The Grass is Greener

Dull. That’s how they see me, she thought. Sally pulled a stool up to the breakfast bar, poured herself a cup of coffee and started to read through the letter again but she couldn’t concentrate. She was still smarting from the phone conversation with her sister, Katie, the night before. Safe, predictable and dull. Was that really how she appeared to them? She neatly folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope.

      The last time she’d spoken to her sister was a couple of months back, just before her holiday. It shouldn’t have bothered her that Katie hadn’t even asked her how she was or what she’d got up to on holiday. After all, her family rarely did ask how she was feeling. Katie had just launched straight into the usual litany of Irish family drama – the fallouts and the rows, which parties were no longer talking to each other, who was ill and, better still, who had just died. Sally had long ago learnt to switch off and let the news from home drift over her. Her family mistook this for being a ‘good listener’.
      “We were just talking about you the other day,” Katie said, “and how much you’ve changed.”
      “Oh?”
Sally took a deep breath and waited for the verdict which she knew was about to be delivered with an unsolicited, brutal directness.
      “We think you’ve lost your sparkle,” she said. They had obviously been discussing her in great depth, picking over her life as if it was a specimen in a petri dish, examining her career choices before concluding that something was amiss.
      “What do you mean?” asked Sally.
Katie helpfully elaborated. They always thought that she was destined to be the high flyer, not Tom. But it was as if she’d allowed herself to become chained to the same company for the last ten years. This rankled with Sally. Staying put had been a conscious decision that had suited them both. As Tom flitted from one job to another trying to build his career, she had remained in her stable job, providing financial security. They had led a ‘comfortable’ life together. She hadn’t ruled out trying something new, but the timing had never been quite right.
      “I wouldn’t make any rash decisions if I were you,” Tom would say. “People always think the grass is greener somewhere else, but trust me, it’s not.” Well, he would know, wouldn’t he?
      Besides she loved her work. It was exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. And she was well respected in the fashion industry; she had an uncanny knack of discovering new design talent. But recently she felt as if she had been left sitting on the sidelines watching opportunities drift past her, whilst her colleagues went on to bigger and greater things. Of course she remained professional, hid her disappointments well but it felt that the longer she stayed the more frustrated she became.
      “Do you think I’ve lost my sparkle?” she asked Tom as he appeared in the kitchen.
      “Your what?”
Sally tucked the letter into her bag as she cleared a space for him.
      “According to my family I’ve become too tame. I think they mean I’ve become boring.”
      Tom gulped down some coffee and grabbed a slice of toast.
      “The problem with you,” he said, “is that you worry too much about what people think of you.”
      “Why do you say that?”
      “You seem to take things too much to heart. When we first met, you didn’t go by what other people thought. You just made up your own mind about things. You were much bolder then.”
      “So what’s happened?”
      “I’m not sure but it’s as if something is always holding you back.”
Sally shifted in her seat and felt for the silver pendant around her neck, running her fingers along the fine chain. It was knotted.
      “Don’t you think so?” he asked. “Surely you must feel that too.”
      “Maybe you’re right.”
Sally gently massaged the knot in her necklace, rolling the chain between her thumb and index finger, patiently loosening the tangled links one by one until the knot released.
      It was funny, she thought, how she had no hesitation in making the big decisions, like moving countries, buying houses, not having children. She had no qualms about making those decisions for both of them and he relied on her for that. She had always been a glass half full type. Tom saw the glass as half empty. Together they had balanced each other – her optimism counteracting his cynicism. So why was she the one being so cautious now? She hadn’t always been like that.
      It was Sally who had been the driving force behind their move to London. She had encouraged him to apply for the job, convinced him that he was in with a real chance and was genuinely thrilled when he was offered the post. She felt confident that she would sort something out for herself once they got there. For her, it was all an adventure, packing their possessions into the back of his Ford Capri, taking the ferry to Scotland and making the long drive down to London. She knew a friend who was willing to put them up for the first few weeks until they settled.  He always said it was the best move he’d ever made, that he could never have achieved the same career back home.
      Her family had been reluctant to let her go. They had never really taken to Tom – she could see that. She had caught enough arched eyebrows and furtive glances across the dinner table as Tom filled them in on his latest commercial ventures.  Of course they were ‘nice as ninepins’ to his face but Sally could sense their buttoned up disapproval.
      “He loves the sound of his own voice, that one,” she had overheard her mother once whisper to her sister in the early days of their relationship. Tom, on the other hand, believed they hung on every word he said.
      Then there was the awful moment at their wedding, when her father faltered half way through his speech, just as he was welcoming Tom into the family. It was the slight change of tone and the lingering emphasis on the word must that grabbed her attention. 
       “And now it comes to the part when I must welcome Tom into the family,” he began.
      “Tom,” her father said as he turned towards him.
She listened raptly and waited, her heart thumping wildly, but the words seemed to stick in her father’s throat.
      “Welcome,” he eventually said, delivered with all the enthusiasm as if he was inviting Hitler into the bosom of the family.  Sally had laughed it off at the time, saying it wasn’t like her father to forget his lines.
      “What are you thinking about?” asked Tom.
      “Nothing really,” she lied.
      “Is work bothering you? You said you had something important you needed to put together. I could take a look, give you some pointers.”
      “No, it’s fine. I’ll manage,” she said.
Sally scooped up her bag and checked the contents one last time to make sure she had everything she needed. She grabbed her coat from the rack in the hall and followed Tom out to the car.
      Tom reminded Sally about the restaurant he’d booked for later that evening as he dropped her off at the station.  She just about managed to bolt through the tube doors before they shut. Just as well, otherwise it would have meant another ten minute delay to her journey and she didn’t want to be late this morning. It was the only chance she’d have to catch her boss.
      She jostled for space and looked around for somewhere to hold on to, moving ‘right on down the carriage’ as the driver casually suggested over his public address system. Eventually she found an empty seat. She went over everything again in her mind, rehearsing her opening lines and trying to picture the response. Feeling the panic rising within her, she glanced distractedly around the carriage. It was full of business commuters, like her, all slavishly reading the morning papers and avoiding eye contact at all costs.
      One young woman seated just to her right was furiously typing e-mails, her laptop precariously balanced on her knees. “Since when did the tube become mobile office space?” thought Sally.
      Sally retrieved the letter from her bag and read it through slowly again. By the time she had reached her stop she almost knew the contents off by heart. She willed the train to travel faster. She had made up her mind and just wanted to get on with it. Sally made her way out of the station and headed straight for her office block. She took the lift to the fifth floor and stepped out into the familiar lobby. She could see that her boss was already in her office just down the corridor. Now was the time to grab her before things got too hectic, she thought.
      She didn’t quite know why she felt she needed to explain to her boss or why it mattered to her that she understood. She just did. Sally was sure that she had made the right decision but was momentarily daunted by putting it into action. Just as she was steeling herself to enter the room her boss looked up and motioned for her to come in.  She caught the familiar amber and sweet orange scent as she opened the door. No turning back now, thought Sally.

