‘I’ll sort it,’ I murmur.
She looks at me as the wine waiter fills up her glass. ‘Don’t worry about it, I’m sure they’ll have other things.’ She catches Laurie’s eye. ‘Pescatarian.’ She chucks in an apologetic smile. ‘I hate having to make a scene.’
I try to catch Laurie’s attention, but she’s studying her menu again.
‘So what do you do, Mandy?’
I smart on her behalf; the Australian guy – I presume one of Luke’s friends – seated across the table couldn’t know it, but if there’s one other thing Amanda’s a bit of a stickler about it’s not being called Mandy.
‘Amanda,’ she corrects him, smiling to soften it. ‘I’m an actress.’
‘Bonza!’ The guy seems like he’s already had one too many. ‘Anything I’d have seen you in?’
This guy seems to have some kind of sixth sense for all the wrong questions. Amanda’s doing pretty well; she’s been in a couple of programmes local to Scotland and has a minor recurring role on a soap, but it’s highly unlikely this guy’s going to have heard of them.
‘Amanda’s on a soap up in Scotland,’ I say.
‘It’s just a small part,’ she amends, laughing.
The guy loses interest, and I lean in and speak quietly so only she can hear me. ‘You okay? Sorry if it’s a bit weird.’
She smiles gamely. ‘Nothing I can’t handle.’
She turns and strikes up polite conversation with the guy on her other side, leaving me and Laurie eating awkwardly next to each other. I’m not sure bringing Amanda today was my smartest move; she seems fine, but I’m starting to realize that I’m not.
‘It’s good,’ Laurie says, gesturing towards the pâté with her knife.
I nod. ‘How’re things?’
She pushes her salad around the plate. ‘Work’s interesting. I’m covering women’s health features mainly, so lots to learn.’
‘Love it, yeah. Late nights, but I like that.’
Laurie lays down her cutlery. ‘Edinburgh looks lovely from your photographs.’
‘It is. You should come up sometime, I’ll give you the guided tour.’ I can feel Amanda stiffen slightly beside me, and on my other side Laurie looks uncertain. ‘You and Oscar, I mean, obviously,’ I add, to make it better. Then I make it worse again by tagging on, ‘If he can take the time off.’ What am I doing? Having the two of them visit is my idea of perfect hell.
I’m relieved when the waiting staff clear the plates and Laurie excuses herself from the table. I smile at the wine waitress to come and fill me up again. There’s only one way to deal with this level of social horror.
What an evening. Every time I get a couple of minutes with Sarah we set each other off crying, Oscar’s a no-show and Jack’s girlfriend is annoyingly nice, even if she is a pescatarian. I took myself to the ladies to give myself a stern talking to after our first course, and told my reflection that she’s Jack’s choice of partner, and he’s my friend, so I need to try to be hers. In fact, it must have taken a lot of balls for her to come today. Since then I’ve asked her more about her job and Edinburgh, and she actually seems like an interesting person.
‘Are you from London originally, Amanda?’ I asked, because her cockney twang placed her as clearly as if she’d been wearing a pearly queen jacket.
‘Through and through,’ she grinned. ‘Although you wouldn’t know it when I’m on set. My character, Daisy, is as Scottish as heather and shortbread, hen.’ She slipped seamlessly into a thick Scottish burr, convincing enough to make me laugh despite myself.
‘Wow, that’s really good,’ I said.
‘Practice makes perfect,’ she said with a shrug. She went on to tell me about some of the auditions she’s been on recently – I never realized it was such hard work to be an actress. Perhaps she’ll be good for Jack. She clearly has an idea of what she wants, and isn’t afraid to work hard to get it.
Up to today I hadn’t really registered her as being all that important in Jack’s life. But now that I’ve met her, I’m finding her harder to dismiss. Not that I want to; it’s just a jolt to see him with someone like her. Someone who might actually be relevant to his future. It’s just … I don’t know. It’s something I can’t quite put into words; like I never imagined his life in Scotland becoming his life for ever. I want him to be happy, of course I do, it’s just a bit of a surprise. That’s the word. She’s surprised me.
I smile at the pink-cheeked waitress who appears and places my main course down in front of me. ‘Thank you, it looks delicious.’
Jack does the same, and while we wait for someone to appear with the salmon they’re hastily preparing for Amanda, he nods across the room to the wine waitress to swing back his way.
I feel a bit bad for saying yes to dessert when Amanda is so tough on herself about being sugar-free, but it’s some kind of chocolate-three-ways thing and I’ve had too much wine to summon the willpower to refuse. She excuses herself from the table for a breath of air, leaving me and Laurie to stuff our faces.
‘Amanda seems nice,’ she says.
I nod. ‘She’s a good girl.’
Laurie doesn’t seem as impressed with her pudding as I am. She’s eating around the edges, picking at it. ‘You’ve been together for a while now, haven’t you?’
‘Six months or so.’ It’s probably a few more than that; I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for listening to Laurie’s distressed message about her dad with Amanda’s hand around my cock. We met at a friend of a friend’s engagement party – there tends to be an overlap between TV and radio, the circles are surprisingly small, especially in Edinburgh. She looked as if she wanted to be there as much as I did and we got talking, and one thing led to another. I wasn’t expecting it to be anything more than casual, but somehow she seems to have become part of my life.
‘Is it serious?’
I stop eating and look at Laurie. ‘You sound like my mother.’
She rolls her eyes. ‘I was only asking.’
‘I like her a lot. She knows what she wants, and we have fun together.’
We lapse into silence, and I wash my pudding down with wine.
‘How’s married life?’
She pushes her dessert plate away half eaten and draws her wine glass towards her. ‘Good. Frustrating sometimes with Oscar being away so much, but yeah.’ She laughs lightly and shrugs. ‘Sorry. Smug marrieds.’
‘They’ll be next,’ I say to change the subject, nodding towards Sarah and Luke at the next table. Laurie follows my gaze, thoughtful.
‘Do you ever regret not staying together?’
I don’t have to think twice. ‘God, no. Look at her. She can’t keep the smile off her face. She never looked like that when she was with me.’
Laurie’s eyes are still on Sarah. ‘I just wish they’d stay here. I’m going to miss her so much.’ She drains her glass. ‘Where’s the waitress? I need another.’
I think I might have had a glass too many. I’m not falling-down drunk, but I’m definitely not sober either. We moved into the function room a while back; there’s a band on, playing the usual slightly too loud party covers. I reach up and adjust the small hearing aid I was fitted with when I finally got my act together and saw a specialist. I hadn’t been in Scotland all that long; moving away was the right thing for my health, both physical and mental.
Amanda’s disappeared off to take a call outside, and Laurie’s dancing with Luke a few feet away. I say dancing, but it’s closer to acrobatics; he’s throwing her around until she’s breathless with laughter.
‘Hey, Fred Astaire,’ I say, ambling over when the band finally change tack to something more mellow. ‘I can see now why Sarah’s so smitten.’
‘That woman is my heart,’ he says emphatically. I’m sure it’s the several beers he’s had, but his eyes definitely well up. I shake his hand; there will always be a strange link between us. He was the first person on the scene of my accident, and even though I can’t recall events clearly, I have a memory of him crouching beside me. And now he’s with Sarah, and it might have been odd but it isn’t, because they’re so obviously made for each other. I don’t know him all that well, but it seems like he’s solid gold.