Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 28

Unbelievably, Emma’s Saturday night passed without incident. Completely without incident. She didn’t splosh so much as a drop of her tea on the floor. She managed to order a pizza to her house rather than a missile strike on an unsuspecting village, and when the pizza arrived she spoke to the delivery driver and paid for it without a single pigment of colour in her cheeks having to change.

Emma went to bed feeling physically rested. However, her mind was whirring - flitting from thoughts of Theo to thoughts of Jack and back again. As her hangover had faded so had her feelings of misery about the way the date with Theo had gone. So it hadn’t been perfect, so what? So she’d had unanticipated sex that she was a little tipsy for, so what? She wasn’t ashamed of it, and there would (hopefully) be more sex of a sober variety to come.

‘But with who though?’ Asked a sly voice in her mind, and she allowed herself to wallow in the luxury of that question instead of shirking from it confusion. She let her inhead cinema play a small feature film of Jack in the kitchen, cloth in hand, and she watched as the actress playing her pulled up his t shirt to reveal a subtly muscular stomach under tanned skin and a good amount of hair. Theo had been hairless, she thought, and while that wasn’t a problem, there was definitely something so sensual about the idea of body hair. Her own arm hairs raised and prickled at the thought of a hand running over Jack’s chest. He had lifted her onto the counter now and was kissing her in the way people only kissed in films where they didn’t have to worry about getting off the counter to find their pyjamas covered in marmite…

There it was, the point she always reached with her imagination, where it got out of her own control and started concentrating on the inane instead of the exciting. Were other people’s brains like this? She wondered - constantly interrupting them and misbehaving?

She lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling, wondering at what the week would bring. By this time next week she could be in a relationship… wow. But with who? Theo? This mysterious object of her affections that had consumed all of her attention for years now? It felt so bizarre that he was now tangible. Would she ever be able to be honest with him? To tell him he was the reason she was in Bath? Wouldn’t that make her out to be a crazy stalker? She felt an icy cold in her stomach at the thought of him hearing her tell the truth and backing away from the crazy. Or, perhaps she could see where things went with Jack…? That felt, less exciting… less cliff-edge and crazy, but - maybe nicer for that? An evening in watching TV with Jack and Elliott after work felt imaginable and plausible? She could understand how that could happen, whereas with Theo… she couldn’t even begin to understand what they would talk about? Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Her toes curled up at the thought of being next to him on a sofa. Emma finally drifted off to sleep filled with thoughts of possible futures. It was exciting, and unexpected.

Sunday bloomed over Bath with a high sky and a lavish temperature. Everything felt energised and fresh - Emma felt ready to go. She spent the morning spring cleaning the flat - music turned up loud and singing along out of key.

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ She thought to herself, naughtily, ‘Your neighbour will come downstairs and tell you you’re bad?’ She grinned as she dusted the mantlepiece in the front room. Her phone never strayed far from her hand as she anticipated the text from Fiona. Poor Simon - at least he had good weather to cushion the impact of news from Fiona that she was choosing awful Norman over lovely Simon. Emma wondered what it would mean for the future of her friendship with Fiona if Norman became a permanent, public fixture? It would certainly mean she wouldn’t want to go for double dates very much. She tried to picture Theo sitting across a table making conversation with Norman and failed. She didn’t have to picture Jack doing it - she’d witnessed his sass at the zoo. She smiled remembering it.

Late afternoon her phone buzzed from the arm of the chair and she picked it up to see a WhatsApp message from Fiona to her and Anja.

“Ugh. That wasn’t fun. Come to the pub? I need gin.”

Emma replied in the affirmative and grabbed shoes and a jacket. Springing out of the front door and into the sunshine. She decided to walk as it was lovely out and headed in the direction of the little pub out of town they’d arranged to meet at. She took the canal path - enjoying the way the light bounced off the still water. No boats passed but plenty of joggers and couples holding hands. Dog walkers stretching their legs and teenagers laughing at each other and things on their phones. Emma felt a boundless energy in her stomach - she felt full of the joys of spring to coin a phrase. She felt good.

The path curved round and she ran her hand along a cool stone wall as she approached a bridge. She had to push her sunglasses up on to her head such was the comparative darkness in the shadow under the bridge, and it was a good job she did because she just amount managed to catch sight of the enormous bundle of fur legging towards her. She was able to side step the furry cannon ball as it blasted at her shins. Emma flattened herself against the wall as the dog pulled up, reared around and leapt at her again. Blinking into the gloom she realised that the panting face trying to be in the same gap in the space-time continuum as her own face, was Elliott’s.

“Elliott!” She exclaimed, trying her best to stroke him, remove his paws from her stomach and calm him down at the same time as stopping him from pulling them both into the canal. “Hello boy, what are you up to?” She peered out into the sunshine for signs of Jack, but couldn’t see him anywhere on the path. Elliott breathed heavily and did his best to lick her eyebrows. She held him off her as best she could, keeping one hand on his collar and the other rubbing vigorously as the silky fur on his stomach. “Where’s Jack then, eh?” She grinned at him, surprised by how excited she felt at the thought of seeing Jack.

