Monday, May 25, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 31

Tuesday and Wednesday dawned, bloomed and reset with not a word from Norman. Emma endured with increasing pangs of sadness that there was nothing from Theo either.

‘What if it had been a one night stand to him?’ She wondered, cringing inside at the thought of her text message sitting unreplied to in his inbox.

‘Well if it was, then it was.’ She tried to be cool and detached about it but she felt stupid. She had no problem with having had sex with him - meaningless sex was no problem in her worldview. Sex was sex was sex. No morals attached. What was gnawing at her was the knowledge that to her it hadn’t been meaningless sex; that was the bit she couldn’t get past. The feeling of stupidity that she had slept with him believing it to be the beginning of something, when it might have been the whole.

‘But even if that was the case - why feel stupid? Why do you have to feel stupid for having liked him and for having then taken it further? So it didn’t work? Why is hope and emotion stupid?’ Her intrusive arguments fought for herself and for a higher self esteem and she struggled to answer her own questions. Unfortunately for the defensive part of herself, she kept coming up against the same backstop of infallible truth:

‘The stupidity comes because you barely know him and you moved across the country for him. Without him knowing. Based on watching him across the office and liking the way he smells.’

The memory of his scent made her stomach twist again. She thought shyly of the shirt that was now tucked in a corner of her bedroom. Of course she had sniffed it. Of course she had more than sniffed it - of course she had buried her face in it and inhaled that sweet sweaty, perfumed, cottony smell of the expensive masculine office day. She had managed to stop herself going so far as to sleeping with it in the bed and for that, Emma thanked herself every morning when she woke up and felt a little less pathetic.

Days in the shop with Fiona had really given her a distraction as the two of them bounced around. Fiona was on a giddy high. Emma watched her carefully for signs of it cracking but Fiona seemed to really be bouncing back well from Norman’s betrayal. She was smiley, quick to laughter and fiercely excitable about the future and herself. It was extremely contagious and Emma found her hours in the shop passed quickly and happily.

They were both very excited about Thursday night - Fiona had insisted she was not going to sit in and mope on the night she would have been out with Norman.

“No, I’m not doing it Em. We’re going out on the town - at some point I’ll be selling that chunk of a ring for a pretty penny and we’re going to pre-emptively spend some of my winnings on getting very full of delicious food. I can’t wait to wear my new dress.”

She was insistant and Emma was game. They were going to close the shop bang on time and then both dash home to get properly ready. No half hearted change of clothes and splash of make up in the staff room - back to their own houses to get really and truly dolled up. Emma had her favourite jumpsuit lined up ready to wear. She loved that outfit but rarely wore it to avoid that awful feeling of having to sit practically naked in the toilets every time she needed a wee. A dinner with Fiona was the perfect time to wear it though - dinner was sophisticated.

They giggled their way through Thursday and both squealed with excitement as the clock ticked to 6pm and they switched all the lights off immediately, locked the door from the outside and ran for buses.

“I’ll cash up in the morning!” Giggled Fiona, “See you in a bit!”

Back in her flat Emma turned the Dolly Parton up loud and poured herself a getting ready wine. The jumpsuit was laid out on the bed with heels tucked on the floor beneath it. She showered, dried her hair very carefully and curled the ends into large, gentle waves. She enjoyed a luxurious half an hour at the mirror with her make up - primer, foundation, bronzer, blusher, liner, shadows, highlighter, mascara… it all went on. Layering up and sculpting a new, temporary face on the base face she also liked. She spritzed perfume into the air and then walked under it like she’d seen people do in films. She then also spritzed it onto her wrists and neck as the gentle mist in her hair didn’t feel like enough.

She carefully pulled on her outfit and added the shoes and some ear rings. Beaming from ear to ear she threw keys, phone, cash, ID and a debit card into a ridiculously small but ridiculously pretty clutch bag and headed out the door.

‘Jacket be damned!’ She thought delightedly to herself, ‘If I get cold I get cold - I look too good to cover up.”

Going downstairs in heels is never easy and Emma wobbled a lot bit but maintained her dignity - reaching the front door having stayed upright. Her phone started buzzing in her bag just as she shut the door behind her. She pulled it out and clocked Fiona’s name on the screen.

“Hey babe, just leaving.”

“Emma I can’t.” Fiona sounded awful, Emma stopped dead.

“Fiona, what’s happened?” The sound of sniffling and little popping half sobs was unbearable.

