© By S. Faith 29 July 2006
i. Five weeks to Christmas
Drinking to a blind stupor was not a wise thing to do, but Jamie Bennett wanted to be stupidly drunk, and he was well on his way. He wanted to forget what he'd walked in on that day after the wedding of two of his very good friends. Jamie's heart had been filled with romantic, loving thoughts and he'd been so sure his girlfriend would want to return to the wedding reception to finish the celebration with him, to share in those happy feelings… but very clearly she'd been more interested in sharing feelings, among other things, with his very own brother.
And so, no reception; just another scotch.
He became aware of another man to his left, heard him also order two fingers of Glenlivet. As the barkeep set the two identical drinks side by side, Jamie glanced to size up the newcomer and found he looked oddly familiar. The stranger smiled politely, then raised his tumbler up in a mock toast before sipping.
Jamie did the same.
"There a woman's name on your glass as well?" asked the stranger.
Reluctantly Jamie nodded, then drank again. "Went to a wedding alone. Found my 'sick' girlfriend had stayed home to shag my brother."
The stranger winced. "Sorry. Been there."
Jamie extended a hand. "Jamie Bennett."
The stranger shook firmly. "Mark Darcy."
Something about the name was familiar, then he remembered the high-profile human rights case from about a fortnight ago. This man had been the barrister, he was sure of it. "You defended Aghani, didn't you?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. "I think I saw you on the telly."
"Thanks." The lawyer looked thoughtful. "And you. I know your name, but from where I can't be sure."
"I'm a writer," he replied. "Best known for cheap paperback thrillers commonly found in airport bookshops."
"Ah. Yes, that's it. I think I crossed the Mediterranean once with 'Dark Lady'. Not bad."
"Not one of my best works. But thanks."
They sat in silence, contemplating their drinks. "So. Did you find your girlfriend with your brother, too?"
"Not exactly." Mark rubbed his temple. "I walked in on my wife and the best man from my wedding."
Jamie grimaced. "What a dreadful coincidence. Sorry to hear."
Mark shook his head. "That happened years ago."
Jamie looked to him in surprise. "Hell of a long time to nurse a wound."
"That's not why I'm here." He laughed ironically. "Funny, I've never so much as held the woman that brings me here, let alone kissed her."
Jamie raised an eyebrow. "Damn. What happened?"
Mark sighed. "A series of bad first impressions, foolish assumptions… and then ten days ago, she and I were this close to starting something when the aforementioned best man turned up, and she sided with him."
"Ouch. Rotten luck, mate."
"Yeah." Mark indicated to the barman he'd like another; Jamie was up for another as well.
"So. Ten days ago? Have you tried calling her?"
Mark shrugged. "I saw little point in pursuing her after she'd so clearly chosen him. Now I've been offered a lucrative position in New York, and… God. I just don't know what to do. There's just something about her that I'm hesitant to walk away from—"
Jamie was adamant, pointing a decisive finger at the barrister. "Take it, mate. Don't give her another chance to crush you."
"Do you think—?"
"Absolutely. She's made her choice, right?" Jamie stared into the amber liquid in his glass, suddenly turning uncommonly morose and sighing heavily. His voice was softer when he spoke. "Yes. She's made her choice. I should have seen it coming. And we were supposed to leave this week for a holiday in the south of France, at this lovely little villa we stayed at in the spring…"
Mark shrugged. "You may as well still go. Sounds like you could use the holiday even more now. Get away and write."
"I should, shouldn't I?" Jamie managed a smile, suddenly feeling exhausted. "If for no other reason: the deposit isn't refundable." Jamie drank the rest of his scotch, then stood and clapped this new acquaintance on the shoulder. "Well. Best of luck in New York."
Mark nodded. "Best of luck in the south of France."
Jamie left the pub for… well, where he'd go, he wasn't sure. And then he remembered: Peter and Juliet's place would be empty tonight, for they were currently honeymooning. Yes. He would go there, then return to his place in the morning to ask her to move out, then prepare for the drive to Marseilles.
ii. Five weeks after Christmas
It was quite amazing, thought Jamie, how much things could change in such a short amount of time. The reluctant holiday to the south of France had turned out to be a glorious blessing in disguise, bringing the beautiful, perfect, dark-haired beauty Aurelia into his life. They hadn't even had a language in common but somehow she'd managed to win his heart, and he'd won hers as well. He'd learned enough Portuguese to get by and on a spur of the moment, he'd made the trip back to France on Christmas Eve to propose to her. She'd then shocked him by revealing that she had learned some English, "just in cases," as she'd told him with a grin. That was when he'd known he'd made the right decision, for it was not every day a woman learned a foreign language for him.
