This wasn’t the time though to worry about it. An immediate, temporary solution would be to keep them separate for the evening.
She straightened up. “I don’t think I’ve been a very good guest of honor. I’ve been here an hour and hardly talked to anyone. I’ll be back in a bit; I think I should go look for some people. Alan? I’m going to find Victor if you want to come.”
She wasn’t sure if leaving Peter with a slightly intoxicated Frank was a kindness, but it had to be better than both him and Alan at the same table without any mediating forces.
She took Alan’s hand and they left quickly. Perhaps a little too quickly. Alan seemed oddly eager to leave the group as well. As they made their way across the room however he slowed down and stopped her.
“Why did Evelyn invite him?” he demanded.
Surprised, it took a second for Holly to understand the question. “Peter? Why wouldn’t she? He’s my friend Alan. I know we’ve talked about this before and I know he makes you uncomfortable. I said I wouldn’t ask you to spend time with him, but I didn’t invite him here. It’s my birthday and Evelyn invited people she knew I liked. So please, just for tonight, be nice to him. Or ignore him. You don’t actually have to spend time together. It’s a big party.”
Alan’s shoulders seemed to sag and he nodded. “I’ll try.”
“Thank you.” She hugged him and then turned to survey the crowd. “So where do you think Victor is?”
“You know what Holly, why don’t you go look for him. I think I’m going to go get a drink.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
Holly watched as he left and wondered again how much he had guessed about Peter’s feelings for her. She turned back her attention to finding Victor, but saw Evelyn weaving her way through the crowd towards her.
“Holly! There you are,” said Evelyn beaming. “I hope you’re having a wonderful time?”
“Yes, I am.” More like a difficult time, she thought, you seemed to have invited one guy too many. “Thanks so much for doing this.”
“Of course dear, I’m only too happy to. Matilda sends her wishes too. She would have liked to have come but she was swamped with work I’m afraid.”
“My friend Eleanor also had to leave early. But she left a small little gift; I had it put in Alan’s car for you.”
“She left a gift?” asked Holly surprised.
“Of course. You know she is really a wonderful woman. You really should consider calling her, if only to chat. She’s wonderful at PR and could do wonders for you.”
Holly stared at Evelyn for one very long minute. Maybe it was a cumulative effect of all the conversations with Evelyn that had followed this pattern in the past month, maybe it was the attempt at manipulation with this one or it could be dealing with Peter and Alan but she felt herself snap.
“Drop it,” she said curtly. “Just drop it for one day. I’ve told you I don’t know that I’m interested or not and I meant it.”
“On and on and on, since Ian’s offered me that contract. If I want to take it I will, and I can’t believe you’d bring an PR person to my party just to try to push her on me.” She turned and walked away. Evelyn called out after her but she wasn’t in the mood to act reasonably. Instead she walked over to the bar and ordered a drink. Evelyn meant well but right now she was doing far more damage than good. Holly needed time; time to just let it lie…
“Are you alright?” asked a worried voice behind her. She turned around.
“Peter. Yes, thank you, I’m just-” She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. I’m fine.”
He frowned and came nearer. “You look upset. Where’s Alan? Did he do something?”
“What?” she blinked at him. “What would Alan do?”
“I…” he floundered a bit. “just mean, I thought since you went off with him and now you’re upset-”
“You thought what?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged and started to look slightly cornered. “But you know Holly if there’s ever anything wrong. I mean if there’s every anything you want to talk to me about. If you’re worried or scared-”
“Peter!” She rapped her knuckles sharply on the bar. “Stop it. Just stop it. I want to be your friend. I like spending time with you. I like you. But don’t make it hard.”
She left him standing there, staring after her. She felt instantly guilty. She knew she hadn’t been kind but on top of Evelyn, Peter being jealous had just felt so impossible…
She saw Alan standing near the back, looking around over the heads of the crowd. She made her way towards him. He smiled as she drew nearer and wrapped his arms around her.
“I was looking for you,” he said, smiling down at her. “I’m sorry I was an idiot earlier.”
She laughed. “It seems to be going around so don’t feel bad about it.” She kissed him.
“Here,” he pulled away a little and took a small, wrapped box out of his pocket. “Happy birthday.”
Over at the bar Peter watched through the crowd as Holly walked away. He’d clearly misread the situation. But she’d looked so upset and he’d last seen her with Alan…he’d been worried. Of course he was worried, why wouldn’t he be?
He frowned as he watched her cross the room and go into Alan’s arms. He felt a jolt in the pit of his stomach. Maybe it hadn’t been worry or concern after all. Maybe it had been jealousy that had raised its head.
Alan pulled out a box and handed it to her and Peter watched as she unwrapped and opened it. She took something out, Peter saw a glint but couldn’t make out what it was exactly until she clasped it around her neck.
Possibly it was jealousy, but right now he didn’t care as he watched Holly slip her arm through Alan’s and lean into him with a smile of contentment and trust.
Right now the only thing he wanted to do was to burn that man to the ground: for Layla, for himself, for every hellish moment of these last five years, for the way Holly looked at him.
He walked purposefully towards the exit. He was going to get the proof he needed. He was going to convince Holly. He might have less faith in his own motives now, but the end result would be the same. So what did it matter?
Author’s Note: And this will be the last post till next year 🙂 I am taking two weeks off for Christmas because who really wants to write over Christmas, no matter how much fun writing is. So the next post shall be on the January 7th, 2014. Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!