Thursday 31 March 2011

If You See Something, Say Nothing

  (Continuation of If You're In Love, Please Leave Me Alone)

    "How is that a weekend bag?" Hannah shouts as she points to my luggage.  "We're coming back this Sunday, not next Sunday,"
    "It's not that big," I defend myself.  "Anyway, you're practically carrying a wallet,"
    "Err..actually this holds everything I need.  I have four suits, three casual outfits, two evening dresses-"
    "And a partridge in a pear tree?"
    She purses her lips and chooses to ignore my comment.  Instead, she lifts my (apparently) massive bag into the boot of the taxi and orders me to sit behind the passenger seat, as the only seat that doesn't make her car sick is the one behind the driver.  So, I obey.  After some fidgeting with her own bag, she finally joins me in the car, clicks her seatbelt into place and orders the driver to go.
    I often wonder just how structured her relationship is with Luke.  She must ring him at least three days in advance for them to have a night together.  A little giggle escapes my lips before I get a chance to stop it.
    "What are you laughing at?" she asks, as the journey to Bournemouth begins.
    "Oh, nothing," I say, trying to dismiss it.
    "Tell me.  You have to tell me," and she starts tugging at my sleeve like a petulant child.
    "OK.  Well, I was just thinking how organised you and Luke must be with each other.  Does he have to ask you a week in advance if he can come over?"
    "Yes," she says without blinking.
    "But -"
    "Relationships need order and structure, Ella.  There needs to be routine for it to work,"
    "I understand, but -"
    "And what if I'm busy with other stuff?  Or he's busy with other stuff?"
    "So you never call him at ten in the evening and ask him to come over?"
    She turns to me as if I've told her she's been walking around with her dress tucked into her knickers.
    "Of course not!"
    "And he never calls you and invites you round that very minute?"
    "Well, he used to do that at the beginning.  Now he knows better,"
    I giggle again.  Poor Luke!

I can't help but feel that this is my weekend away.  I seem to be forgetting that in actual fact tonight is a rather important work do, followed by many meetings on Saturday and Sunday.
    But it's absolutely evident that there won't be any time for relaxing as soon as we reach the hotel.  Once we step into the hall, we're greeted by Luke who cannot be happier to see us.  After kissing Hannah on the cheek, he hands me his clipboard as if I'm about to save his life and says, "Please, tell these clowns what to do.  You're good at all this decoration stuff," and instantly he's gone with an arm around Hannah saying, "You're going to love the room I've got for us. It overlooks the beach,"
    I turn around and smile at the workers.  One of them is standing on a stepladder awaiting orders and the other is carelessly sitting on a table, winking at me.
    "Right boys," I begin, "Let's get to work,"

