“At Face Value” by Jude Bridge

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. In this week’s story, our protagonist seizes the moment to confront her ex.

We present our Feature Story: “At Face Value” by Jude Bridge.

I’d overslept that morning and had to rush for the train. On arriving at the station, I fumbled for loose change amongst the chewing gum, lipstick and old receipts that filled my bulging handbag. Change found and ticket bought, I stood on the platform with the other peak-hour commuters. With one minute up my sleeve, I flipped the lid of my compact and dabbed on a sheen of translucent powder, using the tiny mirror for accuracy. As I angled the mirror to check my makeup, I caught sight of him through the crowd. Jarrad. He had walked out of my life three years ago and broken my heart.

He was watching the approaching train, shoulders broad in a well-cut navy suit. His hair was darker than usual and I assumed that it had been dyed to hide the grey. I remember him plucking out individual grey hairs with tweezers as he preened in the bathroom mirror. The grey must have taken over. He would be very annoyed. Appearances were very important to Jarrad. He’d told me often enough to lose a few pounds and to wear dresses, not trousers, when we were out together in public. I looked “chunky” in trousers, he said.

I wondered why he was here, at my station. Jarrad wouldn’t normally be on the train. Maybe the love of his life, a silver vintage Jaguar, was being fixed again. The car was off the road more often than on it. But Jarrad persevered with the beast; his toys and his status were of great importance. When we’d lived together, he’d found the perfect mechanic just around the corner from our house. He’d left me but still used the mechanic, the car being his first priority. I saw it in the shop from time to time.

The forty-or-so strong crowd pushed forward onto the train. Through a sea of standing passengers, I could just make out Jarrad’s dark suit at the front of the carriage. The back of his head was angled down towards a magazine. He would be reading either a scientific or financial journal. I pulled a dog-eared romance novel from my handbag. Jarrad had scoffed at my choice of reading matter, saying that I should switch to material that would improve my mind or my financial status. Romance was for fools, he said. That’s why he’d given me a vacuum cleaner instead of flowers one Valentine’s Day. I hadn’t made a fuss. I was grateful to have such a confident, handsome, successful boyfriend. I couldn’t believe he’d chosen me as a partner. I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. Socially he was masterful, able to chat with anyone about anything. I’d always been terribly shy but with Jarrad by my side, no-one noticed that I wasn’t saying much.

When he left, I spent several weeks on the couch feeling sorry for myself before enlisting the help of friends and an excellent therapist. To my surprise, my friends told me they’d never liked Jarrad. No one had said anything because I was madly, blindly in love and terribly proud of him. It was always “Jarrad says this” and “Jarrad says that.” Instead of thinking he was charming and witty, they had been offended by his continual criticisms of my lifestyle, my weight and my job. One friend revealed that he’d tried to seduce her while I was away on a computer course. By this stage, I was beginning to understand how Jarrad had destroyed my self-esteem and how I had let it happen. Over the next few months, with regular therapy sessions, I learned not to blame my inadequacies for the breakup because, in fact, I was not inadequate! I discovered that working as a research assistant was a valid occupation. Reading romance novels was not a hobby that I should be ashamed of. I was allowed to have fun! My shyness was more difficult to overcome but I made the effort, and with encouragement from my friends, I managed to hold my own in social situations.

Jarrad got off the train in the city, as I did. I followed him up the escalator and through the mall.

My therapist had encouraged me to tackle difficult situations head-on. Here was a perfect opportunity. Face to face, I could tell him exactly what I thought of his patronising manner and inappropriate behaviour.

I was gaining on him, only three people walked between us.

‘Jarrad,’ I said sharply. He kept walking. Typical.

‘Jarrad,’ I repeated. Still no response. Now I was directly behind him.

‘You are going to listen to me for once, you condescending creep,’ I shouted.

Jarrad swung around to face me. Well, he looked like Jarrad, but he wasn’t Jarrad. His build was identical and his face was similar in that he was drop-dead gorgeous but his blue eyes were kind, not cruel.

‘I’m not Jarrad, whoever he is, and I’m glad,’ the hunk said in a deep velvety voice. ‘He sounds as if he’s in a whole lot of trouble.’

‘I’m so sorry,’ I mumbled, flushing bright red. ‘I thought you were someone else.’

‘I’m not sorry,’ he replied. ‘Why don’t we grab a coffee, if you’ve got time. You can tell me all about the dreadful Jarrad.’

I accepted the offer of coffee, I told him about Jarrad and I now have a lovely new boyfriend who thinks I look fabulous in trousers. He’s nothing like Jarrad.

Appearances can be deceptive.

Jude Bridge has been a comedienne, library technician, cleaner, waitperson, menu editor, actress, journalist and playwright. She has had short stories published in the Australian journals dotdotdash, indigo, liNQ and The Big Issue Fiction Edition 2012. Her work has also appeared in the Berlin-based Sand Journal and The Fish Anthology 2011. She has no idea what she wants to do if she ever grows up.

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