Please login or register to perform this action
Please login or register to perform this action
Please login or register to perform this action
Please login or register to perform this action
Love Your Work: Week 10
BACK AT WORK? WE HAVE THE PERFECT ESCAPE.
This summer, we hope you will enjoy sneaking away for half an hour or so every Friday as we bring you each new instalment of our Summer Serial – Love Your Work by first-time Canberra author, Trish Smith.
Missed out on last week or want to read the entire series up to this chapter? Click here.
This week: The final instalment of Love Your Work sees Abby face the music. And by music, we mean Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. All four movements. With an encore.
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT
It was all over. Abby’s blog had been discovered. First, Brandon Elsworth had called Sue Pattinson to find out her name. Second, according to the search engine statistics on Abby’s blog, he Googled “job interview mother’s ashes on plane” and found Unrecruited Love and the offending blog post. Immediately recognising this as his story, he managed to wrangle himself an interview on the local radio station where he gleefully spilled the beans to anyone who happened to be listening between two and three o’clock that afternoon. Her real name, her pseudonym and her blog address were the trending topics on Twitter by five o’clock. Canberra’s reputation for being a small town, with everyone connected not by six but by two degrees of separation, was well and truly proven by how quickly the story had spread.
Grace Goodwin’s afternoon talkback radio show was inundated with calls from listeners on both sides of the argument. Some felt that the blog was a terrible breach of confidentiality and that nobody in Canberra would feel safe in a job interview as long as Abby O’Brien was still working in recruitment. Others thought that the blog was hilarious and that if someone wanted to publicly confess to being the guy who used the experience of bringing his mother’s ashes on the plane as an example of his problem-solving skills then that was up to him, but that his identity had been more than adequately concealed. Several callers pointed out the fact that Abby O’Brien, whoever she was, had just had her entire life—including what seemed to be an extra-marital affair—laid bare for everyone’s enjoyment just as she had laid bare the formerly sacrosanct world of other people’s job interviews.
Grace Goodwin had managed to contain the on-air discussion to Abby O’Brien and the blog, but the people who knew her personally, and who knew Patrick, were keeping their phone lines busy all afternoon. By the time Patrick arrived home from work to find Abby sitting at the kitchen bench, he had lived through an entire afternoon of the kind of humiliation a person should never have to endure.
Patrick hung his jacket and scarf up on the coat rack, walked over to the sideboard and poured himself a large whiskey. Then he took a handful of ice out of the freezer, dropped it into the glass and sat down at the table. Abby turned to look at him, her eyes filled with several hours worth of tears and shame. She waited silently for him to speak. He sighed heavily, looking like a man who was carrying an enormous weight on his shoulders and not knowing how he could ever put it down.
“I didn’t even know what a blog was until this afternoon. And you’ve been doing this for years. So already I feel like a complete moron.”
“Add to that the fact that the entire world now knows who I am, and that my wife has been writing about the most intimate details of our marriage. Everyone knows I got my girlfriend pregnant in high school. And that I had no idea I had a daughter until just recently. And that I was the selfish bastard who wouldn’t let his wife keep her severance pay. And that I’ve had a vasectomy. But the best part? Everyone knows that my wife had an affair on a tropical island with some hot guy from Denmark and now she wants a divorce. I—found—out—that—my—wife—has—filed—for—divorce—by—reading—about—it—on—the—internet. This is the kind of shit that happens on Jerry Springer, not in my life.”
“Patrick. I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”
“Well, you have.”
“So is that where you’ve been just now? With the guy from Denmark? Did you find your bliss?” he asked, spitting out the word.
“It’s over, Patrick. I promise you, it’s over.”
“Oh, well, that’s comforting” he sneered, sarcastically. “So he wasn’t blissful enough for you then?”
Abby didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t possibly defend herself and her actions, at least not in a way that might relieve some of Patrick’s anguish. She decided to just let him get everything off his chest, and she would try to forgive herself later, if that were even possible.
“What I don’t understand is, why did you have to write about me? Why did you even have to write about your personal life on a blog that was about your work? I don’t understand the motivation.”
“I don’t know. I don’t really think I can explain it in a way that will make sense to you.”
“No, I don’t think you can, either. I don’t know why the hell anyone would want to write a private diary and then let the whole world read it.”
“It didn’t start out like that. I haven’t always talked about you and me on the blog, it just kind of evolved. But people didn’t know who I was, Patrick. Nobody knew my real identity, or yours. I was very careful not to give away any clues.”
“And yet some guy figured it out.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry. You’ll never know how sorry I am.”
Patrick leaned back in the chair and stared up at the ceiling. His volatile but restrained manner was making Abby nervous, and she held her breath as she waited for his anger to explode outwards towards her. But he just continued to stare at the ceiling, spotting cobwebs and cracks in the paint. Finally, in a calm and measured tone, he spoke.
“You know why I called you at the hotel? I wanted to try and talk you into coming home. I hoped that perhaps we could talk things through, because you left so suddenly. I suppose I hoped you would clear your head while you were away—maybe see things differently. I had no idea that you had gone to meet that guy. No idea at all. No wonder you didn’t bother calling me back. You never had any intention of coming home.”
“Actually, I did. I did decide to come home, to try and figure things out. I wanted to try and save our marriage, Patrick. I swear I did. I still do.”
“There’s nothing left to save, Abby. I don’t have anything to give you. You have completely humiliated me, and I can’t trust you anymore. I want you to leave. It’s over. It’s completely over. I never want to see you again.”
