Natalie smiled as the cork popped out of the bottle. The sound of the red liquid glugging into her glass soothed her. She squeezed the cork back into the neck and took a sip. Her shoulders relaxed instantly as the wine hit her stomach. Pushing the bottle out of the way, she put her feet up on the oak coffee table and leant into the embrace of the worn leather sofa. She took another sip before helping herself to a handful of Kettle Chips from the bowl next to her and turning her attention to the widescreen telly. The Million Pound Drop was just starting.
The beeping of her iphone made her frown. With effort she sat up and reached across the table. It was James.
Staying out for a bit longer, hope u don’t mind? Love u, Jx.
Natalie bit her lip and hesitated.
Okay. C u later? X
She threw her phone onto the empty space next to her and helped herself to another crisp. She tried to concentrate of the game show. Her phone stayed silent. Swallowing a mouthful of wine, she scolded herself as unreasonable thoughts crept into her conciousness. He was in the pub and probably couldn’t hear his phone. Or maybe he just hadn’t made his mind up if he was coming home tonight yet.
Natalie’s stomach clenched cruelly. Yes, they had an agreement. But James seemed a hell of a lot keener when it came to taking advantage of it than she was. Or did, for that matter. It had seemed like a reasonable proposition at the time. She had heard over and over that humans are just not monogamous creatures and that infidelity was almost inevitable in a long term relationship. Natalie shook her head and crammed more crisps into her mouth. She was being silly, she knew it. She just wished he was there tonight. She wanted him to herself. Just for once.
The doorbell startled her. Blinking, she took a gulp of wine and stood up. The alcohol had already found its way into her bloodstream. She walked unsteadily into the hallway and switched on the light before squinting at the peephole. It was Monica. Natalie closed her eyes and let out a stifled groan. Why had she turned the light on? Monica would know she was in. Cursing to herself, she opened the door. Monica smiled at her sweetly. She looked amazing as usual. Her dark hair was blow-dried to perfection, her make-up expertly applied to enhance her dark features. Despite her seemingly casual attire of jeans and a leather biker jacket, she was clearly dressed to impress.
“Hi Monica,” Natalie sighed. “Sorry, but James isn’t in. I’ll tell him you popped by.”
Monica smiled lazily.
“Really? He’s left you at home all alone on a Friday night? How inconsiderate of him.”
Natalie took a deep breath.
“Well, Monica, we have our own lives you know. We don’t feel the need to spend every waking moment with each other.”
Monica’s smile grew.
“So you don’t. Who is he with tonight?”
“Colleagues, I think. They won some bid today so they’re all out celebrating.”
“I’m sure they are.” Monica drawled. “And we both know how good James is at “celebrating”, don’t we? Isn’t he in a team made up mostly of women?”
“Like I said, Monica, I’ll tell him you called.”
Natalie started to close the door, desperate not to let the other woman under her skin. Monica stepped forwards and placed her hand on the heavy wood. She looked at Natalie with wide eyes.
“Oh, sorry darling, I’ve upset you. It must be hard for you, no?”
Natalie met Monica’s gaze.
“Not at all. It’s a two way thing. And let’s face it, it’s a lot healthier than being in a relationship where a woman cheats on her husband without his knowledge or consent.”
Monica waved her hand vaguely.
“Yes, yes, I get the reference, darling. But surely it is better to save Dan from the humiliation of what I have been doing with your husband? Rather than leaving him sat at home with nothing but a bottle of wine for company and the knowledge that I am in bed with someone else?”
Natalie stared at her blankly for a moment. Her mouth felt suddenly dry.
“I haven’t been left alone, Monica, I have made a choice to be on my own tonight. Unlike some people I don’t feel the need to sleep with every man who shows an interest in me.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re satisfied with your lot. James however...”
Monica’s gaze wandered out to the street. Natalie pushed the door closed with a slam. She heard Monica’s heels totter unsteadily before they clicked away with a trail of laughter. Natalie felt her way back to the living room and sank into the sofa. She had already downed the rest of her wine before she realised that her face was wet with tears. She shook her head as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. No, she would not let that woman upset her, not again. She inhaled deeply and sat up to uncork the bottle with shaking hands. Her glass full once more, she sat back and slowly blew out her breath as she focused her eyes on the television. Davina McCall looked back at her, one eyebrow arched knowingly. Natalie pulled the knitted throw hanging over the back of the sofa over her and curled up around her glass. Davina knew she was kidding herself, so did Monica. In fact, the entire world seemed to know what Natalie had been denying for the last three years. Whether she wanted to accept reality and actually do something about it was another matter. She shovelled another handful of crisps into her mouth and pulled the throw up over her chest. The couple on the telly clasped their heads and looked at each other in despair as their poor judgement sent their dreams disappearing through a trap door.