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.

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