Synopsis: When Chris's old friend Bernie turns up, all the way from sunny Australia, she welcomes her with open arms. But that's before Bernie steals her husband, Paul. Now she must rebuild her life.
Paul, on the other hand, is all set for a new start with Bernie. Until, that is, he discovers what she's been hiding from him.
Meanwhile Karen has her own troubles. She's always disguised her low self-esteem behind a lively personality. But when she suspects her husband Tony of having an affair, her world falls apart. In fact, happily married father-of-two Tony feels his life is complete. It's only when Shona appears on the scene that Tony is forced to come clean about his shameful past.
It's amazing what people can keep hidden from those closest to them.
â€œIâ€™m warning you, Chris, that Bernie Sweeneyâ€™s up to something,â€ said Karen Magill, throwing the comment down on the distressed oak table in her sisterâ€™s kitchen like a gauntlet. She put the rim of a large wineglass to her red lips, wet them with the honey-coloured liquid and stared at her younger sister, waiting for a reaction.
â€œOh Karen, donâ€™t be so dramatic,â€ said Chris, trying not to rise to the bait. â€œSheâ€™s only coming to Ireland for a long holiday. Whatâ€™s so sinister about that?â€
â€œIâ€™ll tell you whatâ€™s sinister,â€ said Karen, lifting her right arm to stab the air, the silver charms on her bracelet jangling like bells. She wore a fashionable slit-sleeve top in a rich royal blue that did not flatter her rather plump upper arms, but nevertheless she cut a glamorous figure with her long black suede skirt, wide studded belt and tasteful costume jewellery. Her hair was expertly highlighted and her face well made up.
â€œYouâ€™ve hardly heard from her since you both left school nearly twenty years ago,â€ continued Karen, â€œand suddenly sheâ€™s on the phone and e-mailing you like youâ€™re long-lost buddies. And the next thing sheâ€™s inviting herself to stay in your home for a month.â€
â€œSo what? Sheâ€™s coming all the way from Australia and she needs somewhere to stay,â€ said Chris defensively, as the thought crept into her mind that maybe, just maybe, Karen was right. Maybe Bernie was just using her. â€œAnyway, she didnâ€™t invite herself. I asked her,â€ she added firmly, deciding to dismiss her sisterâ€™s concerns.
She preferred to think that Bernie was looking up her old school pal for all the right reasons â€“ like wanting to rekindle their friendship, to reminisce about their shared past growing up in Ballyfergus, their first clumsy forays into drink and discovering the opposite sex. Always the Plain Jane at school, the clever swot few noticed, Chris wanted to believe that Bernie had got in touch because she actually liked her . . .
Suddenly from upstairs came the pounding of music â€“ the Arctic Monkeys probably. Not that Chris would know their music from any other racket but, according to sixteen-year-old Finn, they were the coolest band on earth. His room was directly above the kitchen and, in spite of Castlerockâ€™s thick one-hundred-year-old walls, the music still penetrated every room in the house. Chris felt a headache coming on and briefly pressed the middle of her brow with the index finger on her right hand.
â€œIf he doesnâ€™t turn off that flippinâ€™ music . . .â€ she began, and placed both palms on the table as she prepared to rise from her seat.
Just then the kitchen door burst open and Chrisâ€™s eldest child, Hannah, came in. She was wearing tiny earphones in her ears, connected to an I-pod clipped to her low-slung slouch jeans. She wore several messy layers of clothes and Chris wished she would make more of her slim figure and pretty oval-shaped face which was encased in a thick layer of heavy make-up, her eyes blackened with kohl. It was hard to believe that, underneath all that muck, they were practically mirror images of each other. Hannahâ€™s curly auburn hair â€“ which she inherited from her mother along with her green eyes â€“ was scrunched up into a fuzzy bush at the top of her head and a diamond stud glistened menacingly in her delicate right nostril.
She opened the fridge without so much as a glance in the direction of the two women and Chris said, â€œHannah.â€
â€œHannah!â€ she said again in a loud voice.
