Monday 31 October 2011

Part Three: Honeysuckle

    "Shouldn't you be preparing your presentation for that job interview?"
    "I am!"  I quickly defend, trying my best to cover the laptop screen with my hand as Mikey walks past and sits down on the sofa next to me.
    "You're on Facebook!"
    "Recent studies have shown that Facebook happens to be incredibly informative!"
    "Yes.  About people. Not about marketing,"
    "The presentation is almost done anyway.  I'm taking a break from it,"
    Mikey leans over to get a better look at the screen. I instinctively go to hide the screen again, but he's too quick.  So instead, I shut my eyes with a grimace and wait for him to shout at me.
    "ELLA!" I told you he would.  "Are you Facebook stalking Alex?"
    OK, so I've been found out.  But what's the big deal anyway?  Everyone does it nowadays!  Facebook is the one-stop-shop for checking someone out before you date them, and if you have the potential to do it, why not???
    Yes, it took a while to find the right Alex.  Yes, I've looked through all his photos.  Yes, I've checked out every girl he's photographed with to see if they're prettier than me.  And yes, I've read every single word on his profile over and over again, despite the fact that all I can see are his name, interests and activities.  His favourite TV show is Top Gear.  I'm going to have to change that!
    "I'm not Facebook stalking him!"  I lie.  "I'm simply reminding myself of what he looks like before I see him tonight,"
    "And what about your presentation?  Ella, this is serious!  You have the opportunity to get your dream job.  This interview is incredibly important-"  He's about to go on rambling but my phone has interrupted him.  "And who's that?"
    Honestly, he's just like my mother!
    "It's probably Alex!" I go over to my phone and smile at the text, which is strange because all it says is 'How's your day going?'
    "I can't let you see him tonight," Mikey rises from the sofa, crosses his arms and starts tapping his foot.  "He's clearly too much of a distraction and you have a very important interview tomorrow,"
    I feel like a young teenager all over again - like I'm wearing glittery lipgloss I got free in Bliss magazine and standing at the bottom of the stairs whilst my parents tell me I can't go to the party. 
    "That's highly unfair!" I snap.  "You can't tell me what to do!"
    "Fine!  You can only go if you finish that presentation and rehearse it once with me,"
    "Fine!" I respond through gritted teeth.  There's no point arguing otherwise he'll wrestle me to the floor until I've given in.  He's done it in the middle of Topshop to stop me from buying a dress two sizes too big - I'm pretty sure he'll do it in his own home.

I never thought I'd say this but the presentation is all done and rehearsed.  I'm still at Mikey's house getting ready, and for some strange, unknown reason I'm almost done.  I started getting ready 15 minutes ago.  Either I've abruptly become naturally beautiful, or I've stopped caring about my appearance. 
    I look in the mirror one last time.  For 15 minutes worth of a make over, I actually look rather good.  Impressed with myself, I reach for the perfume and spritz liberally all over my neck and wrists.
    And then I smell it.
    Oh bugger!  I've sprayed myself with Mikey's aftershave!  Quick, where's the Febreeze?!

After a small war in the bathroom trying to de-smell myself, I enter the living area where Mikey is watching TV.
    "You look amazing!"  he says.  "Loving the 'Tickle Me Pink' colour of your top.  Much better than the black,"
    I look down at the satin, pink top and smooth out a couple of creases before I argue back.
    "This isn't Tickle Me Pink.  This is Honeysuckle.  Tickle Me Pink is a Crayola colour,"
    "And how would you know?"
    "Oh, I know my crayons, Mikey.  I know my crayons,"  and with that, I leave.

    "Wow!  You're actually on time," is how Alex greets me just before he buzzes me in through the intercom.  In a strange way I'm quite flattered that I've already exceeded his expectations without even properly starting our first date.  Even if it is about punctuality.
    The door to his flat is already open when I reach his floor, so cautiously I walk in, knocking once.
    He emerges in full view with a tea towel, and looks like he's been wrestling with a bear.  "I'll be two minutes.  Make yourself at home," and he disappears again.
    So I take the opportunity to snoop.  His flat is 'boy' - that's the only word to describe it.  He has all the furniture he needs to have with some ad-hoc ornaments displayed haphazardly around.  Clearly gifts from people and he's never known what to do with them.  His bookshelf contains only hardbacks; an array of non-fictions that are meant for perusing and not reading, and the second shelf displays one wooden photo frame, with a picture of him and his family on his graduation day.  I take it from the shelf and wipe off the thin layer of dust to get a better look at his face.  It was only taken a year ago but to me he immediately looks younger - as if these last few months of being a doctor and saving lives have been very difficult on him.  
    That was taken when I graduated from High School in the States," he says.
    Oh.  I guess he looks younger because he was photographed about 9 years ago.  Maybe being a doctor isn't as hard as I thought it was three seconds ago.
    "You all look really happy," I smile at the photograph before I place it back on the shelf.
    "Yeah, it was a proud moment for them.  I had only just found out I'd been accepted to college over here,"
    "University," I correct him without even thinking and immediately want to slap myself.
    "You're pedantic," he smiles.
    "I'm correct,"
    We stare at each other from across the room with guilty smiles.  I half expect him to charge towards me, take me into his arms and kiss me.
    But he doesn't.
    Wishful thinking,  I guess.
    "I tried to make you dinner but I burnt it.  You won't believe me now but I'm usually a very good cook.  Would you like some wine?"  he walks over to the coffee table and pours red wine into two glasses without waiting for my response.
    "Actually, I'd prefer some beer," I tell him as he hands over the glass.
    "You'll drink it and you'll like it," he starts walking towards the double doors that lead out into the balcony.  Once he opens the door, he turns around, "You're supposed to follow me.  It's so much less romantic if I'm out there admiring the evening view, and you're in here looking through my photos,"
    "It was only one photo!  You don't have any others,"
    "You argue about everything.  Just get out here,"
    I do as I'm told and look out at the familiar view of my hometown.  His flat is perfectly placed to overlook every important aspect of the town centre.  You can see goings-on in the Sainsbury's car park to the left.  You can overhear conversations happening down below, and you can even see into other peoples' windows.  If I lived in this flat, the balcony would be where I'd spend most of my time.  Either the balcony or the lift, because that too was pretty impressive.  Each button you pressed had a different jingle.
    "Are you cold?" he asks.
    "Nope, it's warm tonight.  It's been very hot weather for April, don't you think?"
    He chortles before he sips his wine.  "We're not going to stand here and talk about weather,"
    "What?  Why not?"
    "It's too British.  Too formal,"
    "Well, I am British.  And it's not too formal.  Everybody does it,"
    "Yes, but not us,"
    If I couldn't see his faint smile as he looks ahead, I'd think he was having a go at me.  But I can tell he's only playing.  It's strange, but this feels nothing like a first date.  Unlike the usual nerves that overpower any other emotion when you first go out with someone, tonight I'm completely calm and collected.  Absolutely relaxed.
    And this worries me.
    "Are you nervous?" I ask him.  "I mean, did you feel nervous about seeing me?"  I know.  It's the absolute wrong question to ask on a first date.  It's right up there with 'So, are we going on a second date?' and 'Do you want to meet my cat?'  But I don't feel wrong for asking it.
    "No," he responds straight away.  "You being here feels normal,"
    Without even realising, I'm smiling and edging closer.
    "Although your perfume is putting me off a little.  I'm sure I used to have something that smelt similar.  Smells masculine,"
    "Well, it's because I was with another man before I came to see you,"  OK, I clearly need to add that to my list of things not to say on a first date, because his face has gone completely serious.
    "I'm obviously joking.  I'm staying with my friend, Mikey, who by the way is incredibly gay, and I accidentally sprayed myself with his aftershave instead of mine.  But usually I smell absolutely divine,"
    He starts to laugh.  "Oh, divine?  Is that so?"
    "Yeah!" I say as if it's absolute gospel truth.  I've moved even closer now.  Our arms are touching and I know that if I turn my head to look at him, he'd kiss me.
    He takes the glass of wine off my hand, and along with his, puts them both down on the round, steel table.  His hands cup my face before moving down to my neck, and then taking my hands into his.  It's a teasing couple of seconds which feel like a couple of hours.  But then his lips touch mine, and I have no idea what to think.  Because nothing has ever felt like this before.
    He pulls his lips away and rests his forehead on mine before kissing me one last time.
    "Do you think we're better off as friends?"  I realise I'm saying.  I didn't even know my mouth had a mind of it's own because I certainly didn't order it to say this.  I wait in agony at his response, certain that I've ruined everything.
    "You know what," he begins.  I take in a deep breath to prepare for the disappointed look.  "I think we get on too well to be anything else.  Maybe we should hang out and see how things go,"
    He kisses me on the cheek and steps back into the flat, "I'll order a pizza.  I've recorded 24 if you want to stay and watch it,"
    "Yeah, that would be really good," I respond as he leaves me out in the warm darkness.
    I smile as I watch on.
    This is good.
    This is all really good.

