Chapter 2 of The Advice Slip. You can read Chapter 1 here.
Anne was shattered.
Six o’clock had taken far longer than eight hours to roll around today, she was sure of it. It had been a better day that usual, helped along by Gary Maybury’s good news that morning. At least that had put all of the customers at the pub in a good mood. Silly beggars, Anne smiled to herself. There they all were, buying Gary pints and wishing him well, hoping for a slate in his new pub, and most of them hadn’t grasped that it was thousands of miles away in America.
Her feet ached as she walked out through the bar, waving and throwing a smile to a couple of regulars. Her phone beeped as she came out of the door, a message from her daughter.
MUM CAN YOU LEND ME 20 QUID TO GO OUT TONIGHT?
Anne sighed. Stacey was 18, in her first year at University, although you wouldn’t know it from the amount of time she went out with her mates rather than swotting at her books. Stacey swore that her grades were doing alright, and everyone else went out as much as she did, but still. Anne had her doubts. And of late, a shocking amount of her income was flowing from her wage packet at the Red Lion into the tills of various bars and nightclubs around the town, via Stacey’s impossibly tiny handbags.
Anne didn’t bother texting her back. She’d be home faster that she could work the keys out. She stopped at the machine and keyed in her pin, shuddering to herself in the cold. Maybe she’d get the bus tonight instead of walking, since it was starting to rain. Although, the fares had gone up again…
The machine beeped at her, displaying a message.
“Do you want an advice slip?”
Anne normally skipped past this, but for a second she hesitated. Gary had told such an odd story this morning, about getting that funny yellow slip from the cash machine. Feeling a little reckless, Anne pushed the yes button.
Sure enough, after the £20 note had appeared, a yellow slip popped out. There were three words printed on it.
JUST SAY NO.
Anne blinked at the note, and shoved it in her pocket. What a thing to say! And how odd, given that it echoed a tiny little voice in the back of her head. A voice which had spoken up when she got that text message, but had been squashed by the fear of an argument.
Why don’t you just say no?
Walking down the road, her leaky shoes squelching a little through the puddles, Anne frowned to herself and pondered the problem.
Why DIDN’T she just say no? The requests for money from her daughter were becoming ever more frequent, and ever more demanding. Especially since she had started dating Darren. Anne grimaced to herself. She had tried very hard to like Darren, but it was hard going sometimes. Talking to him always left Anne with a slightly greasy, slimy feeling in her soul. She couldn’t put a finger on why, but there was something about the boy that she just didn’t like.
It was probably Darren that Stacey wanted to go out with tonight.
All of a sudden, Anne grew cross with herself. Why was she paying for her daughter to go out on the town with a man that she didn’t approve of? She couldn’t stop Stacey going, but she could stop paying for it.
All at once, Anne found a hot spark of flame hidden down in her stomach and decided that, just this once, she would say no. In an uncharacteristic pique of rebellion, Anne went into the Tesco Metro just down the street and splashed out on a bottle of wine for £4.99. And with the loose change, she got the bus home, and promised herself a hunt for some new shoes to replace her old soggy ones before she went to work tomorrow.
There was a row. As predicted. But it was shorter and less vile than Anne had dreaded. A few huffs, a bit of stomping, a sulky silence over tea and Stacey went out anyway. Perhaps she hadn’t needed the money that much afterall. Anne pushed the drawer into the dishwasher and set the machine whirring, and had every intention of settling herself down in front of Eastenders with a glass of her impulsively bought Chardonney, before having a bath and going to bed.
But just as she was reaching for the remote to turn on the programme, she was startled by the sound of a key in the yale lock on the front door.
“It’s only me…”
Stacey. But it was … not even eight o’clock?
A very sorry looking young lady came into the room. Her mascara was streaked down her face and she looked positively down in the mouth.
“Stacey …? Whatever’s the matter love?”
Anne was on her feet with her arms open waiting for her daughter as Stacey collapsed into sobs.
“There my duck, what’s going on?”
“I broke up with Darren.”
“Aww, bless you…”
“It was horrible Mum. I asked if he’d get me a drink at the bar, and he was really nasty. Said he’d only get me a drink if … if I…”
Anne pulled back to look at her daughter’s face. “If you what, Stacey?”
“If I agreed to have sex with him tonight.”
“And you didn’t want to?”
“I wasn’t ready Mum. I didn’t want to.”
Anne offered up a silent prayer of relief that her daughter had had that much self esteem.
“And he didn’t like that?”
“It was horrible Mum, she shouted at me, called me a little cock tease and said I was taking advantage of him, that he’d bought me a large wine and I owed him something in return.”
Stacey sniffed, and the ghost of a smile sneaked out.
“Well… I told him he could keep the drink. And he said he didn’t want it.”
“And then … well … I poured it over his head. And walked out of the pub.”
Anne tried for a whole two seconds not to laugh, but then Stacey met her eyes and the two of them dissolved into giggles. Embracing her daughter in a big hug, Anne settled her on the sofa and handed her the kleenex to wipe her face. Fetching another glass from the kitchen, along with the bottle from the fridge, Anne settled back into the sofa, poured a drink for her daughter and passed it over.
“You’re very welcome my darling. Now, shall we catch up with Albert Square?”
The rest of the episode passed on companionable silence. The wine bottle was empty by the time mother and daughter went to bed. Anne remembered at the last minute about the little yellow note from the cash machine, and as she fell asleep, she wondered how differently the evening would have turned out if she hadn’t pressed the YES button.