Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 32 & 33

As Emma looked at her phone to check in on Fiona she saw that there was a text message waiting for her on the lock screen. It was from Theo and she blinked at it drunkenly.

“Hey gorgeous, how you doing? Great to catch up with you last week. Sorry I’ve not been around this week - end of the month targets took it out of me. Would have been good to grab another nightcap with you ;) I guess I’ll see you Saturday though, I assume you’re going to the Ball? xoxo”

Emma felt her face breaking up into an enormous grin - could tonight get any better? He had just been busy with work - of course! Duh! The sales guys always got really stroppy around then. She squashed down a memory of Theo dropping a huge pile of folders onto her keyboard as she typed. He’d been stressed and busy and hadn’t noticed her hands. Probably.

This totally explained it!

The ball though… she had her work cut out for her hastily squashing down more memories of herself wondering if she ought to just turn up and meet him? But now here she was just a few weeks later with an actual invite from him.

‘Well, not an invite. An assumption you’ll be there because people often go when they’ve worked there for a long time.’

‘That’s pretty much the same as an invite.’

‘Emma it isn’t - please sober up before you reply.’

But her thumbs were clearly drunker than the rest of her because she was hastily tapping out a reply. Continually deleting and retyping to correct her spelling mistakes.

‘Emmmmmmaaaaaa!’ A tinny voice was shrieking at her but she ignored it and hit send.

‘I have to go.’ She told herself, the little inner head version of herself snootily sticking a nose in the air stubbornly, ‘He said, he assumes I’ll be there… if I now don’t go then it’ll be really obvious I never particularly had any friends there.’

‘Or, it’ll be really obvious you’ve moved away, got a new job and don’t want to go to a ball with a load of old work colleagues in a city you no longer live in?’

‘But I do want to go! And I can go, and he wants me to go - so why wouldn’t I go?’

‘But you just had such a lovely evening with Jack…’

Jack! The realisation that she was supposed to be having dinner with Jack on Saturday sprung at her from a dusty corner of her mind.

‘Damn. I’m going to have to cancel.’ She thought bleakly.

‘That’s a pretty big step - cancelling your date with him. That’s going to be the end of things with him.’ She told herself, sternly.

‘Well, maybe not - I mean we did just go out for dinner tonight? Maybe I could ask him if that could count as our date for this week and then we could do another dinner another time?’

‘You’ll have to tell him you’re going out with someone else? You know how he feels about dishonesty. You know how you feel about dishonesty.’

‘Well… I’m not technically going out with someone else. I’m just going to my old work ball.’ Emma wriggled under her own inquisition.

‘I thought you just said he had invited you?’

‘Well, invited me to go - legitimised me being there, but not like as a date date. Just a - oh hey we’ll both be there.’

‘So, it’s not a date when you tell Jack about it but you will be trying to make it a date once you get there?’

Emma’s phone buzzed in her hand. Theo had replied already!

“Can’t wait to see what you wear. xoxo”

Was all it said. Emma immediately swiped all chaotic thoughts of Jack and dates and dinners away as she plunged into a desperate fear about what she was going to wear. Her wardrobe, weirdly, wasn’t packed to the brim with spare emergency ball gowns.

‘I’ll have to go to a shop on my lunchbreak tomorrow.’ She decided. A plan was in place. But how to tell Jack? Emma wondered about just firing off a text message right now… but that felt a bit weird and shady? Would Jack wonder what could have happened between now and saying goodnight to have made her not want to go to dinner? Would he assume she’d had a terrible time. No, she would speak to him tomorrow. That conveniently gave her more time to have a think of a good way to phrase her excuse too.

‘Not excuse. Reason.’ She told herself, and went to bed.

Emma’s eyes pinged open on the dot of her alarm the next morning. The sort of wake up where you’re so awake so quickly you barely believe you’ve been asleep. She washed, dressed and bounded down to the shop full of vigour and energy.

She knocked on the door, and checked her phone as she waited for Fiona to appear from the staff room and let her in. There were no more messages from Theo and she had managed to refrain from replying to his last message. That felt extremely restrained, even if she had been asleep for 8 out of the 11 hours since she’d received it. Fiona was taking her time to appear so Emma knocked again  - louder this time and scanned her eyes across the high street to see which shops were nearby that she could nip to and pick up a dress on her lunch break. There were quite a few - this would be easy.

