Monday, June 8, 2020

The Audience Adventure - The Final Day

Emma stood in the kitchen, her hot chocolate back in the saucepan, warming gently. She thought about that kiss with Jack when they’d been here doing this together. It had been such a surprise - so nice and so very welcome. She thought about whether he might still want to kiss her and then realised she had well and truly put paid to that by cancelling her date with him and opting for a disastrous night with Theo.

‘Screw it. I’m messaging Matt.’ She decided, and her thumbs began flying across the screen putting together a nice casual hello. She sent the message and poured the drink back into her mug and walked back to the living room. By the time she sat down on the sofa he had replied.

He remembered her! He asked how she was and if they’d had a nice time when at the spa. It was quite a quick response and Emma wasn’t sure about dating etiquette as to whether she was supposed to wait before replying or match his response.

‘Stop playing games.’ She told herself, ‘Games and being confusing is what’s got you into this slumpy sad place. Just message him and if someone replying too quickly puts him off then he’s not the man for you.’

That felt like a good decision to make and Emma confidently sent another message back. She asked him some questions, feeling bold, she asked where he was from and what had brought him to Bath. This felt good. It felt healthy and fun and normal. His response pinged up. She flicked across to the inbox on the app and noticed she also had several other messages. She looked at them with surprise.

Two of the messages said hello, one said “u up” and the last was a bit more of a fully fledged message that proved he’d at least looked at her profile. She scanned his profile - he looked nice. By the time she replied she realised several minutes had gone by since Matt’s message and she raced back to it to not seem rude.

This was going to be fun! A fun little correspondence game. She decided to run a bath and give herself an hour of exchanging messages before bed. She filled the bath with hot water and plenty of white, fluffy bubbles and then climbed in.

‘Do not, under any circumstances,’ she thought to herself, ‘drop your phone in this bath.’

Emma lay back into the bubbles and felt utterly serene. If she was honest with herself she was sad at the thought of not being able to see where things went with Jack. But a little part of her felt like she probably deserved that. She’d treated him badly by cancelling on him and by being so distracted by Theo. She had learned a lesson and she didn’t feel like she could come between him and Rebecca. She had no idea if things between she and him would even work, so how could she come between him and his ex-wife where there was so much history.

‘You don’t even know that he’s trying to get back with Rebecca.’ Said a persistent voice in her head, but she shook it away. It didn’t matter. He was clearly trying to salvage something there and she didn’t want to be flighty and difficult and non-commital if his emotional energy was elsewhere. Decision made.

She rested her head against the bath and replied to a few of the more interesting profiles that had messaged her. It was a no to anyone with a photo next to a drugged tiger. It was a no to anyone who had a shirtless photo… oh, it was a no to almost everyone with a shirtless photo.

‘This is fun!’ She thought, thoroughly enjoying her window shopping. She was also continuing to hold a very engaging conversation with Matt. They were swapping horror stories of terrible customers at each of their jobs. He was funny and chatty and she was enjoying talking to him.

Suddenly Emma froze. No. This couldn’t be happening. As she’d been lazing about not focusing on anything except messages and chat and funny things to fling back, she’d been floating her legs around in the water and without thinking she had idly been exploring the taps with her feet and had popped a toe into the open tap. She had then lazily tried to move her leg back down only to find her toe completely stuck. Again.

“This cannot be happening.” She said out loud to the ceramic tiles. She placed her phone carefully on the closed lid of the toilet and focused on her stupid toe. She gently pulled with her leg but it was not coming out and it was really starting to throb already. It must have been further in than last time? She didn’t remember it getting this uncomfortable this quickly?

Emma tugged with urgency but found her toe completely unwilling to budge.

“Oh for fucks sake.” She railed. How was she back at square one? What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she just have a bath and do some messaging like an adult without something this ridiculous happening?

She tried with all her might to pull the offending toe out of the tap but it was not budging and the panic started to rise up her skin.

‘What am I going to do?’

‘Call Fiona.’

