Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 19

Emma was finding waiting for a reply easier the second time around. She’d settled in her mind that there was a week’s time difference between her phone and Theo’s and she was perfectly at ease with the idea of waiting until next week for a response.

That’s not to say she didn’t jump like a startled rabbit watching Watership Down every time her phone beeped or vibrated. It was Saturday evening and she was settled into the sofa, enjoying a brand new tub of Ben & Jerrys, having had to dispose of the melted one from last Sunday. It had been a lovely day in the shop - tourists were flooding in to Bath and each one went home from the Christmas shop with some sort of special trinket to put away and forget they’d bought only to unwrap and remember and be happy all over again come December.

Emma was really beginning to love her little spot in the shop. She knew it couldn’t be a forever job, the money wasn’t good enough for a start, but just for right now it was perfect and the camaraderie with Fiona made it even better. That was not to say, though, that she wasn’t eagerly anticipating a Sunday off with nothing to do except laze about the house and catch up on all the television she could cram into a single day.

Her phone began buzzing on the arm of the sofa and her heart rate shot immediately up to Dangerous Red Meat levels of urgency. She grabbed at her phone to answer it but managed to just swipe it off the arm of the sofa without seeing who was calling.

‘Surely he won’t be calling in response to a text message anyway?’ She argued with herself whilst frantically trying to retrieve the phone from where it had disappeared between the sofa and the wall.

‘That’s not good phone etiquette is it? He’s not even allowed is he?’

The phone was still buzzing merrily away and her fingers managed to make contact with the bottom end. ‘Why do they make phones so deliberately slippery these days?’ She asked herself, frustrated. She pulled it out and saw that it was Fiona calling. She swiped to answer and then leant back in to the sofa.

“Emma?” Came Fiona’s voice through the tinny speaker.

“Yeah, hi Fiona!”

“You out running?” Asked Fiona, sounding confused.

“Good god no. I’m at home eating ice cream.”

“You sound all out of breath. Never mind. Listen, what are you doing tomorrow?”

Emma saw all her plans for a lazy Sunday with Ru Paul vanishing before her eyes as she quickly sketched up an imagination of Fiona telling her the shop needed to open on Sunday after all for some crazy reason. Perhaps there was a Christmas festival coming in to town last minute or the mayor or the queen or…

“Emma are you listening?” Fiona’s voice broke back into Emma’s sugar boosted fantasies.

“Sorry, yes - I’m listening. Er, I don’t have concrete plans…” Emma tried to fudge the truth to give herself a back door out of whatever Fiona was calling about.

“Brilliant. Will you come out for the day with me?” Fiona jumped on Emma’s apparent vacancy.

“Where?” Asked Emma, relieved that at the very least her plans were not being interrupted for work reasons.

“I need a wingman.” Said Fiona.

“You absolutely don’t, you already have two boyfriends - I’m not helping you get a third.” Said Emma, picking her spoon back up and balancing her phone on her shoulder.

“Well that’s exactly it,” said Fiona, starting to sound a little snappy, “I want to break it off with Norman tomorrow but I’m worried I’m going to bail and I need you to be there to keep me on track.”

Emma dropped the spoon into the ice cream tub and a little spray of peanut butter globules bounced out and splattered across her face. “Absolutely not!” She protested, finding that even her prodigious imagination was completely unable to come up with a worse scenario than the thought of being out for the day with Fiona and Norman while Fiona tried to break up with Norman.

“Oh come on!” Whined Fiona, sensing she was losing control of the conversation, “Please Emma, I’d do it for you? And I wouldn’t ask but I think he knows something is up. I told him I wanted to see him tomorrow and he immediately started being super nice to me.”

“Fiona, that should make it even easier to break up with him - the fact that he starts being nice to you only when he thinks you might be leaving is not a good sign for a boyfriend.” Emma rammed a mouthful of ice cream into her mouth - determined not to give in.

“I know! I know! That’s why I want to break up with him so much!” Said Fiona, earnestly, “He’s going in the bin tomorrow. But I need you there to make sure I have backbone. He’s just called me see, to say he’s going to take me out on the boat tomorrow! I’ve never been on the boat - he’s always had excuses about it but now he’s trying to smooth me over he’s taking me out for the day.”