Still no sign of Fiona.

‘Perhaps she’s not here yet?’ Emma thought, though that was odd - Fiona technically started a good hour before Emma, who was only employed for the hours the shop was open. Emma found her recent calls list and listened to the ringing. Fiona answered fairly quickly.


“Fiona, are you ok? I’m outside.”

“I’m at home.” Fiona said simply, and Emma’s heart picked up pace at the misery in Fiona’s voice.

“Oh… still feeling… down?” She asked, knowing that down didn’t really even begin to cover it but not knowing what else to say.

“I’m not coming in. I’m having a sick day.” Emma baulked.

“Oh. Well, I don’t have keys… I can’t open the shop.”

“No, I know - I’m sorry. I suppose you’ll have to have the day off too. I’m sorry Emma.”

“Right. You could have told me before I got down here.” Emma knew it wasn’t right to make it about her but this pity party from Fiona was a bit much.

“I know, I’m sorry. I really thought I’d be at work but I’m just still sat here on the edge of the bed.” Fiona sounded flat and distant - monotone.

“Shall I come over?” Emma tried again.

“No, I just need a few days to wallow. I think that’s ok, do you? I’ll have to open the shop tomorrow. I can’t miss a Saturday.”

Emma was stumped over what to do… she didn’t feel like Fiona was in a place where she could be forceful. Fiona was also her boss… if she chose not to open the shop then that was up to her? Not much Emma could do - besides, it did give her more time to go and look for a dress…? A nagging feeling was loosening from its curled up sleeping position at the nape of her neck.

“Fi… I don’t quite know how to ask this, but… you’re not with Norman are you?” There was silence on the other end of the line.

“Are you joking?” Fiona finally uttered and Emma felt for sure she had said the wrong thing.

“Well, I know it’s not likely… but, I just wanted to check…?”

“Check I wasn’t skiving off to give my awful ex-boyfriend a THIRD chance to prove himself? How little do you think of me?” Emma swallowed. Fiona was angry - but at least she didn’t sound so dull and numbed.

“Ok.” Emma said briskly, “Well, be mad at me for asking if you want to but I needed to ask so there. Fine, if you’re not coming in to work then I’ll find something else to do. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Satisfied that Fiona was in no danger of doing harm to herself Emma hung up the call and held her head high to cross the road and start dress shopping. As she browsed she ruminated on how to postpone her dinner with Jack. Postponement was definitely the way to phrase it, and then if things went really well with Theo at the ball the postponement would just become indefinite.

She knew she was playing with fire and she didn’t like the way it felt. Jack was so nice, and friendly and kind and she was growing a very stable, delicious emotion towards him. But there was something she couldn’t quite give up about the flashiness of Theo. He was shiny. That’s what he was. He radiated charisma and easy going charm - he was something special and the idea that someone so effortlessly special was interested in her was catnip to Emma. She felt like she would question herself forever if she didn’t go.

With a beautiful emerald dress purchased and an icy coffee in the other hand Emma headed home to paint her nails and book a train for the next day. Of course they were going to be ludicrously expensive but so what? It’s not like she was a big spender most of the time and this was a special occasion. The only hotel she could afford was a little further out than she would have liked by quite some way, but she decided to worry about that tomorrow. Nothing could spoil her own glowing mood.

While it was still Friday, Emma found it relatively easy to excuse herself for not having spoken to Jack yet. She got round to the flat and listened for sounds of him moving about upstairs. She played out the scene of hearing him come home, and then popping upstairs to chat with him and ask if they could postpone their dinner due to a last minute invite from an old colleague to attend the Ball. That sounded reasonable; none of it was a lie and she felt like she could keep her cheeks to a warm rather than furious red while she said it.

She heard Jack come home and decided to give him an hour at home to settle down before she popped up. Then it felt like it dinner time and so probably inappropriate to go up and bother him while he cooked. Then she painted her nails and packed (in that order, meaning she had to repaint her nails afterwards) by which time it was far too late to go up.

‘It’s 9:15pm’ was one voice’s deadpan rebuke, but she ignored it.

‘Times are different in the country - people go to bed earlier.’

She rolled her eyes at herself, realising that if she didn’t settle down and stop this juggling soon she was going to fully develop a separate personality within herself.