Monday 29 August 2011

King Leer

(Continuation of Anthony and Chloe-patra)

I must sort out my life.  As of today I shall be a completely different person with real goals and actual aspirations, because somehow I don't think starring in a Haribo TV advert will ever work out for me. 
    And this whole clumsy thing needs to stop.  I suppose it was quite cute when I was 17, but I'm 19 now.  People need to start taking me seriously.  I can't keep tripping up in the middle of the store, take down a whole clothes rail with me and then blame it on an earthquake.  It's getting embarrassing and frankly, no one believes me.
    Oh, and of course there's Anthony.  Well that obsession obviously needs to end, because
    a) I ruined the entire thing and he doesn't want me anymore, and
    2) he's with Chloe now who's very lovely and beautiful, and from my last encounter with her a little unhinged, so Anthony probably has enough on his plate.
    I put my pen down when I finish writing the list and rise from the bed, walking over to the mirror in the en suite.
    "Urgh, why can't I stop looking rough?" I say to myself as I scan my reflection.  My eyes have horrid dark circles underneath, and my skin is so pale at the moment it's practically transluscent.  I blame Mel for this.  She's put my name down on the work rota for every day this week and despite my protests, I haven't been able to get away from it.
    "But Clara's only just got back to work.  She's been very ill and can't cope on her own," was Mel's excuse.
    Oh please!!  I saw Clara doing shots at Purple Mustard last weekend.  She was so out of it a guy asked for her number and she took her top off.
    But what can you do.  And let's face it, it's not like I'll be revising anyway.  I opened up my Maths for Economics textbook, saw the word 'Derivatives' and shut it immediately.  I'm hoping in this instance ignorance really is bliss.

    "You look nice," Jo wolf whistles as I emerge in the kitchen.  She's sitting cross legged on the floor with a Tort Law book opened up in front of her.  I don't think she's doing much reading though because the Hollyoaks omnibus has started.  Which instantly makes me feel better about the fact that exams are looming ever so closer and I've barely read anything.  Except for this month's edition of Marie Claire.  Which doesn't count.
    "Your face looks nice.  That dress doesn't," she looks at my ancient work dress and throws me her best pity face.
    I choose to ignore her latter comment.
    "Well, I'm glad you've noticed," I say, pouting my lips to show that I'm wearing Syrup by Mac.  "It's the new me,"
    "The new you?  I'm very impressed," she says, rising from the floor and making her way to the sofa.  "And what does the 'new you' include?"
    "A few things, but to summarise, it includes expensive perfume and a new man,"
    "I'm liking the new you already.  Especially because your perfume has neutralised the stench of Rex's stir-fry,"
    I don't think that's a compliment, but I'm going to take it as one anyway.
    "I'm off to work," I say walking out of the kitchen.
    "But it's midday!"
    "Half day,"
    "Aren't you lucky!  Was Mel having a generous moment?"
    "No, I managed to convince her that we've already talked about me having a half day today, but she'd just forgotten,"
    "Clever girl,"
    "All part of the new me.  See you later," I say at the other end of the corridor.

    "You want to buy new uniform?"  Mel is looking at me like I've just shot her favourite puppy and then asked to borrow some sugar.
    "Yes.  I've had this same dress for a few months now.  We don't even have it on the shop floor anymore,"  but Mel's just tapping her foot with her arms crossed.
    This is just typical!  What's the point of working in a trendy, high-end High Street store when you're not allowed to wear any of the clothes?  I'm about to recite an entire monologue of how it says in our contract that we should buy new uniform with our 75% off as soon as the current one leaves the shop floor, but to my surprise Mel says, "OK, fine.  Go and pick something," and then walks away
    I'm left there in absolute awe, so much so, that I'm about to question it.  But the new me steps in before the old me spoils it.  And I go shopping at work.

    "Well, I suppose you look OK," Mel sticks her nose up at me after she's invited herself inside the fitting room.  She's lucky she stepped in 3 seconds after I stopped adusting my tights, otherwise I'd never have been able to look her in the eyes again.
    I turn back to the mirror after she's pulled the heavy fitting room door behind her.  She's wrong because I look more than just 'OK'.  I look fabulous!  The dress is a deep raspberry which really brings out my brown eyes, and my recently dyed medium brown hair, hangs perfectly against the sheer, short sleeves.  I'm swishing my dress in the mirror when I hear a voice from the other side of the door.
    "Is Ella working today?"  It's Anthony's voice.
    "Yes, she's here but she's very busy at the moment," Clara replies in her usual nonchalant style.
    There's a pause before Anthony answers.  "Just tell her I came by to see her, and I'll try to pop in later,"
    I undress as quickly as I can and put back the normal work dress in hope to catch him before he disappears out into the High Street, but as I emerge from the fitting rooms, I'm too late.  It's only Clara on the shop floor.  Her head is tilted to one side as she stares out of the windows.  Even with her back to me I can tell her face looks miserable. 
   "Did I hear someone ask for me?"  I say as I approach her.
    She turns to focus on me.  It's the same look I imagine a vampire would give their victim. "No," she manages.
    "Are you sure?  Because I thought I heard Anthony's voice,"  I probe.
    She huffs and looks at me again like she's already fed up of me pestering.  "OK, fine.  Yes, he came by and asked if you were working today.  He said he'd come by later.  There was another guy with him.  A rather dishy one,"  she smiles to herself and then moves away before I get to find out anything else.
    He was with a guy?  Why wasn't he with Chloe?  Have they broken up?  Did they break up because he's madly in love with me?
    Oh, stop it Ella!  The new you, remember?  The new you who doesn't care about Anthony.
    I turn around to help a customer but catch my reflection in the mirror.  The new you who has her dress tucked into her tights.

It's already 4pm and he still hasn't turned up.  I've purposely changed the rota so that I'm on front cover all day, guarding the door in the hope that he'll turn up and I won't miss him.
    And whilst being here I've learnt that there is such a thing as being overly keen at work.  I'm showing such interest with every customer who comes in, that they're engaging in a full conversation with me.  The trouble is that I don't think any of them want a conversation.  A man had to literally pull his wife away from me and say, "Come on dear, our dog's very sick,"
    I almost want to say, "I don't actually find you interesting.  I'm only talking to you so that my boss sees I'm good with customers and keeps me by the door for the rest of the day!"
    I peer out of the shop to look at the clock towering over the street.  It's two minutes past four.  And Anthony's still not here.  I cross my arms in agitation and avert my eyes inside the store.  I notice Clara marching towards me like she's on a mission.  Oh no, she's found out I accidentally ate her chocolate bar!
    "That's the guy," she says when she comes near me, but instead of looking at a particular person, she's looking at the floor.
    "What guy?"
    "DON'T look around and make it look obvious!" she shouts.
    "Make what look obvious?  I have no idea what you're talking about,"
    She rolls her eyes at me, "There's a guy standing next to the new burnt sienna suit.  See him?"  I nod when I notice him.  His eyes are glued to me.  "He's the guy who was with Adam earlier,"
    "I don't actually care.  Anyway, he's been staring at you for the last ten minutes.  Do you know him?"
    I glance at him again trying to see if I've met him.  "No," I say with utter confusion.  "Is Anthony here?"
    "Nope," and Clara disappears into the sea of customers.
    My eyes flick towards the stranger and I see him coming over.  I'm instantly tense and for some reason start looking at my nails like there's something wrong with them.
    "Hi," he says awkwardly.
    "Hello," I smile.  "Do you need my help with choosing anything?"
    He coughs and starts adjusting his jacket as if he's nervous.  "  I came here to see you," his brown eyes intensify as he looks at me.  "I'm friends with Ant," he clarifies.
    "Oh, ok..."
    "We came by to see if you were here but he had to go and meet up with his girlfriend,"
    My stomach loops into a tight ball and I feel like I'm in severe pain.  Looks like they're still together.
    "Anyway, he came by to invite you to a party we're having tonight.  He explained that the two of you are good friends?"
    "Umm, yes, we're good friends,"  only a half lie I suppose.
    "It's a joint birthday party," he smiles.  Clara was right.  He really is dishy!  "I'd love you to be there.  I mean, Anthony would love you to be there"
    "I will try my best then," I smile at him, accept the crisp white invitation and fidget with it as it remains in my hands.  He should really leave now, but he hasn't and it's getting difficult to know what to talk about.
    "So, I shall be there tonight at 8," I say, trying to get him out of the door.
    "See you later.  Oh, I'm Jens by the way" he says, and backs himself outside, still looking at me until he's a good distance away.
    "I think he likes you.  He's been leering like a right perv," Clara has somehow appeared out of nowhere.  I jump in fright at the sound of her voice.
    I look down at the invitation.  My thumb starts to gently move across Anthony's name.  Clara notices and snatches it from my hand.  "Are we going to a party?"
    "No!"  I snap, taking it away from her paws again.  "I'm going to a party.  I don't know where you're going,"
    "You're no fun sometimes,"  and she goes away again in a strop.
    I gaze out into the High Street somehow thinking that Anthony will appear out of nowhere, but then remind my brain of the new me.
    A woman approaches me with one of our coats in her hand.  I'd say she's in her mid-fifties with a blonde perm, and bad make-up.  She's about to ask if we sell that coat in a larger size, but before she even gets the chance to speak, I announce,
    "I do not like Anthony,"
    "OK, dear," she replies, puts the coat down and probably tells herself that this store isn't for her on the way out.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