Emma dropped the spoon again but this time it caught the edge of the tub and flew off into the curtain causing a sticky spray in a cartwheel all across her lap and into the carpet. She mentally kissed goodbye to her rental deposit… between the dog turd in the floorboards, the ice cream in the living room and the ants that she knew from experience would follow the ice cream into the flat this was not money she was going to see again.

“Fiona, I absolutely refuse point blank to be stuck on a boat with you and Norman while you dump him. That is not a day off. That is community service. That is not happening.”

“Oh come on! You’re supposed to be my friend!” Fiona begged. Emma half opened her mouth to retaliate that she hadn’t been Fiona’s friend for that long and surely there were other people who owed Fiona a favour more than she did but she closed her mouth without saying it. There was a melancholy streak to that thought that she didn’t want to dwell in. How had two grown women come to forge such a tight bond so quickly without any other friendships there to get in the way? She pushed the idea out of her mind.

‘No, you are not going on the world’s worst boat trip just because neither you or Fiona have the capacity to make a lot of friends.’ She told herself in her most severe thought tone.

“Fiona,” she said out loud, “I am your friend and I intend to remain your friend. I have big plans to become your best friend. But this is beyond my pay grade. This sounds like a truly dreadful way to spend a day. Why don’t you ask Anja?”

“She’s busy.” Said Fiona, “Oh come on Emma… what do I have to do? I’ll do anything. And really, you wouldn’t even be doing it for me…”

Emma was baffled, she paused on her route to the kitchen to grab a cloth “Who would I be doing it for then?”

“Well, Simon! Obviously!” Pronounced Fiona, sounding elated with herself. “The quicker I break up with Norman the quicker everything is perfect for Simon.”

Emma was being played and she knew it, but she had a horrible feeling it was starting to work. “You are manipulative, Fiona.” She said, down on her knees wiping Reese’s chunks off the skirting board. Had there even been this much ice cream on the spoon?

“Does that mean you’re coming?” Fiona was like a dog with a bone. Emma groaned inwardly - sure she had lost and already dreading the day ahead of her the next day.

“I might,” said Emma, “But you will owe me big time!”

“I’ll give you my first born.” Said Fiona, quickly.

“How are you going to get this past Norman?” Emma asked, rocking back onto her heels as the question occurred to her. “Won’t he be mightily curious as to why you’ve invited a friend on to your date?”

“Ah,” Fiona hesitated and Emma felt her stomach curling up at the edges as she tensed for whatever fresh wave of hell Fiona was about to unleash on her.

“What?” She said through gritted teeth.

“Well, I sort of told him Jack was coming too.” Fiona blurted.

“What?!” Shouted Emma, “Why?!”

“I panicked!” Fiona scrambled, “I knew I was going to need someone else to be there and so I made up this story about you and Jack being so desperate to see him again after all the fun we had at the zoo.”

“And he believed you?” Emma asked, barely even trying to conceal the lack of respect she had for Norman any more.

“He was… suspicious.” Fiona said, sniffily, “But then he said how much he’d liked Jack as well and so he begrudgingly said we would all go out together. At least it threw him off the scent of me breaking up with him.”

“Well, yeah - what kind of maniac dumps someone out at sea with two friends along for the ride?” Emma seriously couldn’t believe that this was her life.

“At least there’ll be witnesses if he’s so upset he tries to kill me?” Said Fiona cheerily.

Emma sighed. She had fully lost this game. “So what am I supposed to do now?” She said to Fiona.

“Pop upstairs and see if Jack wants to come for a sail!” Said Fiona, completely at ease with the world now she had got what she wanted.

“It’s 9:30?!” Emma exclaimed, “He’ll think I’ve lost my mind. I can’t just jog upstairs and say, ‘Oh hi, remember me your downstairs neighbour? Yeah, remember that guy who wouldn’t buy you an ice cream? I’m going to watch him get dumped tomorrow would you like to come? It’s going to be on a boat.’”

There was a silence from Fiona, “Well, you don’t have to phrase it exactly like that.” She finally sulked.

“How would you phrase it?” Emma demanded.

