What Happened To Us? by Faith Hogan
Published: 2nd October 2018
About the Author
Faith was born in Ireland and currently lives there with her husband, four children and two fussy cats. She gained an Honors Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate from University College, Galway. She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair- an international competition for emerging writers. When she’s not writing, she’s an enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger.
Carrie Nolan is devastated when she is dumped by Kevin Mulvey after more than a decade without even a backwards glance! On reflection, she has sacrificed her own long term happiness establishing their critically acclaimed Dublin restaurant and pandering to his excessive ego.
Meanwhile Kevin can’t believe his luck. Valentina, their new waitress is a stunner, the kind of girl that turns heads when she walks in a room and surprise, surprise she has chosen him! He is living the dream!
Carrie seeks solace from a circle of mismatched friends who need her as much as she needs them. Jane, who struggles to run the pub on the opposite side of the street, Luke, who has stopped drifting while his father settles in a nearby nursing home and Teddy, a dog who asks for nothing more than the chance to stay by Carrie’s side.
With Christmas just around the corner, all is not quite as it seems and a catastrophic sequence of events leads to the unthinkable…
How far do you need to fall before you learn the true value of family and friends? And is it ever too late to start again…
The first night of winter and it was wet, very wet, and she knew the rain was pouring in drops down her face, could feel them drip, drip, dripping off the end of her nose. She could feel the tears too, hot and stingy in her eyes. Someone had given her a cigarette, miraculously she’d managed to smoke halfway down, but it was soggy and extinguished now, which was no bad thing. She never smoked, why add to her list of failures at this late stage?
At the far end of the lane, something or someone caught her eye, but she must be mistaken, because who in their right mind would be out on an evening like this? Probably a stray cat, attracted by the heat and aromas that emanated from the fans blowing into the frigid night air.
Her thoughts darted back to the kitchen behind her, Kevin, bloody Kevin. Well, she hadn’t seen that coming had she. She was still reeling, angry, upset and, yes, she could admit it to herself, broken-hearted. And Valentina? Kevin was in love with Valentina, he’d told her, so it must be true.
She raised the dead cigarette to her lips once more, hardly noticed that it tasted disgusting. He’d only met her a few months ago, that was when she came to work in the restaurant. The girl, that’s all she was, in her mid-twenties at most, but she looked no more than seventeen, had hardly a word of English four months ago. Yet, here Valentina and Kevin had become an item. How did that work? Oh, maybe she knew the answer to that already.
Things had cooled off a long time ago between Carrie and Kevin. She never counted the fact that they didn’t have children. No reason, just one of those things, it never happened, she knew that to Kevin it was a relief. They settled onto their path, confident it would lead them to a contented old age. If the road markings she always took for granted were stolen from her, she blocked out her childlessness with the success of the restaurant and a gratitude for the simple things in life. Yet somewhere between moving in together and working sixteen hours a day to get the restaurant up and running, they had lost each other. Funny, but they spent so much time together that they managed to lose their connection. He’d started sleeping in the spare room when her snoring became too loud. He didn’t say it was because she had become overweight and the bottle of wine each evening didn’t help either. She was fast to point out her sinuses were playing up and what could she do about it? She’d been a little relieved, to tell the truth. He had a habit of leaving hair oil all over the pillows, so she felt like she was wearing half a pot of Brylcreem most days.
It was still a shock though.
It was less than forty-eight hours ago.
They had walked into her office; bold as brass, the pair of them, holding hands.
‘There’s something I need to tell you, Carrie.’ He’d had the good grace to look embarrassed.
‘It is only fair, it is only right.’ Valentina was contrite, her dusky Colombian voice, throaty and whispering. Did they want her blessing?
‘Nothing has happened, but…’ Kevin looked down at his hand, joined tight with Valentina’s. Well that was a lie straight off.
‘Really, nothing has happened?’ Carrie looked deep into his eyes, managed to keep the tears from her own. It wasn’t hard, she probably should have been angry or distraught, but somehow, she just felt numb.
‘No, I mean…’ Kevin looked at Valentina, his slack-jawed face was pleading for help.
