sara laughed.
This went on for quite some time as Julia began in Scotland, where the journey was to start. She described how, when she arrived she was alone in a pub listening to a few local bands, sampling everything, not just the beer and spirits. After Scotland, she did the whole American in England visiting everything from the Beatles museum to Buckingham Palace. Once England had been conquered France was next, then Germany and slowly working her way around the entire of Europe before she found herself back in the small pub in Edinburgh.
“Was it that good you went back?” Sara laughed, with her buoyancy of spirits returning so did the trust of their past friendship.
“No, it was who was there that made me go back!”
Sara listened as Julia described a Scottish drummer called Aaron. He left with his band to travel to America while Julia travelled Europe, promising that they would meet back in that pub once Aaron’s band had finished in America and Julia had made it back to Scotland.
“Did you meet? What happened?”
“We were meant to meet in The Hog’s Head on October fourteenth. I arrived, ordered a drink and sat alone drinking until the end of the night. He never showed. I stayed there for another three nights waiting for him. I realised he wasn’t ever coming back and took the first flight back here.”
“I’m so sorry Julia.”
“I’m not! It inspired me to write this,” placing her bag on her knees Julia pulled out her best-selling novel, Broken Hearts and Lemon Tarts: An American Girl’s Guide to Britain.
“You wrote that?”
“Yeah, the entire series of them. Well, now you know Destiny King is actually your good friend Julia Green.”
Unknown to Sara, all the times she had read the adventures of Destiny King she was following the real life of her long-lost friend. A sickening mist of regret clouded around her. Those could have been her stories to tell, her mysterious French man, her broken heart. Sitting in silence, Julia knew what her estranged friend was thinking, leaving her to stew in the regret.
“Did you ever go back after that?”
“After he left me waiting? Hell no!”
“I think you should go back. No, I think we should go back! What if he’s there? What if every October fourteenth he waits there for you! Julia, we should go! Tonight!”
“You need to calm down! I’m pretty sure Bryan will be due back from a business meeting or buying some more land or whatever it is he does. I should go.” As Julia stood up to leave Sara grabbed her by both arms.
“He’s away for three weeks anyway, he wouldn’t even know if I had gone! Besides he told me to keep busy and this is!”
“Are you going because he told you to keep busy or because you finally want to live your life?”
Reaching inside her perfectly kept black bag Sara slipped out her purple diary, slightly opening it allowing a piece of card to fall out. A postcard. The postcard Julia had left her sixteen years before. With both friends grinning a quick dash to the laptop opened the flight possibilities for tonight, they were in luck but unfortunately, only first-class seats remained.
“Thank you, Bryan!” Sara laughed as she booked their flights.
Rummaging through her wardrobe Sara and Julia found all their travel needs including two Radley London suitcases, they were going to the UK after all, they seemed fitting. Once the hour-long rush was over, Sara left a note for Bryan.
If you’re back before I am then I have gone away with a friend. No, I’ve not run off with another man, I’ll leave that to Faye’s husband
Love you forever,
“Love you forever? Really? “Julia asked.
“I did love him at one point, I guess I always will.” Sara realised this note was not a simple, be back soon, more of a goodbye.
The car arrived taking them to the airport and the long journey to Manchester, England, started with the popping of more champagne corks.
The flight took less time for the two friends as they were reminiscing on their youth. Finally, making the journey together for their planned adventure. They decided to stay in Manchester for one night, before making the next flight to Edinburgh as they had a few days to kill before Julia would find herself back in the pub that started her journey sixteen years prior.
Getting into a taxi they were dropped off not long after in front of a tall silvery glass building with glass doors sliding open they were greeted by two men on the reception front desk.
“How can I help you?” One man asked.
“We’re looking for a room just for tonight,” Julia answered.
“Ah! You’ll want the Hilton Deansgate, just next door, I’ll walk you through.” The older man stood up and kindly escorted Sara and Julia back through the doors passing many refined men in suits. They did not go unnoticed. Despite the plethora of distracting men, Julia and Sara eventually checked into the hotel. Swiftly throwing their bags into the rooms, they took the day to sleep after a long flight. When night time had arrived, Sara faced Julia for the friend approval test on her outfit before heading to Cloud 23 for a few celebratory drinks. Settling in at a table for two, overlooking Manchester, it was not long before the dazzling lights were not the only things demanding their attention.
“From the two gentlemen at the bar.” Placing down the two daiquiris, Sara smiled at the tall man stood at the bar who was now walking over.
Introducing himself as Jamie, his arrogance and confidence was something Sara could not resist.
“Thank you for the drinks, my friend here is just waiting for her husband to come back from his business meeting.” Julia smiled.
“I apologise, this is my number if your husband doesn’t come back from his meeting tonight.” Winking at Sara the suave man sauntered back over to his chubby friend.