    "I like you,"
    I'm in line at the restaurant queue.  It's lunchtime and I only popped out because today's menu had roast dinner.  And I have a thing for Yorkshire puddings.  But here I am unexpectedly hearing words I never thought I'd hear. 
    "A lot," he continues whilst pouring gravy on his plate.
    I don't know how to respond.
    "Yorkshire pudding, madam?"
    "No," I whisper without thinking.
    I mean yes.  YES!!  I want a Yorkshire pudding!  Oh, too late.  We've already moved on to the sprouts.  And no one wants those.
    Should I play dumb and pretend that I haven't understood what he actually means?
    "One date?" he asks holding his tray like at trophy.  "Just one date, and if you don't like what you see, I'll stop bothering you like I have been,"
    What?  He's been bothering me?  I hadn't even noticed.
    I really should be saying something.   'No' springs to mind.  But 'yes' pops out of my mouth.

We're at The Natural History Museum in London.  Now, normally this is a happy place for me - fond memories of a school trip in Year 5 spring to mind - but today it's as if all possible fun has been sucked out. 
    Because we've been staring at dried out insects for an hour.
    "Am I allowed to tell you that you look as beautiful as this butterfly?" he drawls.
    No, you're not.  Because a) my make-up is completely ruined after that woman got startled by the moving dinosaur and threw her water all over me, and b) because this butterfly is all dried out!  I've seen slugs more appealing to the eye than this!
    I smile and sway my yellow summer dress to imply that I'm flattered. 
    "Butterflies are probably the most interesting insects out there.  Apart from bees, obviously,"
    "They taste with their feet to find out whether the leaf they're on is good enough for laying eggs,"
    "Wow," my enthusiasm lacking slightly.
    "They're strong too.  Like all insects they can carry about 50 times their own body weight.  It would be like me carrying two heavy cars full of people,"  he laughs aloud at his own words.  I don't even bother to pretend to find him funny.
    "And caterpillars are wondrous creatures too.  You know, an old wives tale states that when the black bands of a Woolybear caterpillar are wide, a cold Winter is coming,"
    "Do the black bands tend to be wide around November time, say just when the weather's getting really cold?"
    He's in a fit of laughter again, "You're hilarious!"
    Yes.  And you're not.
    "Butterflies need the warmth of the sun to help them fly.  Oh, and here's another interesting fact,"  he really needs to re-learn the meaning of the word 'interesting', "none have been found in Antarctica,"   
    "Well, I suppose that does make sense if they need the warmth of the sun to fly," I say.  He looks at me full of wonder.  I feel like I've said something horribly wrong, but to my surprise, his face creases into a broad smile.  "You really are a butterfly, aren't you,"
    What does that even mean?
    "You always look so graceful," he continues.
    "Then looks are incredibly deceiving,"
    He laughs again.  It's getting highly annoying. 
    "Do you like butterflies?"
    "I like the Butterfly Ball lipstick collection by Lipstick Queen,"  
    And he's laughing yet again.  What was so funny about that???
    "It comes in five colours," I continue, not understanding why he isn't taking me seriously.  "Today I'm wearing 'Trance',"
    He finally stops and looks at me with intense eyes, "Butterflies are rare," his expression begins to soften as his eyes burn into me.  I half expect him to burst into song declaring his undying love for me.  Or butterflies.  "Habitats are changing, so there are fewer numbers than before,"
    "Really?  I saw about 15 on the way here,"
    But he's stopped listening to me.  "We desperately need them as they're the second largest group of pollinators.  Bees being the first," he sighs as he continues to look at the dried out insects behind the glass.  "And bees are disappearing too,"
    "Like in Doctor Who,"
    "Never mind,"
    "Bees can recognise individual human faces,"
    "I knew it!" I declare, "I told Tia that the same bee was buzzing around me that entire week!"  and I'm really not joking.  It followed me to two bars!
    "They have nasty stings,"
    I nod my head trying to remember a time I've been stung.  It's only happened once when I was very little.  I was out buying a watermelon with my grandad and a bee sat on my thumb. 
    "Bees are just a form of specially adapted wasps.  So they may look beautiful and friendly, but deep down they can really hurt you,"
    I begin to walk ahead, trying to entrance him towards the gemstone section.  Hopefully he'll have less to say over there.  He follows weakly, his hands gracing my waist when he catches up with me.  In an instant, he's pulled me towards him, his arms cocooned around me so there's no escape.
    "Can we do this again?" he asks me with an whisper, his eyes longingly scanning every contour of my face.
    I was really hoping to avoid this situation.  I was hoping he'd realise I'm not the girl for him, we'd go our separate ways and revert to occasionally bumping into each other at the restaurant queue.  Him drowning his plate with gravy, and me stealing all the Yorkshire puds. 
    "Umm, I should really head home now," I tell him, pushing his arms away from me. 
    "Oh," he says deflated and hurt.  And there it was.  I'd stung him, then floated away. 

Saturday 16 July 2011

The Bunny Boiler - Chapter 9

...Just a little bit more and I've got it...and...there!
    I pull the tiny rowing boat back towards the river bank with all my might and breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Apparently, there is a reason why you're supposed to tie them up and not leave them loose on the river.
    "Got it back. It's ready,"  I shout over at Tia who is lazily sitting on the grass, sunbathing.  "Thanks for all your help!" I input.
    She pulls up her sunglasses so they sit above her eyes and looks at me nonplussed.  "You go on it and I'll take pictures," she says, letting the sunglasses fall back on her nose.
    For a second I actually think that her idea is rather a good one.  I always go on about how we should photograph our adventures more, but one look at my tiny red and white boat, a glance at the heavy paddles, and a gaze at the mass of water, and I go back to my original idea.
    "Tia!  I can't do this on my own.  Please, get in the boat and steer!"
    "Steer what?"
    Well, she's got me there.  "The river?"  I attempt defeated.  She looks at me with confusion before getting up from her spot. 
    "Are you going to hold on to that rope all day?"
    "I don't want it drifting off again,"
    In a huff she takes off her shoes and starts to roll up her trousers.  "Why did you buy a boat anyway?  Are you having a Quarter Life Crisis?"
    "No, I don't plan on having one till I'm at least 22,"  I respond.  She looks up at me mid trousers roll-up with yet another confused look.
    Honestly, like buying a boat is so strange!  People do it all the time.  Like in that episode of Friends where Joey buys a boat and Rachel tries to help him learn, but she ends up shouting and realises that she's turned out like her father.  I wonder what my realisation will be on my boat.  I hope it's a good one.  You know, not too life changing like realising I'm a lesbian.  But also not too mediocre like realising I've left the GHD's on.
    Actually, did I leave my GHD's plugged in?
    "How are we getting on it?"
    Oh, I hadn't really thought of that.  I was hoping we'd be able to simply walk on it, but the way the boat is bobbing up and down the river I don't think we can. 
    "I'll hold on to the rope, you get in.  Then I'll let go of the rope and jump in also,"  I say, full of optimism.
    Tia puts both hands on her hips to tell me that there's no way she's doing that.
    "Fine!  I'll go in first," I say, handing over the rope.  "I don't know why you're so frightened.  This'll be easy," and I immediately regret my words. 
    Because in actual fact I have no idea how I'm going to do this.  The boat refuses to stay in one place, and the moment I think I have the perfect distance to get on, it moves.  But I have to do this.  It's vitally important that I get on this boat.  I have to show Jamie that I'm a very serious person, and I have to show Kate that she cannot win no matter how severe her Bunny Boiler tantrums are.  I don't know how this will do that, but I'm positive it's a start. 
    Right.  3... 2... 1...GO!  Nope, still not on the boat.  OK, this time I will definitely jump in.  3... 2.... 1... 1 and a half... 1 and a quarter... 1 and...
    Damn!  I wish I was better at fractions!
    .... 1 and 20%... 1 and 15%... 1 and...
    "Get on the boat!"
    One foot drops in followed by the other one, and with a heavy fall as both feet refuse to balance, and a loud 'Ouch', I'm in the boat.  Yay!  I made it!
    A second later, Tia's in there with me.  I look at her in annoyance.  "Why was that so easy for you?"
    "Oh, we go on boats all the time when we're down in Chichester," she says sitting down opposite me.
    "So, you could have helped?"
    "I could have.  But it does mean I wouldn't have been able to get these amazing photos," she brings out her phone whilst giggling.
    Oh thanks a bloody bunch! 
    I grab the phone off her.  Actually, some of these photos are incredibly flattering.  I think the April sun does wonders for my complexion.  Oh, hang on.  This one's not so great.  It must have been taken when I was trying to do fractions. 
    I hand the phone back.  "Right," I say with a beaming smile, looking ahead at the grand river, "where shall we go?"
    "What?  No!  We're not going to another town!  I was thinking more a choice between The Swan or The Weir,"
    "We can't go to either pub.  We're seventeen,"
    "We're not going to go inside!  I'm using them as locations,"
    "Oh.  Let's go to The Swan then," she jolts her head about in both directions, "there seem to be less swans over there.  Ironically,"
    "To The Swan it is,"  the current has already taken us quite a way from the river bank.  At this rate, perhaps we'll end up in Chertsey after all. 
    I'm about to grab a paddle and start our journey, and then I realise both paddles are still on the grass.
    This is really bad.  And also not the sort of realisation I was hoping for.

