Contains references of physical abuse.
Contains mild sexual references.
She’d never attended an Anne Summers party before, never even entered one of the shops. She would have found it way too embarrassing to be seen entering or exiting or, worse still, be caught perusing rows of lacy underwear, leather whips and vibrators. But here she was at Jo’s hen party, with three days of freedom, watching the Anne Summers rep unveil a vast array of sex toys, crutch-less panties and incredibly revealing lingerie, and Suzy vowed she’d enjoy her respite to the full.
Jo was trying out an extremely short pink nighty, incredibly transparent with black lacy edges, she strutted around the room with one hand on her hip while the other floated delicately behind her.
“Hey ladies, what do you think of this for the wedding night?” She said as she thrust her boobs out further, “You think he’ll like it?”
The girls all whooped and laughed offering their somewhat drunken words of ‘wisdom’ and encouragement: Sexy! Yeah he’ll love it Jo. It’s completely see-through, why bother to wear anything? It’s perfect! You won’t get to wear it for long!
She collapsed into giggles, a pile of pink, gasping for breath on the wooden floor.
“Nah, I couldn’t wear that, you’re right Philippa, it’s way too revealing – got to leave something to the imagination!” She gave one more sexy wiggle before returning to the rep’s table for another look.
“I could get a rabbit!” And she held up a very large pink vibrator with ears, before feigning where she might put it and collapsing again into giggles.
Suzy was creased up, she felt safe with these women. She knew them well, despite having spent little time alone with any of them, he was always there being the life and soul at every party, putting her down with snide remarks and, while the laughter on his face might convince the others he was joking, she knew better; he was a bully, and the weakest member of any party would always be his victim. It felt good to be here safe in the knowledge that for these few days at least, she could relax and not have to pretend.
“Hey Suze, Keith’s coming to the wedding with Giles isn’t he? Oh my God they’re going to be so drunk when they arrive! You know what Giles is like with booze! And four hours on the train with nothing else to do….” Fiona began to laugh, not knowing how chilling Suzy found her words.
“He better not! He promised me he wouldn’t drink anything on the way,” her stomach lurched at even the suggestion and she felt that well known fear creep back in. “Surely Giles won’t be drinking that early in the morning?” Giles was a happy drinker, always getting funnier the more he drank, the complete reverse of her husband.
The big day arrived and the girls drove to the church in a convoy of miss-matched cars. Jo’s mother had whisked her daughter away earlier to help her dress for the ceremony while the rest of them cleared up the rented cottage, emptied ashtrays, washed floors, throwing away the numerous empty bottles and leaving everything spotless before dressing for the service. They followed the signs to the car park, a pretty spot set in a large clearing surrounded by trees. Once parked they meandered across a grassy expanse towards the church, chatting together like little birds.
Suzy’s butterflies had returned and as she followed the others she pondered Fiona’s words – surely he’ll keep his promise, it’s a church wedding, not some drunken party . . . but Giles does like his drink and despite her fondness of him she knew he was a bad influence . . . and hours on a train with nothing else to do . . . no surely it’ll be alright.
As they stepped onto the path to approach the church she suddenly spotted Giles and Keith about to enter, they were laughing loudly - too loudly, leaning on each other for support. Oh no. . . . She felt her shoulders slump and the joy she had felt from her days away evaporated instantly, leaving behind a large stone, weighing heavily in her stomach.
The two men spotted the girls and turned from the church doors to greet them.
“Hi girls how was the hen party?” Giles called to them, “Did you have fun?”
“It was great!” Philippa called back. “Didn’t want to leave! Shame we’ve gotta see your ugly mug first though!” Giles knew she was joking, that was their banter.
“Well you all look as gorgeous as ever!”
And while Suzy moved close to Keith, the other girls did small bows and twirls, showing off their smart outfits. “You promised me you wouldn’t drink anything.” She whispered to him, reeling from the sickly, sweet fumes on his breath.
“Yeah well. . .” He said leering into her face, “Didn’t keep that one then, did I?” Laughing he leaned towards Giles, “She thinks we’re drunk old buddy! We’re not drunk are we, just a little . . . err merry. You tell her!”
“Yep! True, all true,” Giles smiled towards the whole group, not able to focus on any one in particular. “In fact we’re extremely merry aren’t we me old mucker.” He slung his arm around Keith’s shoulder, “Shh . . . don’t tell anyone girls, but we downed the whole bottle of scotch!” They both guffawed.
“See! Little miss prissy pants, we’re just mewwy like Giles said.” Keith roared with laughter at his own mal-pronunciation. “Waz that word?” He asked Giles. “Mer – wee. Nope can’t say it.” They snickered together, leaning ever more heavily onto each other for support.
