For all my sighs and grimacing and talk of cold, hard reality, I admire him for it. My work is based around simple risk analysis, working out the right insurance premiums for the right clients. His is emotional, turbulent. Difficult.
Yet I’m the one who lives in the big country pad with a Range Rover. Go fucking figure. Society has this shit upside down.
“You have to let this go, Mike,” I say and the guy practically flinches.
“I’ll let it go when I know she’s safe.”
“And if she isn’t safe? If she ends up clearing off back to Gloucester and slumming it on the streets?”
He shrugs. “Then I’ll keep trying.”
“You’ll follow her around the back alleys like a stalker? Bring her a hot soup every evening?” I stare at him. “Or smuggle her into your bedroom and hope your neighbours don’t talk?”
His eyes flash with disgust. “I never would.”
I can’t help but smirk. “If you say so. That girl’s all woman, Michael. She’s definitely all of eighteen, in spirit as well as in body, give or take a few measly days.”
“She was my client.”
“A pretty one, if a little uncouth.”
I’m underplaying it. For all I’ve heard about Carrie Wells over the past few months, the descriptions didn’t do her justice. She’s stunning. Even a grotty bomber jacket and grubby boots can’t hide that. Her eyes are pale and piercing, her nose has a pixie quality about it that matches the rest of her. She’s fey and feral, and totally not the kind of girl either of us old farts should be ogling.
“She’s beautiful,” Mike says, and his eyes have this worryingly wistful quality about them. “It’ll get her into trouble.”
He groans. “Eddie Stevens is a waste of space, we both know it. She’d have ended up in his bed tonight if I hadn’t stepped in.”
“You don’t know that.” I take another swig of beer. “And Eddie Stevens is a waste of space, but he was another one whose corner you were fighting a few years back. You don’t always win the fight and you know it. She’s another one, you just gotta let it go.”
“Eddie Stevens was different,” he tells me. “Eddie still had his family. Eddie’s problems weren’t nearly so marked as Carrie’s.”
I’m talking to a brick wall. Mike’s whole body is tense. His brows are heavy and his shoulders look rigid. I’m never worried about him, not really, because he’s the kind of guy who never does anything crazy. I’m the one who makes the impulsive decisions. I’m the risk taker. But right now, looking at him, I’ve nothing but dread at the prospect of leaving for a conference in Berlin tomorrow.
“Are you gonna be alright?” I ask him. “I can cancel…”
He holds up a hand. “Of course I’ll be alright.”
“I can go next year if you need me around. I’ll send Tom instead of me.”
He shakes his head. “Christ, Jack, don’t be so fucking melodramatic. I’m sure I’ll survive without doing anything too radical for the ten long days you’re away.”
I hope he’s right.
I could send Tom Holland, my product manager, but I’ve already lined up seminars I want to attend, plus the networking opportunities are going to be good this year. This conference is for proper business, not just a jolly out of the office. I’m still not feeling entirely easy about the prospect of leaving, though.
Michael doesn’t have all that many friends. He has his work and he has his colleagues – a drink out with them for birthdays and Christmas and leaving parties, but that’s about all. Being with Molly for so long cut off his already limited social circle, and to be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t survive long distance since the two of them were so ingrained in their relationship. I thought they’d be together forever, for better or worse. The split came as a shock.
I thought he was good with it, and good with being single, but this thing with Carrie leads me to believe he’s not so happy with his life outside work after all.
He’d say this is ridiculous, and he’s perfectly happy with his lot. He’d say he’s too engrossed in his work to socialise all that much outside of it. Plus, he’d say he has family. He sees his folks every month down in Devon – they surprised us all when they opted to retire to the coast, not least Michael – but I guess the weekend trips are a good change of scene for him.
If you traced both of our family trees back through the ages they’d have this place right through them. We’re from these parts, my parents are still down in Coleford, just a few miles away. Michael’s got cousins here, and an elderly aunt and uncle at the care home in Lydbrook, but besides that it’s really just us for him here now.