WRITTEN BY TERESA ASHBY
Chaotic, warm-hearted Victoria is the best ally a woman could have. I want a friend like that for my daughter, too…
Everyone should have a friend like Victoria. Someone to celebrate with when times are good and cry with when they’re not; someone who tells it like it is and not how you wish it would be.
It worries me that Hayley doesn’t have a friend like that.
“I’m fine, Mum,” she says when I try to talk to her about it. “Don’t fuss. You didn’t meet Victoria until you were my age. I have a friend like her out there somewhere. I just haven’t met them yet.”
Hayley lives miles away. I can’t be as involved in her life as I’d like to be.
That last so-called friend Hayley brought home was awful.
Now I’ve nothing against tattoos; I have a small one myself. A pair of tiny roses close to my heart – one for Hayley and one for her twin brother, the baby I lost.
This girl’s tattoo spread right up her arms and across her neck. She looked as if she’d been dipped in woad. It was all skulls and bared teeth and demons, too. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.
“You know better than to judge by appearances,” Victoria said reprovingly when I told her.
She made me feel uncomfortable in my own home
“What else can I judge by?” I asked. “She barely said a word to me. She made me feel uncomfortable in my own home.”
“Sorry about Charlene,” Hayley had whispered as they left. “I didn’t know she’d be in one of her moods this weekend.”
“Was she? I didn’t notice.”
The one before that, walked into my house and said, “I see why Hayley left home.”
She spent the whole weekend finding fault. When she sat down to my Sunday roast, she said it was amazing what you could achieve with cheap ingredients.
“Perhaps you’d rather have had roast pheasant,” I’d said, hoping to shame her into being quiet.
“Now you’re talking,” she’d replied, unfazed.
“Maybe next time,” I countered and she gave me such a confident look in return.
“Oh, I won’t be coming back,” she said as if I was running some sort of guest house and she was a disgruntled customer.
When they left to go back, Hayley hugged me and whispered, “I’m sorry, Mum. She shouldn’t have spoken to you the way she did.”
“What way was that, love?” I said. “I didn’t notice.”
And now she’s bringing another friend to meet me.
I really need to stop fretting, so I call Victoria and she says to meet her in the café on the seafront in half an hour.
She’s late. I’ve already had a coffee and a scone when she arrives. Still, Victoria’s always late. It’s her thing. It used to annoy the hell out of me, but now I’m used to it being part of who she is and I love her for it.
“What’s up?” she says.
“Hayley’s bringing a friend home this weekend.”
She’s munching a scone and there’s a large crumb stuck to the side of her mouth. I wave my finger at my lips and wiggle my eyebrows and she instinctively knows what I mean and dabs at her mouth with a napkin.
She’s ever such a messy eater, is Victoria. The first time she came to my house for dinner, my mum made spaghetti Bolognese and Victoria wore a white T-shirt.
It didn’t stay white very long. She also whipped herself round the face with a long strand of spaghetti and left an orange stripe across her cheek.
When she reached over for some cheese to sprinkle over her meal, her sleeve caught her wine glass and sent it flying, spilling all over the garlic bread.
“Never mind,” my mum said. “It’ll make it tastier.”
I don’t know what I’d have done without her
After Victoria had gone home, I said, “I’m sorry she was so messy.”
“Was she? I didn’t notice.”
“I don’t know what I’d have done without her these past few weeks since Brian left me, Mum.”
Brian is my ex-husband. I was in pieces after he left – in pieces and pregnant with twins. Victoria helped put me back together.
Mum was still in denial, thinking Brian would come back. She’d been very fond of Brian.
Just give Hayley’s friend a chance,” Victoria says now. “Don’t pre-judge.”
“As if I would,” I say. Yet Hayley has appalling taste in friends – unlike me. I chose the best in Victoria.
Hayley wasn’t any better at choosing friends when she was a child. There was that girl with long, lank hair. I could see head lice crawling about in her parting.
She was a nice enough little girl, I suppose, but she had that unwashed smell about her and her nails were always dirty.
I managed to edge her out of Hayley’s life by filling her after-school hours with other things and eventually the girl, Nessa, found new friends. I’m not proud of what I did, though.
“Poor little girl,” Victoria had said.
“Yes, it’s very sad,” I agreed. “But I can’t put her in the bath and wash her hair and mend her clothes, much as I’d like to.”
Victoria looked at me gravely.
“I was talking about Hayley. You’re stuffing her childhood with after-school clubs and Brownies and what-not. So what if she gets the head creepy-crawlies? It isn’t the end of the world.”
We’d almost fallen out over that, but thank goodness we didn’t.
Hayley hadn’t been at work long when she put in for a transfer to the London office.
“It’s not you, Mum,” she said. “It’s me.”
That was exactly what her father had said before I found out he’d got another woman.
And so she’d gone away and I missed her more than I ever thought possible.
She just needs to open her wings
“She’ll come back,” Victoria had said. “She’s been your everything from the moment she was born and she just needs to open her wings a little.”
“I pretend to like her friends,” I say.
“Well, one day you won’t have to pretend. One day she’ll bring home someone just like me. I bowled your mother over with my charm and sense of humour and now I’m like a second daughter to her.”
“And your modesty.” I laugh.
I call in to see Mum on my way back from the café.
“Did you really like Victoria from the start?” I ask.
“I thought she was awful,” she says. “Messy and clumsy and she talked too much. I couldn’t stand her.”
“Yet you didn’t say anything?”
“How could I? I’d gone overboard for Brian and look how wrong I was.”
“But you like Victoria now?”
“Love her,” she says. “Wish you were more like her sometimes.”
So I try to be unafraid when Hayley brings her new friend home for the weekend and I prepare to pretend, as I always do. She’s a vaguely familiar, rather pretty girl with long, red hair.
“Hi, Mum. Remember Nessa?”
The little girl with head lice. The one that used to smell. None of that was her fault. I cringe inside at the way I manipulated my daughter’s life so she only mixed with those I approved of.
I used to love coming to your house
“Hello, Mrs B,” Nessa says, beaming at me. “I used to love coming to your house. You were always so kind.”
“Mum’s kind to everyone I bring home,” Hayley says. “I’m thinking of putting in for another transfer, Mum.” I wonder where she’s planning to go this time. “I’m missing home. It’d be nice to come back. If you’d have me.”
“Oh, say yes, Mrs B,” Nessa says. She claps her hands and jiggles up and down like a seven-year-old after sweets. It’s a tad irritating, but I can live with that.
“I’d love you to come home, Hayley.”
“Yay!” Nessa does a happy dance, knocks into a cupboard and sends a glass vase flying to its death.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll clear it up.”
She grabs at a piece of glass and cuts herself. Honestly! She’s clumsy, she talks too much and she’s like a bull at a gate.
I smile. She reminds me of someone.
“Come on,” I say, putting my arm round her. “I’ll clean that and put a plaster on it for you.”
Somehow I have a feeling I won’t be pretending for too long. Everyone should have a friend like Victoria. I think Hayley has found hers.