“Right, gather around everyone. One, two, three, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Richard, (‘old man’ someone yelled out), Happy Birthday to you”.
“Hey, what about the ‘Hip Hip’s” …
“Forget about those, and ‘why was he born so flaming ugly! Let’s eat the cake!”
The noise of the party had lifted. It was of course the alcohol that did that. No matter who it was, even the demure Kitty, when someone had a few drinks inside them, they got less inhibited and more vocal.
The music even seemed louder, Elvis was yelling about his blue suede shoes and a lot of the party goers were dancing in the lounge, outside on the patio and even further down towards the river.
Richard had turned fifty years of age. He didn’t look fifty, or even act it. In fact, he was a very fit man.
I met him on the running path about five years earlier. I say ‘met him’ when I should have said ‘saw him!’.
I had clocked eyes on him a couple of times and thought ‘mmm he’s nice but probably married’ and ran past, faster than I usually ran, showing off a bit.
The next time I saw him, again on the path, he smiled at me, and his pearly white teeth stood out against his tanned face. “Hi there” he said, hardly puffing at all. I answered “Hello” trying not to let him know that my lungs were about to explode.
I didn’t see the handsome, fit guy for a couple of weeks and wondered where he had gone. ‘He was probably just on holidays’ I thought to myself ‘what a shame because I looked forward to meeting him on my run – it gave me staying power.’
I had broken up from my long-term boyfriend Jason about five months earlier and was almost over the feeling of wanting to cry all the time and thinking I would never meet anyone quite as wonderful as him. I didn’t want to feel like this.
I was actually still angry with him and if I met him in the street, it would be a hard-fought battle for me to act civilly towards Jason, and as for HER, I would feel like scratching her eyes out.
So, when I had seen Mr ‘handsome and fit’ on the path, I did have a fleeting thought about dating again.
I went for my daily runs and didn’t come across him once, and after a few months began dating again. There wasn’t anyone I really fancied, but it was company, a laugh and a bit of fun in a sometimes-boring life.
Then I saw him. The good-looking tanned face framed with dark wavy hair. He was sitting in a coffee shop with a woman. She looked slim and slight in stature with bright red hair hanging down her back.
I couldn’t really stare but I thought if I sat at the bus stop that was slightly to the right of the lacy curtained window, I could see without being seen. I turned my head to the side and walked past, then sat down on the wooden seat of the bus stop.
I had my sunglasses on making it easy for me to watch them unobserved. I knew I would have a sore neck later on from appearing to look to the side while all the while looking straight at them.
They didn’t look very happy. The woman’s mouth was set in a straight line, and she was staring straight ahead, past the man. He was remonstrating with his hands, as if pointing out something to her in an annoyed way.
As the waitress approached with their drinks he stopped talking and smiled at the girl putting the cups down on the table. As soon as she left, he began to talk again. He seemed very angry.
I was wishing I knew what was being said. Once he looked out of the window towards the direction where I was sitting but not straight at the bus stop.
The woman began to cry, or at least it looked that way because she took a tissue out of her purse and wiped her eyes. ‘I suppose she could have hay fever’ I thought.
I couldn’t sit here for much longer – two buses had stopped and waited thinking I was sheltering from the wind and would come around, but I didn’t so they both drove off.
I needed to get home and do a few things and to be quite honest, I was bored. Nothing much else was happening so I decided to call it a day.
As I walked off l glanced over at the café window and they were gone. ‘That was quick’ I thought. But just as I was pondering how I could have missed them; I saw them both walk out through the door and get into a car that was parked directly out the front.
They walked apart and he didn’t hold the car door open for her. They both got into the car at the same time. She had big sunglasses on but dabbed at her eyes as if still upset.
The car zoomed off and I went home, intrigued and with a sore neck.
Then about five weeks or so after I had seen the runner and the woman in the café, I was running early one morning, when up in front of me, as I rounded a corner, I saw him.
I tried to run as fast as I could to see if I could catch him but he was much too fast for me. By now I had made myself feel sick – I stopped, took a sip of water and started a slow jog. ‘You’re so stupid’ I told myself out loud ‘he’s already got someone’… I had a date that night so thought about what I would wear out to dinner, and how I had to remember to buy shampoo so I could wash my hair.
“Hi there” a voice called out and before I saw him, I recognised the voice. He was stretching his leg on a bench, and looked as good as ever!
“Hi. I haven’t seen you for a while” I said to him, trying not to breathe quite so heavily.
“I know, work is the bane of one’s life sometimes!”
“Yes, I know what you mean. Thankfully we’ve just finished the end of financial accounts, so it’s a bit quieter now”.
Then suddenly he asked me out. I was quite taken aback for a moment and it was the last thing I was expecting. I forgot all about social etiquette, being kind and my already date that night. “Tonight?” I said “Oh I would love to”.
He asked for my phone number, my address and if I enjoyed Italian food, told me he would pick me up at 6pm and jogged off.
I was very excited. I decided that I would still wear the dress I had picked out for my other dinner date, and that I would ring Paul and make an excuse for not being able to go with him.
That is how I began dating Richard. It was after about nine months that we moved in with each other. I sold my flat and moved in with him.
