This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 935 words.
Anita decided to postpone the shopping trip, and try to get hold of Claudia. She rang the mobile, but it went to answerphone. This time, she left a message. “Hi Claude, don’t worry, I’m not having the baby, but some bad things have happened. Mike has gone missing, and his parents got killed in a car crash on their way to stay with me. The police are dealing with it all, but I could really do with a chat. I am going to ring your office number and see if I can catch you there. Ring me back if you get this, as I am holding fire on going to the shops until I know you are okay”.
The woman who answered Claude’s office number made it clear she wasn’t her. “Claudia Hyslop’s phone, Jennie speaking”. Anita didn’t mess around. “Can I possibly speak to Claudia, Jennie? I know she is probably in a meeting, but this is urgent. I’m her best friend, Anita Hollis, she will verify that if you ask her”. The woman sounded hesitant. “Hang on, I will put you through to the production manager”. After a series of beeps, a different voice came on. “Hi, Anita. My name is Lucinda Clarke, Claudia’s boss. I have heard her talk about you. Sorry to say that she is not in today. She took some time off, something about a domestic crisis with her partner. She hasn’t been in for a couple of days now, but she did promise to let me know as soon as she could come back to work. You will have to try her mobile, I’m afraid”. Anita thanked her, and hung up.
Shopping in the supermarket for some healthy food and bottled water, Anita was distracted by what she had heard earlier. Claude hadn’t let her know about any domestic issues, and it was unlike her not to reply to a text, or get back to an answerphone message. She had hung around at home for a good hour before deciding to drive to the shops.
Claudia was probably the best-looking girl at their school, but she made it very clear from a young age that she wasn’t interested in boys. Nor was she that interested in girls her own age, she had told Anita, just in case her friend was nervous around her. By the time they were both sixteen, Claude was calling herself a ‘lipstick lesbian’ to anyone that asked. So many boys around the town were disappointed, especially as she refused to fit into any of the stereotypes about gay women that they had in their minds.
When they left school at eighteen, Claude went on to university to study journalism, but Anita was happy to settle for a marketing job at the gas supply company. It was at a university function for the graduations that Claude had introduced her to Mike. He was studying engineering at a different part of the university, but they knew each other as they had once been neighbours as children, and the families had kept in touch. He asked Claudia for her phone number, and it had all developed from there.
The BBC had been the natural place for Claudia to apply for a job, and they were keen to have her. She worked her way up from production assistant on a news programme, and then was asked to move on a promotion to the new television complex at Salford, near Manchester. By then, she was living with her lover, a much older woman named Elizabeth Pike, who Claude affectionately called Betsy. She was already retired early from her job at the BBC in London, where they had met. Betsy didn’t hesitate to put her London house on the market, and the pair bought a luxury flat at the desirable address of Salford Quays, close to the BBC studios.
A more unlikely couple, Anita had never seen. But it worked so well. They were besotted with each other, and there was even talk of a wedding next year. When Claude had been her bridesmaid, many of the guests had thought that Betsy was her Mum, as she was around the same age, But Claude had eyes for nobody but her, and Anita was really pleased for them.
Only now she couldn’t get hold of her, and all she knew was some sort of domestic situation was keeping her incommunicado. She couldn’t imagine it was a break-up with Betsy. They had only recently bought a new car, and booked a holiday for the autumn. She kicked herself for never getting Betsy’s mobile number. At least she could have spoken to her, and found out what was going on. As she was wheeling the shopping trolley to the car, Anita’s phone began to ring in her shoulder bag. In her rush to get it out, she dropped the car keys. Bending down awkwardly to pick them up, the phone fell out of her bag and slid across under a car that was reversing out of a space.
Even as she walked over to get it, she knew it was unlikely that it would have survived being crunched under the huge tyres of the Toyota pickup truck that had just driven over it. And she was right. On top of everything else, she now had to go and get a new phone. At least she had insurance, and the phone shop was just across the shopping precinct from where she was parked.
Raising her face to the sky, she yelled out loud.
“What’s next? What else have you got in store for me?”