It all started with a bottle of Baileys that was a year out of date but I drank it anyway ...One minute, well, Friday night, you're in a long-term if long-distance relationship with the perfect Shane. The next, Saturday morning, you're waking up in bed with the mother of all hangovers ...and Bernard O'Malley, newest member of the I.T. department. Another entry on the list of things you can't forgive yourself for. The worst is Spain. What you did there. And what happened to your brother. Ever since then, life has slowly spiralled out of control. You dust yourself down, have a cigarette and pull on your stiletto boots. But you know that something's got to give. You just hope it's not the zip on your skinny jeans ...
Release date: June 25, 2009
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 452
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I started writing 3½ years ago when I signed up for a creative writing course in Whitehall College, mostly to get out of the house of an evening and occupy my brain with something other than child-rearing and dirty dishes. Emma Sweeney taught the class and under her gentle persuasion, guidance and encouragement, I started to really write. People like Emma should be cloned and given to everyone who ever had a dream; thank you, thank you, thank you.
I would like to thank my writing group who read the first, shaky-legged drafts of Saving Grace and provided fantastic feedback, suggestions and advice. Their enthusiasm for the project was an invaluable source of encouragement and motivation. Thank you Pauline, Mark, Noreen, Aisling, Bernadette and Maeve.
Thanks also to my agent, Ger Nichol. Her enthusiasm, support and guidance has been fantastic.
Thanks to everyone at Hachette Books Ireland who have made me feel so welcome. A special thank you to my editor, Ciara Doorley whose commitment and professionalism are hugely appreciated.
Thanks to Colm Toibin who, at a public talk in Baldoyle Library, advised a roomful of aspiring writers to ‘let the house go to wrack and ruin’. I took his advice literally and wrote, ignoring the crumbs on the dining-room table and the stains on the kitchen floor. There is great freedom in being able to do this and I would advise all aspiring writers to follow suit. Also, think on this; if you mop the floors today, they’ll only have to be done again next week . . . and the week after. My house may be in disarray but my book is published and that beats clean floors any day of the week.
Thank you to Lynda Laffan for reading parts of this book and taking the time to give me her insightful feedback and advice.
Thank you to Gerard Donovan and Denise Deegan, who read parts of this book and offered invaluable advice and encouragement.
A big thank you to my sister, Niamh who read this book from the beginning, who encouraged me when I didn’t know what to write next, who cheered me all the way to the finishing line, who is always there for me. Everyone should have a sister like you.
During the writing of this book, my children, Sadhbh and Neil, were endlessly patient with me and did not kick up too much of a stink if I took them to the chip shop for their dinner instead of ladling up home-made soups and wild mushroom risottos. Thank you for that. I must also mention our brand new baby, Grace who, at the time of writing, is two weeks old today. She sleeps through the night which is the reason that I can write this without falling asleep across the keyboard. Thank you Grace.
And finally, an almighty thank you to my husband and best friend, chief bottle washer and doer of laundry, and maker of shepherd’s pies, Frank MacLochlainn. This book would not have been written without your constant support, love and kindness. Thank you for giving me the space and time to write.
It all started with a bottle of Baileys that was a year out of date but I drank it anyway.
Like most bad ideas, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Now it hurt to open my eyes and I didn’t know where I was. I guessed it was an apartment. I could hear voices above and below, although that could have been the hangover roaring at me. I lay face down in a bed I didn’t recognise and coaxed my eyes open.
From the looks of the line of clothes on the floor running from the door to the foot of the bed, there was a good chance I was naked. Shielding my eyes from the worst of the daylight, I inched them along the floor:
• Black suede skirt with silver snail trails curling along the bottom: check.
• Much-adored black linen – practically see-through – top: check.
• Black leather jacket: check.
Downhill from there, really . . .
• Shabby used-to-be-black bra with great thick straps and enough material for ten normal-sized bras and maybe some pants: check.
And yes, there were the dishcloth grey, used-to-be-white knickers that I reserved for periods and Pilates, straddling the bedside lamp. The lamp was on and the light bled through the threadbare gusset. I was in the throes of a laundry crisis brought on by days of neglect, and pickings were slim yesterday morning.
Not even the sight of my beautiful, black knee-high boots with heels like knitting needles comforted me. One of my hold-ups had impaled itself on a heel and a ladder ran down the side of it, ending in a glaring hole in or around the big toe area.
