Friday, May 1, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 14

Emma hoped for a second that if she just stood frozen on the spot Fiona might forget she had asked Emma about Norman. Perhaps Emma would get lucky and Fiona would forget she existed all together? That would be ideal.

‘We should watch Jurassic Park when we get home.” Said an unhelpful voice in her head.

‘We don’t have it.’ Said another, ‘And would you please concentrate?’

Fiona’s face was unreadable… but surely she must know Norman hadn’t gone down a storm or she wouldn’t be asking, would she? Emma tried to reason. She desperately didn’t want to lie to her new friend, but equally the thought of opening her mouth and saying to a human beings face that you didn’t like their boyfriend felt like a total impossibility. There was no way she could do it. It would be like taking a big bite of someone’s home cooked meal and then just regurgitating it back up onto the table. The longer Emma stood there though, the more she was sure Fiona would already know the answer. No one stood silently after you asked them whether they liked someone lovely.

‘You need to answer, quickly!’ She urged herself.

‘Ok then, well think of something to say instead of just telling me off!’ Emma was really tiring of her brain constantly chiding but not really pulling its own weight in the thinking department. Chippy sod. You never got this hassle from other body parts - feet weren’t urging you to run whilst expecting you do it on your belly. Your liver wasn’t trying to persuade you to… do whatever livers did? What did livers do? Something to do with alcohol? Or was that kidneys. God Emma hated eating kidneys…

Fiona cleared her throat and Emma’s thoughts scrambled away to the shadows of her mind. Fiona was looking at her with such an earnest expression on her face that Emma decided there was only one thing for it.

“I didn’t love him.” She stated.

Fiona wrinkled her nose immediately. “I knew it. Was it the ice cream thing? Because I called him out on that at the time - you saw me.”

She seemed immediately defensive and Emma wished she could wind the clock back and say something different.

“No, no it wasn’t the ice cream thing - well, I suppose that wasn’t great but, it’s not like I was expecting him to pay for everything. Not at all. He just seemed a bit money obsessed, maybe?” She tried, lamely.

“Business obsessed! He’s business obsessed, not money - he doesn’t care about money at all.”

Fiona was not taking this well and Emma was really panicking. She eyed the door, horribly aware that she would be much better at taking on Fiona’s arguments if she’d been able to grab that brunch that had been so tantalisingly dangled.

“Yeah, ok - maybe not money obsessed. Just the way he was counting his notes and then paid with a £50… I…”

“Sounds like there was quite a lot you didn’t like.” Snapped Fiona, cutting Emma off mid tangled sentence.

“Fiona please don’t be mad at me - you asked and I’m just trying to be honest. I’m not saying I don’t like him, but he did make a bit of… a bit of a mixed bag of first impressions.”

Fiona was grinding her jaw - it looked to Emma like she was winding it up ready to launch some words out and Emma braced herself for impact.

“I asked you because I thought you’d be kind.” Fiona managed to get out.

“I was trying to be kind - but kind and honest.” Emma protested.

“So you hated him?”

“No! No, not at all - but you said yourself he was a bit brash?” Emma was desperate to placate a seething Fiona.

“Well it’s alright for me to say it - he’s my boyfriend.” Said Fiona.

‘Someone else’s husband.’ Said a sly voice in Emma’s mind but she shushed it for being incredibly unhelpful to proceedings.

She tried to backtrack and see if that worked on calming Fiona down, “I think he was probably trying to impress us and so that’s why he was a little bit different to how he normally is with you? Like you said, he wasn’t how he normally is when you’re on your own with him and I reckon that’s all it was. Honestly Fiona, I would more than happily hang out with him again.”

But Fiona was too far gone for coming round now, she eyed Emma furiously, “Well fat chance of that. He says it was far too risky us being out for the day like that and he’s not going to do it again anyway. Lucky you Emma, you won’t have to deal with my dreadful boyfriend again. You can just carry on living your perfect little romance out.”

