Friday, May 15, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 25

Emma tried to arrange her face to look less like she was hanging out of the back of a one night stand.

‘It wasn’t a one night stand.’ She hastily corrected herself, ‘It was just a first night stand.’

‘That’s not a thing.’

‘It is - I’ve just invented it.’

‘We invented it.’ Her smuttiest thought added. She smiled to herself at the memory of Theo’s lips on her bare nipple and then the smile slipped off and onto the pavement as she realised she had wasted all of Jack’s road crossing time with arguing about what to call her night with Theo.

The sun was hot on her blushing face and she was desperately fighting an urge to spritz the windolene onto her cheeks to cool herself down.

‘Do not do that, Emma. Do not under any circumstances do that. That is not how human beings behave.’

Jack and Elliott were metres away and Emma gave up trying with her facial expression and just hoped that the Meal Deal was working well enough that she looked functional.

“Hi, how are you?” Said Jack, stopping next to her and patting Elliott’s head to indicate he should sit. Elliott sat happily, his eyes locked on Emma and his little tongue lolling out of one side of his mouth.

The truth was Emma was somewhere between the happiest and worst she’d ever been but she didn’t quite know how to phrase that for Jack so she went with the standard English response instead.

“I’m fine. How are you?”

“Yeah, we’re alright. Look, I’m sorry I was so rude to you the other day. I’ve had some time to calm down and - I massively overreacted taking it out on you like that. It wasn’t alright and I’m really sorry. I hope it doesn’t get in the way of the friendship you and Elliott were growing.”

Emma felt the fruit smoothie sloshing around her volatile stomach as she smiled genuinely back at Jack. “Hey, of course - look, it was a properly weird day and I’m not sure anyone displayed their best side. I fell off a boat.” That made him laugh and they stood awkwardly for a second not quite knowing where to take the conversation from there.

“So this is your work uniform is it?” Jack finally said, and if Emma had been a cartoon her cheeks would have melted off her face from the power of the furnace that immediately ignited within them. She tugged at the sleeves of her red polo neck and wondered if her skin was distinguishable from the cotton. “It’s cute.” Added Jack, and Emma’s imagination projected the little clip of Jack at the zoo saying she was beautiful.

“It’s too hot for today, I’m sweating buckets.” She mumbled, managing to completely ruin the moment. She couldn’t quite put her finger on whether or not she had done that on purpose. She’d certainly felt uncomfortable with Jack paying her a compliment, but then, she also wasn’t sad that he’d done it.

‘No, stop it!’ Screamed the thought stream trying to take the minutes in her head, ‘You can’t still be working out if you like Jack. We’ve put that to bed now you’re with Theo.’

‘Well, I’m not technically with Theo - I just slept with him.’

‘Hahaha - you slept with Theo!’

‘I know! It was amazing!’

‘Was it? I don’t remember a lot of it.’

‘Yeah, but it was bound to have been amazing wasn’t it? It was sex with Theo.’

‘I hate to interrupt but Jack has said something else and you really weren’t listening at all.’

Emma blinked to bring her eyes back into focus and looked at Jack, hoping that whatever he’d just said hadn’t been important.

“So, what brings you two into town?” She asked, trying to seem nonchalant despite every word requiring a herculean effort to peel her tongue off the roof of her mouth. She was sure if scientists were available to investigate they would see that her mouth had recently taken over from South America as being the location of the driest desert on the planet. The windolene winked invitingly from the bottle.

‘Stop thinking weird thoughts about the windolene.’ She hissed mentally. In both senses of the word.

“We’re off out to lunch, aren’t we?” Jack ruffled the top of Elliott’s head just as Emma had leant forward to do the same and her fingers grazed against Jack’s. She retracted her hand speedily, confused by the electricity she felt as they touched.

‘It’s ok if you like him!’ She tried to tell herself.

‘Not when you’re currently digesting a morning after pill from the sex you had with a man who wasn’t him!’ Said a voice that sounded like her voice, but was definitely channelling either one or both of her parents. Probably her mum. In fact, almost definitely her mum because she couldn’t bring herself to live in a world where she admitted that her Dad would or could know what a morning after pill was. No thank you.

“Oh lovely!’ She managed, sticky tongue obliging her request to form a word. “Anywhere nice?”

“Anja’s place actually.” Said Jack, not meeting her eye. And Emma felt the fruit smoothie make a desperate bid for the outside world.

‘What is going on?’ Flashed across her minds eye in huge neon letters, ‘What is this jealousy about Anja?’ She felt like a child unable to contain the flashes of fury at the idea of Jack and Anja’s friendship. Perhaps when she got home tonight she would have a bath and sit in the dark and really examine what was going on with these feelings? No, that felt too healthy and mature. But maybe she would talk to Fiona this afternoon.

“Oh nice.” She managed, “I’ve not been there yet. Is she stopping down with you for lunch?”

‘Stopping down with you?’ She asked herself, ‘That’s not a sentence?’ The pulse in her swollen tongue was banging so hard against her teeth she was surprised they weren’t rattling. How had life come to a point where she was hung over from a sort of date with one guy and having anxiety palpitations about talking to another one? Wasn’t life supposed to get duller once you moved out of London to the country? Why had all those films lied to her?

“No, busy lunchtime shift, I imagine. She’ll be up to her eyes in… ratatouille or whatever. What is Swedish food?”

“Those open prawn sandwiches, isn’t it?” Emma supplied - delighted with herself for actually knowing the answer.

“Yeah. And salmon?”

