Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 9

Emma made her way to the shop slowly, wondering how work would feel now that she and Fiona had fundamentally changed their relationship. She could see it going two ways:

  1. Fiona was mortified about having revealed her inner most secrets at the spa and so reverted to being her stony self in the shop.

Emma didn’t feel like this would be the case; they had been texting over the last two days and things had remained friendly. Equally though, Emma was having trouble believing in her second scenario whereby she and Fiona were huddled in the corner of the shop whispering, giggling and hatching their plans.

‘Perhaps it’ll be a happy medium?’ Came a weary thought, ‘You know not everything has to be its most extreme version?’ Emma sniffed at the sarcy thought. She knew that, she just had trouble always remembering it.

Second-guessing Fiona’s behaviour was doing a marvellous job of blocking out thoughts of Theo. When Fiona had laid her deal at Emma’s feet in the spa Emma’d felt like blacking out there and then would be more straightforward than answering, but even with frantic staccato blinking and swallowing she couldn’t seem to make Fiona vanish into a puff of patchouli smoke.

“Go on.” Fiona had urged, “What have you got to lose? You’re already here.” She was right, of course, Emma realised. She was already in Bath with nothing familiar and no Theo, if she approached contact and was rejected then nothing in her reality would be different.

‘You’re lying to yourself.’ Something had insisted beneath the surface. Emma had shuffled in her robe and tried to focus in on what that thought was… how was she lying to herself?

‘If he rejects you something is different. Because then you’re here, for him, and he categorically does not want you. Whereas now, you have a vague hope that he could love you but he just doesn’t realise.”

It was quite the full speed thought to have sat there in a bikini while her boss peered at her from over a champagne flute.

“What if I try and he doesn’t want me?” She said in a small voice. Fiona looked thoughtful.

“Then you’re in the same boat as me.” She said, “And we’ll feel like shit together.”

Emma resolved to try some actual bravery… not just running across the country in a flamboyant gesture that still left her hiding; but actually being visible properly.

“Alright then.” She’d said to Fiona, and they’d shook hands on it, laughing about their schoolgirl pact.

For the remainder of her recovery time off Emma had mused about how best to go about catching Theo’s attention. Could she turn up to the Futurescope offices? Could she manufacture some form or other that she needed for full closure on working there? Possibly. From there though she’d need to find a casual way to say hello to Theo… that was assuming he was even in the office at the time.

She’d considered some light internet stalking. His profile picture constantly popped up as a Person She Might Know and usually she saw it and screamed “YOU THINK?” At the concept of Mark Zuckerberg, “OF COURSE I KNOW HIM, HE’S GOD.” Last night her cursor had hovered over his perfect bone structure mere millimetres away from clicking Add Friend. But that had just led to a panicked vision of spending the next week with no notification to tell her it had been accepted. She could picture him in a penthouse flat with a brand new shiny silver computer open on the desk. He peers at the friend request - 

“Some mousy woman claiming to be an ex-work colleague is trying to add me as a friend.”

“Just delete it.” Would come the reply, and he’d give the request another cursory glance before following the order. Then he’d grab his whiskey and head into the bedroom where a supermodel would be perched on the edge of the bed in a silver evening gown with a tremendous thigh slit. “Ready to go?” She’d say, and he’d nod. But instead of making their way to a party somewhere fabulous they’d just make love there and then on the bed.

Emma switched off the fantasy hurriedly. “No need to watch all of that.” She said out loud and signed out of Facebook so there was no way a request could be sent accidentally by internet gremlins as she slept.

Emma arrived at The Christmas Shop and waved to Fiona through the glass. Fiona unbolted the door and let Emma in.

“How’s it going?” Emma felt shy, a little nervous in case Fiona wasn’t as friendly as she had been before.

“I’m alright. Did you call him?” Fiona blurted, and Emma immediately relaxed. New Fiona was here to stay - what a relief.

“No, I don’t have his number. I’ve been trying to come up with a plan though.” Emma dumped her jacket and bag in the staff room while Fiona opened up the shop and they spent the morning dusting and nattering about possible ways Emma could contrive to meet Theo. Their top idea so far was to scout out the offices of Futurescope on a Friday evening and see where the staff tended to go for drinks. Fiona had even offered shut the shop early so that they made it over in time. It was not lost on Emma quite how much their top plan sounded a lot like stalking and she gently stroked her ribs.

Fiona took the first lunch break, leaving Emma in the shop to organise DIY crackers. Emma added price stickers to each one and put them together in colour coded groups on the hanger.

The bell over the door jingled and she called a friendly “Hello!” Over her shoulder. She hated to crowd customers and had vowed to herself she would never become the sort of shop assistant who bounced straight over to see if she could help. What was wrong with browsing? Browsing was great.

There was no answer from the customer.
‘Possibly a tourist.’ Emma mused and finished up organising the crackers before turning round. There wasn’t a customer. She looked up again at the door - perhaps the wind had caught it and set the bell off?

A small bark brought her attention to the floor and the dog sat on it. A black and white collie sat in the middle of the shop looking up at her proudly. In front of the dog was a brown men’s loafer. The dog looked extremely pleased with itself. Perhaps the shoe was new, thought Emma, and then marked that thought down as a low point even for her. Plus the shoe looked well worn. Big too.