â€œUhh?â€ said Hannah, removing the plug from her right ear and frowning a little at her mother.
â€œIt would be polite to say hello to your Auntie Karen,â€ said Chris, more sarcastically than sheâ€™d intended. As soon as sheâ€™d said it she hated herself. She sounded just like her own mum and sheâ€™d always sworn she would never turn into her mother. Nowadays, it seemed, she was doing just that.
â€œOh, hi, Karen,â€ said Hannah, sounding like the act of opening her mouth to speak required enormous effort.
â€œHi, Han,â€ said Karen, apparently not in the least put out by the omission of â€˜Auntieâ€™ and the lack of respect this implied to Chris. â€œWhatâ€™re you up to?â€
â€œOh, just chilling with the girls. Watching TV,â€ said Hannah, with a nonchalant toss of her head in the direction of the doorway. The sound of the TV could be heard from the family room along the hall.
â€œHannah, could you do me a favour, please?â€ said Chris. â€œCould you tell that brother of yours to turn down the music or Iâ€™ll come up and turn it off.â€
â€œIâ€™ll tell him,â€ sighed Hannah, â€œbut it wonâ€™t do any good. Heâ€™s showing off in front of his mates. Anyway, he never listens to me.â€
Hannah left the room with a clutch of probiotic drinks in one hand and a multipack of cheese and onion crisps in the other â€“ the good thereby cancelling out the bad â€“ at least that was Hannahâ€™s skewed philosophy on healthy eating.
Chris slumped back in her chair. â€œI donâ€™t know which is worse â€“ him,â€ she said, raising her eyes to the ceiling, â€œor her,â€ she glanced at the door through which Hannah had just exited. She fingered the stem of the wineglass in front of her and thought fleetingly of how, in spite of three comfortable reception rooms to choose from, she always ended up sitting around the kitchen table drinking tea or more often, given her husband Paulâ€™s extensive and discerning cellar, very good wine. And the comfortably furnished lounge, family room and snug were, more often than not, occupied by gangly teenagers.
But the welcoming kitchen with its burr oak units, retro Smeg fridge-freezer and cream Britannia range cooker really was the heart of this home and the place where Chris felt most comfortable. In the corner by the bay window was an old squishy armchair in which she liked to curl up with a favourite book â€“ when she got the chance â€“ for Murphy the Border Terrier puppy had claimed it as his own and Chris usually didnâ€™t have the heart to oust him. He was in it now on his back fast asleep, exhausted from tearing round the garden all afternoon. His little fat belly, pink under straw-coloured hair, rose and fell gently with every breath.
The sound of the music miraculously quietened and Chris looked at the ceiling.
Karen put her hand, two fingers of which sported over-sized sparkly rings, on Chrisâ€™s arm. â€œThe dayâ€™ll come when theyâ€™ve both left home and the houseâ€™ll be as quiet as a morgue,â€ she observed, sounding like a sage â€“ a role, as the elder sister, she often played.
â€œAnd,â€ Karen went on, ignoring the interruption, â€œyouâ€™ll remember these days and wish them back again.â€
Chris took a long drink from the glass in front of her and said crisply, â€œI find that hard to believe.â€
Karen tutted, almost inaudibly, and said, â€œWhat is wrong with you, Chris? Did you get out the wrong side of bed this morning?â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ said Chris, letting go of a little of the tension that had been building up all day. â€œI just feel a little bit stressed out at the moment. I didnâ€™t appreciate how involved and time-consuming this campaign against Tesda supermarket was going to be, and workâ€™s crazy with Bobâ€™s retirement coming up and the new management team in place from Monday. I donâ€™t know what to expect. And thereâ€™s Murphy, of course,â€ she added, glancing at the grizzly little body in the corner and smiling involuntarily. â€œI love him to bits but heâ€™s still a fair bit of work. I canâ€™t leave him alone for a minute or heâ€™s chewing everything.â€
â€œAnd now youâ€™ve got Bernie Sweeney arriving in just a few days.â€
â€œWell, much as Iâ€™m looking forward to seeing her, yes, I suppose that is added pressure.â€
â€œYour problem, Chris,â€ said Karen, leaning her plump arm on the table while she took a deep slug of wine, â€œis that you donâ€™t know how to say â€˜noâ€™.â€
â€œBut how could I?â€ said Chris, knowing full well that Karen was right but not willing to admit it. She was constantly under pressure, most of it self-imposed as the result of taking on board more than she could reasonably handle. She wasnâ€™t very good at putting herself first. But it was more, much more, than that. She kept herself busy to keep the melancholy, that nipped at her well-shod heels like an untrained puppy, at bay. It had been with her for a long time, years rather than months, and sometimes it threatened to consume her. And because she wasnâ€™t entirely sure what the cause of that unhappiness was, she preferred not to dwell on it.
