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  • Published: 30 January 2024
  • ISBN: 9781761341717
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $34.99

The Other Bridget

Extract

There’s only one thing that could make me agree to dress up like a playboy bunny and parade around half-naked in front of my col­leagues and library patrons on a Wednesday night. Yep, you guessed it – a boy. Or, rather, a man.

Tonight’s the night I’m going to introduce my new boyfriend to my friends, and, despite the outfit, I can hardly wait. I’m in the staff bathroom putting the final touches on my costume – adjust­ing the rabbit ears atop my head – when my phone pings with a text. My heart thuds even before I read it. If that’s Kieran saying he can’t make it, I’m going to kill him. He’s the one who convinced me to dress as my namesake in the first place. We’ve only been see­ing each other a few weeks, but when I casually mentioned our adults-only Library Lovers Night, he not only said he’d come, but suggested we dress up as a tart and vicar, a la Bridget Jones.

To say I’d taken some convincing would be an understatement. Quite aside from the whole bare skin thing, I usually try not to draw attention to the fact I’m the other Bridget Jones. Hold the jokes, please. I’ve heard them all.

The good news is the message isn’t from Kieran.

The bad news is it’s from someone much, much worse.

You total bitch! I know what you’ve been up to with my husband. If you ever touch him again, I will hunt you down, skin you alive and feed your innards to my Rottweiler.

‘Oh my God!’ I shriek, slapping my hand over my mouth. The face looking back at me in the mirror goes pale. Five seconds ago, I’d been quite pleased with my appearance – I’d tousled my shoulder-length, caramel-blonde hair and accentuated my boring green eyes and lips with bolder make-up than I usually wear – but now I think I look like a clown. A foolish one at that.

‘What is it?’ says Fred as she emerges from a cubicle dressed in a shiny faux-leather, skin-hugging full body suit and a dark wig with a long braid down one shoulder. She’s dressed as Katniss, her favourite kick-arse literary heroine.

Unable to bring myself to voice the words, I thrust my phone in her face.

He eyes widen and then she yells, ‘The prick! He’s married?’

I shrug in shock. ‘Apparently. Kelly certainly thinks so.’

Kelly being his wife who had found our saucy messages in his phone. Why is it always the woman’s fault? I didn’t know he was married but he obviously did. With any luck she’s feeding him to their Rottweiler this very second.

‘Oh, Bee.’ Although Fred’s been my best friend since univer­sity and we’ve been through numerous highs and lows together, she isn’t much one for touchy-feeliness, but she pulls me into a hug. ‘I’m so sorry. I know you really liked this one.

Fred’s right: although I’ve only been dating Kieran a few weeks, I’d caught feelings, as she would say. I knew from five minutes of chatting to him on the apps that I wanted to meet him, and after hundreds of awkward first dates, ours was anything but. We had so much to say to each other – we liked all the same movies and shared many favourite books as well. We had the same tastes in food – both of us agreeing that pineapple and olives should never be seen on pizzas. It had felt like, after a long line of terrible dates, maybe, just maybe, this one had take-home-to-meet-the-parents potential. In the month we’ve been together, we’ve seen each other every other night and messaged constantly in between.

Where the hell was his wife when all this was happening?

‘I guess he’s not coming, then,’ Fred says, giving me a sympa­thetic smile as I pull out of her embrace.

I guess not.

‘Should I reply?’ I ask, feeling an urge to apologise, to tell this stranger that I’m not the kind of woman who sleeps with married men. Not knowingly anyway. My parents would be so disappointed if they found out.

‘Eff, no! Block his number and move the hell on.’ She turns to the mirror and scrutinises her appearance, making sure her usu­ally short, black crew-cut is hidden beneath the wig. Wig or not, she never looks anything but stunning. At least a head taller than me, Fred is model tall and model thin. She has the kind of body I lusted after as a teenager, only it comes naturally to her, and her face doesn’t look gaunt the way mine used to either.