     

      “Well, how did it go at work today?” asked Tom over dinner later that night.
      “Actually I need to talk to you about it,” said Sally.
Tom rolled his eyes.
      “The problem with you is that you don’t have enough confidence in yourself,” he said, cutting through his steak. “You should speak up for yourself more.”
Sally bit her lip.
      “Please don’t keep telling me that. I don’t have a problem with me.”
 He put his knife and fork down and gazed directly across the table at her.
      “Oh, don’t give me that look,” he said.
      “What look?” asked Sally, playing out the familiar scene.
      “That look you get, like I’m the worst in the world. I don’t know why you bother to ask for my help if you’re going to be like this.”
      “I wasn’t asking for your help,” she said. “I was just trying to tell you what happened today.”
This was how it always turned out, she thought to herself, when she talked about her job or anything that really mattered to her, going round in circles and feeling irritated by his response. How did he always manage to grasp the wrong end of the stick?
      “It’s not that you haven’t got the skills,” he said. “We both know you have, don’t we? You’ve proved that before.”
Sally knew he was just trying to help in the only way he knew how – by telling her what to do. He didn’t need to; she’d already made up her mind. 
      “It’s not that at all,” she said softly.
      “Well, what is it then?” he asked.
      “I have a great idea, a new direction entirely, but I‘m not sure how it will be received.
      “You shouldn’t be afraid to put your ideas forward,” he said, taking a sip of wine.
      “You’re right,” she said, as she played with a chip, pushing it from one side of her plate to the other. She pulled her shoulders back and took a deep breath. She had to tell him. She couldn’t put it off any longer.
      Sally placed the letter in front of Tom. There in bold print was confirmation that she’d been offered the position of head fashion buyer, starting in September. She’d posted the application on holiday but hadn’t mentioned anything to him. What was the point? She was scared he’d make her doubt herself and talk her out of it. Her boss had been encouraging when she told her about it, said she had a rare gift and that it would be a sin to waste it. 
       “Look, I know it means big changes but I really want this,” said Sally.
       “So, why did you hide it from me?”
      “I tried to tell you but you don’t listen.”
He was listening now.
      “There’s something else I need to tell you.”
She pointed to the letter heading.
      “The job is with Bloomingdales in New York.”
Tom caught his breath as he tried to take in what she said.
      “So you’re leaving me then?”

     

      Tom’s hand ached from gripping the phone. Katie had been in full flow for the last ten minutes, venting the disapproval of Sally’s family.
      “Has she completely taken leave of her senses?” she asked him, finally pausing for breath.
They could not understand why she would suddenly chuck in her perfectly good job and up sticks for America. For Christ sake, when would they ever get to see her?
       “Apparently she’s been thinking about it for ages,” said Tom.
      “Well why didn’t she mention it to anybody….to me?” asked Katie.
      “She said that we’re just interested in ourselves and never ask her what she wants.”
      “That’s ridiculous!”
      “The thing is - it’s true,” replied Tom.
Katie for once in her life fell silent.
     


      Tom turned to Sally and asked her if he had really been that hard to talk to. Sally nodded. They were both tired. It had been a long flight but neither of them had felt like sleeping - they had too much on their minds. They fastened their seatbelts and prepared for landing. As they craned their heads towards the window to take in the iconic skyline, neither of them could quite believe that they had made it here at all.
 The summer had whizzed past in a mad flurry of activity as they made urgent arrangements to rent out their house and put their furniture in storage. This time round there was a lot more to pack than just one car load. They hadn’t had time to stop and think.
      “What if I hadn’t been able to get a transfer to New York? Would you still have come without me?” asked Tom.
      “Yes,” said Sally.

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