A month after this profitable trip, he'd brought her back to England to live, and now, one week after returning, Aurelia had decided she wanted to make the two of them a big Portuguese dinner in celebration of settling in England. She had playfully kicked him out of the house so that every dish would be a surprise to him; as a result he'd set out to spread his wealth of happiness, and found himself sidling up to the bar at the neighbourhood pub, ordering a round of ale for the house, which garnered a loud cheer within.
"Lookin' on top of the world, Bennett," said the man behind the counter. He realised the last time he'd been in was just before his departure to France, when he'd felt as low as a man could feel, and probably looked even worse.
"I am, good sir; I am," Jamie replied, a giant grin on his face. "I've recently returned from France, thoroughly in love and engaged." Indeed, things could not have been more different from his last visit. One-hundred and eighty degrees different.
The bartender poured the man a scotch as per usual, jaded smile in place, which didn't dampen Jamie's mood in the least. "Well, bully for you."
A voice beside him said, "I see things are much improved over last time we met."
Jamie turned to find the barrister he'd met on his last visit to the pub had seemingly materialized on the next stool. He directed the barkeep to pour another scotch, and to add it to his tab. "For you, too?"
Mark Darcy smiled, nodding an affirmative.
"So what happened to New York?"
Mark swirled the scotch around in the glass before sipping. "I found out that the reason Bridget had—"
"Bridget?" Jamie interrupted.
"The woman whose name was on my glass of scotch when you and I met."
"Bridget had only come to side with the former mate / best man because he'd lied to her and told her that I had run off with his fiancée."
"So one day before I was to leave, presumably just after discovering the truth, she told me how she felt: exactly the same as I did. I went to New York anyway, just this side of engaged to another woman." Mark grinned lopsidedly, looking (in Jamie's opinion) far too cheery for the direction this story seemed to be going. "But I turned around and came back straightaway when I realised I couldn't abandon the possibility of happiness and leave her behind. We've been together since just before the New Year."
"Good for you, mate, good for you. Glad to 've been wrong." He raised his glass of scotch, and Mark did likewise. They clinked in toast. "So, yourself? Did I hear you say something about an engagement? You can't possibly be talking about the woman that shagged your brother, can you?"
Jamie snorted a laugh. "Definitely not. Her name's Aurelia, and we met in France. She was the housekeeper at the villa, and we spent two weeks in close quarters. She didn't speak any English or French. I didn't speak any Portuguese. And yet…" Jamie could not contain another grin. "…we connected somehow. So after a crash course in her language, I decided to go back for her, only to discover she'd been studying English. She was good enough to accept my proposal." Jamie winked.
Mark silently toasted again.
"We've only just returned from France within the week. And tonight she's making a special dinner for the two of us."
Unexpectedly, Mark laughed. Jamie looked to him quizzically. "It's just—the thought of Bridget making dinner—she's an appalling cook," Mark confided, then described the birthday feast – blue soup, omelet with nasty caper berry gravy, and marmalade dessert – that had preceded the arrival of the ex-best mate. Jamie laughed. "It's a good thing that particular domestic talent isn't high on my list of requirements for a girlfriend."
Jamie continued to chuckle. "So where is your Bridget tonight?"
"We're meeting here then heading for dinner—Ah. Here she is now." A pretty woman with dark blonde shoulder-length hair, fair skin and blue-grey eyes had entered the pub, and when her gaze found Mark, her face positively lit up with a beaming smile. She approached Mark and kissed him. Then she looked at her boyfriend's compadre, back again to her boyfriend, her brows knitting with confusion.
"Mark, who's this?" She continued to scrutinise Jamie.
"Bridget, this is Jamie Bennett. He's an author."
Recognition sparked in her eyes. "Ah, yes, I remember the name from Pemberley. Pemberley Press," she elaborated, "where I used to work." Jamie nodded.
"And Jamie, this is Bridget, whom I've just been telling you about."
"You're from the telly too," Jamie said, making the connection to the Aghani interview. "It's very nice to meet you." To Mark he said in a low tone, "Worth coming back for, indeed." Mark smiled.
Bridget still looked befuddled, her attention focused back and forth between the two men. "You really have no idea, do you?"
"About what, darling?"
Her expression was all astonishment, as if the two men were as oblivious as the day was long. "You two could be brothers."
Mark looked to Jamie, and Jamie looked to Mark, both with dubious expressions on their faces.
Finally, Mark turned to her and said, "I'm sorry, love. I just don't see it."
Bridget blew out a frustrated breath. "You're both just taking the mickey out of me," she grumbled.
The men shared innocent looks.
"I'm not, I promise."
"Nor am I." Mark stood, picked up the tumbler and finished his scotch, then slipped an arm about Bridget's waist, kissing her cheek. "Come, darling. Let's have dinner." Then he said to Jamie: "Thanks for the drink. And all my best with Aurelia."
Jamie smiled. "Obrigado."