Google+ Sandra's Stories: She Hadn't Changed at all

Thursday, 29 November 2012

She Hadn't Changed at all

Melanie had been fond of her most recent husband but she was fonder still of the two million dollar divorce payout she’d received when she left him.

I recognised her immediately. She was standing at the table of an outdoor inner-city bar, a well-known watering hole for investment bankers and business magnates. It had been five years since we’d seen last seen each other. Since then Melanie had been married and divorced twice, and acquired a small fortune in alimony. There was no question she was good at what she did.

She was leaning suggestively towards a tall man in a well-fitting grey suit. Everything about the man exuded power and money. He was exactly her type. He was looking past her into the crowd, swirling his boutique-beer bottle in his hand. He looked almost bored by her attention, which must have been a first for my old university friend. Melanie was never short of male admirers.

She was a stunning woman, gifted with thick, deep red-gold hair. Her skin had an amber glow that accentuated her perfect toothpaste commercial smile and large, dark-blue, doll like eyes. She was wearing a skin-tight emerald green dress with the confidence of someone who knows she looks good. I recognized it as one of her husband hunting uniforms. Her uniforms had proved extremely effective over the years.

Melanie glanced in my direction, her face breaking into a smile of recognition when she saw me. She touched the grey-suited man beguilingly on the arm, before tottering towards me in her burgundy satin heels. I couldn’t help noticing the other men at the bar stopped talking and watched as she flowed past them, immediately distracted by her body moving beneath the tight dress.

‘Isla! It’s so good to see you.’ She gave me a side-cheek kiss and an airy hug, her breasts brushing against me. She still had her slim figure from university, but her chest was suspiciously plumper than the last time I’d received one of her hugs. I wondered if husband number two had funded that before or after the divorce.

She took my arm in the same conspiratorial manner in which she used to grab me when we gossiped about boys during our university days.

‘Isla, I’ve just met the next man for me. He just came up to me at the bar, like as if he knew me! He’s a real challenge, a stubborn one though. He doesn’t seem interested in me yet. But come and watch me break him. If he’s not married to me by the end of the year, I’ll eat my dress.’

She hadn’t changed at all. The annoying thing was she was probably right. I’d witnessed it all too many times in the past - the way she could turn an unyielding (and rich) man into her generous play-thing.

But it had been five years and things had changed. There was something I really needed to tell her before she got too far into her escapade. However, there was no chance as her manicured talons pulled me insistently towards the grey-suited man.

The man looked up at us approaching. The bored expression I’d seen on him from afar had disappeared and he smiled eagerly. Melanie gave me a knowing wink.

‘I knew he’d come around,’ she said in my ear. ‘Now we’re in business.’

She gave his arm another provocative squeeze as we joined the table. The man started to say something, but she cut him off with a hand on his chest.

‘Isla, Tom. Tom, Isla. There. Now that introductions are done, Tom, could you get us some champagne?’

Tom laughed. ‘You’re funny. Sure, OK, whatever you ladies need.’ He walked off obligingly, but not before taking another glance at us.

Melanie gave me a triumphant smirk. ‘Complete turn-around since I showed him my backside. I think I hear wedding bells.’

I really needed to tell her something before we got too far into our night.

‘Enough about me, darling!’ she said before I could get my thoughts together. ‘Tell me about you! I heard you got married.’

Finally I had a moment alone with her and the spot light was on me. I could tell her. So much had changed.

‘I did. He’s-‘

‘Look around here, at all these men! There are just so many good looking, rich men here. I’m so glad I cashed in on the last old codger so I could choose again. I think the men just get richer and more handsome as the years go by. Don’t you Isla?’ She paused to look at my face which was probably looking a bit pinched with stifled frustration. ‘Oh dear, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t rub it in now you’re off the market with what’s-his-face from the back office.’

Suddenly I didn’t feel like talking anymore. She could only blame herself if she didn’t hear the news from me first.

‘Don’t you think that out of all the men here tonight, Tom is the most handsome?’ she asked me.

At least I could answer that one honestly. I’d noticed him even before I’d noticed her. In fact, I doubted there was any woman in the bar who hadn’t seen him.

‘Definitely,’ I said. ‘And he’s-‘

‘…all mine, I know,’ she incorrectly finished my sentence. I should really tell her, but I was starting to not care anymore.

I could predict what was coming next and I knew I might as well play along. Melanie’s tactics were always the same. To win a rich man, you had to pretend you were rich until he was too far in love to care. ‘No man likes a gold digger,’ she used to say. Nowadays Melanie didn’t need to pretend she was wealthy – she really was. I could be sure she would still give Tom a lavish demonstration in order to safely secure him though.

Tom arrived back with our champagne and we all clinked glasses. His cheeks were flushed and he was smiling. His spirits had definitely lifted since I’d first seen him talking to Melanie.

She was right on cue.

‘I know we were just planning a quiet girls night, but now Tom’s joined us, I think we should celebrate. I have a crazy idea…let’s go for a helicopter ride over Sydney. It’s on me! My driver can pick us up from here.’

Tom raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t expected that one.

‘I’m in. Let’s do it,’ I said quickly before Tom could object. I easily stepped back into my old role of enabler to Melanie’s cons.

Melanie smiled at me appreciatively, then nudged me quietly in the arm.

‘Something fancy to tell the old man about when you get home, hey?’