So now she did as she always did â€“ she pushed those gloomy thoughts to the back of her mind and said, â€œThe womanâ€™s only coming halfway round the world to see me. I couldnâ€™t just put her out on the street, now could I?â€
â€œHmm, I suppose not,â€ said Karen, and she pursed her lips and stared at Chris for a few moments. â€œBut what I canâ€™t understand is why she canâ€™t stay with one of her brothers?â€
â€œIâ€™m not sure. She hinted in an e-mail that they werenâ€™t on good terms and I didnâ€™t like to pry. She said that if it was okay and it wasnâ€™t too much bother, sheâ€™d rather stay with me.â€
â€œAnd whatâ€™s wrong with the Marine Hotel?â€
â€œOh, I donâ€™t know, Karen. I imagine it would be too expensive to stay in a hotel for a month.â€ She paused then and added, â€œYou never did like Bernie Sweeney, did you?â€
â€œWell, you can hardly blame me. She stole my boyfriend,â€ Karen said flatly and folded her arms across her chest.
â€œWhat?â€ said Chris and then she laughed. She ran the fingers of her right hand through her thick hair and said, â€œDo you mean Kenny Maguire? Sure you only went out with him for a couple of weeks. Youâ€™re not still bitter about that, are you?â€
â€œNo, Iâ€™m not bitter,â€ said Karen evenly, â€œbut it just goes to show you the sort of person she is. Not to be trusted. And sheâ€™d rather freeload off you and Paul than pay her way.â€
â€œNow, Karen,â€ said Chris, truly stung, â€œI donâ€™t think youâ€™re being fair. Bernie is my oldest and dearest friend.â€
â€œWell, she was. And just because weâ€™ve drifted apart over the last few years doesnâ€™t mean that weâ€™re not still friends. You know what itâ€™s like when you have a family. You donâ€™t have the time to keep up with everyone and with Bernie never marrying or having children, I guess we didnâ€™t have much in common for a while.â€
â€œYou know what the trouble is with you?â€ said Karen, not unkindly, without pausing for an answer. â€œItâ€™s that youâ€™re always so determined to find the good in people.â€
â€œAnd whatâ€™s wrong with that?â€
â€œNothing really,â€ said Karen after a thoughtful pause. â€œExcept that sometimes youâ€™re too trusting. People take advantage of you.â€ Then she brightened suddenly and said, â€œThough I suppose itâ€™s miles better than being like me. Iâ€™m too cynical. And Iâ€™m not sure thatâ€™s a good thing.â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t know if being as naÃ¯ve as I am is a good thing either.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t say you were naÃ¯ve. Sure youâ€™re an intelligent woman and a fully qualified solicitor.â€
â€œBeing bright doesnâ€™t make you street-wise. And Iâ€™m as naÃ¯ve as a forty-year-old wife and mother can be. I know I am, especially when it comes to judging people,â€ she said wryly. â€œThatâ€™s why I chose to specialise in property conveyancing! If truth be told, I prefer dealing with bricks and mortar than people.â€
â€œOh, but youâ€™re great with clients! They love you.â€
â€œMaybe. But Iâ€™m at my most comfortable dealing with hard facts and figures rather than complex and sometimes unfathomable human emotions. I guess, basically, I donâ€™t understand people very well.â€ Chris sighed, looking at the base of her wineglass.
