WRITTEN BY MHAIRI GRANT
An unplanned purchase, a different bus – as winter turns to spring Carly’s life is about to take a new direction
“Wait!” The rain drummed on my umbrella as I dodged the puddles reflecting the street lights. The bus was about to move off. It was silly to miss the bus buying a dress I would never wear.
“Please, wait!” I shouted again as I ran flat out, not caring about splashes.
Run, Carly, run!
The bus stopped. As I jumped aboard I could have kissed the driver. Fortunately for him I settled for a fervent “thank you” and smiled at the other passengers before I sat down.
It was not my usual bus.
Get the later bus, Liam had said as I dithered over buying the dress.
I do that all the time. Speak to my dead husband in my head. It just comes naturally to me.
What would I do with a dress?
You’ll look gorgeous in that, Carly. It matches the blue of your eyes.
“I can’t afford it.”
Oops! I’d said that out loud. I had slunk into the changing room to hide my embarrassment and emerged with the dress. But I was not used to spending money on myself. By the time I was running down the steps of the shop I was regretting the purchase.
I looked out at the springtime rain streaming down the window and caught sight of my own reflection.
It took me by surprise. I looked younger than I thought.
Buying the dress niggled at me. When would I get a chance to wear it? I never go anywhere, and jeans and trainers were about my limit.
Perhaps I should return it?
The smell of wet wool hung in the air as I looked around at the other passengers, one person to a double seat and with quite a few empty. I swayed to the rhythm and rumble of the bus and let my mind drift towards getting out of my damp clothes and relaxing with a hot drink.
Go on, be a devil. Make it a glass of wine.
Stop leading me astray. But perhaps I might, I thought, as I realised the bus was going the long way round. I wiped the window and tried to get my bearings.
The bus stopped. Some passengers got off, someone got on.
I stared, speechless…
Adrian on a bus!
He paused in walking towards me and I remembered that the last time I saw him, I had told him he needn’t hang around me any more.
“Adrian,” I said and smiled. “What gives, you being on a bus?”
Adrian was into cars. He’d made his own and had one of those “Q” registrations. Liam and I used to say it had been Adrian who had invented the wheel in some past life. Or was it the engine?
“It’s in bits on the garage floor,” Liam’s friend said, sitting down next to me. “I lent my other car to a mate and yet another’s taken up permanent residence in my garden.”
“You should use it as a feature and grow flowers in it,” I said.
Adrian smiled. I had forgotten about his smile. It was a cheeky-scamp smile and it made me forget the smell of damp clothes and dripping brollies.
“You’re forever the gardener, Carly.”
“It would be unique,” I said, “and certainly better than a toilet pan.”
“You mean no sitting down on the job.”
I nudged him. “You know what I mean. Or… you can use the car as a hothouse to bring on plants…”
It was surreal speaking like this after not seeing each other for almost three years, but Adrian and I had always had a silly way of communicating.
“I would need your help with that,” he said, widening his eyes in horror.
So he still cared. I wasn’t fooled. I could feel the emotion behind the words. My husband’s best friend had once not been able to do enough for me.
“So, how have you been, Carly?”
“Fine. I got that promotion I was after, and my mum got the all-clear after her operation…”
I jabbered on, aware that was not what Adrian was really asking about. Still, he went through the charade of listening cheerfully enough.
Friends since school, Liam and Adrian used to get drunk together and sing badly, play pool, put the world to rights, go hillwalking and disassemble cars on Adrian’s garage floor. I came on the scene later.
The bus brakes juddered and the pneumatic swoosh of the door punctuated my galloping conversation. It was nerves, of course it was. I wasn’t expecting to see Adrian. I had more or less told him to get lost. Not in so many words. It was for his own good really, especially when our silly conversations couldn’t sustain us any more.
“Anyway,” I said, eventually, “how have you been?”
“Fine – you know me, just cruising along,” he said with a small smile.
We lapsed into silence then. I had only two stops to go…
Invite him home, Carly, go on!
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Damned if I know. I got on the bus on impulse. There I was just walking along, getting wet and –”
“You were out walking in this weather?”
“Yep, I don’t know what got into me. I just had the urge to walk. But then this bus stopped right next to me and I took it as a sign to get on. I asked for the terminus – wherever that is.”
I stared at him.
Liam had always looked out for me and Adrian. He had loved us both. When he’d died it had been Adrian who had contacted all our friends, warded off unwanted calls, spoken at Liam’s funeral, done repairs round my house, fixed my car until… I began to realise that it was not only for Liam that he did these things, but also for me.
I wasn’t ready then to think beyond Liam. So I had let Adrian go. I had thought it a kindness, to let him find someone else. But that was then.
“Crazy, isn’t it?” Adrian forced a laugh.
No, it’s not.
Shut up, Liam, I’m trying to think.
“What’s crazy,” I replied, “no, unheard-of, is you getting on a bus!”
“Hey.” Adrian feigned hurt. “It’s got four wheels, hasn’t it?”
“The last time I looked, it had.”
“There you go then,” he replied, as if he had just won an argument.
But what were the chances? Liam, are you trying to tell me something?
He didn’t reply. I was being fanciful. I should really stop these imaginary conversations… move on.
We lapsed into silence as the bus trundled on and the rain spattered the window. It was like being in a bubble – but one that was about to burst as my stop neared.
I was aware of Adrian’s shoulder touching mine, his wet trainers almost playing footsie with me and the feeling that I would be stupid to let this man go.
“So,” I ventured, “would you like a glass of wine at my place?”
Atta girl! Liam’s shout would have deafened me if it had been out loud.
“Now, there’s a good idea.”
“I do have them occasionally.”
And then we smiled like two conspirators in a world of intrigue.
When we got off the bus we sheltered under my umbrella. But not for long. Neither of us could resist splashing in the puddles or taking racing jumps over them. We were like two kids let loose at a jungle gym.
“What’s in the bag?” asked Adrian, nudging me playfully.
“A new dress, although I don’t know when I’ll get to wear it.”
“I can think of a few occasions.”
He nodded and the rain flicked off his fringe like a dog shaking itself.
I felt a smile tug at my lips
“Hit me with it.”
“A karaoke night to hear me sing –”
“Well, maybe not that. A dinner and dance my work is organising.”
“Better,” I said, appearing to consider.
“Or,” he said, waggling his eyebrows, “how about an intimate dinner for two at Christie’s?”
“Better still,” I replied, putting my arm through his.
Adrian was still going through the options when we reached my front door. I was putting the key in the lock when I stopped. The word was as loud and clear as a bell on a Sunday morning.
It was Liam, and he said just one word.