I buried my face into the pillow and tried not to think about Shane.
One year, nine months, three weeks and six days – four weeks tomorrow. What was I thinking? I had no idea what to do in this type of situation. To calm myself, I breathed, Pilates-style, sucking my belly in as tight as it would go until I ran out of breath and had to let it all sag back out again.
A moan followed by a series of pig-like snorts brought me back to the situation at hand. I lifted my head off the pillow, chancing a glance at the other side of the bed.
The shock was like a bucket of cold water. It was the new guy from the IT department. The one Laura called Geek Almighty. The one Norman called the Anti-Versace, on account of his nuclear dress sense. Even Ethan had sniggered. Jennifer was the only one who refused to comment, on account of her being the MD’s PA and Sworn to Secrecy on matters of Extreme Importance and Otherwise. I hadn’t said anything about him – although it wasn’t a refusal as such, it’s just that the arrival of single men in the office over the age of twenty didn’t excite me as it used to. Because of Shane I suppose. And everything else.
I hadn’t really looked at Bernard before now.
Bernard O’Malley from Athlone or Tullamore or Mullingar or somewhere in the midlands. He joined the company a couple of months ago. His arrival had caused quite a stir in the office, but then, the arrival of the water cooler caused a stir in our office. Ditto the coffee machine and even the monthly stationery order, especially when we get away with ordering bright pink paperclips which actually cost more than your common-or-garden metal ones. All this to distract us from the fact that we work in an insurance company. Not by choice, obviously. Insurance seems to be an industry that people sort of fall into without ever meaning to. Ask any of them.
Until last night, I had spoken to Bernard only the once. The conversation had gone a bit like this:
‘Eh, my laptop appears to be malfunctioning.’
‘Yes, the keypad is indeed quite sticky.’
‘I most certainly did not spill a can of Coke on it.’ (It was a Club Orange, if you really must know.)
And then: ‘How long will it take to fix? I’m expecting a very important email.’ (Response from hairdresser to code-red request for urgent attention.)
Bernard O’Malley. He was usually hunched over a computer, peering into the monitor with his teeny-tiny Joycean glasses.
I might have also seen him once in O’Reilly’s for the traditional Friday night just-the-one-ah-sure-let’s-stay-til-kicking-out-time drink, peering with his teeny-tiny Joycean glasses into the ruby-black depths of his pint of Guinness.
Now, he was lying in a Jesus-on-the-cross type of arrangement, arms akimbo with an enormous erection decorating his nether regions. He was smiling in his sleep – what red-blooded male wouldn’t, with a lunch box of that stature down below? And his hair? Roaring red, it was. Even redder than mine. Laura would be furious. It totally contravened Rule No. 35 (hair colour), Subsection D (gingers). As for gingers sleeping with fellow gingers, well, that wasn’t even covered in the Rules. That’s how wrong it was.
Bernard’s hair could not be more different from Shane’s. It was that kind of hair that pointed everywhere at the same time. It wasn’t long but it could do with a cut. My mother would call it untidy.
His glasses were missing, leaving two deep red indentations on the bridge of a long, narrow nose. I raised my head up a little more, checked he was still asleep and ran my eyes down the length of him. His feet hung over the edge of the bed. I hadn’t realised he was so tall, having only really seen him sitting down before (in office, in pub, see above). Oh good Christ, he was wearing SOCKS – brown ones with orange polka dots.
I squeezed my eyes shut and tried not to think about the night before. Even behind the lids the flashbacks came, just out of reach so I couldn’t swat them away like flies.
I needed to get some clothes on. First though, I had to cover up Bernard’s manhood. It had its own gravitational force: my eyes kept darting south, like magnets to the pole. I eased myself up onto all fours – the car crash in my head developing into a multi-vehicle collision – and leaned over the side of the bed in search of a sheet. Or even a tea towel.
Behind me, I heard him speak.
I don’t know what he said. I just heard a voice and all the words were lost as I fell off the side of the bed in a tangle of arms, legs and wobbly bits.
‘Grace, are you OK?’ Bernard leaned over the edge of the bed and looked down at me, then immediately looked away as I pawed at my breasts in an effort to cover them. It would take more than two hands to conceal the girls.