    "Move the water away from you a bit faster, Tia.  We're never going to make it back with you using only your fingers!"  I say as I dip my hands in the water again to make the boat move.  This theory worked for a little bit.  But then we got tired, and now we're pretty much just sitting there trying to keep the sun from our faces.  I feel lost at sea. 
    "I knew I should have said no to helping you.  There clearly was a reason Mikey was conveniently busy.  He knows you far too well by now,"
    I roll my eyes.  "Mikey's in Oxford at a uni induction day.  He would have killed for the chance to be here,"
    "You're very testy today," Tia's looking at me like a mother pitying a child who writes S instead of 2.  I almost feel like she'll say, "Don't worry, pet.  You'll get it eventually,"
    But she doesn't.  Instead she says, "If you want Jamie, you have to call him.  You can't carry on being this stubborn,"
    "I'm not stubborn!"  I say, crossing my arms and looking away into the distance.  "And anyway, I texted him a couple of days ago telling him I have a boat.  He didn't reply,"  I look down at my feet, far too scared that if I make eye contact with Tia, I'll cry.  We sit there in silence, but it's as if I can hear her thoughts.  Because I know for a fact we're both thinking the same thing - I've lost him. 
    "Oh well," I say and force a smile.
    "Ella, you don't have to pretend that it's all fine,"
    "But it is fine.  It's not as if I'm married to him and we're about to have a messy divorce, and kids are involved, and we have to decide who gets the good coffee machine.  I'm 17.  I think I'll manage," I laugh a little and hope to God that I'm right.  "Now paddle, please!"
    We're about to start all over again, but I hear something.  "Is someone saying my name?"  I ask, looking around but not spotting anything.  We stop splashing and have a listen.
    "Did you hear that?" I say to Tia, looking around furiously.  And then I spot him. My heart flutters as I see him standing by the river smiling at me.  And then it sinks completely.  Because standing next to him, is Kate.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Part Two: Orange

    "I'm going to get such a bad reputation for myself in this place,"
    "Why?" my friend Charlie asks as he tells the waiter we require a table for two.
    "Because these last couple of months, every time I've been in here it has been with a different guy,"
    He chuckles, "Oh, it doesn't matter.  I'm sure they won't even remember you," he says, dismissing my comment with a wave of his hand.
    "So, how are you?" the waiter turns and asks me as he leads us to the table.  He's greeting me with a wide smile as if I'm a dear friend of his.  I whisper a faint 'OK' and sit down.
    "Who have you been coming here with?" Charlie asks, unable to wipe the grin off his face.
    "Well, I used to come here with my ex about a month ago.  I was here with Mikey this morning, I met up with a friend from school I haven't seen in ages, had brunch with an ex a couple of days ago, and now I'm here with you.  Seriously, my reputation will be in tatters,"
    "I think it's too late to worry about that," he smiles at me as I sharply kick his leg.  "Ouch!  I was only joking!"
    "That waiter especially," I continue, ignoring that Charlie is wincing in pain, "he has been my waiter every time.  And I mean, every single time,"
    Charlie turns to look at the tall waiter who must be about 20 and his eye light up playfully.  "Want to play a game?" he turns his head towards me with a mischievous smile. 
    Oh no!!
    What's happening in his brain?  Am I going to have to pretend I'm a recovering druggie that he's convinced to become clean again so that he can look like an upstanding local politician?
    "I don't think I'm happy with where this is going,"
    "Just follow my lead.  I promise you it'll be fun," he winks at me.  I attempt to wink back but somehow it doesn't have the same effect.  I look like a bug has flown into my eye. 
    The waiter happily walks over at a raise of Charlie's finger.  "Ready to order?" he asks cheerfully. 
    Oh you poor, unsuspecting fool, I think. 
    "Yes, we are...I think," Charlie scans the menu again.  Meanwhile, I'm looking at him agog wondering what's about to happen.  "Have you decided, darling?"
    Oh, that's me!
    "Umm, not yet.  I just can't decide between the burger or the flatbread pizza," I look up and down the menu, deep in pensive, food thought.  Honestly, I should be given a BAFTA or something for this performance.  "I'm really not sure...honey," I say, eyes briefly glancing at Charlie.  I really hope he knows what he's doing because I certainly don't. 
    But his face doesn't seem to give anything away.  Deep in concentration, he's not about to let a single of his facial features break this deal.  Like a true, dishonest politician.  Now I understand why so many of his girlfriends have never worked out that he's insanely undatable.
    "I bet you had no problem choosing a meal when you used to go out with James," he says dryly.
    James?  Who's James?  That guy I went on one date with?  What???
    "I'm sorry?"  I respond, still fully in character of course.
    "Just saying that I bet you weren't this indecisive when you and James were together," the menu is put down angrily on the table and he crosses his arms.  His demeanour perfectly fitting that of a stroppy child.
    I think I've caught on to what's going on here.  I quickly look up at the waiter before I reply.  He looks so awkward attempting his best to hide behind his mini notebook.
    "Oh, don't start this again!"  I reply, my tone raised a little.
    "Don't start this again?  I'll stop when you tell me the truth!"  Charlie is now shouting.  The waiter has taken a massive step back and I immediately feel bad.  He gave me five balloons when I asked for only one once.  And gave me free ice-cream when he accidentally included bacon in my burger.
    But I've started this now.  And a true thespian commits to the stage.  Or restaurant in the middle of Walton on Thames.  "There is nothing going on with James!  I have told you this a million times!"
    "Well, I have it under good authority that there is.  Everyone knows"  I bet even he knows" Charlie is now pointing at the waiter who takes another leap back and starts shaking his head as if defending himself for a crime he did not commit.  "Has she been here with other men?" Charlie asks him.
    The waiter 'umms' and 'arrrrs' a little, but refuses to answer.
    What a good boy!  If I ever do have an affair at least  I know which restaurant will keep it discrete.
    "You are so insecure!!"  I stand up with force and attempt to slap my paper napkin on the table for added effect.  It floats softly before falling on the floor.  "I will not sit here and be accused of cheating by someone who has slept with over 150 women!" and I stomp my feet in anger as I walk through the restaurant to the exit.  A few orange balloons attempt to stand in my way, but they're no match for me.  With 10% grace, I make my way past them. 