â€œI think youâ€™re being a little hard on yourself,â€ said Karen kindly.
Chris smiled. Then suddenly she thought of her husband Paul and the smile fell from her face. Was her unhappiness a cause of their relationship problems or was it, rather, a symptom of a marriage gone stale? Was it her lack of â€“ of understanding, of empathy, that had caused the gulf between them? It was as though they were on the opposite sides of a huge chasm, too wide to enable them to communicate meaningfully with each other. So much of their conversations these days revolved around trivia. She couldnâ€™t remember the last time they talked about how much they loved each other or showed each other true kindness. They seemed to be locked into a pattern of terse comments and low-level bickering. But what was to be done about it? How could she repair that gulf? She didnâ€™t know how.
â€œChris?â€ said Karen, bringing Chris out of her reverie. â€œAre you all right?â€
â€œYes, Iâ€™m fine,â€ she said, forcing a bright smile, too reserved â€“ or was it proud? â€“ to confide these dark thoughts even to her sister.
There was a brief silence and then Karen asked, â€œAnd how does Paul feel about Bernie coming to stay?â€
â€œOh, you know Paul,â€ said Chris lightly. â€œHeâ€™s so easygoing he doesnâ€™t mind at all. He loves people popping in and coming to stay and the house always being full of kids. Drives me mad.â€
â€œItâ€™s good though, him being like that. It means the kids want to bring their friends home. And theyâ€™re better here where at least you know what theyâ€™re up to.â€
â€œYes, youâ€™re absolutely right, Karen. And I do like it too â€“ most of the time anyway.â€
â€œCanâ€™t see Tony being so accommodating when our two are grown,â€ said Karen thoughtfully, referring to her son Jack, who had just turned seven, and four-year-old Chloe.
â€œMmm. I imagine it would be a bit like a busmanâ€™s holiday,â€ observed Chris of her brother-in-law, who was headmaster of St Patrickâ€™s Secondary School. â€œHaving spent all day with teenage kids heâ€™ll hardly want them sitting round his house all evening too!â€
Noticing that her sisterâ€™s glass was nearly empty, Chris lifted the bottle of wine out of the cooler and held the neck over Karenâ€™s glass.
Karen put her hand over the rim, glanced at the kitchen wall clock, and said rather half-heartedly, â€œNo more for me, thanks. Iâ€™d better not.â€
â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œWell . . . Oh, go on then. I can always get a taxi.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure Paul will run you home when he gets in.â€
â€œWhere is he?â€
â€œHeâ€™s on a night out â€“ itâ€™s Sol Gloverâ€™s retirement do.â€
â€œOh, heâ€™s retiring at last, is he?â€
â€œNot before time, I hear,â€ said Chris. â€œHe was starting to make mistakes. Prescribed some poor old dear the wrong tablets for high blood pressure. If the pharmacist hadnâ€™t noticed, well, God knows what might have happened. Anyway, you know Paul never drinks at these things. He hates cheap wine. So Iâ€™m sure heâ€™ll run you home.â€
â€œThatâ€™d be great. Iâ€™ll need to watch though,â€ said Karen, taking a sip from her glass. â€œIâ€™ll have to wake up early. Tonyâ€™s got a school football match tomorrow morning at Tillysburn Park in Belfast.â€
Chris topped up her own glass and said, â€œI didnâ€™t know Tony had to go to football matches on Saturdays. Isnâ€™t that the games teacherâ€™s role?â€
â€œIt is, but this year the under-sixteens have done really well. Theyâ€™re in the final of the Senior Cup and Tonyâ€™s got to show face. So an early start tomorrow. And of course thereâ€™s my little darlings too.â€
â€œHow are they?â€ said Chris, picturing with fondness her gorgeous little niece and nephew. It was hard sometimes to believe that her two surly and uncommunicative teenagers were once so innocent and adorable. She loved them to bits of course but the cuteness of childhood had long worn off. She couldnâ€™t help but long for those days when they placed her on a pedestal and their world revolved around her. How precious those times had been.
