It always starts with tea…
There was no lock in that evening; there were some grumbles from the locals who had come to expect it from me, but I was not in the mood. I closed up and was making my way to my room when I spotted Ruby in the kitchen boiling a kettle. “You want tea?” she asked.
“It always starts with tea, doesn’t it?” I replied, more to myself than anything else. Ruby looked at me strangely. “You’ve not been yourself ever since you got back from George’s, what’s up? He can’t be giving you grief about the pub, we’re doing great.”
I sat down at the table, and much as I tried to hold them back, the tears started to flow. Ruby sat next to me and took my hand, and suddenly I found myself telling her everything. And I mean everything. I am always good at the half-truth, but this time, I told her the whole truth. I told her about the release I got from dangerous fast driving and admitted the real circumstances behind my car accident. I told her about all the meaningless women I’d had over the years. And then I told her about meeting Maggie today, and how the child just had to be mine.
I was cried out and talked out, and Ruby still sat there with me. At last, she said, “Well, it’s time you went to bed. Let me think about what you told me, and we’ll talk again in the morning.”
I fell into a deep, almost comatose sleep, and when I woke I was shocked to see it was already 10 o’clock. I rushed to get dressed and found that Malcy and Karen had already started the early morning routine. I asked after Ruby, to be told that she had gone out earlier. “It was sweet of you to lend her your car,” Karen said. I tried not to show my shock; I never gave my car to anyone, but I was sure that Ruby had a good reason to use it.
It was late afternoon when Ruby came back in, and the pub was already busy, so we didn’t get a chance to talk. Midway through the evening, it quietened off a bit, and I let the staff run the bar. I went up to Ruby’s room and knocked on the door. After a moment Ruby answered, then stood aside to let me in. “Lucy’s asleep, so we should be OK to talk for a while,” Ruby told me as she showed me to a chair.
“You said we might talk again today,” I said, “and I’m assuming it has something to do with you borrowing my car today.”
“I didn’t think you’d mind given the circumstances,” She said. “I went over to see your Maggie today.”
I didn’t know if she was expecting a response or not, but I just sat there waiting for her to continue.
After a pause, she did so. “The good news is that Maggie hasn’t had a child, either yours or anyone else’s.”
“But, I saw him!” I exclaimed, “I even shook his hand!”
“Well, you’re off the hook on that one,” Ruby went on, “Maggie is looking after her sister’s child while her sister has a break. I had a long chat with Maggie; she’s a beautiful person you know. At first, she was mortified to think you’d assumed it was your child, but after a while, we both had a good laugh about it.”
“Well I’m glad you found it amusing,” I said.
“We did,” Ruby smiled, but it seemed to be only her lips smiling, not her eyes. “Then I decided that since I was out in your car, I’d go over and talk with Betty.”
“Betty and I used to be great friends until you came along, and it’s silly to lose a good friend over a man, especially one like you.”
I sat in silence; there didn’t seem to be anything I could say.
“You know, you’re a great talker, and a great worker, but you make a lousy boyfriend. You had me, that loved you more than the earth itself, but you couldn’t keep your pants on long enough to notice. You had a great thing going with Betty from what she tells me, but you gave it up for some rebound sex with an older woman. You had who knows how many girls, but when you thought Maggie had your child, your reaction was to run away.
“I’ve had enough Tony. I was starting to think maybe there could be something between us again, but that would be just fooling myself. You are who you are and will never change. I’ll be gone from here tomorrow morning. Betty said I could move in with her if I wanted, she has lots of room, but Maggie had already offered me the use of the cottage and her car until I can get back on my feet.
“So that’s where I’ll be, not that I expect you to call or anything. In fact, I think it will be better if you didn’t. Maybe it was a mistake me working here, but maybe I needed to do so to get you out of my head, once and for all.
“Now, isn’t it time you went down to the bar? I’m sure the customers would love to see your smiling face.”
I got up without a word and started to leave. As I got to the door, I turned to look at her, trying to think of something to say to make it OK, but she had her back to me. I closed the door behind me and went down to the bar.
You better believe we had a lock in that night, and the party went on day and night for weeks.