Carrie knew him long enough to read him like a book. What a pity she hadn’t kept her eyes on the pages, she thought.
‘Kevin, please.’ She wasn’t begging him, but the least he owed her was the truth. ‘This place, Kevin, all the years, all the days and nights of work… at least be honest with me.’
‘We… I didn’t want to hurt you. I couldn’t… I mean, I can’t help it. We’re in love, Carrie, and it’s a while since I felt this way.’
‘I see.’ Funny, but having it confirmed did not make it any better. This place, her office, had suddenly felt like none of it was hers anymore. That was just absurd though. It was hers, every bit of it, the restaurant, the five stars, the whole business from start to finish, she had built it up. Kevin might have been the talent, he might have been the toast of the Dublin foodie scene, but she was the brains behind the operation. Kevin was the technical force, but everything else in this business was down to her. She’d picked the building, the art on the walls, she’d organised launches and managed to get the press to feature them. She’d chosen the tablecloths and ordered the wines and she did the hiring and firing. She’d hired Valentina because she came with good references. Of course, she was a stunner, everything about her was glossy, as if she had been dipped in polish; inky black hair, a wide vermillion smile and impossibly white teeth. She slunk about the restaurant, weaving her curves through the tables and flirting throatily with everyone she met. The customers loved a bit of glamour about the place. She was smart too, and from the moment she set foot in the restaurant, Carrie had a feeling that one day, Valentina could be capable of running somewhere every bit as good as ‘The Sea Pear’, but this was the last thing she had expected.
‘Is that all you can say, “I see”,’ Kevin looked like a five-year-old, waiting for a scolding after walking muddy shoes across the kitchen floor.
‘Well, it’s a shock, obviously.’ Carrie had managed to look him in the eye, but she would not cry, not before them. They’d left with light steps and the soft click of the door behind them.
It took two days. It was unreal of course, those two days; Kevin had not come home. Carrie assumed he was staying with Valentina – where else? Maybe that incongruity had stoppered her rage, because she knew she had every right to be angry with him – with both of them. Instead, by going on as if things were completely normal, showing up for work and still keeping out of each other’s way, it felt as though her fury was in a vacuum. Somehow it seemed irrational to cry and scream and wipe the floor with them as she knew they deserved.
They’d gone through their usual routines, arrived at work at the normal time, Carrie spoke with staff and customers with her usual charm, like nothing had changed. Kevin stayed in the safety of the kitchen, immersed in the nuts and bolts of keeping orders moving through to his own exacting standards. Then today, the dam had somehow washed through and as she’d walked through the kitchen, she saw them. It was all very casual. He was checking sauces, Valentina was handing him seasoning and she placed her hand on his arm, there was just a glance. It was a fleeting look that said so much more than they managed to convey a couple of days earlier when they told her. It was filled with intimacy, charged with chemistry and Carrie could see it was fuelled by alliance. It suddenly struck her, the thing that she managed to ignore for two whole days. It dawned on her, that it was not just that her relationship of over a decade had died a lingering death until it’s final cruel severing, that was not what tipped her emotions over in the end. Rather it was realising that Kevin and Valentina were a couple and she was trapped here with the two of them.
She’d run to the back door, flung herself through it. She’d needed air, suddenly, she was stifled with heat, misery and a dreadful tightening in her gut that she knew was something close to emotional claustrophobia. One of the cleaners had been sheltering, smoking a rolled-up cigarette. It could have been a joint for all Carrie knew. He’d tapped open a bruised-looking tin box and handed one across to her, lit it silently with his back crouched over it against the bitter night and left her to it. The door had banged heavily in his wake, and here she’d stood, for almost twenty minutes while watery sleet pelted from the heavens.
The evening was beginning to darken, the sky menaced layers of gloomy grey that would not push over until they had blown Dublin inside out. Carrie pushed back her fiery curly hair from her face, the sleet against her cheeks like icy cold slaps that she hoped might snap her out of this nightmare. She tried to imagine that far above the clouds, a blue sky with the sun shining waited to impart some light. She couldn’t come near to mustering up the image.