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Cecelia Ahern 2-Book Valentine Collection: PS I Love You, Where Rainbows End

Cecelia Ahern 2-Book Valentine Collection: PS I Love You, Where Rainbows End
Cecelia Ahern 2-Book Valentine Collection: PS I Love You, Where Rainbows End Cecelia Ahern A deliciously romantic set of two of Cecelia Ahern’s best-loved titles, PS I LOVE YOU and WHERE RAINBOWS ENDIn PS I LOVE YOU, Holly and Gerry were childhood sweethearts, soul mates who should have been together forever, and when the unthinkable happens, Gerry’s death devastates Holly. But as her 30th birthday approaches, Gerry comes back to Holly. He’s left her a bundle of letters, one for each month of the year, guiding Holly in her new life without him, each note signed ‘PS, I love you’.WHERE RAINBOWS END tells the story of Rosie and Alex, who have stuck by each other through thick and thin. After Alex moves to America, their magical connection remains, but misunderstandings, circumstances and sheer bad luck keep them apart – until now. But will they gamble everything – including their friendship – on true love? PS, I Love You Where Rainbows End Cecelia Ahern Copyright This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Ebook Edition © 2012 ISBN: 9780007518470 Version: 2017-08-16 Table of Contents Title Page (#ud9a64873-e710-500b-a50d-51756ead961a) Copyright (#u212915b9-ce36-5ba0-b871-b80691a4ef50) PS, I Love You (#u7e4e072d-75d3-50f5-8622-383e8a67ba94) Where Rainbows End (#litres_trial_promo) Extract from One Hundred Names (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Cecelia Ahern (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) PS, I Love You CECELIA AHERN PS, I Love You Copyright Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2004 Copyright © Cecelia Ahern 2004 Cecelia Ahern asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. Source ISBN: 9780007258925 EPub Edition © September 2008 ISBN: 9780007279364 Version: 2017-08-16 FIRST EDITION All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books. For David Table of Contents Title Page (#u1d0d5f81-57d9-5288-ab6f-2da663053f8a) Copyright (#u730da408-cafa-5c35-8977-09785da25ee4) Dedication (#ucc388bc4-ebc3-5ee6-ae94-806d13e3f59e) Chapter One (#u8e9deae9-0766-50d8-943a-5601db57af26) Chapter Two (#u5e9c5f98-c23e-555c-ade2-87511a42d1ad) Chapter Three (#ud2c52f62-fbd9-5f0b-95e7-4506b38c834d) Chapter Four (#u5e616031-ffac-5924-adbb-b295c3b37518) Chapter Five (#u7267f5da-cdcc-5118-b7ba-827c9b77c455) Chapter Six (#ufbc5bdfc-c82e-5874-b037-64961d452589) Chapter Seven (#u391f6d9d-adaa-5696-b4bf-d09ef70c7c86) Chapter Eight (#uc064d627-2be4-58ed-9919-77b2e11f785e) Chapter Nine (#u233464c2-7ce2-5dfc-b641-f457ea4a8068) Chapter Ten (#u18045674-f5b9-5f52-941f-df23419f934c) Chapter Eleven (#uc06efb57-d454-5fbd-9b6c-c2eb4c3cbce2) Chapter Twelve (#u7240a202-c1b3-5bf0-9a57-7b52f07cea0e) Chapter Thirteen (#u22b7255b-88b2-5ff7-ac18-e9f7b60bc3fb) Chapter Fourteen (#ude9deff2-1db3-5757-9889-8ef2b38eb57a) Chapter Fifteen (#u06efa410-4c1f-513c-9137-9c3d132eb729) Chapter Sixteen (#u21900c78-1ff3-537e-8bd7-97211928e607) Chapter Seventeen (#u3647a7a4-2688-5cb6-a11a-028f7a8eaaea) Chapter Eighteen (#ua3439eea-00a6-5f4e-a377-ad8a1db1199c) Chapter Nineteen (#u8bde9336-6093-5cd6-9520-de885091797b) Chapter Twenty (#u46669b65-0ed7-51c7-97fa-ad3cfa78f8a6) Chapter Twenty-One (#ud81b0d2f-4172-58c1-8338-7a3e503bfb8f) Chapter Twenty-Two (#u00769c38-a558-5568-81e1-e3341d5e4d07) Chapter Twenty-Three (#u5714a9ac-fb34-5293-9251-f37a3c7ce204) Chapter Twenty-Four (#u7e52a425-ce04-57f5-b321-1ce1978fa449) Chapter Twenty-Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Forty-Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Acknowledgments (#litres_trial_promo) Acclaim for PS, I Love You (#litres_trial_promo) Acclaim for Cecelia’s previous bestsellers (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ONE Holly held the blue cotton sweater to her face and the familiar smell immediately struck her, an overwhelming grief knotting her stomach and pulling at her heart. Pins and needles ran up the back of her neck and a lump in her throat threatened to choke her. Panic took over. Apart from the low hum of the fridge and the occasional moaning of the pipes, the house was quiet. She was alone. Bile rose in her throat and she ran to the bathroom, where she collapsed to her knees before the toilet. Gerry was gone and he would never be back. That was the reality. She would never again run her fingers through his soft hair, never share a secret joke across the table at a dinner party, never cry to him when she got home from a hard day at work and just needed a hug, she would never share a bed with him again, never be woken up by his fits of sneezes each morning, never laugh with him so much her stomach would ache, never fight with him about whose turn it was to get up and turn the bedroom light off. All that was left was a bundle of memories, and an image of his face that became more and more vague each day. Their plan had been very simple: to stay together for the rest of their lives. A plan that anyone within their circle would agree was accomplishable. They were best friends, lovers and soul mates, destined to be together, everyone thought. But as it happened, one day destiny greedily changed its mind. The end had come all too soon. After complaining of a migraine for a few days, Gerry had agreed to Holly’s advice to see his doctor. This was done one Wednesday on a lunch break from work. They thought the migraine was due to stress or tiredness, and agreed that at the very worst he might need glasses. Gerry had been upset that he might need glasses. He needn’t have worried, since it turned out it wasn’t his eyes that were the problem. It was the tumour growing inside his brain. Holly flushed the toilet and, shivering from the coldness of the tiled floor, she shakily steadied herself to her feet. He was thirty years old. By no means was he the healthiest man on the earth, but he was healthy enough to … well, to live a normal life. When he became very sick he would bravely joke about how he shouldn’t have lived life so safely. Should have taken drugs, should have drunk more, should have travelled more, should have jumped out of aeroplanes while waxing his legs … his list went on. Even as he laughed about it Holly could see the regret in his eyes. Regret for the things he’d never made time to do, places he’d never seen and sorrow for the loss of future experiences. Did he regret the life he had had with her? Holly never doubted that he loved her, but feared he felt he had wasted precious time. Growing older became something he wanted desperately to accomplish rather than merely a dreaded inevitability. How presumptuous they both were never to consider growing old as an achievement and a challenge. Ageing was something they wanted so much to avoid. Holly drifted from room to room while she sobbed fat, salty tears. Her eyes were red and sore, and there seemed to be no end to this night. None of the rooms in the house provided her with any solace, just unwelcoming silences as she stared around at the furniture. She longed for the couch to hold out its arms to her but even it ignored her. Gerry would not be happy with this, she thought. She took a deep breath, dried her eyes and tried to shake some sense into herself. No, Gerry would not be pleased at all. Holly’s eyes were tender and puffy from crying all through the night. Just as she had every other night for the past few weeks, she had fallen into fitful sleep in the early hours of the morning. Each day she woke to find herself sprawled uncomfortably across some piece of furniture – today it was the couch. Once again it was the phone call from a concerned friend or family member that roused her. They probably thought that all she did was sleep. Where were their phone calls when she listlessly roamed the house like a zombie, searching the rooms for … for what? What was she expecting to find? ‘Hello,’ she answered groggily. Her voice was hoarse from all the tears but she had long stopped caring about maintaining a brave face. Her best friend was gone and nobody understood that no amount of make-up, fresh air or shopping was going to fill the hole in her heart. ‘Oh, sorry, love, did I wake you?’ the concerned voice of Holly’s mother came across the line. Every morning her mother called to see if she had survived the night alone, always afraid of waking her, yet always relieved to hear her speak; safe in the knowledge her daughter had braved the ghosts of the night. ‘No, I was just dozing, it’s OK.’ Always the same answer. ‘Your dad and Declan have gone out and I was thinking of you, pet.’ Why did that soothing sympathetic voice always send tears to Holly’s eyes? She could picture her mother’s face, eyebrows furrowed, forehead wrinkled with worry. But it didn’t soothe Holly. It made her remember why they were worried and that they shouldn’t have to be. Everything should be normal. Gerry should be here beside her, rolling his eyes up to heaven and trying to make her laugh while her mother yapped on. So many times Holly would have to hand the phone over to Gerry as her fit of giggles took over. Then he would chat away, ignoring Holly as she jumped around the bed, pulling her silliest faces and doing her funniest dances just to get back at him. It seldom worked. She ‘ummed’ and ‘aahed’ throughout the conversation, listening but not hearing a word. ‘It’s a lovely day, Holly. It would do you the world of good to go out for a walk. Get some fresh air.’ ‘Um, I suppose.’ There it was again – fresh air, the alleged answer to all her problems. ‘Maybe I’ll call round later and we can have a chat.’ ‘No thanks, Mum. I’m OK.’ Silence. ‘Well, all right … give me a ring if you change your mind. I’m free all day.’ ‘OK.’ Another silence. ‘Thanks, though.’ ‘Right then … take care, love.’ ‘I will.’ Holly was about to replace the phone when she heard her mother’s voice again. ‘Oh, Holly, I almost forgot. That envelope is still here for you – you know, the one I told you about. It’s on the kitchen table. You might want to collect it. It’s been here for weeks now and it might be important.’ ‘I doubt it. It’s probably just another card.’ ‘No, I don’t think it is, love. It’s addressed to you and above your name it says … oh, hold on while I get it …’ The phone was put down, the sound of heels on the tiles toward the table, chairs screeched against the floor, footsteps getting louder, phone being picked up … ‘You still there?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘OK, it says at the top “The List”. Maybe it’s from work or something, love. It’s worth just taking a …’ Holly dropped the phone. CHAPTER TWO ‘Gerry, turn off the light!’ Holly giggled as she watched her husband undress before her. He danced around the room performing a striptease, slowly unbuttoning his white cotton shirt with his long slender fingers. He raised his left eyebrow towards Holly and allowed the shirt to slide from his shoulders, caught it in his right hand and swung it around over his head. Holly giggled again. ‘Turn off the light? What, and miss all this?’ he grinned cheekily while flexing his muscles. He wasn’t a vain man but had much to be vain about, thought Holly. His body was strong and perfectly toned. His long legs were muscular from hours spent working out in the gym. At almost six foot he was tall enough to make Holly feel safe when he stood protectively beside her five foot five. Most of all she loved that when she hugged him her head would rest neatly just below his chin, where she could feel his breath lightly blowing her hair and tickling her head. Her heart leaped as he lowered his boxers, caught them on the tip of his toes and flung them at her where they landed on her head. ‘Well, at least it’s darker under here, anyway,’ she laughed. He always managed to make her laugh. When she came home tired and angry after work he was invariably sympathetic and listened to her complaining. They seldom fought, and when they did it was over stupid things that amused them after, like who had left the porch light on all day or who had forgotten to set the alarm at night. Gerry finished his striptease and dived into the bed. He snuggled up beside her tucking his freezing cold feet underneath her legs to warm himself. ‘Aaaagh! Gerry, your feet are like ice cubes!’ Holly knew that this position meant he had no intention of budging an inch. ‘Gerry,’ Holly’s voice warned. ‘Holly,’ he mimicked. ‘Didn’t you forget something?’ ‘No, not that I know of,’ he answered. ‘The light?’ ‘Ah yes, the light,’ he said sleepily, and pretended to snore loudly. ‘Gerry!’ ‘I had to get out of bed and do it last night, as I remember.’ ‘Yeah, but you were just standing right beside the switch a second ago!’ ‘Yes … just a second ago,’ he repeated. Holly sighed. She hated having to get back out of bed when she was nice and snug, step onto the cold wooden floor, and then fumble around in the darkness on the way back to the bed. She tutted. ‘I can’t do it all the time, you know, Hol. Someday I might not be here and then what will you do?’ ‘Get my new husband to do it,’ Holly huffed, trying her best to kick his cold feet away from hers. ‘Ha!’ ‘Or just remember to do it myself before I get into bed.’ Gerry snorted. ‘Fat chance of that happening, my dear. I’ll have to leave a message on the light switch for you before I go, just so you’ll remember.’ ‘How thoughtful of you but I would rather you just leave me your money.’ ‘And a note on the immersion,’ he continued on. ‘Ha-ha.’ ‘And on the milk carton.’ ‘You’re a very funny man, Gerry.’ ‘Oh, and on the windows so you don’t open them and set the alarm off in the mornings.’ ‘Hey, why don’t you just leave me a list of things for me to do in your will if you think I’ll be so incompetent without you?’ ‘Not a bad idea,’ he laughed. ‘Fine then, I’ll turn off the bloody light.’ Holly grudgingly got out of bed, grimaced as she stepped onto the ice-cold floor and switched off the light. She held out her arms in the darkness and slowly began to find her way back to the bed. ‘Hello? Holly, did you get lost? Is there anybody out there, there, there, there?’ Gerry shouted out to the black room. ‘Yes, I’m hhhhowwwwwwcch!’ she yelped as she stubbed her toe against the bedpost. ‘Shit, shit, shit, fuck, bastard, shit, crap!’ Gerry snorted and sniggered underneath the duvet. ‘Number two on my list: watch out for bedpost …’ ‘Oh, shut up, Gerry, and stop being so morbid,’ Holly snapped back at him, cradling her poor foot in her hand. ‘Want me to kiss it better?’ he asked. ‘No, it’s OK,’ Holly replied sadly, ‘if I could just put them here so I can warm …’ ‘Aaaaah! Jesus Christ, they’re freezing!!’ Which made her laugh again. So that was how the joke about the list came about. It was a silly and simple idea that was soon shared with their closest friends, Sharon and John McCarthy. It was John who had approached Holly in the school corridor when they were just fourteen and muttered the famous words, ‘Me mate wants to know if you’ll go out with him.’ After days of endless discussion and emergency meetings with her friends, Holly eventually agreed. ‘Aah, go on, Holly,’ Sharon had urged. ‘He’s such a ride, and at least he doesn’t have spots all over his face like John.’ How Holly envied Sharon right now. Sharon and John had married the same year as Holly and Gerry. Holly was the baby of the bunch at twenty-three, the others were twenty-four. Some said she was too young and lectured her about how, at her age, she should be travelling the world and enjoying herself. Instead, Gerry and Holly travelled the world together. It made far more sense that way because when they weren’t together … well, Holly just felt as though she was missing a vital organ from her body. Her wedding day was far from the best day of her life. Like most little girls, she had dreamed of a fairy-tale wedding with a princess dress and beautiful, sunny weather, in a romantic location surrounded by all who were near and dear to her. She imagined the reception would be the best night of her life, pictured herself dancing with all of her friends, being admired by everyone and feeling special. The reality was quite different. She woke up in her family home to screams of, ‘I can’t find my tie!’ (her father), or, ‘My hair looks shite’ (her mother), and the best one of all was, ‘I look like a bloody whale! There’s no way I’m going to this bleeding wedding looking like this. I’ll be scarlet! Mum, look at the state of me! Holly can find another bridesmaid ’cos I’m not bleedin goin. Oi! Jack, give me back that feckin hair dryer, I’m not finished!’ That unforgettable statement was made by her younger sister, Ciara, who very regularly threw tantrums and refused to leave the house on the basis of having nothing to wear, regardless of her bursting wardrobe. She was currently living somewhere in Australia with strangers, and the only communication the family had with her was an email from her every few weeks. Holly’s family spent the rest of the morning trying to convince Ciara how she was the most beautiful woman in the world. All the while Holly silently dressed herself feeling like shite. Ciara eventually agreed to leave the house when Holly’s usually calm dad screamed at the top of his voice, and to everyone’s amazement, ‘Ciara, this is Holly’s bloody day, NOT YOURS! And you WILL go to the wedding and enjoy yourself AND when Holly walks downstairs you WILL tell her how beautiful she looks and I don’t wanna hear a peep out of you FOR THE REST OF THE DAY!’ So when Holly walked downstairs everyone oohed and aahed while Ciara, looking like a ten-year-old who had just been spanked, tearfully gazed at her with a trembling lip and said, ‘You look beautiful, Holly.’ All seven of them squashed into the limo – Holly, her parents, three brothers and Ciara, and sat in terrified silence all the way to the church. The whole day just seemed a blur to her now. She barely had time to speak to Gerry, as they were both being pulled in opposite directions to meet Great-aunt Betty from the back arse of nowhere, whom Holly hadn’t seen since she was born, and Grand-uncle Toby from America, who had never been mentioned before but was suddenly a very important member of the family. And nobody told her it would be so tiring either. By the end of the night Holly’s jaw was sore from smiling for photographs, and her feet were killing her from running around all day in very silly little shoes. She desperately wanted to join the large table of her friends who had been howling with laughter all night, obviously enjoying themselves. Well for some, she thought. But as soon as Holly stepped into the honeymoon suite with Gerry her worries of the day faded and the point of it all became clear. Tears once again rolled down Holly’s face and she realised she had been daydreaming again. She sat frozen on the couch with the phone still off the hook beside her. The hours just seemed to pass her by these days without her knowing what time or even what day it was. She seemed to be living outside of her body, numb to everything but the pain in her heart, in her bones, in her head. She was just so tired … Her stomach grumbled and she realised she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. Had it been yesterday? She shuffled into the kitchen, dressed in Gerry’s dressing gown and her favourite pink ‘disco diva’ slippers that Gerry had bought her the previous Christmas. She was his disco diva, he used to say. Always the first on the dance floor, always the last out of the club. Huh, where was that girl now? She opened the fridge and stared in at the empty shelves. Just vegetables and yogurt long past its sell-by date leaving a horrible stench in the fridge. She smiled weakly as she shook the milk carton. Empty. Third on his list … Christmas two years ago Holly had gone shopping with Sharon for a dress for the annual ball they attended at the Burlington Hotel. Shopping with Sharon was always a dangerous outing, and John and Gerry had joked about how they would once again suffer through Christmas without any presents as a result of the girls’ sprees. They weren’t far wrong. Poor neglected husbands, the girls always called them. Holly had spent a disgraceful amount of money in Brown Thomas on the most beautiful white dress she had ever seen. ‘Shit, Sharon, this will burn a huge hole in my pocket,’ she said guiltily, biting her lip and running her fingers over the soft material. ‘Aah, don’t worry, Gerry can stitch it up for you,’ Sharon replied with her infamous cackle. ‘And stop calling me “shit Sharon”. Every time we go shopping you address me as that. If you’re not careful I might start taking offence. Buy the damn thing, Holly. It’s Christmas, after all, the season of giving and all that.’ ‘God, you are so evil, Sharon. I’m never shopping with you again. This is like half my month’s wages. What am I going to do for the rest of the month?’ ‘Holly, would you rather eat or look fab?’ ‘I’ll take it,’ Holly said excitedly to the sales assistant. The dress was low cut, which showed off Holly’s neat little chest perfectly, and it was split to the thigh, displaying her slim legs. Gerry hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. It wasn’t because she looked so beautiful, however. He just couldn’t understand how on earth such a little slip of material had cost that much. Once at the ball, Ms Disco Diva once again overindulged in the alcoholic beverages and succeeded in destroying her dress by spilling red wine down her front. Holly tried but failed to hold back her tears while the men at the table drunkenly informed their partners that number fifty-four on the list prevented you from drinking red wine while wearing an expensive white dress. It was then decided that milk was the preferred beverage, as it wouldn’t be visible if spilt on expensive white dresses. Later, when Gerry knocked his pint over causing it to dribble off the edge of the table into Holly’s lap, she tearfully yet seriously announced to the table (and some of the surrounding tables), ‘Rule fitty-fife ov the list: NEFFER EFFER buy a spensive white dress.’ So it was agreed, and Sharon awoke from her coma from somewhere underneath the table to applaud and offer moral support. A toast was made (after a startled waiter had delivered a tray full of glasses of milk) to Holly and to her profound addition to the list. ‘I’m sorry bout your spensive white dress, Holly,’ John had hiccuped to Holly, before falling out of the taxi and dragging Sharon alongside him into their house. Was it possible that Gerry had kept his word and had written a list for her before he died? She had spent every minute of every day with him up until his death and he had never even mentioned it, nor had she noticed any signs of him writing it. No, Holly, pull yourself together and don’t be stupid, she told herself. She so desperately wanted him back that she was imagining all kinds of crazy things. He wouldn’t have. Would he? CHAPTER THREE Holly was walking through an entire field of pretty tiger lilies; the wind was blowing gently, causing the silky petals to tickle the tips of her fingers as she pushed through long strands of bright green grass. The ground was soft and bouncy beneath her bare feet and her body felt so light she was almost floating just above the spongy earth. All around her, birds whistled their happy tune as they went about their business. The sun was so bright in the cloudless sky she had to shield her eyes, and with each brush of wind that passed her face the sweet scent of the tiger lilies filled her nostrils. She felt so … happy, so free. Suddenly the sky darkened as the Caribbean sun disappeared behind a looming grey cloud. The wind picked up and the air chilled. Around her all the petals of the tiger lilies were racing through the air wildly, blurring her vision. The once spongy ground was replaced with sharp stones that cut and scraped her feet with every step. The birds had stopped singing and instead perched on their branches and stared. Something was wrong, and she felt afraid. Ahead of her in the distance a grey stone was visible amidst the tall grass. She wanted to run back to her pretty flowers, but she needed to find out what was ahead. As she crept closer she heard BANG! BANG! BANG! She quickened her pace and raced over the sharp stones and jagged-edged grass that tore at her arms and legs. She collapsed to her knees in front of the grey slab and let out a scream of pain as she realised what it was. Gerry’s grave. BANG! BANG! BANG! He was trying to get out. He was calling her name; she could hear him! Holly jumped from her sleep to a loud banging on the front door. ‘Holly! Holly! I know you’re there! Please let me in!’ BANG! BANG! BANG! Confused and half asleep, she made her way to the door to a frantic-looking Sharon. ‘Christ! What were you doing? I’ve been banging on the door for ages!’ Holly looked around outside, still not fully alert. It was bright and slightly chilly – must be morning. ‘Well, aren’t you going to let me in?’ ‘Yeah, Sharon, sorry. I was just dozing on the couch.’ ‘God, you look terrible, Hol.’ Sharon studied her face before giving her a big hug. ‘Wow, thanks.’ Holly rolled her eyes and turned to shut the door. Sharon was never one to beat about the bush, but that’s why she loved her so much. That’s also why Holly hadn’t been around to see Sharon for the past month. She didn’t want to hear the truth. She didn’t want to hear how she had to get on with her life; she just wanted … oh, she didn’t know what she wanted. She was content to be miserable. It somehow felt right. ‘God, it’s so stuffy in here. When’s the last time you opened a window?’ Sharon marched around the house, opening windows and picking up empty cups and plates. She brought them into the kitchen where she placed them in the dishwasher and then proceeded to tidy up. ‘Oh, you don’t have to do it, Sharon,’ Holly protested weakly. ‘I’ll do it …’ ‘When? Next year? I don’t want you slumming it while the rest of us pretend not to notice. Why don’t you go upstairs and shower, and we’ll have a cup of tea when you come down?’ A shower. When was the last time she had even washed? Sharon was right, she must have looked disgusting, with her greasy hair, her dark roots and dirty robe. Gerry’s robe. But that was something she never intended to wash. She wanted it exactly as Gerry had left it. Unfortunately, his smell was beginning to fade, replaced by the unmistakable stink of her own skin. ‘OK, but there’s no milk. I haven’t got around to …’ Holly felt embarrassed by her lack of care for the house and for herself. There was no way she was letting Sharon look inside that fridge or she would definitely have her committed. ‘Ta-da!’ Sharon sang, holding up a bag Holly hadn’t noticed her carry in. ‘Don’t worry, I took care of that. By the looks of it you haven’t eaten in weeks.’ ‘Thanks, Sharon.’ A lump formed in Holly’s throat and tears welled in her eyes. She was being so good to her. ‘Hold it! There will be no tears today! Just fun and laughter and general happiness, my dear friend. Now shower, quick!’ Holly felt almost human when she came back downstairs. She was dressed in a blue tracksuit and allowed her long blonde (and brown at the roots) hair to fall down on her shoulders. All the windows downstairs were wide open and the cool breeze rushed through Holly’s head. It felt as though it was eliminating all her bad thoughts and fears. She laughed at the possibility of her mother being right after all. Holly snapped out of her trance and gasped as she looked around the house. She can’t have been any longer than a half an hour but Sharon had tidied and polished, vacuumed and plumped, washed, and sprayed air freshener in every room. She followed the humming noise she could hear to the kitchen where Sharon was scrubbing the hobs. The counters were gleaming; the chrome taps and draining board sparkling. ‘Sharon, you absolute angel! I can’t believe you did all this. And in such a short time!’ ‘Ha! You were gone for over an hour. I was beginning to think you’d fallen down the plughole. You would and all, the size of you.’ She looked Holly up and down. An hour? Once again Holly’s daydreaming had taken over her mind. ‘OK, so I just bought some vegetables and fruit, there’s cheese and yogurts in there, and milk, of course. I don’t know where you keep the pasta and tinned foods so I just put them over there. Oh, and there’s a few microwave dinners in the freezer. That should do you for a while, but by the looks of you it’ll last you the year. How much weight have you lost?’ Holly looked down at her body. Her tracksuit was sagging at the bum and the waist tie was pulled to its tightest, yet still drooped to her hips. She hadn’t noticed the weight loss at all. She was brought back to reality by Sharon’s voice again: ‘There’s a few biscuits there to go with your tea. Jammie Dodgers, your favourite.’ That did it. This was all too much for Holly. The Jammie Dodgers were the icing on the cake. She felt the tears run down her face. ‘Oh, Sharon,’ she wailed, ‘thank you so much. You’ve been so good to me and I’ve been such a horrible, horrible bitch of a friend.’ She sat at the table and grabbed Sharon’s hand. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you.’ Sharon sat opposite her in silence, allowing her to continue. This is what Holly had been dreading, breaking down in front of people at every possible occasion. But she didn’t feel embarrassed. Sharon was just patiently sipping her tea and holding her hand like it was normal. Eventually the tears stopped falling. ‘Thanks.’ ‘I’m your best friend, Hol; if I don’t help you then who will?’ Sharon said, squeezing her hand and giving her an encouraging smile. ‘Suppose I should be helping myself.’ ‘Pah!’ Sharon spat, waving her hand dismissively. ‘Whenever you’re ready. Don’t mind all those people who say that you should be back to normal in a month. Grieving is all part of helping yourself, anyway.’ She always said the right things. ‘Yeah, well, I’ve been doing a lot of that. I’m all grieved out.’ ‘You can’t be!’ said Sharon, mock disgusted. ‘And only a month after your husband is cold in his grave.’ ‘Oh, stop! There’ll be plenty of that from people, though, won’t there?’ ‘Probably, but screw them. There are worse sins in the world than learning to be happy again.’ ‘Suppose.’ ‘Promise me you’ll eat.’ ‘Promise.’ ‘Thanks for coming round, Sharon. I really enjoyed the chat,’ Holly said, gratefully hugging her friend. ‘I feel a lot better already.’ ‘You know it’s good to be around people, Hol. Friends and family can help you. Well, actually, on second thoughts, maybe not your family,’ she joked, ‘but at least the rest of us can.’ ‘Oh, I realise that now. I just thought I could handle it on my own at first.’ ‘Promise me you’ll call round. Or at least get out of the house once in a while.’ ‘Promise.’ Holly rolled her eyes. ‘You’re beginning to sound like my mum.’ ‘We’re all just looking out for you. OK, see you soon,’ Sharon said, kissing her on the cheek, ‘and EAT!’ she added, poking her in the ribs. Holly waved to Sharon as she pulled away in her car. It was nearly dark. They had spent the day laughing and joking about old times, then crying, followed by some more laughing, then more crying again. Sharon had given her perspective too. Holly hadn’t even thought about the fact that Sharon and John had lost their best friend, that her parents had lost their son-in-law and Gerry’s parents had lost their only son. She had just been so busy thinking about herself. It had been good being with the living again, instead of moping around with the ghosts of her past. Tomorrow was a new day and she intended on beginning it by collecting that envelope. CHAPTER FOUR Holly started her Friday morning well by getting up early. However, although she had gone to bed full of optimism, and excited about the prospects that lay ahead of her, she was struck afresh by the harsh reality of how difficult every moment would be. Once again she awoke in an empty bed to a silent house, but there was one small breakthrough. For the first time in over a month, she had woken up without the aid of a telephone call. She adjusted her mind, as she did every morning, to the fact that the dreams of her and Gerry being together, which had lived in her mind for the past ten hours, were just that: dreams. She showered and dressed comfortably in her favourite blue jeans, trainers and a baby-pink T-shirt. Sharon had been right about her weight: her once-tight jeans were just about staying up with the aid of a belt. She made a face at her reflection in the mirror. She looked ugly. She had black circles under her eyes, her lips were chapped and chewed and her hair was a disaster. First thing to do was to go down to her local hairdressers and pray they could squeeze her in. ‘Jaysus, Holly!’ her stylist, Leo, exclaimed. ‘Would ya look at the state of ya! People, make way! Make way! I have a woman here in a critical condition!’ He winked at her and proceeded to push people from his path. He pulled out the chair for her and pushed her into it. ‘Thanks, Leo. I feel really attractive now,’ Holly muttered, trying to hide her beetroot-coloured face. ‘Well, don’t, ’cos you’re in bits. Sandra, mix me up the usual, Colin get the foil, Tania get me my little bag of tricks from upstairs – oh, and tell Will not to bother getting his lunch, he’s doing my twelve o’clock.’ Leo ordered everyone around, his hands flailing wildly as though he was about to perform emergency surgery. Perhaps he was. ‘Oh sorry, Leo, I didn’t mean to mess up your day.’ ‘Of course you did, love. Why else would you come rushing in here at lunchtime on a Friday without an appointment? To help world peace?’ Holly guiltily bit her lip. ‘Ah, but I wouldn’t do it for anyone else but you, love.’ ‘Thanks.’ ‘How have you been?’ He rested his skinny little behind on the counter facing Holly. Leo must have been fifty years old yet he didn’t look a day over thirty. His honey-coloured hair matched his honey-coloured skin, and he always dressed so perfectly. He was enough to make any woman feel like crap. ‘Terrible.’ ‘Yeah, you look it.’ ‘Thanks.’ ‘Ah well, at least by the time you walk out of here you’ll have one thing sorted. I do hair, not hearts.’ Holly smiled gratefully at his odd little way of showing he understood. ‘But, Jaysus, Holly, when you were coming in the door did you see the word “magician” or “hairdresser” on the front of the salon? You should have seen the state of the woman who came in here today. Mutton dressed as lamb. Not far off sixty, I’d say. Handed me a magazine with Jennifer Aniston on the cover. “I want to look like that,” she says.’ Holly laughed at his impression. He had the facial expression and the hand movements all going at the same time. ‘“Jaysus,” I says, “I’m a hairdresser, not a plastic surgeon. The only way you’ll look like that is if you cut out the picture and staple it to your head.”’ ‘No! Leo, you didn’t tell her that?’ Holly’s jaw dropped in surprise. ‘Of course I did! The woman needed to be told – sure, wasn’t I helping her? Swanning in here dressed like a teenager. The state of her!’ ‘But what did she say?’ Holly wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes. She hadn’t laughed like this for months. ‘I flicked the pages of the mag for her and came across a lovely picture of Joan Collins. Told her it was right up her street. She seemed happy enough with that.’ ‘Leo, she was probably too terrified to tell you she hated it.’ ‘Ah, who cares? I have enough friends.’ ‘Don’t know why,’ Holly laughed. ‘Don’t move,’ Leo ordered. Suddenly he had become awfully serious and his lips were pursed together in concentration as he separated Holly’s hair ready for colouring. That was enough to send Holly into stitches again. ‘Ah, come on, Holly,’ Leo said in exasperation. ‘I can’t help it, Leo. You got me started and now I can’t stop …’ Leo paused in what he was doing and watched her with amusement. ‘I always thought you were for the madhouse. No one ever listens to me.’ She laughed even harder. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Leo. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I just can’t stop.’ Holly’s stomach ached from laughing so hard and she was aware of all the curious glances she was attracting but she just couldn’t help it. It was as if all the missed mirth from the past couple of months were tumbling out at once. Leo propped himself back on the counter and watched her. ‘You don’t need to apologise, Holly. Laugh all you like. You know they say it’s good for the heart.’ ‘Oh, I haven’t laughed like this for ages,’ she chortled. ‘Well, you haven’t had much to laugh about, I suppose,’ he smiled sadly. Leo had loved Gerry too. They’d teased each other whenever they’d met, but they’d both known it was all in fun. Leo snapped himself out of his thoughts, tousled Holly’s hair playfully and planted a kiss on the top of her head. ‘But you’ll be all right, Holly Kennedy,’ he assured her. ‘Thanks, Leo,’ she said, calming herself down, touched by his concern. He went back to work on her hair, putting on his funny little concentrating face, which started Holly off again. ‘Oh, you laugh now, Holly, but wait till I accidentally give you a stripy head of colour. We’ll see who’s laughing then.’ ‘How’s Joe?’ Holly asked, keen to change the subject before she embarrassed herself again. ‘He dumped me,’ Leo said, pushing aggressively with his foot on the chair’s pump, sending Holly higher into the air and causing her to jerk wildly in her chair. ‘O-oh, Le-eo, I-I-I-’m soooo sor-reeee. Yo-ooou twooo we-eerree soooo gree-aat togeeeeth-eeer.’ ‘Yeah, well, we’re not so gree-aat together now, missy. I think he’s seeing someone else. Right. I’m going to put two shades of blonde in: a golden colour and the blonde you had before. Otherwise it’ll go that brassy colour that’s reserved for my prostitute clientele only.’ ‘Oh, Leo, I’m sorry. If he has any sense at all he’ll realise what he’s missing.’ ‘He mustn’t have any sense so. We split up two months ago and he hasn’t realised it yet. Or else he has and he’s delighted. I’m fed up; I’ve had enough of men. I’m just going to turn straight.’ ‘Now that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard …’ Holly bounced out of the salon with delight. Without Gerry beside her, a few men looked her way, something that was alien to her and made her feel uncomfortable, so she ran to the safety of her car and prepared herself for her parents’ house. So far, today was going well. It had been a good move to visit Leo. Even in his heartbreak he worked hard to make her laugh. Holly took note of it. She pulled up to the kerb outside her parents’ house in Portmarnock and took a deep breath. To her mother’s surprise Holly had called her first thing in the morning to arrange a time to meet up. It was three thirty now, and Holly sat outside in the car with butterflies in her tummy. Apart from the visits her parents had paid to her over the past month Holly had barely spent any proper time with her family. She didn’t want all the attention directed at her, the intrusive questions about how she was feeling and what she was going to do next being fired at her all day. However, it was time to put that fear aside. They were her family. Her parents’ house was situated directly across the road from Portmarnock beach, the blue flag baring testament to its cleanliness. She parked the car and stared across the road to the sea. She had lived here from the day she was born till the day she moved out to live with Gerry. She had loved waking up to the sound of the sea lapping against the rocks, and the excited call of the seagulls. It was wonderful having the beach as your front garden, especially during the summer. Sharon had lived around the corner, and on the hottest days of the year the girls would venture across the road in their summer best and keep an eye out for the best-looking boys. Holly and Sharon were the complete opposite of each other: Sharon with her brown hair, fair skin, and huge bosom; Holly with her blonde hair, sallow skin, and small chest. Sharon would be loud, shouting to the boys and calling them over. Holly would just stay quiet and flirt with her eyes, fixing them on her favourite boy and not moving them till he noticed. Holly and Sharon really hadn’t changed all that much since. She didn’t intend staying long, just have a little chat and collect the envelope. She was determined to end her silent self-torture about what could be inside. She took a deep breath, rang the doorbell and placed a smile on her face for all to see. ‘Hi, love! Come in, come in!’ said her mother with her usual welcoming, loving face that Holly just wanted to kiss every time she saw her. ‘Hi, Mum. How are you?’ Holly stepped into the house and was comforted by the familiar smell of home. ‘You on your own?’ ‘Yes, your father’s out with Declan, buying paint for his room.’ ‘Don’t tell me you and Dad are still paying for everything for him?’ ‘Well, your father might be, but I’m certainly not. He’s working at nights now so at least he has a bit of pocket money these days. Although we don’t see a penny of it being spent on anything for here,’ she chuckled, and brought Holly to the kitchen where she put the kettle on. Declan was Holly’s youngest brother and the baby of the family, so her mum and dad still felt they had to spoil him. But their ‘baby’ was now a twenty-two-year-old, studying film production at college and he constantly had a video camera in his hand. ‘What job has he got now?’ Her mother rolled her eyes to heaven. ‘He’s joined some band. The Orgasmic Fish, I think they call themselves, or something like that. I’m sick to death of hearing about it, Holly. If he goes on one more time about who was there at the gigs promising to sign them up and how famous they’re going to be I’ll go mad.’ ‘Ah, poor Deco. Don’t worry, he’ll find something eventually.’ ‘I know, and it’s funny because, of all you darling children, he’s the least I worry about. He’ll find his way.’ They brought their mugs into the sitting room and settled down in front of the television. ‘You look great, pet. I love the hair. Do you think Leo would ever do mine for me, or am I too old for his styles?’ ‘Well, as long as you don’t want Jennifer Aniston’s hairstyle, you’ll have no problems.’ Holly explained about the woman in the salon and they both rolled around laughing. ‘I don’t want the Joan Collins look, so I’ll just stay clear of him.’ ‘That might be wise.’ ‘Any luck with a job yet?’ Her mother’s voice was casual but Holly knew she was just dying to find out. ‘No, not yet, Mum. To be honest, I haven’t even started looking. I don’t quite know what I want to do.’ ‘You’re right,’ her mother nodded. ‘Take your time and think about what you like or else you’ll end up rushing into a job you hate, like the last time.’ Holly was surprised to hear this. In fact, everyone was surprising her these days. Perhaps it was herself with the problem and not the rest of the world after all. The last job Holly had was working as a secretary for an unforgiving little slimeball in a solicitor’s office. She had been forced to leave her job when the creep failed to understand that she needed time off work to be with her dying husband. Now she had to go looking for a new one. For a new job that was. But at the moment it seemed unimaginable to go to work in the morning. Holly and her mother sat in a relaxed atmosphere, falling in and out of conversation for a few hours until Holly finally built up the courage to ask for the envelope. ‘Oh, of course, love, I completely forgot about it. I hope it’s nothing important. It’s been there for a long time.’ ‘I’ll find out soon enough.’ They said their goodbyes and Holly couldn’t get out of the house quickly enough. Perching herself on the grass overlooking the golden sand, Holly ran the envelope over her hands. Her mother hadn’t described it very well, for it was not an envelope at all but a thick brown package. The address had been typed onto a plain sticker so she couldn’t even guess the origin. But most importantly, above the address were two words, thick and bold: ‘THE LIST’. Her stomach did a little dance. If it wasn’t from Gerry, then Holly finally had to accept the fact that he was gone completely from her life and she had to start thinking about existing without him. But if it was from him, though she would be faced with the same future, at least she could hold on to some fresh memory. A memory that would have to last her a lifetime. Her trembling fingers gently tore at the seal of the package. She turned it upside down and shook the contents out. Out fell ten separate tiny envelopes of the kind you would expect to find on a bouquet of flowers, each with a different month written on them. Her heart missed a few beats as she saw the familiar handwriting on a loose page underneath the pile of envelopes. It was from Gerry. CHAPTER FIVE Holly held her breath and with tears in her eyes and a pounding heart, she read the words, aware all the time that the person who had sat down to write to her would never be able to do so again. She ran her fingers over Gerry’s handwriting, knowing that the last person to have touched the page was him. My darling Holly, I don’t know where you are or when exactly you are reading this. I just hope that my letter has found you safe and healthy. You whispered to me not long ago that you couldn’t go on alone. You can, Holly. You are strong and brave and you can get through this. We shared some beautiful times together and you made my life … you made my life. I have no regrets. But I am just a chapter in your life – there will be many more. Remember our wonderful memories, but please don’t be afraid to make some more. Thank you for doing me the honour of being my wife. For everything, I am eternally grateful. Whenever you need me, know that I am with you. Love for ever, Your husband and best friend, Gerry. PS. I promised a list, so here it is. The following envelopes must be opened exactly when labelled and must be obeyed. And remember, I’m looking out for you, so I will know … Holly broke down, sadness sweeping over her. Yet she felt relief at the same time; relief that Gerry would somehow continue to be with her for another little while. She leafed through the small white envelopes and searched through the months. It was April now. She had missed March so she delicately picked out the envelope. She opened it slowly, wanting to savour every moment. Inside was a small card with Gerry’s handwriting on it. It read: Save yourself the bruises and buy a bedside lamp! PS. I love you … Her tears turned to laughter as she realised her Gerry was back! Holly read and reread his letter over and over again in an attempt to summon him back to life. Eventually, when she could no longer see the words through her tears, she looked out to sea. She had always found the sea so calming, and even as a child she would run across the road to the beach if she was upset and needed to think. Her parents knew that when she went missing from the house they would find her here by the sea. She closed her eyes and breathed in and out along with the gentle sighing of the waves. It was as though the sea was taking big deep breaths; pulling the water in while it inhaled and pushing it all back up onto the sand as it exhaled. She continued to breathe along with it and felt her pulse rate slow down as she became calmer. She thought about how she used to lie by Gerry’s side during his final days and listen to the sound of his breathing. She had been terrified to leave him, even to answer the door, to fix him some food or to go to the toilet, just in case that was the time he chose to leave her. When she would return to his bedside she would sit frozen in a terrified silence while she listened for his breathing and watched his chest for any movement. But he’d always managed to hang on. He had baffled the doctors with his strength and determination to live; Gerry wasn’t prepared to go without a fight. He kept his good humour right up until the end. He was so weak and his voice so quiet, but Holly had learned to understand his new language as a mother does her babbling child just learning to talk. They would giggle together late into the night and other nights they would hold each other and cry. Holly remained strong for him. Throughout, her new job was to be there for him whenever he needed her. Looking back on it, she knew that she really needed him more than he needed her. She needed to be needed so she could feel that she wasn’t just standing idly by, utterly helpless. On the second of February at four o’clock in the morning, Holly held Gerry’s hand tightly and smiled at him encouragingly as he took his last breath and closed his eyes. She didn’t want him to be afraid, and she didn’t want him to feel that she was afraid, because at that moment she wasn’t. She felt relief – relief that his pain was gone, and relief that she had been there with him to witness the peace of his passing. She felt relieved to have known him, to have loved him and to be loved by him, and relief that the last thing he saw was her face smiling down on him, encouraging him and assuring him it was OK to let go. The days after that were a blur to her now. She had occupied herself by making the funeral arrangements and by meeting and greeting Gerry’s relatives and old school friends that she hadn’t seen for years. She remained so solid and calm through it all. She was just thankful that, after months, his suffering was over. It didn’t occur to her to feel the anger or bitterness that she felt now for the life that was taken away from her. That feeling didn’t arrive until she went to collect her husband’s death certificate. And then that feeling made a grand appearance. As she sat in the crowded waiting room of her local health clinic, waiting for her number to be called, she wondered why on earth Gerry’s number had been called so early in his life. She was sandwiched between a young couple and an elderly one – the picture of what she and Gerry had once been, and a glimpse of the future they could have had. And it all just seemed unfair. While the noise of screaming children was amplified in the room, Holly felt squashed between the shoulders of her past and her lost future, and she felt suffocated. She shouldn’t have to be there. None of her friends had to be there. None of her family had to be there. In fact the majority of the population of the world didn’t have to be in the position she was in right then. It didn’t seem fair. Because it just wasn’t fair. After presenting the official proof of her husband’s death to bank managers and insurance companies, as if the look on her face wasn’t proof enough, Holly returned home to her nest and locked herself away from the rest of the world that contained hundreds of memories of the life she had once had. The life she had been very happy with. So why had she been given another one, and a far worse one at that? That was two months ago, and she hadn’t left the house until today. And what a welcome she had been given, she thought, smiling down at the envelopes. Gerry was back. Holly could hardly contain her excitement as she furiously dialled Sharon’s number with trembling hands. After reaching a few wrong numbers she eventually calmed herself and concentrated on dialling correctly. ‘Sharon!’ she squealed as soon as the phone was picked up. ‘You’ll never guess what. Oh my God, I can’t believe it!’ ‘Eh, no … it’s John, but I’ll get her for you now.’ A worried John rushed off to get Sharon. ‘What, what, what?’ panted a very out-of-breath Sharon. ‘What’s wrong? Are you OK?’ ‘Yes, I’m fine!’ Holly started giggling hysterically, not knowing whether to laugh or cry and suddenly forgetting how to structure a sentence. John watched as Sharon sat down at her kitchen table, looking very confused while she tried with all her strength to make sense of the rambling Holly. It was something about Mrs Kennedy giving Holly a brown envelope with a bedside lamp in it. It was all very worrying. ‘STOP!’ shouted Sharon, much to Holly and John’s surprise. ‘I cannot understand a word you are saying, so please,’ Sharon spoke very slowly, ‘slow down, take a deep breath and start from the very beginning, preferably using words from the English language.’ Suddenly she heard quiet sobs from the other end. ‘Oh, Sharon,’ Holly’s words were quiet and broken, ‘he wrote me a list. Gerry wrote me a list.’ Sharon froze in her chair while she digested this information. John watched his wife’s eyes widen and he quickly pulled out a chair and sat next to her, shoving his head towards the telephone so he could hear what was going on. ‘OK, Holly, I want you to get over here as quickly but as safely as you can.’ Sharon paused again and swatted John’s head away as if he was a fly so she could concentrate on what she had just heard. ‘This is … great news?’ John stood up from the table, insulted, and began to pace the kitchen floor, trying to guess what the news could be. ‘Oh, it is, Sharon,’ sobbed Holly, ‘it really is.’ ‘OK, make your way over here now and we can talk about it.’ ‘OK.’ Sharon hung up the phone and sat in silence. ‘What? What is it?’ demanded John. ‘Oh, sorry, love. Holly’s on the way over. She … em … she said that eh …’ ‘WHAT, for Christsake?’ ‘She said that Gerry wrote her a list.’ John studied her face and tried to decide if she was serious. Sharon’s worried blue eyes stared back at him and he realised she was. He joined her at the table and they both sat in silence and stared at the wall, lost in thought. CHAPTER SIX ‘Wow,’ was all Sharon and John could say as the three of them sat around the kitchen table in silence, staring at the contents of the package that Holly had emptied as evidence. Conversation between them had been minimal for the last few minutes as they all tried to decide how they felt. It had gone something like this: ‘But how did he manage to …?’ ‘But how didn’t we notice him … well …? God.’ ‘When do you think he …? Well, I suppose he was on his own sometimes …’ Holly and Sharon just sat looking at each other while John stuttered and stammered his way through trying to figure out just when, where and how his terminally ill friend had managed to carry out this idea all alone without anyone finding out. ‘Wow,’ he eventually repeated after coming to the conclusion that Gerry had done just that. He had carried it out alone. ‘I know,’ Holly agreed. ‘So the two of you had absolutely no idea then?’ ‘Well, I don’t know about you, Holly, but it’s pretty clear to me that John was the mastermind behind all of this,’ Sharon said sarcastically. ‘Ha-ha,’ John replied drily. ‘He kept his word, anyway, didn’t he?’ John looked to both of the girls with a smile on his face. ‘He sure did,’ Holly said quietly. ‘Are you OK, Holly? I mean, how do you feel about all this? It must be … weird,’ asked Sharon again, clearly concerned. ‘I feel fine.’ Holly was thoughtful. ‘Actually, I think it’s the best thing that could have happened right now! It’s funny, though, how amazed we all are, considering how much we went on about this list. I mean, I should have been expecting it.’ ‘Yeah, but we never expected any of us to ever do it!’ said John. ‘But why not?’ questioned Holly. ‘This was the whole reason for it in the first place! To be able to help your loved ones after you go.’ ‘I think Gerry was the only one who took it really seriously.’ ‘Sharon, Gerry is the only one of us who is gone. Who knows how seriously anyone else would have taken it?’ There was a silence. ‘Well, let’s study this more closely then,’ perked up John, suddenly starting to enjoy himself. ‘There’s how many envelopes?’ ‘Em … there’s ten,’ counted Sharon, joining in with the spirit of their new task. ‘OK, so what months are there?’ John asked. Holly sorted through the pile. ‘There’s March, which is the lamp one I’ve already opened, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December.’ ‘So there’s a message for every month left in the year,’ Sharon said slowly, lost in thought. They sat in silence, thinking the same thing: Gerry had known he wouldn’t live past February. Holly looked happily at her friends. Whatever Gerry had in store for her was going to be interesting, but he had already succeeded in making her feel almost normal again, laughing with John and Sharon while they guessed what the envelopes contained. It was as though he was still with them. ‘Hold on!’ John exclaimed very seriously. ‘What?’ His blue eyes twinkled. ‘It’s April now and you haven’t opened this month’s envelope yet.’ ‘Oh, of course! Should I do it now?’ ‘Go on,’ encouraged Sharon. Holly picked up the envelope and slowly opened it. There were only eight more to open after this and she wanted to treasure every second before it became another memory. She pulled out the little card. A disco diva must always look her best. Go shopping for an outfit as you’ll need it for next month! PS. I love you … ‘Ooooh,’ John and Sharon squealed with excitement, ‘he’s getting cryptic!’ CHAPTER SEVEN Holly lay on her bed, switching the lamp on and off, with a smile on her face like a demented woman. She and Sharon had gone shopping in Bed Knobs and Broomsticks in Malahide, and both girls had eventually agreed on the beautifully carved wooden stand and the cream shade that matched the cream and wooden furnishings of the master bedroom (of course they had chosen the most ridiculously expensive one, it would have been wrong to spoil tradition). And although Gerry hadn’t physically been there with her as she bought it, she felt as though they had made the purchase together. She had drawn the curtains of her bedroom in order to test her new merchandise. The bedside lamp had a softening effect on the room, making it appear warmer. How easily this could have ended their nightly arguments, but perhaps neither of them wanted to end them. It had become a routine, something familiar that made them feel closer. How she would give anything to have one of those little arguments now. And she would gladly get out of her cosy bed for him, she would gladly walk on the cold floor for him, and she would gladly bruise herself on the bedpost whilst fumbling in the dark for the bed. But that time was gone. The sound of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ snapped her back to the present as she realised her mobile phone was ringing. ‘Hello?’ ‘G’day, mate, I’m hooooome!’ shrieked a familiar voice. ‘Oh my God, Ciara! I didn’t know you were coming home!’ ‘Well, neither did I, actually, but I ran out of money and decided to surprise you all!’ ‘Wow, I bet Mum and Dad were surprised all right.’ ‘Well, Dad did drop the towel with fright when he stepped out of the shower.’ Holly covered her face with her hands, ‘Oh, Ciara, he didn’t!’ ‘No hugs for Daddy when I saw him!’ Ciara laughed. ‘Oh, yuck, yuck, yuck. Change the subject, I’m having horrible visions,’ Holly laughed. ‘OK, well, I was calling to tell you that I was home, obviously, and that Mum’s organising dinner tonight to celebrate.’ ‘Celebrate what?’ ‘Me being alive.’ ‘Oh, OK. I thought you might have an announcement or something.’ ‘That I’m alive.’ ‘O … K. So who’ll be there?’ ‘The whole family.’ ‘Did I mention that I’m going to the dentist to have all my teeth pulled out? Sorry I can’t make it.’ ‘I know, I know, I said the same thing to Mum, but we haven’t all been together for ages. Sure, when’s the last time you’ve even seen Richard and Meredith?’ ‘Oh, good ol’ Dick – he was in flying form at the funeral. Had lots of wise and comforting things to say to me like, “Did you not consider donating his brain to medical science?” Yes, he’s a fantastic brother all right.’ ‘Oh gosh, Holly, I’m sorry, I forgot about the funeral.’ Her sister’s voice changed. ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.’ ‘Ciara, don’t be silly. We both decided it was best you stay,’ Holly said briskly. ‘It’s far too expensive to be flying back and forth from Australia so let’s not bring it back up, OK?’ ‘OK.’ Holly quickly changed the subject. ‘So when you say the whole family, do you mean … ?’ ‘Yes, Richard and Meredith are bringing our adorable little niece and nephew. And Jack and Abbey are coming, you’ll be pleased to know. Declan will be there in body but probably not in mind, Mum, Dad and me, of course, and you WILL be there.’ Holly groaned. As much as Holly moaned about her family she had a great relationship with her brother Jack. He was only two years older than she, so they had been close when growing up, and he had always been very protective of her. Their mother had called them her ‘two little elves’, because they were always getting up to mischief around the house, usually aimed at their eldest brother, Richard. Jack was similar to Holly in both looks and personality, and she considered him to be the most normal of her siblings. It also helped that she got along with his partner of seven years, Abbey, and when Gerry was alive the four of them often met up for dinner and drinks. When Gerry was alive … God, that didn’t sound right. Ciara was a different kettle of fish altogether. Jack and Holly were convinced she was from the planet Ciara, population: one. Ciara had the look of their father – long legs and dark hair. She also had various tattoos and piercings on her body as a result of her travels around the world. A tattoo for every country, her dad used to joke. A tattoo for every man, Holly and Jack were convinced. Of course, this carry-on was all frowned upon by the eldest sibling, Richard (or Dick, as he was known to Jack and Holly). Richard was born with the serious affliction of being an eternal old man. His life revolved around rules and regulations and obedience. When he was younger he had one friend and they had a fight when they were ten, and after that Holly could never remember him bringing anyone home, having any girlfriends or ever going out to socialise. She and Jack thought it was a wonder he even met his equally joyless wife, Meredith – probably at an anti-happiness convention. It wasn’t as though Holly had the worst family in the world, it was just that they were such a strange mix of people. The huge clashes of personalities usually led to arguments at the most inappropriate times or, as Holly’s parents preferred to call them, ‘heavy discussions’. They could get along, but that was with everyone really trying and being on their best behaviour. Holly and Jack often met up for lunch or for drinks, just to catch up on each other’s lives. She enjoyed his company and considered him to be not only a brother but a real friend. Lately they hadn’t seen much of each other. Jack understood Holly well and knew when she needed her space. The only time Holly caught up on her younger brother, Declan’s, life was when she called at the house looking for her parents and he would answer. Declan wasn’t a great conversationalist. He was an overgrown ‘boy’ who didn’t yet quite feel comfortable in the company of adults so Holly never really knew that much about him. Although she was aware of his unbreakable loyalty to his band, The Orgasmic Fish (whom she had yet to see perform), and if it wasn’t a guitar that he had in his hand, it was a video camera. A nice guy, he just had his head up in the clouds a bit. Ciara, her twenty-four-year-old little sister, had been away for the entire year and Holly had missed her. They were never the kind of sisters to swap clothes and giggle about boys – their tastes differed so much – though as the only two girls in a family of brothers, they formed a bond. But Ciara was closer to Declan; both of them were dreamers. With Jack and Holly inseparable as children and friends as adults, that left Richard. He was out on his own in the family but Holly suspected he liked that feeling of being separated from those he couldn’t quite understand. Holly was dreading his lectures on all-things-boring, his insensitive questioning of her life and just the whole feeling of being frustrated by comment after comment at the dinner table. But it was a welcome-home dinner for Ciara, and Jack would be there; Holly could count on him. But was Holly looking forward to tonight? Absolutely not. Holly reluctantly knocked on the door and immediately heard the pounding of tiny feet flying towards the door, followed by a voice so loud that should not have belonged to a child. ‘Mummy! Daddy! It’s Aunty Holly, it’s Aunty Holly!’ It was nephew Timothy, nephew Timothy. His happiness was suddenly crushed by a stern voice (although it was unusual for her nephew to be happy about Holly’s arrival. Things must be even more boring in there than usual). ‘Timothy! What did I tell you about running in the house? You could fall and hurt yourself. Now go stand in the corner and think about what I said. Do I make myself clear?’ ‘Yes, Mummy.’ ‘Ah, come on, Meredith, will he hurt himself on the carpet or on the comfy padded couch?’ Holly laughed to herself; Ciara was definitely home. Just as Holly was contemplating escape, the door swung open and there stood Meredith. She looked even more sour-faced and unwelcoming than usual. ‘Holly.’ She nodded her head in acknowledgement. ‘Meredith,’ Holly imitated. Once in the living room Holly looked around for Jack, but to her disappointment he was nowhere to be seen. Richard stood in front of the fireplace, dressed in a surprisingly colourful sweater; perhaps he was letting his hair down tonight. He had his hands in his pockets and was rocking back and forth from his heels to the balls of his toes like a man mid-lecture. His lecture was aimed at their father, Frank, who sat uncomfortably in his favourite armchair, looking like a chastised schoolboy. Richard was so lost in his story he didn’t see Holly. She blew her poor father a kiss from across the room, not wanting to be brought into their conversation. He smiled at her and pretended to catch her kiss. Declan was slumped on the couch wearing his ripped jeans and South Park T-shirt, puffing furiously on a cigarette while Meredith warned him of the dangers of smoking. ‘Really? I didn’t know that,’ he said, sounding worryingly interested while stabbing out his cigarette. Meredith’s face looked satisfied until Declan winked at Holly, reached for the box and immediately lit up another one. ‘Tell me some more, please, I’m just dying to know.’ Meredith stared back at him in disgust. Ciara was hiding behind the couch, throwing pieces of popcorn at the back of Timothy’s head. He stood facing the wall in the corner of the room, too afraid to turn round. Abbey was pinned to the floor and being bossed around by little five-year-old Emily and an evil-looking doll. She caught Holly’s eye and mouthed ‘Help’ to her. ‘Hi, Ciara.’ Holly approached her sister, who jumped up and gave her a big hug, squeezing Holly a bit tighter than usual. ‘Nice hair.’ ‘You like it?’ ‘Yeah, pink is really your colour.’ Ciara looked satisfied. ‘That’s what I tried to tell them,’ she said, squinting at Richard and Meredith. ‘So how’s my big sis?’ Ciara asked softly, rubbing Holly’s arm affectionately. ‘Oh, you know,’ Holly smiled weakly. ‘I’m hanging in there.’ ‘Jack is in the kitchen helping your mum with the dinner, if you’re looking for him, Holly,’ Abbey announced, then widening her eyes and mouthing ‘Help me’ again. Holly raised her eyebrows at Abbey. ‘Really? Well, isn’t he great, helping out Mum?’ ‘Oh, Holly, you know how much Jack just loves cooking. Can’t get enough of it,’ she said sarcastically. Holly’s dad chuckled to himself, which stopped Richard in his tracks. ‘What’s so funny, Father?’ Frank shifted in his seat nervously. ‘I just find it remarkable that all this happens in one tiny little test tube.’ Richard let out a disapproving sigh at his father’s stupidity. ‘Yes, but you have to understand these are so minuscule, Father, it’s rather fascinating. The organisms combine with the …’ And away he went again while his father settled back down in his chair and tried to avoid eye contact with Holly. Holly tiptoed quietly into the kitchen where she found her brother at the table with his feet up on a chair, munching on some food. ‘Ah, here he is, the Naked Chef himself.’ Jack smiled and stood up. ‘There’s my favourite sister.’ He scrunched up his nose. ‘I see you got roped into coming to this thing as well.’ He walked towards her and held out his arms to offer her one of his big bear hugs. ‘How are you?’ he said quietly into her ear. ‘I’m OK, thanks.’ Holly smiled sadly and kissed him on the cheek before turning to her mother. ‘Darling Mother, I am here to offer my services at this extremely stressful and busy time of your life,’ Holly said, planting a kiss on her mother’s flushed cheek. ‘Oh, aren’t I just the luckiest woman in the world, having such caring children like you?’ Elizabeth said sarcastically. ‘Tell you what, you can just drain the water from the potatoes there.’ ‘Mum, tell us about the time when you were a little girl during the famine and the spuds were gone,’ Jack said, putting on an exaggerated Irish accent. Elizabeth hit him across the head playfully with the tea towel. ‘Ah sure, ’tis years before my time, son.’ ‘Sure, ’tis true,’ said Jack. ‘No, you t’aren’t at all,’ joined in Holly. They both stopped and stared at her. ‘Since when is there such a word as “t’aren’t”?’ laughed her mum. ‘Ah, shut up, the both of you.’ Holly joined her brother at the table. ‘I hope you two won’t be getting up to any mischief tonight. I would like this to be an argument-free zone for a change.’ ‘Mother, I am shocked the thought even crossed your mind.’ Jack winked across to Holly. ‘All right,’ she said, not believing a word of it. ‘Well, sorry, my babies, but there’s nothing else to be done here. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.’ ‘Oh.’ Holly was disappointed. Elizabeth joined her children at the table and the three of them stared at the kitchen door, all thinking the same thing. ‘No, Abbey,’ squealed Emily loudly, ‘you’re not doing what I tell you,’ and she burst into tears. This was shortly followed by a loud guffaw from Richard; he must have cracked a joke because he was the only one laughing. ‘But I suppose it’s important that we all stay here and keep an eye on the dinner,’ Elizabeth added. ‘OK, everyone, dinner is served,’ announced Elizabeth, and the family made their way to the dining room. There was an awkward moment like at a children’s birthday party while everyone scuffled to sit beside their best friend. Eventually Holly was satisfied with her position at the table and settled down with her mother on her left at the end of the table and Jack to her right. Abbey sat with a scowl on her face as she had been placed between Jack and Richard. Jack would have some making up to do when he got home. Declan sat opposite Holly and wedged in between him was an empty seat where Timothy should be sitting, then Emily and Meredith, then Ciara. Holly’s father got a raw deal, sitting at the head of the table between Richard and Ciara, but he was such a calm man he was the best one for the job. Everyone oohed and aahed as Elizabeth brought out the food and its aroma filled the room. Holly had always loved her mother’s cooking; she was never afraid to experiment with new flavours and recipes, a trait that had not been passed down to her daughter. ‘Hey, poor little Timmy must be starving out there,’ Ciara exclaimed to Richard. ‘He must have done his time by now.’ She knew she was skating on thin ice but she loved the danger of it and, more importantly, she loved to wind up Richard. After all, she had to make up for lost time – she had been away for a year. ‘Ciara, it’s important that Timothy knows when he has done something wrong,’ explained Richard. ‘Yeah, but couldn’t you just tell him?’ The rest of the family tried hard not to laugh. ‘He needs to know that his actions will lead to serious consequences so he will not repeat it.’ ‘Ah well,’ she said, raising her voice a few decibels, ‘he’s missing all this yummy food. Mmm mmm mmm,’ she said, licking her lips. ‘Stop it, Ciara,’ Elizabeth snapped. ‘Or you’ll have to stand in the corner,’ Jack added sternly. The table erupted with laughter – bar Meredith and Richard, of course. ‘So, Ciara, tell us about your adventures in Australia,’ Frank moved swiftly on. Her eyes lit up. ‘Oh, I had the most amazing time, Dad. I would definitely recommend going there to anyone.’ ‘Awful long flight, though,’ Richard said. ‘Yeah, it is but it’s so worth it.’ ‘Did you get any more tattoos?’ Holly asked. ‘Yeah, look.’ With that, Ciara stood up at the table and pulled down her trousers, revealing a butterfly on her behind. Mum, Dad, Richard and Meredith protested in outrage while the others sat in convulsions of laughter. Finally, when Ciara had apologised and Meredith had removed her hands from Emily’s eyes, the table settled down. ‘They are revolting things,’ Richard said in disgust. ‘I think butterflies are pretty, Daddy,’ said Emily with big innocent eyes. ‘Yes, some butterflies are pretty, Emily, but I’m talking about tattoos. They can give you all sorts of diseases and problems.’ Emily’s smile faded. ‘Hey, I didn’t exactly get this done in a dodgy place sharing needles with drug users, you know. The place was perfectly clean.’ ‘Well, that’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one,’ sniffed Meredith. ‘Been in one recently, Meredith?’ Ciara asked a bit too forcefully. ‘Well, em … n-n-n-no,’ she stuttered, ‘I have never been in one, thank you very much, but I am sure they are.’ Then she turned to Emily. ‘They are dirty, horrible places, Emily, where only dangerous people go.’ ‘Is Aunt Ciara dangerous, Mummy?’ ‘Only to five-year-old little girls with red hair,’ Ciara said, stuffing her face with potatoes. Emily froze. ‘Richard dear, do you think that Timmy might want to come in now for some food?’ Elizabeth asked politely. ‘It’s Timothy,’ Meredith interrupted. ‘Yes, Mother, I think that would be OK.’ A very sorry little Timothy walked slowly into the room with his head down, and took his place silently beside Declan. Holly’s heart leaped out to him. How cruel to treat a child like that, how cruel to stop him from being a child … Her sympathy diminished immediately as she felt his foot kick her shin underneath the table. They should have left him out there. ‘So, Ciara, come on, give us the gossip. Do anything wild and wonderful out there?’ Holly pushed for more information. ‘Oh yeah, I did a bungee jump, actually – well, I did a few. I have the photo here.’ She reached into her back pocket and everyone looked away just in case she was planning on revealing any more bits of her anatomy. Thankfully she took out only her wallet and passed the photo from it around the table. ‘The first one I did was off a bridge and my head hit the water when I fell …’ ‘Oh, Ciara, that sounds dangerous,’ her mother said with her hands across her face. ‘Oh no, it wasn’t dangerous at all,’ she reassured her. The photograph was passed to Holly, and she and Jack burst out laughing. Ciara dangled upside down from a rope with her face contorted in the middle of a scream of pure terror. Her hair (it was blue at that time) was shooting out in all directions as though she had been electrocuted. ‘Attractive photo, Ciara. Mum, you must get that framed for over the fireplace,’ Holly joked. ‘Yeah!’ Ciara’s eyes lit up. ‘That would be a cool idea.’ ‘Sure, darling, I’ll just take down the one of you making your Holy Communion and replace it with that,’ Elizabeth said sarcastically. ‘Well, I don’t know which one would be scarier,’ said Declan. ‘Holly, what are you doing for your birthday?’ asked Abbey, leaning across towards her. She was clearly dying to get out of the conversation she was having with Richard. ‘Oh, that’s right!’ shouted Ciara. ‘You’re gonna be thirty next week!’ ‘I’m not doing anything big at all,’ she warned everyone. ‘I don’t want any surprise party or anything, PLEASE.’ ‘Oh, you have to—’ said Ciara. ‘No, she doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to,’ her father interrupted, and winked supportively at Holly. ‘Thank you, Dad. I’m just going to have a girly night out clubbing or something. Nothing mad, nothing wild.’ Richard tutted as the photograph reached him and passed it on to his father, who chuckled to himself over the sight of Ciara. ‘Yes, I agree with you, Holly,’ said Richard, ‘those birthday celebrations are always a bit embarrassing. Grown adults acting like children, doing “Rock the boat” on the floor and drinking far too much. You’re quite right.’ ‘Well, I actually quite enjoy those parties, Richard,’ Holly shot back, ‘but I just don’t feel in the celebratory mood this year, that’s all.’ There was a silence for a moment before Ciara piped up, ‘A girly night it is then.’ ‘Can I tag along with the camera?’ asked Declan. ‘For what?’ ‘Just for some footage of clubs and stuff for college.’ ‘Well, if it’ll help … but as long as you know I won’t be going to all the trendy places that you like.’ ‘No, I don’t mind where you g— OW!’ he shouted, and stared menacingly at Timothy. Timmy stuck his tongue out at him and the conversation continued. After the main course was finished Ciara disappeared out of the room, returned with a bulging bag in her hand and announced, ‘Presents!’ Timmy and Emily cheered. Holly hoped that Ciara had remembered to get them something. Her father received a colourfully painted boomerang that he pretended to throw down to his wife; Richard was given a T-shirt with the map of Australia on it, which he immediately began to teach to Timmy and Emily at the table; Meredith quite comically wasn’t given anything; Jack and Declan were given T-shirts with perverted pictures and a caption saying, ‘I’ve been to the bush’, and Elizabeth received a collection of old aboriginal recipes. Holly was touched by her dream catcher made from brightly coloured feathers and sticks. ‘So all your dreams come true,’ Ciara whispered in her ear before kissing her on the cheek. Thankfully Ciara had bought sweets for Timmy and Emily, which looked strangely like the sweets they could buy from the local shop. These were briskly taken away by Richard and Meredith, who claimed they would rot their teeth. ‘Well, give them back then so I can rot my own,’ Ciara demanded. Timmy and Emily looked around sadly at everyone’s presents and were immediately chastised by Richard for not concentrating on the map of Australia. Timmy made a face at Holly and a warm feeling returned to her heart. As long as the kids kept acting as if they deserved their treatment, that was OK with her. ‘Right, we better hit the road, Richard, or the children will fall asleep where they sit,’ announced Meredith. The children were wide awake and were kicking Holly and Declan repeatedly under the table. ‘Well, before everybody goes disappearing –’ Holly’s father announced loudly over the chatter. The table grew silent – ‘I would like to propose a toast to our beautiful daughter Ciara.’ He smiled at her and Ciara lapped up all the attention. ‘We missed you, love, and we’re glad you’re home safely,’ Frank finished. He lifted his glass into the air. ‘To Ciara!’ ‘To Ciara!’ everyone repeated. As soon as the door closed behind Richard and Meredith everyone else began to leave one by one. Holly stepped into the chilly air and walked to her car alone. Her mum and dad stood at the door waving her off but she still felt so lonely. Usually she left dinner parties with Gerry, or if not with him then she was returning home to him. But not tonight or the next night or the night after that. CHAPTER EIGHT On her birthday, Holly stood in front of the full-length mirror and inspected herself. She had carried out Gerry’s orders and had purchased a new outfit. What for, she didn’t know but several times a day she had to drag herself away from the temptation of opening the envelope for May. There were only two days left until she could and the anticipation left her no room to think of anything else. She had settled on wearing an all-black outfit to suit her current mood. Black fitted trousers slimmed her legs and were tailored perfectly to sit over her black boots. A black corset that made her look like she had a bigger chest finished the outfit off perfectly. Leo had done a wonderful job on her hair, tying it up and allowing strands to fall in loose waves around her shoulders. Holly ran her fingers through her hair and smiled at the memory of her time at the hairdressers … She had arrived at the salon with her face flushed, and out of breath. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Leo. I got caught on the phone and didn’t realise the time.’ ‘Don’t worry, love. Whenever you make an appointment I have the staff trained to pencil it in for half an hour later. COLIN!’ he yelled, clicking his fingers in the air. Colin dropped everything and ran. ‘God, are you taking horse tranquillisers or something? The length of your hair already, and I just cut it a few weeks ago.’ He pumped vigorously on the chair, raising Holly higher. ‘Anything special tonight?’ he asked. ‘The big three-0,’ she said, biting her lip. ‘What’s that, your local bus route?’ ‘No! I’m the big three-0!’ ‘Of course I knew that, love. COLIN!’ he yelled again, snapping his fingers in the air once more. Colin appeared from the staff room behind Holly with a cake in his hand, followed by a row of hairdressers joining Leo in a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’. Holly was dumbfounded. She battled the tears that were welling in her eyes and failed miserably. By this stage the entire salon had joined in and Holly was so overwhelmed by their show of love. When it was over everyone applauded and normal business resumed. Holly couldn’t speak. ‘Christ Almighty, Holly, one week you’re in here laughing so hard you practically fall off your chair and the next visit you’re crying!’ ‘Oh, but that was just so special, Leo, thank you,’ she said, drying her eyes and giving him a huge hug and a kiss. ‘Well, I had to get you back after you mortified me,’ he said, shrugging her off, uncomfortable with the sentimentality. Holly laughed, remembering Leo’s surprise fiftieth birthday party. The theme had been ‘feathers and lace’. Holly had worn a beautiful tight-fitting lace dress, and Gerry, who was always game for a laugh, had worn a pink feather boa to match his pink shirt and tie. Leo claimed to have been excruciatingly embarrassed but everyone knew he was secretly delighted with all the attention. The next day, Leo had rung every guest who had attended the party and left a threatening message on their machine. Holly had been terrified to make an appointment with him for weeks after that in case he butchered her hair. Word had it that business was very slow for Leo that week. ‘Well, you enjoyed the stripper that night, anyway,’ Holly teased. ‘Enjoyed? I went out with him for a month after that. The bastard.’ A slice of cake arrived in front of each customer and everyone turned to thank her. ‘Don’t know why they’re thanking you,’ Leo muttered under his breath. ‘I’m the one who bloody bought it.’ ‘Don’t worry, Leo, I’ll make sure your tip covers the cost.’ ‘Are you mad? Your tip wouldn’t cover the cost of my bus fare home.’ ‘Leo, you live next door.’ ‘Exactly!’ Holly pouted her lip and pretended to sulk. Leo laughed. ‘Thirty years old and you’re still acting like a baby. Where are you off to tonight?’ ‘Oh, nowhere mad. I just want a low-key, nice quiet night out with the girls.’ ‘That’s what I said at my fiftieth. Who’s going?’ ‘Sharon, Ciara, Abbey, and Denise – haven’t seen her for ages.’ ‘Ciara home?’ ‘Yeah, her and her pink hair.’ ‘Merciful hour! She’ll stay away from me if she knows what’s good for her. Right, missus, you look fab, you’ll be the belle of the ball – have fun!’ Holly stopped daydreaming and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t look thirty or feel thirty. But then again what was being thirty supposed to feel like? When she was younger, thirty seemed so far away, she’d thought that a woman of that age would be wise and knowledgeable, settled in her life with a husband and children and a career. She had none of those things. She still felt as clueless as when she was twenty, only with a few grey hairs, and crow’s feet around her eyes. She sat down on the edge of the bed and continued to stare at herself. There was nothing about being thirty worth celebrating. The doorbell rang and Holly could hear the excited chatter of the girls outside. She tried to perk herself up, took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face. ‘Happy birthday!’ they all yelled in unison. She stared back at their smiling faces and was immediately cheered by their enthusiasm. She ushered them into the living room and waved hello to the camera being brandished by Declan. ‘No, Holly, you’re supposed to ignore him!’ hissed Denise, and dragged her by the arm onto the couch where they all surrounded her and immediately started thrusting presents in her face. ‘Open mine first!’ squealed Ciara, knocking Sharon out of the way so hard that she toppled off the couch. Sharon froze in horror, unsure of how to react, then burst into giggles. ‘OK, calm down, everyone,’ said the voice of reason (Abbey), struggling to help up a hysterical Sharon. ‘I think we should pop open the bubbly first and then open the pressies.’ ‘OK, but as long as she opens mine first,’ pouted Ciara. ‘Ciara, I promise to open yours first.’ Holly spoke as though addressing a child. Abbey raced into the kitchen and returned with a tray full of champagne flutes. ‘Anyone for champers, sweetie darlings?’ The flutes had been a wedding gift and one of the glasses had Gerry and Holly’s name inscribed on it, which Abbey had tactfully removed from the set. ‘OK, Holly, you can do the honours,’ Abbey said, handing her the bottle. Everyone ran for cover and ducked as Holly began to remove the cork. ‘Hey, I’m not that bad, everyone!’ ‘Yeah, she’s an old pro at this by now,’ said Sharon, appearing from behind the couch with a cushion on her head. The girls all cheered as they heard the pop and crawled out from their hiding places. ‘The sound of heaven,’ Denise said dramatically, holding her hand up to her heart. ‘OK, now open my present,’ Ciara screamed again. ‘Ciara!’ they all shouted. ‘After the toast,’ added Sharon. Everyone held up her glass. ‘OK, here’s to my bestest friend in the whole world who has had such a difficult year, but throughout all has been the bravest and the strongest person I’ve ever met. She’s an inspiration to us all. Here’s to her finding happiness for the next thirty years of her life! To Holly!’ ‘To Holly,’ they all chorused. Everyone’s eyes were sparkling with tears as they all took sips of their drinks, except of course for Ciara, who had already knocked back her glass of champagne and was scrambling to give her present to Holly. ‘OK, first you have to wear this tiara because you are our princess for the night, and secondly here’s my present from me to you!’ The girls helped Holly put on the sparkling tiara that luckily went perfectly with her glittery corset. At that moment, surrounded by her friends, she really did feel like a princess. Holly carefully removed the sellotape from the neatly wrapped parcel. ‘Oh, just rip it open,’ said Abbey to everyone’s surprise. Holly looked at the box inside, confused. ‘What is it?’ ‘Read it!’ Ciara said excitedly. Holly began to read aloud from the box, ‘It’s a battery operated … oh my God! Ciara! You naughty girl!’ Holly and the girls laughed hysterically. ‘Well, I’ll definitely need this,’ Holly laughed, holding the box up to the camera. Declan looked as if he was about to throw up. ‘Do you like it?’ Ciara asked, searching for approval. ‘I wanted to give it to you at dinner last week but I didn’t think it would be appropriate.’ ‘Gosh! Well, I’m glad you saved it till now!’ Holly laughed, giving her sister a hug. ‘OK, me next,’ Abbey said, putting her parcel on Holly’s lap. ‘It’s from me and Jack so don’t expect anything like Ciara’s.’ ‘Well, I would worry if Jack gave me something like that,’ Holly said, opening it. ‘Oh, Abbey, it’s beautiful!’ Holly said, holding up the sterling silver-covered photo album. ‘For your new memories,’ Abbey said softly. ‘Oh, it’s perfect,’ Holly said, wrapping her arms round her and squeezing her. ‘Thank you.’ ‘OK, well, mine is less sentimental but as a fellow female I’m sure you will appreciate it,’ said Denise, handing her an envelope. ‘Oh, brilliant! I’ve always wanted to go here,’ Holly exclaimed as she opened it. ‘A weekend of pampering at Haven’s health and beauty clinic!’ ‘God, you sound like you’re on Blind Date,’ teased Sharon. ‘Let us know when you want to make an appointment, it’s valid for a year, and the rest of us can book the same time. Make a holiday out of it!’ ‘Oh, that’s a great idea, Denise. Thank you!’ ‘OK, last but not least!’ Holly winked at Sharon. Sharon fidgeted with her hands nervously while she watched Holly’s face. The present was a large silver photo frame with a photograph of Sharon, Denise and Holly at the Christmas Ball two years ago. ‘Oh, I’m wearing my spensive white dress!’ sobbed Holly playfully. ‘Before it was ruined,’ pointed out Sharon. ‘God, I don’t even remember that being taken!’ ‘I don’t even remember being there,’ mumbled Denise. Holly continued to stare at the photo sadly while she walked over to the fireplace. That had been the last ball that she and Gerry had been to, as he had been too ill to attend last year’s. ‘Well, this will take pride of place,’ Holly announced, walking over to the mantelpiece and placing it beside her wedding photo. ‘OK, girls, let’s get some serious drinking done!’ screamed Ciara, and everyone dived to safety as another bottle of champagne was popped open. Two bottles of champagne and several of red wine later the girls stumbled out of the house and piled into a taxi. Through the hilarity and shouting, someone managed to explain to the taxi driver where they were going. Holly insisted on sitting in the passenger seat and having a heart-to-heart with Nick, the driver, who probably wanted to kill her by the time they reached town. ‘Bye, Nick!’ they all shouted to their new best friend before falling out onto the kerb, where they watched him drive off at high speed. They had decided (while drinking their third bottle of wine) to chance their luck at Dublin’s most stylish club, Boudoir. The club was reserved for the rich and famous only, and it was a well-known fact that if you weren’t either, you then had to have a membership card to be granted access. Denise walked up to the door coolly waving her video store membership card in the bouncer’s faces. Amazingly, they stopped her. The only famous faces the girls saw overtaking them to enter the club, as they fought with the bouncers to get in, were some newsreaders from the national TV station, whom Denise smiled at and hilariously kept repeating, ‘Good evening,’ very seriously to their faces. Unfortunately, after that Holly remembered no more. Holly awoke with her head pounding. Her mouth was as dry as Gandhi’s sandal and her vision was impaired. She leaned up on one elbow and tried to open her eyes, which were somehow glued together. She squinted around. It was bright, very bright, and the room seemed to be spinning. Something very odd was going on. Holly caught sight of herself in the mirror ahead and startled herself. Had she been in an accident last night? She ran out of energy and collapsed flat on her back again. Suddenly the house alarm began wailing and she lifted her head slightly from the pillow and opened one eye. Oh, take whatever you want, she thought, just as long as you bring me a glass of water before you go. After a while she realised it wasn’t the alarm but the phone ringing beside her bed. ‘Hello?’ she croaked. ‘Oh good, I’m not the only one,’ said a desperately ill-sounding voice on the other end. ‘Who are you?’ croaked Holly again. ‘My name is Sharon, I think,’ came the reply, ‘although don’t ask me who Sharon is because I don’t know. The man beside me in bed seems to think I know him.’ Holly heard John laughing loudly in the background. ‘Sharon, what happened last night? Please enlighten me.’ ‘Alcohol happened,’ said Sharon drowsily, ‘lots and lots of alcohol.’ ‘Any other information?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘Know what time it is?’ ‘Two o’clock.’ ‘Why are you ringing me at this hour of the morning?’ ‘It’s the afternoon, Holly.’ ‘Oh. How did that happen?’ ‘Gravity or something. I was out that day from school.’ ‘Oh God, I think I’m dying.’ ‘Me too.’ ‘I think I’ll just go back to sleep. Maybe when I wake up the ground will have stopped moving.’ ‘Good idea. Oh, and, Holly, welcome to the thirties club.’ Holly groaned. ‘I have not started as I mean to go on. From now on I will be a sensible, mature thirty-year-old woman.’ ‘Yeah, that’s what I said too. Good night.’ ‘Night.’ Seconds later Holly was asleep. She awoke at various stages during the day to answer the phone, the conversations all seeming part of her dreams. And she made many trips to the kitchen for water to rehydrate herself. Eventually, at nine o’clock that night, Holly succumbed to her stomach’s screaming demands for food. As usual there was nothing in the fridge so she decided to treat herself to a Chinese takeaway. She sat snuggled up on the couch in her pyjamas watching the very best of Saturday night TV while stuffing her face. After the trauma of being without Gerry for her birthday the previous day, Holly was surprised to notice that she felt very content with herself. It was the first time since Gerry died that she was comfortable with her own company. There was a slight chance she could make it without him. Later that night Jack called her on her mobile. ‘Hey, sis, what are you doing?’ ‘Watching TV, having Chinese,’ she said. ‘Well, you sound in good form. Unlike my poor girlfriend, who’s suffering here beside me.’ ‘I’m never going out with you again, Holly,’ she heard Abbey scream weakly in the background. ‘You and your friends perverted her mind,’ he joked. ‘Don’t blame me. She was doing just fine all by herself as far as I remember.’ ‘She says she can’t remember anything.’ ‘Neither can I. Maybe it’s something that happens as soon as you hit thirty. I was never like this before.’ ‘Or maybe it’s just an evil plan you all hatched so you wouldn’t have to tell us what you got up to.’ ‘I wish it was … Oh, thanks for the pressie by the way, it’s beautiful.’ ‘Glad you like it. It took me ages to find the right one.’ ‘Liar.’ He laughed. ‘Anyway, I was ringing to ask you if you’re going to Declan’s gig tomorrow night.’ ‘Where is it?’ ‘Hogan’s pub.’ ‘No way. There is no way I’m ever setting foot in a pub again, especially to listen to some loud rock band with screeching guitars and noisy drums,’ Holly told him. ‘Oh, it’s the old, “I’m never drinking again” excuse, is it? Well, don’t drink then. Please come, Holly. Declan’s really excited about it and no one else will come.’ ‘Ha! So I’m the last resort, am I? Nice to know you think so highly of me.’ ‘No, you’re not. Declan would love to see you there and we hardly got a chance to talk at dinner. We haven’t gone out for ages,’ he pleaded. ‘Well, we’re hardly going to have a heart-to-heart with the Orgasmic Fish banging out their tunes,’ she said sarcastically. ‘They’re actually called Black Strawberries now, which has a much sweeter ring to it, I think,’ he laughed. Holly held her head in her hands and groaned, ‘Oh, please don’t make me go, Jack.’ ‘You’re going.’ ‘OK, but I’m not staying for the whole thing.’ ‘We can discuss that when we get there. Declan will be chuffed when I tell him; the family never usually goes to these things.’ ‘OK then, about eight-ish?’ ‘Perfect.’ Holly hung up and sat stuck to the couch for another few hours. She felt so full, she couldn’t move. Maybe that Chinese hadn’t been such a good idea after all. CHAPTER NINE Holly arrived in Hogan’s pub feeling a lot fresher than the day before, but her reactions were still a little slower than usual. Her hangovers seemed to be getting worse as she got older, and yesterday took the gold medal for the hangover of all hangovers. She had gone for a long walk along the coast from Malahide to Portmarnock earlier that day, and the crisp fresh breeze had helped to clear her fuzzy head. She had called in to her parents for Sunday dinner, when they presented her with a beautiful Waterford Crystal vase for her birthday. It had been a wonderful relaxing day and she almost had to drag herself off the comfortable couch to go to Hogan’s. Hogan’s was a popular three-storey building situated in the centre of town, and even on a Sunday the place was jammed. The first floor was a trendy nightclub that played all the latest music from the charts. It was where the young beautiful people went to show off their latest fashions. The ground floor was a traditional Irish pub for the older crowd (usually containing old men perched up on their bar stools, bent over their pints, contemplating life). A few nights a week there was a traditional Irish music band that played all the old favourites, which was popular with the young and old. The basement, where bands usually played, was dark and dingy, and the clientele was purely students. Holly seemed to be the oldest person in there. The bar consisted of a tiny counter in the corner of the long hall and was surrounded by a huge crowd of young students dressed in scruffy jeans and ripped T-shirts, pushing each other violently in order to be served. The bar staff also looked as if they should be in school, and were rushing around at a hundred miles per hour with sweat dripping from their faces. The basement was stuffy, with no ventilation or air conditioning at all, and Holly was finding it difficult to breathe in the smoky air. Practically everyone around her seemed to be smoking and her eyes were already stinging. She dreaded to think what it might be like in an hour’s time. She waved at Declan to let him know she was there but decided not to make her way over as he was surrounded by a crowd of girls. She didn’t want to cramp his style. Holly had missed out on the whole student scene when she was younger. She had decided not to go to college after school and instead begun working as a secretary, moving from job to job every few months, ending with the awful job she had left so she could spend time with Gerry while he was sick. She doubted she would have stayed in it that much longer anyway. Gerry had studied Marketing at Dublin City University but he never socialised much with his college friends. Instead he chose to go out with Holly, Sharon and John, Denise and whoever she was with at the time. Looking around at everyone, Holly didn’t feel that she had missed anything special. Finally Declan managed to tear himself away from his female fans and made his way over to Holly. ‘Well, hello, Mr Popular. I feel privileged you chose me to speak to next.’ All the girls stared Holly up and down and wondered what the hell Declan saw in this older woman. Declan laughed and rubbed his hands together cheekily. ‘I know! This band business is great. Looks like I’ll be getting a bit of action tonight,’ he said cockily. ‘As your sister it’s always a pleasure to be informed of that,’ Holly replied sarcastically. She was finding it impossible to maintain a conversation with Declan as he refused eye contact with her and instead was scouring the crowds. ‘OK, Declan, just go, why don’t you, and flirt with these beauties instead of being stuck here with your old sister?’ ‘Oh no, it’s not that,’ he said defensively. ‘It’s just that we were told there might be a record company guy coming to see us play tonight.’ ‘Oh, cool!’ Holly’s eyes widened with excitement. This obviously meant a lot to her brother and she felt guilty for never taking an interest in it before. She glanced around and tried to spot someone who might be a record company person. What would they look like? It’s not as if they would be sitting in the corner with a notebook scribbling furiously. Finally her eyes fell upon a man who seemed much older than the rest of the crowd, more her own age. He was dressed in a black leather jacket, black slacks and a black T-shirt, and stood with his hands on his hips staring at the stage. Yes, he was definitely a record company guy. He had stubble all around his jaw and looked like he hadn’t been to bed for days. He probably smelled bad as well. Or else he was just a weirdo who liked to go to student nights and ogle all the young girls. Also a possibility. ‘Over there, Deco!’ Holly raised her voice over the noise and pointed at the man. Declan looked excited and his eyes followed to where her finger pointed. His smile faded as he obviously recognised the man. ‘No, it’s just DANNY!’ he yelled, and wolf-whistled to grab the guy’s attention. Danny twirled round, trying to find his caller, nodded his head in recognition and made his way over. ‘Hey, man,’ Declan said, shaking his hand. ‘Hi, Declan, how are you set?’ The man looked stressed. ‘Yeah, OK,’ Declan nodded unenthusiastically. Somebody must have told Declan that acting like you didn’t care was cool. ‘Sound check go OK?’ ‘There were a few problems but we sorted them out.’ ‘So everything’s OK?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Good.’ His face relaxed and he turned to face Holly. ‘Sorry for ignoring you there. I’m Daniel.’ ‘Nice to meet you. I’m Holly.’ ‘Oh, sorry,’ Declan interrupted. ‘Holly, this is the owner; Daniel, this is my sister.’ ‘Sister? Wow you look nothing alike.’ ‘Thank God,’ Holly mouthed to Daniel so Declan couldn’t see, and he laughed. ‘Hey, Deco, we’re on!’ yelled a blue-haired boy at him. ‘See you two later,’ and Declan ran off. ‘Good luck!’ yelled Holly after him. ‘So you’re a Hogan,’ she said, turning to face Daniel. ‘Well, no, actually I’m a Connolly,’ he smiled. ‘I just took over the place a few weeks ago.’ ‘Oh.’ Holly was surprised. ‘I didn’t know they’d sold it. So are you going to change it to Connolly’s then?’ ‘Can’t afford all the lettering on the front. It’s a bit long.’ Holly laughed. ‘Well, everyone knows the name Hogan’s at this stage; it would probably be stupid to change it.’ Daniel nodded in agreement. ‘That was the main reason, actually.’ Suddenly Jack appeared at the main entrance and Holly waved him over. ‘I’m so sorry I’m late. Did I miss anything?’ he said, giving her a hug and a kiss. ‘Nope, he’s just about to go on now. Jack, this is Daniel, the owner.’ ‘Nice to meet you,’ Daniel said, shaking his hand. ‘Are they any good?’ Jack asked him, nodding his head in the direction of the stage. ‘To tell you the truth, I’ve never even heard them play,’ Daniel said worriedly. ‘That was brave of you!’ laughed Jack. ‘I hope not too brave,’ he said, turning to face the front as the boys took to the stage. ‘I recognise a few faces here,’ Jack said, scanning the crowd. ‘Most of them are under eighteen as well.’ A young girl dressed in ripped jeans and a belly top walked slowly by Jack with an unsure smile on her face. She placed her finger over her lip. Jack smiled and nodded back. Holly looked at Jack questioningly. ‘What was that about?’ ‘Oh, I teach her English. She’s only sixteen or seventeen. She’s a good girl, though.’ Jack stared after her as she walked by, then added, ‘But she’d better not be late for class tomorrow.’ Holly watched the girl down a pint with her friends, wishing she had had a teacher at school like Jack; all the students seemed to love him. And it was easy to see why: he was a lovable kind of person. ‘Well, don’t tell him they’re under eighteen,’ Holly said under her breath, nodding in the direction of Daniel. The crowd cheered and Declan took on his moody persona as he lifted his guitar strap over his shoulder. The music started and after that there was no chance of carrying on any kind of conversation. The crowd began to jump up and down, and once too often Holly’s foot was stomped on. Jack just looked at her and laughed, amused at her obvious discomfort. ‘CAN I GET YOU TWO A DRINK?’ Daniel yelled, making a drinking motion with his hand. Jack asked for a pint of Budweiser while Holly settled for a 7-Up. They watched Daniel battle through the moshing crowd and climb behind the bar to fix the drinks. He returned minutes later with their glasses and a stool for Holly. She and Jack turned their attention back to the stage and watched their brother perform. The music really wasn’t Holly’s type of thing, and it was so loud and noisy it was difficult for her to tell if they were actually any good. It was a far cry from the soothing sounds of her favourite Westlife CD. After four songs Holly had had enough, and gave Jack a hug and a kiss goodbye. ‘TELL DECLAN I STAYED TILL THE END!’ she yelled. ‘NICE MEETING YOU, DANIEL! THANKS FOR THE DRINK!’ she screamed, and made her way back to civilisation and cool fresh air. Her ears continued to ring all the way home in the car. It was ten o’clock by the time she got there. Only two more hours till May. And that meant she could open another envelope. Holly sat at her kitchen table nervously drumming her fingers on the wood. She gulped back her third cup of coffee and uncrossed her legs. Staying awake for just two more hours had proved more difficult than she’d anticipated; she was obviously still tired from overindulging at her party the night before last. She tapped her feet under the table with no particular rhythm, and then crossed her legs again. It was eleven thirty. She had the envelope on the table in front of her and she could almost see it sticking its tongue out and singing ‘Nah nah na-nah nah.’ She picked it up and ran her hands over it. Who would know if she opened it early? Sharon and John had probably forgotten there was even an envelope for May, and Denise was no doubt conked out after the stress of her two-day hangover. Holly could just as easily lie if they ever asked her, but then again they probably wouldn’t even care. No one would know and no one would care. But that wasn’t true. Gerry would know. Each time Holly held the envelopes in her hand she felt a connection with Gerry. The last two times she’d opened them she’d felt as though Gerry were sitting right beside her and laughing at her reactions. She felt as if they were playing a game together, even though they were in two different worlds. But she could feel him, and he would know if she cheated, he would know if she disobeyed the rules of their game. After another cup of coffee Holly was bouncing off the walls. The small hand of the clock seemed to be auditioning for a part in Baywatch with its slow-motion run around the dial, but eventually it struck midnight. Once again she slowly turned the envelope over and treasured every moment of the process. Gerry sat opposite her at the table. ‘Go on: open it!’ She carefully tore open the seal and ran her fingers along it, knowing the last thing that touched this was Gerry’s tongue. She slid the card out of its pouch and opened it. Go on, disco diva! Face your fear of karaoke at Club Diva this month, and you never know, you might be rewarded … PS. I love you … She felt Gerry watching her and the corners of her lips lifted into a smile. She began to laugh, repeating, ‘NO WAY!’ whenever she caught her breath. Finally she calmed down and announced to the room, ‘Gerry! You bastard! There is absolutely no way I am going through with this!’ Gerry laughed louder. ‘This is not funny. You know how I feel about karaoke, and I refuse to do it. Nope. No way. Not doing it.’ ‘You have to do it, you know,’ laughed Gerry. ‘I do not have to do this!’ ‘Do it for me.’ ‘I am not doing it for you, for me or for world peace. I hate karaoke!’ ‘Do it for me,’ he repeated. The sound of the phone caused Holly to jump in her seat. It was Sharon. ‘OK, it’s five past twelve, what did it say? John and I are dying to know!’ ‘What makes you think I opened it?’ ‘Ha!’ Sharon snorted. ‘Twenty years of friendship qualifies me as an expert; now come on, tell us what it says.’ ‘I’m not doing it,’ Holly stated bluntly. ‘What? You’re not telling us?’ ‘No, I’m not doing what he wants me to do.’ ‘Why, what is it?’ ‘Oh, just Gerry’s pathetic attempt at being humorous,’ she snapped at the ceiling. ‘I’m intrigued now,’ Sharon said. ‘Tell us.’ ‘Holly, spill the beans, what is it?’ John was on the downstairs phone. ‘OK … Gerry wants me … to … singatakaraoke,’ she rushed out. ‘Huh? Holly, we didn’t understand a word you said,’ Sharon gave out. ‘No, I did,’ interrupted John. ‘I think I heard something about karaoke. Am I right?’ ‘Yes,’ Holly replied. ‘And do you have to sing?’ enquired Sharon. ‘Ye-eess,’ she replied slowly. Maybe if she didn’t say it, it wouldn’t have to happen. The others burst out laughing so loud, Holly had to remove the phone from her ear. ‘Phone me back when the two of you shut up,’ she said angrily, hanging up. A few minutes later they called back. ‘Yes?’ She heard Sharon snort down the phone, relapse into a fit of the giggles and then the line went dead. Ten minutes later she phoned back. ‘Yes?’ ‘OK.’ Sharon had an overly serious ‘let’s get down to business’ tone in her voice. ‘I’m sorry about that, I’m fine now. Don’t look at me, John,’ she said away from the phone. ‘I’m sorry, Holly, but I just kept thinking about the last time you—’ ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ Holly interrupted, ‘you don’t need to bring it back up. It was the most embarrassing day of my life so I just happen to remember it. That’s why I’m not doing it.’ ‘Oh, Holly, you can’t let a stupid thing like that put you off!’ ‘Well, if that wouldn’t put a person off, then they’re clinically insane!’ ‘Holly, it was only a little fall …’ ‘Yes, thank you! I remember it just fine! Anyway, I can’t even sing, Sharon; I think I established that fact marvellously the last time!’ Sharon was very quiet. ‘Sharon?’ More silence. ‘Sharon, you still there?’ There was no answer. ‘Sharon, are you laughing?’ Holly gave out. Holly heard a little squeak and the line went dead. ‘What wonderfully supportive friends I have,’ she muttered under her breath. ‘Oh, Gerry!’ she yelled. ‘I thought you were supposed to be helping me, not turning me into a nervous wreck!’ She got very little sleep that night. CHAPTER TEN ‘Happy birthday, Holly! Or should I say Happy belated birthday?’ Richard laughed nervously. Holly’s mouth dropped open in shock at the sight of her older brother standing on her doorstep. This was a rare occurrence; in fact it may even have been a first. She opened and closed her mouth like a goldfish, completely unsure what to say. ‘I brought you a potted mini phalaenopsis orchid,’ he said, handing her a plant. ‘They have been shipped fresh, budding and are ready to bloom.’ He sounded like an advertisement. Holly was even more stunned. She fingered the tiny pink buds. ‘Gosh, Richard, orchids are my favourite!’ ‘Well, you have a nice big garden here anyway, nice and …’ he cleared his throat, ‘green. Bit overgrown, though …’ he trailed off and began that annoying rocking thing he did with his feet. ‘Would you like to come in or are you just passing through?’ Please say no, please say no. Despite the thoughtful gift, Holly was in no mood for Richard’s company. ‘Well, yes, I’ll come in for a little while so.’ He wiped his feet for a good two minutes at the door before stepping into the house. He reminded Holly of her old maths teacher at school, dressed in a brown knitted cardigan with brown trousers that stopped just at the top of his neat little brown loafers. He hadn’t a hair on his head out of place and his fingernails were clean and perfectly manicured. Holly could imagine him measuring them with a little ruler every night to see that they didn’t outgrow the required European standard length for fingernails, if such a thing existed. Richard never seemed comfortable in his own skin. He looked as if he was being choked to death by his tightly knotted (brown) tie, and he always walked as if he had a barge pole shoved up his backside. On the rare occasions that he smiled, the smile never quite managed to reach his eyes. He was the drill sergeant of his own body, screaming at it and punishing himself every time he lapsed into human mode. The sad thing was that he thought he was better off than everyone else for it. Holly led him into the living room and placed the ceramic pot on top of the TV for the time being. ‘No, no, Holly,’ Richard said, wagging a finger at her as though she was a naughty child, ‘you shouldn’t put it there. It needs to be in a cool, draught-free location away from harsh sunlight and heat vents.’ ‘Oh, of course.’ Holly picked the pot back up and searched around the room in panic for a suitable place. What had he said? A draught-free, warm location? How did he always manage to make her feel like an incompetent little girl? ‘How about that little table in the centre? It should be safe there.’ Holly did as she was told and placed the pot on the table, half expecting him to say ‘good girl’. Thankfully he didn’t. Richard took his favourite position at the fireplace and surveyed the room. ‘Your house is very clean,’ he commented. ‘Thank you. I just, eh … cleaned it.’ He nodded as if he already knew. ‘Can I get you a tea or a coffee?’ she asked, expecting him to say no. ‘Yes, great,’ he said, clapping his hands together. ‘Tea would be splendid. Just milk no sugar.’ Holly returned from the kitchen with two mugs of tea and placed them down on the coffee table. She hoped the steam rising from the mugs wouldn’t murder the poor plant. It being a heat vent and all. ‘You just need to water it regularly and feed it during the spring months.’ He was still talking about the plant. Holly nodded, knowing full well she would not do either of those things. ‘I didn’t know you had green fingers, Richard,’ she said, trying to lighten the atmosphere. ‘Only when I’m painting with the children,’ he laughed, cracking a rare joke. ‘Do you do much work in your garden?’ Holly was anxious to keep the conversation flowing; as the house was so quiet every silence was amplified. ‘Oh, yes, I love to work in the garden.’ His eyes lit up. ‘Saturdays are my garden days,’ he said, smiling into his mug of tea. Holly felt as though a complete stranger was sitting beside her. She realised she knew very little about her brother and he equally knew very little about her. But that was the way Richard had always liked to keep things. He had distanced himself from the family even when they were younger. He never shared exciting news with them or even told them how his day went. He was just full of facts, facts and more facts. The first time the family had even heard of Meredith was the day they both came over for dinner to announce their engagement. Unfortunately, by that stage it was too late to convince him not to marry the flame-haired, green-eyed dragon. Not that he would have listened, anyway. ‘So,’ she announced far too loudly for the echoing room, ‘anything strange or startling?’ Like why are you here? ‘No, no, nothing strange. Everything is ticking over as normal.’ He took a sip of tea, then a while later added, ‘Nothing startling either, for that matter. I just thought I would pop in and say hello while I was in the area.’ ‘Ah, right. It’s unusual for you to be over this side of the city,’ Holly laughed. ‘What brings you to the dark and dangerous world of the north side?’ ‘Oh, you know, just a little business,’ he mumbled to himself. ‘But my car’s parked on the other side of the river, of course!’ Holly forced a smile. ‘Just joking,’ he added. ‘It’s just outside the house … It will be safe won’t it?’ he asked seriously. ‘I think it should be OK,’ Holly said. ‘There doesn’t seem to be anyone suspicious hanging around the cul-de-sac in broad daylight today.’ Her humour was lost on him. ‘How’s Emily and Timmy – sorry, I mean Timothy?’ An honest mistake for once. Richard’s eyes lit up, ‘Oh, they’re good, Holly, very good. Worrying, though.’ He looked away and surveyed her living room. ‘What do you mean?’ Holly asked, thinking that perhaps Richard may open up to her. ‘Oh, there isn’t one thing in particular, Holly. Children are a worry in general.’ He pushed the rim of his glasses up his nose and looked her in the eye. ‘But I suppose you’re glad you will never have to worry about all this children nonsense,’ he said, laughing. There was a silence. Holly felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. ‘So have you found a job yet?’ he continued on. Holly sat frozen on her chair in shock. She couldn’t believe he had had the audacity to say that to her. She was insulted and hurt and she wanted him out of her house. She really wasn’t in the mood to be polite to him any more, and certainly couldn’t be bothered explaining to his narrow little mind that she hadn’t even begun looking for a job yet as she was still grieving the death of her spouse – ‘nonsense’ that he wouldn’t have to experience for another fifty years or so. ‘No,’ she spat out. ‘So what are you doing for money? Have you signed on the dole?’ ‘No, Richard,’ she said, trying not to lose her temper. ‘I haven’t signed on the dole. I get widow’s allowance.’ ‘Ah, that’s a great, handy thing, isn’t it?’ ‘Handy is not quite the word I would use. Devastatingly depressing is more like it.’ The atmosphere was tense. Suddenly he slapped his leg with his hand, signalling the end of the conversation. ‘I better motor on so and get back to work,’ he announced, standing up and exaggerating a stretch as though he had been sitting down for hours. ‘OK then,’ Holly was relieved. ‘You better leave while your car is still there.’ Once again her humour was lost on him as he was peering out the window to check. ‘You’re right; it’s still there, thank God. Anyway, nice to see you and thank you for the tea.’ ‘You’re welcome, and thank you for the orchid,’ Holly said through gritted teeth. He marched down the garden path and stopped midway to look at the garden. He nodded his head disapprovingly and shouted to her, ‘You really must get someone to sort this mess out,’ and drove off in his brown family car. Holly fumed as she watched him drive away, and banged the door shut. That man made her blood boil so much she felt like knocking him out. He just hadn’t a clue … about anything. CHAPTER ELEVEN ‘Oh, Sharon, I just hate him,’ Holly moaned to her friend on the phone later that night. ‘Just ignore him, Holly. He can’t help himself, he’s an idiot,’ she replied angrily. ‘But that’s what annoys me even more. Everyone says he can’t help himself or it’s not his fault, but he’s a grown man, Sharon. He’s thirty-six years old. He should bloody well know when to keep his mouth shut. He says those things deliberately,’ Holly fumed. ‘I really don’t think he does, Holly,’ Sharon said soothingly. ‘I genuinely think he called round to wish you a happy birthday …’ ‘Yeah! And what’s that about?’ Holly ranted. ‘Since when has he ever called round to my house to give me a birthday present? NEVER! That’s when!’ ‘Well, thirty is more of a big deal than any other—’ ‘Not in his eyes it’s not! He even said so at dinner the other day. If I recall, his exact words were,’ she mimicked his voice, ‘I don’t agree with silly celebrations blah blah blah I’m a sap blah blah blah. He really is a Dick.’ Sharon laughed at her friend sounding like a ten-year-old. ‘OK, so he’s an evil monster of a being who deserves to burn in hell!’ Holly paused. ‘Well, I wouldn’t go that far, Sharon …’ Sharon laughed. ‘Oh, I just can’t please you at all, can I?’ Holly smiled weakly. Gerry would know exactly how she was feeling, he would know exactly what to say and exactly what to do. He would give her one of his famous hugs and all her problems would melt away. She grabbed a pillow from her bed and hugged it tight. She couldn’t remember the last time she had hugged someone, really hugged someone. And the depressing thing was that she couldn’t imagine ever embracing anyone the same way again. ‘Helloooo? Earth to Holly? You still there or am I talking to myself again? ‘Oh, sorry, Sharon, what did you say?’ ‘I said have you given any more thought to this karaoke business?’ ‘Sharon!’ Holly yelped. ‘No more thought is required on that subject.’ ‘OK, calm down, woman! I was just thinking that we could hire a karaoke machine and set it up in your living room. That way, you’ll be doing what he wants minus the embarrassment! What do you think?’ ‘No, Sharon, it’s a great idea but it won’t work; he wants me to do it in Club Diva, wherever that is.’ ‘Ah! So sweet! Because you’re his disco diva?’ ‘I think that was the general idea,’ Holly said miserably. ‘Ah! That’s a lovely idea, although Club Diva? Never heard of it.’ ‘Well, that’s that settled then. If no one knows where it is, then I just can’t do it, can I?’ Holly said, satisfied she had found a way out. They both said their goodbyes but as soon as Holly had hung up, the phone rang again. ‘Hi, sweetheart.’ ‘Mum!’ Holly said accusingly. ‘Oh God, what have I done now?’ ‘I received a little visit from your evil son today and I’m not very happy.’ ‘Oh, I’m sorry, dear, I tried to call you earlier to tell you he was on his way over but I kept getting that bloody answering machine. Do you ever turn your phone on?’ ‘That is not the point, Mum.’ ‘I know, I’m sorry. Why, what did he do?’ ‘He opened his mouth. There lies the problem in itself.’ ‘Oh no, and he was so excited about giving you that present.’ ‘Well, I’m not denying the fact that the present was very nice and thoughtful but he said some of the most insulting things without batting an eyelid!’ ‘Do you want me to talk to him for you?’ ‘No, it’s OK; we’re big boys and girls now. But thanks, anyway. So what are you up to?’ Holly was anxious to change the subject. ‘Ciara and I are watching a Denzel Washington film. Ciara thinks she’s going to marry him someday,’ Elizabeth laughed. ‘I am too!’ Ciara shouted in the background. ‘Well, sorry to burst her little bubble but tell her he’s already married.’ ‘He’s married, honey,’ Elizabeth passed on the message. ‘Hollywood marriages …’ Ciara mumbled. ‘Are the two of you on your own?’ Holly asked. ‘Frank is down the pub and Declan is at college.’ ‘College? But it’s ten o’clock at night!’ Holly laughed. Declan was probably out somewhere doing something illegal and using college as an excuse. She didn’t think her mum would be so gullible to believe that line, especially after having four other children. ‘Oh, he’s a very hard worker when he puts his mind to it, Holly. He’s working on some project. I don’t know what it is; I don’t listen half the time.’ ‘Mmm,’ Holly replied, not believing a word of it. ‘Anyway, my future son-in-law is back on television so I must be off,’ Elizabeth laughed. ‘Would you like to come round and join us?’ ‘Thanks but no, I’m OK here.’ ‘All right, love, but if you change your mind you know where we are. Bye, dear.’ Back to her empty, silent house. Holly woke up the next morning still fully dressed and lying on her bed. She could feel herself slipping into her old habits again. All her positive thoughts of the past few weeks were melting away bit by bit every day. It was so bloody tiring trying to be happy all the time and she just didn’t have the energy any more. Who cared if the house was a mess? Nobody but she was going to see it, and she certainly didn’t care one way or the other. Who cared if she didn’t wear make-up or wash for a week? She had no intention of impressing anyone. The only guy she was seeing regularly was the pizza delivery boy, and she even had to tip him to make him smile. Who bloody cared? Her phone vibrated beside her, signalling a text message. It was from Sharon. Club Diva no 36700700 Think bout it. Wud b fun. Do it 4 Gerry? Gerry’s bloody dead, she felt like texting back. But ever since she had begun opening the envelopes he didn’t feel dead to her. It was as though he was just away on holiday and he was writing her letters so he wasn’t really gone. Well, the very least she could do was ring the club and suss out the situation. That didn’t mean she had to go through with it. She dialled the number and a man answered. She couldn’t think of anything to say and quickly hung up again. Oh, come on, Holly, she told herself, it’s really not that difficult. Just say a friend is interested in singing. Holly braced herself and pressed redial. The same voice answered, ‘Club Diva.’ ‘Hi, I was wondering if you do karaoke nights there?’ ‘Yes, we do. They are on a …’ she heard him leafing through some pages, ‘yeah, sorry, they’re on a Thursday.’ ‘Thursday?’ ‘No, sorry, sorry, hold on …’ He leafed through some pages again. ‘No, they’re on a Tuesday night.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes, they are definitely on a Tuesday.’ ‘OK, em, well, I was wondering if, em …’ Holly took a deep breath and began the sentence again. ‘My friend might be interested in singing and she was wondering what she would have to do?’ There was a long pause on the other end. ‘Hello?’ Was this person stupid? ‘Yeah, sorry, I don’t actually organise the karaoke nights so …’ ‘OK.’ Holly was losing her temper. It had taken a lot to summon up the courage to actually make the call and some underqualified unhelpful little twit wasn’t going to ruin it for her. ‘Well, is there anyone there who might have a clue?’ ‘Eh, no, there isn’t. The club isn’t actually open yet. It’s very early in the morning still,’ came the sarcastic response. ‘Well, thank you very much. You’ve been a terrific help,’ she matched his sarcasm. ‘Excuse me, if you can just bear with me for a moment, I’ll try and find out for you.’ Holly was put on hold and was forced to listen to ‘Greensleeves’ for the next five minutes. ‘Hello? Are you still there?’ ‘Barely,’ she said angrily. ‘OK, I’m very sorry about the delay but I just made a phone call there. What’s your friend’s name?’ Holly froze; she hadn’t planned on this. Well, maybe she could just give her name and then get ‘her friend’ to call back and cancel if she changed her mind. ‘Em, her name is Holly Kennedy.’ ‘OK, well, it’s actually a karaoke competition on Tuesday nights. It goes on for a month and every week two people out of ten are chosen till the last week of the month, where the six people sing again in the final.’ Holly gulped and felt butterflies in her tummy. She didn’t want to do this. ‘But unfortunately,’ he continued, ‘the names have all been entered a few months in advance so you can tell your friend that maybe she could try again at Christmas. That’s when the next competition is on.’ ‘Oh, OK.’ ‘By the way, the name Holly Kennedy rings a bell. Would that be Declan Kennedy’s sister?’ ‘Eh, yeah. Why, do you know her?’ asked a shocked Holly. ‘I wouldn’t say I know her I just met her briefly here the other night with her brother.’ Was Declan going around introducing girls as his sister? The sick and twisted little … No, that couldn’t be right. ‘Declan played a gig in Club Diva?’ ‘No, no,’ the man laughed, ‘he played with his band downstairs in the basement.’ Holly quickly digested the information until the facts finally clicked in place. ‘Is Club Diva in Hogan’s?’ He laughed again. ‘Yeah, it’s on the top floor. Maybe I should advertise a bit more!’ ‘Is that Daniel?’ Holly blurted out and then kicked herself for being so stupid. ‘Eh, yeah, do I know you?’ ‘Em, no! No, you don’t! Holly just mentioned you in conversation, that’s all.’ Then she realised how that sounded. ‘Very briefly in conversation,’ she added. ‘She said you gave her a stool.’ Holly began hitting her head softly against the wall. Daniel laughed again. ‘Oh, OK, well, tell her if she wants to sing in the karaoke at Christmas I can put her name down now for it. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that want to sign up.’ ‘Really?’ Holly said weakly. She felt like a fool. ‘Oh, by the way, who am I speaking to?’ Holly paced her bedroom floor. ‘Em, Sharon. You’re speaking to Sharon.’ ‘OK, Sharon, well, I have your number on caller ID so I’ll call you if anyone backs out.’ ‘OK, thanks a lot.’ And he hung up. Holly leaped into bed, throwing the duvet over her head as she felt her face burn with embarrassment. She hid under the covers, cursing herself for being such a bimbo. Ignoring the phone ringing, she tried to convince herself she hadn’t been a complete idiot. Eventually, after she had persuaded herself she could show her face in public again (it took a long time) she crawled out of bed and hit the button on her answering machine. The electronic voice announced she had one message. ‘Hi, Sharon, I must have just missed you. It’s Daniel here from Club Diva,’ he paused and then, laughing, added, ‘in Hogan’s. Em, I was just looking through the list of names in the book and it seems somebody already entered Holly’s name a few months back. In fact it’s one of the first entries. Unless it’s another Holly Kennedy …’ he trailed off. ‘Anyway, call me back when you get a chance so we can sort it out. Thanks.’ Holly sat shocked on the edge of her bed, unable to move. CHAPTER TWELVE Sharon, Denise and Holly sat by the window in Bewley’s café overlooking Grafton Street. They often met up there to watch the world go by. Sharon always said it was the best window shopping she could ever do as she had a bird’s-eye view of all her favourite stores. ‘I can’t believe Gerry organised all this!’ gasped Denise when she heard the news. ‘It’ll be a bit of fun, won’t it?’ Sharon said excitedly. ‘Oh God.’ Holly had butterflies in her stomach just at the thought of it. ‘I still really, really, really don’t want to do it but I feel I have to finish off what Gerry started.’ ‘That’s the spirit, Hol!’ cheered Denise. ‘And we’ll all be there to cheer you on!’ ‘Now hold on a minute, Denise,’ Holly said, dampening the celebratory tone, ‘I just want you and Sharon there, no one else. I don’t want to make a big deal out of this at all. Let’s keep it between us.’ ‘But, Holly!’ Sharon protested. ‘It is a big deal! No one ever thought you’d do karaoke again after last time …’ ‘Sharon!’ warned Holly. ‘One must not speak of such things. One is still scarred from that experience.’ ‘Well, I think one is a daft cow for not getting over it,’ mumbled Sharon. ‘So when’s the big night?’ Denise changed the subject, sensing bad vibes. ‘Next Tuesday,’ Holly groaned, bending forward and banging her head playfully on the table repeatedly. The surrounding tables of customers stared at her curiously. ‘She’s just out for the day,’ Sharon announced to the room, pointing at Holly. ‘Don’t worry, Holly; that gives you seven days exactly to transform yourself into Mariah Carey. No problem at all,’ Denise said, smiling at Sharon. ‘Oh, please, we would have a better chance teaching Lennox Lewis how to do ballet,’ said Sharon. Holly looked up from banging her head, ‘Well, thanks for the encouragement, Sharon.’ ‘Ooh, but imagine Lennox Lewis in a pair of tights, that tight little arse dancing around …’ Denise said dreamily. Holly and Sharon stopped growling at each other to stare at their friend. ‘You’ve lost the plot, Denise.’ ‘What?’ Denise said defensively, snapping out of her fantasy. ‘Just imagine those big muscular thighs …’ ‘That would snap your neck in two if you went near him,’ Sharon finished for her. ‘Now there’s a thought,’ Denise said, widening her eyes. ‘I can see it all now,’ Holly joined in, staring off into space. ‘The deaths column would read: “Denise Hennessey, tragically died after being crushed to death by the most tremendous thunder thighs after briefly catching a glimpse of heaven …”’ ‘I like that,’ she agreed. ‘Ooh, and what a way to die! Give me a slice of that heaven!’ ‘OK, you,’ Sharon interrupted, pointing her finger at Denise, ‘keep your sordid little fantasies to yourself, please. And you,’ she pointed at Holly, ‘stop trying to change the subject.’ ‘Oh, you’re just jealous, Sharon, because your husband couldn’t snap a matchstick between his skinny little thighs,’ teased Denise. ‘Excuse me, but John’s thighs are perfectly fine. I just wish mine could be more like his,’ Sharon finished. ‘Now you,’ Denise pointed at Sharon, ‘keep your sordid little fantasies to yourself.’ ‘Girls, girls!’ Holly snapped her fingers in the air. ‘Let’s focus on me now, focus on me,’ she gracefully motioned with her hands, bringing them towards her chest. ‘OK, Ms Selfish, what are you planning on singing?’ ‘I have no idea, that’s why I called this emergency meeting.’ ‘No, it’s not, you told me you wanted to go shopping,’ Sharon said. ‘Oh, really?’ Denise looked at Sharon and raised an eyebrow. ‘I thought you were both coming to visit me on my lunch break.’ ‘You are both correct,’ Holly asserted. ‘I am shopping for ideas and I need you both.’ ‘OK, OK!’ Sharon exclaimed excitedly. ‘I think I’ve got an idea. What was that song we sang for the whole two weeks in Spain and we couldn’t get it out of our heads? It used to bug the hell out of us?’ Holly shrugged her shoulders. If it bugged the hell out of them it was hardly a very good choice. ‘I don’t know, I wasn’t invited on that holiday,’ muttered Denise. ‘Oh, you know the one, Holly!’ ‘I can’t remember.’ ‘Oh, you have to!’ ‘Sharon, I don’t think she can remember,’ Denise said frustratedly to Sharon. ‘Oh, what was it?’ Sharon put her face in her hands, irritated. Holly shrugged her shoulders at Denise again. ‘OK, I’ve got it!!’ she announced happily, and began to sing loudly in the café. ‘“Sun, sea, sex, sand, come on boy, give me your hand!”.’ Holly’s eyes widened and her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as the surrounding tables turned to stare. She turned to Denise for support in silencing Sharon. ‘“Ooh ooh ooh so sexy, so sexy!”’ Denise joined in with Sharon. Some people stared with amusement but most with loathing while Denise and Sharon warbled their way through the tacky European dance song that was a hit a few summers previously. Just as they were about to sing the chorus for the fourth time (neither of them could remember the verses) Holly silenced them. ‘Girls, I can’t sing that song! Besides, the verses are rapped by a guy!’ ‘Well, at least you wouldn’t have to sing too much,’ chuckled Denise. ‘No way! I am not rapping at a karaoke competition!’ ‘OK, well, what CD are you listening to at the moment?’ Denise got serious again. ‘Westlife?’ She looked at them hopefully. ‘Then sing a Westlife song,’ Sharon encouraged. ‘That way, at least you’ll know all the words.’ Sharon and Denise began to laugh uncontrollably. ‘You might not get the tune right,’ Sharon forced out between hacking laughs. ‘But at least you’ll know the words!’ Denise managed to finish for her before the two of them doubled over at the table. First Holly was angry but looking at both of them crouched over holding their stomachs in hysterics, she had to chuckle. They were right, Holly was completely tone deaf and hadn’t a note in her head. Finding a song she could actually sing was going to prove impossible. Finally, after the girls had settled down again, Denise looked at her watch and moaned about having to get back to work. They left Bewley’s, much to the other customers’ delight. ‘The miserable sods will probably throw a party now,’ Sharon had mumbled, passing their tables. The three girls linked arms and walked down Grafton Street, heading towards the clothes store where Denise was manager. The day was sunny with just a light chill in the air; Grafton Street was busy as usual with people running around on their lunch breaks while shoppers slowly meandered up the street taking full advantage of the lack of rain. At every stretch of the road there was a busker fighting for attention from the crowds, and Denise and Sharon embarrassingly did a quick Irish dance as they passed a man playing the fiddle. He winked at them and they threw some money into his tweed cap on the ground. ‘Right, you ladies of leisure, I’d better head back to work,’ Denise said, pushing the door to her shop open. As soon as her staff saw her they scarpered from gossiping at the counter and immediately began to tidy the clothes rails. Holly and Sharon tried not to laugh. They said their goodbyes and both headed up to Stephen’s Green to collect their cars. ‘“Sun, sea, sex, sand,”’ Holly quietly sang to herself. ‘Oh shit, Sharon, you’ve got that stupid song in my head now,’ she complained. ‘You see, there you go with that “shit Sharon” thing again. So negative, Holly.’ Sharon began humming the song. ‘Oh, shut up!’ Holly laughed, hitting her on the arm. CHAPTER THIRTEEN It was four o’clock by the time Holly eventually got out of town and started heading home to Swords. Evil Sharon had convinced Holly to go shopping after all, which resulted in her splashing out on a ridiculous top she was far too old to wear. She really needed to watch her spending from now on. Her funds were running low and without regular income she could sense tense times ahead. She needed to start thinking about getting a job, but she was finding it hard enough to get out of bed in the morning as it was – another depressing nine-to-five job wasn’t going to help matters. But it would pay the bills. Holly sighed loudly. All these things she had to handle by herself. She spent too much time on her own thinking about them. She needed people around her, like today with Denise and Sharon, as they always took her mind off things. She phoned her mum and checked if it was all right for her to call round. ‘Of course you can, love, you’re always welcome.’ Then Elizabeth lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘Just as long as you know that Richard is here.’ Christ! What was with all the little visits all of a sudden? Holly contemplated heading straight home when she heard that, but convinced herself she was being silly. He was her brother and, as annoying as he was, she couldn’t go on avoiding him forever. She arrived to an extremely loud and crowded house, and it felt like old times again, hearing screams and shouts in every room. Her mum was setting an extra place at the table just as Holly walked in. ‘Oh, Mum, you should have told me you were having dinner,’ Holly said, giving her a hug and a kiss. ‘Why, have you eaten already?’ ‘No, actually I’m starving but I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble.’ ‘No trouble at all, dear. It just means that poor Declan will have to go without food for the day, that’s all,’ she said, teasing her son, who was taking his seat. He made a face at her. The atmosphere was so much more relaxed this time around – or maybe it had just been Holly who was uptight last time they met up. ‘So, Mr Hard Worker, why aren’t you in college today?’ she said sarcastically. ‘I’ve been in college all morning,’ Declan replied, making a face. ‘And I’m going back in at eight o’clock, actually.’ ‘That’s very late,’ said his father, pouring gravy all over his plate. Frank always ended up with more gravy than food. ‘Yeah, but it was the only time I could get the editing suite.’ ‘Is there only one editing suite, Declan?’ piped up Richard. ‘Yeah.’ Ever the conversationalist. ‘And how many students are there?’ ‘It’s only a small class so there are twelve of us.’ ‘Don’t they have the funds for any more?’ ‘For what, students?’ Declan teased. ‘No, for another editing suite.’ ‘No, it’s only a small college, Richard.’ ‘I suppose the bigger universities would be better equipped for things like that. They’re better all round.’ And there was the dig they were all waiting for. ‘No, I wouldn’t say that. The facilities are top of the range, there’s just fewer people so less equipment. And the lecturers aren’t inferior to university lecturers. They’re a bonus because they work in the industry as well as lecturing. In other words, they practise what they preach. It’s not just textbook stuff.’ Good for you, Declan, Holly thought, and winked across the table at him. ‘I wouldn’t imagine they get paid well doing that, so they probably have no choice but to lecture too.’ ‘Richard, working in film is a very good job; you’re talking about people who have spent years in college studying for degrees and masters …’ ‘Oh, you get a degree for that, do you?’ Richard was amazed. ‘I thought it was just a little course you were doing.’ Declan stopped eating and looked at Holly in shock. Funny how Richard’s ignorance still amazed everyone. ‘Who do you think makes all those gardening programmes you watch, Richard?’ Holly interfered. ‘They’re not just a crowd of people who are doing a little course.’ The thought that there was a skill involved had never even crossed his mind. ‘Great little programmes they are,’ he agreed. ‘What’s your project on, Declan?’ Frank asked. Declan finished chewing his food before he spoke. ‘Oh, it’s too messy to go into but basically it’s on club life in Dublin.’ ‘Ooh, will we be in it?’ Ciara broke her unusual silence. ‘Yeah, I might just show the back of your head or something,’ he joked. ‘Well, I can’t wait to see it,’ Holly said encouragingly. ‘Thanks.’ Declan put his knife and fork down and started laughing, ‘Hey, what’s this I hear about you singing in a karaoke competition next week?’ ‘What?’ Ciara yelled, her eyes nearly popping out of her head. Holly pretended not to know what he was talking about. ‘Ah, come on, Holly!’ he persisted. ‘Danny told me!’ He turned to the rest of the table and explained, ‘Danny is the owner of the place where I did the gig the other night and he told me Holly has entered a karaoke competition in the club upstairs.’ Everyone oohed and aahed and talked about how great it was. Holly refused to give in. ‘Declan, Daniel’s just playing games with you. Sure, everyone knows I can’t sing! Now, come on,’ she addressed the rest of the table. ‘Honestly, if I was singing in a karaoke competition I think I would tell you all.’ She laughed as if the thought was so ridiculous. In fact the thought was so ridiculous. ‘Holly,’ Declan chuckled, ‘I saw your name on the list. Don’t lie.’ Holly put her knife and fork down. She suddenly wasn’t hungry any more. ‘Holly, why didn’t you tell us you’re going to sing in a competition?’ her mother asked. ‘Because I can’t sing!’ ‘Then why are you doing it?’ Ciara burst out laughing. She may as well tell them, otherwise Declan would beat it out of her and she didn’t like lying to her parents. ‘OK, it’s a really complicated story, but basically Gerry entered my name in months ago because he really wanted me to do it and as much as I don’t want to do it, I feel I have to go through with it. It’s stupid, I know.’ Ciara stopped laughing abruptly. Holly felt paranoid by her family staring at her, and she nervously tucked her hair behind her ears. ‘Well, I think that’s a wonderful idea,’ her dad suddenly announced. ‘Yes,’ added her mum, ‘and we’ll all be there to support you.’ ‘No, Mum, you really don’t have to. It’s no big deal.’ ‘There’s no way my sister is singing in a competition without me being there,’ declared Ciara. ‘Here, here,’ said Richard. ‘We’ll all go so. I’ve never been to a karaoke before. It should be …’ he searched his brain for the right word, ‘… fun.’ Holly groaned and closed her eyes, wishing she had gone straight home from town. Declan was laughing hysterically, ‘Yes, Holly, it’ll be … hmmm …’ he said, scratching his chin, ‘… fun!’ ‘When is it on?’ Richard said, taking out his diary. ‘Eh … Saturday,’ Holly lied, and Richard began writing it down. ‘It is not!’ Declan burst out. ‘It’s next Tuesday, you liar!’ ‘Shit!’ cursed Richard, much to everyone’s surprise. ‘Has anyone got any Tippex?’ Holly could not stop going to the toilet. She was nervous and had had practically no sleep the night before. And she looked how she felt. There were huge bags around her bloodshot eyes and her lips were bitten. The big day had arrived, her worst nightmare – singing in public. Holly wasn’t even the kind of person who sang in the shower for fear of cracking all the mirrors. But man, was she spending time in the toilet today. There was no better laxative than fear, and Holly felt as if she had lost a stone in just one day. Her friends and family had been as supportive as ever, sending her good luck cards. Sharon and John had even sent her a bouquet of flowers, which she placed on the draught-free, heat-vent-free coffee table beside her half-dead orchid. Denise had ‘hilariously’ sent her a sympathy card. Holly dressed in the outfit Gerry had told her to buy last month and cursed him throughout. There were far more important things to worry about right now than irrelevant little details like how she looked. She left her hair down so it covered her face as much as possible and piled on the waterproof mascara as though it was going to prevent her from crying. She could foresee the night ending in tears. She tended to have psychic powers when it came to facing the shittiest days of her life. John and Sharon collected Holly in a taxi and she refused to talk to them, cursing everyone for forcing her to do this. She felt physically sick and she couldn’t sit still. Every time the taxi stopped at a red light she contemplated jumping out and running for dear life but by the time she would build up the courage the lights would go green again. Her hands fidgeted nervously and she kept opening and closing her bag, pretending to Sharon she was searching for something just to keep herself occupied. ‘Relax, Holly,’ Sharon said soothingly, ‘everything will be fine.’ ‘Fuck off,’ she snapped. They continued on in silence for the rest of the journey: even the taxi driver didn’t speak. After a tense journey they finally reached Hogan’s, and John and Sharon had a hell of a time trying to stop Holly ranting (something about preferring to jump in the Liffey) and persuading her to go inside. Much to Holly’s horror, the club was absolutely jammed and she had to squeeze by everyone to make her way to her family, who had saved a table (right beside the toilet as requested). Richard was sitting awkwardly on a stool, looking out of place in a suit. ‘So tell me about these rules, Father. What will Holly have to do?’ Holly’s dad explained the ‘rules’ of karaoke to Richard and her nerves began to build even more. ‘Gosh, that’s terrific, isn’t it?’ Richard said, staring around the club in awe. Holly didn’t think he had ever been in a nightclub before. The sight of the stage terrified Holly. It was much bigger than she had expected and there was a huge screen on the wall for the crowd to see the words of the songs. Jack was sitting with his arm draped around Abbey’s shoulders; they both gave her supportive smiles. Holly scowled at them and looked away. ‘Holly the funniest thing happened earlier on,’ Jack said laughing. ‘Remember that guy Daniel we met last week?’ Holly just stared at him, watching his lips moving but not giving a damn about what he said. ‘Well, me and Abbey got here first to keep the table and we were having a kiss and your man came over and whispered in my ear that you were gonna be here tonight. He thought we were going out and that I was doing the dirt!’ Jack and Abbey laughed hysterically. ‘Well, I think that’s disgusting,’ Holly said, and turned away. ‘No,’ Jack tried to explain, ‘he didn’t know that we were brother and sister. I had to explain …’ Jack trailed off as Sharon shot him a warning look and silenced him. ‘Hi, Holly,’ Daniel said, approaching her with a clipboard in his hand. ‘OK, here’s the order of tonight: first up is a girl called Margaret, then a guy called Keith and then you’re up after him. Is that OK?’ ‘So I’m third.’ ‘Yeah, after—’ ‘That’s all I need to know,’ Holly snapped rudely. She just wanted to get out of this stupid club and wished that everyone would stop annoying her and leave her alone to wish evil thoughts on them all. She wished the ground would swallow her up, that a natural disaster would occur and everyone would have to evacuate the building. In fact, that was a good idea. She searched around frantically for a button to raise the fire alarm, but Daniel was still talking away to her. ‘Look, Holly, I’m really sorry to disturb you again, but could you tell me which of your friends is Sharon?’ He looked as if he was afraid she was going to bite his head off. So he should be, she thought, narrowing her eyes. ‘Her over there.’ Holly pointed to Sharon. ‘Hold on, why?’ ‘Oh, I just wanted to apologise for the last time we spoke.’ He started to walk towards Sharon. ‘Why?’ Holly said, the panic in her voice making him turn around again. ‘We just had a minor disagreement on the phone last week.’ He looked at her confused. ‘You know you really don’t need to do that. She’s probably forgotten about it completely by now,’ she stammered. This was the last thing she needed. ‘Yeah, but I would still like to apologise,’ and he headed over to Sharon. Holly leaped from her stool. ‘Sharon, hi, I’m Daniel. I just wanted to apologise about the confusion on the phone last week.’ Sharon looked at him as though he had ten heads. ‘Confusion?’ ‘You know, on the phone?’ John placed his arm protectively around Sharon’s waist. ‘On the phone?’ ‘Eh … yes, on the phone,’ he nodded. ‘What’s your name again?’ ‘Em, it’s Daniel.’ ‘And we spoke on the phone?’ Sharon said with a smile appearing on her face. Holly gestured wildly to her behind Daniel’s back. Daniel cleared his throat nervously. ‘Yes, you called the club last week and I answered – does that ring a bell?’ ‘No, sweetie, you’ve got the wrong girl,’ Sharon said politely. John threw Sharon a dirty look for calling him sweetie; if it was up to him he would have told him where to go. Daniel brushed his hand through his hair and appeared to be more confused than everyone else. He began to turn round to face Holly. Holly nodded her head frantically to Sharon. ‘Oh …’ Sharon said, looking as though she finally remembered. ‘Oh – Daniel!’ she yelled a bit over enthusiastically. ‘God, I am so sorry, my brain cells seem to be going a bit dead.’ She laughed like a mad woman. ‘Must be too much of this,’ she chortled, picking up her drink. Relief washed over Daniel’s face. ‘Good, I thought it was me going mad there for a minute! OK, so you remember us having that conversation on the phone?’ ‘Oh, that conversation we had on the phone. Listen, don’t worry about it,’ she said, waving her hand dismissively. ‘It’s just that I only took over the place a few weeks ago and I wasn’t too sure of the exact arrangements for tonight.’ ‘Don’t worry … we all need our time … to adjust … to things … you know?’ Sharon looked at Holly to see if she had said the right thing or not. ‘OK then. Well, it’s nice to finally meet you in person,’ Daniel laughed. ‘Can I get you a stool or anything?’ he joked. Sharon and John sat on their stools and stared back at him in silence, not knowing what to say to this strange man. John watched with suspicion as Daniel walked away. ‘What was that all about?’ Sharon screamed at Holly as soon as he was out of earshot. ‘Oh, I’ll explain it to you later,’ said Holly. She turned to face the stage as their karaoke host stepped on stage. ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!’ he announced. ‘Good evening!’ shouted Richard, looking excited. Holly rolled her eyes to heaven. ‘We have an exciting night ahead of us …’ he went on and on and on in his DJ voice while Holly danced nervously from foot to foot. She desperately needed the toilet again. ‘So first up tonight we have Margaret from Tallaght who is going to sing the theme to Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Please put your hands together for the wonderful Margaret!’ The crowd went wild. Holly’s heart raced. The hardest song in the world to sing – typical. When Margaret started to sing, the room became so quiet you could almost hear a pin drop. Holly watched everyone’s faces. They were all staring at Margaret in amazement, including Holly’s family, the traitors. Margaret’s eyes were closed and she sang with such passion, as though she had lived every line of the song. Holly hated her and contemplated tripping her up on her way back to her seat. ‘Wasn’t that incredible?’ the DJ announced. The crowd cheered again; Holly prepared herself not to hear that sound after she sang. ‘Next up we have Keith. You may remember him as last year’s winner and he’s singing “America” by Neil Diamond. Give it up for Keith!’ Holly didn’t need to hear any more and rushed to the toilet. She paced up and down and tried to calm herself, but her knees were knocking, her stomach was twisted in knots and she felt the beginnings of vomit rising to her mouth. She looked at herself in the mirror and tried to take big deep breaths. It didn’t work, as it only made her feel dizzy. The crowd applauded outside and Holly froze. She was next. ‘Wasn’t Keith terrific, ladies and gentlemen?’ Lots of cheers again. ‘Perhaps Keith is going for the record of winning two years in a row. Well, it doesn’t get any better than that!’ It was about to get a lot worse. ‘Next we have a newcomer to the competition and her name is Holly and she’s singing …’ Holly ran to the toilet and locked herself in. There was no way in this world they were getting her out of there. ‘So, ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Holly!’ There was a huge applause. CHAPTER FOURTEEN It was three years ago that Holly had taken to the stage for her debut karaoke performance. Not coincidentally, it was three years since Holly had taken to the stage to do karaoke. A huge crowd of her friends had gone to their local pub in Swords to celebrate one of the lad’s thirtieth birthdays. Holly had been extremely tired as she had been working overtime for the past two weeks and she really wasn’t in the mood to go out partying. All she wanted was to go home, have a nice long bath, put on the most unsexy pair of pyjamas she owned, eats lots of chocolate and snuggle up on the couch in front of the TV with Gerry. After standing on an overcrowded Dart all the way from Blackrock to Sutton Station, Holly was definitely not in the mood to stand all night in a packed stuffy pub. On the train, half her face had been squashed up against the window and the other half lodged underneath the sweaty armpit of a very unhygienic man. Right behind her a man was breathing alcoholic fumes rather loudly down her neck. It didn’t help matters that every time the train swayed he ‘accidentally’ pressed his big beer belly up against her back. She had suffered through this ordeal everyday going to work and coming home for two weeks and she could take it no longer. She wanted her pyjamas. Finally she arrived at Sutton Station and the very clever people there thought it was a great idea to all get on the train while passengers tried to get off. It took her so long to fight her way through the crowd to get off the train that by the time she reached the platform she saw her feeder bus drive off, packed with happy little people smiling out the window at her. And because it was after six o’clock, the coffee shop had closed and she was left standing in the freezing cold waiting for another half-hour till the next bus arrived. On top of everything else, this strengthened her desire to cuddle up in front of the fire. But a good evening at home was not to be. Her beloved husband had other plans. She arrived home tired and extremely pissed off to a crowded house and thumping music. People she didn’t even know were wandering around her living room with cans of beer in their hands and slumping themselves on the couch she had intended to inhabit for the next few hours. Gerry stood at the CD player acting DJ and trying to look cool. At that moment in time she had never seen him look so uncool in her life. ‘What is wrong with you?’ Gerry asked her after seeing her storming upstairs to the bedroom. ‘Gerry, I am tired, I am pissed off, I am not in the mood to go out tonight and you didn’t even ask me if it was all right to invite all these people over. And, by the way, WHO ARE THEY?’ she yelled. ‘They’re friends of Conor’s and, by the way, THIS IS MY HOUSE TOO!’ he yelled back. Holly placed her fingers on her temples and began to gently massage her head, she had such a headache and the music was driving her crazy. ‘Gerry,’ she said quietly, trying to stay calm, ‘I’m not saying that you can’t invite people over. It would be fine if you had planned it in advance and told me. Then I wouldn’t care, but today of all days when I am so so tired …’ her voice became weaker and weaker with every word, ‘I just wanted to relax in my own house.’ ‘Oh, everyday’s the same with you,’ he snapped. ‘You never want to do anything any more anyway. Every single night, you come home in your cranky moods and bitch at me about everything!’ Holly’s jaw dropped. ‘Excuse me! I have been working hard!’ ‘And so have I, but you don’t see me biting your head off every time I don’t get my own way.’ ‘Gerry this isn’t about me getting my own way, this is about you inviting the whole street into our h—’ ‘IT’S FRIDAY,’ he yelled, silencing her, ‘IT’S THE WEEKEND! When is the last time you went out? Leave your work behind and let your hair down, for a change. Stop acting like such a GRANNY!’ And he stormed out of the bedroom and slammed the door. After spending a long time in the bedroom hating Gerry and dreaming of a divorce she managed to calm down and think rationally about what he had said. And he was right. OK, he wasn’t right in the way he had phrased it but she had been cranky and bitchy all month and she knew it. Holly was the type of person who finished work at 5 p.m. and had her computer switched off, lights off, desk tidied and was running for her train by 5.01 p.m. whether her employers liked it or not. She never took her work home, never stressed about the future of the business because, quite frankly, she didn’t care, and phoned in sick as many Monday mornings as possible without running the risk of being fired. But due to a momentary lapse of concentration when looking for new employment, she had found herself accepting an office job that forced her to take paperwork home, agree to work late and worry about the business, which she was not happy with at all. How she even managed to stay there for an entire month was anybody’s guess but, nevertheless, Gerry had been right. Ouch, it even hurt to think it. She hadn’t gone out with him or her friends for weeks and fell asleep the minute her head hit the pillow every night. Come to think of it, that was probably Gerry’s main problem, never mind the bitchiness. But tonight would be different. She intended showing her neglected friends and husband that she was still the fun and frivolous Holly who could drink them all under the table and still manage to walk the white line all the way home. This show of antics began by preparing home-made cocktails. God only knows what was in them, but they worked their magic, and at eleven o’clock they were all dancing down the road to the pub where karaoke was taking place. Holly demanded to be first up and heckled the karaoke host until she got her way. The pub was jammed and that night there was a very rowdy crowd who were out on a stag night. It was as though a film crew had arrived in the pub hours earlier and worked away, setting the scene for disaster. They couldn’t have done a better job. The DJ gave Holly a huge build-up after believing her lies of being a professional singer. Gerry lost all power of speech and sight from laughing so hard but she was determined to show him that she could still let her hair down. He needn’t plan that divorce just yet. Holly decided to sing ‘Like a Virgin’ and dedicated it to the man who was getting married the next day. As soon as she started singing, Holly had never heard so many boos in her whole life and at such a loud volume. But she was so drunk she didn’t care and continued on singing to her husband, who seemed to be the only one without a moody face. Eventually, when people began to throw things at the stage, and when the karaoke host himself encouraged them to boo even louder, Holly felt that her work there had been done. When she handed him back the microphone there was a cheer so loud that people from the pub next door came running in. There were all the more people to see Holly trip down the steps in her stilettos and fall flat on her face. They all watched as her skirt went flying over her head to reveal the old underwear, which had once been white and which she hadn’t bothered to change when she got home from work. Holly was taken to hospital to see to her broken nose. Gerry lost his voice from laughing so loudly and Denise and Sharon helped matters by taking photographs of the scene of the crime, which Denise then chose as the cover for the invitations to her Christmas party with the heading, ‘Let’s get legless!’ Holly vowed never to do karaoke again. CHAPTER FIFTEEN ‘Holly Kennedy? Are you here?’ the karaoke host’s voice boomed. The crowd’s applause died down into a loud chatter as everyone looked around in search of Holly. Well, they would be a long time looking, she thought as she lowered the toilet seat lid and sat down to wait for the excitement to settle so they could move on to their next victim. She closed her eyes, rested her head on her hands, and prayed for this moment to pass. She wanted to open her eyes and be at home safely, a week from now. She counted to ten, praying for a miracle and then slowly opened them again. She was still in the toilet. Why couldn’t she, at least just this once, suddenly find magical powers? Holly knew this would happen. From the moment she opened that envelope and read Gerry’s third letter, she foresaw tears and humiliation. Her nightmare had come true. Outside, the club sounded very quiet and a sense of calm engulfed her as she realised they were moving on to the next singer. Her shoulders relaxed and she unclenched her fists, her jaw relaxed and air flowed more easily into her lungs. The panic was over but she decided to wait until the next singer began before she made a run for it. She couldn’t even climb out the window – well, not unless she wanted to plummet to her death. Outside the cubicle Holly heard the toilet door open and slam. Uh-oh, they were coming to get her, whoever they were. ‘Holly?’ It was Sharon. ‘Holly, I know you’re in there so just listen to me, OK?’ Holly sniffed back the tears that were beginning to well. ‘OK, I know that this is an absolute nightmare for you and I know you have a major phobia about this kind of thing but you need to relax, OK?’ Sharon’s voice was so soothing, Holly’s shoulders once again relaxed. ‘Holly, I hate mice, you know that.’ Holly frowned, wondering where this little pep talk was going. ‘And my worst nightmare would be to walk out of here to a room full of mice. Now could you imagine me?’ Holly smiled at the thought and remembered the time when Sharon moved in with Gerry and Holly for two weeks after she had caught a mouse in her house. John, of course, had been granted conjugal visits. ‘Yeah, well, I would be right here where you are now and nothing in the whole world would bring me out.’ She paused. ‘What?’ the DJ’s voice said into the microphone, and then started laughing, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it appears that our singer is currently in the toilets.’ The entire room erupted in laughter. ‘Sharon!’ Holly’s voice trembled in fear. She felt as though the angry mob were about to break down the door; strip her of her clothes and carry her over their heads to the stage for her execution. Panic took over for the third time. Sharon rushed her next sentence. ‘Anyway, Holly, all I’m saying is that you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. Nobody here is forcing you …’ ‘Ladies and gentlemen, let’s let Holly know that she’s up next!’ yelled the DJ. ‘Come on!’ Everybody began to stamp their feet and chant her name. ‘OK, well, at least nobody who cares about you is forcing you to do this,’ stammered Sharon, now under pressure from the approaching mob. ‘But if you don’t do this, I know you will never be able to forgive yourself. Gerry wanted you to do this for a reason.’ ‘HOLLY! HOLLY! HOLLY!’ ‘Oh, Sharon!’ Holly repeated, panicking. Suddenly the walls of the cubicle felt like they were closing in on her, beads of sweat formed on her forehead. She had to get out of there. She burst through the door. Sharon’s eyes widened at the sight of her distraught friend, who looked like she had just seen a ghost. Her eyes were red and puffy with black lines of mascara streaming down her face (that waterproof stuff never works) and her tears had washed the rest of her make-up away. ‘Don’t mind them, Holly,’ Sharon said coolly. ‘They can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.’ Holly’s lower lip began to tremble. ‘Don’t!’ Sharon said, gripping her by the shoulders and looking her in the eye. ‘Don’t even think about it!’ Her lip stopped trembling but the rest of her didn’t. Finally, Holly broke her silence. ‘I can’t sing, Sharon,’ she whispered, her eyes wide with terror. ‘I know that,’ Sharon said, laughing, ‘and your family knows that! Screw the rest of them! You are never gonna see any of their ugly mugs EVER AGAIN! Who cares what they think? I don’t, do you?’ Holly thought about it for a minute. ‘No,’ she whispered. ‘I didn’t hear you – what did you say? Do you care what they think?’ ‘No,’ Holly said, a little stronger. ‘Louder!’ Sharon shook her by the shoulders. ‘No!’ Holly yelled. ‘Louder!’ ‘NOOOOOOOOO! I DON’T CARE WHAT THEY THINK!’ Holly screamed so loud the crowd began to quieten down outside. The two of them smiled at each other and then began to giggle at their stupidity. ‘Just let this be another silly Holly day so we can laugh about it a few months from now,’ Sharon pleaded with her. Holly cast one last look at her reflection in the mirror, took a deep breath and charged towards the door like a woman on a mission. She opened the door to her adoring fans, who were all still chanting her name. They all began to cheer when they saw her and she took an extremely theatrical bow and headed towards the stage to the sound of claps and laughter, and a yell from Sharon saying, ‘Screw them!’ Holly had everybody’s attention now, whether she liked it or not. If she hadn’t run into the toilet the people who were chatting down the back of the club probably wouldn’t even have noticed her singing, but now she had attracted even more interest. She stood with her arms folded and stared at the audience in shock. The music had started without her even noticing, and she missed the first few lines of the song. The DJ stopped the track and put it back to the start. There was complete silence. Holly cleared her throat and the sound echoed around the room. Holly stared down at Denise and Sharon for help and her whole table gave her the thumbs-up. Ordinarily Holly would have laughed at how corny they all looked but right then it was strangely comforting. Finally the music began again and Holly held the microphone tightly in her two hands and prepared to sing. With an extremely shaky and timid voice she sang: ‘“What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?”’ Denise and Sharon howled with laughter at the wonderful choice of song and gave her a big cheer. Holly struggled on, singing dreadfully and looking as if she was about to burst into tears. Just when she felt she was about to hear boos again, her family and friends joined in with the chorus. ‘“Ooh, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends; yes I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”’ The crowd turned to her table of family and friends and laughed, and the atmosphere warmed a little more. Holly prepared herself for the high note coming up and yelled at the top of her lungs, ‘“Do you neeeed anybody?”’ She even managed to give herself a fright with the volume and a few people helped her out to sing, ‘“I need somebody to love.”’ ‘“Do you neeeed anybody?”’ she repeated, and held the microphone out to the crowd to encourage them to sing and they all sang, ‘“I need somebody to love,”’ and gave themselves a round of applause. Holly felt less nervous now and battled her way through the rest of the song. The people down the back resumed chatting, the bar staff carried on serving drinks and smashing glasses until Holly felt that she was the only one listening to herself. When she had finally finished singing, a few polite tables up the front and her own table to the right were the only people to acknowledge her. The DJ took the microphone from her hand and managed to say between laughs, ‘Please give it up for the incredibly brave Holly Kennedy!’ This time her family and friends were the only people to cheer. Denise and Sharon approached her with cheeks wet from tears of laughter. ‘I’m so proud of you!’ Sharon said, throwing her arms around Holly’s neck. ‘It was awful!’ ‘Thanks for helping me, Sharon.’ Holly hugged her friend. Jack and Abbey cheered, and Jack shouted, ‘Terrible! Absolutely terrible!’ Holly’s mother smiled encouragingly at her, knowing she had passed her special singing talent down to her daughter, and Holly’s father could barely look her in the eye he was laughing so much. All Ciara could manage was to repeat over and over again, ‘I never knew anyone could be so bad.’ Declan waved at her across the room with a camera in his hand and gave her the thumbs-down. Holly hid in the corner at the table and sipped on her water while she listened to everyone congratulating her on being so desperately awful. Holly couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so proud. John shuffled over to Holly and leaned against the wall beside her where he watched the next act on stage in silence. Eventually he plucked up the courage to speak and said, ‘Gerry’s probably here, you know,’ and looked at her with watery eyes. Poor John, he missed his best friend too. She gave him an encouraging smile and looked around the room. He was right. Holly could feel Gerry’s presence. She could feel him wrapping his arms around her and giving her one of his hugs she missed so much. After an hour the singers had finally finished and Daniel and the DJ headed off to tot up the votes. Everyone had been handed a voting slip as they paid at the door and Holly couldn’t bring herself to write her own name down so she gave her slip to Sharon. It was pretty obvious that Holly wasn’t going to win but that had never been her intention. And on the off chance that she did win she shuddered at the thought of having to return in two weeks’ time to repeat the whole experience. She hadn’t learned a thing from it, only that she hated karaoke even more. Last year’s winner, Keith, had brought along at least thirty of his friends, which meant that he was a sure winner, and Holly doubted very much that her ‘adoring fans’ in the crowd would vote for her. The DJ played a pathetic CD of a drum roll as the winners were about to be announced. Daniel took to the stage once again in his black leather jacket and black slacks uniform and was greeted by wolf-whistles and screams from the girls. Worryingly, the loudest of these girls was Ciara. Richard looked excited and crossed his fingers at Holly, a very sweet but incredibly naïve gesture, she thought. He obviously didn’t understand the ‘rules’ properly. There was a bit of embarrassment as the drum-roll began to skip and the DJ rushed over to his equipment to shut it down. The winners were announced undramatically, in dead silence. ‘OK, I’d like to thank everyone for taking part in tonight’s competition. You provided us all with some terrific entertainment.’ That last part was directed at Holly and she slithered down her seat in embarrassment. ‘So the two people that will be going through to the final are –’ Daniel paused for dramatic effect – ‘Keith and Samantha!’ Holly jumped up with excitement and danced around in a huddle with Denise and Sharon. She had never felt such relief in her life. Richard looked on very confused while the rest of Holly’s family congratulated her on her victorious losing. ‘I voted for the blonde one,’ Declan announced with disappointment. ‘That’s just because she had big tits,’ Holly laughed. ‘Well, we all have our own individual talents,’ Declan agreed. Holly wondered what hers were as she sat back down. It must be a wonderful feeling to win something, to know that you have a gift. Holly had never won anything in her life. She didn’t do any sports, couldn’t play an instrument – now that she thought about it she didn’t have any hobbies or special interests. What would she put down on her CV when she eventually got around to applying for a job? ‘I like to drink and shop’ wouldn’t go down very well. She sipped her drink thoughtfully. Holly had lived her life being interested in Gerry – in fact, everything she did revolved around him. In a way, being his wife was all she was good at; being his partner was all she knew. Now what did she have? No job, no husband and she couldn’t even sing in a karaoke competition properly, never mind win it. Sharon and John seemed engrossed in a heated discussion, Abbey and Jack were gazing into each other’s eyes like love-struck teenagers, as usual, Ciara was intent on getting to know Daniel better and Denise was … Actually, where was Denise? Holly looked around the club and spotted her sitting on the stage swinging her legs and striking a very provocative pose for the karaoke host. Holly’s parents had left hand in hand just after her name wasn’t announced as a winner, which left … Richard. Richard sat squashed beside Ciara and Daniel, looking around the room like a lost puppy and taking a sip from his drink every few seconds out of paranoia. Holly realised she must have looked like him – a complete loser. But at least this loser had a wife and two children to go home to, unlike Holly, who had a date with a microwave dinner. Holly moved over and sat on the high stool opposite Richard, and struck up a conversation. ‘You enjoying yourself?’ He looked up from his drink, startled that someone had spoken to him. ‘Yes, thank you, I’m having fun, Holly.’ If that was him having fun Holly dreaded to think what he looked like when he wasn’t. ‘I’m surprised you came, actually. I didn’t think this would be your scene.’ ‘Oh, you know … you have to support the family.’ He stirred his drink. ‘So where’s Meredith tonight?’ ‘Emily and Timothy,’ he said, as if that explained it all. ‘You working tomorrow?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, suddenly knocking back his drink, ‘so I best be off. You were a great sport tonight, Holly.’ He looked around awkwardly at his family, deciding whether to interrupt them and say goodbye but eventually deciding against it. He nodded to Holly and off he went, manoeuvring his way through the dense crowd. Holly was once again alone. As much as she wanted to grab her bag and run home she knew she should sit this one out. There would be plenty of times in the future when she would be alone like this, the only singleton in the company of couples, and she needed to adapt. She felt awful though, and also angry with the others who didn’t even notice her. Then she cursed herself for being so childish. She couldn’t have asked for more supportive friends and family. Holly wondered whether this had been Gerry’s intention. Did he think that this situation was what she needed? Did he think that this would help her? Perhaps he was right because she was certainly being tested. It was forcing her to become braver in more ways than one. She had stood on a stage and sang to hundreds of people and now she was stuck in a situation where she was surrounded by couples. Whatever his plan was, she was being forced to become braver without him. Just sit it out, she told herself. Holly smiled as she watched her sister nattering away to Daniel. Ciara was nothing like her at all; she was so carefree and confident, and didn’t seem to worry about anything. For as long as Holly could remember, Ciara had never managed to hold down a job or a boyfriend. Her brain was always somewhere else, lost in the dream of visiting another far-off country. Holly wished she could be more like her. She had been to far-flung places too, but always with Gerry by her side, and never for more than a few weeks. Unlike Ciara, Holly was a home-bird and could never imagine herself moving away from her family and friends and leaving the life she had made for herself here. At least, she could never have left the life she had once had. She turned her attention to Jack, who was still lost in a world with Abbey. She even wished she could be more like him; he absolutely loved his job as a secondary school teacher. He was the cool English teacher that all the teenagers respected, and whenever Holly and Jack passed one of his students on the street they always greeted him with a big smile and a ‘Hiya, sir!’ All the girls fancied him and all the boys wanted to be like him when they got older. Holly sighed loudly and drained her drink. Now she was bored. Daniel looked over. ‘Holly, can I get you a drink?’ ‘Ah no, it’s OK, thanks, Daniel. I’m heading home soon anyway.’ ‘Ah, Hol!’ protested Ciara. ‘You can’t go home so early! It’s your night!’ Holly didn’t feel as though it was her night. She felt rather as if she had gate-crashed a party and didn’t know anyone there. ‘No, I’m all right, thanks,’ she assured Daniel again. ‘No, you’re staying,’ Ciara insisted. ‘Get her a vodka and Coke, and I’ll have the same again,’ she ordered Daniel. ‘Ciara!’ Holly exclaimed, embarrassed at her sister’s rudeness. ‘No, it’s OK!’ Daniel assured her. ‘I asked.’ And he headed off to the bar. ‘Ciara, that was so rude,’ Holly gave out to her sister. ‘What? It’s not like he has to pay for it; he owns the bloody place,’ she said defensively. ‘That still doesn’t mean you can go around demanding free drinks—’ ‘Where’s Richard?’ Ciara interrupted. ‘Gone home.’ ‘Shit! How long ago?’ She jumped down from her seat in a panic. ‘I dunno, about five or ten minutes. Why?’ ‘He’s supposed to be driving me home!’ She threw everyone’s coats into a pile on the floor while she rooted around for her bag. ‘Ciara, you’ll never catch him now, he’s been gone far too long.’ ‘No, I will. He’s parked ages away and he’ll have to drive back down this road to get home. I’ll get him while he’s passing.’ She finally found her bag and legged it out the door yelling, ‘Bye, Holly! Well done, you were shite!’ before disappearing. Holly was once again alone. Great, she thought, watching Daniel carrying the drinks back to the table. Now she was stuck talking to him all by herself. ‘Where’s Ciara gone?’ Daniel said, placing the drinks on the table and sitting down opposite Holly. ‘Oh, she said to say she’s really sorry but she had to chase my brother for a lift.’ Holly bit her lip guiltily, knowing full well that Ciara hadn’t even given Daniel a second thought as she raced out the door. ‘Sorry for being so rude to you earlier as well.’ Then she started laughing, ‘God, you must think we’re the rudest family in the world. Ciara’s a bit of a motor mouth; she doesn’t mean what she says half the time.’ ‘And you did?’ he smiled. ‘At the time, yes.’ She laughed again. ‘Hey, it’s fine, just means there’s more drink for you,’ he said, sliding a shot glass across the table to her. ‘Ugh, what is this?’ Holly wrinkled her nose up at the smell. Daniel looked away awkwardly and cleared his throat. ‘I can’t remember.’ ‘Oh, come on!’ Holly laughed. ‘You just ordered it! It’s a woman’s right to know what she’s drinking, you know!’ Daniel looked at her with a smile on his face. ‘It’s called a BJ. You should have seen the barman’s face when I asked for one. I don’t think he knew it was a shot!’ ‘Oh God,’ Holly laughed, ‘what’s Ciara doing drinking this? It smells awful!’ ‘She said she found it easy to swallow.’ He started laughing again. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Daniel. She really is ridiculous sometimes.’ Holly shook her head over her sister. Daniel stared past Holly’s shoulder with amusement. ‘Well, it looks like your friend is having a good night, anyway.’ Holly turned and saw Denise and the DJ wrapped around each other beside the stage. Her provocative poses had obviously worked. ‘Oh no, not the horrible DJ who forced me to come out of the toilet,’ Holly groaned. ‘That’s Tom O’Connor from Dublin FM.’ Daniel laughed. ‘He’s a friend of mine.’ Holly covered her face in embarrassment. ‘He’s working here tonight because the karaoke went out live on the radio,’ he said seriously. ‘WHAT?’ Holly nearly had a heart attack for the twentieth time that night. Daniel’s face broke out into a smile, ‘Only joking; just wanted to see the look on your face.’ ‘Oh my God, don’t do that to me,’ Holly said, putting her hand on her heart. ‘Having the people in here listening to me was bad enough, never mind the entire city as well.’ She waited for her heart to stop pounding while Daniel stared at her with an amused look in his eye. ‘If you don’t mind me asking, if you hate it so much why did you enter?’ he asked carefully. ‘Oh, my hilarious husband thought it would be funny to enter his tone-deaf wife into a singing competition.’ Daniel laughed. ‘You weren’t that bad! Is your husband here?’ he asked. ‘I don’t want him thinking I’m trying to poison his wife with that awful concoction.’ He nodded towards the shot glass. Holly looked around the club and smiled. ‘Yeah, he’s definitely here … somewhere.’ CHAPTER SIXTEEN Holly secured her bed sheet onto the washing line with a peg and thought about how she had bumbled around for the remainder of May trying to get her life into some sort of order. Days went by when she felt so happy and content, and confident that her life would be OK, and then as quickly as the feeling came it would disappear and she would feel sadness setting in again. She tried to find a routine she could fall into so that she felt as though she belonged in her body and her body belonged in this life, instead of wandering around like a zombie, watching everybody else live theirs while she waited for hers to end. Unfortunately the routine hadn’t turned out exactly as she hoped it would. She found herself immobile for hours in the sitting room, reliving every single memory that she and Gerry had shared. She spent most of that time thinking about every argument they’d had, wishing she could take them back, wishing she could take back every horrible word she had ever said to him. She prayed that Gerry had known her words had only been spoken in anger and that they had not reflected her true feelings. She tortured herself for the times she had acted selfishly, going out with her friends for the night when she was mad at him instead of staying home with him. She chastised herself for walking away from him when she should have hugged him, when she held grudges for days instead of forgiving him, when she went straight to sleep some nights instead of making love to him. She wanted to take back every moment she knew he had been so angry with her and hated her. She wished all her memories were of the good times but the bad times kept coming back to haunt her. They had all been such a waste. And nobody had told them that they were short on time. There were her happy days, when she would walk around in a daydream with nothing but a smile on her face, catching herself giggling as she walked down the street when a joke of theirs would suddenly pop into her head. Then she would fall into days of deep dark depression; then finally build up the strength to be positive and to snap out of it for another few days. But the tiniest and simplest thing would trigger off her tears again. That was her routine. It was a tiring process and most of the time she couldn’t be bothered battling with her mind. It was far stronger than her body. Friends and family came and went; sometimes helping her with her tears, other times making her laugh. But even in her laughter there was something missing. She never seemed to be truly happy; she just seemed to be passing time till she waited for something else. She was tired of just existing; she wanted to live. But what was the point in living when there was no life in it. These questions went through her mind over and over again till she reached the point of not wanting to wake up from her dreams that felt so real. Deep down, she knew it was normal to feel like this. She didn’t particularly think she was losing her mind. She knew that people said that one day she would be happy again and that this feeling would just be a distant memory. It was getting to that feeling that was the hard part. She read and reread Gerry’s letter over and over again, analysing each word and each sentence, and each day coming up with a new meaning. But she could sit there till the cows came home trying to read between the lines and guess the hidden message. The fact was that she would never really know exactly what he meant because she would never speak to him ever again. It was this that she had the most difficulty trying to come to terms with. Now May had gone and June had arrived, bringing bright long evenings and beautiful mornings. And along with these sunny days June also brought clarity. There was no hiding indoors as soon as it got dark, no lie-ins until the afternoon. It seemed as though the whole of Ireland had come out of hibernation, taken a big stretch and a yawn, and suddenly started living again. It was time to open all the windows and air the house, to free it of the ghosts of the winter and dark days, to get up early with the songbirds and go for a walk and look people in the eye and smile and say hello instead of hiding under layers of clothes with eyes to the ground while running from destination to destination, ignoring the world. It was time to stop hiding in the dark and to hold your head up high and come face to face with the truth. June also brought another letter from Gerry. Holly had sat out in the sun, revelling in the new brightness of life and nervously yet excitedly read the fourth letter. She loved the feel of the card and the bumps of Gerry’s handwriting under her finger as it ran over the dried ink. Inside, his neat script had listed the items that belonged to him that remained in the house, and beside each of his possessions he explained what he wanted Holly to do with them and where he wished for them to be sent. At the bottom it read: PS. I love you, Holly, and I know you love me. You don’t need my belongings to remember me by, you don’t need to keep them as proof that I existed or still exist in your mind. You don’t need to wear my sweater to feel me around you; I’m already here … always wrapping my arms around you. That had been difficult for Holly to come to terms with. She almost wished he would ask her to do karaoke again. She would have jumped from an aeroplane for him; run a thousand miles, anything except empty out his wardrobes and rid herself of his presence in the house. But he was right and she knew it. She couldn’t hang on to his things for ever. She couldn’t pretend to herself that he was coming back to collect them. The physical Gerry was gone; he didn’t need his clothes. It was an emotionally draining experience. It took her days to complete. She relived a million memories with every garment and piece of paper she bagged. She held each item near to her before saying goodbye. Every time it left her fingers it was like saying goodbye to a part of Gerry all over again. It was difficult; so difficult – and at times too difficult. She informed her family and friends of what she was about to do and although they all offered their assistance and support time and again, Holly knew she had to do this alone. She needed to take her time; say a proper goodbye because she wouldn’t be getting anything back. Just like Gerry, his things couldn’t return. Despite Holly’s wishes of wanting to be alone, Jack had called round a few times to offer some brotherly support and Holly had appreciated it. Every item had a history and they would talk and laugh about the memories surrounding it. He was there for her when she cried and he was there when she finally clapped her hands together, ridding her skin of the dust that remained. It was a difficult job, but one that needed to be done. And one, that was made easier by Gerry’s help. Holly didn’t need to worry about making all the big decisions, Gerry had already made them for her. Gerry was helping her and, for once, Holly felt as though she was helping him too. She laughed as she bagged the old, dusty cassettes of his favourite rock band from his schooldays. At least once a year Gerry came across the old shoebox during his efforts to control the mess that grew inside his closet. He would blast the heavy metal music from every loudspeaker in the house just to torment Holly with its screeching guitars and badly produced sound quality. She always told him she couldn’t wait to see the end of the tapes, but now the relief didn’t wash over her as she once hoped it would. Lying in a crumpled ball in the back corner of the wardrobe her eyes rested upon Gerry’s lucky football jersey. It was still covered in grass and mud stains, fresh from its last victorious day on the pitch. She held it close to her and inhaled deeply, the smell of beer and sweat faint, but still there. She put it aside to be washed and passed on to John. So many objects, so many memories. Each were being labelled and packed away in bags just as they were in her mind. To be stored in an area that would sometimes be called upon to teach and help in the future. Objects that were once so full of life and importance but that now lay limp on the floor. Without him they were just things. Gerry’s wedding tuxedo, his suits, shirts and ties that he would moan about having to wear every morning before going to work. The fashions of the years gone by, the eighties shiny suits and shell tracksuits bundled away. A snorkel from their first time scuba-diving, a shell that he had picked up off the ocean floor ten years ago, his collection of beer mats from every country they had visited. Letters and birthday cards from friends and family sent over the years. Valentine’s Day cards from Holly. Childhood teddies and dolls put aside to be sent back to his parents. Records of bills, his golf clubs for John, books for Sharon, memories, tears and laughter for Holly. His entire life bundled into twenty refuse sacks. His and her memories bundled away into Holly’s mind. Each item unearthed dust, tears, laughter and memories. She bagged the items, cleared the dust, wiped her eyes and filed away the memories for safe-keeping. Holly’s mobile began to ring, disrupting her thoughts, and she dropped the laundry basket onto the grass under the washing line and ran through the patio doors into the kitchen to answer the phone. ‘Hello?’ ‘I’m gonna make you a star!’ Declan’s voice screeched hysterically on the other end, and he broke into uncontrollable laughter. Holly waited for him to calm down while she tried to figure out what he could be talking about. ‘Declan, are you drunk?’ ‘Maybe jus a lil bit, but that’s completely irrevelant,’ he hiccuped. ‘Declan, it’s ten o’clock in the morning!’ Holly laughed. ‘Have you been to bed yet?’ ‘Nope,’ he hiccuped again. ‘I’m on the train home now and will be in bed in proximately three hours.’ ‘Three hours! Where are you?’ Holly laughed. She was enjoying this as it reminded her of when she used to call Jack at all hours of the morning from all sorts of locations after misbehaving on a night out. ‘I’m in Galway. The wards were on last night,’ he said, as if she should know. ‘Oh, sorry for my ignorance but what awards were you at?’ ‘I told you!’ ‘No, you didn’t.’ ‘I told Jack to tell you, the bastard …’ he stumbled over his words. ‘Well, he didn’t,’ she interrupted, ‘so now you can tell me.’ ‘The student media wards were on last night and I won!’ he yelled, and Holly heard what sounded like the entire carriage celebrating with him. She was delighted. ‘And the prize is that my film is gonna be aired on Channel Four next week! Can you blieve it!’ There were more cheers this time, and Holly could barely hear what he was saying. ‘You’re gonna be famous, sis!’ was the last thing she heard before the line went dead. She rang round her family to share the good news but learned that they had all received similar phone calls. Ciara had stayed on the phone for ages chattering like an excited schoolgirl about how they were going to be on TV, and eventually her story ended with her marrying Denzel Washington. It was decided that the family would gather in Hogan’s pub next Wednesday to watch the documentary being aired. Daniel had kindly offered Club Diva to Declan as the venue so they could watch it on the big wall screen. Holly was so excited for her brother, and rang Sharon and Denise to let them know the good news. ‘Oh, this is brill, Holly!’ Sharon whispered excitedly. ‘Why are you whispering?’ Holly whispered back. ‘Oh, old wrinkly face here decided it would be a great idea to ban us from accepting personal calls,’ moaned Sharon referring to her boss. ‘She says we spend more time chatting on the phone to friends than doing business so she’s been patrolling our desks all morning. I swear I feel like I’m back at school again with the old hag keeping her eye on us.’ Suddenly she spoke up and became businesslike. ‘May I take your details, please?’ Holly laughed. ‘Is she there?’ ‘Yes, absolutely,’ Sharon continued. ‘OK, well, I won’t keep you very long then. The details are that we’re all meeting up in Hogan’s on Wednesday night to watch it so you’re welcome to come.’ ‘That’s great … OK.’ Sharon pretended to take her details. ‘Brilliant, we’ll have fun. Sharon what will I wear?’ ‘Hmm … brand new or second-hand?’ ‘No, I really can’t afford anything new. Even though you forced me to buy that top a few weeks ago I’m refusing to wear it on the grounds that I am no longer eighteen. So probably something old.’ ‘OK … red.’ ‘The red top I wore to your birthday?’ ‘Yes, exactly.’ ‘Yeah, maybe.’ ‘What’s your current state of employment?’ ‘To be honest I haven’t even started looking yet.’ Holly chewed the inside of her mouth and frowned. ‘And date of birth?’ ‘Ha-ha, shut up, you bitch,’ Holly laughed. ‘I’m sorry, we only give motor insurance to ages twenty-four and older. You’re too young, I’m afraid.’ ‘I wish. OK I’ll speak to you later.’ ‘Thank you for calling.’ Holly sat at the kitchen table wondering what she should wear next week; she wanted something new. She wanted to look sexy and gorgeous, for a change, and she was sick of all her old clothes. Maybe Denise had something in her shop. She was about to call when she received a text message from Sharon. Hag rite bhind me Tlk 2 u l8r xxx Holly picked up the phone and called Denise at work. ‘Hello, Casuals,’ answered a very polite Denise. ‘Hello, Casuals, Holly here. I know I’m not supposed to call you at work but I just wanted to tell you that Declan’s documentary won some student award thingy and it’s gonna be aired on Wednesday night.’ ‘Oh, that’s so cool, Holly! Are we gonna be in it?’ she asked excitedly. ‘Yeah, I think so. So we’re all meeting up in Hogan’s to watch it that night. You up for that?’ ‘Of course! I can bring my new boyfriend too,’ she giggled. ‘What new boyfriend?’ ‘Tom!’ ‘The karaoke guy?’ Holly asked in shock. ‘Yeah, of course! Oh, Holly, I’m so in love!’ she giggled childishly again. ‘In love? But you only met him a few weeks ago!’ ‘I don’t care; it only takes a minute … as the saying goes.’ ‘Wow, Denise … I don’t know what to say!’ ‘Tell me how great it is!’ ‘Yeah … wow … I mean … of course … It’s really great news.’ ‘Oh, try not to sound too enthusiastic, Holly,’ she said sarcastically. ‘Anyway I can’t wait for you to meet him. You’ll absolutely love him. Well, not as much as I do but you’ll certainly really really like him …’ she rambled on about how great he was. ‘Denise, aren’t you forgetting that I’ve met him already?’ Holly interrupted her in the middle of a story about how Tom had saved a child from drowning. ‘Yeah, I know you have, but I would rather you meet him when you’re not acting like a demented woman hiding in toilets and shouting into microphones.’ ‘Look forward to it then …’ ‘Yeah, cool, it’s gonna be great! I’ve never been to my own premiere before!’ she said excitedly. Holly rolled her eyes at her dramatics and they said their goodbyes. Holly barely got any housework done that morning as she spent most of the time talking on the phone. Her mobile was burning and it was giving her a headache. She shuddered at the thought. Every time she had a headache it reminded her of Gerry. She hated to hear her loved ones complaining of headaches and migraines, and would immediately launch herself at them, telling them how they should take it more seriously and go see their doctors. She ended up petrifying everyone with her stories and they eventually stopped telling her whenever they felt ill. She sighed loudly. She was turning into such a hypochondriac even her doctor was sick of the sight of her. She went running to her in a panic over the tiniest little things: if she had a pain in her leg or a cramp in her stomach. Last week she was convinced there was something wrong with her feet; her toes just didn’t look quite right. Her doctor had examined them seriously and then had immediately started to scribble her prescription down on a slip of paper while Holly watched in terror. Eventually she handed her the piece of paper, and scrawled messily in that handwriting only doctors can perfect was: ‘Buy bigger shoes.’ It may have been funny but it cost her forty euro. Holly had spent the last few minutes on the phone listening to Jack ranting and raving about Richard. Richard had paid him a little visit too. Holly wondered whether he was just trying to bond with his siblings after years of hiding from them. Well, it was too little too late for most of them, it seemed. It was certainly very difficult trying to hold a conversation with someone who hadn’t yet mastered the art of politeness. Oh, stop, stop, stop! she silently screamed to herself. She needed to stop worrying, stop thinking, stop making her brain go into overdrive, and she certainly needed to stop talking to herself. She was driving herself crazy. She finally finished hanging out the washing more than two hours later and piled another load into the machine. She switched the radio on in the kitchen, had the television blaring from the living room and went about her housework. Perhaps that would drown out the whinging little voice from her head. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Holly arrived at Hogan’s and pushed her way through the old men in the pub to the stairs to Club Diva. The traditional band was in full swing and the crowd was joining in with all their favourite Irish songs. It was only seven thirty so Club Diva wasn’t officially open yet, and the empty space looked like a completely different venue from the one where she had been so terrified in a few weeks ago. She was the first to arrive and settled herself at a table right in front of the big screen so she would have a perfect view of her brother’s documentary. A glass smashing over by the bar made her jump, and she looked up to see who had joined her in the room. Daniel’s head emerged from behind the bar with a dustpan and brush in his hand. ‘Oh, hiya, Holly. I didn’t realise anyone had come in.’ ‘I came early, for a change.’ She walked over to the bar to greet him. He looked different tonight, she thought, inspecting him. ‘God, you’re really early,’ he said. ‘The others probably won’t be here for another hour or so.’ Holly looked confused and glanced at her watch. ‘But it’s seven thirty – the show starts at eight, doesn’t it?’ Now Daniel looked confused. ‘No, I was told nine o’clock but I could be wrong …’ he reached for that day’s paper and looked at the TV page. ‘Yep, nine o’clock, Channel Four.’ Holly rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, no, I’m sorry, I’ll wander around town for a bit and come back later so,’ she said hopping off her stool. ‘Hey, don’t be silly.’ Daniel flashed his pearly whites. ‘The shops are all closed by now and you can keep me company – that’s if you don’t mind …’ ‘Well, I don’t mind if you don’t mind.’ ‘I don’t mind,’ he said firmly. ‘Then I’ll stay so,’ she said happily, hopping back on to her stool. Daniel leaned his hands against the taps in a typical barman pose. ‘So now that that’s settled, what can I get you?’ he said smiling. ‘Well, this is great, no queuing or shouting my order across the bar or anything,’ she joked. ‘I’ll have a sparkling water, please.’ ‘Nothing stronger?’ He raised his eyebrows. His smile was infectious; it seemed to reach from ear to ear. ‘No, I’d better not or I’ll be drunk by the time everyone gets here.’ ‘Good thinking,’ he agreed, and reached behind him to the fridge to retrieve the bottled water. Holly realised what it was that made him look so different: he wasn’t in his trademark black. He was wearing faded blue jeans and an open light blue shirt, with a white T-shirt underneath, that complemented his blue eyes so that they seemed to twinkle even more than usual. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to just below his elbows, and Holly could see his muscles through the light fabric. She quickly averted her eyes as he slid the glass towards her. ‘Can I get you anything?’ she asked him. ‘No, thanks, I’ll take care of this one.’ ‘No, please,’ Holly insisted. ‘You’ve bought me plenty of drinks. It’s my turn.’ ‘OK, I’ll have a Budweiser then, thanks.’ He leaned against the bar and continued to stare at her. ‘What? Do you want me to get it?’ Holly laughed, jumping off her stool and walking round the bar. Daniel stood back and watched her with amusement. ‘I always wanted to work behind a bar when I was a kid,’ she said, grabbing a pint glass and pulling down on the tap. She was enjoying herself. ‘There’s a spare job if you’re looking for one,’ Daniel said, closely watching her work. ‘No, thanks, I think I do a better job on the other side of the bar,’ she laughed, filling the pint glass. ‘Mmm … well, if you’re ever looking for work you know where to come,’ Daniel said, after taking a gulp of his pint. ‘You did a good job.’ ‘It’s not exactly brain surgery,’ she smiled, bouncing across to the other side of the bar. She took out her purse and handed him money. ‘Keep the change.’ ‘Thanks,’ he smiled, turning to open the cash register and she scorned herself for checking out his bum. It was nice, though – firm, but not as nice as Gerry’s, she decided. ‘Has your husband deserted you again tonight?’ he teased, walking round the bar to join her. Holly bit her lip and wondered how to answer him. Now wasn’t really the time to talk about something so depressing to someone who was only making chitchat, but she didn’t want the poor man to keep asking her every time he saw her. He would soon realise the truth, which would cause him even more embarrassment. ‘Daniel,’ she said softly, ‘I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable but my husband passed away.’ Daniel stopped in his tracks and his cheeks blushed slightly, ‘Oh, Holly, I’m sorry, I didn’t know,’ he said sincerely. ‘It’s OK, I know you didn’t.’ She smiled to show him she wasn’t upset by his mistake. ‘Well, I didn’t meet him the other night but if someone had told me, I would have gone to the funeral to pay my respects.’ He sat beside her at the bar. ‘Oh no, Gerry died in February, Daniel. He wasn’t here the other night.’ Daniel looked confused. ‘But I thought you told me he was here …’ he trailed off, thinking he had misheard. ‘Oh, yeah,’ Holly looked down at her feet with embarrassment. ‘He wasn’t here,’ she said, looking around the club, ‘but he was here.’ She put her hand on her heart. ‘Ah, I see.’ He finally understood, ‘Then you were even braver the other night than I thought, considering the circumstances,’ he said gently. Holly was surprised at how at ease he seemed. Usually people stuttered and stammered their way through a sentence and either wandered off or changed the subject. She felt relaxed in his presence, though, as if she could talk openly without fear of crying. Holly smiled and briefly explained the story of the list. ‘So that’s why I ran off after Declan’s gig that time,’ Holly laughed. ‘It wasn’t because they were so terrible, by any chance?’ Daniel joked, then he looked lost in thought. ‘Ah yes, that’s right, that was the thirtieth of April.’ ‘Yeah, I couldn’t wait any longer to open the note,’ Holly explained. ‘Hmm … when’s the next one?’ ‘July,’ she said excitedly. ‘So I won’t be seeing you on the thirtieth of June then,’ he said drily. ‘Now you’re getting the gist,’ she laughed. ‘I have arrived!’ announced Denise to the empty room as she swanned in, dolled up to the nines in the dress she had worn to the ball last year. Tom strolled in behind her, laughing and refusing to take his eyes off her. ‘God, you’re dressed up,’ Holly remarked, staring her friend up and down. In the end Holly had decided to wear a pair of jeans, black boots and a very simple black top. She hadn’t been in the mood to get all dressed up after all, especially as they were only sitting in an empty club, but Denise hadn’t quite grasped that concept. Tom and Daniel greeted each other with hugs. ‘Baby, this is Daniel, my best friend,’ Tom said, introducing Daniel to Denise. Daniel and Holly raised their eyebrows at each other and smiled, both registering the use of the word ‘baby’. ‘Hi, Tom.’ Holly shook his hand after Denise had introduced her and he kissed her on the cheek. ‘I’m sorry about the last time I met you. I wasn’t feeling very sane that night.’ Holly blushed at the memory of the karaoke. ‘That’s no problem,’ Tom smiled kindly. ‘If you hadn’t entered then I wouldn’t have met Denise, so I’m glad you did.’ After a while Holly discovered she was enjoying herself; she wasn’t just pretending to laugh or finding things mildly amusing, she was genuinely happy. The thought of that made her even happier, as did the knowledge that Denise had finally found someone she really loved. Minutes later the rest of the Kennedy family arrived, along with Sharon and John. Holly ran down to greet her friends. ‘Hiya, hon,’ Sharon said, giving her a hug. ‘You here long?’ Holly started laughing. ‘I thought it was on at eight o’clock so I came at half seven.’ ‘Oh no.’ Sharon looked anxious. ‘Don’t worry, it was fine. Daniel kept me company,’ Holly said, pointing him out. ‘Him?’ John said angrily. ‘Watch yourself with him, Holly. He’s a bit of an oddball. You should have heard the stuff he was saying to Sharon the other night.’ Holly guessed she’d caused this confusion, and quickly excused herself from their company to join her family. ‘Meredith not with you tonight?’ she asked Richard. ‘No she’s not,’ he snapped back rudely, and headed over to the bar. ‘Why does he bother coming to these things at all?’ she moaned to Jack as he held her head to his chest and rubbed her hair, playfully consoling her. ‘OK everyone!’ Declan was standing on a stool to address the gathering. ‘Because Ciara couldn’t decide what to wear tonight, we’re all late and my documentary is about to start any minute,’ he said proudly, ‘so if you can just all shut up and sit down, that would be great.’ ‘Oh, Declan …’ His mother admonished him for his rudeness. Holly searched the room for Ciara and spotted her glued to Daniel’s side at the bar. She laughed to herself and settled down to watch the documentary. As soon as the announcer introduced it everybody cheered but were quickly hushed by an angry Declan, who didn’t want them to miss a thing. The title Girls and the City appeared over a beautiful night-time shot of Dublin, and Holly became nervous. The words ‘The Girls’ appeared over a black screen, followed by footage of Sharon, Denise, Abbey and Ciara all squashed up beside each other in the back of a taxi. Sharon was speaking: ‘Hello! I’m Sharon and this is Abbey, Denise and Ciara.’ Each of the girls posed for her close-up as she was introduced. ‘And we’re heading to our best friend Holly’s house because it’s her birthday …’ The scene changed to the girls surprising Holly with shouts of ‘Happy Birthday’ at her front door. Then the camera returned to Sharon in the taxi. ‘Tonight it’s gonna be just us girls and NO men …’ The scene switched to Holly opening the presents and holding the vibrator up to the camera and saying, ‘Well, I’ll definitely need this,’ before returning to Sharon in the taxi saying: ‘We are gonna do lots and lots of drinking …’ Now Holly was popping open the champagne, then the girls were knocking back shots in Boudoir, and eventually there was Holly with her crooked tiara on her head and drinking out of a champagne bottle with a straw. ‘We are gonna go clubbing …’ There was a shot of the girls in Boudoir, doing some very embarrassing moves on the dance floor. ‘But nothing too mad! We’re gonna be good girls tonight!’ said Sharon sincerely. The next scene showed the girls, protesting wildly, being escorted out of the club by three bouncers. Holly’s jaw dropped and she stared in shock at Sharon, who was equally surprised. The men laughed their hearts out and slapped Declan on the back, congratulating him for exposing their partners. Holly, Sharon, Denise, Abbey and even Ciara slithered down in their seats with humiliation. What on earth had Declan done? CHAPTER EIGHTEEN There was complete silence in the club as everyone stared at the screen in anticipation. Holly held her breath; she was nervous now about what was going to appear. Perhaps the girls would be reminded of what exactly they had all conveniently succeeded in forgetting about that night. The truth terrified her. After all, how drunk must they all have been to forget completely the events of that night? Unless, somebody was lying, in which case, they should be even more nervous right now. Holly looked around at the girls. They were all chewing on their fingernails. Holly crossed her fingers. A new title appeared on the screen: ‘The Gifts’. ‘Open mine first,’ shrieked Ciara from the television, thrusting her present towards Holly and shoving Sharon off the couch and on to the floor. Everyone in the club laughed while they watched Abbey dragging a horrified Sharon to her feet. Ciara left Daniel’s side and tiptoed over to the rest of the girls for security. Everyone oohed and aahed, as one by one Holly’s birthday presents were unveiled. A lump formed in Holly’s throat as Declan zoomed in on the two photographs on the mantelpiece while Sharon’s toast was made. Once again a new title took over the screen, ‘Journey to the City’, and showed the girls scrambling over one another to get into the taxi. It was obvious they were pretty pissed by now. Holly was shocked; she had actually thought she was quite sober at that stage. ‘Oh, Nick,’ Holly moaned drunkenly to the taxi driver from the passenger seat, ‘I’m thirty today, can you believe it?’ Nick the taxi driver, who couldn’t give a flying flute what age she was, glanced over at her and laughed, ‘Sure, you’re only a young one still, Holly,’ his voice low and gravelly. The camera zoomed in on Holly’s face and she cringed at the sight of herself. She looked so drunk, so sad. ‘But what am I gonna do, Nick?’ she whinged. ‘I’m thirty! I have no job, no husband, no children and I’m thirty! Did I tell you that?’ she asked him, leaning towards him. Beside her in the club, Sharon giggled. Holly thumped her. In the background the girls were all chattering excitedly to one another. It sounded as if they were talking over one another; it was hard to see how any type of conversation was going on. ‘Ah, enjoy yourself tonight, Holly. Don’t get caught up in silly emotions on your birthday. Worry about all that shite tomorrow, love.’ Nick sounded so caring, and Holly made a mental note to call him and thank him. The camera stayed with Holly as she leaned her head against the window and remained silent, lost in thought for the rest of the journey. Holly couldn’t get over how lonely she looked. She didn’t like it. She looked around the room in embarrassment and caught Daniel’s eye. He winked at her in encouragement. She smiled weakly and turned back to face the screen in time to see herself screaming to the girls on O’Connell Street. ‘OK, girls. We are going to Boudoir tonight and no one is going to stop us from getting in, especially not any silly bouncers who think they own the place.’ And she marched off in what she’d thought at the time was a straight line. All the girls cheered and followed after her. The scene immediately jumped to the two bouncers outside Boudoir shaking their heads. ‘Not tonight, girls, sorry.’ Holly’s family howled with laughter. ‘But you don’t understand,’ Denise said calmly to the bouncers. ‘Do you not know who we are?’ ‘No,’ they both said, and stared over their heads, ignoring them. ‘Huh!’ Denise put her hands on her hips and pointed to Holly. ‘But this is the very, very extremely famous … em … Princess Holly from the royal family of … Finland.’ On camera Holly frowned at Denise. Her family once again howled with laughter. ‘You couldn’t write a script better than this,’ Declan laughed. ‘Oh, she’s royalty, is she?’ the bouncer with a moustache smirked. ‘Indeed she is,’ Denise said seriously. ‘Finland got a royal family, Paul?’ moustache man turned to his colleague. ‘Don’t think so, boss.’ Holly fixed the crooked tiara on her head and gave them both a royal wave. ‘You see?’ Denise said, satisfied. ‘You men will be very embarrassed if you don’t let her in.’ ‘Supposing we let her in, then you’ll have to stay outside,’ moustache man said, and motioned for the people behind them in the queue to pass them and enter the club. Holly gave them a royal wave as they passed. ‘Oh, no, no, no, no,’ Denise protested. ‘You don’t understand. I am her … lady-in-waiting so I need to be with her at all times.’ ‘Well then, you won’t mind waiting till she comes out at closing time,’ Paul smirked. Tom, Jack and John all started laughing, and Denise slithered down even further in her seat. Finally Holly spoke, ‘Oh, one must have a drink. One is dreadfully thirsty.’ Paul and moustache man snorted and tried to keep straight faces while still staring over the girl’s heads. ‘No, honestly, girls, not tonight. You need to be a member.’ ‘But I am a member, of the royal family!’ Holly said sternly. ‘Off with your heads!’ she commanded, pointing at the both of them. Denise quickly forced Holly’s arm down. ‘Honestly, the princess and I will be no trouble at all. Just let us in for a few drinks,’ she pleaded. Moustache man stared down at the two of them, then raised his eyes to the sky. ‘All right then, go on in,’ he said, stepping aside. ‘God bless you,’ Holly said, making the sign of the cross at them as she passed. ‘What is she, a princess or a priest?’ laughed Paul as she entered the club. ‘She’s out of her mind,’ laughed moustache man, ‘but it’s the best excuse I’ve heard while I’ve been on the job,’ and the two of them sniggered. They regained their composure as Ciara and her entourage approached the door. ‘Is it OK if my film crew follow me in?’ Ciara said confidently in a brilliant Australian accent. ‘Hold on while I check with the manager.’ Paul turned his back and spoke into a walkie-talkie. ‘Yeah, that’s no problem, go ahead,’ he said, holding the door open for her. ‘That’s that Australian singer, isn’t it?’ moustache man said to Paul. ‘Yeah. Good song, that.’ ‘Tell the boys inside to keep an eye on the princess and her lady,’ said moustache man. ‘We don’t want them bothering that singer with the pink hair.’ Holly’s father choked on his drink from laughing, and Elizabeth rubbed his back for him while chortling herself. As Holly watched the image of the inside of Boudoir on the screen she remembered being disappointed by the club. There had always been a mystery as to what Boudoir looked like. The girls had read in a magazine that there was a water feature into which Madonna had apparently jumped one night. Holly had imagined a huge waterfall cascading down the wall of the club that continued to flow in little bubbling streams while all the glamorous people sat around it and occasionally dipped their glasses into it to fill them with more champagne. Holly had imagined a champagne waterfall. What she got was an oversized fish bowl in the centre of the circular bar. What that had to do with anything she didn’t know. Her dreams were shattered. The room wasn’t as big as she thought it would be, and was decorated in rich reds and gold. On the far side of the room there was a huge gold curtain acting as a partition, which was blocked by another menacing-looking bouncer. At the top of the room the main attraction was the massive king-size bed, which was tilted on a platform towards the rest of the club. On top of the gold silk sheets were two skinny models dressed in no more than gold body paint and tiny gold thongs. It was all a bit too tacky. ‘Look at the size of those thongs!’ gasped Denise in disgust. ‘I have a plaster on my baby finger bigger than those.’ Beside her in Club Diva, Tom chuckled and began to nibble on Denise’s baby finger. Holly looked away and returned her gaze to the screen. ‘Good evening and welcome to the twelve o’clock news. I’m Sharon McCarthy.’ Sharon stood in front of the camera with a bottle in her hand serving as a microphone. Declan had angled the camera so that she could get Ireland’s famous newsreaders in the shot. ‘Today is the thirtieth birthday of Princess Holly of Finland. Her royal self and her lady-in-waiting finally succeeded in being granted access to the famous celebrity hang-out Boudoir. Also present is Australian rock chick Ciara and her film crew and …’ She held her finger to her ear as though she were receiving more information. ‘News just in. It appears that Ireland’s favourite newsreader, Tony Walsh, was seen smiling just moments ago. Here beside me I have a witness to the fact. Welcome, Denise.’ Denise posed seductively at the camera. ‘Denise, tell me, where were you when this event was taking place?’ ‘Well, I was just over there beside his table when I saw it happening.’ Denise sucked in her cheekbones and smiled at the camera. ‘Can you explain to us what happened?’ ‘I was just standing there minding my own business when Mr Walsh took a sip of his drink and then shortly afterwards he smiled.’ ‘Gosh, Denise, this is fascinating news. And are you sure it was a smile?’ ‘Well, it could have been trapped wind causing him to make a face but others around me also thought it was a smile.’ ‘So there were others who witnessed this?’ ‘Yes, Princess Holly beside me here, saw the whole thing.’ The camera panned across to Holly where she stood drinking from a champagne bottle with a straw. ‘So, Holly, can you tell us, was it wind or a smile?’ Holly looked confused, then rolled her eyes, ‘Oh, wind. Sorry, I think it’s this champagne that’s doing it to me.’ Club Diva erupted in laughter. Jack as usual laughed the loudest. Holly hid her face in shame. ‘OK then …’ Sharon said, trying not to laugh, ‘so you heard it here first. The night when Ireland’s grimmest presenter was seen smiling. Back to you at the studio.’ Sharon’s smile faded as she looked up and saw Tony Walsh standing beside her, not surprisingly without a smile on his face. Sharon gulped and said, ‘Good evening,’ and the camera was switched off. Everyone in the club was laughing at this stage, including the girls. Holly was finding the whole thing just so ridiculous that she had to laugh. The camera was switched back on and this time it was focused on the mirror in the ladies’ toilet. Declan was filming from outside through a slit in the doorway and Denise and Sharon’s reflections were clearly visible. ‘I was only having a laugh,’ Sharon huffed, fixing her lipstick. ‘Don’t mind the miserable sod, Sharon. He just doesn’t want the camera in his face all night, especially on his night off. I can understand that.’ ‘Oh, you’re on his side, I suppose,’ Sharon said grumpily. ‘Ah, shut up, you moany old whore,’ Denise snapped. ‘Where’s Holly?’ Sharon asked, changing the subject. ‘Don’t know. Last time I saw her she was doing a few funky moves on the dance floor,’ said Denise. The two of them looked at each other and laughed. ‘Ah … our poor little disco diva,’ said Sharon sadly. ‘I hope she finds someone gorgeous out there tonight and snogs the face off him.’ ‘Yeah,’ agreed Denise. ‘Come on then, let’s go find her a man,’ she added, putting her make-up back in her bag. Just after the girls left, a toilet flushed, the cubicle door opened and out stepped Holly. In Club Diva, Holly’s big smile faded quickly when she saw her face on the screen. Through the crack in the door Holly’s reflection was visible in the mirror; her eyes were red from crying. She blew her nose and stared miserably at herself for a while. She took a deep breath, opened the door and carried on downstairs to her friends. Holly hadn’t remembered crying that night – in fact, she thought she had got through it very well. She rubbed her face while she worried about what else was coming up that she couldn’t remember. Finally the scene changed and the words ‘Operation Gold Curtain’ came up. Denise screamed, ‘Oh my God, Declan, you bastard!’ very loudly, and rushed to hide in the toilet. She had obviously remembered something. Declan chuckled and lit himself another cigarette. ‘OK, girls,’ Denise was announcing, ‘it is now time for Operation Gold Curtain.’ ‘Huh?’ Sharon and Holly announced groggily from the couch where they had collapsed in a drunken stupor. ‘Operation Gold Curtain!’ Denise exclaimed excitedly, trying to drag them to their feet. ‘It’s time to infiltrate the VIP bar!’ ‘You mean this isn’t it?’ Sharon said sarcastically, looking around the club. ‘No! That’s where the real celebs go!’ Denise pointed at the gold curtain, which was blocked by possibly the biggest and tallest man on the planet. ‘I don’t really care where the celebs are, to be honest, Denise,’ piped up Holly. ‘I’m fine here where I am,’ and she snuggled into the cosy couch. Denise groaned and rolled her eyes, ‘Girls! Abbey and Ciara are in there, why aren’t we?’ Jack looked curiously across at his girlfriend. Abbey shrugged her shoulders weakly and held her face in her hand. None of this was jogging anybody’s memory except Denise’s, and she had fled the room. Jack’s smile suddenly faded and he slid down in his chair and crossed his arms. It was obviously all right for his sisters to act the fool but his girlfriend was a different matter. Jack placed his feet up on the chair in front of him and quietened down for the rest of the documentary. Once Sharon and Holly had heard that Abbey and Ciara were in the room they sat up attentively and listened to Denise’s plan. ‘OK, girlies, here’s what we’re gonna do …’ Holly turned away from the screen and nudged Sharon. Holly couldn’t remember doing or saying any of these things at all; she was beginning to think Declan had hired lookalike actors as a horrible practical joke. Sharon turned to face her with wide worried eyes and shrugged. Nope, she wasn’t there that night either. The camera followed the three girls as they very suspiciously approached the gold curtain and loitered around like idiots. Sharon finally built up the courage to tap the giant on the shoulder, causing him to turn round and provide Denise with enough time to escape under the curtain. She got down on her hands and knees and stuck her head through to the VIP bar while her bum and legs stuck out from the other side of the curtain. Holly kicked her in the bum to hurry her along. ‘I can see them!’ Denise hissed loudly. ‘Oh my God! They’re speaking to that Hollywood actor guy!’ She took her head back out from under the curtain and looked at Holly with excitement. Unfortunately Sharon was running out of things to say to the giant bouncer and he turned his head just in time to catch Denise. ‘No, no, no, no, no!’ Denise said calmly again. ‘You don’t understand! This is Princess Holly of Sweden!’ ‘Finland,’ Sharon corrected her. ‘Sorry, Finland,’ Denise said, remaining on her knees. ‘I am bowing to her. Join me!’ Sharon quickly got on her knees and the two of them began to worship her feet. Holly looked around awkwardly as everyone in the club began to stare and she once again gave them the royal wave. Nobody seemed very impressed. ‘Oh, Holly!’ her mother said, trying to catch her breath after laughing so hard. Big burly bouncer turned his back and spoke into his walkie-talkie. ‘Boys, got a situation with the princess and the lady.’ Denise looked at both the girls in panic and mouthed, ‘Hide!’ The girls jumped to their feet and fled. The camera searched through the crowds for them but couldn’t find them. From her seat in Club Diva, Holly groaned loudly and held her head in her hands as it clicked with her what was about to happen. CHAPTER NINETEEN Paul and moustache man rushed upstairs to the club and met the very big man at the gold curtain. ‘What’s going on?’ moustache man asked him. ‘Those girls you told me to keep my eye on tried to crawl through to the other side,’ big man said seriously. You could tell by looking at him that his previous job involved killing people. He was taking this breach of security very seriously. ‘Where are they?’ moustache man asked. Big man cleared his throat and looked away, ‘They’re hiding, boss.’ Moustache man rolled his eyes. ‘They’re hiding?’ ‘Yes, boss.’ ‘Where? In the club?’ ‘I think so, boss.’ ‘You think so?’ ‘Well, they didn’t pass us on our way in so they must still be here,’ Paul piped up. ‘OK,’ moustache man sighed. ‘Well, let’s start looking, then. Get someone to keep an eye on the curtain.’ The camera followed the three bouncers as they patrolled the club, looking behind couches, under tables, behind curtains and they even got someone to check the toilets. Holly’s family laughed hysterically at the scene unfolding before their eyes. There was a bit of commotion at the top of the club and the bouncers headed towards the noise to sort it out. A crowd was beginning to gather, and the two skinny dancers dressed in gold body paint had stopped dancing and were staring with horrified expressions at the bed. The camera panned across. Underneath the gold silk sheets there appeared to be three pigs fighting under a blanket. Sharon, Denise and Holly rolled around screaming at each other, trying to make themselves as flat as possible so they wouldn’t be noticed. The crowd thickened and soon enough the music was shut down. The three big lumps under the bed stopped squirming and suddenly froze, not knowing what was going on outside. The bouncers counted to three and pulled the covers off the bed. Three very startled-looking girls, like deer caught in headlights, stared back at them, lying there as flat as they could with their arms stiffly by their sides. ‘One just had to get forty winks before one left,’ Holly said in her royal accent, and the other girls burst out laughing. ‘Come on, princess, the fun’s over,’ said Paul. The three men accompanied the girls outside, assuring them that they would never be allowed back into the club ever again. ‘Can I just tell my friends that we’re gone?’ Sharon asked. The men tutted and looked away. ‘Excuse me? Am I talking to myself? I asked you if it was OK if I go in and tell my friends that we had to leave?’ ‘Look, stop playing around, girls,’ moustache man said angrily. ‘Your friends aren’t in there. Now off you go, back to your beds.’ ‘Excuse me,’ Sharon repeated angrily, ‘I have two friends in the VIP bar; one of them has pink hair and the other one—’ ‘Girls!’ the bouncer raised his voice. ‘She does not want anyone bothering her. She is no more your friend than the man on the moon. Now clear off before you get yourselves into more trouble.’ Everyone in the club howled with laughter. The scene changed to ‘The Long Journey Home’, and all the girls were in the taxi. Abbey sat like a dog, with her head hanging out of the open window by order of the taxi driver. ‘You’re not throwing up in my cab. You either stick your head out the window or you walk home.’ Abbey’s face was almost purple and her teeth were chattering but she wasn’t going to trek all the way home. Ciara sat with her arms crossed, in a huff, angry with the girls for forcing her to leave the club so early but, more embarrassingly, for blowing her cover as a famous rock singer. Sharon and Denise had fallen asleep with their heads resting on one another. The camera turned round to focus on Holly, who was sitting in the passenger seat once again. But this time she wasn’t talking the ear off the taxi driver; she rested her head on the back of the seat and stared straight ahead out into the dark night. Holly knew what she was thinking as she watched herself. Time to go home to that big empty house all alone again. ‘Happy birthday, Holly,’ a very cold Abbey’s tiny little voice trembled. Holly turned round to smile at her and came face to face with the camera. ‘Are you still filming with that thing? Turn it off!’ and she knocked the camera out of Declan’s hand. The End. As Daniel went to turn the lights up in the club, Holly slipped quickly away from the gang and escaped through the nearest door. She needed to collect her thoughts before everyone started talking. She found herself in a tiny storeroom surrounded by mops and buckets and empty kegs. What a stupid place to hide, she thought. She sat down on a barrel and thought about what she had just seen. She was in shock. She felt confused and angry at Declan; he had told her that he was making a documentary about club life. She distinctly remembered him not mentioning anything about making a show of her and her friends. And he had literally made a show of them. If he had asked her politely whether he could do it that would have been a different matter. Although she still wouldn’t have agreed to it. But the last thing she wanted to do right now was to scream at Declan in front of everyone. Apart from the fact that it had completely humiliated her, Declan had actually filmed it and edited it very well. If it was anyone else but her on the TV, Holly would have thought it most deserving of the award. But it was her so therefore it didn’t deserve to win … Parts of it had been funny, she agreed, and she didn’t mind so much the bits of her and her friends being so silly; it was more the sneaky shots of her unhappiness that bothered her. Thick salty tears trickled down her face and she wrapped her arms around her body to comfort herself. She had seen on television how she truly felt. Lost and alone. She cried for Gerry, she cried for herself with big heaving sobs that hurt her ribs whenever she tried to catch her breath. She didn’t want to be alone any more and she didn’t want her family seeing the loneliness she tried so hard to hide from them. She just wanted Gerry back and didn’t care about anything else. She didn’t care if he came back and they fought every day, she didn’t care if they were broke and had no house and no money. She just wanted him. She heard the door open behind her and felt big strong arms wrapping themselves round her frail body. She cried as though months of built-up anguish were all tumbling out at once. ‘What’s wrong with her? Didn’t she like it?’ she heard Declan ask worriedly. ‘Just leave her be, son,’ her mum said softly, and the door was closed behind them again as Daniel stroked Holly’s hair and rocked her softly. Finally, after crying what felt like all the tears in the world, Holly stopped and let go of Daniel. ‘Sorry,’ she sniffed, drying her face with the sleeves of her top. ‘There’s no need to be sorry,’ he said, gently removing her hand from her face and handing her a tissue. She sat in silence while trying to compose herself. ‘If you’re upset about the documentary, then there’s no need,’ he said, sitting down on a crate of glasses opposite her. ‘Yeah, right,’ she said sarcastically, wiping her tears again. ‘No, really,’ he insisted. ‘I thought it was really funny. You all looked like you were having a great time.’ ‘Pity that’s not how I felt,’ she said sadly. ‘Maybe that’s not how you felt but the camera doesn’t pick up on feelings, Holly.’ ‘You don’t have to try to make me feel better.’ Holly was embarrassed at being consoled by a stranger. ‘I’m not trying to make you feel better, I’m just saying it like it is. Nobody but you noticed whatever it is that’s upsetting you. I didn’t see anything so why should anyone else?’ Holly felt mildly better. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘I’m sure I’m sure,’ Daniel said, smiling. ‘Now you really have to stop hiding in all the rooms in my club. I might take it personally,’ he laughed. ‘Are the girls OK?’ Holly asked, hoping it was just her being stupid after all. There was loud laughter from outside. ‘They’re fine, as you can hear.’ He nodded towards the door. ‘Ciara’s delighted everyone will think she’s a star, Denise has finally come out of the toilet and Sharon just can’t stop laughing. Although Jack’s giving Abbey a hard time about throwing up on the way home.’ Holly chuckled. ‘So you see, nobody even noticed what you saw.’ ‘Thanks, Daniel.’ She took a deep breath and smiled at him. ‘You ready to go face your public?’ ‘Think so.’ Holly stepped outside to the sounds of laughter. The lights were up and everyone was sitting around the table and happily sharing jokes and stories. Holly sat beside her mum. Elizabeth wrapped her arm round her daughter and gave her a kiss on the cheek. ‘Well, I thought it was great,’ announced Jack enthusiastically. ‘If only we could get Declan to go out with the girls all the time, then we’d know what they get up to, eh, John?’ he winked at Sharon’s husband. ‘Well, I can assure you,’ Abbey spoke up, ‘that what you saw is not a regular girls’ night out.’ The boys weren’t having any of it. ‘So is it OK?’ Declan asked Holly, afraid he had upset her. Holly threw him a look. ‘I thought you would like it, Hol,’ he said worriedly. ‘I might have liked it if I had known what you were doing,’ she snapped back. ‘But I wanted it to be a surprise,’ he said genuinely. ‘I hate surprises.’ She rubbed her stinging eyes. ‘Let that be a lesson to you, son,’ Frank warned Declan. ‘You shouldn’t go around filming people without them knowing what you’re doing. It’s illegal.’ ‘I bet they didn’t know that when they chose him for the award,’ Elizabeth agreed. ‘You’re not gonna tell them, are you, Holly?’ Declan asked worriedly. ‘Not if you’re nice to me for the next few months,’ Holly said slyly, twisting her hair around her finger. Declan made a face. He was stuck and he knew it. ‘Yeah, whatever,’ he said, waving her away. ‘To tell you the truth, Holly, I have to admit I thought it was quite funny,’ giggled Sharon. ‘You and your Operation Gold Curtain.’ She thumped Denise playfully on the leg. Denise rolled her eyes. ‘I can tell you all something – I am never drinking again.’ Everyone laughed and Tom put his arm round her shoulders. ‘What?’ she said innocently. ‘I really mean it.’ ‘Speaking of drink, would anyone like one?’ Daniel stood up from his chair. ‘Jack?’ ‘Yeah, a Budweiser, thanks.’ ‘Abbey?’ ‘Em … a white wine, please,’ she said politely. ‘Frank?’ ‘A Guinness, thanks, Daniel.’ ‘I’ll have the same,’ said John. ‘Sharon?’ ‘Vodka and Coke, please. Holly you want the same?’ Holly nodded. ‘Tom?’ ‘JD and Coke, please, Dan.’ ‘Me too,’ said Declan. ‘Denise?’ Daniel tried to hide his smile. ‘Em … I’ll have a … gin and tonic please.’ ‘Ha!’ everyone jeered her. ‘What?’ She shrugged her shoulders as though she didn’t care. ‘One drink is hardly going to kill me …’ Holly was standing over the sink with her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, scrubbing the pots, when she heard the familiar voice. ‘Hi, honey.’ She looked up and saw him standing at the open patio doors. ‘Hello, you,’ she smiled. ‘Miss me?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘Have you found that new husband yet?’ ‘Of course I have. He’s upstairs in bed asleep,’ she laughed, drying her hands. Gerry shook his head and tutted. ‘Shall I go up and suffocate him for sleeping in our bed?’ ‘Ah, give him another hour or so,’ she joked, looking at her watch. ‘He needs his rest.’ He looked happy, she thought, fresh-faced and still as beautiful as she remembered. He was wearing her favourite blue top she had bought him one Christmas. He stared at her from under his long eyelashes with his big brown puppy eyes. ‘Are you coming in?’ she asked, smiling. ‘No, I just popped by to see how you are. Everything going OK?’ he leaned against the door jamb with his hands in his pockets. ‘So, so,’ she said, weighing her hands in the air. ‘Could be better.’ ‘I hear you’re a TV star now,’ he grinned. ‘A very reluctant one,’ she laughed. ‘You’ll have men falling all around you,’ he assured her. ‘Falling all around me is right,’ she joked. ‘The problem is they keep missing the target.’ She pointed to herself. He laughed. ‘I miss you, Gerry.’ ‘I haven’t gone far,’ he said softly. ‘You leaving me again?’ ‘For the time being.’ ‘See you soon,’ she smiled. He winked at her and disappeared. Holly woke up with a smile on her face and felt as if she had slept for days. ‘Good morning, Gerry,’ she said happily, staring up at the ceiling. The phone rang beside her. ‘Hello?’ ‘Oh my God, Holly, just take a look at the weekend papers,’ Sharon said in a panic. CHAPTER TWENTY Holly immediately leaped out of bed, threw on a tracksuit and drove to her nearest newsagent. She reached the newspaper stand and began to leaf through the pages in search of what Sharon had been raving about. The man behind the counter coughed loudly and Holly looked up at him. ‘This is not a library, young lady. You’ll have to buy that,’ he said, nodding at the newspaper in her hand. ‘I know that,’ she said, irritated by his rudeness. Honestly, how on earth was anyone supposed to know which paper they wanted to buy if they didn’t even know which paper had what they were looking for? She ended up picking up every single newspaper from the stand and slammed them down on the counter, smiling sweetly at him. The man looked startled and started to scan them into the register one by one. A queue began to form behind her. Holly stared longingly at the selection of chocolate bars displayed in front of her and looked around to see if anyone was looking at her. Everyone was staring. She quickly turned back to face the counter. Finally her arm jumped up and grabbed the two king-size chocolate bars nearest to her on the shelf from the bottom of the pile. One by one the rest of the chocolate began to slide on to the floor. The teenager behind her snorted and looked away, laughing, as Holly bent down with a red face and began to pick them up. So many had fallen she had to make several trips up and down. The shop was silent apart from a few coughs from the impatient queue behind her. She sneakily added another few packets of sweets to her pile, ‘For the kids,’ she said loudly to the newsagent, hoping everyone behind her would also hear. He just grunted at her and continued scanning the items. Then she remembered she needed to get milk so she rushed from the queue to the end of the shop to retrieve a pint of milk from the fridge. A few women tutted loudly as she made her way back to the top of the queue where she added the milk to her pile. The newsagent stopped scanning to stare at her, she stared back blankly at him. ‘Mark,’ he yelled. A spotty young teenager appeared from one of the shopping aisles with a pricing gun in his hand. ‘Yeah?’ he said grumpily. ‘Open the other till, will ya, son? We might be here for a while.’ The newsagent glared at Holly. She made a face at him. Mark dragged his body over to the second till, all the time staring at Holly. What? she thought defensively. Don’t blame me for you having to do your job. He took over the till and the entire queue behind her rushed over to the other side. Satisfied that no one was staring at her any more she grabbed a few packets of crisps from below the counter and added them to her purchases. ‘Birthday party,’ she mumbled. In the queue beside her, the teenager quietly asked for a packet of cigarettes. ‘Got any ID?’ Mark asked loudly. The teenager looked around in embarrassment with a red face. Holly snorted at him and looked away. ‘Anything else?’ the newsagent asked sarcastically. ‘No, thank you, that will be all,’ she said through gritted teeth. She paid her money and fumbled with her purse, trying to put all the change back in. ‘Next,’ the newsagent nodded to the customer behind her. ‘Hiya, can I have twenty Benson and—’ ‘Excuse me,’ Holly interrupted the man, ‘could I have a bag please?’ She stared at the huge pile of groceries in front of her. ‘Just a moment,’ he said rudely, ‘I’ll deal with this gentleman first. Yes, sir, cigarettes, is it?’ ‘Please,’ the customer said, looking at Holly apologetically. ‘Now,’ the newsagent said, returning to Holly, ‘what can I get you?’ ‘A bag.’ She clenched her jaw. ‘That’ll be twenty cents please.’ Holly sighed loudly and reached into her handbag, searching through the mess to find her purse again. Another queue formed behind her. ‘Mark, take over the till again, will you?’ the man said arrogantly. Holly took the coin out of her purse, slammed it down on the counter and began to fill the bag with her items. ‘Next,’ the newsagent said again, looking over her shoulder to the next customer. Holly felt under pressure to get out of the way and began stuffing the bag full in panic. ‘I’ll wait till the lady here is ready,’ the customer said politely. Holly smiled at him appreciatively and turned to leave the shop. She was walking away grumbling to herself when Mark, the boy behind the counter, startled her by yelling, ‘Hey, I know you! You’re the girl from the telly!’ Holly swirled round in surprise and the plastic handle broke from the weight of all the newspapers. Everything fell onto the floor and her chocolate, sweets and crisps went rolling in all directions. The friendly customer got down on his knees to help her gather her belongings while the rest of the shop watched in amusement, wondering who the girl from the telly was. ‘It is you, isn’t it?’ the boy laughed. Holly smiled up weakly at him from the floor. ‘I knew it!’ He clapped his hands together with excitement. ‘You’re cool!’ Yeah, she really felt cool, on her knees on the floor of a shop, searching for bars of chocolate. Holly’s face went red and she nervously cleared her throat, ‘Em … excuse me, could I have another bag, please?’ ‘Yeah, that’ll be—’ ‘There you go,’ the friendly customer interrupted him, placing a twenty-cent coin down on the counter. The newsagent looked perplexed and continued serving the customers. ‘I’m Rob,’ the man said, helping Holly put all her chocolate back into the bag, then holding his hand out. ‘I’m Holly,’ she said, a little embarrassed by his over-friendliness, and took his hand. ‘And I’m a chocoholic.’ He laughed. ‘Thanks for the help,’ she said gratefully, getting to her feet. ‘No problem.’ He held the door open for her. He was good-looking, she thought, a few years older than she, and he had the oddest coloured eyes, a kind of a grey-green colour. She squinted at him and took a closer look. He cleared his throat. She blushed, suddenly realising she had been staring at him like a fool. She walked out to her car and placed the bulging bag on the back seat. Rob followed her over. Her heart did a little flip. ‘Hi again,’ he laughed. ‘Em … I was wondering if you would like to go for a drink?’ Then he laughed, glancing at his watch. ‘Actually, it’s a bit too early for that. How about a coffee?’ He was a very confident man and he rested himself coolly against the car opposite Holly, his hands in the pockets of his jeans with his thumbs resting outside and those weird eyes just staring back at her. However, he didn’t make her feel uncomfortable, he was just very relaxed, as though asking a stranger out for coffee was the most natural thing in the world. Was this what people did these days? ‘Em …’ Holly thought about it. What harm could it do to go for a coffee with a man who had been so polite to her? The fact that he was absolutely gorgeous also helped. But regardless of his looks, Holly really craved company, and he seemed like a nice decent man to talk to. Sharon was out and Denise was at work and Holly couldn’t keep calling over to her mother’s house; Elizabeth had work to do too. Holly really needed to start meeting new people. Many of Gerry and Holly’s other friends had been people with whom Gerry worked, but once he had died all those ‘friends’ of theirs hadn’t been too much of a familiar feature around her house. At least she knew who her true friends were. She was just about to say yes to Rob when he glanced down at her hand and his smile faded. ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t realise …’ He backed away from her awkwardly as though she had some kind of disease. ‘I have to rush off anyway.’ He smiled quickly at her and scarpered off down the road. Holly stared after him, confused. Had she said something wrong? Had she taken too long to decide? Had she broken one of the silent rules of this new meeting-people game? She looked down at the hand that had caused him to run away from her and saw her wedding ring sparkle back at her. She sighed loudly and rubbed her face tiredly. Just then the teenager from the shop walked by with a gang of friends and a cigarette in his mouth and snorted at her. She just couldn’t win. Holly slammed the door of her car and looked around. She wasn’t in the mood to go home, she was sick of staring at the walls all day every day and talking to herself. It was still only ten o’clock in the morning and beautifully sunny and warm outside. Across the road her local café, The Greasy Spoon, was setting up tables and chairs outside. Her stomach grumbled. A nice big Irish breakfast was exactly what she needed. She took her sunglasses from the glove compartment of her car, carried her newspapers with both hands and wandered across the road. A plump lady was cleaning the tables. Her hair was tied back tightly in a large bun, and a bright red and white checked apron covered her flowery dress. Holly felt like she had walked straight into a country kitchen. ‘Been a while since these tables have seen sunlight,’ the woman said happily to Holly as she approached the café. ‘Yeah, it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’ Holly said, and the two of them stared up at the clear blue sky. It was funny how good weather in Ireland always seemed to be the conversation of the day with everyone. It was such a rare sight that everyone felt blessed when it finally arrived. ‘You want to sit out here, love?’ ‘Yes, I will. Might as well make the most out of it. It’ll probably be gone in an hour,’ Holly laughed, taking a seat. ‘You need to think positively, love.’ The waitress busied herself around Holly. ‘Right, I’ll get you the menu,’ she said, turning to leave. ‘No, it’s OK,’ Holly called after her, ‘I know what I want. I’ll have the Irish breakfast.’ ‘No problem, love,’ the woman smiled, and her eyes widened when she saw the pile of newspapers on the table, ‘You thinking of starting your own newsagents?’ she chuckled. Holly looked down at the pile and laughed at the sight of the Arab Leader lying on the top. She had grabbed every single paper and hadn’t even thought to check what they were. She doubted very much the Arab Leader contained any articles about the documentary. ‘Well, to tell you the truth, love,’ the woman said, cleaning the table beside her, ‘you’d be doing us all a favour if you put that miserable ol’ bastard out of business.’ She glared across the road to the newsagent. Holly laughed as the woman waddled back into the café. Holly just sat there for a while, watching the world go by. She loved catching snippets of people’s conversations as they walked past; it gave her a sneaky peak into the lives of others. She loved to guess what people did for a living, where they were heading as they rushed by, where they lived, if they were married or single … Sharon and Holly always used to sit in Bewley’s overlooking Grafton Street and they would do their people spotting. They would create little scenarios in their heads to pass the time, although Holly seemed to be doing this very regularly these days – just another demonstration of how her mind was caught up in other people’s lives instead of focusing on her own. For example, the new little scenario she was creating involved the man walking down the path holding hands with his wife. Holly decided that he was secretly gay and the man headed toward them was his lover. Holly watched their faces as they approached each other, wondering if they would make eye contact. They went one better than that, and Holly tried not to giggle as the three of them stopped just in front of her table. ‘Excuse me? Have you got the time?’ lover asked secretly gay man and wife. ‘Yes, it’s a quarter past ten,’ secretly gay man answered him, looking at his watch. ‘Thanks a lot,’ lover said, touching his arm, and walked on. Now it was as clear as day to Holly that that had been secret code for a rendezvous later. She continued her people spotting for a little while longer until she eventually got bored and decided to live her own life for a change. Holly flicked through the pages of the tabloids and came to a small article in the review section that caught her eye. Girls and the City a Hit in the Ratings by Tricia Coleman For any of you unfortunate people who missed out on the outrageously funny TV documentary Girls and the City last Wednesday, do not despair because it will be back on our screens soon. The hilarious fly-on-the-wall documentary, directed by Irishman Declan Kennedy, follows five Dublin girls out for a night on the town. They lift the lid on the mysterious world of celebrity life in trendy club Boudoir and provide us with thirty minutes of stomach-aching laughter. The show proved to be a success when first aired on Channel 4, the latest TAM ratings revealing 4 million people tuned in in the UK. The show is to be repeated again Sunday night at 11p.m. on Channel 4. This is must-see TV, so don’t miss it! Holly tried to keep her cool as she read through the article. It was obviously great news for Declan but disastrous for her. Having that documentary aired once was bad enough, never mind a second time. She really needed to have a serious talk with him about this. She had let him off lightly the other night because he had been so excited and she didn’t want to make a scene, but at this stage she had enough problems on her plate without having to worry about this too. She flicked through the rest of the papers and saw what it was Sharon was ranting about. Every single tabloid had an article about the documentary and one had even printed a photograph of Denise, Sharon and Holly from a few years ago. How they got their hands on it she did not know. Thank God the broadsheets contained some real news or Holly would have really worried about the world. She wasn’t too happy with the use of the words, ‘mad girls’, ‘drunken girls’, and the description from one of the papers that they were ‘well up for it’. What did that even mean? Holly’s food finally arrived and she stared at it in shock, wondering how on earth she was going to get through it all. ‘That’ll fatten you up, love,’ the plump lady said, placing it on the table. ‘You need a bit of meat on your bones; you’re far too skinny,’ she warned her, waddling off again. Holly felt pleased at the compliment. The plate was piled high with sausages, bacon, eggs, hash browns, black and white pudding, baked beans, fried potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and five slices of toast. Holly looked around her with embarrassment, hoping no one would think she was a complete pig. She saw that annoying teenager heading towards her with his gang of friends again and she picked up her plate and ran inside. She hadn’t much of an appetite lately; but she finally felt ready to eat and she wasn’t going to let some stupid spotty teenager ruin her breakfast for her. Holly must have stayed in The Greasy Spoon much longer than she thought, because by the time she reached her parents’ house in Portmarnock it was almost two o’clock. Against her prediction, the sun was still sitting high in the cloudless blue sky. She looked across at the crowded beach in front of the house and found it difficult to tell where the sky ended and the sea began. Busfuls of people where continuously being unloaded across the road, and there was a lovely smell of sun-tan lotion in the air. There were gangs of teenagers hanging around the grassy area with CD players blaring out the latest tunes. The sound and the smell brought back every happy childhood memory for Holly. Holly rang the doorbell for the fourth time and still no one answered. She knew somebody had to be home because the bedroom windows were wide open upstairs. Her mum and dad would never leave them open if they weren’t home, especially with throngs of strangers wandering around the area. Holly walked across the grass and pressed her face against the living-room window to see if there was any sign of life. She was just about to give up and wander over to the beach when she heard the screaming match between Declan and Ciara. ‘CIARA, GET THE DAMN DOOR!’ ‘NO, I SAID! I … AM … BUSY!’ ‘WELL, SO AM I!’ Holly rang the doorbell again, just to add fuel to the fire. ‘DECLAN!’ Ouch, that was a bloodcurdling scream. ‘GET IT YOURSELF, YOU LAZY COW!’ ‘HA! I’M LAZY?’ Holly took out her mobile phone and rang the house. ‘CIARA, ANSWER THE PHONE!’ ‘NO!’ ‘Oh, for Christsake,’ Holly snapped loudly, and hung up the phone. She dialled Declan’s mobile number. ‘Yeah?’ ‘Declan, open the goddamn fucking door now or I’ll kick it in,’ Holly growled. ‘Oh sorry, Holly, I thought Ciara had answered it,’ he lied. He opened the door in his boxer shorts and Holly stormed in. ‘Jesus Christ! I hope you two don’t carry on like that every time the doorbell rings.’ He shrugged his shoulders noncommittally, ‘Mum and Dad are out,’ he said lazily, and headed up the stairs. ‘Hey, where are you going?’ ‘Back to bed.’ ‘No you are not,’ Holly said calmly, ‘you are going to sit down here with me,’ she patted the couch, ‘and we’re gonna have a nice long chat about Girls and the City.’ ‘No,’ Declan moaned. ‘Do we have to do this now? I’m really, really tired.’ He rubbed his eyes with his fists. Holly had no sympathy for him, ‘Declan, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, how can you still be tired?’ ‘Because I only got home a few hours ago,’ he said, cheekily winking at her. Now she definitely had no sympathy for him; she was just plain jealous. ‘Sit!’ she ordered him. He moaned again and dragged his weary body over to the couch where he collapsed and stretched out along the entire thing, leaving no room for Holly. She rolled her eyes and dragged her dad’s armchair closer to Declan. ‘I feel like I’m with a shrink,’ he laughed, crossing his arms behind his head and staring up at her. ‘Good, because I’m really going to pick your brains.’ Declan whinged again, ‘Oh, Holly, do we have to? We just talked about this the other night.’ ‘Did you honestly think that was all I was going to say? “Oh, I’m sorry, Declan, but I didn’t like the way you publicly humiliated me and my friends. See you next week”?’ ‘Obviously not.’ ‘Come on, Declan,’ she said, softening her tone, ‘I just want to understand why you thought it would be such a great idea not to tell me you were filming me and my friends?’ ‘You knew I was filming,’ he said defensively. ‘For a documentary about club life!’ Holly raised her voice in frustration at her younger brother. ‘And it was about club life,’ Declan laughed. ‘Oh, you think you’re so bloody clever,’ she snapped at him, and he stopped laughing. She counted to ten and breathed slowly to prevent herself from attacking him. ‘Come on, Declan,’ she said quietly. ‘Do you not think that I am going through enough right now without having to worry about this as well? And without even asking me? I cannot for the life of me understand why you would do it!’ Declan sat up on the couch and became serious for a change, ‘I know, Holly, I know you’ve been through hell but I thought this would cheer you up. I wasn’t lying when I said I was going to film the club because that’s what I had planned on doing. But when I brought it back to college to begin the edit everyone thought that it was just so funny that I couldn’t not show it to people.’ ‘Yeah, but you put it on TV, Declan.’ ‘I didn’t know that was the prize, honestly,’ he said, wide-eyed. ‘Nobody knew, not even my lecturers! How could I say no to it when I won?’ Holly gave up and ran her fingers through her hair. ‘I honestly thought you would like it,’ he smiled. ‘I checked with Ciara and even she said you’d like it. I’m sorry if I upset you,’ he mumbled. Holly continued nodding her head through his explanation, realising he genuinely had good intentions, however misguided. Suddenly she stopped. What had he just said? She sat up, alert in her seat. ‘Declan, did you just say that Ciara knew about the tape?’ Declan froze in his seat and tried to think of a way to back himself out of the corner he found himself in. Coming up with nothing, he threw himself back onto the couch and covered his head with a cushion, knowing he had just started World War Three. ‘Oh, Holly, don’t say anything to her. She’ll kill me!’ came his muffled reply. Holly bounded out of her seat and stormed upstairs, thumping her feet on every stair to show Ciara she was really mad. She yelled threats at Ciara all the way up and pounded on her bedroom door. ‘Don’t come in!’ yelled Ciara from inside. ‘You are in so much trouble, Ciara!’ Holly screamed. She burst her way inside, putting on her most terrifying face. ‘I told you not to come in!’ wailed Ciara. Holly was about to start screaming all sorts of insulting things at her sister but stopped herself when she saw Ciara sitting on the floor with what looked like a photo album on her lap and tears streaming down her face. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE ‘Oh, Ciara, what’s wrong?’ Holly said soothingly. She was worried; she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen Ciara cry. In fact, she didn’t even know Ciara knew how to cry. Whatever had reduced her to tears must be something serious. ‘Nothing’s wrong,’ Ciara said, snapping the photo album shut and sliding it under her bed. She seemed embarrassed to be caught crying and she wiped her face roughly, trying to look as if she didn’t care. Downstairs on the couch, Declan peeped his head out from under the cushion. It was eerily quiet up there; he hoped they hadn’t done anything stupid to one another. He tiptoed upstairs and listened outside the door. ‘Something is wrong,’ Holly said, crossing the room to join her sister on the floor. She wasn’t sure how to deal with Ciara like this. This was a complete role reversal; ever since they were kids it had always been Holly who had done all the crying. Ciara was supposed to be the strong one. ‘I’m fine,’ Ciara snapped. ‘OK,’ Holly said looking around, ‘but if there’s something on your mind that’s upsetting you, you know you can talk to me about it, don’t you?’ Ciara refused to look at her and just nodded her head. Holly began to stand up to leave her sister in peace when all of a sudden Ciara burst into tears again. Holly quickly sat back down and wrapped her arms protectively round her younger sister. Holly stroked Ciara’s silky pink hair while she cried quietly. ‘Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?’ she asked softly. Ciara gurgled some sort of reply and sat up to slide the photo album back out from under the bed. She opened it with trembling hands and flicked a few pages. ‘Him,’ she said, sadly pointing to a photograph of her and some guy Holly didn’t recognise. In fact, Holly barely recognised her sister. She looked so different and so much younger. The photograph was taken on a beautiful sunny day on a boat overlooking the Sydney Opera House. Ciara was sitting happily on his knee with her arms wrapped round his neck and he was staring at her with a huge smile on his face. Holly couldn’t get over how pretty Ciara looked. She had blonde hair, which Holly had never seen on her sister before, and a great big smile on her face. Her features looked much softer – she didn’t look as if she was going to bite someone’s head off for a change. ‘Is that your boyfriend?’ Holly asked gently. ‘Was,’ Ciara sniffed, and a tear landed on the page. ‘Is that why you came home?’ she asked softly, wiping a tear from her sister’s face. Ciara nodded. ‘Do you want to tell me what happened?’ Ciara gasped for breath. ‘We had a fight.’ ‘Did he …’ Holly chose her words carefully, ‘he didn’t hurt you or anything did he?’ Ciara shook her head. ‘No,’ she spluttered, ‘it was just over something really stupid and I said I was leaving and he said he was glad …’ She trailed off as she started sobbing again. Holly held her in her arms and waited till Ciara was ready to talk again. ‘He didn’t even come to the airport to say goodbye to me.’ Holly rubbed Ciara’s back soothingly as though she was a baby who had just drunk her bottle. She hoped Ciara wouldn’t throw up on her. ‘Has he called you since?’ ‘No, and I’ve been home for two months, Holly,’ she wailed. She looked up at her older sister with such sad eyes Holly felt like crying too. She didn’t like the sound of this guy at all for hurting her sister. Holly smiled at her encouragingly. ‘Then do you think that maybe he’s not the right kind of person for you?’ Ciara started crying again. ‘But I love Mathew, Holly, and it was just a stupid fight. I only booked the flight because I was angry. I didn’t think he would let me go …’ She stared for a long time at the photograph. Ciara’s bedroom windows were wide open and Holly listened to the familiar sound of the waves and the laughter coming from the beach. Holly and Ciara had shared this room together as they grew up, and a weird sense of comfort now embraced her as she smelled the same smells and listened to the familiar noises. Ciara began to calm down. ‘Sorry, Hol.’ ‘Hey, you don’t need to be sorry at all,’ she said, squeezing her hand. ‘You should have told me all this when you came home instead of keeping it all inside.’ ‘But this is only minor compared to what’s happened to you. I feel stupid even crying about it.’ She wiped her tears, angry with herself. Holly was shocked, ‘Ciara, this is a big deal. Losing someone you love is always hard, no matter if they’re alive or …’ She couldn’t finish the sentence. ‘Of course you can tell me anything.’ ‘It’s just that you’ve been so brave, Holly. I don’t know how you do it. And here I am crying over a stupid boyfriend I went out with for only a few months.’ ‘Me? Brave?’ Holly laughed. ‘I wish.’ ‘Yes, you are,’ Ciara insisted. ‘Everyone says so. You’ve been so strong through everything. If I were you I’d be lying in a ditch somewhere.’ ‘Don’t go giving me ideas, Ciara,’ Holly smiled at her, wondering who on earth had called her brave. ‘You’re OK, though, aren’t you?’ Ciara said, worriedly studying her face. Holly looked down at her hands and slid her wedding ring up and down her finger. She thought about that question for a while and the two girls became lost in their own thoughts. Ciara, suddenly calmer than Holly had ever seen her, sat by her side patiently awaiting Holly’s reply. ‘Am I OK?’ Holly repeated the question to herself. She looked ahead at their collection of teddy bears and dolls that their parents had refused to throw out. ‘I’m lots of things Ciara,’ Holly explained, continuing to roll her ring around on her fingers. ‘I’m lonely, I’m tired, I’m sad, I’m happy, I’m lucky, I’m unlucky; I’m a million different things everyday of the week. But I suppose OK is one of them.’ She looked to her sister and smiled sadly. ‘And you’re brave,’ Ciara assured her. ‘And calm and in control. And organised.’ Holly shook her head slowly, ‘No, Ciara, I’m not brave. You’re the brave one. You were always the brave one. As for being in control, I don’t know what I’m doing from one day to the next.’ Ciara’s forehead creased and she shook her head wildly. ‘No, I am far from being brave, Holly.’ ‘Yes you are,’ Holly insisted. ‘All those things that you do like jumping out of aeroplanes and snow boarding off cliffs …’ Holly trailed off as she tried to think of more crazy things her little sister did. Ciara shook her head in protest. ‘Oh no, my dear sister. That’s not brave, that’s foolish. Anybody can bungee jump off a bridge. You could do it,’ Ciara nudged her. Holly’s eyes widened, terrified at the thought and she shook her head. Ciara’s voice softened. ‘Oh, you would if you had to, Holly. Trust me, there’s nothing brave about it.’ Holly looked at her sister and matched her tone, ‘Yes, and if your husband died you would cope if you had to. There’s nothing brave about it. There’s no choice involved.’ Ciara and Holly stared at each other, aware of the other’s battle. Ciara was the first to speak. ‘Well, I guess you and I are more alike than we thought.’ She smiled at her big sister and Holly wrapped her arms round her small frame and hugged her tightly, ‘Who would have thought?’ Holly thought her sister looked like such a child, with her big innocent blue eyes. She felt as though they were both children again, sitting on the floor where they used to play together during their childhood, and where they would gossip when they were teenagers. They sat in silence, listening to the sounds outside. ‘Was there something you were going to scream at me about earlier on?’ Ciara asked quietly in a childish voice. Holly had to laugh at her sister for trying to take advantage. ‘No, forget about it, it was nothing,’ Holly replied, staring out at the blue sky. From outside the door, Declan wiped his brow and breathed a sigh of relief; he was in the clear. He tiptoed silently back into his bedroom and hopped back into bed. Whoever this Mathew was he owed him big time. His phone beeped, signalling a message, and he frowned as he read the text. Who the hell was Suzanne? Then a grin crept across his face as he remembered last night. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO It was eight o’clock when Holly finally drove up her driveway, and it was still bright. She smiled; the world never felt quite so depressing when it was bright. She had spent the day with Ciara, chatting about her adventures in Australia. Ciara had changed her mind at least twenty times in the space of a few hours about whether or not she should call Mathew in Australia. By the time Holly left, Ciara was adamant she would never speak to him again, which probably meant she had already called him by now. She walked up the path to the front door and stared at the garden curiously. Was it her imagination or did it look a little tidier? It was still a complete mess, with weeds and overgrown shrubs sprouting up everywhere, but something about it looked different. The sound of a lawnmower started and Holly spun round to face her neighbour, who was out working in his garden. She waved over to thank him, presuming it was he who had helped her, and he held his hand up in response. It had always been Gerry’s job to do the garden. He wasn’t necessarily a keen gardener, it was just that Holly was an incredibly unkeen one and somebody had to do the dirty work. It had been agreed between them that there was no way in the world Holly was going to waste her day off toiling in the soil. As a result, their garden was simple; just a small patch of grass surrounded by a few shrubs and flowers. As Gerry knew very little about gardening he often planted flowers in the wrong season, or put them in the wrong place so they ended up dying. Now the garden just looked like an overgrown field. When Gerry died, the garden had died along with him. Which reminded her of the orchid in her house. She rushed inside, filled a jug with water and poured it over the extremely thirsty-looking plant. It didn’t look very healthy at all and she promised herself she wouldn’t let it die under her care. She threw a chicken curry into the microwave and sat down to wait at the kitchen table. Outside on the road she could still hear the kids playing happily. She always used to love when the bright evenings came; it meant Mum and Dad would let them all play outside longer, which meant she wouldn’t have to go to bed till later than usual and that had always been a treat. Holly thought back over her day and decided it had been a good one, apart from one incident … She looked down at the rings on her wedding finger and she immediately felt guilty. When that man Rob had walked away from her Holly had felt so awful. He had given her that look as if she was about to initiate an affair when that was the last thing in the world she would ever do. She had felt guilty for even considering accepting his invitation to go for a coffee. If Holly had left her husband because she absolutely couldn’t stand him any more she could understand being able eventually to be attracted to someone else. But her husband had died when they were both still very much in love and she couldn’t just fall out of love all of a sudden just because he wasn’t around any more. She still felt married, and going for coffee today would have seemed as if she was betraying Gerry. The very thought disgusted her. Her heart, soul and mind still belonged with him. Holly twisted her ring around on her finger, lost in thought. At what point should she take her wedding ring off? Gerry was gone almost six months now. Where was the rulebook for widows that explained when exactly the ring should be taken off? And when it finally did come off, where would she put it, where should she put it? In the bin? Beside her bed so she could be reminded of him every single day? She continued to twist the ring around her finger and plagued herself with question after question. No, she wasn’t quite ready to give up her Gerry yet. As far as she was concerned he was still living. The microwave beeped. She took the dish out and threw it straight into the bin. She had suddenly lost her appetite. Later that night Denise rang her in a tizzy. ‘Switch Dublin FM on, quick!’ Holly raced to the radio and flicked the switch, ‘I’m Tom O’Connor and you’re listening to Dublin FM. If you’ve just joined us we are talking about bouncers. In light of the amount of persuasion it took the Girls and the City girls to blag their way into Boudoir, we wanna know what your thoughts on bouncers are. Do you like them? Do you not? Do you agree or understand why they are the way they are? Or are they too strict? The number to call is …’ Holly picked the phone back up, having forgotten for a moment that Denise was still on the other end. ‘Well?’ Denise said, giggling. ‘What the hell have we started, Denise?’ ‘I know,’ she chuckled. It was obvious she was loving every minute of it. ‘Did you see the papers today?’ ‘Yeah, it’s all a bit silly really. I agree it was a good documentary but the stuff they were writing was just stupid.’ ‘Oh, honey, I love it! And I love it even more because I’m in it!’ ‘I bet you do,’ Holly laughed. They both remained quiet while they listened to the radio. Some guy was giving out about bouncers and Tom was trying to calm him down. ‘Oh, listen to my baby,’ Denise said. ‘Doesn’t he sound so sexy?’ ‘Em … yeah,’ Holly mumbled. ‘I take it you two are still together?’ ‘Of course.’ Denise sounded insulted by the question. ‘Why wouldn’t we be?’ ‘Well, it’s been quite a while now, Denise, that’s all,’ Holly quickly tried to explain so she wouldn’t hurt her friend’s feelings. ‘And you always said you couldn’t be with a man for over a month, that you hate being tied down to one person.’ ‘Yes, well, I said I couldn’t be with a man for over a period of a month but I never said I wouldn’t. Tom is different, Holly,’ Denise added breathily. Holly was surprised to hear this from Denise, the girl who wanted to remain single for the rest of her life. ‘Oh, so what’s so different with Tom then?’ Holly rested the phone between her ear and her shoulder and she settled down in the chair to examine her nails. ‘Oh, there’s just this connection between us. It’s like he’s my soul mate. He’s so thoughtful, always surprising me with little gifts and taking me out for dinner and spoiling me. He makes me laugh all the time and I just love being with him. I haven’t got sick of him like all the other guys. Plus he’s good-looking.’ Holly stifled a yawn. Denise tended to say this after the first week of going out with all her new boyfriends and then she would quickly change her mind. But then again, perhaps Denise meant what she said this time; after all they had been together for several weeks now. ‘I’m very happy for you,’ Holly replied genuinely. The two girls began listening to a bouncer speaking on the radio. ‘Well, first of all I just want to tell you that for the past few nights we have had I don’t know how many princesses and ladies queuing up at our door. Since that bloody programme was aired people seem to think we’re going to let them in if they’re royalty! And I just want to say, girls, it’s not going to work again so don’t bother!’ Tom kept laughing and tried to hold himself together. Holly flicked the switch off on the radio. ‘Denise,’ Holly said seriously, ‘the world is going mad.’ The next day Holly dragged herself out of bed to go for a stroll in the park. She needed to start doing some exercise before she turned into a complete slob and she also needed to start thinking seriously about job-hunting. Everywhere she went she tried to picture herself working in that environment. She had definitely ruled out clothes stores (the possibility of having a boss like Denise had talked her out of that one), restaurants, hotels, pubs and she certainly didn’t want another nine-to-five office job, which left … nothing. Holly decided she wanted to be like the woman in the film she had seen last night; she wanted to work in the FBI so she could run around solving crimes and interrogating people and then eventually fall in love with her partner, whom she hated when they first met. However, seeing as she neither lived in America nor had any police training, the chances of that happening didn’t seem too hopeful. Maybe there was a circus she could join somewhere … She sat down on a park bench opposite the playground and listened to the children’s screams of delight. She wished she could go in and play on the slide and be pushed on the swings instead of sitting here and watching. Why did people have to grow up? Holly realised she had been dreaming of going back to her youth all weekend. She wanted to be irresponsible, she wanted to be looked after, to be told that she didn’t have to worry about a thing and that someone else would take care of everything. How easy life would be without having grown-up problems to worry about. And then she could grow up all over again and meet Gerry all over again and force him to go to the doctor months earlier and then she would be sitting beside Gerry here on the bench watching their children playing. What if, what if, what if … She thought about the stinging remark Richard had made about never having to bother with all that children nonsense. It angered her just thinking about it. She wished so much that she could be worrying about all that children nonsense right now. She wished she could have a little Gerry running around the playground while she shouted at him to be careful and did other mummy things, like spit on a tissue and wipe his pudgy little dirty face. Holly and Gerry had only started talking about having children a few months before he was diagnosed. They had been so excited about it and used to lie in bed for hours trying to decide names, creating scenarios in their heads of what it would be like to be parents. Holly smiled at the thought of Gerry being a father; he would have been terrific. She could imagine him being so patient while he sat helping the kids with their homework at the kitchen table. She could imagine him being so overprotective if his daughter ever brought a boy home. Imagine if, imagine if, imagine if … But Holly needed to stop living her life in her head, remembering old memories and dreaming of impossible dreams. It would never get her anywhere. Well, talk of the devil, Holly thought to herself, seeing Richard leaving the playground with Emily and Timmy. He looked so relaxed, she thought, watching him in surprise as he chased the children around the park. They looked as though they were having fun, not a very familiar sight. She sat up on the bench and zipped up her extra layer of thick skin in preparation for their conversation. ‘Hello, Holly!’ Richard said happily, spotting her and walking across the grass to her. ‘Hello!’ Holly said, greeting the kids as they ran over to her and gave her a big hug. That made a nice change. ‘You’re far from home,’ she said to Richard. ‘What brings you all the way over here?’ ‘I brought the children to see Grandma and Granddad, didn’t I?’ he said, ruffling Timmy’s head. ‘And we had McDonald’s,’ Timmy said excitedly, and Emily cheered. ‘Oh, yummy!’ Holly said, licking her lips. ‘You lucky things. Isn’t your daddy the best?’ Richard looked pleased. ‘Junk food?’ Holly questioned her brother. ‘Ah,’ he waved his hand dismissively and sat down beside her, ‘everything in moderation, isn’t that right, Emily?’ Five-year-old Emily nodded her head as though she had completely understood her father. Her big green eyes were wide and innocent and her nodding head was sending her red ringlets bouncing. She was eerily like her mother and Holly had to look away. Then she felt guilty and looked back and smiled … then had to look away again. There was something about those eyes and that hair that scared her. ‘Well, one McDonald’s meal isn’t going to kill them,’ Holly agreed with her brother. Timmy grabbed at his throat and pretended to choke. His face went red as he made gagging noises and he collapsed on the grass and lay very still. Richard and Holly laughed. Emily looked as if she was going to cry. ‘Oh dear,’ Richard joked, ‘looks like we were wrong, Holly. The McDonald’s did kill Timmy.’ Holly looked at her brother in shock for calling his son Timmy, but she decided not to mention it. It was obviously just a slip of the tongue. Richard got up and threw Timmy over his shoulder. ‘Well, we better go bury him now and have a funeral.’ Timmy giggled as he dangled upside down on his father’s shoulder. ‘Oh, he’s alive!’ Richard laughed. ‘No, I’m not,’ giggled Timmy. Holly watched in amusement at the family scene before her. It had been a while since she had witnessed anything like this. None of her friends had children and Holly was very rarely around any. There was obviously something seriously wrong with her if she was doting on Richard’s children. And it wasn’t the wisest decision to become broody when there was no man in your life. ‘OK, we best be off,’ laughed Richard. ‘Bye, Holly.’ ‘Bye, Holly,’ the children cheered, and Holly watched Richard walk off with Timmy slung over his right shoulder, as little Emily hopped, skipped and danced along beside him while gripping his hand. Holly stared in amusement at the stranger walking off with two children. Who was this man who claimed to be her brother? Holly certainly had never met that man before. CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Barbara finished serving her customers and as soon as they left the building she ran into the staffroom and lit up a cigarette. The travel agent’s had been so busy all day and she had to work all through her lunch break. Melissa, her colleague, had called in sick that morning although Barbara knew very well she had partied too hard the night before and any sickness she might have was self-inflicted. So she was stuck in this boring job all by herself today. And, of course, it was the busiest day they’d had in ages. As soon as November came, with those horrible depressing dark nights and dark mornings and piercing wind and sheets of rain … everyone came running in the door, booking holidays to beautiful hot sunny countries. Barbara shuddered as she heard the wind rattle the windows and made a note to herself to check for any special holiday deals. Her boss had finally gone out to run some errands and she had flown into the staffroom as quickly as she could to light up a cigarette. The bell over the door sounded and Barbara cursed the customer entering the shop for disturbing her precious break. She puffed on the cigarette furiously, almost making herself dizzy, reapplied her glossy red lipstick, made sure her name badge was still pinned on and sprayed her perfume all around the room, so her boss wouldn’t notice the smoke. She left the staff room expecting to see a customer sitting behind the counter but instead the old man was still slowly making his way over. Barbara tried not to stare and began pressing random buttons on her keypad. ‘Excuse me?’ the man’s weak voice called to her. ‘Hello, sir, how can I help you?’ she said for the hundredth time that day. She didn’t mean to be rude by staring at him but she was surprised at how young the man actually was. From far away his slumped figure looked like that of a pensioner. His body was hunched and the walking stick in his hand seemed to be the only thing preventing him from collapsing to the floor in front of her. His skin was very white and pasty, as though he hadn’t seen the sun for years, but he had big brown puppy eyes that seemed to smile at her from under his long lashes. She couldn’t help but smile back at him. ‘I was hoping to book a holiday,’ he said quietly, ‘but I was wondering if you could help me choose a place.’ Usually Barbara would have silently screamed at the customer for making her do this unbelievably impossible task. Most of her customers were so fussy that she could be sitting there for hours with them flicking through brochures and trying to persuade them where to go when the truth is she really couldn’t give a toss where they went. But this man seemed pleasant so she was glad to help. She surprised herself. ‘No problem, sir. Why don’t you take a seat there and we’ll search through the brochures.’ She pointed to the chair in front of her and looked away again so she didn’t have to watch his struggle to sit down. ‘Now,’ she said, full of smiles, ‘is there any country in particular that you would like to go to?’ ‘Em … Spain … Lanzarote, I think.’ Barbara was glad; this was going to be a lot easier than she’d thought. ‘And is it a summer holiday you’re looking for?’ He nodded slowly. They worked their way through the brochure and finally the man found a place that he liked. Barbara was happy that he took her advice into account, unlike some of her other customers, who just ignored every single bit of her knowledge. ‘OK, any month in particular?’ she said, looking at the prices. ‘August?’ he asked, and those big brown eyes looked so deep into Barbara’s soul she just wanted to jump over the counter and give him a big hug. ‘August is a good month,’ she agreed with him. ‘Would you like a sea view or a pool view? The sea view is an extra thirty euro,’ she added quickly. He stared into space with a smile on his face as though he was already there. ‘A sea view, please.’ ‘Good choice. Can I take your name and address, please?’ ‘Oh … this isn’t actually for me … it’s a surprise for my wife and her friends.’ Those brown eyes looked sad. Barbara cleared her throat nervously, ‘Well, that’s very thoughtful of you, sir,’ she felt she had to add. ‘Could I have their names then, please?’ She finished taking his details and he settled the bill. She began to print the arrangements from the computer to give to him. ‘Oh, do you mind if I leave the details here with you? I want to surprise my wife and I would be afraid of leaving papers around the house in case she finds them.’ Barbara smiled; what a lucky wife he had. ‘I won’t be telling her till July so do you think it could be kept quiet till then?’ ‘That’s no problem at all, sir. Usually the flight times aren’t confirmed till a few weeks before anyway, so we would have no reason to call her. I’ll give the other staff strict instructions not to call the house.’ ‘Thank you for your help, Barbara,’ he said, smiling sadly with those puppy eyes. ‘It’s been a pleasure Mr—?’ ‘It’s Gerry,’ he smiled again. ‘Well, it’s been a pleasure, Gerry. I’m sure your wife will have a wonderful time. My friend went there last year and she loved it.’ Barbara felt the need to reassure him his wife would be fine. ‘Well, I’d better head back home before they think I’ve been kidnapped. I’m not even supposed to be out of bed, you know.’ He smiled again and a lump formed in Barbara’s throat. She jumped to her feet and ran round the other side of the counter to hold the door open for him. He smiled appreciatively as he walked past her and she watched as he slowly climbed into the taxi that had been waiting outside for him. Just as Barbara was about to close the door her boss walked in and it banged against his head. She looked over at Gerry, who was still waiting in the taxi to move out onto the road and he laughed and gave her the thumbs-up. Her boss threw her a look for leaving the counter unattended and marched into the staffroom. ‘Barbara,’ he yelled, ‘have you been smoking in here again?’ She rolled her eyes and turned to face him. ‘God, what’s wrong with you? You look like you’re about to burst into tears!’ It was the first of July and Barbara sat grumpily behind the counter of Swords travel agents. Everyday she had worked this summer had been beautiful and sunny, but the last two days she’d had off it had pissed down with rain. Today was typically the complete opposite. It was the hottest day of the year, all her customers kept on bragging as they strolled in in their little shorts and skimpy tops, filling the room with the smell of coconut sun cream. Barbara squirmed in her chair in her uncomfortable and incredibly itchy uniform. She felt as if she was back at school again. She banged on the fan once again as it stalled. ‘Oh, leave it, Barbara,’ Melissa moaned. ‘That’ll only make it worse.’ ‘As if that could be possible,’ Barbara grumbled, and spun round in her chair to face the computer where she pounded on the keypad. ‘What is it with you today?’ Melissa asked. ‘Oh, nothing much,’ Barbara said through gritted teeth. ‘It’s just the hottest day of the year and we’re stuck in this crappy job in this stuffy room with no air conditioning in these horrible itchy uniforms.’ She shouted each word towards her boss’s office, hoping he would hear. ‘That’s all.’ Melissa sniggered. ‘Look, why don’t you go outside for a few minutes to get some air and I’ll deal with this next customer,’ she said, nodding to the woman making her way in. ‘Thanks, Mel,’ Barbara said, relieved at finally being able to escape. She grabbed her cigarettes. ‘Right, I’m going to get some fresh air.’ Melissa looked down at her hand and rolled her eyes. ‘Hello, can I help you?’ she smiled at the woman. ‘Yes, I was wondering if Barbara still works here?’ Barbara froze just as she was reaching the door and contemplated whether to run outside or to go back to work. She groaned and headed back to her seat. She looked at the woman behind the counter. She was pretty, she decided, but her eyes looked tired and drawn as she stared frantically from one girl to the other. ‘Yes, I’m Barbara.’ ‘Oh, good!’ The lady looked relieved and she dived on to the stool in front of her. ‘I was afraid you might not work here any more.’ ‘She wishes,’ Melissa muttered under her breath. ‘Can I help you?’ ‘Oh God, I really hope you can,’ the lady said a bit hysterically, and rooted through her bag. Barbara raised her eyebrows over at Melissa and the two of them tried to hold in their laughs. ‘OK,’ she said eventually, pulling a crumpled envelope out of her bag. ‘I received this today from my husband and I was wondering if you could explain it to me.’ Barbara frowned as she stared at the dog-eared piece of paper on the counter. A page had been torn out of a holiday brochure and written on it were the words: ‘Swords Travel Agent. Attn: Barbara.’ Barbara frowned again and looked at the page more closely. ‘My friend went there two years ago on holiday but other than that it means nothing to me. Did you not get any more information?’ The lady shook her head vigorously. ‘Well, can’t you ask your husband for more information?’ Barbara was confused. ‘No, he’s not here any more,’ she said sadly, and tears welled in her eyes. Barbara panicked. If her boss saw her making someone cry she really would be given her marching orders. She was on her last warning as it was. ‘OK then, can I take your name, and maybe it will come up on the computer?’ ‘It’s Holly Kennedy.’ Her voice shook. ‘Holly Kennedy, Holly Kennedy …’ Melissa was listening in on their conversation. ‘That name rings a bell. Oh, hold on, I was about to call you this week! That’s weird! I was under strict instructions by Barbara not to ring you until July for some reason—’ ‘Oh!’ Barbara interrupted her friend, finally realising what was going on. ‘You’re Gerry’s wife?’ she asked hopefully. ‘Yes!’ Holly threw her hands to her face in shock. ‘He was in here?’ ‘Yes, he was,’ Barbara smiled encouragingly. ‘He was a lovely man,’ she said, reaching out to Holly’s hand on the counter. Melissa stared at the two of them, not knowing what was going on. Barbara’s heart went out to the lady across the counter: she was so young and it must be so hard for her right now. But Barbara was delighted to be the bearer of good news. ‘Melissa, can you get Holly some tissues, please, while I explain to her exactly why her husband was here.’ She beamed across the counter at Holly, then let go of Holly’s hand to tap away at the computer while Melissa returned with a box of tissues. ‘OK, Holly,’ Barbara said softly, ‘Gerry has arranged a holiday for you and a Sharon McCarthy and a Denise Hennessey to go to Lanzarote for one week, arriving on the thirtieth of July to return home on the fifth of August.’ Holly’s hands flew to her face again in shock, and tears poured from her eyes. ‘He was adamant that he found the perfect place for you,’ Barbara continued, delighted at her new role. She felt like one of those television hosts who sprang surprises on their guests. ‘That’s the place you’re going to,’ she said, tapping the crumpled page in front of her. ‘You’ll have a fab time, believe me. When my friend was there she just loved it. There are loads of restaurants and bars around and …’ She trailed off, realising Holly probably didn’t give a damn about whether she had a good time or not. ‘When did he come in?’ Holly asked, still in shock. Barbara tapped away on the computer. ‘The booking was made on the twenty-eighth of November.’ ‘November?’ Holly gasped. ‘He shouldn’t even have been out of bed then! Was he on his own?’ ‘Yes, but there was a taxi waiting outside for him the whole time.’ ‘What time was this at?’ Holly asked quickly. ‘I’m sorry but I really can’t remember. It was quite a long time ago—’ ‘Yes, of course, I’m sorry,’ Holly interrupted. Barbara completely understood. If that was her husband – well, if she ever met someone worthy of ever becoming her husband – she would also want to know every single detail. Barbara told her as much as she could remember until Holly could think of no more questions to ask. ‘Oh, thank you, Barbara, thank you so much.’ Holly reached over the counter and gave her a big hug. ‘No problem at all,’ Barbara hugged her back, feeling satisfied with her good deed for the day. ‘Come back and let us know how you get on,’ she smiled. ‘Here’s your details.’ She handed Holly a thick envelope and watched her walk away. She sighed, thinking her crappy job might not be so crappy after all. ‘What on earth was that all about?’ Melissa was dying to find out. Barbara began to explain the story. ‘OK, girls, I’m taking my break now. Barbara, no smoking in the staffroom.’ Their boss closed and locked his door and then turned to face them. ‘Christ Almighty, what are you two crying about now?’ CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Holly eventually arrived at her house and waved to Sharon and Denise, who were sitting on her garden wall sunbathing. They jumped up as soon as they saw her and rushed over to greet her. ‘God, you both got here quick,’ she said, trying to inject energy into her voice. She felt completely and utterly drained, and she really wasn’t in the mood to have to explain everything to the girls right now. But she would have to. ‘Sharon left work as soon as you called and she collected me from town,’ Denise explained, studying Holly’s face and trying to assess how bad the situation was. ‘Oh, you didn’t have to do that,’ Holly said lifelessly, as she tried to put the key in the door. ‘Hey, have you been working in your garden?’ Sharon asked, looking around and trying to lighten the atmosphere. ‘No, my neighbour’s been doing it, I think.’ Holly pulled the key from the door and searched through the bunch for the correct one. ‘You think?’ Denise tried to keep the conversation going while Holly battled with yet another key in the lock. ‘Well, it’s either my neighbour or a little leprechaun lives down the end of my garden,’ she snapped, getting frustrated with the keys. Denise and Sharon looked at each other and tried to figure out what to do. They motioned to one another to stay quiet as Holly was obviously stressed. ‘Oh, fuck it!’ Holly yelled, and threw her keys on the ground. Denise jumped back, just managing to avoid the heavy bunch from slamming into her ankles. Sharon picked them up. ‘Hey, hon, don’t worry about it,’ she said light-heartedly. ‘This happens to me all the time. I swear the bloody things jump around on the keyring deliberately just to piss us off.’ Holly smiled wearily, thankful that somebody else could take control for a while. Sharon slowly worked her way through the keys, talking calmly to her in a singsong voice as though Holly was a child. The door finally opened and Holly rushed in to turn the alarm off. Thankfully she remembered the number: the year Gerry and she had met and the year they got married. As if she could ever forget those numbers. ‘OK, why don’t you two make yourselves comfortable in the living room and I’ll follow you in a minute?’ Sharon and Denise did as they were told while Holly headed into the toilet to splash cold water on her face. She needed to snap out of this daze, take control and be as excited about this holiday as Gerry had intended. When she felt a little more alive she joined the girls in the living room. She pulled the footrest over to the couch and sat opposite the girls. ‘OK, I’m not going to drag this one out. I opened the envelope for July today and this is what it said.’ She rooted in her bag for the small card, which had been attached to the brochure that she’d shown to the girl at the travel agent and handed it to them. It read: Have a good Holly day! PS. I love you … ‘Is that it?’ Denise wrinkled up her nose, unimpressed. Sharon nudged her in the ribs. ‘Ow!’ ‘Well, Holly, I think it’s a lovely note,’ Sharon lied. ‘It’s so thoughtful and it’s … a lovely play on words.’ Holly had to giggle. She knew Sharon was lying because she always flared her nostrils when she wasn’t telling the truth. ‘No, you fool!’ she said, hitting Sharon over the head with a cushion. Sharon began to laugh. ‘Oh good, because I was beginning to worry there for a second.’ ‘Sharon, you are always so supportive you make me sick sometimes!’ Holly grinned. ‘Now this is what else was inside.’ She handed them the crumpled page that was torn from the brochure. She watched with amusement as the girls tried to figure out Gerry’s writing and Denise finally held her hand up to her mouth. ‘Oh my God!’ she gasped, sitting forward on her seat. ‘What what what?’ Sharon demanded, and leaned forward with excitement. ‘Did Gerry buy you a holiday?’ ‘No.’ Holly shook her head seriously. ‘Oh.’ Sharon and Denise both sat back in their seats with disappointment. Holly allowed an uncomfortable silence to lapse between them until she spoke again. ‘Girls,’ she said with a smile beginning to spread across her face, ‘he bought us a holiday!’ The girls opened a bottle of wine and squealed with excitement. ‘Oh, this is incredible,’ Denise said after the news had sunk in. ‘Gerry’s such a sweetie.’ Holly nodded, feeling proud of her husband, who had once again managed to surprise them all. ‘So you went down to see this Barbara person?’ Sharon asked. ‘Yes, and she was the sweetest girl,’ Holly smiled. ‘She sat with me for ages telling me about the conversation they had that day. He went in at the end of November.’ ‘November?’ Sharon looked thoughtful. ‘That was after the second operation.’ Holly nodded. ‘The girl said he was pretty weak when he went in.’ ‘Isn’t it funny that none of us had any idea at all?’ Sharon said. They all nodded silently. ‘Well, it looks like we’re all off to Lanzarote!’ Denise cheered, and she held her glass up. ‘To Gerry!’ ‘To Gerry!’ Holly and Sharon joined in. ‘Are you sure Tom and John won’t mind?’ Holly asked, suddenly aware that the girls had partners to think of. ‘Of course John won’t mind!’ Sharon laughed. ‘He’ll probably be delighted to be rid of me for a week!’ ‘Yeah, and me and Tom can go away for a week another time, which actually suits me fine,’ agreed Denise, ‘because that way we’re not stuck together for two weeks on our first holiday together!’ she laughed. ‘Sure, you two practically live together anyway!’ Sharon laughed, nudging her. Denise gave a quick smile but didn’t answer and the two of them dropped the subject. That annoyed Holly because they were always doing that. She wanted to hear how her friends were getting on in their relationships but nobody seemed to tell her any of the juicy gossip any more out of fear of hurting her. People seemed to be afraid to tell her about how happy they were or about the good news in their lives. Then again they also refused to moan about the bad things. So instead of being informed of what was really going on in her friends’ lives she was stuck with this mediocre chitchat about … nothing really, and it was starting to bother her. She couldn’t be shielded from other people’s happiness for ever – what good would that do her? ‘I have to say that leprechaun really is doing a great job on your garden, Holly,’ Denise cut into her thoughts as she looked out the window. Holly blushed. ‘Oh, I know. I’m sorry for being a bitch earlier, Denise,’ she apologised. ‘I suppose I should really go next door and thank him properly.’ After Denise and Sharon had headed off home Holly grabbed a bottle of wine from the stash under the stairs and carried it next door to her neighbour. She rang the bell and waited. ‘Hi, Holly,’ Derek said, opening the door, ‘come in, come in.’ Holly looked past him and into the kitchen, and saw the family sitting around the table eating dinner. She backed away from the door slightly. ‘No, I won’t disturb you. I just came by to give you this,’ she handed him the bottle of wine, ‘as a token of my thanks.’ ‘Well, Holly, this is really thoughtful of you,’ he said, reading the label. Then he looked up with a confused expression on his face. ‘But thanks for what, if you don’t mind me asking?’ ‘For tidying up my garden,’ she said, blushing. ‘I’m sure the entire estate was cursing me for ruining the appearance of the street,’ she laughed. ‘Holly, your garden certainly isn’t a worry to anyone – we all understand – but I haven’t been tidying it for you, I’m sorry to say.’ ‘Oh.’ Holly cleared her throat, feeling very embarrassed. ‘I thought you had been.’ ‘No, no …’ ‘Well, you wouldn’t by any chance know who has been?’ ‘I have no idea,’ he said, puzzled. ‘I thought it was you, to be honest,’ he laughed. ‘How odd.’ Holly wasn’t quite sure what to say next. ‘So perhaps you would like to take this back,’ he said awkwardly, thrusting the wine bottle towards her. ‘Oh no, that’s OK,’ she laughed again, ‘you can keep that as thanks for … not being neighbours from hell. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to dinner.’ She ran off down the driveway with her face burning with embarrassment. What kind of fool wouldn’t know who was tidying her own garden? She knocked on a few more doors around the estate and to her embarrassment nobody seemed to know what she was talking about. Everyone seemed to have jobs and lives and, remarkably enough, they didn’t spend their days monitoring her garden. She returned to her house even more confused. As she walked in the door the phone was ringing and she ran to answer it. ‘Hello?’ she panted. ‘What were you doing, running a marathon?’ ‘No I was chasing leprechauns,’ Holly explained. ‘Oh, cool.’ The oddest thing was that Ciara didn’t even question her. ‘It’s my birthday in two weeks.’ Holly had completely forgotten. ‘Yeah, I know,’ she said matter-of-factly. ‘Well, Mum and Dad want us all to go out for a family dinner …’ Holly groaned loudly. ‘Exactly.’ And she screamed away from the phone, ‘Dad, Holly said the same thing as me.’ Holly giggled as she heard her father cursing and grumbling in the background. Ciara returned to the phone and spoke loudly so her father could hear. ‘OK, so my idea is to go ahead with the family dinner but to invite friends as well so that it can actually be an enjoyable night. What do you think?’ ‘Sounds good,’ Holly agreed. Ciara screamed away from the phone, ‘Dad, Holly agrees with my idea.’ ‘That’s all very well,’ Holly heard her dad yelling, ‘but I’m not paying for all those people to eat.’ ‘He has a point,’ Holly added. ‘Tell you what, why don’t we have a barbecue? That way Dad can be in his element and it won’t be so expensive.’ ‘Hey, that’s a cool idea!’ Ciara screamed away from the phone once again, ‘Dad, what about having a barbecue?’ There was a silence. ‘He’s loving that idea,’ Ciara came back. ‘Mr Super Chef will once again cook for the masses.’ Holly smirked at the thought. Her dad got so excited when they had barbecues; he took the whole thing incredibly seriously and stood by the grill constantly, watching over his wonderful creations. Gerry had been like that too. What was it with men and barbecues? Probably because it was the only way that the two of them could actually cook. Either that or they were closet pyromaniacs. ‘So will you tell Sharon and John, Denise and her DJ bloke, and will you ask that Daniel guy to come too? He’s yummy!’ Ciara demanded. ‘Ciara, I hardly know the guy. Ask Declan to ask him; he sees him all the time.’ ‘No, because I want you to subtly tell him that I love him and want to have his babies. Somehow I don’t think Declan would feel very comfortable doing that.’ Holly groaned. ‘Stop it!’ Ciara gave out. ‘He’s my birthday treat!’ ‘OK,’ Holly gave in, ‘but why do you want all my friends there? What about your friends?’ ‘Holly, I’ve lost contact with all my friends, I’ve been away for so long. And all my other friends are in Australia and the stupid bastards haven’t bothered to call me,’ Ciara huffed. Holly knew to whom she was specifically referring. ‘But don’t you think this would be a great opportunity to catch up with your old friends – you know, invite them to a barbecue? It’s a nice relaxed atmosphere.’ ‘Yeah, right. What would I have to tell them when they start asking questions? Have you a job? Eh … no. Have you a boyfriend? Eh … no. Where do you live? Eh … actually I still live with my parents. How pathetic would I sound?’ Holly gave up. ‘OK, whatever … Anyway I’ll call the others and …’ Ciara had already hung up. Holly decided to get the most awkward phone call out of the way first and she dialled the number to Hogan’s. ‘Hello, Hogan’s.’ ‘Hi, can I speak to Daniel Connolly, please?’ ‘Yeah, hold on.’ She was put on hold and ‘Greensleeves’ belted out into her ear. ‘Hello?’ ‘Hi, Daniel?’ ‘Yeah, who’s this?’ ‘It’s Holly Kennedy.’ She paced nervously around her bedroom, hoping he would recognise the name. ‘Who?’ he yelled as the noise in the background became louder. Holly dived on to her bed in embarrassment. ‘Holly Kennedy? Declan’s sister?’ ‘Oh, Holly, hiya. Hold on a second while I go somewhere quieter.’ Holly was stuck listening to ‘Greensleeves’ again, and she danced around her bedroom and started singing along. ‘Sorry, Holly,’ Daniel said, picking up the phone again. He started laughing. ‘You like “Greensleeves”?’ Holly’s face went scarlet. ‘Em, no, not really.’ She couldn’t think of what else to say, then she remembered why she was ringing. ‘I was just ringing to invite you to a barbecue.’ ‘Oh great, yeah, I would love to go.’ ‘It’s Ciara’s birthday on Friday week – you know my sister, Ciara?’ ‘Eh … yes, the one with the pink hair.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/cecelia-ahern/cecelia-ahern-2-book-valentine-collection-ps-i-love-you-wher/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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