‘She can’t get in she doesn’t have keys.’

‘Call Jack. He’s already in the building.’

‘I can’t call Jack to come and rescue me - I’m naked in the bath with my toe stuck in a tap.’

‘OK, well then it’ll have to be the fire department.’

‘I can’t call them either. Then Jack will know some thing is wrong and probably come down.’

‘Well, then cut out the middle man and just call Jack.’

She sat in the cooling water and could have screamed. Instead she splashed loudly into the bubbles in an impotent rage. She eyed her phone where it lay and wondered how it could betray her like this. Then she picked it up and scrolled through her contacts.

‘Please don’t answer. Please don’t answer.’ She chanted internally.
Jack answered the phone on the third ring.

“Emma, hi!” Emma felt her blood run cold at the thought of what she had to now say, out loud to another adult.

“Hey Jack, how are you?” She could at least delay the moment for as long as possible.

“I’m fine. Yeah. Quiet day. How are you? How was your big party?”

“Oh, oh it was terrible - I left after two hours. Listen, you’re not home are you?” She had no idea at all why she was trying to sound casual - any pretence that she was casual was going to go right out the window with her next few sentences.

“Yes, I’m home. Everything alright?”

Emma tried to get comfortable but it was hard to keep her balance with one leg stuck. She braced herself with an arm, took a deep breath and said. “Erm, no, not really, I-“

“Look Emma, if you’re calling to apologise, it’s really ok. There’s no need. I ended up having quite a good chat with Rebecca that night. She stayed until about 2 in the end and had to come back and get her car the next morning because we’d had so much to drink. It was nice to finally, really feel like we put a lot of ghosts to bed. I should be thanking you.”

Emma’s head began to swim. So, they weren’t rekindling a love affair? They were just packing one away a bit tidier?

“That sounds really healthy.” She said, and meant it, despite wishing she didn’t have one toe trapped in some plumbing as she tried to sound mature.

“Hey, do you fancy coming up for a hot chocolate?” Said Jack, and a faint note of flirting seemed to be in his voice. Emma groaned internally.

“I can’t…” she began but he interrupted her again.

“Sure, ok, I understand. Look can I just ask though, did I mess up somewhere? Because, I felt like we were getting on well and then… I don’t know. I’m really sorry if I did something wrong.”

“No, no - it’s not that!” Emma panicked, “It’s just I’ve got my toe stuck in a tap.”

There was a silence at the other end of the line followed by a puffing out of breath and then Jack clearing his throat. “Sorry, you’ve what?”

“Oh my god, this is so embarrassing. I’m in the bath, and I’ve got my toe stuck in the tap. I can’t get it out. I, I need your help.”

She could hear him beginning to laugh and it made her smile too. In a life crowded with ridiculous moments, this might be the most ridiculous.

“I’ll be down in a second.” Jack said, and the line went dead.

Emma tried to arrange the bubbles into a more covering pattern while she waited for him. She heard footsteps moving about urgently upstairs and then after a few more seconds she heard her own flat door opening.

“Emma?” Jack’s voice was in the hall.

“In here.” She said dismally, and waited for him to enter the bathroom and for her death from humiliation.

His face appeared round the bathroom door, an adorable grin spread across it.

“Oh you weren’t joking.” He said, pushing the door open and stepping in. Emma felt a thrill go through her. Of all the ways she’d thought she might be naked around him - this wasn’t it.

“I wish I was joking.” She said.

He knelt down beside the bath and produced a stick of butter from his pocket. She laughed. This was so stupid. Fiona was going to cry laughing.

Jack warmed up a bit of butter and began greasing Emma’s toe. Emma thought it must be the most ridiculous and erotic thing that had ever happened to her. How was she tingling all over at the same time as laughing her head off at how stupid the situation was?

Jack expertly massaged the butter into Emma’s toe and around the tap and then began to work her toe round in small circles. As he placed one hand on her calf to get a better purchase she gasped involuntarily at the shock of desire that went through her.

