Trip home has been put off until tomorrow because an old friend is coming over tonight - in fact, with any luck, I might even get a lift home with her on Wednesday.
E and I met when we were four. She lived five minutes' up the road and our parents used to share school run duties. From age four to age fourteen we saw each other almost daily. Sleepovers, secrets, huge rows, world-war sized fall outs, treaties, peacemaking, makeovers - she feels more like a sister than a friend. And like sisters we were classified by our families: I was the clever one, she was the beautiful one. And she was beautiful, as tall as me but her build slender and delicate, her hair dark and thick, her skin porcelain. I might have been even more jealous (because I was jealous), only I always felt it was better to be clever than beautiful - clever means a better job, more money and a nicer life; clever meanss being admired for something deeper; clever means having deep thoughts. E always wanted to be a make up artist, hairdresser or beautician, she said we'd open a shop - she'd do the beauty and I'd do the sums (accounts I guess). Whole afternoons were devoted to her making me over, styling my hair - it was her hobby and she was good at it. During these years my career goals chopped and changed: fashion designer, teacher, scientist, writer...
E didn't do very well at middle school and her parents decided she'd have a better chance at a girls' school. We saw each other less and her social life moved to the town where the convent day school was. When the convent school closed I was at the local high school, but E decided to go to a different one to stay with her friends from the convent school. We saw each other every couple of weeks, but our lives were already so different. Then her parents split up and she and her mum no longer lived five minutes' away. We kept in touch, but it was sporadic. I went to uni up North, she stayed on the Island working as a beauty threrapist. I became a bit arrogant when we met up, I think all us uni students got a bit big for our boots. We stopped bothering to meet up when I was home, but our mothers kept us informed of how each other was doing
I went to Greece for a year after graduation, by the time I'd got back (and moved immediately to London) E was in Australia. She did really well for herself out there - she really is a very good beauty therapist, one that gives generously and makes the client feel genuinely beautified by the end of the treatment.
When E came back I heard from my mum that she and her boyfriend bought a house. I was busy working in London and when I was on the Isle I never bothered to look her up. My life moved on and so did hers, I got married. Then suddenly E and her boyfriend broke up. The Isle became claustrophobic and she went travelling for a while, when she came back she got a high-powered position with Clarins travelling between concessions, checking up on staff. I heard that she was now often in London. I got her mobile number and gave her a call.
It was as if the last eight years hadn't happened - we picked up exactly where we'd left off. For the last year or so E has been a regular visitor to Badger Mansions, often staying over when she wanted to add an extra day to her London visits, coming to dinner when the thought of another solo hotel evening became oppressive. In the run up to Christmas E and her new bloke stayed for a few days. We swapped 'work is shit' stories - we both knew we had to quit.
I quit in January with nothing lined up, feeling brave and confident. E waited a month or so. I heard a couple of weeks ago that she had handed in her notice with Clarins and bought a shop with a hairdresser friend.
E has managed to make her childhood dream come true I'm still unemployed and wondering what the hell I'm going to do with my life - who's the clever one now?