“Why do I keep finding dogs around?” Emma said out loud, unsure whether to approach the dog. Maybe it was a sign? Should she get a dog? Maybe she didn’t need to, maybe one would come to her. Maybe this one already had? What was she going to do with it?

With one eye on the patiently sitting dog she edged over to the window to see if there was any sign of an owner for the dog. The dog didn’t seem to want anything. As she peered out past the displays of the Nativity she could see a man coming quickly down the street; he seemed to be looking about and maybe calling out from what she could see. As he got nearer… oh god, it was Jack. Emma’s head whipped back round to the dog on the carpet. Was it the same dog as the poo one? She tried to think back to the dog but she’d been so heavily focused on the turd she’d barely registered what it looked like. What had Jack called it? Him?

“Elliott?” She said out loud, and the dog barked loudly. “Why?” She said to him and then stuck her head out of the door of the shop. She waved hugely over her head and caught Jack’s attention. “Jack! He’s in here.”

Jack came racing over, he was holding a shoe box.

He followed Emma into the shop and they stood assessing the dog on the carpet.

“He must like you!” Was the first thing Jack said, and Emma blushed. Then she blushed even harder that just the thought of a dog liking her was enough to make her blush. Was that all it took these days to cheer her up? How starved for affection had she let herself become?

“Is that your shoe?” She asked, pointing to the wayward brogue on the floor.

“Yes,” said Jack, scowling, “We were shoe shopping up the road and I was just trying on a pair when this minx picked up one of my old ones and just dashed out the shop. I ended up having to buy a pair just to have something to leave in.”

Emma looked down at the modern trainers Jack was wearing. They didn’t quite look right on him.

“Panic buy.” He explained. There was a silence afterwards. In Emma’s version of the silence the distraction of dog and shoe ceased to be enough to block out the memories of the hospital car park any longer. She hoped the same was not true for Jack’s.

Just as the silence was reaching breaking point and Emma was terrified she was going to fill it, the bell above the door tinkled again and Fiona came back from her lunch. She stopped short when she saw Elliott.
“Sorry Fiona, I know we’re not meant to have dogs in the shop but this is my neighbour, Jack. The dog is his - his name’s Elliott. They had a bit of a mishap shoe shopping. For some reason the dog seems to really like me.”

Emma had seen Fiona reacting to a tourist trying to bring a small dog into the shop before  and so she braced herself for the curt request to remove the hair-shedding, drooling, tail wagging thing. Fiona though, seemed to be gazing adoringly at Jack.

“Oh no problem!” She breezed, “Lovely to meet you Jack - I’m Fiona. Stay as long as you like.” And she disappeared into the staff room. Emma was astounded.

“That’s my boss.” She said to Jack.

“She seems nice.” Said Jack.

“She is - we went to a spa together this week.”

Jack raised an eyebrow.

“As friends.” Emma added, although completely unsure why. It made Jack laugh though so she tried to pretend she understood why he was laughing. “Listen, about the hospital… I’m so sorry. If it had even crossed my mind that the things I was saying would lead to such an awful situation for you I would have… well, I probably would have still found a way to accidentally do them, but I wouldn’t have meant to. You know?”

It was a pretty dreadful apology as apologies go but at least it was heartfelt, Emma thought.

“Oh hey, no harm done - it was the least you could have done after my dog ruined your hallway and sat on your kitchen counters. I don’t want to know what you’ll plan to get me back with for him bringing a smelly shoe to your work place.” They both laughed. Emma liked Jack being around - he was very straightforward, she felt like even when she said the wrong thing around him he tried his best to work with it and understand her. It was relaxing.

Jack pulled a lead out of his pocket and attached it to Elliott’s collar. “Could I put this in your bin?” He asked, holding up the tooth-marked shoe.

“Of course.” Said Emma, hurrying to be helpful. She grabbed the shoe and her fingers slid across the leather of the toe in the saliva that had leaked out of Elliott’s grip. “I’ll put it in the skip.”

“Thanks. See you later then.” Said Jack, “Come on Elliott - you must leave this poor woman alone from now on. So strange.” And he left the shop shaking his head at the dog.

Emma stood in the shop holding the shoe.

“That’s your neighbour?” Said Fiona, re-entering the shop now the coast was clear.

“Yeah, he lives upstairs.” Said Emma, crossing absent-mindedly over to the bin behind the counter.
“He’s gorgeous.” Fiona sighed.

“Is he?” Emma’s head shot up to Fiona.

“Of course he is! Can you see him?”

“Yeah… I mean… I guess. But he has a beard?”


“I dunno. Beards are… well… I don’t know.” It had never occurred to Emma that you could fancy someone with a beard. Theo was clean shaven.

“How old do you think he is?” Asked Fiona, dreamily gazing out of the window.

“I don’t know… 42?” Emma guessed.

“Mmmmmmmmmm.” Was all the reply she got out of Fiona. An idea sprang into Emma’s head…

“I could set you up with him!” She shrieked, “It could be your prize for ending things with Norman!”


What kind of date does Emma set Jack and Fiona up on?

  1. Cinema
  2. Dinner
  3. Bowling
  4. The zoo

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