Her toe came sliding out of the tap without notice. Her foot hit the water and sent a spray of bubbles up. It covered both of them like confetti.

“There.” Said Jack, “You may go free.”

Emma sat in the bath. Not sure what to do. She looked at Jack, feeling exposed and terrified.

“So, so you’re not getting back together with Rebecca?” She said, surprising herself that those were the first words out of her mouth. Jack looked at her in surprise.

“No. No what gave you that idea?” He stuttered, “Emma, I’ve been trying to make it pretty clear - I like you.” Emma nodded, she couldn’t keep the smile off her face. Something about him just felt so right.

‘Be brave.’ She told herself, and the bravest version of everyone she could possibly be nodded its head and took the reins.

Emma stood up in the bath, bubbles and water sliding down over her smooth skin as she stood naked before him. She was going to be seen. He took a breath in, seemingly unable to stop himself from looking her up and down. He took a step towards her and placed one hand lightly on her bare hip. They kissed. One stood dripping in the bath, the other leaning in.
Emma reached out a hand to take the hand of his that wasn’t on her hip and had to pull away from the kiss to laugh hard when she found he was still holding the stick of butter. Jack laughed too. Then kissed her again hard and passionate; the butter falling to the floor. She threw her arms around his neck; spraying water across the bathroom and not caring. She shivered deliciously at the cold air on her wet skin. They stayed that way for a minute; locked together and then he felt the goosebumps on her skin beneath his fingers and stepped back.

He took the towel gently off the rail and wrapped it around her body. He offered her a hand to step gently out of the bath and she took it, still smiling.

“Well.” She said, suddenly shy now that the moment was over. Now was the point where she had to the rest of it. How would she know what to do? What if she messed it up? What if…

“Well indeed.” Said Jack, interrupting the thoughts that were threatening to spill over and talk her out of everything she thought she might be able to do. “We’d better go and tell Elliott the good news.”

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 35

“Are you OK, madam?” Asked the doorman, who was stood on the pavement in an immaculate coat and hat.

“Yes, yes - I’m fine. I just want to go home.” Emma smiled, wanly at him. She felt ridiculous.

“Emma!” Theo appeared at the door, clearly perplexed at her disappearing act. The footman looked from the watery-eyed woman in front of him to the man chasing her through the hotel and nodded to himself. It was not a new scene to him.

“Let me get you a cab, madam.” He took a step towards the road and lifted an arm. Emma felt like she was in some kind of period drama. She didn’t turn to Theo, but he arrived at her side and caught her elbow.

“Emma, where are you going?” He was out of breath. She turned tiredly towards him.

“I’m going home, Theo. I think it’s pretty obvious you only invited me here to make Elaine jealous - hopefully it’s worked, I’m done.” She didn’t really have the energy to shout or make a scene or be furious. She was mainly just tired and wanted to be gone so she could start forgetting the whole miserable situation. Theo was squirming looking at her.

“Ah jeez, Em, I didn’t really mean it - I did like you. It’s just…” She held up a hand to stop him.

“I really don’t care Theo.” She looked at the man in front of her - he couldn’t have known how she’d felt about him all those years in the London office. He was a careless and carefree man who had assumed she was stronger than she was. She was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt but no more of her time. “I just don’t think we should see each other any more. Good luck with Elaine.”

A taxi pulled up by the doorman who opened the door and smiled widely to Emma. “Here you are madam.” He said, and Emma decided she loathed being called ‘Madam’ and couldn’t wait to be gone. She climbed into the taxi and pulled out her phone. It wasn’t even 11pm yet…

“Where to miss?” Asked the driver, peering at her over his shoulder.

“Er, how long would it take to get to Paddington?” She asked, hastily swiping through her phone to check what time the last train was - perhaps she could get home tonight? It was a waste of the hotel money, but - that money was gone anyway so what did it matter?

“Oh… about 15 minutes? Maybe 20 if it’s packed.” Said the driver, “What time’s your train?”