‘Sorry, I just thought you might have hurt yourself.’ He groped for a sheet and handed it to me, his head turned away. A mark of respect? Maybe he just couldn’t bear the sight of me?
Then I noticed his hands. I was a hands woman. Other women were into legs, or buns, or eyes, or length and/or girth of male member. I was into hands. Bernard had what you might call artistic hands, long slender fingers topped with girlishly pink almond-shaped nails. Strong hands with long, fine hairs, lending the requisite manly touch.
I was momentarily silenced as I quickly covered myself with the sheet. My look said, ‘your turn now’. He reached down and found a pair of boxers under his bed (white with red roses climbing furiously towards the elasticated waistband on a twisted green stem). I didn’t know if they were the ones he had discarded last night or if that was where he kept his stash. I was just relieved that he had covered himself, although his erection strained against the flimsy material, giving the roses a robust, well-tended effect.
The silence that followed was long. Bernard broke it by reaching for his glasses on the bedside table – except they weren’t there. He spread his fingers across the top of the locker, tapping his hand up and down against the wooden surface, along the strap of my discarded bra. His fingers slid up the hillock of one of the cups in a way that unsettled me. He obviously couldn’t see a thing without his glasses. I hooked my fingers around a strap and reefed it away from him. The clasp cracked against my cheek, stinging.
‘Grace, sorry. I really need to find my glasses. Can you see them?’ His voice was urgent, the question addressed to an area just above my head.
I eventually found them, folded neatly on a glass shelf in the en-suite bathroom. He must have taken them off before we went to bed. That might explain the deliberate way he moved his hands over my body last night – he had been visually impaired. I shivered, thinking about those hands on me.
Shane’s face appeared in my head, like a pop-up picture in a storybook, and I shrank away from the image.
‘Are you cold?’ Bernard asked. His concern pushed the walls of my guilt farther apart.
‘No.’ I thrust the glasses towards him. He fumbled for them, brushing his hand against my fingertips. His skin was soft and warm.
With his glasses on, he looked more like himself. In fact, he looked better than he normally did. With no clothes on, I mean. Christ, where had that thought come from? I had to get out of there and act like nothing had happened. I would be lynched in work on Monday if anyone got wind of this, not least because of Shane. Everyone loved Shane. Well, the women did anyway.
Bernard peered at me through the tiny lenses as if noticing me for the first time. I felt out of place, like a sky-high Buddha at a Catholic mass. There was nowhere else to sit so I perched on the edge of the bed.
‘Do you mind if I smoke?’ he asked.
‘God no, not at all.’ My voice sounded too hearty in the intimacy of the room. And then I remembered something.
‘You didn’t smoke last night, did you?’
‘No, I only smoke first thing in the morning,’ he said, like that was normal.
He pulled slowly on the cigarette, holding it like an old man, between his thumb and forefinger, closing his eyes as he inhaled, emitting vast plumes of smoke from his nose and mouth.
I didn’t know whether to be insulted or relieved by his detailed concentration on smoking. I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. He handed me the cigarette, his long Inspector Gadget arm reaching across the width of the bed. I removed it from his fingers, trying not to touch him. I didn’t want to give him the wrong impression. Although maybe it was a little late for that. The smoking saved us from the burden of conversation. One of us was either smoking or waiting for the other to pass the cigarette. I don’t know why we didn’t just smoke one each. But the ritual of the shared cigarette calmed me. I made a great show of stubbing the cigarette out in an ashtray on the bedside table.
The silence in the room thickened and throbbed.
‘Bernard,’ I said with no idea of what I was going to say after that. He sat on the bed, perfectly still. My hands were fidgeting now without the cigarette, my breath loud in the room.
‘Grace,’ he said finally. At least we both knew each other’s names. I comforted myself with this.
‘I don’t make a habit of this, you know, if that’s what you’re thinking,’ he said.
‘A habit of what?’
He looked shy all of a sudden.
‘Of, you know, of this type of situation.’ (He said ‘sitch-ye-ay-shin. Turns out he was from Donegal)
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Well, neither do I. In fact, I . . .’ The phone rang.
‘I’ll be back in a minute.’ He slid out of bed and walked quietly out of the room. His skin was even whiter than mine. A ghostly white.
Like most red-haired women, sallow skin was on my ‘must have’ list for my ideal world or parallel universe or whatever you wanted to call it. Soft, brown skin with no freckles like mine marring the landscape, just shades of brown and browner. Shane was sallow.