‘Times might be slightly different in the country, but:
  1. Bath is a city
  2. You can hear that Jack is still awake.’

But every time she realised she could go upstairs and talk to Jack, something popped into her mind to make her distract herself and not go.

‘If you don’t want to cancel on him then don’t cancel. Don’t go to the ball.’

She had to laugh internally at the melodrama of the words ‘Don’t go to the ball.’ - it felt faintly ridiculous. How had things come to this? She really wanted to go to the ball and be brilliant - but equally, she wanted to be the sort of person that Jack respected and she wasn’t sure that both of them were possible.

‘Why does Jack’s opinion matter to me so much?’ She asked herself, reapplying nail polish to her little finger for the third time.

‘Because he’s nice and kind.’

‘He’s also a cheat who got really angry with me over something that wasn’t my fault.’

‘Yes but…’ she didn’t really have an answer for that and so mulled on it. Why did he seem so reasonable and placid despite the flaws he had?

‘Well, he apologised… maybe it’s because he makes mistakes but then apologises for them? That shows growth. He’s not a two-dimensional character or a knight in shining armour. He’s a person.’

She let that sit for a bit to see if it felt true and there was a grain of rightness to it. She found there was. Somewhere in a box of truthful things in her brain there was a voice trying to tell her something and she focused in on it trying to distil it down.

Jack is messy.’ Came the sentence and she felt her stomach tighten at the realisation it was true. ‘Jack has a past, a history - and not a history where he is perfect. He is older than you and got angry with you and he has strong reactions to things. Theo isn’t. Theo is uncomplicated and easy-going. He’s fun and funny and doesn’t care about the big complex things - he just wants to have fun and make you smile.’

Her imaginings of being with Theo were all so carefree. That was one thing she knew she couldn’t manufacture in her daydreams of Jack. Jack was solid and complex and a very real person… whereas Theo. Even having had him in her arms, in a bed, in her body - he still felt ethereal. He still felt like a character that she could float along with and not have any messy bits.

When Emma awoke Saturday morning there was no escaping the fact that today was the day Jack would find out she needed to cancel their dinner. The excitement of the ball superseded everything though and she showered, double-checked everything was in her bag and headed off to the shop. Her train was booked for the end of the shift and, all going well, she would sweep into the party at around 9pm looking fabulous and not being awkwardly early for once.

She heard Jack move about upstairs and decided to text him on her way to the shop. It was a beautifully sunny day and she managed to convince herself that it was too pretty to be staring at a phone trying to draft. She would message him when she got to the shop. However, she arrived at the shop only to remember the existence of Fiona and wonder how things were going to be with them both back at the shop.

Fiona unlocked the door and let her in. Emma thought maybe she looked a little sheepish but decided not to press her on her absence from their night out or the shop the day before.

“I have a dilemma.” Emma declared as she reappeared on the sales floor from the staff room. She proceeded to explain to Fiona what had happened with Theo’s texts and her hasty decision to attend the London Ball. Fiona stood listening with her eyes wide.

“So what are you going to say to Jack?” She asked, after Emma had finished.

“I don’t know. That’s my dilemma. What should I say?”

They threw ideas back and forward all morning, and it made Emma feel better that she still had not mentioned anything to Jack at all. She was still deciding what to say - that was ok wasn’t it?

‘No it isn’t.’ Said a bored voice in her head that was sick of telling her things she patently already knew.

Fiona and Emma came to the conclusion that really it needed to be a phone call not a text message - that was the best way to salvage the best friendship with Jack. But come Emma’s lunchbreak she found she just wasn’t picking the phone up to do it. It wasn’t a fear thing, it wasn’t an “I haven’t thought of an excuse thing”, it was quite simply that her body was not obeying her instructions to get it over and done with.

‘I’ll find five minutes to sneak down to the staff room in the afternoon.’ She straight up lied to herself. Of course, this didn’t happen as the shop was packed all day and Fiona and Emma were busy ringing up baubles and ornaments for customer after customer.

Suddenly it was time to close up and with an odd free-falling feeling, Emma realised that the next part of her day was heading off to London. She would call Jack from the train. She gave Fiona a hug goodbye and headed to the station where she settled herself into a window seat and finally came face to face with her phone. It was nearly 7pm… time to call.

She leaned back into the seat, already feeling her cheeks warming and a sweat prickling on her neck and back. As she moved to open her contacts and start the call her phone buzzed with an incoming call from Jack.