Suzy could feel her disgust well up inside her, “A whole bottle? It’s eleven O’clock in morning!” She felt safer with others nearby – witnesses. “It’s a wedding! This is a church!”
She turned on her heal and pushed through the heavy oak doors into the cool and quiet peace of the church, relieved he was out of her sight. She slid into one of the pews, greeting the couple already seated. She knew things would only get worse as the day progressed, it always did, and she wondered if he was in fact alcoholic.
But he can go for weeks without a drink - though if he has one there’s no stopping him, he just drinks and drinks until he’s completely blotto, and even then he continues, puking up in the toilets to make room for more! God he’s disgusting, why did I even marry him? I knew what he was like beforehand, why on earth did I think he’d change? His pleading apologies the next morning, begging my forgiveness? His vows of never again touching a drop? I’ve heard it all a hundred times, but nothing ever changes. I’m such an idiot!
She heard the group loudly enter the church behind her, but didn’t turn round, she didn’t want to witness her husband’s stumbling walk nor hear his slurred words. The other girls were laughing at their antics, telling them to shush, to sit down quietly. She felt mortified by his behaviour, ashamed to be married to him, to even know him and she studied the order of service she’d been handed at the door, praying he wouldn’t create a scene during the wedding. All of a sudden her thoughts were interrupted as the first chords of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus filled the church, everyone stood and turned to watch Jo escorted down the aisle on her father’s arm – Suzy suddenly felt guilty, realising she’d been so engrossed in her thoughts that she’d not even noticed Simon, waiting patiently at the altar for his bride.
Apart from the odd whoop of encouragement from the back seats at the beginning, the ceremony wasn’t interrupted further and despite her misgivings of what might come later she sat back to enjoyed the spectacle. They were a handsome couple she thought, Jo with her long dark hair flowing down her back, her pretty face and petite figure now adorned by a beautiful, long white dress, she looked so lovingly at Simon, tall and smart in his top hat and tails.
I hope she’s made a better choice than I did, he does always seem so devoted to her and she him. And she sent up a little prayer that they would find the happiness in their marriage that had eluded hers.
The reception was held in a purpose-build building in the large grounds surrounding the church, and the guests meandered over to it in small groups, chatting about the service and how lovely they both looked. Suzy was relieved that she wouldn’t have to drive him somewhere else and suffer his snide remarks or breathe in any more of that sickly, stale smell of whiskey; she joined a small group from the hen party.
“Crikey what a state they’re in!” Julie laughed as she nudged Suzy with her elbow. “A whole bottle of scotch between the two of them, can you believe it?” She turned and saw Suzy wasn’t laughing with her, noticing tears beginning to well in the girl’s sad brown eyes. “Hey Suze, it doesn’t matter, really! We all know what those two are like when they get together.”
“I know, but boys will be boys! Don’t worry about it, no one minds.”
“I mind.” And she raised her eyes skywards to arrest the tears threatening to spill over.
Julie squeezed her hand quickly, “Well don’t.” She said and as they walked together into the reception, Suzy felt just that little bit safer.
None of them knew the real Keith, he kept it so well hidden; even when he stops speaking to her for days on end, leaving her lonely and confused, the moment a visitor arrives he’s suddenly charming, talking sweetly to her and smiling - only to revert back into his boorish silence once they leave. She’d never told anyone, she’d always felt too shamed by it, believing perhaps it was her own fault. And he knew exactly how to hurt her, where to hit so it wouldn’t show – he’d actually admitted that to her during one of his early morning, pleading apologies!
Everyone was already seated, their ‘gang’ were all sitting together at one of the tables, the noisiest table, and they called the girls to join them. Suzy made sure she sat at the furthest point from Keith, determined to enjoy the afternoon despite his presence, but he’d spotted her and, leaning heavily on people’s shoulders in passing, he slowly approached her. Her heart sank, beating a little harder.
“I need the car keys.” He held his hand out receive them, but Suzy remained still. “Give me the keys!” His look was hard.
“What do you need them for?” She didn’t want him to have control of the car, her only means of escape – and of returning home.
“Ah, well that’s for me to know, and for you to find out – except you won’t find out.” His drunken laugh at his feeble play on words grating on her already heightened nerves.
“Tell me what you need and I’ll go fetch it for you. Or did you want to put your bag in it? I can do that for you.”
“I don’t need you to do anything for me, I’m perfectly caplable . . . capable of getting to the car on my own thank you very much. Just give me the keys!” He smiled to cover his rage, that smile everyone but Suzy believed.
Suzy looked around searching for another option, not caring that everyone was watching their pathetic dance of wills, and determined she would not give him the keys – he’d probably take the car and crash it somewhere - he’d done that enough times before. But she felt stronger, more able to stand up to him here – there were witnesses.