“Why did you do that?”
“Because he’s the normal dick you tend to end up with. Remind you of anyone?”
“What? Does it hurt for one night?”
“You have his number, call him when we get back from Edinburgh. I’m sure he’ll still be here.” Julia sniggered.
“I don’t know why you’re laughing, you’ll have to play wing-woman and keep his little friend over there amused!” They both turned to look at the two very different men with a giggle escaping them.
“Yeah, little is the right word, honestly he must come up to my boobs!”
“He might be a sweet guy!”
“See if he wants to join you and Mr. Swagger then if you think he’s so sweet!”
Still laughing when they reached their rooms, they said goodnight and for the first time since her marriage, Sara felt alive.
The next morning, however, saw the deadly curse of the hangover loom over them both. Being over the age of twenty-four, meant these once easily curable mornings were now a nightmare when trying to stomach boarding a plane. Even after twenty-four hours had passed since the last drink.
Staggering as they boarded their next flight Sara and Julia’s bodies were paying for the reckless night of drinking they had been part of. Landing into Edinburgh the cool wind eased over them as they vowed never to drink again.
“Maybe just one for courage?” Sara asked as they arrived outside the beautiful boutique hotel they would be staying in for the next few days.
“Not in The Hog’s Head, I can’t face there until tomorrow night!” Julia replied.
That evening they headed to the hotel’s restaurant filling themselves up on the greasy home-made chips and battered sausages. Even treating their palates to the taste sensation of a deep-fried Mars bar, a brilliant Scottish delicacy. The fat and grease were just what they needed as they turned the talk to the rest of the evening’s plans.
“There’s a haunted walk tour around Edinburgh we could go on?” Sara suggested.
“Where do they take you?”
“It says it starts with the stories and sites of witch trials, pagan rituals, and executions at Calton Hill and North Bridge. Then visiting Old Calton Burial Ground and Canongate Kirkyard, oh says you go to a local pub as well!”
“Let’s book it then! Do you get a tour guide?”
“Yeah, says here you do!”
Ensuring their place on this ghostly walk was secured, Sara and Julia went to their rooms to change into something more appropriate for walking and climbing around Edinburgh in mid-October. With sensible shoes tied, the tour had begun with many screams from petrified walkers as the hired actors from the tour jumped out in the graveyard and from behind the walls of the twisting, narrow roads. Around ten o’clock, the evening came to an end leaving the many frightened people from the walk in the Black Bull Inn trying to drink away the feeling that something ghostly was following them. Naturally, Sara and Julia found this highly amusing as they sat down with just a pint of soda water each, enhanced by a dash of lime.
“Are you nervous about tomorrow?”
“No, of course not, seeing a man who stood me up sixteen years ago who probably won’t be in there. Not making me feel nervous at all!”
“Is that sarcasm? Because I’m really not good with it.”
“Yes, Sara and no. I do feel nervous but at the same time the likelihood of him being there is probably slim.”
“But he might be in there.”
“Hold on my phone is ringing,” Julia paused for a moment, “I need to take this.”
Running outside to get a better signal, left Sara fiddling in her bag with the business card she had been given in Manchester. Making a sober decision a quick text left her phone, her heart beating faster when a message flashed across her phone. What was it she was feeling? Nerves? Regret? Betraying her husband by consciously flirting with another man? No, it was excitement. Sara was feeling the rush of the chase, something she never felt with Bryan. He was overpowering in his direct approach it left no time for flirtation. From nothing to marriage in six months with only one person feeling in love giving the other the power to make them feel how they want. Bryan’s choice of emotion was always detachment, it suited him becoming more aloof over the years. Jamie, however, gave Sara equal emotional control. Not quite the arrogance that Julia had first thought. One more message was sent as Julia took her seat.
“That was my literary agent.” The words came out slowly, calculated.
“Yes? Is everything ok?”
“It’s better than ok! They’ve been contacted about the rights to my books, someone wants to make them into a film series!” Julia could no longer hide her excitement but that was quickly covered by her apparent worry.
“That’s amazing! Julia congratulations! Julia?”
“What if they don’t do them right though? Also, there’s no end to them.”
“You can request creative control over it, think of the things that are important. What if this is the end to them? To come full circle and finish where it all began with Aaron?”
“I think I need something stronger than this!”
One drink made way to another and eventually to the unlucky Scottish man taking them home in a taxi, having to decipher exactly where they were staying through broke speech and drunken slurs. Driving around the city for what seemed like two hours Julia finally pointed to a hotel. With a soft spot for the two American women, the taxi driver did the decent thing by charging them a small fare and helping them into the hotel. Where they now became the hotel’s responsibility.
Sleeping well into the afternoon, Sara awoke to the buzzing of her phone on the wooden bedside table. Her eyes half shut she briefly skipped through messages left and a few phone calls from Jamie accompanied by twenty missed calls and the culprit now banging on the door.