Abby started to cry. She looked around the room, at all their things and the life they had built together. She had ruined it all—first by breaking her marriage vows, and then by writing about it all on the internet. She felt stupid and full of remorse. She would never work in recruitment again—and her marriage was over.
“I’m going to go and stay at mum’s for a couple of nights. Take whatever you want, I don’t care. Just be gone by the time I get back.”
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She said it over and over as Patrick stood up from the table, took his whiskey in hand, and walked away. When he got to the doorway she instinctively turned and called out to him to stop.
“What? What can you possibly say that will convince me to stay here with you?”
But Abby couldn’t think of an answer. She had nothing, so she just closed her eyes and hung her head. The silence was broken by the sound of ice cracking in Patrick’s whiskey glass. Abby gasped at the hopelessness of it all. You know things aren’t going well when you can hear the ice cracking.
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE
Abby sat at the kitchen bench for a while wondering what to do next. There were still a couple of hours before sunrise in New York but she called Emma anyway.
“Hi, sorry to wake you up.”
“That’s OK. Is everything alright?”
“No. Not really.” Abby burst into tears and tried to speak but could only choke back the air. She tried to calm her breathing while she wiped her face with the sleeve of her shirt. In the background, she could hear Patrick slamming cupboard doors in another room. She pictured him dragging a suitcase down the garden path to his mother’s cottage, with Jean opening the back gate for him whilst shooting a filthy look back up to the house, to Abby. The thought of Jean’s condemnation just added to her despair. She wondered if Jean knew about the blog, and what Abby had said about her. Finally, Abby calmed down enough to be able to tell Emma what had happened in the previous forty-eight hours or so. Emma apologised over and over.
“Em, it’s not your fault. The guy was pissed off. I guess he thought I was making fun of him, which I suppose I was in a way. In hindsight, I was completely arrogant in writing that blog. I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have written about something that is nobody’s business but their own. And I definitely shouldn’t have written about Patrick and about all the private things that have happened in his life. It was completely selfish of me to do that. He hates me and I can’t possibly blame him for that.”
“Abby, there was always a chance he was going to find the blog. I know you thought you had it covered, but nothing online is completely safe.”
“Don’t say ‘I told you so’ Em, please.”
“I wasn’t going to say that. But I will remind you that you started that blog as a way to help people do better in job interviews. Your intentions were good. Yeah, OK, it might have gone a bit off-track for a while there but your original reason for doing it was to help people, so please don’t forget that.”
“But Em, it’s a privilege to be part of the recruitment process, it was an honour to be allowed to sit in on all those people’s interviews, and I took advantage. If my mother was here, she’d be telling me it serves me bloody well right. She delighted in seeing me get my just desserts and she wouldn’t have been able to contain her glee at this particular serve. I hate to admit it, but I brought this on myself, no matter how good or honourable my intentions were.”
“Well, I don’t suppose it matters anymore, does it? Now you have to figure out what you’re going to do next. Any plans?”
“No. I will have to leave this house, for starters. I can’t expect him to leave when his mother is living in the garden.”
“I’d let you move into my apartment if it wasn’t already rented. The tenants just signed another one-year lease. Sorry.”
“That’s OK. Oh God, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maybe I won’t do anything for a while. Maybe I’ll just lay low until the storm blows over.”
“Oh, Abby. I’m really sorry.”
“Thanks. Look, I’d better let you get back to sleep, sorry to wake you up. Talk to you later?”
“Of course. Don’t worry, Abby. Everything’s going to be OK. You’ll be fine.”
“Sure I will. Seeya.” Abby hung up the phone then turned to see Patrick standing in the doorway.
“How long have you been standing there?”
“Did you hear me talking to Emma?” Part of her hoped that he had.
“Not really. I caught the end of it. Something about laying low.”
Patrick shrugged his shoulders as if to say he couldn’t care less. “I’m going now.” He threw his satchel over his shoulder and adjusted his grip on his overnight bag. “I’ll be at mum’s.”
“When are you going to leave?”
“If you can stay with Jean for a couple of days I’ll be able to get my stuff sorted. I’ll pack as much as I can then move into a serviced apartment until I figure things out. I’ll go and see Grant in the morning and find out what needs to happen.” She was dreading another meeting with their lawyer now that her actions had been laid bare. There was no way he had not heard all about it from someone. Abby sighed as she began to appreciate how life would be from now on. She thought fleetingly about the Kirsten Stewarts of the world and wondered how on earth they coped when their private lives were being discussed in the tabloids and women’s magazines. “I’m not going to make this any harder than it already is, Patrick. I want an amicable, easy break.”
“It’s not going to be easy, Abby, it’s going to be a bloody nightmare!” he said, dropping his bag on the floor as he finally lost his temper. “This house and the business? We can’t just sell everything and split it down the middle! I need to stay here with mum, and I need to keep my business. So somehow I have to figure out how to buy you out. Do you have any idea how much that’s going to be? We were a couple of years away from owning the whole shebang and now I’m going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt! So yeah, OK, let’s shoot for amicable and just ignore the fact that as well as humiliating me in front of everyone in the fucking universe you’re also screwing me financially.”
Abby hadn’t thought about how the separation of their assets was going to affect Patrick. There was no escaping the fact that Patrick would be terribly hurt by it. He would have a couple of solid assets, but the bank would own half of them. For a man who abhorred debt, it was going to be a very difficult adjustment to make. Abby could hardly look at him.