Richard had dated plenty of women over his lifetime but told me that he had finally found the one to spend the rest of his life with. I felt the same and was totally in love.
To him it didn’t matter who we had dated previously, there was no need to even talk about it. That was the past and we were in the present, going into the future. That suited me quite well as I didn’t have many other suitors to talk about and I really didn’t want to know about his many conquests.
When I first met Richard’s family, they seemed quite impressed with the ‘gorgeous girl’ he had brought home. His mum was a sweet lady, kind and gentle, whereas his father, Charles was totally the opposite.
It wasn’t as if it was difficult to like Charles, but where Richard’s mother was reluctant to talk about anyone in a negative manner, his father wasn’t. His first words, on my being introduced to him, were “Thank God you didn’t bring home another uneducated bimbo Richard”.
I didn’t know where to look, Richard just replied with “Dad, not now” and his mother Claire went bright red and said she was going to check on the oven.
Despite the beginning, the evening went very smoothly and not only was the food delicious but the company enjoyable.
During the evening when Claire went to whip up the cream for sweets, I went with her. Richard and his father went outside and maybe Charles was told not to bring stuff like that up again. Anyway, he didn’t.
I felt like asking about the ‘bimbo’ Richard’s father had alluded to as we drove home, but thought better of it.
I had gone to the letter box on Sunday morning after Richard’s 50th birthday party the night before. It had been a huge success and so much fun but we had needed a sleep in as the party had ended well after midnight and then by the time we had cleaned up it was very late.
I hadn’t checked the mail since Thursday as I had just forgotten so busy with the party preparations.
“Rubbish, rubbish” I said out loud as I saw a couple of bills in the windowed envelopes. “What’s this one?” A plain white envelope, with no stamp on it, as if it had been hand delivered was hiding in between the bills. On the front it read ‘Richard’s girlfriend’, and nothing else. I turned it over but there wasn’t nothing written on the back of it.
I walked inside and put the coffee machine on and sat down to open the envelope, curious about what was inside.
I took out a plain sheet of paper. A4 size. It had nothing written on the top half, but in the middle, typed, were the words:
WATCH OUT. YOU’LL BE NEXT.
‘How weird’ I thought sitting with the piece of paper in my hand. The coffee machine beeped to tell me it was ready, so I put the paper back in the envelope and made two coffees.
“I thought I smelt coffee” Richard said, coming over and hugging me “Good morning. Do I look any older?”
I laughed out loud and then said “Richard, look at this” and I handed him the envelope.
He took out the sheet and looked at the typing “Kids I bet” is all he said, screwed it up and put it in the bin.
“Yes, you’re probably right” I told him, but I couldn’t help wondering what it meant.
That night at dinner I turned to Richard “Do you think we should tell the police about that note we got?”
“Are you kidding? They would laugh. It’s just a prank, that’s all so stop worrying about it will you”.
A few nights later something really odd happened; Richard jumped to his feet and began searching on the couch yelling “where’s the remote?”
“What?” I asked picking the remote up from the arm of the couch.
“The remote. I’m not interested in the news. Turn it over, will you?”
I couldn’t understand what the problem was. We watched the news most nights we were home, but I turned over to a different channel as he wanted, and just looked at him.
“I’ve just had enough of all the negativity. Don’t you ever think that this world is a crazy place. Where is all the good? It’s gone, just gone”.
“Richard, what is wrong with you?” I asked, alarmed and not knowing what he would say. I had never seen him like this.
“I’m just tired and I’m going to bed. You should too.”
But I didn’t want to go to bed. I turned the television back on switching channels to watch the news on a different station.
Then I saw her. The red-haired woman. The reporter was standing outside a block of apartments, microphone in hand and in that way that the reporters talk, sort of drawing out the end of each syllable, with a five second space in between each word, she told us that the body of this woman had been found four days ago, in one of the apartments, a vacant apartment, in a freezer, chopped into pieces. It had been in the freezer for some time, maybe years. I felt sick. The reporter continued to say that the body had been identified as that of thirty-eight-year-old Virginia Wild. For some strange reason I thought ‘that name suits her’.
I was in shock. This was the woman that I had seen Richard with five years ago. I was shaking. I had seen and heard a lot of cases like this on the news, in the paper, on the radio but not here, surely.
‘Was this why Richard wanted the television turned off?’ I thought. ‘He must have recognised her’.
I forced myself to go to bed, although I had difficulty sleeping – next to Richard.
Early the next morning I jumped out of bed, knowing the article would probably be in the paper. I picked it up off the lawn.
After the coffee machine went on and I had taken a few deep breaths, I opened up the paper. Sure enough, there it was, a photo of the woman when she was alive. It was definitely her. I didn’t know what to think, how to feel.
Richard wandered down, hugged me, told me how lovely I looked and sat down.
“Look at this Richard, it happened not far from here too.” I showed him the article. He didn’t flinch. “She looks familiar don’t you think? Maybe we have met her? Have you?”
“No, I’ve never seen her before. I’m glad you don’t have red hair like that. I don’t like it” and he laughed out loud.
I sat down with a strong cup of coffee and knew instinctively that my life was about to change – someone I never even met, just happened to see in a café one day, was going to change it.