“It’s just too complicated.”
Amid a pile of folders and loose sheets of paper Claire pops her head up from the floor, just visible above the desk she throws a wad of pages on top of an already well papered surface.
“Uh-huh, yep,” Anna is absent from the conversation.
Claire knocks over a stack of catalogues.
“Sorry what is?” Anna concerned with her own task of untangling a batch of sample ribbons, glances over towards her desk, which now looks like a filing cabinet has exploded on it. She spots a familiar document on the table. “Oh no, not the white lily order? It was supposed to be in Wednesday, it’s got to have four days notice-”
There is a loud rustle as Claire pulls herself up from her cross-legged position on the floor. “No. Not the florist order,” she says walking over. “The one I sent off last week by the way.” She picks up the florist invoice on the desk and hands it to Anna who spots her signature at the bottom, having signed it off herself.
“Weren’t you listening? It’s Jimmy, he’s being all strange again, he’s hiding something I know he is.” Claire picks up some of the samples on the table and fiddles with them nervously. “But when I ask him he just tells me things are complicated, relationships are complicated.” She sighs and rubs her face dramatically.
“Relationships aren’t complicated, people are complicated,” Anna states simply as she looks at the ribbons she’s been trying to untangle. “These are complicated.”
She puts them aside for now and moves over to her desk. She goes to sit on her computer chair before noticing it’s already occupied by half a dozen clientele folders. She looks around her office and shakes her head in disbelief at the mess. She stops and returns her attention to her friend and sighs.
“You know Jimmy loves you, it’s obvious. He’s just stressed because he doesn’t know whether to take the job in Edinburgh, because it means long distance for you two for a while, especially with you guys and the bump; it’s terrible timing.” Claire’s face relaxes a fraction; hearing reassurance that Jimmy is an all-round good guy is all she’s ever really after.
“Of course.” Anna makes an exaggerated return to work in the hope Claire gets the hint, but again is distracted by the state of her office. “Please tell me that once you find the folders you’re looking for, you intend on returning my office to how it looked this morning and then possibly plan on giving me a hand?”
“I’m sorry; I know it’s somewhere in here. I’m just all over the place this morning.”
Anna exhales loudly as Claire is once again looking quite tragic on the floor, like an injured puppy she’d been a hormonal mess ever since she hit four months.
“This is exactly why work comes first, well for me anyways; I don’t need a man messing with my head, making me think things are happening that aren’t. No offence. I’ve got enough to keep me occupied,” the edginess to her voice snaps Claire out of one of her desponding mood swings.
“Oh you mean with your dad coming up?”
“No. I mean with work. Running my own agency, it’s a full time gig, it doesn’t exactly inspire hobbies or a time consuming relationship.”
Claire is looking at her with a raised brow.
“So is this the speech you’ve been practising for tonight?”
“Oh, come on.” Claire probes.
“So you’re saying the fact that you get all worked up and uptight whenever your father visits, this has nothing to do with him actually, you know, visiting?” Claire is pausing for effect.
“Stop looking at me like that.” Anna starts reading over the details for tonight’s event. It will have been the sixth time she’d done so this morning alone. Perfection was something to aspire to, every little detail was essential she’d learnt. She looked at her mess of an office and took another deep breath. Compared to her pristine apartment, this place was starting to make her feel uneasy with its lack of order. Claire had picked a really bad day to look for those folders.
“I know he’s a little judgemental at times Anna-”
“What are you getting at Claire? That I’m still looking for daddy’s approval?”
Anna moves to the window and looks out at the queuing traffic, the cars being drowned by the overbearing rain, typical she’d forgotten her umbrella this morning, today was just going to be one of those days. So much for festive snow, all they’d seemed to have this month was more and more rain. She’d fallen asleep to it last night and woke up to it this morning, the sound echoing around her empty flat. She’d been meaning to furnish the place up a little, make it look more homely, a little more lived in, but she spent so much time at the office lately that she didn’t really see the point. However as she realised this morning, the point was that when people came over to visit her she would not like them to know that what her father told them all was true; that she throws all her energy into work to make up for the absence of a partner and family. Maybe she’d leave early and carefully arrange a few used mugs and magazines on the living room table, or unmake the bed in the spare room. She shook her head. This was just sad; she didn’t need to create imaginary company. No, she’d just focus on the job in hand, if tonight went well she could congratulate herself with this at least, maybe have a glass or two of wine before her father turned up.
“Anna, you’re the most successful one of your entire family, you’re the only one to have made it to university or finished school even in some cases.”
Anna smiles weakly; she’s referring to her youngest sister undoubtedly. At sixteen, Jenny decides that she doesn’t need to bother with school anymore and as far as Anna knew she was still traveling Europe with her much older boyfriend whose name she’d forgotten already. Something Spanish? Oh it didn’t matter. The point was, disastrous as Jenny was, she was still Daddy’s little girl and couldn’t do a thing wrong in his eyes. Even if it made their mother sick with worry and emptied Anna’s bank account to bail her out.
“Look so what if you’re single-” Claire continues.
“Jesus Claire,” Anna laughs.
Claire smiles back apologetically. “- Or not a big socialite like your sister, you’re the job right? You’ve made something of yourself. You’re happy aren’t you?”
Anna fashions her biggest grin, a little scary, kind of like a Cheshire cat impression. Well she thought it was convincing anyway.
“- You’ve plenty of friends here; I mean we’re like a family. We even spent last Christmas together. You, me and Matt, all trapped in the snow together. Your dad bailing as per usual last min, to holiday with that trashy magazine exec, Mindy. Grim.”
“Haha you mean his wife.” I correct, with a frown.
“Whatever. Yeah he’s really one for putting family first- hypocrite.” Anna smiles remembering the last minute Christmas dinner they’d thrown together, so tragic yet glorious and if she remembered correctly abundant in Port and red wine, just how she liked it. Her father hated it when she drank. Mindy didn’t drink or smoke or do anything untoward like that.
“Just let him know you’re happy, I’m sure that’s all he cares about,” Claire concludes. Wise words from someone who had just asked her if her ice-cream would melt if she stuck it in the mini fridge. Anna smiles, ‘I’m sure’ always meant Claire thought the opposite of what she was saying, not that Anna could blame her, she thought exactly the same, but he was her father and unfortunately what he thought of her did matter to her.
Anna’s smile flickers away. Tonight’s going to be a disaster she is sure of it, but as she said they’ve got too much to deal with already without worrying about men or her father’s annual interrogations. She picks up the box of ribbons once more.
“D’you think we should go for the butter yellow or cream ribbons?” Anna redirects the conversation holding up two virtually identical strands of satin.
“Anna.” Claire is looking at her with an all too knowing expression. Anna stares back hard and shakes the ribbons for emphasis. She’s putting her foot down with this conversation.
“Fine. The cream ones.”