“I don’t think you’re in any fit state to take charge of the car and anyway you don’t know where I parked it. Just tell me what you need and I’ll go!”
“I’ll find it! Just give me the fucking keys!” His face reddened in anger, though his smile remained painted.
“No.” She clutched the seat of her chair, her knuckles white, scared of what might come next.
“Okay.” He surprised her and lifted both hands in the air, like a submission, but her surprise didn’t last, “Okay then, you go - and I’ll come with you.” A malicious smile curling on his lips as he seeked the usual fear in her eyes.
This was the last thing she wanted, at least here she had people around, but the carpark would be empty now and empty was dangerous. Backtrack, don’t rile him, it’s not worth it. She returned his snarl with a smile.
“No really, I don’t mind, why don’t you stay here and enjoy yourself, I could do with a breath of fresh air anyway. I’ll go.” She stood up, keeping her handbag close; he would know the keys were in there. As she turned towards the door he seemed to be letting her go, but she still didn’t know why he needed to go to the car. “Is your bag here?” She looked around vaguely, “I’ll pop safely it in the car for you.” Her smile a little weaker than she’d wished.
“No, no, that’s okay, just lead the way and I’ll bring the bag.” Again that smile. He turned, collected up his bag from the floor, “Go on then, I’ll follow.”
And Suzy knew she couldn’t not go now, so reluctantly headed towards the door, fear creeping into her soul. As she stepped outside he was right behind her, she could feel his breath on the back of her neck. She walked a little faster, clutching her handbag close to her chest, determined not to let him have the keys, she needed that car. He remained close on her heals, not speaking, and was somehow managing to keep up despite all the swaying and stumbling he’s exhibited inside. As they reached the trees, now out of shouting distance of her friends, he made a lunge at her bag, but his actions were slowed by drink and she turned quickly away from him, blocking his aim with her body, then tried to run. But he had hold of her jacket, he was stronger than she and her fear rose in her throat like bile.
“Thought you could escape me eh? My little teetotaler? Little miss goody two-shoes.” His laugh cruel and mocking.
He pushed her hard against a tree and raised a fist with one hand while groping for her handbag with the other. She ducked down quickly and, suddenly realising he no longer held her jacket, twisted from him and ran towards the lights of the reception, to safety. Her legs felt heavy, like so often happens in dreams, she concentrated all her efforts to reach her sanctuary and her friends. She could hear him behind her, straining to catch up and for once she was pleased he’d been drinking, it was slowing him down.
She burst into the reception room, the door banging against the wall as she entered and everyone looked up startled by her loud arrival, their faces changing from surprise to concern as they noticed her dishevelled clothes, the fear in her eyes.
“Hey Suze, you okay?” Philippa’s partner James was on his feet, approaching her with kind eyes and an uncertain smile. “What’s happened?” He looked past her shoulder, outside, trying to see the cause of her fear. “Hey, you’re okay now, we’re all here, tell us what happened.” And he led her back to the table, his arm around her shoulder in comfort.
Through tears, she stumbled through her words and recounted her narrow escape.
“The bastard!” Alex exclaimed, “Has he done this sort of thing before?” And he stood up, large and strong, one fist cradled in the other. Although he wasn’t one of Suzy’s favourites in the group, it felt safe having him angered by Keith’s actions.
She nodded, “Most times when he gets drunk.”
“What?” Alex looked around the group, “Did anyone else know about this?” He searched their faces as they all looked down, ashamed they hadn’t known – but how could they? Suzy had never dared speak of it.
At that moment Keith came stumbling through the door, tripping on the step and Suzy felt a shudder pass through her body, he looked slightly sobered, perhaps the fresh air. Alex immediately turned towards him.
“A fucking wife beater are you?” He looked even taller to Suzy now. “We don’t like wife beaters round here, so you can just fuck off!” He looked quickly around the group, each nodding their agreement while glaring at Keith, “Fuck off to another table, you’re not welcome at this one . . . nor in our homes!”
Although strong, Keith was a short man, and he looked even smaller now confronted by Alex’s huge bulk. And, for the first time in her life, she saw a spark of fear flash through his eyes and revelled in it as he meekly turned away. With a newfound strength, she rose to her feet and walked tall to where Keith now stood.
“It’s over. Finished.” She spoke quietly but firmly – and with confidence, “So you’ll need to find somewhere else to live.”
She went to turn away, but changed her mind, “Oh yes – and you’ll need to cadge a lift off someone else, coz it’s also my car.”
And as she proudly walked back to her friends, knowing that with their support he would finally be out of her life, she suddenly realised what had been missing throughout those long years, what she had really needed to give her the strength and the permission to stand up to him, something he's never allowed – witnesses!