“I’m sorry. That’s all I can say, Patrick. I just hope that you will be OK, I really do.”
“Yeah.” He picked up his bag and headed for the door. “Whatever.” Abby looked up in time to see him grab a jacket and shut the door behind him.
Abby hardly slept that night. She and Patrick had spent plenty of nights apart throughout their marriage, but this time was the first night of the rest of her life without him and the sadness of it all was unbearable. When she arrived at Grant’s office the next morning she felt emotionally and physically exhausted and not at all prepared to discuss the dissolution of their marriage and the difficult job of splitting their assets. As the elevator doors opened to the foyer, taking a couple of steps forward was all she could manage to do. The two young receptionists behind the desk greeted her cheerfully. One of them asked who she was here to see.
“May I have your name, please?”
“Abby O’Brien.” The two women glanced at each other then back at Abby, and Abby knew that she had been recognised. She just stared back at them. Yes, that’s me, the horrible woman who blogged about her husband.
“Ah, yes, Ms O’Brien. Please take a seat. I’ll let Mr Wallace know you are here.” The receptionists turned back to their computer screens and Abby willed her feet to move towards a dark leather sofa. The last time she had been here, right before she left for her second trip to Thailand, she had been full of confidence and almost glad to be getting the paperwork underway. She didn’t feel that way anymore. Abby didn’t want a divorce, in fact she desperately wanted to try and save her marriage, but there seemed to be no possibility of that now.
“Hello, Abby. Would you like to come in?” Grant motioned for Abby to come through, and she turned and walked past him down the corridor. She could hardly bring herself to look at him. Surely he must know about the blog.
They went into his spacious office and Abby sat in one of three chairs surrounding a small round table. Grant silently placed a box of tissues in front of her before crossing the room to where he had a coffee machine. “Milk, no sugar, right?”
“Yes, thank you” she replied, taking a tissue and holding it in her lap like a small security blanket. She braced herself for whatever he was going to say next.
“Well, you must be feeling like you’ve been run over by a freight train. How are you holding up?” So, he must know everything, she thought. Well, that saves me having to explain the new landscape.
“Not too well.”
“Can I ask how Patrick’s doing?”
“He’s very angry. He wants the divorce.”
“I see.” At their first meeting, Abby and Grant had spent some time discussing the fact that Patrick didn’t want the marriage to end, and how that might make some of the negotiations a little tricky. Obviously that was no longer an issue.
“The hilarious thing is that I had actually changed my mind. The trip away helped me see things a bit more clearly.”
“Yes, that can happen.”
“Sure. They come in here, all fired up and ready to serve papers, and then they go away for a few days and the reality of it dawns on them. Then they change their minds. I thought you’d probably change yours.”
“Really? Why would you think that?”
“Oh, I don’t know—I have a sixth sense about these things.” He put the coffees on the table and sat down. “I’ve known you and Patrick for years. You just didn’t seem like the divorcing type. You know, normally I would have sent him – as the other party – a notice of intention to divorce, but I didn’t. I thought I’d give you a few days of cooling-off.”
“I wish you’d emailed him. I wish he’d heard it from you, not from reading about it online.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“This is really going to hurt him, Grant.” Abby dabbed the corners of her eyes with the tissue.
“I’m talking about the financial fallout. I don’t know how he can afford to buy me out. I don’t know how we can do this without him ending up with a massive bank loan and I hate, absolutely hate, that I have put him in this position.”
Grant took a sip of his coffee, sat back in his chair and looked directly at Abby. “How much money do you have in the bank?”
“How much do you have in your savings account, in cash, that you can access right now?”
“Um, about seven or eight thousand dollars. Why, what are you thinking?”
“Well, that depends on what you’re planning to do next. Have you thought about it?”
“Yeah, of course. I’m homeless, unemployable and extremely unpopular. I should probably leave the country.” Abby was trying to make light of the situation but as soon as the words were out of her mouth she realised that she had made a decision. “I think I should go to New York.”
Emma had been badgering her for months to come and spend a few weeks in New York, but there had always been something work-related that prevented her from going. There were no such obstacles now, and a couple of weeks or even a month in New York was exactly what she needed. Grant put his cup down.
“New York City? You mean to live?”
“No.” An idea started to take root in her mind. “Well. I don’t know.” She had dual citizenship, courtesy of her dad, so the option was certainly there. “I was just thinking of anywhere other than Canberra.” Abby had only thought about escaping for a month or so while the furore around her blog settled down. It hadn’t occurred to her that she might actually move to another city, or country for that matter.
“OK, let me tell you what I was just thinking. You and Patrick don’t need to do anything about the business or the house, at least not immediately. You’ve got to be separated for twelve months and one day before the courts will be satisfied that the marriage is over, so there’s no urgency to start splitting assets. We’ll draw up a financial agreement between you both, which will protect the assets as well as make sure you both have enough to live on. In twelve months you can decide what to do about it. And you might still decide not to do anything.”
“I don’t know, Grant. I’m pretty sure he just wants a clean break.”
“This is a clean break, Abby. A dirty break is where you start arguing over the record collection and dividing everything up and one of you ends up broke. Think of yourself as a silent partner in a company that owns a big house and a successful business. If you think you can live on your income from the garage, if you’re not planning to buy a house or make any other big financial investments, then leave your money where it is—in the garage and the house—and give yourselves some time to figure out what to do. You’ll be better off once you start working again but in the meantime you should be OK.”
