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.

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