Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 24

Emma arrived at the shop feeling panicked and flaky. Her second hangover in as many weeks and she didn’t seem to be improving at coping with them. This hangover was definitely worse than the one from the dinner at home the previous week - this one was the bastard love child of many different alcohols all mixing. She was also furious with herself for having been so drunk… Sometimes she woke up hungover and could pinpoint the moment the night before where she should have stopped drinking - this was not one of those nights. This was the sort of night where drunkenness had swept over like a wave and because drunkenness was a side effect and not her intention it had not occurred to her to stop at any point.

It wasn’t that she thought she’d have acted any different had she been sober - the thought of turning down the option of a night in Theo’s bed was ridiculous. It was just, had she been sober it might have been more… well, memorable. She had vague snatches of the night but nothing concrete. It wasn’t exactly the glorious first romantic love making she had hoped.

‘But, maybe that was more romantic in many ways?’ She tried to tell herself, ‘You know, the two of us so passionately interested in each other that we can’t help but fall into bed the first opportunity we have?’

The bus stopped at the junction and Emma’s stomach carried on moving a few feet further than her seat. She dinged the bell, suddenly noticing where she was. Usually she’d go and stand by the door in preparation for getting off but she didn’t trust her wobbly knees to cope with her blood alcohol level AND a bus. She had stuffed Theo’s shirt into her handbag - cringing at the thought he might assume she’d taken it as a memento. It had just been in the way of her bra and she’d not had the motor skills to put it back down.

The bus pulled into her stop and she clambered off. As grateful to be back on dry land as a sailor who’d been months at sea. The Christmas Shop glittered across the road and she began to cross, immediately stepping out in front of a car which beeped furiously at her. Her pulse shot up and she backed away, apologising profusely with her hands and eyes to the terrified looking driver behind the wheel. Checking that the road was clear, Emma tried again and made it across the road to the shop.

On the pavement, her momentum from the dash across the road was such that she only narrowly managed to avoid colliding with a push chair. The man pushing the small child scowled at her and she mumbled an apology to him before scurrying into the shop feeling like she’s just completed Total Wipeout.

“Are you alright?” Said Fiona, looking up aghast at a pale and trembling Emma. “What on earth’s happened, you look awful?” Emma sat down shakily on the seat behind the counter.

“I had sex with Theo.” She said, blinking and feeling every millimetre of her eyelid scrape down across her eye.

“WHAT?!” Shrieked Fiona, “What just now?! Oh my god!” Emma finally thought to look around and check for customers, but thankfully there were none in the shop just then. “Oh yeah! You are still wearing your clothes from last night.”

“My uniform is downstairs. Oh Fiona I’m so hungover.”

“Yeah, you look awful. You’re very pale. Oh my god Emma! This is huge! Was it huge?”

Emma felt a wave of nausea wash over at Fiona’s question… not just hangover nausea but also an odd sadness that she couldn’t have answered Fiona’s risque question even if she’d wanted to. It had all felt very nice, but she didn’t have a good enough handle on the details to even play along.

“It was… it was really lovely. If a bit drunk, He’s fun. He seemed to really like me. The evening passed so fast, and I got a bit too drunk if I’m honest. But he was really drunk too… we both were, it was funny. Oh Fiona I might be a bit useless today.”

Fiona eyed her; assessing the damage. “I think I can cope with you not being completely helpful. I do most days.” She said it with a smile and Emma managed a laugh through her deeply unbalanced feeling. “Do you think you can watch the shop for twenty minutes?”

Emma nodded, and then deeply regretted nodding as it shook the entire planet and made her throat feel full of warm noodles. She really wanted to lie down on a cloud while someone fed her cool water through a straw and played her back a video tape of the best bits of last night. Every now and again a little voice in her head would say, “You slept with Theo!” And a little shiver would run through her arms.

“Now Em, I’m going to ask you something now and I already feel far too much like your mum to feel good about myself so I don’t want a fuss when I ask you this, alright?” Emma looked up at Fiona, wondering what on earth was coming next. “Did you use contraception?”