“Fiona come on, that’s not fair!” Emma tried to protest but Fiona was lashing out and was not to be calmed. Thankfully a small group of shoppers picked that point in the argument to come racing in and straight up to Fiona asking to see the full collection of tree toppers so Fiona had to paint a smile on and stop heaping the guilt on to Emma’s frazzled brain.

As Fiona led the customers over to the shelves on the far wall she turned over her shoulder to look at Emma, “I need you to give the stock room a big clean out.” She said crisply.

“Absolutely. I’ll just pop and get us those butties shall I?” Emma said back, trying to keep her voice light as if the tension was completely unreal.

Fiona glanced at her watch, “Your lunch break isn’t for another 3 hours.” And with that she turned back to the customers and led them over to the toppers. Emma traipsed miserably down the stairs to the basement stockroom, where it smelt like mould and boxes were stacked precariously on top each other in the damp. She tried to feel sorry for herself but it kept coming out as pity for Fiona.
‘No!’ She tried to set herself straight, ‘Fiona is being a total bitch.’

‘Yeah, but only because she’s feeling insecure and you’ve just said out loud all the things she was trying to ignore about her relationship.’

Emma knew that the more magnanimous side of her was right, but it would have been so satisfying to have been able to feel furious with Fiona as she spent a horrible morning and afternoon down in the musty stock room breaking her nails on boxes and trying to vacuum a carpet that was seemingly entirely made of fungus.

The day passed incredibly slowly. Every time Emma tried to start a conversation with Fiona, or apologise she was coldly shrugged off. Fiona stayed monosyllabic and angry right through to the second Emma waved forlornly from the pavement and began the walk home. It felt like the cosy week of friendship had never happened. Emma didn’t have enough experience of Fiona to be able to console herself that all would have blown over by the next day. She walked home in a dark black mood. A mood so shady that she almost certainly would have kicked something had she been wearing sturdier shoes.

As she turned up towards her own building, the front door of it opened and blur of black and white fur bundled out at high speed down the drive way. She tried her best to side step so that the Elliott grenade would miss her but the dog was like an Emma-seeking missile and he threw himself at her in a great mass of limbs, tongue and fur. Emma couldn’t keep her balance as 25kg of dog came flying at her at full speed and she bumped down onto the ground, feeling the impact undo several days of healing in her ribs as the air was forced out of her. Elliott sat proudly on her front as though she was the prize he had been anticipating all day.

Jack’s face appeared between her and the grey sky. He hauled Elliott off and leashed him before turning round to offer Emma a hand up.

“I’m so sorry.” He said, pulling her to her feet and Emma was horrified to hear herself shouting at him in response.

“You need to learn to control that dog.” Was what she said; her response a mixture of Fiona based frustration and a lack of control due to the sharply reinforced pain in her ribs. Jack looked taken aback but didn’t shout back.

“I do, I’m so sorry. I know this sounds ludicrous but he’s never really been this wild before. I’m starting to think it must be your pheromones.”

A sudden image flashed into Emma’s mind of Jack stood in the zoo calling her beautiful and she felt the hot flush of anger fading from her face as she calmed. “Sorry,” she mumbled, “That was really rude of me - it’s just been a long day and now my ribs hurt.” She ruffled Elliott’s head to show no hard feelings existed between the two of them.

“A tough day? I’m sorry.” Said Jack kindly, “Can I take you out for something to eat to apologise for my dog being an arsehole?”

Emma had opened her mouth to say no, when it occurred to her that there was next to no reason to say no. Saying no would just result in a lonely evening in the flat thinking about an angry Fiona and a mobile phone with no Theo text messages in it. At least if she went out with Jack then there would be a distraction.

“Sure,” she said, shrugging, “Where can you go with him?”

“Ah! Let me show you!” And Jack led the three of them out of the driveway. They walked through residential street after residential street until they reached a big square park and Jack pointed to a truck parked in one corner with smoke billowing out of the top.