I can't believe I've done this.  Sod the BAFTA!  I deserve a bloody Oscar!
    Maybe I should go home and prepare a really heartfelt and tearful speech about my life from rags to riches.  Well, rag-ish to rich-ish.  And buy a dress.  Although really, I should probably star in a film first.  An I've heard it isn't easy to get auditions.  You always hear about struggling actors, don't you. 
    I'm now getting angry that my mother had no childhood, acting aspirations for me.  I mean, didn't she want me to be a successful Hollywood icon?  I could have been in The Bill like Keira Knightley and be world famous by now.  I could have been in Atonement! 
    But no.  I had to be normal and go to university.  And look at me!  A few months out of it and I'm still unemployed.  Well done, mother.  You've surpassed yourself.
    I snap out of my daydream and realise that I've walked all the way to the entrance of Sainsbury's.  And I really have no idea what the rest of my plan is.  I wish I'd thought this through.
    I instantly reach for my bag to grab my Blackberry but realise that I've left everything at the restaurant. 
    Oh bugger!
    I swing round at he direction of the voice to be greeted with a face I recognise but cannot place straight away.  And then it hits me.
    It's Alex.
    American Doctor Alex from the train station a few days ago.
    "Hi," I reply in surprise, "Didn't expect to see you,"
    "Well, I didn't expect to see you either.  I was on my way home," he points to the luxury flats above the shopping centre, then crosses his arms, "are you OK?  I saw you storm out of that restaurant as I walked around the block,"
    "Did I look convincing?"
    "When I stormed out.  Did I look angry but at the same time very hurt?"
    "Umm," he starts to look around.  I bet he's wishing he'd walked straight past me instead of stopping to talk.  "Yes, you did..."
    I smile.
    I'm definitely going to shout at my mum the next time I see her.  I've had this talent all this time and she's been doing nothing about it.
    Alex is looking at me puzzled, so I decide it's best to clarify.  "My friend and I were being incredibly immature and decided to have a fake argument.  I may have taken it a step too far by storming out,"
    "Right," he says, looking amused.
    Maybe I should have lied to him.  Perhaps told him that I moonlight as a restaurant inspector and I was shocked with the tiramisu.
    "I thought that maybe you and your boyfriend had an argument, you know, because of our conversation at the train station," he starts to look around nervously.
    "We broke up," I say quickly.  "Last Thursday actually.  The day we met,"  I briefly smile at him, hoping I don't sound like I want him to ask me out.  
    Because I don't.
    It would be weird if I jump from one relationship straight to the next.  I mean, it's only been 5 days...
    5 days?!?
    Is that it???
    Why does it feel like it's been months and months?  Shouldn't I be locking myself in my room, refusing to get dressed or wear make-up and stuff my face with ice-cream, probably crying whilst listening to Adele?
    My goodness, I've recovered quickly.
    "Are you alright?  You're smiling to yourself,"
    "Oh.  Yes, I'm great.  So yes, I broke up with him,"
    "Good," he responds, but realises how it sounds and attempts to recover his comment, "I don't mean 'good'.  I only said it because you weren't happy.  At least, you didn't seem happy,"
    I laugh, "Relax.  I know what you mean,"
    We stare at each other for a couple of seconds before he breaks the gaze, "How did the job interview go?"
    For a moment I can't think what on earth he's talking about.  I'm too busy admiring him.  Gosh, I'm pathetic!
    "Really well.  They've called me back for a presentation this Friday,"
    "Well done!  I knew you'd do well,"
    "Don't speak too soon.  I haven't got it yet,"
    "No.  But you will," he smiles at me again and I want to hug him and say 'Oh you!  Thanks for believing in me'. 
    But I don't because I see Charlie walking toward us, my bag in his left hand.  He's hanging on to it like a fish he's caught for tonight's supper.
    "My friend's here.  I better go," I tell Alex and start to move away, despite not wanting to.
    "Your phone number," his right hand ruffles his dark hair whilst his left stays firmly in his pocket.
    "Hand over your phone then," I say it as if it's such an inconvenience that he'll now have my number.  Quickly, I type in the information.  "See you soon," I say as I make my way towards Charlie.  Alex leaves us to it.
    "Who's he?" asks Charlie, passing me my bag with a throw.  I follow his gaze and watch Alex disappear around the corner.  A bubble of excitement builds up within me and for an instant I get a flash forward of this next year.  I instantly smile.
    "I think he may be my future husband,"

Sunday 12 June 2011

Repeat After Me

    He shuffles a little closer along the seat until his lips are practically touching my left ear.  Attempting to overpower the music, he repeats again, "I SAID, IT'S A NICE PLACE," and now he's smiling to no one in particular and nodding along to the music. 
    Yes, it's a very nice place if you're still at uni and looking to drink yourself into oblivion until the horrific memory of that Maths exam is completely out of your head. Not a very nice place if you left work an hour ago, have to prepare for a presentation the next morning and were looking forward to a quiet dinner with perfectly charming second date guy, who right this second is doing some weird shoulder dance. 

    "FANCY ANOTHER DRINK?" he motions his hand to his mouth to mime a glass.
    He starts pointing to my empty glass as he stands up, "DO YOU WANT THE SAME COCKTAIL?"
    "OH.  YES," I nod vigorously, hoping I won't have to repeat myself.  So he smiles at me and drifts through the crowd to the bar.  I say drifts - it's more a 'one step forward, two shoves back' route as he gets blocked by drunken dancers who are looking like losers but thinking they're cool.
    OK, I know I sound old, but I'm not old.  I'm just tired. 

I'm not too sure what to do with myself as I sit there on my own, so I do what we all seem to do these days when faced with an uncomfortable situation.  I take out my Blackberry and I start texting/tweeting/emailing - whatever I can to not look a loner.
    "ON YOUR OWN?" a guy in his late teens has plonked himself down next to me.  He's wearing a bright yellow flannel shirt and is sipping his Bulmers through a straw. 
    I instinctively grab hold of my Blackberry as if this guy is about to take it, which is silly because he's only a few years younger than me. 
    I smile at him and shake my head.  It's good to keep the conversation as brief as possible in these sorts of situations.  Guys in clubs are like stray cats - once you acknowledge them, they'll never leave you alone. 
    "I LOVE THIS SONG," he informs me as J-LO starts playing.  "COME AND DANCE," he stands up from the seat and takes my hand in his, pulling me up.
    "No, it's really fine," I tell him, trying to get my hand back, meanwhile keeping an eye out for my date.  Surely he should be back by now. 
    "Oh, come on.  I bet you're a great dancer," he says with a smile, "you NEED to dance,"
    I NEED to go home and sleep.
    This is like the final year of uni all over again.  I'm trying to be responsible, but other forces are saying otherwise.  So I stand up.
    And then immediately sit back down when I notice date coming my way again, cocktails in hand. 
    Yellow Flannel Guy looks over at the direction my eyes have flown towards, and then straight back at me.  "Oh," he mouths. "I'll catch you later, yeah,"
    "IT'S A REALLY NICE PLACE, ISN'T IT," date says again as soon as he sits down.
    Yes, you've mentioned that.  Twenty times.
   My eyes dart over to Yellow Flannel Guy who's laughing along with Red Skinny Jeans Guy and Side Ponytail Girl.  And for some strange reason, I get a real longing to join them. 
    I'm on a date in a club and I'm sitting down.  Surely that's not right? 
    "I'M NOT REALLY ENJOYING MYSELF WITH YOU," I say, and immediately regret my words.
    Thank goodness for that!
    He smiles.
    And I want to leave.
    Actually, no.  I don't want to leave.  I want to dance. 
    "WORK.  HOW WAS IT?"
    "OH," I drink a little of my drink before I answer.  I feel my throat needs the replenishment.  "IT WAS TIRING. THERE'S A LOT TO DO BEFORE TOMORROW,"
    Oh, for goodness sake!!!
    "TOO MUCH WORK. VERY TIRING," I unhappily repeat.  He says something back but I don't hear it, so I laugh for no reason.  Let's hope it was funny.
    My eyes are drifting longingly around the room.  Yes, these people look crazy drink-dancing (which I think should be make just as illegal as drink driving).  Yes, there's the occasional lonely guy trying to casually dance with every girl.  And yes, there are a few cougars parading the premises.  But all these people are having fun, and that's what I want to do. 
    But instead I'm still sitting.
    Sitting and not dancing.
    "I SAID, WOULD YOU LIKE ANOTHER DRINK?" I finally understand, but I stop him just as he's about to stand up.
    "I'M GOING TO HEAD HOME.  I'M REALLY TIRED," I throw in a fake yawn just for added emphasis, apologise a million times and slip out of the club.  Because if you want to talk to your date you take them somewhere quiet, right?  You don't chaperone them to a busy club and expect a life changing conversation. 
    So I was right to leave, I've decided.
    End of.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Part One: Sky Blue

Ever since I can remember I've always switched on my iPod (CD player when I was younger), pressed the 'Random' button and told myself that whichever song comes on is relevant to my life at the moment.  Sometimes, this theory of mine never works out, e.g. when you're stressed out from university exams and First Date by Blink 182 pops up - the link there is very difficult to find, but other times it could not have been more right.  Scarily right, in fact.

