Home > The Last Anniversary(3)

The Last Anniversary(3)
Liane Moriarty

What would have happened if he’d gone first?

She would have put it off a week of course, and gone to Fiji. And when he proposed she would have said yes. How could she possibly have said no? It would have been farcical, with Thomas dolefully brushing white sand off his knee and signalling to the string band to stop playing by slicing a finger across his throat. Besides which, she loved nothing more than a romantic marriage proposal!

‘I’m going to look like such a stupid fool,’ he had moaned with his head down, hugging the steering wheel, after he’d pulled over in a no-stopping zone (evidence of his distraught state of mind that he didn’t even check the sign) and revealed all his thwarted plans in a bitter, triumphant rush. He even pulled out the box with the ring heartbreakingly wrapped in bubble-wrap and hidden in a pair of black socks in the zippered compartment of his carry-on luggage.

‘You’re not going to look like a fool. I’m going to look like a bitch,’ she had said, while she guiltily patted his hand and looked warily at that (really rather gorgeous, unfortunately) ring that had come so close to being hers and wondered if it would be in very poor taste to ask if she could try it on, just to see how it would have looked.

‘Everyone loves you, Sophie,’ Thomas had said bitterly. ‘No matter what you do.’

She’d been flattered to hear that everybody loved her and then horrified at her own narcissism while poor Thomas was having his heart broken.

Actually, people had been upset with her, especially those involved in planning the secret proposal, as if she’d rejected them too. Thomas’s sister Veronika, who was the reason Sophie had met Thomas in the first place, didn’t speak to her for eleven months. (This was actually something of a relief, as Veronika could be hard work, and Sophie had found it difficult to show sufficient gratitude when Veronika magnanimously decided to forgive her.)

It seemed that Sophie had been both greedy and wasteful. Greedy for wanting something more than a perfectly nice, intelligent, good-looking man when she was in her mid-thirties and lived in Sydney, g*y capital of the world. Wasteful of a perfectly lovely, expensive, carefully planned marriage proposal.

Of course, she’d got her comeuppance.

Thomas had been ‘snapped up’, just like his mother had cheerfully told Sophie he would be. ‘Don’t worry, Sophie. Some other nice girl will snap him up!’ He got a refund for the Fiji holiday from a sympathetic travel agent–actually an excessively sympathetic travel agent called Deborah, who sensibly accepted his proposal just a few months later (remarkably similar in execution, except the location was Vanuatu and the string band was a string quartet).

Sophie, on the other hand, has been mortifyingly single ever since.

Over the last three years she has been on three first dates, two second dates and no third dates. She’s had a drunken one-night stand after a charity ball, a drunken kiss after a fancy-dress fortieth, and a very weird sober kiss with a fat man in the hallway at a christening. (Who never called! The humiliation!) She has now been celibate for two years and sex has begun to seem as unlikely a possibility as when it was first explained to her in a disturbingly graphic drawing by Ann-Marie Morton when they were in second grade.

In spite of conscientiously accepting every social invitation, going to parties where she knows no one except the host, joining clubs and taking part in sporty, unpleasant activities likely to appeal to available men, she hasn’t even come close to beginning a new relationship. It is laughable to think she’d been worried about being unfaithful to Thomas–just who did she think she’d be unfaithful with?

Last month, terrifyingly, she turned thirty-nine. It seems to make no difference that she still feels exactly the same person as when she was twenty-five, the birthdays just keep right on coming. She is actually going to turn forty–such a dry, grown-up-sounding age–and she’s still going to be Sophie.

Lately, her biological clock, which has never given her much trouble before, has begun to tick with an increasingly feverish ‘Umm, excuse me, don’t you think you’d better hurry up, hurry up, hurry up?’ She has caught herself staring at babies in strollers with the same resentful, lustful look that mid-life-crisis men give teenage girls. When she heard the news about Thomas having a baby, she said, ‘Oh that’s lovely’, and then hours later, in the bath, she burst into tears and said out loud, ‘You idiot.’

But by the next day her natural optimistic state had reasserted itself. She has a great career and a fabulous social life. She is hardly a lonely old spinster with a cat. She is out nearly every night of the week and she doesn’t even like cats. Everything will be fine. He is just around the corner. He will turn up when she least expects him.

In fact, perhaps Thomas wants to see her tonight so he can set her up with a tall, dark, handsome friend? Ha. Funny. At least if she never finds anyone she’ll always be able to laugh at her own hilarious wit while she eats baked beans on toast.

She wonders if Thomas will be smug. Surely even a man as sweet-natured as him would have to feel a bit pleased at the way things have turned out. Well, let him be smug, thinks Sophie as she goes back to typing her lively memo to the Morale Committee. (A fun idea from Fran! ) You tore his heart to shreds. Be generous. Let him be smug.

4

Scribbly Gum Island, 1932

When they said they were sending out a reporter, Connie had imagined someone much older: an intimidating type with jaded seen-it-all-before eyes and those awful dirty yellow-tipped fingers, who would say ‘good bickies, love’ and act impatient and patronising if she took too long answering his questions. She had decided her answers would be brisk, with no unnecessary detail, and that she would probably not offer him a second biscuit.

But there was nothing jaded about Jimmy Thrum. Even his name sounded energetic. He could only have been a couple of years older than her, twenty-one at the most, skinny and long-limbed, with little-boy freckles on his nose and unusual-coloured eyes that grinned and glittered at her from beneath the shade of his battered brown hat.

Yes, Jimmy Thrum thrummed with life.

When she met him at the railway station he bounded up the stairs three at a time to greet her like a big lovable labrador. He chivalrously insisted on taking the oars when they rowed out to the island, even though she doubted that he’d even stepped foot in a boat before. She stopped herself from confiscating the wildly flailing oars or complaining about the sudden splashes of icy-cold river water–he was having far too good a time, gulping deep breaths of air as if it was the first day of a holiday, tipping back his head so the winter sun was on his face. He made her want to giggle helplessly like a child. She had to turn her head and pretend to be fascinated by the flight of a pelican.

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