“The best pizzas in Bath.” He said, and they ambled over.

Twenty minutes later they were sitting on the grass with coats stretched out underneath them eating a pizza that was extremely good. Emma thought it was definitely the best pizza she’d had in Bath but that was mostly because it was the only pizza she’d had in Bath. She did secretly suspect that even if she lived here for a decade and had at least a pizza month this might remain the best pizza in Bath.

“So why did you have such a tough day?” Asked Jack through a mouthful of hot cheese.

Emma sighed, “Fiona is mad at me. She asked me what I thought of Norman…”

“Oh! And you were honest?” Jack winced, “I can only imagine how that went down.”

“The thing is I wasn’t honest!” Said Emma, “I only said I didn’t love him - I didn’t tell her I thought he was an ugly, arrogant, shallow, boring toolbox with bad breath and a disgusting manner of speaking.”

Jack laughed and leaned back onto his coat; relaxed. “Well, if it makes you feel any better - you’ve certainly made me feel better for agreeing with you almost 100% on your opinion on Norman.”

“Only almost 100%?” Teased Emma.

“Oh yeah, I’d have added unforgivable tightwad.”

Emma’s laugh forced a small shot of marinara out from between her lips and onto Jack’s jeans. She felt mortified but he just smiled at her and flicked it off with his fingers. “Got you with that one.” He said, and took another bite of his own pizza.

“She was furious. But, I actually think I’m glad I didn’t pretend. And actually, I think she’s only mad at me because I said what she was already realising and she doesn’t want to deal with it.”

Jack nodded, “I agree. I might have something you could give her to cheer her up?”

Emma looked up at him, “Oh yeah?”

Jack swallowed his pizza and nodded. “Yeah, something quite interesting happened just as we were leaving the zoo yesterday and then I meant to tell you in the car but then we got all distracted with you bumping into that bloke… your old friend in the garage.”

Emma felt fizzy at the memory of Theo and his heavenly arm draped around her shoulders. So protective, so masculine, so cuddly - so close.

‘Concentrate.’ Screamed her brain, ‘Jack is trying to give you information that will get your friendship with Fiona back on track.’ Emma forced herself back into the present.

“I wondered where you’d gone. You got held up by something?”

“Not something… someone.”

Emma stared at him blankly, not comprehending. He carried on, “I was just a little way behind you, when I felt someone tug my arm and I turned round and it was that Simon bloke who had let us feed the giraffes. Turns out he’d taken quite the shine to Fiona and he wanted to give me his number to pass on to her! He said he hadn’t wanted to do it himself because he wasn’t sure whether she was with Norman or,” Jack paused to chuckle, “whether Norman was her Dad!

Emma choked on a piece of pizza and Jack had to immediately sit up and bang her hard on the back. “Do you always have this much trouble swallowing?” He asked her and the double entendre in what he’d said set them both laughing again, sprawled out on the grass. Emma felt her ribs moan and complain at the laughing fit, but she didn’t seem to care. Jack took a folded up piece of paper out of his pocket and passed it over to Emma.

“Gosh,” said Emma, “I hope this does take her mind off Norman. She should be with someone who treats her nicely. She deserves it when she’s not being an absolute battleaxe.”

“Agreed.” Said Jack.

“Thank you, Jack. This really had cheered me up after what was a completely balls day.” 

Jack smiled at her, “My pleasure. And sorry again about my dog for the umpteenth time.” Elliott raised an eyebrow at them from where he was lying relaxed on the grass. Emma again heard the soundbite in her minds ear of Jack calling her beautiful, she shook the thought away and folded the pizza boxes over to tuck them into the bin.

It was starting to drizzle lightly as they made their way back to the building but it didn’t dampen their giggly spirits. In fact, Emma was in such a good mood that she didn’t even notice her phone buzzing in her pocket.

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