Abby thought about it for a minute. She would need to talk to Patrick, and to Lauren as well, to see if they could make it work. Abby had never drawn a salary from the garage but the income they derived from it could certainly be split in two and she could manage on her share. Patrick could keep up with the mortgage repayments on his share and still have enough to live on. Perhaps not as much disposable income as they had both enjoyed previously, but it was definitely a better scenario than the alternative nightmare she had been facing. For the first time in an otherwise gruelling day and a half Abby had something to feel positive about.
“It could work” she said, finally. New York was starting to look like a real possibility.
“I’m sure it could. I’ll talk to him.”
“So will we still get a divorce?”
“In time, if that’s what you want, but as far as the bank and the law are concerned you’ll still be a business partnership. That’s putting it simply, but that’s basically what it is.”
“Do you really think he’ll agree to it?”
“Well, like I said, I’ll talk to him. Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“I’ll do whatever I can to make this as easy as possible for him. I don’t want to hurt him anymore than I already have.”
Later that morning Grant called to let her know that he had set up a meeting with her and Patrick, together with a financial advisor and another legal advisor from the firm. Grant had spoken to Patrick on the phone and briefly outlined the plan for the separation and financial agreement, and Patrick agreed to the meeting and arranged to have their file sent over from Lauren’s office straight away so they could have a look at the numbers.
Abby was grateful that Grant suggested someone other than Lauren to advise on the financials and to take part in the mediation. The last time she had seen Lauren was that awful day in her office and Abby simply didn’t trust her anymore. The financial advisor from Grant’s firm would be far more objective.
“So if you can be here day after tomorrow at 9am, we’ll get started. Alright?”
“Sure. Thanks so much, Grant. I’m so relieved Patrick’s agreed to the meeting. He was really upset when he left yesterday. I had no idea how we were going to work this out.”
“Well, he’s upset, of course he is, but he’s also a businessman and he has a good head on his shoulders. He knows it’s in his interests to get this sorted out. See you at nine.”
“See you then.” Abby hung up the phone and immediately called Emma in New York.
“Hey Abby, I was just about to call you. How are you going?”
“Good. Much better than yesterday, actually. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow with Patrick and the lawyers and a financial advisor and we have a plan that I hope will mean Patrick can keep his business and he won’t have to sell the house.”
“You’re doing a financial agreement?”
“Yeah. I forget sometimes that you’re a lawyer. If Patrick agrees, and I hope he will, I’ll keep my stake in the garage and the house and we won’t make any other decisions until this time next year. I don’t need the money right now. It makes sense to leave it where it is.”
“But what are you going to do? You need to make sure you’ll be OK, Abby. Don’t sign anything you haven’t understood, promise me.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry. But I need to ask you a favour.”
“The answer is yes.”
“Well that’s very generous of you but wait till I ask it.”
“Yes, you can come and stay with me.”
“That’s what you were going to ask, right?”
“So, the answer is yes. Come and stay as long as you like.”
“You know I’ve got dual citizenship. I might stay a while.”
“I’m hoping you will.”
“Oh my God! I’m coming to New York!”
“Well it’s about bloody time.”
The meeting went as well as could be expected. Grant and his colleagues had spent several hours putting together suggestions for Abby and Patrick’s financial agreement, finally coming up with something that they were both happy with. The business and house would stay intact, in both of their names, and for the next twelve months Abby would be paid a monthly dividend that should allow her to live reasonably comfortably, though frugally. The money in their savings account would be used to purchase a return ticket to New York and give Abby some cash to tide her over until she could find a job in New York. Patrick would continue to run the business and pay off the mortgage and they both agreed to revisit the agreement in twelve months. They parted with a handshake which, Abby decided, was perfectly appropriate given they had just agreed on a business arrangement. But on the way down in the elevator, when she was alone, she wept.
He still hated her, that much was clear. Everyone sitting at that round table had heard about her blog and her betrayal, and they had all read the endless commentary on other Canberra blogs or tuned in to the gossip in the queue at the cafe downstairs. Abby had taken the blog down at the first opportunity but somebody had already copied all the content onto some other page on the internet and that’s where everyone was reading it now. She had received a very nice email from somebody in England whose life had been similarly turned upside down, telling her to sit tight and just give it time. Apparently everyone would stop talking about it within a few weeks, or sooner if a celebrity breakup or natural disaster diverted attention. But for Patrick, it was still very real and fresh, and the total betrayal he felt was going to take a very long time to get over. He signed the financial agreement and shook her hand, but he didn’t make eye contact with her once during the entire two-hour meeting.
Abby went back to the house to collect her suitcase. She had already packed her summer wardrobe into boxes and delivered them to the storage facility. If she was still in New York when the weather turned warm she could have them sent across. She was putting the last of her luggage into the boot of her car when a late model British racing green Mini Cooper pulled up in the driveway. Abby didn’t recognise the car but when she saw the Victorian registration the penny dropped.
“Lydia? What are you doing here?”
“Hey Abby. Didn’t Patrick tell you I was coming? I got a job in the Press Gallery, up at Parliament House.”
“Oh. Congratulations” said Abby. “No, he didn’t tell me.”
“Typical. Is he home?” She opened the back door and pulled out an enormous suitcase. She set it down on the ground before reaching in for a couple of duffle bags.