With Bernard gone, I took a good look around the place. If asked, I would swear on Granny Mary’s grave (if she were dead) that I’d never been here before.
It was a big room that could have looked bigger were it not for the machines: two hard drives, an oversized monitor, a laptop, a DVD player, a stereo, three speakers. Strangely, only one remote control, a thick brick of a thing that I guessed – correctly – worked on all the gizmos in the room. It could probably pull the blinds, turn down the bed and make a stiff gin and tonic as well. Wires twisted like snakes across the floor and I was surprised I hadn’t tripped over one of them last night. Or maybe I had? I checked myself for bruises. A new one on my shin. In the shape of Ireland. It hurt when I pressed on Cork.
Out of place among the technology was a bookshelf that ran the length of one wall. I gathered the sheet about me tightly and swivelled to the side of the bed. Three condom wrappers – empty – littered the floor. Three. I stepped over them, not looking down. The book collection appeared to be divided into genres. The top shelf housed the classics – Charles Dickens, Henry James, Thomas Hardy – which looked as if they had actually been read. In fact, they looked positively loved. I leafed through some of them. There were dog-ears and circles of red wine, dulled brown with age. Below, in varying quantities, were thrillers, biographies, histories, the obligatory copy of Catcher in the Rye, rubbing shoulders with a Beano annual from 1978.
I was drawn to the self-help section, mostly because I couldn’t believe there was one. Although, on closer inspection, it was more of a ‘how to’ section. How to Play Chess to Win. The Book of Knots (I swear to God). One on fashion called Dress to Kill that had to be a present from someone with a sense of humour. According to the scribbled message inside the front cover, it was from someone called Edward:
The title of this book should not be taken literally and you should stop doing it. Very soon. Happy birthday bro, from Edward. August 2001
I looked towards the bed. It was long and wide; a fat finger, pointing an accusation at me. Bernard’s discarded clothes poked out from under the bed, like dismembered bodies. The arm of a cardigan (he wore cardigans), the leg of a pair of trousers that might be flannels (he wore trousers that might be called flannels, ending about an inch above his ankle), the wrinkled corpse of a T-shirt that I think said ‘Ladybirds Rock’ with a picture of two ladybirds squatting on a rock (he wore T-shirts that said things, with explanatory diagrams).
At work his wardrobe was the subject of coffee-break observations (mostly – nay, all – negative). I hadn’t yet witnessed his summer wardrobe, but I was willing to bet there was a pair of leather-strap sandals in there. Laura joked about giving him a charity shag just so she could access his wardrobe and burn the contents when he wasn’t looking.
‘Underneath those tank tops and Y-fronts is a fit body, crying out for some Calvin Klein,’ she said, more than once.
I closed the book and returned it to its place, letting my fingers trail along the broken spines until I reached the end of the shelf. A thin book faced the wrong way out. I eased it off the shelf. Coping With Grief: A Practical Guide. The cover, creased and torn, pictured an expanse of calm ocean lit by a full moon. Definitely written by an American. There was an inscription: Bernard, I find this helps. Keep in touch. Love, Cliona. xx
I shoved the book back on the shelf, my hands hot, as though I had trespassed onto private property.
Bernard was still on the phone. I could hear him if I listened carefully. He said ‘aye’ a lot.
A photograph in a shell-encrusted wooden frame caught my eye on top of the chest of drawers in the corner. Two young boys in swimming trunks, their arms wrapped around each other, standing in front of a little blow-up dinghy sitting plumply on the sand. They looked identical although one was wearing glasses. He was slightly smaller and skinnier than the other boy. This one had to be Bernard, I decided, picking up the frame. I recognised his hands.
It was exactly sixty seconds later when Bernard returned. That’s the thing about IT people. When they say a minute, they really mean, like, sixty seconds. When I say to my boss, for example, I’ll be back in a minute, it could be a matter of hours before my return. People seem to know this about me and are never surprised.
‘Sorry about that,’ he said.
I dropped the frame, the glass rattling across the wood. Bernard reached me in long, slow strides, his arm lengthening to prop the picture up. The inside of his elbow touched my skin through the sheet. He was close. I stopped breathing. He leaned towards me and I knew he was thinking about kissing me. I anticipated the kiss before it happened, tasting it. Then I came to and reefed myself away from him. He rallied well.
