"I bet I will," Ria said, but she didn't feel as confident as she sounded. There was a stinging behind her eyes.
She was sure she didn't look too bad. Her friends at school said she was very lucky to have all that dark curly hair and blue eyes. She wasn't fat or anything and her spots weren't out of control. But people didn't pick her out; she didn't have any kind of sparkle like other girls in the class did.
Hilary saw her despondent face. "Listen, you're fine, you've got naturally curly hair, that's a plus for a start. And you're small, fellows like that. It will get better. Sixteen is the worst age, no matter what they tell you." Sometimes Hilary could be very nice indeed. Usually on the nights she wanted her handbag left on the landing.
And of course Hilary was right. It did get better. Ria left school and like her elder sister took a secretarial course. There were plenty of fellows, it turned out. Nobody particularly special, but she wasn't in any rush. She would possibly travel the world before she settled down to marry.
"Not too much traveling," her mother warned.
Nora Johnson thought that men might regard travel as fast. Men preferred to marry safer, calmer women. Women who didn't go gallivanting too much. It was only sensible to have advance information about men, Nora Johnson told her daughters. This way you could go armed into the struggle. There was a hint that she may not have been adequately informed herself. The late Mr. Johnson, though he had a bright smile and wore his hat at a rakish angle, was not a good provider. He had not been a believer in life insurance policies. Nora Johnson worked in a dry cleaners and lived in a shabby, run-down housing estate. She did not want the same thing for her daughters when the time came.
"When do you think the time will come?" Ria asked Hilary.
"For what?" Hilary was frowning a lot at her reflection in the mirror. The thing about applying blusher was that you had to get it just right. Too much and you looked consumptive, too little and you looked dirty and as if you hadn't washed your face.
"I mean, when do you think either of us will get married? You know the way Mam's always talking about when the time comes."
"Well I hope it comes to me first, I'm the elder. You're not even to consider doing it ahead of me."
"No, I have nobody in mind. It's just I'd love to be able to look into the future and see where we'll be in two years' time. Wouldn't it be great if we could have a peep."
"Well, go to a fortune-teller then, if you're that anxious."
"They don't know anything." Ria was scornful.
"It depends. If you get the right one they do. A lot of the girls at work found this great one. It would make you shiver the way she knows things."
"You've never been to her?" Ria was astounded.
"Yes, I have actually, just for fun. The others were all going, I didn't want to be the only one disapproving."
"What did she tell you? Don't be mean, go on." Ria's eyes were dancing.
"She said I would marry within two years. . . ."
"Great, can I be the bridesmaid?"
"And that I'd live in a place surrounded by trees and that his name began with an M, and that we'd both have good health all our lives."
"Michael, Matthew, Maurice, Marcello?" Ria rolled them all around to try them out. "How many children?"
"She said no children," Hilary said.
"You don't believe her, do you?"
"Of course I do, what's the point giving up a week's wages if I don't believe her."
"You never paid that!"
"She's good. You know, she has the gift."
Excerpted from Tara Road by Maeve Binchy. Copyright© 1998 by Maeve Binchy. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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