“He’s at work.” Lydia’s arrival had really taken Abby by surprise. “When did you get the job?”
“I just found out last week. He really didn’t tell you? Oh, shit. No wonder you look so shocked. So I guess he also didn’t tell you I was coming to stay with you guys for a bit?”
“Er, no.” Abby realised that Lydia had no idea about the blog or anything that had transpired over the past few days. “Have you just driven up today?” It was possible that Lydia had left early in the morning for the seven-hour drive from Melbourne.
“No, I’ve been on the road for a few days. I visited some friends in Lakes Entrance, then I took the scenic route up the coast to Bega and stayed there for a night. Then I headed inland to Cooma and stayed with one of my uni friends who works on the mighty Monaro Post, and today I did the last hour and a bit to Canberra.”
Abby looked at the pile of suitcases and bags that Lydia had managed to cram into the back seat of her little car. “How long are you staying?”
“It’s a twelve-month gig. This is just my summer clothes. I know it looks like a lot but most of it is shoes and I’m a really bad packer. He really didn’t tell you I was coming?”
“Well I hope it’s OK. I’m just going to stay here until I find somewhere more permanent.”
“Of course it is. Come on in.”
Lydia had visited several times over the past year or so and she knew her way down the hallway to the guest room, so Abby left her to get settled. Abby was walking back towards the kitchen when she looked up and saw Patrick standing in the entrance hall. He looked pale and tired.
“I just came home for lunch and saw Lydia’s car in the driveway.”
“Yeah, she just arrived.”
“I meant to tell you she was coming.”
“That’s OK. No harm done.” Abby managed a small smile but he ignored it.
“Are you staying here again tonight?”
“No, I’ve got an apartment in the city. I was just loading up the car when Lydia arrived.”
“I think we should talk to Lydia about what’s going on.”
“You want us both to talk to her?”
“I want you to tell her what has happened. She has a right to know.” He removed his jacket and hung it on the coat rack beside him. Suddenly he didn’t look quite so pale and tired. Instead, he looked threatening. “You need to tell her what you did.”
“Look, Patrick, I—”
“What did you do?” Lydia had kicked off her shoes at the door so Abby hadn’t heard her footsteps on the wooden floorboards as she walked up behind her. But Patrick had seen her coming. Nice one, buddy.
“Lydia, can you give us a minute?” Abby wasn’t ready to discuss all the sordid details with Patrick’s daughter. She wanted to tell her, but in her own time.
“No, you don’t need a minute. Just tell her what you did, Abby, it’ll take you thirty seconds. Give it to her in twenty-five words or less.”
“What’s going on?” Lydia had picked up on Patrick’s tone of voice and was starting to look worried. “What happened, Dad?”
Abby flinched. She’d never heard Lydia call Patrick ‘Dad’, she’d only ever called him Patrick when Abby was there too. It seemed strange to call him that, but he didn’t seem to mind at all. He put his arms out for Lydia and she walked towards him for a hug. “Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Ask your step-mother.”
“OK, that’s enough!” Although Abby liked Lydia, she had made it clear from the very beginning that she did not consider herself Lydia’s step-mother, and this felt like a low blow. Patrick was obviously trying to make this as difficult as he possibly could. The look on his face told Abby that he was enjoying seeing her embarrassed in front of Lydia. Their so-called amicable separation was turning a bit nasty. “If you’re determined to have this discussion right now, so be it, but I’m not going to stand here and have you carry on as though you’ve played absolutely no part in what’s happened.” Abby had never dared suggest out loud that the breakdown of their marriage was anything other than entirely her fault. She had sat through two hours of humiliating mediation with Patrick and Grant and the other suits and nobody talked about whose fault it was that they were getting a divorce. It just seemed to have been accepted, by everyone, that Abby was to blame because it was her blog that got discovered. Nobody cared that her husband had failed to uphold some of his vows too—the ones about truth and honesty. But Patrick had pushed her just a little too far and now she was genuinely pissed off. She glared at him, daring him to say something.
“Jesus, will somebody tell me what this is all about?” Lydia was getting frustrated as well, and she broke free of Patrick’s arms and looked directly at him. “Come on, what is it?” But Patrick didn’t speak, he just looked at Abby and shook his head. It was a small gesture but she took it as acknowledgement that he knew he wasn’t completely blameless. He was backing off.
“Lydia, look, Patrick and I are getting a divorce, like millions of people do, but our situation has been made hideously complicated by a stupid lapse in judgement on my part. You’ll no doubt hear all about it in the coming days, but I’d just like you to remember that I love your dad, I always have and I always will, and I’m sorry.” Abby stepped past them both, grabbed her jacket and handbag off the coat rack and opened the door. “Good bye.” As she closed the door behind her she took a deep breath. Everything she needed for her trip to New York was in the car. All her other possessions were boxed up and sitting inside a storage unit in Fyshwick. The financial agreement stated that the household effects would remain in the home for the separation period. She was willing and able to leave.
Abby had just started the engine when the passenger door flung open and Lydia climbed in.
“I want to hear what happened.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.” Lydia sunk comfortably into the passenger seat with her legs crossed, directly facing Abby. “I need to know.”
“Google ‘Abby O’Brien blog’ and you can read all about it.
“You have a blog?”
“I did have a blog. An anonymous blog. I don’t have it anymore.”
“Because it’s not anonymous anymore. I got found out.”