“Sorry!” Came a woman’s voice from the other end of the bridge shadow, “Sorry - about my dog. Elliott, come here.”

Emma stood up abruptly - ‘Oh duh! Of course! Jack’s ex-wife had Elliott this weekend!’ Emma felt her heart thudding in her chest as the woman got nearer and nearer. She was tall, slim and was frowning at Elliott.

“He’s ok!” Emma found her voice and called back to the woman. She racked her brains to see if she could recall Jack telling her a name.

‘That would be super weird, you can’t already know her name?! You’ll look like a weird troll woman hanging out under bridges waiting for people. She’ll think you’re going to kill her.’

Emma panicked - the feeling in her legs draining out through her shoes. Should she pretend she didn’t know who the woman was?
‘WHICH IS WEIRDER?’ Her brain screamed at her. She had not reached a conclusion when The Ex arrived at her side and attached a lead to Elliott’s collar before standing up and looking at Emma.

“I’m sorry - he is usually really well-behaved.”

“I know.” said Emma, immediately realising she had sealed her fate as to which way she was going to have to play the conversation.

“What?” The woman was wrong-footed by Emma’s odd response.

“Oh, yeah - sorry, I know Elliott.” Said Emma, stumbling over her words.

‘Well now you’ve made it sound like you personally know the dog?’ She questioned herself.

‘I do!’

‘Well, yeah - but maybe mention you know Jack too? That would help wouldn’t it? So it doesn’t look like you’ve befriended a dog solo?’

“I live downstairs from him and Jack.” Emma added, wondering if perhaps Jack might have mentioned her to his ex-wife at their lunch on Friday? Probably not, she decided - they’d had much bigger and more important things to discuss.

“Oh, right. What a coincidence.” Jack’s ex didn’t seem to know what to say back to that and Emma couldn’t say she particularly blamed her. “I’m just walking him back to Jack’s, your, place.”

“Have you had a nice weekend with him? I’m Emma by the way, hi.” Emma wasn’t sure whether to shake hands so went for a sort of shy wave. It made the other woman smile.

“I’m Rebecca, nice to meet you. Yes, it’s been lovely to have some time with him. Bit of a surprise but once we had food and a little rug you were alright, weren’t you bud? How well do you know Jack?” Rebecca had pale brown eyes that Emma would swear were glowing in the dim light under the bridge. She would almost accuse herself of having a small and baseless crush on the woman based solely on her poise and face.

‘Absolutely not.’ She was firm with herself, ‘We’re not adding a third love interest to the confusion. No.’

Staring at Rebecca was distracting her nicely from thinking about what to say back about how well she knew Jack. The truth was, pretty well and almost not at all simultaneously. She settled on a vague answer, “I’ve not known him long at all - I only moved in about a month or so ago but we’ve hung out a little bit.”

“Yeah, he’s a friendly guy.” Emma couldn’t work out if there was a trace of sarcasm or malice in Rebecca’s voice.

“Yeah, well, I prefer Elliott if I’m honest.” Emma tried a little joke to break the tension and it seemed to make her smile.

“Ha! I’ll tell Jack you said that tonight.”

“Yes, that will make him laugh.” Said Emma, desperately wanting to question what Rebecca meant by tonight but being absolutely sure that was beyond the boundaries of a conversation you could have with a perfect stranger under a bridge. “Well, I ought to get to the pub, I suppose.” She muttered instead, and ruffled Elliott’s head. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, lovely to meet you too.” Rebecca smiled and she and Elliott continued in the opposite direction to Emma. Emma felt suddenly drained of the confidence she’d had bouncing along the path moments earlier. She was annoyed by this.

‘So what if his ex is beautiful? That doesn’t mean you are not.’

‘No, but why would he be interested in me when that’s the sort of woman he’s used to?’

‘Woah, woah, woah… what’s this line of thinking? Sort of woman? Get a grip and bring yourself back to the 21st Century please woman. He had one partner, he now fancies you. The two are unrelated.’

But Emma felt curiously deflated as she pushed open the gate to the pub garden and joined Anja and Fiona in the sun. They had a bottle of wine chilling and poured a glass for her as she sat down.

“You’ll never believe who I bumped into on the way here…” she said, taking a sip and proceeded to explain the encounter to the girls.

“Blimey!” Said Fiona, when she had finished, “What are the chances of that?”

“With that dog? Pretty high! I’m starting to worry I smell a lot stronger than I think I do. He always seems to know how to find me!” They laughed and Emma started to feel a bit more normal. She hated feeling set up “against” Rebecca - it felt contrived by her own head and insecurities, and she wanted to be better than that kind of rivalry. Wanting to and achieving were two separate things though.

“So, how did it go with Simon?” Asked Anja, turning the conversation round to puffy eyed Fiona.