‘That sheet suits you.’ When he smiled, his cheeks dented in dimples, like Patrick’s.
‘About last night,’ I blurted, the guilt forced up out of me, like water through a blow-hole.
Bernard didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t smiling any more.
‘Look,’ I whispered. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be here, I don’t know what I’m at these days.’ I paused, hoping he might say something. He did not. I took a deep breath.
‘I have a boyfriend,’ I said. ‘Shane. Shane is my boyfriend. I mean, well, he was and possibly still is . . . It’s . . . it’s complicated really.’ I trailed off, cringing at how pathetic and ridiculous I must sound.
‘I’ll make some coffee,’ was all he said before he left again. I could hear the rattle of crockery from the kitchen and I grabbed my clothes off the floor. I needed to get out of there as soon as possible. Bernard’s soft accent had unnerved me.
It seemed I couldn’t depend on anything: on Shane to marry me and love me till I was dead, on Bernard to be an IT geek and to have manuals on the programming rituals of Intel chips on his bookshelves. Even the weather was being ridiculous: it was March and the sun was streaming in through slits in the wooden blinds, making everything seem golden and hopeful and new. My world was still in winter: cold and bleak and dark.
Walking home from a Friday night in the cold glare of Saturday morning is a sobering experience, which was lucky for me as I was still half-cut from the night before. To stop myself thinking about Shane, I wrote lines in my head, over and over again: ‘I will never drink in-or-indeed-out-of-date Baileys again and then sleep with anyone who is not my boyfriend.’ Three times – no wonder I was exhausted.
It turned out I was in Swords, which meant that Bernard owned the apartment. There’s no way anyone would live that far from town unless they had to.
I teetered down the Swords Main Street in my impossibly high heels. I had always known why they were called ‘killer heels’ but maybe the pain was like labour pain: completely forgotten the next day. Take my sister Jane, for example. Three kids under her belt and you ask her to give you a blow-by-blow account on the agonies of childbirth, and she simply cannot. When you complain, she just says she can’t remember. Well, it’s like that with high heels.
Now my feet shrieked at me, although on the plus side, the car crash in my head had dulled to a tolerable throb.
Bernard had given me Alka-Seltzers, two of them, fizzing furiously in a tall glass of water. Even the fizzing noise made my head throb and it took a while before I could coax the glass to my mouth. He made me coffee (real, mind, none of your instant muck) and even offered me the use of a spare toothbrush (yes, I did wonder at that). No more mention was made of Shane. We also avoided politics and religion. Anything really, that might upset the delicate condition of two people who barely know each other having breakfast together in a place where one of the two needs to ask where the bathroom is.
I wobbled down the street, hazy details of the night before gathering in my memory, yawning and stretching and getting ready to attack.
Yes indeed, the nearly full bottle of Baileys was out of date, discovered by Katya, the Russian cleaning lady, at the back of the drinks cabinet in the office boardroom. Considering that she never raises a duster to my desk, I can’t think what she was doing, dusting the inside of the drinks cabinet. Anyway.
‘Is olt,’ she declared, setting the bottle on my desk with great ceremony, like the true KGB agent we all thought she was.
‘Is no goot,’ she continued, sending dust motes into the air around my head with a flick of her feather duster.
‘Say no more, Katya, I will deal with this,’ I responded grandly. I mean, it was alcohol, right? The older, the better, yeah?
All the higher-ups had gone to some meeting or other (emergency board meeting, actually, Bernard told me, to discuss things such as redundancies and whatnot). The point was, we had the place to ourselves, it was Friday afternoon and I was looking for some distraction. I gathered up some paper cups from the kitchen (delivered with the water cooler), sent an email around to a few heads left in the office that sleepy Friday afternoon, inviting them to a ‘come as you are’ office party, venue: my desk, time: asap. In less than five minutes, a small group of office delinquents was gathered around my ‘work area’, as I called it, laughing.
‘What will we do about Sarah?’ Ethan spoke in a theatrical whisper. Sarah was the company receptionist, a tiny woman of indeterminate age and sexual persuasion, but what she lacked in stature she made up for in volume and ferocity. We called her the Bulldog, but only if we knew she wasn’t in the building or, preferably, the country, at the time. While she disapproved of any activity where there was an outside chance of people enjoying themselves, she hated being left out.