I'm at the station platform waiting for a train to take me to Guildford.  It's a boiling day and I have a job interview, which means I'm wearing a very tight, high-waisted pencil skirt that was not meant for this unexpected but welcomed change to the British weather.  But I'm 20 minutes early so I find a bench in the shade and take out my iPod as I wait for the train.
    Earphones go in ears, and without thinking, I do what I always do - I click 'shuffle' when it presents me my entire music playlist.  And the song that starts bursting its melodic lyrics at me could not be more symbolic.
    Breaking Up by Rilo Kiley.
    My boyfriend and I are having problems.  Huge problems, that have only been made worse by the fact that he's chosen to ignore them, and for a while now, ending the relationship has been the main carnivorous thought that's been circling all others for a while.
    But the abruptness of such an appropriate song only makes me laugh.  Four hours later when I think back to that moment, it makes me laugh even more. My boyfriend and I have just broken up.

I digress because this story is not about him.

So I'm at the station platform, trying desperately to ignore the nervous butterflies that seem to be flying around with daggers in my stomach, when I see someone run up the steps to the platform, curse loudly thinking they've missed the train, and then attempt to kick air.
    I take my earphones out.  "Umm, the train hasn't arrived yet," I say cautiously.
    The guy swings round facing me with a puzzled look.  "It hasn't?" he asks.
    Oh.  He's American.  Or Irish.  One of the two.
    "It should get here in about 15 minutes," I smile and put my earphones back in.  He's pacing up and down the platform in front of me.  I sense he's nervous because he's walking so fast back and forth, he's practically becoming a blur.
    "Are you OK?" I ask.
    He turns towards me swiftly.  "Huh?  Oh.  Yes.  I'm fine.  Thanks though,"
    He's definitely American.
    My earphones go back in, but I'm interrupted.
    "Actually, would you mind if I sat down?"
    I look at the empty space of bench next to me, and I'm almost surprised that he'd even ask.  "Of course," I reply.
    I don't put my earphones back in.  With someone that you've exchanged words with sitting next to you it almost feels rude to block one of your senses.
    "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you when I ran here," he says.
    I have to laugh at his apology.  "You didn't startle me.  I didn't really know what was happening though,"
    "I'm meant to be meeting a friend in Guildford but I'm already half an hour late.  He's going to kill me.  I've never been good with public transport," he tells me.  I smile, and then ask a question that I wish I could take back.
    "Are you a tourist?"
    He looks at me with amused eyes.  They're a sky blue - exactly the same blue you'd see when you look up on a sunny day.
    A bit like today.
    "No.  I've lived here since I was 18.  Since I started university," he clarifies.
    And I feel like an idiot.
    "Sorry.  It's just because, you know, your accent,"  I look down at my hands like a scolded child.
    "Don't worry, I get that a lot.  Strangely, the longer I've lived here, the more people have asked if I'm visiting,"
    I look at him and smile.  "Sorry," I say again.
    "It's really OK," he beams a smile.  "I'm Alex,"
    "It's nice to meet you,"
    "You too,"
    And we both stare straight ahead at the giant billboard that seems to be ordering us to get a mortgage.
    "So where are you going to today?" he asks me.
    "To Guildford.  I have a job interview.  Well, actually, the job interview is tomorrow, but today I have to meet with the recruitment agency," I pull an annoyed look, "You know how irritating they can be,"
    He laughs, "A lot of people keep saying that.  I'm starting to feel lucky I've never dealt with them,"
    "Well, then you're very lucky," but I desperately want to ask him what he does for a living.  He's far too well dressed to be unemployed, but far too young to be self-employed.
    "What do you do?" I finally ask after a few seconds have escaped us.
    "I'm a doctor,"
    Didn't expect that. 
    "Which sort?"
    "The general kind," he says with a smile.
    "A GP?" I ask nonchalantly.  I bet he gets girls swooning over him all the time when he mentions that.  I don't want him to think I'm one of them.
    "A GP," he confirms.
    For a couple more seconds we sit in silence.
    "Where?" I ask, again trying not to seem impressed.
    "At a hospital," his smile is now so wide, I almost smile back.
    "Yes, but which one?" I say impatiently.
    He laughs now.  A full, manly laugh that leaves me confused.  Surely what I asked was a normal question?
    "What's wrong?"
    In between laughter he says, "Were you about to lose your temper with me?"
    "No!" I quickly defend myself.
    "Oh, I think you were,"
    "I was not!!"
    "You know, you are allowed to be impressed that I'm a doctor.  People seem to go about it in one of two ways; either they're so in awe over it they let it show completely, or they do what you did, Ella.  They pretend they don't care,"
    "Well, I don't care.  It's not like I haven't met a doctor before.  My doctor's a doctor!"
    "Your doctor's a doctor?  Well, I'll be damned! There was me thinking I was the only one.  I always knew I should have listened to my parents and become a lawyer,"
Sky Blue

    "It's not like you can either be a doctor or a lawyer to be deemed successful, you know!" I reply.
    "That's not what I meant at all," the laughter has suddenly stopped because he's sensed that I'm rather annoyed.  "And what did you study at uni?"
    "Well, that's not much better.  That's pretty much on the same level.  Had you read a subject a little more interesting, I might have understood your anger towards my statement,"
    "I'm not angry," I say quietly.
    "Just annoyed?"
    "Just annoyed,"
    "Somehow, I get the feeling there are other things worrying you at the moment that are causing this.  Not just my pride towards my job title.  Although, as oddly satisfying as it would be to annoy a perfect stranger before 2pm, I don't think I'm the reason you're so tense,"
    I turn to him in surprise and smile.  It's like that moment when you're a small child and you fall over and graze your knee.  You don't want to cry, but you need to, and the moment someone comes towards you with a worried look asking what's happened, you can't control it.  Floods of tears escape.
    It's just like that.
    Except I don't cry.
    Instead I say, "I've wasted the last four months being with a guy who isn't worth being with.  He makes me mad.  He makes me upset, and yet, I seem to be too stubborn to get away from it,"
    He nods as he's listening to me and I can tell he's genuinely worried.
    "Why can't you walk away?" he asks.
    I take in a deep breath.  "Because nothing's stable," I begin, "Since I graduated from uni, nothing seems to have lasted past 2 months.  This time two months ago I had just left my job and was in the middle of a new relationship.  Two months before then I had just started a new job and had just met my now boyfriend.  Two months before that I was unemployed and with my long-term boyfriend from uni.  Two months before that I was still a student.  There's too much chaos.  Is it wrong to not want things to change just because you want to sort out other parts of your life first?"
    "That's not wrong at all," he says.  A gentle smile sweeps over his lips.  He pauses for a second, then begins again, "When my last girlfriend broke up with me, she said she couldn't sort out her career unless she was single.  I didn't understand it at the time, but now it makes perfect sense.  If there's something in your life that's distracting you from something that should be a priority, you need to cut them loose,"
    "Weren't you mad at her for breaking up with you over such a stupid reason?"
    He laughs again.  "I was at the time.  But if you think about it, at least she was honest with me,"
    "It's still a stupid reason," I say, but he only laughs.

The train pulls up at the station, so I rise from my seat.
    "Get up," I playfully nudge his leg with my foot, "you don't want to miss it.  Goodness knows what you'll kick this time,"
    "I'm not getting on it," he says, looking at the train as if he's finally figured something out.  "I lied to you earlier.  I wasn't going to Guildford to meet my friend.  My ex wanted to meet up so we could talk about getting back together, but you know what, I really don't want to," he laughs at his realisation.
    "Oh," I don't know what else to say.  "Are you sure?"
    "Umm, I hope I wasn't the reason to cause this?"
    He smiles at me as he stands up.  "Oh Ella, more than you know.  Good luck with your job interview,"
    "Thank you," I say as I get on the train, dazed from the situation.
    "Maybe I'll bump into you again sometime,"
    The train doors click shut and I'm on my way, but the nerves of tomorrow's interview have alerted me of their presence again. 
    Right, you annoying butterflies, I say in my head.  It's just you and me now, so let's go get that bloody job!