“What’s it about?”
“My life. My working life. And my personal life. I blogged about the recruitment industry—and the breakdown of my marriage.”
Lydia looked intrigued. “Am I in it?”
“Yeah. A bit. Sorry.”
“And Dad’s upset that you blogged about getting divorced?”
“He’s upset that I blogged about having an affair. And some other things.”
“You had an affair?” She sounded surprised, but not shocked.
“Yes, I did. But it’s over.”
“Is he upset that you had an affair, or that you blogged about it?”
“Well, both, obviously. And then he’s humiliated because now everyone knows that the blog is about him.”
“OK then what?”
“I’m not going to Google you, I just wanted to know whether the reason you’re getting divorced is the kind of reason that makes divorce absolutely inevitable. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think this sounds like a good enough reason. Affairs aren’t the problem, they’re just the symptom, isn’t that what the experts say? I hope you two can figure it out. I really like you, Abby. I know you don’t see me as your step-daughter and I’m totally OK with that—I don’t need a step-mother. But I’d really like it if we could be good mates, whatever is going on with you and Dad. I hope we can stay in touch.”
This was by far the longest conversation Abby and Lydia had ever had about a topic other than politics and current affairs, and Abby wasn’t sure how to respond. She was flattered that Lydia wanted to keep in contact, but she didn’t know how she felt about befriending the daughter of her soon to be ex-husband. It seemed like an odd request, or maybe just the timing was odd. In any case, Abby smiled and nodded and marvelled at this young woman’s maturity.
There was a tap on the car window on Abby’s side and she spun around to see Patrick standing there, waving something at her. She rolled the window down. It was her travel wallet, with both her Australian and United States of America passports tucked inside.
“You’ll need this.”
“Oh my god! Thanks!” she said as she took it from him. “I would not have got far without that.” She put it in her handbag.
“No worries. Lydia, are you coming inside?”
Lydia gave Abby a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek before jumping out of the car. She disappeared inside the house but not before she shook her head at Patrick and shot him a disapproving look. He watched her close the front door then turned back to Abby.
“Can you get out of the car for a second?” he said. His expression had softened and Abby thought he looked like he might smile, or possibly even cry.
She nodded, and he opened the door for her. As she stood up he wrapped his arms firmly around her and buried his face in her hair. Abby could hardly breathe, he was holding her so tight. She took shallow breaths and tried to make sense of this sudden outpouring of emotion.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
They both said it. Over and over again. And then they said goodbye.
When Abby got to the bottom of the street, she pulled the car over to the side of the road and took out her US passport to look at it. It was issued the year before she married Patrick. She looked at the photograph of her twenty-four-year-old face and smiled.
Hello again, Miss Lucas.
CHAPTER FORTY ONE
A couple of days later, Abby Lucas sat in the departure lounge at Canberra airport with a takeaway coffee and her laptop open to the WordPress page from where she would type her final blog post. She had already deleted everything—all the archives were gone—but she wanted to leave one final goodbye post. Abby took a sip of her coffee and thought about what she should write. After a while, as they always did, the words started to flow.
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.
Tales from My Life
– – – – – – – – – – –
If you’re looking for Unrecruited Love, or Abby O’Brien, or the story about the guy and his mother’s ashes, you’re too late, they’ve all gone. Well, gone from here anyway.
I apologise unreservedly to everyone who was hurt or offended or insulted by this blog. I did not intend to embarrass anybody. I naively thought I could write a few anecdotes about the recruitment industry and help a few people do better in a job interview. I never dreamed it would turn out like it did.
I realise now that it was a terrible invasion of other people’s privacy. My lesson has been a tough one, and will never be forgotten. I am truly sorry.
To those of you who have expressed support and thanks, I can’t possibly tell you how much you have helped me get through what has been a difficult time for me. Thank you a thousand times.
And I’m glad I was able to help some of you with your job search. Congratulations, by the way.
And now, I’m going to leave the last word to one of my most regular and controversial commenters. Someone who has always had a way of asking the tough questions and telling it like it is.
So long, and thanks again.
• • •
Abby clicked into the comments box and stared at the flashing cursor. What words of wisdom, what snarky retort, what nugget of brilliant advice would her most enigmatic commenter have to offer today?
Abby took another sip of coffee before typing the final words and posting the comment.
Claire on: The Last Post
CHAPTER FORTY TWO
“So ‘Claire’ was actually you?”
“Yep.” Abby and Emma were lying on the sofa bed in the second bedroom, with the contents of Abby’s suitcase spread out around the room or hanging from a clothes rack over the door to get the creases out. She had been in New York for about twenty four hours but hadn’t quite managed to unpack and put away her stuff yet.
“I can’t believe I didn’t pick it” said Emma. “That’s so clever!”
“She’s the one that was always stirring the pot. She’s the one who was always daring you to do stuff. She was the one who said have a baby!”
“Were you doing that to create a bit of drama in the comments, or were you testing out ideas?”
“A bit of both, I suppose. It was good to get some feedback, it was even better when I said something a bit outrageous and everyone responded positively. Mostly it was just about saying stuff out loud that I wasn’t feeling brave enough to own up to in real life.”
“You know, here in New York, if you need to say stuff, you go to therapy.”
“It’s therapy just being in New York.”
“True” said Emma with a laugh. “How long will you stay?”
“I don’t know. I got fired—from my job and my blog and my marriage—I think I’ll stay until I’ve found a new life.”
