Derby Day

I love working in a betting shop. I love the buzz, the excitement and the action, when you have to punch numbers into the computers, count out cash and listen to the sound of the racing results on the TVs all at the same time. But most of all I love seeing the smiles on the faces of the punters who’ve had a flutter and won, especially the dear old pensioners who often spend most of the day in our shop.

Which was why I felt so sorry for Victoria, the girl who’d joined our team a week ago.

It was Friday evening and we were the last two to leave, and all the talk had been about how tomorrow, the day of the famous Epsom Derby, the busiest day of our year, was going to be.

That night I was very excited, because I was meeting three of my best girlfriends to go to a Michel Buble concert in town. We’ve all been crazy about Michael for years, and tonight was the night we were actually going to see him in the flesh!

But as I was getting ready to leave, I could see that Victoria was upset, in fact she was leaning over her desk and crying.

“What’s the matter?” I asked her, going over and putting my arm around her shoulders.

“I’ll never get the hang of this system,” she complained. “I can’t keep up with you all, my queue’s always longer than everyone else’s, I just can’t do this job. I’m going to have to pack it in.”

“You can’t do that,” I told her. “I know it’s hard at first, but you’ll get there in the end. We want you to stay, we all like you.”

“And I like you – I even like Richard, our boss, everyone’s been kind to me, but if I can’t do the job it’s not fair on everyone else.”

“Come on then, Victoria, let’s take a look at what you’re doing.” I took my coat off and sat down beside her. “Show me exactly what you don’t understand.”

“Do you have time?”

“Yes, of course.”

I couldn’t tell her that I was already late for meeting the girls in town for the concert. As I started going through things with Victoria, I realised with a heavy heart that no way would I make it in time. Perhaps I could get in at the interval? I texted Val, to tell them not to wait for me, and that I’d get there when I could.

In the end it turned out that Victoria didn’t understand our computer system and she’d been making the same mistake again and again, and it took a long time to explain things to her. Once I pointed out how to do it properly she was over the moon.

“Thanks a million, Sonya!” she told me. “Now I know what to do, I think I’ll be okay. And tomorrow, when we’re all up against it, I’ll be able to pull my weight, thanks to you.”

Victoria was so grateful, I couldn’t really feel bitter about missing the concert, nor could I tell her and make her feel guilty. Well, I reckoned, it was just one of those things. My mates would tell me all about the concert, and who knows, maybe Michael would come back to the UK next year, and I could see him then?

There was one consolation, I thought as I sat on the bus going home. I would see David and maybe we could have a nice evening together for a change; he’d been so busy recently that our loving moments together were getting less and less frequent, because, as he told me, he was under such stress.

David has been living with me for six months. He’s very clever, you see, and he knows all kinds of things that are a closed book to me. When he moved in, he told me that he’s always wanted to be a writer, and that he was going to leave his job and write full time and pen a novel, that he was certain would be a bestseller. “After all, what’s the point,” he told me, “of staying in my boring job so I can pay you a share of the rent and bills, when in a year or so I’ll sell my novel, it’ll be a bestseller, and we’ll be rolling in money?”

I couldn’t argue with that and even though it all sounded a bit bizarre, I admit I don’t know about these things, and David was so certain he was going down the right road, who was I to stop him?

Oddly enough, none of my friends seem to like David, but it’s because they don’t understand him. They laugh at me sometimes, call me the ‘Queen of Denial’ when I tell them he has to be out a lot going to writers’ circles to discuss his work with other writers, and needs me to lend him money for bus and tube fares and meals. And a few weeks ago, of course I also had to lend him the money to go to Paris on his own, because he had to do research there for his novel, which is right now at a critical stage, hence the stress he’s under, ‘trying to get under the skin of his characters’ and struggling with ‘writer’s block’.

When I got back to my flat everything was in darkness, which was strange because David had told me he was going to be spending the evening and night working in his study. I went along to the bedroom, wondering if he’d gone to bed early.

The light was on in the bedroom. On the bed was Rosie, a girl he’d introduced to me as a fellow writer a while ago. She was naked, with her back to me, and sitting astride David’s skinny body. By the noises they were making, I didn’t think they were discussing how to overcome his writer’s block.

In the shock and confusion I didn’t know what to do. They were so caught up in the moment that they didn’t even see me, and almost as a reflex action, I grabbed my phone and took a picture of them.

Then I turned round and ran out of the flat, not bursting into tears until I was actually on the street.

I didn’t know what to do. In the end I went round to Mum’s house, and although she didn’t tell me ‘I told you so’, I knew that was what she was thinking.

When I phoned the girls and told them, they were sympathetic too and offered to come round, but I told them, no, tomorrow was going to be a busy day at work, so I’d best try and get my head down. Since Mum lives nearer the concert venue, I’d already arranged to stay the night with her, so David wouldn’t be wondering where I was. Not that he cared.

Next day, in our short tea break, I told Victoria all about it.

“And the problem is, you can’t face him, to throw him out of the flat?” she asked.

“No. I can’t bear to set eyes on him, I hate him so much. But I’ve got to confront him sometime. And who knows what will happen then? It’s a nightmare. All his clothes and things are there, so maybe it means he’s got some kind of legal right to stay in the flat, I don’t know the law!”

“Don’t worry, Sonya,” Victoria reassured me. “My brother works for a lettings agent. Give me your keys and he’ll know what to do for the best and he’ll help. And can you show me that picture again?”

“I’ll send it to your phone,” I told her. “I can’t bear to look at it.”

It had been a hectic day, and at 6 o’clock we were closing up. Ann, Sally and Val, my mates, had come round to take me out for a drink to cheer me up, and Victoria was going to join us.  I had pushed the problem of how to get rid of David out of my mind, I just couldn’t face it. I couldn’t bear to set eyes on him ever again, but of course I knew that I would have no choice.

Then, as we were all standing on the pavement, a car drew up. This very handsome, tall guy got out, and Victoria introduced him as her brother.

“Hello, you must be Sonya,” he said, “I’ve sorted out your little problem,” he explained, handing me two big bunches of keys. “I’ve had the locks changed and got all his belongings shipped out to a storage depot for him to collect later.”

“Did he just agree to move out, then, just like that?” I asked in amazement.

He smiled. “Not just like that, no. But I happened to recognise that girl in your photo. Her husband goes to my gym, and he’s a pretty famous amateur heavyweight boxer. All I had to do was threaten to send the picture to Gary and he couldn’t scurry out of there fast enough.”

I looked up at Victoria’s brother, very much liking what I saw. More than anything else he’d done me a big favour, when he didn’t even know me, so I knew that he was kind. And in my book kindness counts for a lot.

“Had anybody ever told you, you look a lot like Michael Buble?” I asked him.

“All I can say to that is, if it’s true, poor old Michael then!” He laughed and looked me in the eyes. “Look, Sonya, is your night out girls only, or could I tag along?”

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