Norton Canes Motorway Service Station (Northbound)

Helen saw him before he saw her – she was in the queue for Burger King, he was exiting the gents – which was fortunate, because at first she couldn’t place him. 

After glancing around, seeming to search for a face, he made his way to the central seating area and found an empty table looking towards the ladies’ loo.  Something was stirring within Helen though what she couldn’t say, and she was pleased she could now study the man without fear of being noticed.

What she didn’t realise, was that someone had spotted her interest in the man and was watching her watching him.

It was a simple gesture that allowed her memory to click back into place.  He spotted his reflection in the glass of the M&S store and thinking he was unobserved, raked his hand through his hair before patting it into place.  My God, she thought, that’s who he is.  He’d always been obsessed with his hair, with how he looked.  Even after they made love it was one of the first things he did, check himself out.  At first, it had amused her, she even found it faintly endearing, but by the second month it had become insufferable and was one of many reasons she’d had for calling it off.  He’d merely shrugged, smiled, given her a peck on the cheek, and slouched off to his car as though none if it really mattered that much.  That had been in a service station too.  Thurrock.  October 10th.  She’d never seen him since.  Nine years.  Craig.  That was it, Craig.  It was all coming back now.  She could even remember his smell, the feel of his stubble on her cheek, on her breasts.  He looked clean-shaven now. 

Who, she wondered, was he looking for?

His head turned towards her and she looked away, pretending to search in her bag, feeling the beat of her heart quicken.  The queue shuffled closer to the Burger King counter.  She still hadn’t decided what to buy.

Had he meant it, that indifference at the ending?  It was only after he’d gone that she knew she’d miss him.  And she had missed him.  The number of times she’d drafted an email or picked up the phone.  But she’d resisted, she’d been strong.  She never pressed call or send.  No one gave up on her so easily.  And she’d reminded herself why she’d ditched him in the first place.  Never go with a man who spends more time in front of the mirror than you.

So why hadn’t she recognised him?  He hadn’t changed that much since the last time she’d seen him. 

And then, like the first swipe of a wiper clearing raindrops from the windscreen, she remembered, remembered the decision to erase him from her mind, to expunge him.  She was shocked at her success and the jolt his rebirth had caused.

The queue moved forward, tugging her towards a decision.  Fat burger or healthy chicken?  She tried to focus on staring at the board, forcing herself not to think of Craig.

She looked back at him and straight into the eyes of a woman. 

Her. 

Tanya.  His wife.

Helen had seen Tanya’s photo in his wallet once, had gazed at the smiling, frozen image, at the gentle happy eyes with a mixture of pity and gloating. 

Now those eyes blazed with hatred, held Helen for a moment longer and then bent and kissed Craig on the mouth, a snog of such passion that when he came up for air the look on his face, a mixture of shock and delight, might have amused Helen had it been somebody else.

Abandoning her order, Helen left the queue and made for the exit.

As she walked through the sliding doors she glanced back and saw, to her horror, Tanya striding after her, head down and eyes like skewers.  Craig and a teenage girl Helen hadn’t noticed before were trying to keep up, looks of bemusement on their faces as they called to her. Trying to understand why she was rushing out with a murderous expression on her face.

Clutching her handbag, heart pounding Helen stepped out onto the zebra crossing, causing a Toyota to break sharply.  She set out into the carpark as quickly as she could without running, some sense of decorum overriding her fear.  She wished she was wearing flatter heels, was glad her lime green Renault stood out among the lines of cars.  As she got nearer to its safety she had to fight the urge to look over her shoulder.  She was sure she could hear the staccato tattoo of Tanya’s heels ever closer behind.

She made it into her car, had started the ignition though not slung her seat-belt, had put the car in gear and begun to pull out of the parking space, when Helen slammed both palms against her window.  Saliva flecked the glass as, teeth bared, she screamed, their faces inches apart.

“YOU FUCKING WHORE!”

The tyres squealed and the Renault shot forward, the rear wheels bumping, probably over Tanya’s feet for there was another scream.

Steering wildly, Helen narrowly missed Craig as she slewed out of the space and headed toward the arrow pointing for the exit. 

As she passed him their eyes met and, in that instant, Helen realised he had absolutely no idea who she was.

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