“What do you want to do?”
“You know, I actually have no idea”. Abby sighed loudly and rolled onto her back. “I was thinking about this time when I was doing a video conference interview—I was the interviewer, the candidate was calling from Hong Kong or something and so we did it by video instead of flying her in for it—and on paper she was a perfect fit, she had all the right skills and experience and qualifications, I mean, she was exactly who the client wanted. And we’re five minutes into the interview, we had barely finished introducing ourselves and laying out the key responsibilities of the role, and she interrupted the chair of the panel and asked if she could withdraw her application.”
“Yeah, I’d never had that happen before. She said she’d been weighing up the pros and cons in the days leading up to the interview, and the night before she couldn’t sleep, but she thought she would at least do the interview and maybe that would help, you know, being able to ask a few questions, confirm that she really wanted it, but then she said ‘now that I’m here, sitting here and talking to you, I know I don’t want the job, and I don’t want to waste anymore of anyone’s time, so I’d like to withdraw my application and conclude the interview.’ And then she apologised, and thanked us, and hung up.”
“Wow. That’s, well, I guess it was good of her to be honest with herself. Better to make that decision during the interview than to wait until after you’ve had a job offer. Or worse, taken the job and moved to another country and then realised—hang on. Abby, are you having second thoughts?”
“I’m just not sure I’ve made the right decision about leaving.”
“You had some good reasons to leave.”
“Yeah, I know. But Patrick said something to me right before I left and I can’t help wondering if maybe I missed an opportunity to try to fix things.”
“What did he say?”
“’Sorry.’ We both said it. We didn’t say anything else. Just sorry, sorry, sorry. And then I left. Maybe I should’ve stayed.”
“And you think if you’d stayed you might have been able to reconcile?”
“I don’t know. Probably not. It was just really odd that he apologised, because a couple of minutes beforehand we were still fighting. It’s like he suddenly realised that if I got in the car and drove off that he would never see me again—” Abby started to cry.
“Oh, Ab. Hey, it’s OK. You’ll see him again.”
“Yeah? How? I’m in New York, and he’s in Canberra!”
“You can go back anytime. You haven’t moved here, you’re just on sabbatical. Anytime it doesn’t feel right, you can just go. Withdraw your application and conclude the interview. Say thanks, but no thanks.”
“I want to be with him, but he’d say thanks, but no thanks.”
“You don’t know that for sure. A minute ago you were wondering if maybe everything could be fixed.”
“What do you want, Abby?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. Think like ‘Claire’ for a minute. What do you really, secretly, honestly want?”
Abby reached into her purse and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Silently, she handed it to Emma to read.
“It’s what I want. I wrote it on the plane.”
Emma looked at the handwritten list.
2. An equal partnership in every sense
3. To be ridiculously happy
“None of that sounds unreasonable” said Emma, handing back the list. “I can help you with the sushi. The rest you just have to figure out with him.”
“So, what’s the plan? How are you going to do that?”
“I thought I’d give it a couple of weeks, then call him.”
“Well, if he’s willing to talk, I guess I’d go back and talk to him.”
“Is that what you want to do? Go back to Canberra?”
“Not really. I’d rather stay here for a year or two, try to put all that stuff with the blog far behind me, let everyone else forget about it too. But Canberra’s where he is.”
“He doesn’t have to be.”
“Yes he does. That’s where his business is, and his mother. He won’t leave Canberra.”
“He could do it if he really wanted to.”
“He’d have to really want to. To come here for more than a few weeks he would have to hire a full-time manager, get someone to rent the house, someone who could keep an eye on Jean. It would be a logistical challenge and leaving his mum – and Lydia – would be an emotional wrench.”
“Well, none of that sounds unreasonable either. But like you say, he’d have to want to.”
“Yeah. And as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, his apology in the driveway was just an apology, not an invitation to move back in.”
Emma’s phone beeped loudly from her back pocket, and she rolled onto her side to take it out and read the message on the screen. “Bugger.” She tapped out a reply.
“Yeah, I have to go in for about an hour. Will you be OK by yourself?”
“Of course. What time is it?”
“Almost six. Are you hungry?”
“Why don’t you go out and get some dinner and maybe I’ll join you later?”
“Go to Jimmy’s, it’s on the corner two blocks down. Jimmy’s the big Irish bloke behind the bar, the one with the enormous red beard, tell him I sent you. If you go now you can probably get the one and only corner booth, it’s got the comfiest seats. Take a book.”
“OK, I have to go.” Emma stood up and then reached for Abby’s outstretched hands and pulled her up too. “So you’re going to Jimmy’s, straight out the front doors, turn left, go two blocks, it’s the pub on the corner with the red curtains in the window. You can’t miss it.”
“OK, I’ll see you there later. And Em? Thanks for letting me stay. Where would I be without you?”
“On a therapist’s couch.”
“Ha-ha. Isn’t that where I’ve been for the past half hour?”
Emma grabbed a coat and her purse and headed towards the door. “Got your book? Need a coat? Come on, let’s leave together and I can lock up.”
A few minutes later, dressed warmly in one of Emma’s big winter coats with a small paperback tucked into the pocket, Abby walked the short distance to Jimmy’s and pushed against the heavy wooden doors. Inside she waited while her eyes adjusted to the low light before she spotted a tall, bearded gentleman at the far end of the bar, polishing glasses.
“Hello, are you Jimmy?”