Emma looked at Fiona in horror. She had absolutely no idea. Her brain scrambled to supply an answer. In truth it hadn’t even occurred to her in the moment to think about condoms.

‘Why not?’ Asked the most sensible part of her.

‘Because that’s not what happens in brilliant love stories!’ Screamed back the teenager she appeared to be sheltering in her hippocampus, ‘There isn’t a point where Prince Charming has to pause to put a rubber on. Also, what does it matter if we’re pregnant? We’re going to marry him and be together forever so why would we care if there’s a head start on the children?’ A brief image of some curly haired grandkids floated through Emma’s imagination and she cringed at the memory of her fantasies from the night before.

“I um, I can’t be sure.” She croaked to Fiona, “I’m not on the pill.” Fiona nodded and smiled.

“Ok,” she said warmly, seeming to sense that Emma was fragile enough without adding on more pressure, “I’ll pop to Boots and sort some stuff - you keep an eye on this place.”

Luckily for Emma no customers came into the shop while Fiona was out on her mission and she could just sit with her face pressed up against the cool plaster wall. She tried to examine what the overwhelming feeling within her was, and again and again she came back to the realisation that she felt sad. She was elated to have begun something with Theo, but annoyed with herself that it had begun in a way that she couldn’t revel in. She couldn’t take it back though - what had been was what. Or however that sentence was supposed to go. By the time the bell above the door rang to signal Fiona’s return she had decided not to dwell, but to make sure that their next date was exactly as perfect as she had dreamed of.

Fiona came in and dropped a morning after pill and a Meal Deal into Emma’s lap. Emma was profoundly grateful for both and immediately promoted Fiona to role of best friend. Fiona had chosen the Meal Deal wisely - a triple sandwich for maximum stodge soaking up ability, followed by some salty crisps, a sugary snickers and then a fruit smoothie as well so Emma felt vaguely healthy about it all. Emma let it begin its healing work and then headed downstairs to change into her uniform.

She reappeared ten minutes later on the shop floor with a cheerier attitude and a cup of tea for each of them. Fiona threw her a cloth which she amazingly caught and she got to work polishing the glass on the door ready for the weekend.

“So, how did things go with Norman yesterday?”

After the big flash mob Norman had refused to leave the shop without securing Fiona’s agreement that she would talk to him about their future. Fiona had been mortified, and very aware that the flash mob had enticed a large number of tourists into the shop who all wanted to part with their cash for mementoes of their exciting holiday event. She had agreed to meet Norman after work just to get rid of him and get on with earning some cash.

“Well,” Emma didn’t like the hesitation in Fiona’s voice. She wiped cautiously at a smudge on the glass and wanted more than anything to just shoot the bolt across, pull up a seat and spend the afternoon catching up properly with Fiona’s gossip. “I met him after work like he asked. Well, in fact - I didn’t. He turned back up to the shop! Said he wanted to make sure I definitely met up with him, so he met me at the door.”

“Very gallant.” Emma rolled her eyes and purposefully avoided smiling at a couple who looked like they might try and come in to the shop. They changed their minds and walked away and Emma felt deviously satisfied.

“He said it was a nice evening and took me to the park. Honestly, Emma - you should have seen it.”

Emma didn’t turn round, “The park? I’ve seen it. It’s not enough to make me change my mind about Norman.”

“No, you don’t understand.” Fiona’s voice was full of wonder and Emma felt a crawling sensation in her stomach that was either impending fear or that tequila shot doing back flips. “He had prepared this insanely amazing picnic for us! There was an enormous blanket, two bottles of champagne - not even prosecco, but actual champagne. There was one of those proper picnic baskets like in old films about posh people. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes over there, but there was honest to goodness a man playing the violin too. Emma, it was the romantic thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

It definitely wasn’t the tequila making Emma feel queasy - it was the distinct feeling that the next words out of Fiona’s mouth were going to reveal that she had given Norman another chance.