“Oh… pretty miserable,” she said, staring at the wooden table, picking bits of the flaking varnish off the beams, “But he’s so kind he tried to make it easy. Said he was sorry not to be able to see where we’d go but that he understood. Have I done the wrong thing?”

‘YES!’ Emma screamed internally, hoping that Anja would have the confidence to say it out loud. Anja stayed quiet though, so Emma tried to formulate the word no in her mouth. It was reluctant to appear.

“Not if that’s what you think is right.” Was the closest she could get and Anja nodded sagely at her elbow. “Simon seems pretty relaxed and friendly… maybe if you explore things with Norman but it doesn’t work out there could be space to try again with him? You know, with fewer complications?”

Fiona was nodding glumly and Emma rubbed her arm reassuringly. “Are you feeling like maybe you made a mistake?”

Fiona shrugged and her phone beeped piercingly from her pocket. She pulled it out and checked the notifications. “Norman.” She explained, hastily typing a reply. “Um, no - I don’t know. I suppose the thing I’m curious about is… what does it say about me if I don’t stay with him now?”

“What do you mean?” Asked Anja, sharing the last of the Prosecco across their glasses.

“Well, I was with him the whole time - years, wasn’t I? Waiting for him to leave Helen and wishing he’d leave Helen and knowing that if he’d only leave Helen everything would be alright. Then, he finally leaves Helen and I don’t want to be with him any more?”

“Hang on - you planned to dump him before he and Helen split up!” Emma interrupted, already feeling the light headed effects of sun and bubbly wine.

“And, he didn’t leave Helen - she left him.” Anja added, Emma was glad to have the back up.

“Yeah… you’re right. But, here’s the thing and I don’t know if I can explain it well so let me get it out… What if it was the affair I liked after all? Like, not hurting someone or anything, but I suppose I’m scared that it was the excitement and the promise and the… hope, that I liked. Being with someone who was married was like being single but with company. I was hoping and waiting for that perfection round the corner. I don’t know. I’m not making any sense.”

It didn’t make much sense to Emma, she had to admit. But it made some, and she could see the beginnings of where Fiona was coming from. They drained their glasses and Emma was just standing up to go and get them another bottle when a shadow fell across the table.

“What a fine bunch of fillies!” Said Norman, sitting down on the bench and making it jerk rapidly to one side.

“Norman! What are you doing here?” Fiona looked a bit cross and Emma willed her to be so furious at this invasion of privacy that she threw the enormous ring in his stupid face.

“I thought I’d surprise you. Hello ladies.” Norman oozed fake charm and Emma wanted to make loud fake vomiting noises just to make Anja laugh. “Looks like you need another bottle. Allow me.” Norman stood back up again and headed in to the bar before anyone could protest. Emma forcefully scooped a smile out of herself and spread it across her cheeks and eyes in support of Fiona.

“That’s thoughtful of him.” She emitted through gritted molars.

“I didn’t tell him to come.” Said Fiona, “I told him I was catching up with you two. I think he’s going over kill to seem like the perfect boyfriend.”

“Well, that is good, no?” Anja said helpfully, “It will give you a chance to see how you feel about him?”

“Yes, let’s enjoy a lovely sunny drink with him - a perfect testing ground.” Said Emma, forcing herself to be positive and not give in to the gloomy thought of Norman and his wallet dominating the conversation.

Norman reappeared with a silver wine cooler and fresh bottle of Prosecco. Emma was pleased to note that he hadn’t upgraded them without asking or done anything extravagant. He was drinking something normal looking - Emma wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d reappeared with a platinum tankard of liquid sapphires but it was just an amber liquid that she assumed was an ale.

He settled on to the bench and chat turned naturally to the beautiful weather and the perfection of a Sunday in a beer garden. Anja was very good at small talk and seemed to be finding it very easy to hold Norman in conversation about the restaurant trade. Emma was happily pleased to see that he was less money focused, occasionally a question would slip out but he really did seem to be trying hard not to talk about the cost of things too much.

As the sun and the Prosecco worked their magic on Emma she began to relax. Perhaps he would make Fiona happy? He was clearly trying extremely hard to win her favour, and with no wife to complicate things maybe their relationship would go from strength to strength? Just because he had been a cheater didn’t mean he was terrible now?

‘You’re excusing him to make it ok that you think well of Jack.’ A little voice was whispering from a shadowy part of her brain that the sunshine couldn’t reach.

‘No, I’m being fair to him. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.’

‘Funny how you didn’t want to do that until you kissed a cheater.’

Emma’s brain played her a gif of Scarlett O’Hara saying she’d think about that tomorrow and she blinked herself back into the conversation. Norman was explaining about what winds were needed and where in the stratosphere that they should be to cause a mackerel sky.

She resolved to give Norman a chance. For Fiona, for himself, and for Jack.


Choose one of these:

  1. Volume
  2. Water
  3. Pain
  4. Money
  5. Cloth

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