Short Stories / The Red Dress

The Red Dress – Chapter 4 – Louise

Chapter 4 – Louise

“You are remembering I’m away next Tuesday aren’t you?” David asked as the toaster popped.

“Yes, of course I am!” Louise snapped back, immediately feeling shame rise from her gut at her unnecessary tone. “Why do I have to be so nasty?” she sighed to herself, feeling the shame almost instantly replaced by guilt as she considered that she knew exactly why she was instantly hostile.

David, knowing not to react to these outbursts, picked his toast from the toaster and silently plucked the butter from the fridge. “They’ve changed the venue” he said, his tone calm and measured, glossing over Louise’s animosity only seconds before. Louise’s gut clenched tight. Changes to schedules or any kind of variation made her extremely nervous, and not because she liked routine, but because she now relied on it, heavily. “To what?” she questioned. Louise’s uncharacteristic sudden interest in his business affairs a few weeks ago had originally surprised David, but he’d now come to accept them as just another quirk for him to work around, though there seemed to be more and more of them of late. “The NEC” he said “they’ve decided to fly in some of the board members last minute and it’s more conve…” “Right” Louise barked, cutting him off “you’ll be setting off a couple of hours later then?” David appeared to consider this for a moment and then said “Well I’d always planned to set off at 8, so I’d rather stick to that and find myself with more hours at the other end.”

Louise, now facing the kitchen window as she rinsed her mug in the sink felt a wave of annoyance and relief. Annoyance, because David’s overly cautious nature was one of the things that she had at first found to be charming about him, but now only found it extremely irritating; and relief, because it meant that she didn’t need to text Paul and change their plans. Rolling her eyes to herself she couldn’t help but say “better to be safe than sorry I’m sure” through slightly gritted teeth. David picked up his briefcase and held the slice of buttered toast between his teeth to open and close the kitchen door. He pretended this was the reason he couldn’t say “I love you” or give her a kiss goodbye, but really he knew that there was no point in trying, and both of them saved face this way. He knew his marriage hadn’t always been the battle ground that he now found himself mired in, but didn’t think he could pinpoint the exact moment when it had changed.

By contrast, Louise knew exactly the moment their marriage had soured, and it wasn’t the day the affair started. She wasn’t that callous, and it had taken a long time for her to fall out of love with David. More accurately, she had fallen out of respect for him, and you can’t love someone that you don’t respect. David was an excellent accountant, having saved his firm millions in legal tax efficiencies. This had been noticed within the industry and he had been head hunted by several larger firms, but each time he had turned them down, despite much larger pay packets and share price linked bonuses offered as sweeteners. In truth, the work David did was much higher than his pay grade, but he refused to push himself forward, to make any kind of advancement, or take any kind of risks. Louise had grown tired of providing gentle encouraging support, resorting later to downright pushiness and then losing all hope, and therefore respect, a couple of years later. She was frustrated that he, and therefore they, could be so much more than what they were, but David’s risk aversion had permeated so much of their lives, that she found herself taking bigger and bigger risks to compensate for the dull ache she felt inside that could only be attributed to a mixture of grief and boredom.

The biggest risk of all flashed up on her phone 5 minutes after David had pulled off the drive to head to the office.

DOMINO’s: “FWD: Your parcel will be delivered between 14:00 and 16:00 today”.

Another message… DOMINO’s: “I hope you like it”

She winced at the message. That was too close for comfort and no one got consecutive texts from Domino’s at 7:35am. Paul knew not to message out with office hours, or more precisely, out with David’s office hours, but sending them within 5 minutes of the threshold didn’t leave much room for error.

David was a creature of habit, but it only took a forgotten car park pass for him to pop back and she couldn’t be too careful. She opened the message thread and then opened the link to the contact, changing the name to Paula McMillan. This would have to do, given that Paula did quite often text her but the missing ‘a’ of ‘Mac’ would probably go unnoticed. She winced again at the possibility of sending the wrong message to Paula, or anyone else for that matter, hence DOMINO’s but decided it would buy her some time to think of another.

At 8:15, Louise headed out the door for the walk to the tube station for another commute, and another day in the office, but today she had something else to look forward to besides ‘Friyay’ as her junior colleagues insisted on calling it. By 15:30 she was starting to get antsy about a lack of communication from Reception; “surely it would be here by now?” she thought to herself, knowing that all other deliveries had arrived auspiciously close to 14:00 suggesting she was an early stop on the delivery driver route. She had been mulling over the purchase of some new underwear for the trip away and the lack of instant gratification from receiving her surprise parcel made her mind up on an impulse purchase that had been in her Amazon basket for 3 hours. Despite the risk that she was about to receive underwear as a gift, she banked on the fact that Paul didn’t like to send the same thing twice and hit ‘Proceed to checkout’ on the screen.

She was about to select her card details, making sure to choose her personal credit card, one that she had secretly opened some months earlier to hide any additional spending, when her phone rang abruptly.

“Yes?” She said excitedly

“Is that Louise Donaldson?” droned the bored sounding voice on the other end.

Louise rolled her eyes wondering why they couldn’t employ someone with and IQ in double digits to man reception, as clearly the receptionist had dialled her extension only seconds earlier. Her frustration sometimes turned to concern when she considered them messing up the distribution of internal and external post but figured she’d be able to explain perfume or lingerie away easily enough if someone mistakenly opened it.

“Yes” she hissed, barely able to contain her waspishness

“There’s a parcel down here for you” the nasal voice continued “Do you want to pick it up? Or shall I put it in your department pigeon hole?”

“I’ll pick it up,” Louise mumbled hurriedly, suddenly remembering her part-progressed transaction and noticed a ‘time out in…’ message having appeared at the top of the screen. She selected her credit card and then rushed through the remainder of the transaction, not waiting for the email confirmation to drop in to her inbox before locking the monitor and heading for the lift to reception.

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