I had always thought of Lauren as tough, invincible almost, because she could beat the guys at pool and darts at our local pub The White Hart. Joe and I spent too much time in there and Lauren often joined us. She was very attractive and could have had any number of men but she seemed to revel in her single status. She could be sarcastic too and she kept most people at a distance.
And then one winter evening she walked in with this good looking, broad-shouldered man and I was to discover that I was wrong. She introduced him to us before they walked over to the bar. Kenny was Irish and worked as a project manager for Bovis. He was drinking pints of Guinness and she was drinking halves of the same. Her body was turned in towards him, she was hanging onto his every word and she seemed to have fallen for him. Hard.
Two weeks later we met them again and Kenny suggested a game of darts. We asked Doris, who ran the bar, for the pub darts. Kenny took his own set from his jacket so we knew he must be a serious player. He and my boyfriend Joe were pretty evenly matched. When it was Lauren's turn to throw she went to pick up Kenny's darts which were lying on the table. Before she could touch them he moved fast and rested his hand protectively over them.
‘Sorry. No-one touches my arrows but me’ he said.
She looked flustered as if this was a rejection, but then she tried to make light of it:
‘Didn't know you were superstitious…’
She reached for the sticky pub darts and her hand was trembling slightly. She made her three throws. They were rubbish shots. It was the first time I had seen Lauren vulnerable.
Two months later and Lauren and Kenny were still an item. The White Hart was holding a themed Gangsters and Molls party on Valentine night. It was in full swing when we arrived. Coloured disco lights pulsated to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. A sign listed over-priced Valentine cocktails. We bought our usual round of lager. Doris looked amazing behind the bar in a pink satin skirt and black corset top with her hair big and bouffant – more Dolly Parton than Gangster's Moll though. I had gone for a raunchy look in a tight black leather skirt and a red feather boa. My Joe was in his usual jeans.
Then Lauren and Kenny walked in. Kenny was wearing a 1930s gangster-style double breasted suit with a black shirt and white tie. He looked flashily handsome. Lauren was not in costume. She was glamorous in a black dress with see-through lace sleeves and high black heels but she looked tense. Straightaway Kenny became the centre of our attention as, feet planted wide, he cracked jokes and told us stories.
I looked at the two men standing there. Kenny was the macho one with his hard frame gained from the physical work he did. Joe was tall and thin and I called him snake-hips. He was listening to Kenny's one-liners and laughing. Lauren was saying very little. When the Stones' Jumpin’ Jack Flash came on Kenny borrowed my red feather boa. He put it round his neck and did an impersonation of Mick Jagger's dance. It was silly and funny and we were all laughing. Except for Lauren.
Lou, who ran the garage opposite the pub, walked over and insisted on buying Valentine cocktails for Lauren and me.
I said to her:
‘Still shit,’ she said and shrugged.
Kenny looked irritated. He was trying to create an upbeat mood and she was being hard work. She had been needling him all night, not laughing at his jokes, and looking round the pub as if she was bored. Lou handed the cocktails to us.
‘To two of the best looking gals I know’ he said.
We thanked him, lifted our glasses and drank the cocktails which were sweet and pink; made of rum, cherry brandy and pineapple juice. I raised a toast to St. Valentine’s Day.
‘The whole cards and gifts thing is bogus’ Joe said. ‘Be nice to your girlfriend all year I say.’
He slipped his arm around my waist.
Lauren said: ‘One day a year is too much for some men.’
She was looking at Kenny as she said this.
‘Leave it Lauren.’
‘Not that I expected a card. Why would I?’
‘So what's your problem?’
Lauren narrowed her eyes:
‘Maybe I was hoping you'd surprise me.’
It was as though she'd touched a hair trigger and Kenny exploded:
‘Lay off me! If I don't send my wife of ten years a card why would I send you one?’
It was a horrible moment. Brutal. Lauren gasped in pain and there was a stunned silence. Then he said, still in a rage:
She turned and walked out of the pub. Doris had seen it all from behind her bar. I walked out after Lauren as she stumbled up the road in her high heels.
She turned round and she looked quite wretched, hollowed out by his revelation. She put up her hand and said:
I watched her walk away. I went back to the pub. Kenny was drinking his pint calmly and saying to Joe that she had known the score all along; it was only ever a fling.
‘Kenny you're married. And Lauren didn't know.’
He looked at me then and I quailed. I could see he was the type of man who would get into fights and would win them. Doris walked over at that exact moment and said:
‘Come on guys; this is meant to be a fun night.’
She was holding a basket with chocolates in it and she handed each one of us a small chocolate heart wrapped in red foil.
Love is All Around by Wet Wet Wet came on the speakers.