The bathroom door opens and Mary Poppins, aka Perse­phone, one of the other librarians, pops her head in. I’m surprised she didn’t come as Elphaba or Morgan le Fay, as she’s pagan and a practising witch. Then again, I guess Mary Poppins is also a witch. ‘Hurry up, we’re about to open the doors and get this party started.’

Fred looks anxiously to me and waves her away – ‘Yeah, we’ll be out in a moment’ – and Persephone disappears again.

‘I’m think I’m going to go home,’ I say, ripping the bunny ears off my head, ready to change back into my pink T-shirt and denim capris. You didn’t think I walked through the streets in black bathers and fishnets, did you?

Although this is a work event, none of us are being paid over­time and my colleagues are all here, so I’m not needed. We might be celebrating Library Lovers Day rather than Valentine’s Day, but Janine’s, Persephone’s and Xavier’s partners will be here and even the guy Fred only hooked up with last night has agreed to come. It’ll be couples, the oldies from Janine’s book club and me.

Once again, dateless on Valentine’s Day.

Right now, I wish I had a Rottweiler instead of an adorable Sheepadoodle who is more likely to smoother someone to death with kisses than tear them apart and eat them. I’d set him loose on Kieran.

‘Like hell you are, girlfriend,’ Fred says, tweaking my fluffy bunny tail as she grabs my wrist and tugs me towards the door. ‘We’re not wasting this fabulous outfit! And no way I’m letting you spend the night alone after receiving that crappy text.’

Alone. Did she have to use such a loaded word?

‘I won’t be alone. I’ll be with John Brown and Stephanie Plum.’ No matter how much I wish Janet Evanovich’s famous fictional heroine would just pick a guy – preferably Morelli – and Janet would end the series, I can’t stop reading. Her books are like crack and if anyone could take my mind off my latest relationship failure, it would be my favourite bounty hunter.

Fred rolls her eyes. ‘Sorry, but pets and fictional people don’t count.’ Then she squeezes my hand and hits me with that sympa­thetic expression again. ‘I know you’re upset, sweets, and you have every right to be, but married Kieran isn’t worth your tears.’

‘I’m not crying!’ Maybe I would later but right now I’m simply angry and humiliated. What is so wrong with me that I keep attracting men who have weird fetishes, believe dick pics are pick-up lines or are already taken? ‘Besides, it’s not fair to leave JB alone all night after I’ve been out all day.’

Fred raises a perfectly preened black eyebrow. ‘He’ll be fine. You went home after work, walked him, fed him, and gave him a treat, remember?’

In this moment, I’m regretting the fact I share almost every detail of my life with her.

‘Come on, just stay for one booktail. Then, if you still want to go home and mourn the worthless jerk, I won’t stand in your way. I’ll even come with you.’

Fred has a talent for getting her own way in any situation, and I’m too emotionally shocked to put up a fight. Besides, Rory does make amazing cocktails.

‘Okay, fine, but please don’t tell anyone what’s happened.’

She mimes pulling a zip across her lips, then picks up her plas­tic bow and arrow and we head out to face the music, me wishing I had something to pull over my skimpy costume.

Fremantle Library is one of my favourite places in the world, second only to my little house, which I inherited from my grand­parents. Just before I started working at the library, it moved from its old location on the corner of Newman and Williams Streets to the Walyalup Civic Centre, a state-of-the-art building with meeting rooms, galleries, public rest rooms and a customer service centre on the street level, and the library underneath. As I descend the stairs or escalator, I always feel that I’m venturing into a whole new world where nothing matters but books and sharing my love of them.

Tonight, this place of my heart is decked out in pink, black and silver streamers and balloons and lots of paper hearts that Xavier, assistant library manager and all-round great guy, made with the Story Time kids this morning. We spent the afternoon decorating and I was proud of our handiwork then, but now all these gorgeous trimmings feel like a slap in my face.

Our colleagues are standing around the drinks table, which is not too far from the escalators. Alongside it is another table boast­ing a massive grazing board and tiny heart chocolates wrapped in pink foil.