Saturday 14 May 2011

If You Want a Promotion, Don't Play Pokemon

(Continuation of If You See Something, Say Nothing)

I've been up since 6am and have found myself a quiet spot in the hotel lobby to finalise the presentation for the morning meeting. After the events of the evening, it is safe to say that I have not slept. Thankfully, I managed to pack my Nintendo DS, as well as a game of Pokemon which kept me amused for most of the night.

It's time to take a little break from this presentation, so I minimise the screen of PowerPoint and open up Explorer. There, at the top of the toolbar I type 'How to climb walls in Pokemon SoulSilver' in the Google search-box and scan the promising results. We all have our guilty pleasures.
    "There you are!" I hear Luke say as he smoothly runs down the stairs. "I've been knocking on your door for ages,"
    "Sorry, I thought I'd be able to work better here," I tell him, quickly getting rid of the Pokemon page that I was actually finding incredibly interesting.
    "How long have you been down here?"
    I look at the clock just behind the reception desk, "Only an hour or so," I lie.
    "Oh. Well, I just wanted to ask if you could get some print-screen website shots for the presentation. I think the big bosses want proof of prices and we desperately don't want to disappoint them,"
    "No problem," I say, and he disappears. I get to work.

I'm so proud of this presentation, and I sit in the meeting excited for Luke to present it. Everybody who's somebody in the company has attended this (including Sam) - in fact, I'm probably the only 'nobody' here. But I'm hoping that after they see all the hard work I've put into this, it'll be 'Hello Promotion' and therefore, 'Hello new Diane von Furstenberg jacket that I've had my eye on for a while', as well as 'Goodbye cranky landlady, goodbye messy housemate (who secretly I'll miss), goodbye curtains with spiders inside'. So overall, I'm having a wonderful morning (obviously, aside from memories of last night which seem to come screaming back to me every now and again).
    "I wanted to wish you good luck," Hannah crashes into the room and drapes her arms around Luke. She's acting like she's madly in love, and I can't help but hate her for all this. Lies. I'm staring at the biggest lie I have ever seen and there's nothing to be done about it.
    My eyes dart to the CEO who is happily sitting at the head of the table, watching Hannah kiss Luke. I notice his thick eyebrows furrow a little at her actions and he immediately says, "OK, whatever your name is, leave us be. This is a very important meeting,"
    "I'm so sorry, Roger," Luke replies.
    "I'm just showing my boyfriend how much I love him," Hannah beams a smile at the CEO, and all others in the room gasp as her response. Including Luke. But she's being brave because she knows she can't be fired. For the first time in my life I feel like I'm watching a movie unravel it's unpleasant plot right in front of me, and I'm the only one who knows exactly what's going on. Perhaps I'm a 'somebody' after all.

Luke is amazing.  I can't help but stare at him in awe as he's up there doing the presentation.  He's so confident and determined - blue eyes sparkling with knowledge as he dictates the SWOT analysis and says big words like 'eurosecurities' and 'forfaiting'.  I make a note in my notebook to look those words up later in my Oxford Dictionary of Finance and Banking.  If anyone ever asks me about this presentation I wrote, I should at least know the meaning of the words I've used. 
    And I can't believe how well it's all going.  Everyone is listening intently, and I instantly think, Diane von Furstenberg jacket - here I come.
    But then something catches my eyes.
    We are now on the last few slides that are proudly displaying those print-screen shots of websites that Luke wanted me to include, and there, at the very top in the Google search-box it reads 'How to climb walls in Pokemon SoulSilver'.
    The air has been sucked out of my lungs and I'm 99% sure that my face has turned completely red.  How could I have been so stupid not to notice that? 
    I look around to see if anyone else has spotted it, but overall people's faces seem to look dazed.  Apart from Nick from Finance who seems to be hiding a smirk.  Bloody Nick.  Never liked him anyway.
    I glance at Sam, but his expression is completely blank - just staring straight ahead, nodding at Luke's words. 
    Perhaps I've got away with this.  Nick's dull anyway, so this isn't a story he's likely to repeat to his equally enthusiastic team mates. 
    Luke's stopped speaking and everyone's clapping.  Phew.  It's all fine.

    "How did it go?" Hannah's legendary tight claw has grabbed my arm as soon as I walk out of the meeting room.
    "Umm...all good, I think," I tell her, trying desperately to save my arm from getting bruised.  I've only just recovered from her last ones.  She's about to say something else, but quickly stops herself when Luke appears by my side.
    "Nice presentation," he says with a smile, "Although, next time try to leave Pokemon out of it,"
    Oopsie Daisy!
    "I think this is something you need to fill me in on," Hannah says, ordering me to follow her to the hotel restaurant.  "I've barely talked to you properly since we got here,"

Jam is being splattered everywhere as Hannah has greedily taken the entire platter of croissants from the buffet, and as I watch her use a whole pot of strawberry jam for each one, I wonder whether I should bring up what I saw last night.  But my heart doesn't want to, my head is confused, and my mouth doesn't know where to begin.  So I stick to, "Did you enjoy the party last night?"
    She nods vigurously through mouthfulls of 80% jam, 20% croissant.  "You did a great job with the room," she says after her mouth wrestles with the mouthfull. 
    "I didn't really do that much," I say modistly. 
    "Oh, don't be so silly.  There's no way any of use could have done all that,"
    That's actually very true.
    "Anyway, how did it go with Sam?  I didn't really see you for the rest of the evening,"
    That's because you were too busy cheating on your perfect boyfriend with the 58 year old CEO.  And I immediately hate myself for even thinking such a thought about my best friend.
    "We've swapped numbers.  I think he wants to see me when he's in London next month," I say.
    "You don't sound very enthusiastic about it.  Sam's gorgeous,"
    "I know he is," a bit of jam lands on my white top.
    "Sorry," Hannah says between mouthfulls of croissant.
    "It's just that I don't get that feeling when I talk to him," I try to rub the jam out but I know it's futile.
    "Urgh, you're such a hopeless romantic," she sneers at her words and bites another croissant. 
    "I'm 22.  I can afford to be,"
    "Sometimes feelings have nothing to do with it.  You don't always need to be madly in love - you just need to enjoy eachother's company,"
    I think about this for a second, but it doesn't matter how much I try to agree with Hannah, something's telling me that she's completely wrong.  "Then what's the point?  If you only enjoy spending time with that person, why not just be friends?"
    "Oh, you're getting far too deep for me, Elita Ivey.  We're young.  Let's just enjoy ourselves," she beams a smile - jam all over her teeth.  Lovely.
    "Do you love Luke?" I ask her, rather determined for an answer.
    Her blue eyes wonder about the room as she thinks, "Well, I must do," and picks up another croissant from the platter. 
    Do you love the CEO? I want to ask, but don't. 

    "I bet you're thinking of what dress to wear tonight?"  My daydreaming has been interrupted by Sam, who has sat down next to me in the hotel restaurant.  Hannah left a while ago, so I've been sitting here gathering my thoughts. 
    "Nope.  I already know what to wear tonight.  Try again,"
    "Hmm," he pauses, "then you must be thinking how proud you are of yourself for that presentation this morning,"
    "It could have been better," I quietly say.
    "It could have been worse,"
    We sit there staring at each other for a bit and I realise that he's talking about the Pokemon incident.  My face turns scarlet once more.
    "I was hoping no one had noticed,"
    He starts laughing - even his laugh has a mancunian accent.  "The presentation was pretty much all font size 80 when presented on that big screen.  Trust me, I doubt there were many who didn't see that,"
    I can't help but giggle along with him.  "It's from sleep deprivation," I tell him
    "Up all night playing Pokemon?"
    I know he means that jokingly, but I'm not sure he realises just how true that is.
    "A few things on my mind, that's all," I smile at him.  He leans in a bit closer as if wanting to whisper something in my ear.
    "Well, if you ever need to talk, I'm an amazing listener," and he lifts himself up from the seat and leaves the room.  "See you tonight," he shouts when at the door.
    "See you," I whisper to myself.

