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The No-Show
Author: Beth O'Leary

 


Siobhan


   He isn’t here.

   Siobhan breathes out slowly through her nose. She’s aiming for calm, but it reads more angry bull than zen.

   She cancelled breakfast with a friend for this. She curled her hair and wore lipstick and shaved her legs (not just to the knee, all the way up, in case he fancied running a hand up her thigh under the table).

   And he isn’t bloody here.

   ‘I’m not angry,’ she tells Fiona. They’re video calling. They always video call – Siobhan is a big believer in the power of eye contact. Also, she’d quite like someone to see how fabulous she looks today, even if it is only her flatmate. ‘I’m resigned. He’s a man, ergo, he let me down. What did I expect?’

   ‘You’re wearing sex make-up,’ Fiona says, squinting at the screen. ‘It’s not even nine in the morning yet, Shiv.’

   Siobhan shrugs. She’s sitting in one of those cafés that prides itself on its quirkiness, a quality she always finds deeply irritating in anything or anyone, and there’s a half-drunk double-shot oat milk latte on the table in front of her. If she’d known she was going to be stood up on Valentine’s Day, she’d have got proper milk. Siobhan is only vegan when she’s in a good mood.

   ‘Sex is what we do,’ she says.

   ‘Even on a breakfast date?’

   They’ve never actually had a breakfast date before. But when she’d told him she was on a flying visit to London, he’d said, Fancy having breakfast with me tomorrow morning, by any chance . . . ? Asking for a breakfast date was definitely significant – and on V-Day, no less. Generally speaking, their dates happen in her hotel room, usually after eleven p.m.; they see each other on the first Friday of the month, plus the odd bonus day if she happens to be in London.

   That’s fine. That’s plenty. Siobhan doesn’t want more than that – he lives in England, she lives in Ireland; they’re both busy people. Their arrangement works perfectly.

   ‘Are you sure you don’t want to give it another five?’ Fiona says, lifting a dainty hand to her lips as she swallows a mouthful of cornflakes. She’s sitting at their kitchen table, her hair still in its overnight plait. ‘He’s maybe just late?’

   Siobhan feels a pang of homesickness for her flat, though she’s only been gone a day. She misses the familiar lemony smell of their kitchen, the peace of her walk-in-wardrobe. She misses the version of herself that had not yet made the mistake of hoping her favourite hook-up might actually want to be something more.

   She sips her latte as airily as she can. ‘Oh, please. He’s not coming,’ she says with a shrug. ‘I’m resigned to it.’

   ‘You don’t think you’re maybe writing him off be—’

   ‘Fi. He said eight thirty. It’s ten to. He’s stood me up. It’s better if I just . . .’ she swallows, ‘. . . accept it and bounce back.’

   ‘All right,’ Fiona says with a sigh. ‘Well. Drink your coffee, remember you’re excellent, get ready to kick butt today.’ Her American accent resurfaces when she says kick butt; these days she sounds as Dublin as Siobhan for the most part. When the pair first met at the Gaiety School of Acting, aged eighteen, Fiona was all New York accent and confidence, but ten years of failed auditions have washed her out. She’s unlucky, always the understudy. Siobhan fully believes this is Fiona’s year, as she has every year for the last decade.

   ‘When am I not ready to kick butt? Please.’

   Siobhan tosses her hair back just as a man passes behind her; he knocks her chair. The coffee wobbles in his hand, a tiny splash spilling on Siobhan’s shoulder. It sinks into the pillar-box red of her dress, leaving a little stain, two droplets, like a semicolon.

   It has all the makings of a meet-cute. For a split second, as she turns, Siobhan considers it – he’s attractive-ish, tall, the sort of man you’d expect to have a big dog and a loud laugh. Then he says,

   ‘Christ alive, you’ll put someone’s eye out with all that hair!’

   And Siobhan decides, no, she is in too bad a mood for large imposing men who do not immediately apologise for spilling coffee on couture dresses. An angry, righteous heat grows in her chest, and she’s grateful for it, relieved, even – this is exactly what she needs.

   She reaches out and touches his arm, just lightly. He slows, his eyebrows a little raised; she pauses deliberately before she speaks.

   ‘Didn’t you mean to say, I’m ever so sorry?’ she asks. Her voice is sugar-sweet.

   ‘Careful, buddy,’ Fiona says from the phone, which is now propped on the wonky terracotta plant pot in the centre of the table.

   He is not careful. Siobhan knew he wouldn’t be.

   ‘What exactly am I meant to be ever-so-sorry for, Rapunzel?’ he asks. He follows her gaze to the coffee stain on her shoulder and huffs a warm, indulgent laugh. He pretends to squint, as if there is nothing there to see; he’s trying to be cute, and if she were in a good, vegan-milk sort of mood, Siobhan might go along with it. But, unfortunately for the man with the coffee, Siobhan has just been stood up on Valentine’s Day.

   ‘This dress cost almost two thousand euro,’ she says. ‘Would you like to transfer the money, or pay in instalments?’

   He throws his head back and laughs. A few couples glance over.

   ‘Very funny,’ he says.

   ‘I’m not joking.’

   His smile drops, and then things really get started. He raises his voice first; she pulls up the dress on NET-A-PORTER; he snaps and calls her a mouthy little madam, which is excellent, because it gives her an extra five minutes of ammo, and Fiona’s laughing on her phone screen, and for a good few seconds Siobhan almost forgets that she’s alone in a tediously quirky café with no date.

   ‘You’re brutal, Shiv,’ Fiona says fondly as Siobhan settles back into her chair.

   The man has stormed off, having thrown a tenner on her table ‘for the dry-cleaning’. Everyone is staring. Siobhan flicks those shining blonde argument-starting locks over her shoulder and turns her face to the window. Chin up. Tits out. Legs crossed.

   With her head turned like this, only Fiona can tell she’s trying not to cry.

   ‘Did that help?’ Fiona asks.

   ‘Of course. And I’m ten quid richer, too. What shall I buy?’ Siobhan sniffs and pulls up the menu from the other side of the table. She catches the time on her watch: 9 a.m. Only 9 a.m. and she’s already having a record-breakingly bad day. ‘An “always see the sunny side” fry-up, perhaps? A “keep smiling” kale smoothie?’

   She slaps her hand down on the menu and shoves it away again; the couple on the adjacent table jump slightly and eye her with trepidation.

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