“Yes, love, what can I do for you?”
“I’m a friend of Emma’s, she told me to come down and introduce myself. I’m Abby O’—Lucas.”
“Ah, lovely to meet you Miss O’Lucas! Emma’s told me all about you. Welcome to New York, Miss O’Lucas!”
“No, it’s just Lucas.”
“No ‘O’?” He had started filling a pint glass from one of about a dozen beer taps in front of him. The glass looked small in his enormous hands.
“No. Sorry, I have just gone back to using my maiden name, I’m still getting used to it.”
“So you’re not Irish then?” he said, smiling.
“No, but I used to be married to one.”
“Divorced?” Abby frowned. How did the conversation so quickly turn to her marital status?
“Um, can I get a table, please?”
“Sure, sure. Sit anywhere you like, love.” He put the pint down on the bar in front of her. “This one’s on Emma.”
“Oh, thanks!” Abby picked up the glass and walked across the room toward the booth. The restaurant was poorly lit and for a moment she wondered how on earth she would be able to read her book. She put the beer on the table and took her coat off. She threw it onto the seat and as she began to sit down she realised there was someone already sitting across the table.
“Oh, sorry—” She gasped with genuine surprise.
“Hi, darling.” It was Patrick.
Abby felt her knees buckle under her and she practically fell into the seat opposite him. He reached out and took her hand as she tried to steady herself.
“Watch yourself, are you OK?”
“What are you doing here?” she blurted.
“Waiting for you, as a matter of fact. You’re right on time.” He hadn’t let go of her hand.
“What?” Abby glanced down at Patrick’s phone on the table in front of him and read the words on the screen. It was a message from Emma telling him Abby would be there in two minutes.
“This isn’t a coincidence, Abby. Emma’s in on it, it was her idea that we meet here” he said, glancing around the room. “An Irish pub. Now that part is a coincidence. When’s the last time you and me were in an Irish pub?” he asked, smiling.
On our honeymoon. Abby took a moment to gather her thoughts and make sense of what was happening. She thought back to the conversation she had just had with Emma. All those questions were to find out what she really wanted, so Emma could send a text to Patrick and let him know that he hadn’t come all that way for nothing.
“When did you get here?”
“This morning. I called Emma from the airport. I was feeling pretty confident about just turning up at her apartment, right up until the moment I came through the arrivals gate, so I called her and told her I was here. She said she wouldn’t let me near you if she didn’t think you’d want to see me, so I’ve been sitting here for a couple of hours, waiting to hear from her. In the end I couldn’t stand it so I just texted her, and I can’t tell you how relieved I was to get this last message.”
“You must have left Canberra right after me.”
“Yeah, a few hours. I had to make some phone calls, arrange some things. But I made it.”
“I talked to Grant, obviously, and got Stu to manage the garage, and Lydia to stay in the house. She’s going to keep an eye on Mum.”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know. I thought I’d leave that up to you, but I told them not to expect us back for a while.”
“What are you saying?”
“It was a gut feeling that got me onto the plane, Abby, but I’ve had twenty one hours in transit to think about it properly, and I’m completely certain that I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want a divorce. I just want to forgive and forget everything that’s happened and start over, with a totally clean slate. Can we do that?”
“You’re going to forgive me?” If he hadn’t been sitting in front of her, in an Irish pub in New York City, she would never have believed him.
“Of course. And I am asking you to forgive me. I should never have taken that cheque from you. That was the dumbest, most selfish thing I have ever done, and if I hadn’t done it none of this would have happened. I look back on it now and I can’t believe what a bastard I was.”
“I had an affair.” As though he needed reminding.
“Yeah, well, we’ve had a busy year.”
“And I blogged about it.”
“I know. And I lied to you about being able to have kids.”
“I blogged about that, too.”
“Abby, please. None of that matters. I want to put it all behind us. I can’t imagine being with anyone else but you. I think things just got off-track for a while, and we both got complacent. It’s true what they say, a successful marriage is hard work, and we just stopped working at it.”
As her vision adjusted completely to the low light, she looked straight at him and didn’t blink for half a minute. For the first time in a very long time she noticed how brown— almost black—his eyes were. She remembered staring into them during their wedding ceremony as they each said their vows, making all kinds of promises, declaring all manner of things to the congregation. How can you make such promises when you are so young and naïve? How can you possibly be prepared for what can’t possibly be predicted? It’s so easy to say that you will stand by one another, in good times and bad, but the reality is – how can you know what bad things will happen, and how can you know what your own reaction will be when it does? Marriage is hard work because you’re constantly adjusting to the changes in yourself, your spouse and your environment.
“I want to work hard. It’s what I do best. But let’s make sure it’s fun, okay? Hard work in our professional lives, joyful work in our marriage. And I promise you, I’ll work harder at the joyful stuff. How does that sound? Are you up for it?”
“Sounds like the perfect job” he said, smiling.
“Yeah, really. I’ll take it.” He squeezed her hand.
“OK then.” She squeezed back, smiling. “What do we do now?”
“What would you like to do?” he asked.
“How about Paris?”
“I’ll take that, too.”
© 2017 Patricia Smith
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
First edition 2017
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is unintentional or coincidental.
Much of this story is set in the city of Canberra, which is my beloved home town. There are some long-standing institutions that I have used as ‘props’ in my story, but they are unwitting accomplices and the tales I tell about those institutions and the people who work there are completely made up.