“Sara! It’s Julia! You need to wake up!” Dishevelled, Sara opened the door and slumped back into bed.
“It’s Aaron! I was speaking to one of the guys in the restaurant and he said Aaron owns the Hog’s Head now!”
The new information sent chills spiralling around Sara’s body. It was like it was meant to be. There was no other way for her to describe it. Julia ushered Sara into the shower so they could spend the afternoon calming Julia’s nerves, planning what would happen. Eventually, the afternoon’s planning slipped into the night’s actions. This time it was Julia looking to her friend’s approval for what she had chosen to wear, to greet a man she should have met sixteen years before.
Walking through the cobbled streets linking arms together they finally arrived outside The Hog’s Head.
“This is it, no turning back.”
“No turning back.”
Julia walked through the weathered oak doors into a pub that had not changed. She quickly located the exact same spot she was sat in when she first came here and grabbed Sara by the wrist, leading her over. Being a good friend, Sara went to the bar to get the first lot of drinks in. With bile rising in her throat Julia wasted no time in emptying an entire bottle of wine within the first thirty minutes.
Through her blurring vision that is when he saw him. Aaron had not changed in the time that had passed, his dark hair and blue eyes were easily distinguishable. Even distressed jeans had not changed. Though, Julia did not recognise the blonde woman who was now kissing his stubble. Nor did she know the teenage boy calling him dad and the young girl asking her ‘daddy’ for a drink.
Julia did not need to speak. Her doleful eyes were the only expression Sara needed as the reality set in. Julia was just too late.
“I want to leave.”
Without question Sara picked up her friend’s coat and bag she had left in the rush of running out, following her into the night and back into the hotel.
“How could I have been so stupid? I actually started to believe that maybe he was still here, maybe he was still waiting for me.”
“No, it’s my fault I shouldn’t have made you come here!”
“No, you should have, it’s been fun, doing what we said we would do. The best thing to come out of all of this!”
“Not the best, when we get back I’m filing for divorce. It’s not too late for me to live my life.”
Squeezing her friend, Julia could not stop the grin on her face developing.
“I’m going to head to bed, we can go back to Manchester tomorrow, if you still have that Jamie guy’s number?” Julia smiled leaving her friend to wander into the hotel bar.
Sitting at the bar by herself, Sara did not feel alone, especially since the taxi driver from the previous night took up the seat next to her.
“Aye, I thought I might have found you here. But the question is, what brought two nice girls to Edinburgh?” He asked,
“I guess we were looking for answers we already knew.” Sara smiled.
“Did your friend find Aaron at the Hog’s Head?”
“Yeah, and his wife and family. How did you know about that?”
“Well, that’s all she kept saying when she was in the taxi. I tried to tell her about his wife and kids.”
“I wish you had, it might have saved her the sobering heartbreak tonight.”
“He waited for her you know.”
“Aye, he was a young lad, when it all happened. The tour he was on had a few extra dates added, so by the time he got back in late October he was hit with two lots of bad news. First, his father had passed away while he was in America but had left him this pub. The second was more of a shock. A few months before he left, Aaron had broken up with his girlfriend, by the time he got back she had given birth to his son. He promised to help with the child but he told one of his friends he was waiting for a girl to come back as she had promised. A year went by and no mysterious girl. Eventually, the friendship between the mother of his child and he grew into a relationship again. They got married another year after that on the fourteenth of October. He’s been running that pub for sixteen years.” Taking his glass from the bar the taxi driver smiled and walked to his own table.
The next day Sara and Julia travelled back to Manchester and on the short plane journey, Sara told Julia what the taxi driver had mentioned.
“I guess I got my end.” Was all Julia said as her finger smacked the keyboard to her laptop.
Sara sat in Cloud 23 waiting for Jamie. They took a bottle of champagne back to his hotel room. Seductively sat on his armchair she allowed her clothes to fall and as the last piece of clothing slipped to the floor Sara felt like her life was no longer in fragments, escaping her. She was only just starting to make up for the lost time and escapades.
In a rush for her flight home, Sara promised to keep in touch with Jamie once she got back to America but the truth was she never would. She had more important things to handle like leaving Sara Henderson behind, becoming Sara Aphrodite once more.
The divorce was quick and painless, apparently the prenuptial agreement she had signed only counted for the first ten years of the marriage, to Bryan’s dismay.
Free at last Sara could spend time with her real friends, creating memories and not just social events.
Although, one event she could not miss came a year after her first adventure. Sara Aphrodite met her friend Julia Green outside Benny’s Books, October fourteenth, for the launch of Destiny King’s final book.
Broken Hearts and Lemon Tarts: An American Girl’s Best Friend and The Bitter-sweet End.