‘Don’t worry Ethan,’ I soothed. ‘I’ve emailed her, so our arses are covered. On the plus side, she can’t leave the reception desk so you’re safe enough.’
Ethan was our dote of a marketing manager who also doubled as general all-round skivvy whenever the Boys on the Board needed a stamp licking or some office furniture shifting. He raked a thin hand through thinner hair and smiled his relief at me.
Norman, the office dipso, came to the party armed with two bottles of red wine and a remarkably red face, which led me to believe he’d had more than a ham and cheese sandwich for his lunch. He had a fabulously camp, marbles-in-the-mouth British accent and a full head of thick brown hair cut in a bob like a Trappist monk.
‘Daahling,’ he winked at me, mincing into a chair and crossing his long, tartan-clad legs. Despite the extreme gaiety of his manner and dress sense, Norman was hard-core heterosexual and, apparently, very good in bed according to Laura, the self-confessed office slapper, also known as the accounts payable clerk when she felt like doing any work. Laura perched on the edge of my desk with her legs crossed, inching her skirt to mid-thigh level so we could all admire her legs, which we duly did – they really were lovely, mind.
So, there’s yours truly, feet up on the desk slugging vast quantities of out-of-date Baileys out of a paper cup and waxing lyrical on such topics as whether Julia Roberts’s legs are really forty-four inches from hip to ankle, or if Colin Farrell got his Dublin accent from watching re-runs of Fair City. Everyone else was drinking Norman’s red wine and munching on thin strips of bright orange Easi Singles that Jennifer found at the back of the fridge. The name ‘Orla’ was scribbled on the front of the packet but she had left the company weeks ago, so no harm done there. Jennifer came too, which was unusual. She took her job as the MD’s PA very seriously. She sat on the edge of a chair, ready to leap up and start photocopying at the first sign of a suit. She was a raving beauty: long and thin with shoulder-length black hair that was thick and soft (a rare combination I’m sure you’ll agree). When she was in a really good mood, she allowed us to touch her hair so long as we didn’t take it to the next level (one of our ex-colleagues, Nora, got carried away one day while stroking Jennifer’s hair and it all got a bit embarrassing. Nora left the company shortly after The Incident).
‘You know, gone-off Baileys isn’t actually that bad,’ I slurred, draining the dregs of the bottle into my soggy paper cup.
‘There’s dairy in that, I wouldn’t go near it,’ Laura chipped in, taking a huge slug of wine out of the bottle in a most suggestive manner.
‘Dairy? What are you on about?’ I licked the inside of my empty cup.
‘Eh, hellooooo! Baileys Irish CREAM. There’s milk in cream and milk is a dairy product. You’ll probably get worms, drinking that stuff,’ Laura continued.
‘Sshhh,’ Jennifer suddenly hissed. ‘What’s that?’ We all fell silent and listened. It was the unmistakeable hum of the lift in motion. We stared at the dial above the lift doors. We were on the third floor and the lift was heading our way. Now it was on the first floor, now the second. I slid my legs off the desk and threw the empty Baileys bottle towards the bin. It missed and rolled deliberately in front of the lift doors. There was a sharp ping and the doors opened. Sarah stepped out into the office, jangling a glut of keys on a ridiculously large metal ring.
‘People,’ she barked, rattling her prison-warden keys in our general direction. Then she noticed the bottle on the floor, gave me a look that would wilt weeds and tossed it into the bin I had aimed for earlier. It landed cleanly right in the centre of the bin and Sarah almost smiled.
‘It’s seventeen hundred hours and I’m locking up, so unless you want to spend the weekend in the office, I suggest you MOVE OUT.’ She loved war films.
We didn’t need any second bidding as we tripped across the road to O’Reilly’s for the traditional Friday night just-the-one-ah-sure-let’s-stay-till-kicking-out-time drink. I hadn’t actually been to O’Reilly’s in ages but the out-of-date Baileys tasted like more and it was Friday night and everyone else was going. If Shane rang I could go outside the pub and talk to him.
By the time we arrived in the pub, the place was awash with suits. There was a bumblebee buzz of conversation as office workers, hysterical at the prospect of two days of freedom, reefed themselves out of straitjackets and pulled noose-like ties from their ne
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