Xavier, dressed in tight, faded jeans, a red flannelette shirt pushed up to his elbows, black cowboy boots and a black cowboy hat that curls up at the sides all but hiding his short-cropped, dirty-blonde hair, wolf-whistles as we join them. ‘Bee, you look smoking!’

I blush, always awkward with compliments because I never really believe them. ‘Thanks.’

‘You’ve got great pins on you,’ his partner, Rory, adds with a wink, his diamond earring glinting beneath the artificial light.

‘That she does,’ agrees Dave, husband of our library manager, Janine, taking a little too much interest in my near bare legs.

Janine – dressed as Daisy Jones in white knee-high boots, leather mini skirt, bohemian top, yellow, fake-fur coat and chunky pink, square sunglasses – swats him on his arm. ‘Oy. Don’t be an old pervert.’

‘Ah, don’t be jealous, luv,’ Dave says, planting a noisy kiss on her cheek. With his shaggy, salt-n-pepper hair, he looks like an ancient rocker, and I wonder which band member he’s supposed to be. ‘You know I only have eyes for you.’

Oh, to still be that smitten after over forty years of marriage.

I look back to Xavier and Rory. ‘You guys look amazing too. Jack and Ennis?’

They nod proudly and smile adorably at each other. At least it would be adorable if I wasn’t currently dateless and bitter.

‘Nice one,’ I say. Most people have no idea that the movie Brokeback Mountain was based on a short story by Annie Proulx, but I think the boys were just looking for an excuse to buy fancy cowboy boots and, frankly, I don’t blame them.

‘I think we all look great.’ This from Persephone’s husband, Nick, who’s dressed as a very dashing chimney sweep, his thick black hair and equally thick bushy eyebrows the perfect match for Bert’s.

We all blink in surprise – usually he’s a man of few words who only speaks when spoken to – but I’m guessing the beer he’s already nursing has helped lure him out of his shell.

Janine claps her hands, calling us to business. ‘Okay, let’s get a group selfie before we let in the hordes.’

We all squish in together and then Nick – because he has the longest arms – snaps a quick pic.

Janine pulls me aside as Persephone heads up the escalators to pull back the rope and let in our guests and the others ready themselves at the drinks and snacks table. ‘You okay, chicken? Is it Kieran? Don’t tell me he’s running late?’

I blink, a lump rushing to my throat. With my own mum way up north in the Pilbara, Janine has become like my surrogate city mum, and as with my own mum, I can’t hide anything from her. ‘He’s not coming, but I’m fine, and I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘How about we get you a drink?’ she says, squeezing my arm. I can tell she doesn’t believe me – the absence of the new boyfriend I’d told them all about speaks volumes – but I’m glad she doesn’t push.

‘Yes, please.’ The sooner I have my one beverage, the sooner Fred will let me leave.

We head over to join the queue that has quickly formed behind the drinks table where Rory and Xavier are whipping up the kinds of cocktails or mocktails that you’d usually only find in upmar­ket bars. I wait in line behind Wally and Wendy, two cats in hats, another Mary Poppins, several Harry Potters and Pippi Longstock­ing for our turn.

‘Bee, this is Ethan,’ Fred says, breaking into the queue and ges­turing at a stocky guy with sandy-coloured hair beside her. ‘Ethan, meet Bee, my colleague and BFF.’

‘Nice to meet you,’ I say, trying not to feel hostile that her guy turned up. Bet he’s not married either.

He agrees, we shake hands and then I ask, ‘So who are you dressed as?’ I can’t place his bottle-green jumpsuit.

‘Maverick from Top Gun,’ he grins, touching a finger to the dark sunnies on his head.

I raise an eyebrow at Fred – although Top Gun was inspired by a newspaper article and later made into a book, I’m guessing Ethan only knows the movie, and this is supposed to be a book costume party. My friend just shrugs.