Saturday 30 April 2011

The Bunny Boiler - Chapter 8

I wipe the thick cream off my nose with my thumb as I put down the cappuccino.  Mikey looks at me across the small, round, mahogany table and asks, "Plan of action?"
    Well, there isn't one.  But I don't want to tell him this.  I have a feeling he'll walk out of the cafe dramatically and get the next train back to Surrey, probably mouthing, "Why do I let her drag me into these situations?"
    "My plan is to buy a boat," I announce.  I hear him huff, settle down his tea and cast his eyes towards me angrily. 
    "You can't buy a boat!"
    "Why not?"
    "You're 17.  You don't know how to operate one.  You have nowhere to keep it..."
    I'm about to bring up the whole 'I live near the Thames.  I can see a bit of the river from my bedroom window' argument again, but I know it'll only fall on deaf ears.
    " can barely look after yourself.  I mean, you thought an umpire was the plural of empire..."
    Anyone would have made that mistake.
    " get bored easily and by next week the boat will be forgotten and you'll want your own theme park or something..."
    I mentally make a note of the theme park idea.  I did always have expansion plans for Thorpe Park.
    " have exams coming up and need to concentrate on those - not learn to drive a bloody boat.  By September you're moving to Guildford..."
    There's a river there too, you know.
    "'re only doing this to prove something to Jamie because the two of you broke up last night.  You're hurt and you're not thinking straight..."
    My heart sinks a little as I think of Jamie.
    "...and most importantly, boats are expensive.  You don't have a job.  You don't have any money.  Your purse contains £3.62 and a chocolate button!"
    I look up at him awkwardly, "Actually, I ate the chocolate button,"
    He shakes his head and I immediately feel like this is a scene from Will and Grace.  "Why am I not surprised!" he drinks his tea.
    "Well, there's no harm in looking at the Marina," I tell him.  "We came all the way to Brighton.  We can't spend the entire day in Starbucks,"
    "Fine," he says drinking the rest of his tea.  "Maybe we'll get lucky and find a boat for under £3.62,"

It's raining.  Heavily.  The large chunks of water droplets are propelling themselves towards us with maximum force, and as we make the short walk from the cafe to the boats, we are completely soaked.  We might as well have jumped in the sea and hijacked a boat from there.  That way, at least I saved my £3.62.

    "I'm concerned," Mikey says as he uses his jacket as an umbrella to protect his perfectly styled, blond hair.
    "What concerns you, my lovely?"
    "Number one, your mental health, obviously,"
    "But number two, isn't that Giles over there?"
    My head darts in the direction that Mikey's finger is pointing to.  There, on the other end of the marina stands Giles.
    "What's he doing here?" I whisper, despite the fact that he's completely out of earshot.
    "I have no idea, but he can't see me here.  He'll only tell my mum that I'm in Brighton.  And let's face it, she'll take one look at my CD collection, put 2 and 2 together and be upset that I haven't come out to her yet,"
    "You're over-reacting.  He's only a distant cousin anyway,"
    "His mother and my mother are sisters!"
    "My mum's going to think I'm gay!"  He starts rubbing his temples as the rain ruins his hair.
    "I'm sure she's guessed by now.  I mean, she has met you,"
    "Do you think you're helping?"
    "No.  No, you're not!" and the jacket is thrown back over his head.

Giles on his own would have been fine, but it was the appearance of Kate a few minutes later that really jolted us.  She was wearing a white summer dress, despite the awful weather, and was making her way to the little boat shop that Giles had now entered. 
    "Let's go in," I tell Mikey making a move for the entrance.  But he grabs my jacket and pulls me back.
    "To find out what they're doing here,"
    He starts shaking his head as if unable to comprehend," Why??" he says again.
    "Aren't you at all curious why they're in Brighton? Mikey, this is Kate, Jamie's psycho ex.  We have to know what her and Giles are up to,"
    Mikey appears to be understanding me a little more now. 
    "It's very strange," I continue, "who comes to Brighton unexpectedly?"
    He eyes me up and down and I can tell he's seconds away from going on another rant of how I've gone insane, how I'm such a child, blah blah blah. 
    "Our situation is different," I tell him before he gets the chance to start shouting, "We are here to buy a boat,"
    "They'll see us if we go in there.  That place looks tiny,"
    "Not if we're very careful,"
    "But -,"  I sometimes have no idea why Mikey argues back so much.  He knows this is happening whether he likes it or not.  You'd have thought he's learnt his lesson by now.
    He huffs and stomps his feet as he follows me towards the shop.

Kate and Giles are at the till talking to an old, weather-beaten man who looks ridiculously like Captain Birdseye.  So Mikey and I head to the other end just behind a pillar, where posters of cruise ship holidays have been scattered messily all over the wall.  Luckily, we can hear every word.
    "I've been thinking of taking my girlfriend on a long holiday this summer," I hear Giles explain. 
    Yes, please take her.  Take her far, far away.  And lose her.  Please, try your best to get her kidnapped by pirates.  She's nothing special so the ransom request won't be very much.
    "Maybe Antigua.  A lovely sailing holiday around there would be splendid," Captain Birdseye suggests.  I hear Kate giggle at the thought like a child.  "When are you two lovebirds thinking of leaving?"
    "Beginning of July," Giles responds.
    "But we'll definitely have to come back late September for university," Kate puts in. 
    I'm reminded of Jamie again and how he'll be at Edinburgh with Kate in Autumn.  My heart sinks a little more. 
    "I'm really looking forward to uni, you know," she tells Giles excitedly, and I don't know how - perhaps because I've learnt Kate's mental thought process so well these last few months - but I know she's only suddenly excited because Jamie will now be there too. 
    "I'll come and visit you all the time," Giles says.
    "Yes," she says straight away, lacking enthusiasm. 
    There's deep silence for a few minutes as Captain Birdseye hands out a few leaflets and brochures about upcoming sailing holidays.  We hear a few "Ooo, that looks lovely" and "How about this one, babe?" but nothing interesting is really happening.  I'm beginning to regret following them in here.  I could have bought my boat by now.  And this wall is getting dull.  I've read "Cruise through four seasons in four weeks for just £99" thirteen times now. 
    "I'll leave you to read those through.  I'll just be in there if you need me," Captain Birdseye tells them before entering a hidden away room at the back.
    "I love the look of this one.  We should go for it," Giles confirms to Kate.  We hear him waving a brochure about.
    "Oh, but that's until mid October,"
    "I know, but term doesn't start properly until then, so you'll only miss Fresher's Week,"
    "No, no!  I don't want to miss anything.  I want to get to Edinburgh as soon as I can!" she snaps.  Uh oh, I can feel the Bunny Boiler Richter Scale starting to increase a little.
    "I know, babe, but this is a great deal and it would be a shame to miss it,"
    "I'm going to Edinburgh when I'm supposed to, not when it suits you!!  Do you understand?" she shouts at him.  Loudly.  Captain Birdseye emerges from his retreat. 
    "A problem?" he asks.
    "Oh, nothing.  Sorry about that," Giles smiles and apologises, so he hides back in his room.  He turns to Kate in a soothing tone, "At least think about it, babe,"
    "I don't need to think about it!! This relationship won't last until then anyway!!!" she screams.  "Erggh! I can't even believe it's lasted this long!"
    "Umm...what?" Giles sounds hurt.
    "I only got with you to make Jamie jealous.  I expected him to come crawling back to me weeks ago, but he's still with that bitch!"
    I'm about to go and strangle her, but Mikey holds on to me.  "Stay calm," he whispers.
    "But now that Jamie's going to Edinburgh as well, Ella won't be around and it will be so much easier to make him mine again," she says this like she's so proud with herself. 
    "Oh," he's practically whispering. 
    "So I probably won't go on this holiday anyway.  Now that I think about it, it's just time wasted in not trying to win Jamie back,"
    Die Die Die!
    Seconds later we hear the bell above the front door jingle.  Giles has stormed out.  Kate sets down the brochures and walks out calmly into the heavy rain.
    "Bloody hell," I say to Mikey.
    "I can't believe that," he responds, his mouth wide open from the shock.  "I honestly thought she'd caught the bait properly when we set her up with Giles,"
    I look around the shop again wondering what my next step should be.  Do I tell Jamie about this?  Will he even believe me?  He'll just think it's some sort of way of getting him to stay in Surrey rather than move to Scotland. 
    "What are you going to do now?" Mikey asks me, but there's no time to reply because Captain Birdseye has emerged again and is smiling at us.
    "Can I help you with anything?" he asks.
    "Do you sell boats?" I reply without even thinking.
    "We do,"
    "Roughly how much is your average one?"
    "Well, they range from a few thousands to a few hundred.  Our cheapest rowing boat is £150,"
    "I'll take it,"
    Queue gasp from Mikey.
    "It's a little more costly if we have to deliver it,"
    "That's not a problem.  I still want it,"
    I can sense Mikey wants to shout at me so I walk a little bit away from him and get out my phone.  Before I have a chance to change my mind, I start typing: 'I told you I was going to buy a boat!' and off the message flies to Jamie.
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