“Probably. I love salmon.” ‘Not right now though.’ She caveated, privately.

“No, I’m actually meeting my ex.” Emma felt like Jack had dropped an atomic bomb into her lap. She scrambled to think of something to say back.

“Wow.” Was all she managed, “I thought you’d said you didn’t get on?” Her brain was fizzing to catch up. His ex? Why? Was this related to the Norman fury? Was he gunning for closure now he’d finally admitted to himself how much it hurt to be cheated on? The Windolene bottle was slipping in Emma’s hand as her palm excreted wine and beer and tequila and gin and sweat in equal measure.

“We don’t.” Jack said, grimly, “But, a lot of that is on me and… I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the boat day. Been in a bit of a funk if I’m honest and it’s made me think about sorting some stuff out that I’ve been squashing down.”

“Did you have a bath?” Emma said before she could stop herself. It made sense in her sleep deprived, husk of a brain. She’d wanted a bath to sit and think about her problems, he had thought about his; ergo, he must have had a bath. Her shoulders shrank back from her own stupidity. “Not a bath,” she fumbled, “A think. Can’t get my words right today.”

“Yeah, I did. Poor Elliott has been on some long old walks while I’ve got my head round it - haven’t you mate?” Elliott sat patiently. “I think the reason I overreacted so horribly to the situation, and to you in particular, is that I felt guilty.” Emma softened.

“You don’t need to feel guilty - you didn’t owe it to me to tell me or anything.” She tried a half smile at him, glad that the ice was meting between them.

“Ah, you guessed?” He looked drawn.

“Well, yeah - I wondered. It seemed like you were pretty angry and vulnerable. And you’d mentioned your ex when we went for pizza so, so I sort of put two and two together and assumed that at some point you’d been a Helen.” She petered out - hoping she hadn’t been too intrusive.

Jack nodded down at his feet, his baseball cap shielding his eyes from her. “You are very nice to try and think the best of me rather than assume I was just being a self-righteous arsehole.”

“It’s pretty easy to want to think the best of you.” Emma replied. ‘Oh my god are you flirting? That was a flirt!’ Alarm bells were ringing all around her throbbing head.

“Well, that’s the problem. I wasn’t the Helen, I was the Norman.” Said Jack, raising his head to look at her. The alarms in her head changed tone.

“What?” She said, lips pursed ready for the next word whenever her brain settled on what it was to be.

“Yeah, I know. It’s not great. Not great at all. I had an affair - I cheated on my wife. It’s what finally killed our marriage. I, um, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life and I hate that it was me - it feels like it wasn’t me. I’m not trying to excuse my behaviour. I definitely did it - I had an affair. Eugh, I really hate saying it out loud. It feels weird to hear it coming out of my mouth. I just struggle sometimes to really believe that I did it. And I can’t change it. So, sorry - I’m rambling, and I shouldn’t be offloading this on you anyway. But, I wanted to explain why I was so awful to you - I was being awful to defend myself for being even worse before. To someone else. So, I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me.” His body language was stiff and downcast, Emma wanted to hug him but she reeked of alcohol and felt like a hug was too much. She settled for squatting down next to Elliott instead.

“Crikey,” she looked up at Jack, squinting into the sun, “That’s a lot. Apology accepted. But, you know - you only need to apologise to me for what you said to me. You don’t owe me an apology for cheating on your wife. You didn’t cheat on me.”

“I never would.”

Emma swore that if words could be physical those ones would have been lightning bolts.

‘’Is lightning a physical thing?’

‘Yeah, isn’t it?’

‘Fucking concentrate.’

Her ankles twisted and she fell back onto her bottom, sending the bottle of windolene across the pavement. Jack stooped down to pick it up and then offered a hand. She accepted it and stood up, hoping he wouldn’t notice her clammy palms.

“What times your lunch?” She asked, feeling shy and exposed.

“Now - I should go.” Said Jack, checking a wrist that didn’t contain a watch, “I’m glad I bumped into you though - I’m glad we’ve cleared things up.”
“Yeah,” said Emma, “Yeah - thank you for apologising. And I’m sorry for my part too. I’m glad we’re friends again.”

He nodded and then twitched Elliott’s lead. Elliott lifted his back legs and stretched gloriously. Emma swore that he looked smug. Was this dog some kind of guardian angel?

“Well, I hope it goes ok.” She said to Jack, “Feel free to knock tonight if you want to talk about it.” The offer was out of her mouth before she’d fully thought through the ramifications. What if Theo wanted to see her tonight? What about her bath?

“Yeah - I may well do.” Said Jack, then waved and headed off down the street. Emma stood frozen on the pavement until a rapping on the glass from the inside reminded her of the existence of the shop, Fiona, the human world and her place in it.

“What was all that about?” Squealed an excitable Fiona.

“Oh god… he, he wanted to apologise for being… um, well we had a bit of a falling out after the boat day.” Emma didn’t know where to start, suddenly realising she’d never filled Fiona in on the debacle with Jack. “So, he just wanted to apologise and make sure we were all good.”

“It looked very intense?” Fiona prodded.

“Yeah, yeah - well, it’s always awkward saying sorry as an adult isn’t it?” Emma tried to brush the conversation aside - not wanting to have to tell Fiona all the gory details of Jack’s past or his reaction to her present.

Thank goodness the shop was busy that afternoon and Emma could completely occupy herself with various ornaments and customer requirements. She was completely exhausted by the time they closed the shop and it was all she could do to drag her aching feet back to the flat and close the door on a very strange day.

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