‘What can I tempt you with, Bee, dearest?’ Xavier gestures to the menu as we reach the front of the queue. ‘Anne Shirley’s Rasp­berry Cordial? A Tequila Mockingbird? Or a Margarita Atwood?’

I’m a huge Green Gables fan, so I go with the first. ‘Hmm . . . this is good,’ I say, taking a sip.

He leans forward and whispers. ‘Wait till you taste Rory’s Pitcher of Dorian Grey. He’s going to make them later when we’ve kicked everyone else out.’

I smile. With any luck, I’ll be long gone by then.

‘Hey, Bee. Ethan and I are heading home. Want a lift?’

‘What? I yell from where I’m dancing with Janine and Perse­phone on the function room table. Thankfully, it’s made of very solid wood.

‘She said she’s leaving,’ yells Persephone, taking a sip of her Atone-mint Julip inspired by Ian McEwan’s beloved novel.

‘What? Why?’ After a very successful bookish trivia night and a fashion parade of costumes, we’d finally shut the doors on our patrons – Janine’s senior book club members were last to leave and I saw the lone guy, Edgar, stuff his library bag with chocolates before giving me a once-over on his way out. ‘But the party’s just kicking off, and it’s still early.’

At least I think it is. I lost track of time after I moved on from spiked raspberry cordial to Atwoods, which in case you’re wonder­ing are a delicious combination of tequila, Cointreau and lime juice and have turned out to be very effective medicine for embarrassed/broken hearts.

‘Let her go. She’s going home to be with her boyfriend,’ giggles Janine, gyrating her hips and waving her arms above her head to Miley Cyrus, which Xavier has just cranked up on the bluetooth speakers.

When I first met Janine, I was often surprised by her behav­iour, which didn’t always match her appearance. When not in costume, Janine looks like a prim-and-proper sixty-something librarian. Aside from her signature bright-red lipstick, she usu­ally wears linen dresses, sensible shoes and keeps her hair trim in a short, grey bob, but she’s a total hoot. Anything but prim and proper.

‘He’s not my boyfriend,’ yells Fred. ‘I just need to get out of this costume before I combust.’ It’s a miracle she’s lasted this long – the library might have good air-conditioning, but it is the height of summer.

Whoever said librarians were quiet and boring must have pulled from a parallel universe, because in this one – at least all librarians I know – they party hard. On the ground, sitting on plastic chairs, are poor Nick and Dave. Nick is an accounts manager for Bun­nings and has exactly the personality you’d expect to go with it. It’s a mystery how he and Persephone ever connected. She’s charismatic and spiritual and he’s – I hate to say it – boring and only believes in anything science can prove. Dave’s a retired maths teacher so it’s no wonder the two of them get along well.

Both men look as if they want to go home now too, but I don’t like their chances.

‘Party pooper,’ I shout at Fred.

She gives me a firm look. ‘Do you want a lift or not?’

Despite the tequila pumping through my veins, I have a moment of sanity where I think of my dog and decide it’s probably time I leave too. And although I live only a short walk away, it’s late enough that the streets of Fremantle will be harbouring all sorts of undesirables.

But Janine grabs my hand before I can climb down. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’

‘I—’

‘Dave and I will drive you home.’

I look to Dave, who dips his gold sequinned cap in compliance, and shrug. To hell with it. JB is probably sleeping by now anyway and a little longer dancing off my woes sure beats sitting at home, glumly ruminating on my doomed love life and the fact I’ll prob­ably be alone forever. According to the historical romance novels I love to read, twenty-seven is already considered an old maid. And come September, I’ll be twenty-eight.

‘Okay, I’m staying,’ I shriek, then lean down and kiss Fred good­night. ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!’

As she takes Ethan’s hand to lead him out, she says, ‘Don’t for­get it’s a school night. We all have work tomorrow.’

But we’re all too full of alcohol to be worried about the future.


The Other Bridget Rachael Johns

'The feelgood read of the year.' - Better Reading

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