Charade of the Heart(4)

By: Cathy Williams

"Yes," she said firmly, "I have. I don't look like someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown, do I? I'm quite grateful to him in a way; he taught me a valuable lesson about the male species. They're best left alone."

She had enjoyed an undemanding relationship with Craig for seven months before he'd left her for someone else. Men like that, she had decided, instilled caution when it came to the rest of their sex. She wouldn't be getting involved with another man for a very long time indeed, and she could have told her sister that dragging up that unfortunate episode and tacking it on to her arguments was useless.

She didn't, though. Talking about Craig still made her feel vaguely disillusioned, and Beth preferred not to dwell on anything that served no purpose other than to depress her.

Instead she offered her own counter-argument. "And Mum? Do you think that Mum will give this little venture her blessing?"

Laura sat upright and adopted a complacent expression which sent chills down Beth's spine. It was the same expression she had seen whenever her sister was about to confront a problem with an irrefutably foolproof answer.

"That's the beauty of it," she said smugly. "You know how Mum's always spent her life tearing her hair over me. In fact, she still does that now, even if it is only by letter. Well, I won't tell her about the pregnancy just yet. I'll fill her in just before the baby's due, and by the time she arrives the swap will be accomplished, and I'll be back in my job. Easy."

Beth shook her head wonderingly. "Is it all worth it?" she asked.

"For me, yes. I know you're content to stay in the hicks here, studying by night, working by day to pay the bills, but it's not for me. I love London. I love my job. I don't want to own a cosy little place. Not yet." Beth groaned.

"And when the baby arrives?" she asked. "You're going to have to settle down, Laura. Babies and the wild single life don't exactly go hand in hand."

Laura's eyes shifted away from her sister's face. "Time enough to think about that."

What other answer had she seriously expected? Beth thought. Laura had always lived on the premise that the future was a bridge to be crossed when you came to it. While she had worked hard towards building something for herself, Laura had run through a series of unsatisfactory jobs, never thinking of tomorrow.

‘The wonderful thing is," Laura was spying,, her voice low and urgent; "I've been at the Adrino corporation', for" six'months now. Long enough to know that it's the only job for me, but not so long that I know too much for you to catch up on. Right now, I'm doing pretty routine work, even if I do have the freedom to prioritise it the way I want, and you would be able to slot in with no trouble at all. And if you don't understand anything, no one will be too surprised if you ask questions."

"Including your boss?"

"Just so long as you only ask the question once," Laura replied truthfully. "He has the sort of brilliant mind that grasps things immediately, and he expects everyone who works for him to do the same."

This sounded worse and worse. The man was an ogre. Beth could picture him without too much trouble. An arrogant tycoon, someone with a receding hairline and a bit of a paunch, testimony to stress and business lunches, but with enough money to attract whatever bimbo his heart desired.

"Please," Laura wheedled, creeping up the bed to hold her sister's hand. "If you hate it there, I promise I'll do what you want. I'll admit that I'm pregnant and I'll work my notice and then leave. What have you got to lose?"

Beth hesitated, and Laura immediately seized the opportunity.

"And the rest up here will do me good," she said fervently. "I'll be able to do some thinking, and I'll get away from London for a while. There are too many memories for me in London. We could both do with swapping places for our health."

"That's emotional blackmail," Beth pointed out wearily.

But the battle was over, and by the time they finally switched off the lights she was already coming to terms with the fact that she was either as crazy as her sister or else so lacking in will-power that she had allowed herself to agree with something which bore all the resemblance of a jaunt in a minefield.

Laura had taken a week off work, and they spent the time laboriously going over the routines in the Adrino corporation. She had brought one of the company magazines with her, and she pointed out all the faces of the people Beth would meet and would have to recognise.

They weren't that many, mostly the people who worked in the higher echelons of the company. It was a fortunate coincidence that her sister had not been in London long enough to acquire her usual following of male admirers. Her closest friend was Katie, who was aware of the plan.