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Authors: Maeve Binchy

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BOOK: Quentins
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It was less than successful. Oddly, they weren't either upset or embarrassed. They were just surprised.

After a few attempts they agreed that it wasn't all they had expected it to be. Nick said that it was his first time too, and that perhaps they should both go off and get experience with people who knew all about it.

“Maybe it's like driving a car,” he said seriously. “You should learn from someone who knows how to do it.”

Then she was fancied by a sporting hero, who was astonished when she said she didn't want to have sex with him.

“Are you frigid, or what?” he had asked, searching for an explanation.

“I don't think so, no,” Ella had said.

“Oh, I think you must be,” said the sporting hero in an aggrieved manner. So then Ella thought it might be no harm to try it with him, since he was known to have had a lot of ladies. It wasn't any better than with Nick, and there was nothing to talk about, so it was probably worse. She had the small compliment of being told by the sporting hero that she most definitely wasn't frigid.

There were only two other brief experiences, which, compared to Deirdre's and Nuala's adventures, were very poor. But Ella wasn't put out. She was twenty-two and a science graduate; she would find love sooner or later. Like everyone.

Nuala found love first. Frank, dark and brooding. Nuala adored him. When he said that he wanted to join his two brothers in their construction business in London, she was heartbroken.

This called for an emergency dinner at Quentins. “I really and truly thought he cared, how could I have been so taken in, so humiliated?” she wept to Deirdre and Ella when they settled at their table.

It was meant to be an early bird dinner, where people came in at six-thirty and left by eight. It was intended for pre-theater goers, and the restaurant hoped to be able to have a second sitting for the table. But Deirdre, Ella and Nuala showed no signs of leaving. Mon, the lively little blond waitress, cleared her throat a couple of times, but it was no use.

Finally Ella approached Ms. Brennan. “I'm very sorry. I know we are meant to be early bird and the cheaper menu, but one of the birds at our table has a terrible crisis and we are trying to pat down her feathers.” Brenda laughed despite herself and despite the people waiting in the bar for the next sitting.

“Go on then, pat her down,” she said good-naturedly.

“Send them a bottle of house red, with a note saying: ‘To help the crisis,' ” she told Mon.

“I thought we were meant to be dislodging the early birds,” Mon grumbled.

“Yes, you're right, Mon, but we have to be flexible too in this trade,” Brenda said.

“A whole bottle, Ms. Brennan?” Mon was still confused.

“Yes, a very poor wine, one of Patrick's few mistakes, sooner it's drunk the better,” Brenda said.

They were overjoyed at the table.

“As soon as we get some money, we'll eat here properly,” Ella promised.

And they settled down to the plan of war. Should they just murder Frank now, or go to his house and threaten him? Should Nuala find another lover in the next two hours and taunt Frank about it? Should she write him a hurt, sad letter that would break his heart and unsteady his hand for the rest of his working life? None of these things proved to be necessary, because Frank came into the restaurant looking for Nuala. He was greeted with a great deal of hostility by the three. He seemed very bewildered. Yet they were ranged against him and there was no way of talking to Nuala alone.

“All right, then,” he said, his face red and almost tearful.

“All right, it wasn't what I had planned, but here we go.” He knelt down and produced a diamond ring.

“I love you, Nuala, and I was waiting for you to give me an indication of whether you would mind coming to England with me. When you were so silent, I thought you wouldn't come with me. Please do, please marry me.”

Nuala stared at him with delight. “I thought you didn't love me, that you were leaving me,” she began.

“Will you marry me?” he said, almost purple now.

“Frank, you see, I thought you wanted a career more than . . .”

The vein was moving dangerously in Frank's forehead.

“I was so upset, I had even been looking up jobs in London . . .”

Ella could bear it no longer.
“Nuala, will you marry him . . . yes or no?”
she shouted, and the whole restaurant watched as Nuala said that of course she would, then everyone cheered.

Deirdre and Ella were the bridesmaids three months later.

“Maybe I might meet my own true love at Nuala's wedding,” Ella said to her mother. “I'll certainly be hard to miss in this awful tangerine-colored outfit she has insisted we wear.”

“You look well in anything,” Barbara said.

“Come on, Mam, please. We look like two things dressed up to sell petrol in a garage or to give away sweets for a charity.”

“Nonsense, you're much too hard on yourself . . .”

“Deirdre was saying that again only the other day, she says you both give me everything I want and praise as well, that I'm a spoiled princess.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“But you don't, Mam, you don't even nag me about not going to Mass.”

“Well, I will if you like, but what good would it do? Anyway, Father Kenny says we should look after our own souls and not everyone else's.”

“It's late that Father Kenny and the Church have decided that, what about the Crusades and the missions?”

“I don't suppose you're going to tell me that you think poor Father Kenny was personally involved in the Crusades and the missions,” Barbara said with a smile.

“No, of course not, and I will be polite and respectful all during the wedding ceremony, though I think Nuala's crazy to go for the whole church thing.”

“So when the time comes for you, we won't have to alert Father Kenny?”

“No, Mam, but by the time the time comes for me, it could be the planet Mars that might be the in place to get married.”

Ella didn't meet her true love at Nuala's wedding, but Deirdre did meet and greatly fancied one of Frank's married brothers, who had come over from London for the wedding.

“Oh, Deirdre, please don't, I beg you, put him down,” Ella had said.