“Right.” Emma let her word hang in the air, trying to indicate to Fiona that she was listening but not approving one little bit. “So, what did he have to say then?” Emma propped the door open to polish the outside of it - she sincerely hoped that people on the street wouldn’t take this as an invitation to come in and disturb them.

“Well, that was the only downside.” Fiona chewed on her bottom lip, thinking and looking a bit downcast, “He really didn’t have much to add to his little speech after the song display. I think he really seemed to think that would be enough so he sort of repeated that and then seemed a bit baffled when I wasn’t totally sold.”

Emma felt cheered. “I’m really proud of you for standing up to him. You’re much better off with Simon - remember that he actually makes you happy. Did you feel happy with Norman yesterday?”

“No,” Fiona hung on the word for a second, Emma wondered if she was only just realising her own happiness was a factor in the whole situation, “But he looked so sad.” Fiona continued, and Emma wasn’t sure how much more of this rollercoaster of expectations she could handle, “Emma, I felt like I owed it to him to say I’d see him again.”

Emma whirled on Fiona and felt her vision keep whirling a bit further than her eyes expected it to. “Fiona! No! You don’t owe him anything - that’s ludicrous. You either want to be with him or not and if you don’t want to be with him then that’s the end of it. He might be sad, but that’s for him to deal with, not you.”

“But maybe things would be different this time?”

“Can you hear the words coming out of your mouth?” Emma snapped, and then bit her tongue - remembering how badly it had gone the last time she and Fiona had disagreed over Norman in this shop, “Sorry - that was snappy. I apologise.” She tried to back down gracefully, “But, Fi, he never really made you happy - why would you go back to that?”

Fiona seemed to shrink but she at least nodded in Emma’s direction, “I know, Em, thank you - I know. I’m not saying I’m going to jump back into a relationship with him… I just think, I think you know, we were together for a long time and the whole time it was complicated and shady and difficult -“

‘BECAUSE HE WAS CHOOSING TO BE MARRIED TO SOMEONE ELSE!’ Emma screamed internally, but managed to barricade the words into her mouth. The pressure of not allowing the steam out of her ears was really adding to her hangover headache in a bad way.

“So, I am just giving myself some time to think about the possibility of being with him without those difficulties and whether that’s something I want.” Fiona finished - sounding very mature and contemplative. Emma nodded, but slower this time to give the world its best chance of keeping up with her eyes.

“Right, so what does that mean… you know, in actual terms? Are you going on a date with him again?” She asked slowly.

“I have told him I will call him in a few days and we can talk then.” Fiona said, smiling up at a man entering the shop. “Hi there!” She called over, and then turned back to Emma, “I think that’s what I owe him, myself and our relationship - if it’s over, and for the record I think it is, then I want it to be over with no questions so I don’t have to mull over it all the time.”

Emma thought this sounded extremely sensible and told Fiona so. Fiona nodded soberly and headed over to offer the customer some assistance. Emma popped out onto the high street to polish the outside glass and enjoy the sunshine on her face. It was bright outside and she squinted at the glass; telling herself that if she could clear the smudges off the glass then she could also wipe her first date with Theo to something shiny. That smudge there was his co-workers… a bit of elbow grease and bam, they had no longer been on the date. That big greasy nose print there? That was a bottle of wine and if she gave it a little spritz of windowlene and a few minutes of attention then she hadn’t drunk it. This huge smear over here? Well, that was her first time with Theo being a drunken fumble but if she just focused on it hard then it was… Jack. Emma blinked at the glass wondering if her eyes were playing tricks on her but, no, there on the glass were Jack and Elliott. She managed to stop herself flinging her head round, and turned slowly to see Jack and Elliott on the other side of the street. Jack threw a lame wave across the road and she was startled by his making contact. She lifted the cloth in a wave back and stood still as Jack and Elliott began to cross the road towards her.

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