“No…” she groaned out loud, “No.” But took a deep breath and answered the call.

“Hi!” She tried to sound bright but it there was a false note to it.

“Hey, Emma… how are you? I realised I didn’t give you an address for the restaurant tonight.”

Emma hesitated, “Yeah, listen Jack -“

“Uh oh,” he said, cutting her off, “This doesn’t sound good. Are you ok?”

She smiled at his perceptiveness, “Yeah, yeah - I’m fine. I just - look, sorry - I should have called earlier but can we postpone tonight? I got a last minute invite to a big thing at the company I used to work at and I’m actually on a train to London right now. I’m so sorry.”

She could hear Jack breathing and tried to picture him looking at Elliott and reshuffling his plans for a night in alone with the dog.

“No problem.” He said crisply, “That’s fine. Actually Rebecca wanted to see me tonight anyway and I brushed her off as we had plans but maybe I’ll give her a text and see if she still needs to talk to me.”

Emma bristled. This felt like unnecessary information. Was he trying to make her jealous? It was working.

“Yeah, ok. Cool. Well, have fun with her. We can maybe do something later in the week?” She said, matching his more distant tone.

“Yeah, maybe.” He said. She could feel a veil of formality over both of them.

“Ok then. Well, have a nice evening, bye.”

“Have fun at your work thing.” He said, and she hung up her phone. Mind spinning.

The entire train journey to London she seethed and rattled around her brain arguing.

‘If you wanted him to see you tonight then you should have been free to see him tonight instead of racing off to London at the first sniff of Theo.’

‘I didn’t know he was going to dangle his perfect ex in my face if I cancelled?’

‘It shouldn’t have mattered!’

God all of this crap with Jack was so confusing. She felt wound up and angry and ordered several mini bottles of wine from the trolley on the train. The train was, of course, delayed and by the time they pulled into London she felt wilted and hot and feeling more and more like she’d made a terrible mistake coming to the party.

There was no time to go and put her bag at the hotel so she just headed straight to the ball and hoped that nothing ridiculous had happened to make bag checks go out of fashion. The hotel was incredibly beautiful - lit gently and romantically with a big sweeping entranceway and plush carpets inside. She felt very small.

She dashed inside, trying not to attract any attention and made straight for the bathrooms to put on her dress. She’d wanted to do it on the train but the smell of the toilets had put her off. She did a wriggling act to get her hips down into the gown and then twisted and wrenched to get the zip up and the labels on. A quick adjustment of hair and make up and she felt good to go.

She checked her bag at the door, took a small token and tucked it into her bra for want of anywhere else to keep it. She looked around the wood and the lights of the hotel and felt in a dream state - like she’d sleep walked here and it had all gone so fast. Who on earth was she going to talk to? What was she doing here? What if no one remembered her?

‘Too late now.’ She said to herself and took a step into the crowded main room. Instantly her eyes fell on Theo as she spotted him laughing and joking with a large crowd of the sales team. She felt her phone buzz in her bra and turned away from people to pull it out and look at the message.

“Rebecca was free so don’t worry about me being on my own tonight - I hope you have a great time and look forward to maybe catching up this week.”

Why had he sent her that? He was trying to make her jealous! She hadn’t been thinking at all about Jack and how he was going to spend his evening - but she was now. This is why she preferred Theo - he didn’t play games, he wasn’t complicated, he didn’t have baggage. He was just perfect. He was also heading over to her she noticed, suddenly feeling rooted to the floor in a spotlight. She noticed with glee that as he strode across the floor towards her, Elaine’s eyes followed him.

“You look amazing.” He said, arriving at her side. She swallowed and felt some saliva go down the wrong pipe - burning as it settled.

“This place is fancy.” She said, and then wished she were dead as she realised what a ridiculous yokel that made her sound like.


Which song do Emma and Theo dance to?

  1. Moves Like Jagger - they have a load of fun and she goes to kiss him but he says he’s back with Elaine and has been for months
  2. Mr Brightside - they get smashed together and sleep together and then he reveals he wanted Elaine but she said no
  3. Someone You Love - they have a really romantic evening and then Elaine intervenes after that dance and Theo gets with Elaine
  4. Smooth - She notices Theo being all over Elaine and bails on the party

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