The information popped up on Emma’s screen and she felt a little bubble of happiness float up like a lava lamp through her body. “Not for 32 minutes!” She squeaked, “We’ll make that?”

“No trouble at all.” The driver let off the handbrake and pulled out into the traffic. Emma waved to the friendly doorman who was smiling kindly at her. She decided they could definitely have been friends in another lifetime.

“Good night was it?” The drivers voice was amplified over the electric speakers in the cab. She smiled ironically at his question.

“Not the best - but, helpful maybe. Put a lot of things to bed.”

“Ah, one of those. Well, if you think you’re going to be sick let me know so I can pull over.” He went back to watching the traffic and Emma was grateful that he let her just sit and muse and look at the shiny lights of London. She hadn’t really thought much about being back here. She’d been so fixated on the ball that it hadn’t occurred to her that it was her first visit back to London. She didn’t miss it - in fact, she was quite surprised by how much she was yearning to be back in Bath.

The thought occurred to her that maybe she ought to leave Bath now? She’d only ever gone there chasing some harebrained, lonely idea of a crush. Now that crush was well and truly trampled to death beneath the heel of juvenile behaviour she had no real reason to stay there.

‘Ridiculous.’ She snapped at herself, ‘You have more reason to stay there than you did to move there. You have Fiona and the shop if nothing else. Without even taking into account whether or not you want to pursue things with Jack. And also, you’re happy there. That matters.”

The taxi pulled up at Paddington station and Emma paid the driver with a nice tip, grabbed her bag and dashed into the station. There was plenty of time and she nipped on to the train and grabbed a seat by a window. It wasn’t too busy - most people already had their eyes closed and a faint boozy fug wafted off the snorers. Emma probably smelt the same.

She sat down and stared at the bricks and steel of Paddington. It was a pretty station - brutal but classy with high vaulted ceiling and intricate girders. One of her favourites in London. Eventually the train began its slow acceleration to full speed and she felt delighted to be heading back to her new little world.

She felt awake in Bath. Things had been messy and complicated and a bit more dramatic than she would have liked but… but maybe that’s what had been missing in London? If there had been people in her life and things going on then maybe she wouldn’t have become so besottedly attached to Theo? She wouldn’t have been able to create a person and put it onto the body of a co-worker she barely knew? Of course Theo had felt shiny and perfect and fun… she didn’t know him.

Parts of Emma were trying to make her feel stupid - she wanted to berate herself. But a bigger part of her - a part of her that loved herself, mainly just felt incredibly sad.

‘How did I let that happen?’ She asked herself, ‘I have family and had a friend network… how did I get so small?”

The truth was she hadn’t even noticed it happening. First it was a few months of not socialising much because she was focusing on work, then it was choosing to live alone instead of in a flat share, then it was being on an awkward tube line for her friendship group… then… then she hadn’t even noticed she was lonely because it wasn’t loneliness; it was just life.

‘Maybe that’s why you’re not that angry at Theo?’ The thought popped up like a notification and she hovered on it, wondering whether to click it and explore further.

‘Whatever he is and isn’t - the thought of him got you out to Bath and changed things?’

‘Was that him or me though?’

‘Does it matter?’

‘Maybe I’d have woken up in London once he was gone too?’ She wondered, but felt like she probably wouldn’t. ‘You’d probably just have moved the crush somewhere else.’

‘Maybe that’s what Jack is?’

‘Jack? A crush?’

Jack didn’t feel like a crush though… it wasn’t easy enough to adore him. He was fun and nice but he was messy and too real. She couldn’t drift off into a daydream about him because it didn’t feel right to dreamily imagine his behaviour - he was too much a person. The question was, is that good or bad?

By the time the train rolled into Bath station at 1:30 Emma was pretty convinced it was good. Jack was opinionated and had got angry, and had a past and felt real. That had to be a good thing? That meant he would have input into her life. The more real people talked to her the less time she had to argue with herself in her mind and get confused and messy.