â€œOh, theyâ€™re great. Itâ€™s just that they donâ€™t know the meaning of the words â€˜lie inâ€™. Oh, I forgot to tell you,â€ Karen was suddenly animated, â€œJack lost his first tooth last night at teatime.â€
â€œThe wee soul! That toothâ€™s been wobbly for ages, hasnâ€™t it?â€ laughed Chris. â€œHe told me about it weeks ago.â€
Karen nodded. â€œWell, he was just sitting there and he put his hand out and there it was in his palm. Tiny as a seed pearl.â€
â€œDid it bleed?â€
â€œOh, bless. Here,â€ said Chris and she delved into her handbag which happened to be slung over the back of the adjacent chair and pulled out a five-pound note. She pressed it into Karenâ€™s hand and said, â€œGive that to him and tell him itâ€™s from Auntie Chrisâ€™s Tooth Fairy.â€
â€œThatâ€™s far too much, Chris!â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s not,â€ tutted Chris, remembering the many kindnesses Karen had shown Hannah and Finn when they were little and she and Paul didnâ€™t have the money they had now. Theyâ€™d married whilst still at Queenâ€™s University where Paul had studied Medicine and she Law â€“ and Hannah came along not long afterwards. Karen had met Tony much later in life and hadnâ€™t started her family until she was well into her thirties.
â€œHeâ€™s already had two pounds off Tony and me â€“ sorry, the Tooth Fairy,â€ said Karen with a grin and then she added, â€œThatâ€™s the going rate for the first tooth, apparently, and one pound for each one thereafter.â€
â€œThatâ€™s inflation for you. In our day it was ten pence, wasnâ€™t it?â€
â€œThatâ€™s right. Well, thank you very much, Chris. At this rate heâ€™s going to have more money than me!â€
â€œIf he does as well as you, Karen, heâ€™ll be doing all right.â€
Karen raised her eyebrows noncommittally.
â€œHow are things going at the nursery?â€ asked Chris. Karen was owner and manager of Wee Stars, one of Ballyfergusâ€™s two private childrenâ€™s nurseries.
â€œGood. Iâ€™ve finally put those staffing problems behind me and things are ticking over nicely. Yep,â€ she said, nodding, â€œItâ€™s good.â€
â€œSo whatâ€™s your next project?â€
Karen shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t have one.â€
â€œDonâ€™t give me that,â€ said Chris good-humouredly. â€œYou always have a project on the go, Karen. Youâ€™re never content with the status quo.â€
Karenâ€™s face went a little pink and she readjusted the belt around her waist.
â€œWhat?â€ said Chris, looking at her sisterâ€™s waistline. â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œPromise you wonâ€™t tell anyone? And I mean anyone,â€ said Karen rather sternly.
â€œOf course. Cross my heart and hope to die,â€ said Chris, as the tingling thrill that only a shared intimacy can induce ran through her veins. She took a quick slug of wine and waited, wide-eyed, not knowing what to expect. Was Karen pregnant? Or had she decided to sell up, buy another nursery, change career? Nothing would surprise her about her dynamic sister.
â€œWell,â€ said Karen, â€œIâ€™ve been thinking about this a lot recently and my next project is going to be me.â€
Chris screwed her face into a frown. â€œWhat dâ€™you mean, â€˜meâ€™?â€
â€œPrecisely that. Me. Karen Susan Magill. Businesswoman, wife, mother.â€
Chris waited for her sister to go on, not understanding.
â€œI want to change the way I am, Chris.â€
â€œI donâ€™t follow,â€ said Chris shaking her head.