I gritted my teeth. The old man was going to have something to talk about all right. If I didn’t tell her, that is.

‘How about you Tom?’ Melanie put her predatory talons on his chest again.

He looked unsure about accepting Melanie’s hospitality and glanced at me while he thought about it. I nodded encouraging. No one could accuse me of being an unsupportive friend.

‘Sure, why not. If Isla’s in, then so am I. Thanks Melanie, that’s really generous of you.’

Melanie laughed and waved her hands dismissively. ‘Oh it’s nothing, really.’ She tapped on her phone, typing out a text message. ‘My driver’s just on the street now, ready to go.’ She raised her champagne glass in the air.

‘To living like teenagers!’ she said. She arched her back and threw back her champagne in one gulp. She was drinking like a teenager but I doubted there were any teenagers who treated their crushes to helicopter rides on a whim.

‘Let’s go!’ she said.

Tom shrugged, and raised his glass, looking at me. I raised my glass to join him and together we sculled our champagne.

The black hire car was waiting for us as we reached the street. I knew what I was supposed to do, but Melanie made sure there could be no doubt in my mind. She shuffled me into the front seat next to the driver so she could monopolise Tom in the back.

The drive to the scenic tours helipad would be Melanie’s time to implement her next tactic. Let the man talk about himself – particularly about any boring passions that most people tire of hearing about. Melanie had passed on that little gem to me in first year. I’d had to endure a whole lunch break of her pretending to be enthralled by the software engineering project of a guy whose dad had free tickets to the U2 concert.

Sure enough, Melanie, with an instinct for ferreting out unappreciated pet-passions, asked Tom about his collection of bicycle night lights. Tom chatted away happily. Meanwhile Melanie showed no penchant for her usual mindless interruptions. As I started to drift off to Tom’s boring bicycle prattle, I thought perhaps Melanie did deserve some of the money she collected from her conquests. No one in their right mind could be enjoying this conversation.

The driver opened the door for me, and we stepped out into the helipad car park. Melanie, of course, allowed herself to be assisted by the suddenly helpful Tom. A helicopter was taking off in the vicinity, causing the wind to blow hard. Melanie squealed flirtatiously, her flaming hair blowing wildly in the wind. It was a shame her dress was already so tight. I’m sure she would have enjoyed the opportunity to pull off a Marilyn Monroe impersonation.

Following Melanie’s lead, we ran inside the helipad terminal, laughing with the frivolity of the situation. Who would have thought we’d be here on a Friday night? How lucky we were to have such a rich benefactor like Melanie.

The helicopter was waiting for us – Melanie’s driver had phoned ahead to book us on the next available flight – the twilight tour. I hoped Tom appreciated the romance of the moment. Melanie had really refined her routine over the years. He was getting the best her courtship had to offer.

The flight was spectacular. I enjoyed it even more than when I’d last taken it – with Melanie’s third husband. We soared over Sydney’s eastern and northern beaches, the harbour headlands, and the city. The noise from the helicopter stifled any chance at conversation but when I glanced back at Tom (I’d been hustled to the front seat again), it was obvious he was enjoying it.

We had another glass of champagne in the helipad terminal after our flight. Tom insisted on buying the drinks after Melanie’s generosity with the flights. Melanie inched her chair provocatively closer to Tom. However Tom was oblivious. He asked about how Melanie and I knew each other so I gave him the toned down version of our university days.

As Tom laughed at my story, I felt a sharp kick in my shins. Melanie was jerking her head towards the door, whilst her eyes were fixed on me, looking slightly wild. I hadn’t seen her for five years and we hadn’t caught up at all tonight. We’d been too wrapped up in her hunt. But I was a good friend, and I could take a hint.

‘Well, I’d better get going,’ I stood up abruptly. ‘It was good to see you again Melanie.’

‘Yes, nice to meet you Melanie,’ Tom said, standing up and shaking Melanie’s hand in a business-like manner. Melanie stood there speechless. Her face was twitching spasmodically.

‘You don’t want to stay a little longer?’ she said, ignoring me, and staring directly into Tom’s eyes.

‘Better not - got an early start in the morning. Lovely to meet you though.’

I started backing away towards the door as Melanie’s eyes narrowed in disbelief. It was probably the first time she’d ever lost her prey. This was not going to be pretty. Tom was on my heels out the door too.

Fortuitously, at that moment a taxi pulled up, dropping off some passengers. Tom and I jumped in together.

‘Belrose please,’ I said. The taxi driver nodded and began to drive.

Tom leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. ‘She’s a funny woman, that friend of yours. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. She likes to touch people a lot. She’s sort of super friendly but cold at the same time. She didn’t even congratulate us on our wedding.’

‘You didn’t tell her you were my husband when you arrived at the bar? I told her you were meeting us at there,’ I said.

‘No, I didn’t get a chance. I couldn’t get a word in about you. She kept firing questions at me about my hobbies and when I mentioned my bike lights she started interrogating me. I’ve never known anyone who was so interested in bike lights. It was probably the most boring conversation of my life. I was so happy when you arrived! Why? Didn’t you tell her I was your husband when you arrived?’

‘No, I didn’t get a chance. She was too busy telling me about how you were the next man she would marry and how she was going to win you over.’

‘You mean to tell me the whole night, she had no idea you and I were married?’

‘Yup, that’s right,’ I said. Tom’s face went blank to confused to outraged as he began to comprehend the situation.

I should have told her I suppose…

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