Jack was real. It made it infinitely more scary to want to like him, because she couldn’t control everything with him. He was going to be in it with a hand on the rudder too. But, Fiona had been unexpected and complicated and messy… and hadn’t that been exactly the friendship it had turned out she needed?

She felt oddly excited about apologising to Jack. About laying it out that she liked him but didn’t know how to move it on. She felt like she would possibly be able to stand on his doorstep and just say that. She could imagine him laughing and inviting her in for a cup of tea, possibly saying that “This is how it will start.”

‘I see you’re not finding it that hard to daydream about him.’ She laughed at herself and she walked home. That was one thing about Bath. 1:30am here meant there was not a helpful queue of taxis just waiting to ferry her home. Never mind, she’d be back in no time.

It was a peaceful walk through the quiet, dimly lit streets. Her bag was heavy on her shoulder but she shifted it frequently and was soon turning down her little street. It was an exciting curiosity to her to see Jack’s light still on.

‘Maybe I should go up now?’ Her heart picked up pace - launching itself into the bars of her rib cage.

‘Is that too forward? We didn’t even kiss after dinner, and then I brushed him off today. It might be a bit… too much?’
There were so many thoughts racing through her mind. She put her key in the lock of the front door and the automatic light flicked on in the hall.

‘I’ll put my bag down, calm down and then see how I feel.’ She told herself, and then began climbing the stairs. She turned at the top of the first flight on to her landing and walked straight into Rebecca.

“Oh, sorry!” She said, flustered.

“My fault - I wasn’t looking where I was going.” Rebecca said, smiling, “Too much wine.”

Emma’s mind was racing. What did this mean? Jack’s texts had certainly given her the impression Rebecca had long since left? A cosy night in drinking wine with your ex-wife until 2am…? There was messy and then there was this messy.

Emma unlocked her own door and decided it probably wasn’t the right time to be brave.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 34

Luckily Theo laughed and nodded.

“Yeah, it’s ridiculous but it’s kind of fun to get dressed up and let loose, don’t you think? Speaking of which, you don’t have a drink?”

Emma smiled, beginning to loosen up a bit. “No, you’re right - I don’t. How careless of me. Shall we go to the bar?”

She desperately wanted to feel calm and relaxed and to say witty things to him.

‘Just pretend he’s Jack.’ Said a voice in her head that made her neck seize with surprise.

‘Woah! That’s a weird and probably inappropriate thought.’

‘I just meant because we’re kind of relaxed around him and say normal things.’

‘So you’ll be here in London pretending to be with Jack when you could have been back in Bath actually being with Jack? You’re a mad woman.’

Emma had to concede she may well be. She was so distracted by the argument raging in her mind that she looked around her and noticed she and Theo had not gone in the same direction. Emma was stood by the bar nearest to where they had been standing, but when she glanced around the room she noticed that Theo had gone back across the floor and headed to a different bar.

“Yes, madam?” Said the woman working on the bar. Emma looked at her, flustered.

“Er, sorry - I’m at the wrong bar.” She smiled apologetically and then made her way as speedily as she could while trying to look calm and collected. She arrived at Theo’s side and waited patiently for him to finish his conversation with the man next to him. He didn’t appear to have noticed her mistake with the other bar and she shook her shoulders back to relax herself.

She took the glass of Prosecco offered to her by the waitress and tried to lean casually against the bar and glance around the room so that she would look occupied when Theo noticed her again. There was barely anyone here that she recognised. Elaine was hovering at the other end of the bar but Emma would rather chew on her wine glass than go over there for conversation.

She thought she could see the back of Henry’s head in a circle of men across the room - she had liked Henry. He’d had the desk near to hers at the London office. He was… now that she came to think of it she didn’t know much more about him. He liked Green Wing and Game of Thrones - she knew that. Their chat had always stayed on very straightforward, light topics.

Theo brushed a hand across her elbow. “Ah, sorry babe - you got yourself a wine. I’d have got you that.”