“I put the dress on, and I walked past the full length mirror and I just… stopped. I felt like I was playing dress up. Oh god what are we thinking going out celebrating? I haven’t got anything to celebrate? I’m a stupid, old, single idiot who genuinely thought having an affair with a married man was going to lead to happiness. Now it’s over with him - I have to try and start again and I thought it would be fun to go out in the dress I was meant to be wearing with him?”

“Oh Fiona… ok, well, look - we won’t go out then. I’ll come to you and we’ll get some ice cream and we’ll…”

Fiona cut her off, “No. No, I can’t. I just need to be on my own.”

“Fiona, no!” Emma looked around her at the empty street for inspiration in how to get through to Fiona with something helpful, “No, don’t be daft - I’ll come over and we will just sit in silence if need be. Come on, I’m all dressed up now.”

“No, Emma, I can’t.” Fiona was getting quieter and quieter on the other end of the line.
“You can, Fi. Look, just give me your address and I’ll be round with a pizza and some wine and I’ll bring pyjamas and we can just sit together. I don’t want you to be on your own.”

“No, I want to be on my own. I think I would feel even sadder and stupider having an emergency pyjama party. I’m sorry Em, I know I’m being a terrible friend but I just need to sit and stare and think for a bit.”

“Oh Fi… no… I can’t bear the thought of that. Please let me come over? Come on, give me your address.” Emma felt twitchy and desperate. She was completely stuck.

“No. Em, I absolutely promise I’m not going to do anything stupid - but I was trying to run before I could walk. I owe you one, ok? I’ll text you later.”

The line went dead and Emma stood on the pavement feeling ridiculously overdressed all of a sudden and stuck for how to help. She had a vague idea of the area Fiona lived in but she’d never been there. Her address would be in the shop somewhere but Emma didn’t have a key. She tried to phone Fiona back but it went straight to voicemail so she fired off a text message begging for her address and permission to come round.

“Are you ok?” Jack appeared behind her, making her jump.

“Oh god! Oh, Jack. You made me jump. Yeah, hello.” Emma ruffled Elliott’s head absent mindedly. Elliott managed not to jump at her and Emma wondered briefly if he understood how pretty her jumpsuit was.

‘Probably.’ She thought, ‘He is a bizarrely clever dog.’

“Are you ok? You look a bit lost.” Jack was smiling at her.

“Er, well, a bit of Fiona drama. She broke up with Norman on Monday and we were supposed to be going out for a celebratory dinner tonight but she’s just phoned in a bit of a state and cancelled.” Emma’s arms drooped helplessly at her side.

“Oh dear, is she alright?” Asked Jack.

“I don’t think so. But, I can’t really help - I don’t know her address and she’s switched off her phone.” Just at that second Emma’s phone buzzed and she looked at a text message from Fiona, “She’s just text to say please don’t worry - she just wants to be alone. Well, I guess that’s it then.” Emma turned to head inside.

“Hang on a minute - you’re already dressed up now.” Jack caught the door.

“All dressed up and nowhere to go!” Emma laughed, stepping through into the hall.

“Give me five minutes.” Said Jack, “I can’t bear the thought of you not being taken out when you’ve gone to this much effort getting ready. Could we go out?”

Emma’s legs instantly started fizzing. Could they go out? Why not? Was that weird? Why would it be weird?

“Er, yeah - sure. If you want to? If you don’t have plans?” Emma stuttered.
Jack laughed, “I don’t have plans. Give me five minutes to try and look like I’ve made an effort too.” With that he was gone, taking the steps two at a time up to his flat with Elliott hot on his heels. Emma wasn’t sure what to do - she couldn’t stay stood in the hall like a lemon while he got changed. She padded up to her flat and poured another small wine, leaving the flat door ajar.

‘That way he’ll know I’m not hiding - I’m just having a sit.’

‘Is it a bit prostitutey?’

‘Sex-worker.’ She corrected herself, ‘Also, what?! Where have you got that from?’

Emma shook the stupid thoughts away and tried to focus. There was a light knock at the door and Jack’s head appeared round it.

“Ready?” She said, springing up and sloshing wine on to the floor. It narrowly missed her leg and she hoped Jack hadn’t noticed.

“Ready.” He said, and held the door wide for her to join him in the hall. He was ready. He smelled incredible - a low, musky, spicy scent that you could barely catch on a breath but that teased around the edges making you want to get closer to have more of it.

‘Or maybe you’re just looking for any excuse to get closer?’ She teased herself.