“What on earth do you mean?” Deirdre's eyes were wide open with innocence.

“I'm worn out covering for you and that fool of the first order, delaying photographs and everything until the bridesmaid comes back disheveled with one of the ushers, what
you thinking of?”

“It's okay, it's a bit of a laugh, Nuala would laugh too, will laugh, in fact.”

“No, Deirdre, you've got it so wrong, that's her brother-in-law now. Someone she'll be seeing with his wife twice a week in London. Nuala won't laugh, and what's more, she won't know.”

“Oh, God, you're so disapproving! That's what people
at weddings, that what weddings are

“Adjust your dress, Deirdre, more piccys to be taken.” Ella had a voice like steel.

“What do you mean, adjust my dress?”

“Well, pull it down at the back, it's all caught up in your knickers.” Ella had the satisfaction of watching Deirdre's worried face as she beat around hopelessly at the back of her dress, which was, as it happened, not caught up at all.

At the wedding, Ella met Nuala's cousin, a woman she had not seen for years. She was just about to leave her job as a science teacher; did Ella know anyone looking for a job?

Ella said she'd love the job herself.

“I didn't know you were going to teach,” the woman said, surprised.

“Neither did I, until this minute,” said Ella.

Her parents were very surprised at the news also. “You know you can go on at school and take more degrees, the money is there for you,” her father said, nodding toward the downstairs flat, where three women bankers were happy to pay for the privilege of living in a good address like Tara Road.

“No, Dad, really, I've been to the school, they're nice. They don't mind I've no experience. They seem to think I'll be able to manage the kids; well, I'm tall physically . . . that's a help if it comes to arm wrestling,” Ella said with a smile.

“You got a good degree as well,” her mother reminded her.

“Yeah, well, that helped, I suppose—anyway, I just have to do this teaching diploma, which means lectures in the evenings . . . and since the school is over that way near the university, I was thinking—” She wondered how to put this to them. That it was time to leave home. They took it very calmly.

“We had wondered if you'd like to live in the basement flat eventually?” Her father was tentative.

“You'd be free to come and go like the bank girls there are,” her mother said. “Nobody to bother you or anything.”

“It's just the distance, Mam, it's not about people bothering me.”

“You know, days could go by without your having to see us, just like the tenants. And there are big, strong
walls . . .” She knew this was their last plea, then they would give in.

“No, I'm not worried about your hearing my wild parties, Dad. Honestly, it's only to make it all quicker and easier. And I'll be at home often, even staying for whole weekends if you want me.”

The deal was done.

“I don't believe you, your own place
a room at home, that's pure greed. Why should
get it all, Ella Brady?”

“Because I'm reliable, that's why,” Ella said. “I'm no trouble. I never have been. That's why I have such an easy life.”

And it all did go easily. Ella liked the school, the other young teachers warned her of the pitfalls, the staff room bores, the danger of getting sucked into campaigns, how to cope with parent-teacher meetings, how to lobby for better equipment for the lab. She liked the children and their enthusiasm. It seemed only the other day that she was in a classroom on the other side of the desk. The lectures were easy too, and she found herself a flat in a leafy road only five minutes from the school.

“I feel free here somehow, independent,” Ella explained to Deirdre.

“I don't know why you bothered, you got your meals served to you back in your parents' place, it's not as if you ever brought a bloke in here, by the looks of things.”

“How do you know?” Ella laughed.

“Well, have you?”

“No, as it happens, but I might.”

“See?” Deirdre was triumphant. “I don't know why you feel so free and independent, I really don't.”

And in a way, neither did Ella know. She thought it had something to do with not having to think about her parents' marriage. They were old now, in their sixties,
and they still clung to work rather than retire like other people of their age did. They could sell that big house on Tara Road for a fortune and buy a much smaller place. Then Mam would not have to go in anxiously to the law firm, where she suspected that she was being kept on from kindness. Dad would not have to go to what he saw as a changing world of moneymen.

They got on well together. Surely they did? As she had so often told Deirdre, they never had rows. Suppose they were to turn the house back into apartments, then the rent that would bring in would mean they could retire. She would say nothing yet, just let the idea develop.

She went back home to see them for supper at least once a week and every Sunday as well, but she never stayed over. She said she studied better in the flat. Some months later, she made the suggestion that they should let her room.

Never had anything fallen on such unaccepting ground. They were astounded that she should even think of it. They didn't want to retire. What would they do with their days?

Suddenly Ella's legendary laughter left her. She saw a very bleak future ahead. Imagine what desperate lives people must lead if these two, who were meant to be Happily Married, couldn't even bear the thought of being side by side at home instead of going to jobs which they found tiring and anxiety creating.

“I'd prefer to be a nun than have a dead marriage,” Ella told Deirdre very earnestly.

Deirdre worked in a busy laboratory where she knew a great many men.

“You might as well
a nun, the way you live,” Deirdre said. “In fact, I think you are one in plainclothes.”

And as time went by, Nuala still kept in touch from London. She had decided not to get a job after all, but instead to work in the company as a receptionist. Frank
said it was better to keep all the family secrets within the family, she wrote.

“What family secrets does she mean?” Deirdre wondered.

“Probably that her brothers-in-law are screwing everything that moves in there,” Ella suggested.

BOOK: Quentins
8.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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