“It’s ok, it was free - one of the welcome drinks.”

“Yeah, I downed four of them when I first came in.”

Emma smiled - he had the energy of a college kid, loose in grown up formal clothes in a fancy bar for the first time.

“Are the other Bath lot here?” Emma asked, she wasn’t sure whether to name check them but decided against it so that she didn’t look too keen. She didn’t need Theo to know that she had been replaying moments of that night over and over in her head since it had happened.

“Nah, no-one from Bath really comes to this. Only the senior staff people. Most of the normals think the London lot are a bit stuck up and Londony. They’re not wrong. Trouble is - London gets all the big deals and the budget stuff and they treat the other branches like they’re inferior. I definitely used to! We used to ring up Leeds and get them to do all kinds of menial crap just for a laugh.”

Emma forced a laugh. It didn’t really sound like her idea of a fun jape but she didn’t want to be rude.

“Is that backfiring now you’re out in the sticks?” She dug an elbow into his ribs playfully but mis-angled it and sloshed her Prosecco down his leg and onto his shoes. “Oh balls, I’m so sorry!” In a panic she knelt down and started rubbing at his leg and shoe with her bare hands.

“Theo - what are you doing?” She heard Elaine’s voice from above her head and stood up far too quickly, feeling her head wobble out of time with the planet. “Oh, Emily - I didn’t see you there.”

Elaine sounded out the word “Emily” holding eye contact with Theo, not Emma. Emma got the distinct impression that this was not an accident. Elaine knew her name - she definitely knew her name. Emma decided not to bother correcting her - poor Elaine had enough to deal with now that Emma had stolen her boyfriend.

“Hi Elaine, lovely to see you - are you well?” She kept a perfect picture of a smile on her face and kept her tone all tinkly and bright. She was pretending she was Fiona dealing with an awkward customer.

“I’m really well, thank you Emily.” There! A double use of the wrong name - definitely on purpose. What a bitch. “What are you doing here?”

Emma was a bit taken aback by Elaine’s bluntness. She opened her mouth but wasn’t sure what to say back. She closed her mouth again feeling stupid for having it open. Theo jumped in,

“She’s my date.” He said, and hooked an arm through Emma’s.

‘Lovely Theo.’ Thought Emma, ‘rescuing me from this mega bitch. He’s so nice.’

“Oh that’s cute.” Said Elaine, bending a long leg and revealing a knee through the long slit up her ball gown. “I didn’t know you two were that close.”

“We weren’t. In London.” Said Emma, suddenly a bit panicked that Elaine might be assuming they had been hooking up behind her back before Theo and Elaine split. She didn’t like Elaine but she didn’t want her to think that she’d been cheating. “But, we bumped into each other in Bath - where we both moved - separately - and, uh, just hit it off.”

“Hit it off really well.” Theo murmured and Emma felt the hair on the back of her neck tingle. She couldn’t help smiling and tried to cover it by turning back to the bar to swap her empty glass for a new one. She couldn’t quite believe this was all happening. Here she was - on Theo’s arm as he faced his ex and chose Emma instead. Emma decided to do the courteous thing and took a glass for Elaine too - handing it over to her. Elaine nodded graciously with tight lips and took the glass.

“Well, it’s been great to see you E.” Theo said in a low voice and then steered Emma away from the bar and closer to the other side of the room where people were beginning to loosen up and start swaying to the music. They joined a circle of people Emma vaguely recognised as having been the various sales and accounts teams. Theo did a broad wave and said “This is Emma!” Into the hubbub but didn’t give her any names so she made small talk with the woman next to her and then tried to smile along with the banter of the rest of the crowd.

As a waiter passed with a tray she grabbed two flutes off it and offered one to Theo.

“Nah, you’re alright babe - can’t be seen drinking that now the lads are here. They’d have me doing forfeits if I drank a girl’s drink.”