â€œThe way I look.â€
â€œBut why? You look great.â€
â€œNo, I donâ€™t. Iâ€™m a mess. Look at my tummy,â€ she lowered her voice, glancing down at her lap. â€œItâ€™s disgusting. My boobs are too big â€“ Iâ€™m sure thatâ€™s the cause of my backache â€“ and I hate these hooded eyes,â€ she touched the noticeable fold of skin over her left eye. â€œThe thought of another summer having to show all my bits and pieces . . . it just doesnâ€™t bear thinking about.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not a rake, Karen,â€ said Chris interrupting, â€œbut youâ€™re hardly fat either. What size are you? A sixteen?â€
â€œAbout that,â€ confirmed Karen miserably.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s not fat. Youâ€™re tall for a start and you dress so well â€“â€
â€œDonâ€™t say â€˜for my figureâ€™,â€ interrupted Karen.
â€œBut you do. You always look great. I wish I was half as glamorous as you.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t have to try as hard as me, Chris. Iâ€™m the one who inherited the â€˜fat genesâ€™. Anyway, being a little overweight doesnâ€™t really bother me that much. Itâ€™s more the shape of me. No matter how much weight I lose, my breasts never seem to get any smaller and this â€“ this apron of flab â€“ thereâ€™s no other word for it,â€ she said, holding a ring of flesh around her tummy. â€œIt only gets worse the slimmer I get.â€
Chris regarded Karen carefully and said, â€œSo what are you going to do about it? Go on another diet?â€
â€œYou know Iâ€™ve tried every diet from Atkins to the Zone and none of them work.â€
â€œI know youâ€™ve tried them, Karen,â€ said Chris gently, â€œbut you never stick to one for long enough. You have to be prepared to change your eating habits forever. Not just for a few weeks.â€
â€œOh, donâ€™t lecture me on something you know nothing about,â€ said Karen crossly and Chris stiffened. â€œIâ€™ve already explained that losing weight isnâ€™t really the issue.â€
â€œMaybe I donâ€™t know anything about the diets,â€ said Chris carefully, knitting the fingers of her hands together and leaning her elbows on the table, â€œbut I do think that youâ€™re . . . let me put it this way â€“ you always appear to be looking for a quick fix.â€
â€œIâ€™m not looking for a quick fix,â€ said Karen sternly, â€œand I totally disagree with you about my dieting. I have followed diets religiously, some of them for months, and they've made no real difference to my tummy or my breasts. Whereas you can eat what you like and never put on weight.â€
â€œHmm,â€ said Chris, ignoring the last comment, not because it was true but because she didnâ€™t want to be drawn into an argument. Changing subject she asked, â€œHave you ever thought it might be your thyroid? An underactive thyroid can cause weight gain.â€
Karen sighed heavily and folded her arms across her ample chest. â€œI wish it was that simple. But Iâ€™ve been to the doctor and sheâ€™s checked me out for that â€“ and a host of other possible conditions â€“ and says thereâ€™s not a thing wrong with me.â€
â€œSo,â€ said Chris slowly, â€œif youâ€™re not going to diet, what are you going to do?â€
Karen looked over her shoulder at the kitchen door through which Hannah had exited as though expecting someone to burst through it at any moment. Then she turned her attention to the glass on the table, took a long drink of wine and set the glass down again. She stared at Chris, her left eyelid twitching involuntarily.
â€œWhat?â€ said Chris, her heartbeat quickening slightly. â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œIâ€™m thinking of having some cosmetic surgery.â€
â€œOh my God!â€ cried Chris as a raft of images hurtled through her brain. Images of the extreme TV makeovers sheâ€™d seen â€“ the only experience she had of the business. True, sheâ€™d heard rumours about women in Ballyfergus who were reported to have had â€˜work doneâ€™ but none of her friends or close acquaintances had. Or if they had, they werenâ€™t telling her. She realised suddenly that this was something about which she was almost completely ignorant. Karen was looking at her but Chris didnâ€™t know what to say. Sheâ€™d always viewed those poor women on television as desperate, weak characters who believed the answer to all their problems lay in improving their appearance. She suddenly realised that she didnâ€™t approve.
