Three Wishes(15)


by Liane Moriarty

“She’s walking up to her,” said Gemma. “The girl’s smiling at her.”

Lyn took her face out of her hands and together they watched the girl talking to Cat. She was talking animatedly and pointing up the street, past the car, making twisting directions with her hands. Cat was nodding her head. After a couple of seconds and more pointing and head nodding, Cat turned around and began walking back to the car. Her face was impassive. She opened the car door and got back in behind the driver’s seat. The three of them sat in silence.

Cat leaned forward and rested her forehead against the top of the steering wheel.

Lyn said, “It probably wasn’t even her.”

Gemma said, “She wasn’t at all pretty,” and then all three of them jumped at a sudden, urgent rapping on Cat’s window. It was the girl, smiling, her head on one side as she bent down toward the car.

Oh dear, thought Gemma, holding her breath. She’s gorgeous.

Cat clumsily wound down the window.

“Sorry,” said the girl. “I realized I should have said first left, not first right. So it’s left, left, then right.”

“Ha!” said Cat, as if giving a polite response to a bad joke. Lyn leaned forward and gave an awkward little flutter of her fingers. “Thank you very much!” Gemma’s stomach cramped as she tried to suppress a gigantic wave of laughter. “That’s O.K.,” said the girl. “Left, left, right.” “Yep,” said Lyn heartily. “Got it!”

The girl smiled and walked back toward her flat.

“She’s nice.” Cat’s hands were clenched around the steering wheel. “The bitch is f**king nice!”

“It’s not relevant,” said Lyn.

“Actually, I don’t think she was that nice,” said Gemma. “She seemed a bit dull to me. Lacking in personality.”

“Can we just get out of here?” said Lyn. “Please?”

That night, while Charlie was eating free garlic bread, the three of them watched videos at Lyn’s place. Michael cooked them pasta. Cat cheered up a little after reading Lyn’s mortifying She article. Maddie skidded maniacally back and forth among all three of them until her bedtime, when Lyn suggested they introduce her to the “igloo” game.

It was a game Cat created when they were little. It involved huddling under a white sheet and pretending they were three Eskimos in an igloo. It was extremely cold and icy in the igloo of course, so you had to put your arms around each other and snuggle close, shivering and trembling and making your teeth chatter loudly. Sometimes Cat would bravely venture out into the snow and catch a fish or kill a polar bear for their dinner. (Gemma and Lyn weren’t allowed to go hunting because it was Cat’s game, so she made the rules. They had to stay in the igloo and get the fire ready.)

It was their favorite game for when their parents were fighting. When the yelling started, Cat used to say, “Quick! Into the igloo!”

Maddie thought the igloo game was hysterical—and it was a good way for Lyn and Gemma to secretly give Cat a hug, while they huddled and trembled.

Gemma laid her head back against the rim of the bathtub and was suddenly intensely uncomfortable, too hot and headachy. Baths, she thought, were just like her relationships, all “ooh, ah” in the beginning and then suddenly, without warning, she had to get out, out, out!

She walked gingerly across the slippery tiles to reach blindly for the light. Rubbing steam from the bathroom mirror, she stood sideways and gave herself a sultry centerfold pout over one shoulder. It was her secret opinion that she looked sexiest when her hair was wet.

Sex.

It was such a funny thing. Sometimes, she found it amazing that she actually had sex with anyone. It was so, well, shocking.

“Ladies and men do what?” eight-year-old Gemma had exploded, when their mother sat all three of her daughters down to briskly and precisely explain the grisly facts of life.

Maxine sighed and went over the fundamentals one more time.

“I don’t believe you!” Gemma was horrified.

“Neither do I.” Cat folded her arms aggressively. She always kept a careful eye out for conspiracies, especially when it came to her mother. “You’re making it up.”

“I wish I was,” said their mother.

“I think it might be true,” Lyn said sadly. How did that girl come into the world knowing everything already?

Sometimes when Gemma thought about sex, sometimes even when she was having sex, she felt a faint echo of that horror she felt as an eight-year-old. My goodness, she’d think, looking up at the ceiling as some boyfriend earnestly scrabbled around her body, what in the world is he doing now?

It didn’t stop her from having quite a lot of sex.

She rummaged through the bathroom cupboard for the Listerine and thought about Charlie, standing in the Penthursts’ kitchen that morning. “This fridge is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” he’d said, taking out a bottle of milk, sniffing it suspiciously, and then throwing it straight into the garbage. “You really don’t cook, do you?”

“Nope.”

He closed the fridge door and leaned back against it, folding his arms. “Well, what are you going to feed me, Gemma?”

He had a lovely, slightly wrong way of saying her name, a caressing emphasis on the second syllable. Gemma.

She took him to a local café where they served breakfast all day and the patrons sat on low, cushiony sofas reading free magazines and newspapers, looking self-consciously relaxed over their Big Breakfast Specials.

As first dates went it was promising. There was a pleasing crackle of sexual tension that caused their eyes to keep meeting and sliding away and meeting again. Charlie seemed slightly flushed and she felt a heightened awareness of everything: the smells of coffee and bacon, the edge of his T-shirt against the caramel skin of his neck, her own hand reaching across for the sugar. But there was also an odd familiarity, as if she already knew him, as if they’d been to this café dozens of times before, and this was just an ordinary Saturday. Instead of sharing vital information about jobs, hobbies, ex’s, and families, they flicked through the magazines and shared stupid information about celebrities and diets.

“Did you know that the shape of Nicole’s head proves that she could never have been happy with Tom?”

“Check out this woman. She lost over forty kilos by walking up and down her hallway. Now her husband says he liked her better when she was fat.”