“Oh sorry.” Emma said, not sure what to do now she had the two glasses in her hand. The woman to her right was pregnant so she couldn’t offload it there and she didn’t want to put it on the floor in case she kicked it into the face of a passing reveller. Theo turned away and back to the conversation he was having with the man (Martin?) to his left. Emma decided to just down one of the glasses as quickly as she could so she didn’t look like such a lemon with two. The bubbles fizzed in her nose and it tasted delicious as it made it’s way down her throat and settled. She dearly wished she’d grabbed some dinner on the way here as she was starting to really feel the light headedness that Prosecco brings on.

She sipped at the remaining glass and tried to laugh in the right places but the conversation was mostly going over her head. She didn’t want to disturb Theo as he was seemingly having a brilliant catch up with the Possible Martin. Emma decided to go to the toilet. Her bladder was already chirping at her, and she felt like freshening up and resetting her inner balance was not a terrible idea.

She slipped off to the toilets and cooled down, tried to think of some things she could mention to her ex-colleagues. It was hard - she didn’t really want to mention what she did for a living in case there were difficult questions about why she’d given up her London life to go to Bath and do that. She didn’t want to answer personal questions because all her brain could think to say back was “That really depends how it goes tonight!” Her thoughts swam back through the Prosecco to Jack and she thought about him in his flat with Rebecca. Elliott would be curled up at his feet. Would Elliott be delighted that mum and dad were back together, or cross that someone was in Emma’s place?

‘Well, not your place.’ Her brain rebuked, ‘Your place is here - because you have chosen to be here.’

She couldn’t help herself hating the image of Jack and Rebecca and she pulled out her phone.

“Hope you’re having fun with Rebecca - sorry again that I had to postpone and I’m even sorrier for the short notice”

Her tipsy thumbs accidentally hit send before she had finished and she agonised at the message. It seemed short and snappy? But if she added another message did she seem desperate?

“You’re playing with fire here Emma. Do you want him or not? He likes you. Either let him move on or don’t be fooling around with someone else.”

Emma loathed herself. The alcohol was definitely exacerbating the feeling, but right there and then in that toilet she was truly angry with herself.

‘You’re gross. Here in London hoping Theo will whisk you back to his hotel room and make you a princess but also hoping that the nice man upstairs stays fancying you in case you need some DIY doing? You don’t deserve either of them.’

She stared at herself in the mirror - feeling panic rising up the skin of her neck.

‘Calm down.’ She tried, ‘Yes, this is a bit of an experimental dating season for you - but, you haven’t married either of them, you’ve barely been on a date and a half. You do need to choose, but, also - don’t be so hard on yourself. Go and have fun.’

She took a deep breath, put her phone back in her bra and headed back out to the party. She grabbed another drink on the way back to the circle and arrived back to find Elaine had joined the group and was now chatting to Theo. It looked heated and it ended abruptly when Emma took her place. Theo gleefully held her hand and planted a kiss on her cheek.

“There you are beautiful.” He said, charmingly, “I was looking for you.”

‘You weren’t - you were talking to Elaine.’ Emma thought sulkily but she squashed it down. Elaine flounced away and Theo smiled at Emma.

“Sorry about her - she’s a bit mardy.” He said, dropping Emma’s hand and taking a pint offered to him by a friend. “These are Keith and Joe - do you remember them?”

Emma didn’t but she smiled and said hi. The three men quickly got into a conversation about football that Emma didn’t know enough about to join in with and she again found herself dumbly stood smiling along and nodding while her gaze was dragged about the room. Theo checked his phone a number of times, replying to messages and Emma tried to ignore it but was painfully aware that she could see Elaine across the room also doing the same thing?

‘Are they messaging each other?’ She worried. She tried to push it away.

‘If they wanted to be together they could just be together. He asked you here - he wants to be with you.’

Emma wanted to try and steer the conversation round to something she could be a bit more active in but she couldn’t think of a subject. She was worried if she started that sentence it was just going to be the words “How about politics, eh?” that came out of her mouth.

Her feet were starting to ache in her heels.