They walked into town, chatting lightly - Emma was so surprised by talking to Jack. She could go minutes without noticing what she was thinking - she would just be conversing and enjoying and listening to his responses.

‘Is this how other people find all conversations?’ She thought, breaking her streak of not having an extra layer of thought process hovering above the basic functioning ones, ‘Just easy?’ It was an interesting concept.

They arrived at a lovely looking restaurant Emma would never have noticed if she’d been passing it alone - it was unassuming and small with a menu in a glass box outside. Jack stopped by the menu.

“How does this look?” He asked her and she scanned the lists. It looked delicious was the answer and she told him so. They headed inside.

The head waiter had a tiny table available and they gratefully sat down, Jack folding his long legs into the space available.

“This place is lovely.” Emma said over the menu, wondering how she was going to narrow her choices down to just one starter, main and dessert.

“Yeah, I’ve been wanting to come here for a while.” Said Jack, “It’s always so full - when somewhere is this full that often you know it’s good!”

They chose a wine and Emma briefly considered swirling it and trying it before taking a proper sip and then decided against. What was the point? She was going to drink it and she was reassured to see Jack just get stuck in as well.

“Well, thank you for rescuing me. It was looking like being a really sad night for me otherwise!”

Conversation felt a bit harder now they were in the formal setting of the restaurant - Emma thought it was the eye contact. Talking was so much easier without eye contact.

“It’s absolutely my pleasure. I’m glad I got home when I did - imagine if I’d just missed you and you were already in watching the TV! Like noticing it’s raining after the washing is already soaked. Nightmare!” He had such a lovely twinkle in his eye, “Where were you going to go with Fiona?”

“Oh, I can’t remember what it was called but it was properly fancy - she showed me about the website.” Emma explained to Jack the debacle with the ring and filled him in on the gory details of Norman’s car. Jack smiled.

“Poor Norman,” he said wryly, “What a dick move. Asking for Helen back and then racing to Fiona when he got spurned? Do you know the worst part though, someone will have him - you know? He’s boring and rude and horrible but someone will have him. Let’s just hope it’s no one we know.”

“Oh no, I was going to go out with him for dinner tomorrow?” Emma teased, eyes wide with mock innocence.

“The heart wants what it wants,” Jack shook his head sadly, “But I for one think you can do better.”

“Oh do you?” Said Emma.

‘YOU’RE FLIRTING!’ Screamed her brain and she wholeheartedly agreed with it.

“I do.” Jack nodded, putting on a pompous serious face, “The thing is Emma - from the moment I saw your little face in the hall and you were trying to be so polite even though my dog had broken into your flat and pooped on your mat, and you’d stepped in it and…” he couldn’t carry on because he was laughing too much, he got it under control and then carried on, “I just have been fascinated by you. I don’t know if you know this but every emotion you have has its own facial expression and they play across your face like the bloody Northern Lights. I feel like your brain is working at 90 miles an hour and then no matter how much I wonder what you’re going to say, you say it and I could never have guessed that’s what it would turn out to be.”

Emma thought this might be one of the most romantic things anyone had ever said to her. She stared at him, imagining kissing him, trying to think of all the times he might have been watching her to have noticed all this about her face. Then she blushed furiously at the thought that he was now watching her thinking and that her face must be changing and flinching just like he’d described.

“I’ve never seen the northern lights.” She said and Jack laughed so loudly several people turned round to see what had happened. She couldn’t help but join in.

“There you go. I wouldn’t have predicted for a moment that THAT’S what you’d pick up on there.”

He was still giggling when the waiter came over to take their order. Dinner was fun and easy - they ate and drank and when they’d finished a bottle they ordered another one and drank that too.

Emma was deliriously happy and very tipsy by the time they found themselves outside her flat door having walked home, hands occasionally brushing. She hesitated on the doorstep.

“Thank you,” she said, suddenly shy wondering whether he was going to kiss her or whether she should kiss him, “This was great.”

“Yeah, yeah - it was. Thank you.” He said, but didn’t lean in for a kiss. He hooked his little finger against her hand for the briefest of seconds and then let go, “Thank you for a lovely meal - I’ll see you soon.” And then he was gone up the stairs.

Emma’s world tilted - why hadn’t they kissed? So, was that like a friend dinner? No, he was into her, wasn’t he? The wine was making it hard to understand things and she decided that she’d been drunk a few times too often lately.

‘Focus on the good.’ She told herself, and then went into her flat. Pulling out her phone to text Fiona as she did so.

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