But Fiona didn’t have any better ideas and they wrapped up the call with Emma frostily agreeing that she would go upstairs and invite Jack and be ready for collection in the morning to go out on Norman’s boat. She was furious and oddly glad to have surprise plans. In the whole of her tenure as London Emma she couldn’t recall a single time a phone call on a Saturday night had randomly changed her plans for any day - let alone the next day.

She dragged her heels up the stairs wondering with each step what she was going to say.

‘Plan it now.’ She whispered to herself urgently in her head. ‘You’ll be terrible if you try and wing it when he opens the door.’

‘I’m trying to plan it now but you’re interrupting me by scaring me about how badly it’s going to go.’ She snapped back and before she knew it she was outside Jack’s front door with only bickering between her ears. She could hear Elliott scuffling on the other side and she drew in a breath before knocking.

Jack opened the door and looked startled, worried and pleased in that order.

“Emma!” He said, “Everything alright?”

Emma was immediately at ease and had to laugh at his consternation upon seeing her. She supposed that to him she was a creature more often than not embroiled in some sort of chaos. It was funny really to have someone think of her like that when in her mind she was such a dull little thing. She smiled back at him - perhaps it would be good to go out with him for the day tomorrow? It would give her a day with him around to really examine whether or not she had any sort of burgeoning feelings for him?

‘But what if you do?’ She asked herself.

‘Well… well then I do.’ Was as far as she got answering though before she realised she needed to talk out loud to Jack. Jack had been momentarily distracted by Elliott peering out from behind his legs and then making a full force attempt to get to Emma, but now he had Elliott under control he was very much expecting some sort of conversation from Emma.

“Yes, everything’s fine actually.” Said Emma, “For once. No fires, no turds, no broken ribs.”

“I’m surprised you’re not out - it’s Saturday night isn’t it?” Said Jack.

“Er, yeah - but I’m not really one for going out. Clubbing isn’t really my thing.” Emma had been clubbing a few times but the last time she had gone she’d got carried away dancing to Mr Brightside and it had resulted in a broken nose for a woman behind her and a lifetime ban from KOKO.

“Me neither. Surprisingly.” Jack gave her a shy smile. “So, what brings you up to my door?” He leant against the door frame with one arm over his head and Emma decided that if she did fancy him, then she definitely fancied him the most when he was stood like this with his arm flexed. He just looked all the things she felt she wasn’t: solid, together and capable.

‘Ok, that was one tick in the box for I like him.’ She thought, and then felt a little tipsy at the idea that she might have a crush.

“I erm, I have a bit of a strange proposition.” She said, unsure how to begin. She immediately decided that this was not the right choice - the use of the word proposition was weird and had made it seem lewd. Her telltale bright red cheeks began to appear and she backed hastily away from her words, “I mean, it’s not my proposition - it’s Fionas.”

‘Oh god this is worse - he’s going to think you want a threesome.’

‘Ew not with Fiona. Too weird.’

‘Not with anybody! You haven’t had sex with one person for three years why would you think it was a good idea to get back on the horse with double the number you’re used to?’

‘You have stopped mid-conversation.’

Emma’s favourite film was Inside Out but she had to imagine that her own little in brain controllers had all gotten the job despite being wildly under-qualified because things seemed to shut down in her brain far too often for her liking.

She decided honesty was the best policy and unravelled the story for Jack about Fiona wanting to break up with Norman and how themselves and the boat had gotten caught up in it. The only thing Emma omitted was Norman’s marital status… she felt like it wasn’t her place to inform Jack of this and it wasn’t strictly pertinent to the situation.
When she’d finished she stood and looked at Jack, it felt like it took him an age to reply.

“Well, I had a few things in the diary for tomorrow.” He said, and Emma felt her heart sinking.

‘So is that two in the box for I like him?’ She mused, assessing the heart sink to see whether it was problematic. But Jack hadn’t finished, “But, I’m pretty sure Elliott here won’t mind if we clip him another day, will you beoy”

Elliott panted up at him and looked frankly jubilant. Emma suspected that dog was far more intelligent than its limited communication skills could convey.

“Right.” Said Emma, looking forward to the day on the boat a whole lot more now that Jack was on board. “Tomorrow it is then.”

“Our second day trip.” Said Jack, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

On her way back down the stairs Emma had to admit that the smile on her face was damning evidence of a third tick in the I Like Him column.

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