â€œWell,â€ said Karen, â€œis that all you have to say?â€
â€œI . . . I . . . youâ€™ve taken me by surprise, thatâ€™s all. I had no idea you felt that strongly . . . well, thatâ€™s not completely true, is it? I know you dislike some aspects of your physical appearance. But not enough to go this far.â€
â€œYou make it sound as though Iâ€™m threatening to boil bunnies. People have these operations every day.â€
â€œDefinitely a tummy tuck,â€ said Karen and Chris found her gaze drawn involuntarily to Karenâ€™s stomach, â€œand a boob reduction. And maybe Iâ€™ll get something done about these eyelids,â€ she added, pointing to the slightly overhanging hood of skin above each eye.
â€œSure, I have those too,â€ said Chris, touching her right eyelid. It was a feature they had both inherited from their mother. â€œTheyâ€™re not that bad, Karen.â€ Though they were more pronounced in Karenâ€™s case than in her own.
â€œIn themselves, maybe theyâ€™re not but if Iâ€™m getting these other things done, I might as well go the whole hog and get everything done at the same time. If thatâ€™s possible.â€
â€œI see,â€ said Chris and she bit her bottom lip.
â€œYou donâ€™t approve, do you?â€ said Karen rather miserably and Chris felt rotten.
â€œI just donâ€™t think itâ€™s worth exposing yourself to the risks, Karen,â€ she said, thankful for the angle that had just popped into her head. â€œThese arenâ€™t minor procedures. Theyâ€™re serious operations. Youâ€™ll have to have a general anaesthetic, wonâ€™t you?â€
Karen shrugged. â€œYes.â€
â€œThat in itself carries big risks,â€ went on Chris. â€œNever mind the dangers of the surgery itself. And it might not turn out the way you expect it. You might be disappointed. Itâ€™s not as though you have some sort of horrible deformity or anything. I can understand why people want to, need to, have surgery under those circumstances. But youâ€™re very attractive, Karen. And your personality is far more important in creating that attractiveness than your appearance ever will be.â€
There was a long pause and then Karen said with a smile, â€œIs that the lecture over then?â€
â€œSorry,â€ said Chris and she smiled weakly, recognising her tendency to get on her high horse.
Karen leant forward and spoke quietly into Chrisâ€™s face. â€œBelieve me, Iâ€™ve done loads of digging, Chris. I know the dangers. Haemorrhaging, haematoma, seroma, infection and the rarer complications like thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, necrosis.â€ She was ticking them off like a list on her fingers for Chrisâ€™s benefit, to prove that sheâ€™d done her research.
If Karen was trying to bamboozle Chris with medical terminology she was succeeding. Sheâ€™d never heard some of those terms.
â€œPlus lots of unpleasant, but mostly temporary, side effects,â€ went on Karen, â€œand of course the danger of being disappointed with the results. But I think my expectations are realistic. I know this isnâ€™t going to make me into Claudia Schiffer.â€
â€œOkay, okay!â€ Chris raised her hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. â€œYouâ€™ve done your homework. Point taken.â€
â€œThank you,â€ said Karen and she gave a little satisfied sniff. Then she added, â€œSo, if you donâ€™t think I should go down the surgical route â€“â€
â€œNo, I donâ€™t,â€ affirmed Chris quickly.
â€œThen whatâ€™s the alternative?â€
Chris shook her head. â€œYou just go on as you are. Looking great.â€
Karen gave a snort of derision. â€œThe thing is, Chris, you canâ€™t convince me that I look great. Iâ€™m not happy with the way I look and thatâ€™s what matters. Itâ€™s how I feel about myself when I look in the mirror that counts, not what you â€“ or other people â€“ tell me. Iâ€™m the mother of two young children and I feel like Iâ€™m sixty. I donâ€™t want people mistaking me for the granny at the school gates.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be daft. Of course they wonâ€™t.â€
â€œThey will, the rate Iâ€™m going,â€ said Karen flatly.
The antique kitchen wall clock struck the hour and Chris, stressed by the nature of the conversation, refilled their glasses to the top. Karen did not protest.
â€œDoes Tony know about this?â€ asked Chris, as she set the wine bottle down carefully on the table.