“Do you want to get some air?” She said to Theo, he patted her arm without looking round.

“Nah, I’m good here, babe, but you go if you want and I’ll catch up with you later?”

Emma felt dismissed. Now if she stayed she would feel like a hanger on, but if she went out onto the balcony alone who would she talk to? She felt like she had to go and so made her way.

It was cooler on the balcony - the sound of traffic and the smell of cigarettes and exhaust hit her at once. With an inward groan she noticed Elaine standing by the edge. Emma tucked herself away from where Elaine was stood chatting to another woman from accounting. Emma couldn’t help herself from eavesdropping.

“I don’t know what he’s doing. He said he was desperate to see me and now he’s all over that woman?”

Emma’s blood ran cold. Was Elaine talking about Theo? She had to be surely. Emma felt her phone buzz and she pulled it out to see another text message from Jack.

“No problem - I had a lovely time with Rebecca. It would have been nice to be with you but, you can’t win them all. See you soon x”

Emma glared at the text message - cursing herself for not being in Bath, with Jack - laughing and feeling carefree. Instead she was here - tying herself in knots trying to be… trying to be this. Trying to be this shiny creature she’d always thought there was no chance of being. Elaine’s voice floated over again.

“I dunno. She used to work here but I don’t know anyone that knew her - she was just one of the little people. I don’t know what he’s playing at but this is so typically him.”

Emma took the words “one of the little people” straight in the stomach and suddenly felt like she was alone in a silent tunnel. She felt winded. Without even sobbing two tears were rolling down her cheeks. She wiped them away and took another wine from a tray.

This was hell.

“Hey, are you ok?” Theo was at her side, looking at her keenly.

“Er, yeah - I’m fine. Dust in my eye.” Emma lied.

“Let’s get you back inside then. Where I can look after you.” Theo put an arm across her back and steered her into the building. He was very caring.

‘Perhaps Elaine just doesn’t know him very well? They did break up after all? Maybe this is why he dumped her? Because she’s suspicious and manipulative and can’t let go? Why would he ask me out and sleep with me and ask me to come here if he didn’t like me?’

The wine was really letting Emma follow the thoughts she wanted to be true and she cuddled them onto the dance floor as Theo set her glass down and pulled her into dancing with him.

“Come on babe, let’s have a boogie!” He said, as the chords of a song Emma vaguely recognised came on. The dancing was in full swing now and as the drums and guitar got going Emma let herself enjoy dancing with Theo. They danced close and it was hot and sweaty and sexy. Emma pushed all thoughts of Elaine out of her head.

Smooth! They reached the chorus and Emma realised what she was dancing to - she sang along, not caring whether it was in the right key or tone. She was determined to enjoy herself. She threw caution to the wind and leaned in and kissed Theo passionately on the lips. He kissed her back and then pulled away grinning.

“Cheeky!” He said, they carried on dancing but Emma noticed that Theo was being a bit more forceful with his steps and moves. Slowly steering them out from the middle of the dancing pack to the edges. She wanted to be in the middle of the revel and so tried to resist their slow movement and stay where they were but his smiling and strength made it hard to argue with. When they were out on the perimeters of the floor he slid both arms around her waist and kissed her again - long and passionate, bending her slightly backwards as if it was a film. Emma felt his tongue poking rigidly around her mouth. It wasn’t the best kiss ever but they were drunk. She opened her eyes briefly to keep her balance as he swung her backwards further and was surprised to see that his eyes were also wide open. She broke away from the kiss and turned to see Elaine staring at them.

She felt like she sobered up right there, then and in that look. He had moved them deliberately to the edge so that he could kiss her in full frame view of Elaine. She felt small, stupid, used, and finished with him. She took a step back, wobbling on her heel.

“You ok babe?” Theo asked, and couldn’t resist peering past her to check Elaine’s reaction.

“I am. I’m going. Have a good night.” She stalked off, head held as high as she could - determined not to let more tears fall without leaving the hotel.