I'm wearing a raspberry red cocktail dress, which dances as I walk.  My brown hair is curled and up, and my make-up seems flawless.  I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as the lift doors open, and it's one of those rare moments where I think, "I feel pretty. Oh so pretty," and want to break into a song from West Side Story with all the hotel staff joining in.
    But this doesn't happen.
    Instead, I walk into the room and pause at the top of the steps to let enough eyes rest on me.  It's all about the entrance, after all.  After first impressions have well and truly been made, I make my way down the steps to Hannah and Luke.
    "You've done a great job," Hannah says looking around the room.
    "Oh, I did nothing.  Just a few curtains here and flower arranging there.  In a way, it all organised itself," I smile at them both.  Hannah looks stunning - she's chosen a floor length, strapless dress which glimmers like sapphire.
    "You're far too modest.  There's no way this place would have looked this good with me in charge," Luke says and steps a little closer. he about to hug me?
    Oh, he's hugging me.
    Rather tightly.
    Uh oh!  Inappropriate crush on best friend's boyfriend could be rearing it's ugly head again.  This feels so comfortable, and his neck smells of eucalyptus.  No man's neck has ever smelt of eucalyptus.  It's biologically impossible.  They're supposed to smell of sweat, or petrol, or disappointment.
    I refuse to go down that road again.  Lock this feeling up and throw away the key.
    Throw the bloody box away if you have to.
    "Are you OK?" Luke asks as he lets go of me.
    "Yes, I'm just happy you like how the place turned out," I coyly say.
    He smiles and my knees almost buckle beneath me.  "There's someone I'd like to introduce you to," he says resting his palm on my back and pushing me towards a group of guests.
    "Is it Michael J. Fox?"
    "How disappointing,"
    We stop as we reach the group and I'm face to face with an incredibly attractive, tall guy in his late twenties.  His hair is a golden brown that match his eyes perfectly, and his smile is so charismatic that I can't stop smiling back.  I almost say, "Mr. Darcy?  Is that you?"
    "This is Sam.  He's head of advertising at our Manchester office," Luke begins,  "And this is Ella, my number one employee," he smiles again and leaves us to it.
    "Ella, is it?" Sam asks, sipping at his champagne.
    "Are you the one who sent me that email last month ending with 'kind retards'?"
    "Umm...yes.  Sorry about that,"  I'm blushing.  No, not blushing.  I'm a shade of deep red.  All over.  I probably match my dress.
    He laughs, "Don't worry, I found it endearing.  It's nice to get emails that cheer you up, instead of the usual bad news,"
    "In that case, I'm not sorry," I smile.
    "Listen," he's sounding very Mancunian all of a sudden.  "I'll be in London sometime next month.  It would be nice to know someone there.  I'd get very bored exploring the city on my own,"
    I'm still smiling like an idiot.
    "So..." he continues, not quite knowing what else to say.
    Meanwhile, I'm still smiling.
    And smiling.
    "Oh," the penny drops, "you want my number?"
    "Yes, that was the idea,"
    Come on brain, work faster!

I've escaped the chaos of the evening and have found solace in a Georgian style balcony overlooking the beach.  The sea is quiet tonight, behaving itself as it ripples along the beach, playing with the sand.  It's not particularly cold, but the evening wind has picked up a chill and it's making me shiver slightly.  I think about my life and I smile - it's all lovely.  I have a nice flat and an entertaining flatmate.  I love my job and am well on my way to being promoted, and I have a Mulberry handbag, which fills me with so much joy every time I look at it, I almost want to jump with glee.
    But then I think about Luke, and I can hear my heart cracking into tiny, little pieces.  I want to turn to it and say, "Don't do this to me now.  I only put you back together a couple of months ago.  I don't have the energy to heal you again!"  It doesn't matter how many times I reassure myself that things are fine, there's still a horrible knot at the pit of my stomach that keeps taunting me; that nervous feeling of utter lack of control.
    In the darkness below me I hear the giggles of a couple, and I smile.  It's nice to be in love.  But only when they love you back.
    "There you are," a voice interrupts and enters the balcony.
    "Luke, you scared me," I say, clutching at my chest from the shock.
    "Sorry," he says leaning against the balcony next to me overlooking the nightfall.  "So you and Sam have arranged to see each other again?" he nudges my arm with his elbow.
    "We have," I sigh.
    "You don't seem very excited about it.  So I shouldn't be buying myself a new suit for your wedding anytime soon?"
    "I can't marry him even if I wanted to," I say as I look into the distance.
    "Huh?  Why?"
    "Because he's called Sam,"
    I look at him as if I've lost patience, "Merry Christmas, Lots of Love, Sam and Ella," I say.
    "Sam and Ella," I repeat again, but he still has a blank expression.  "Salmonella" I retort.
    Luke pushes himself away from the balcony and stares at me with a smile, "I would love to know what goes on in that brain of yours,"
    "There's never a dull moment,"
    "I don't doubt that.  Right, I have to go find Hannah.  She disappeared about half an hour ago.  Will you be OK on your own?"
    I nod my head and watch him enter the party again, before turning my attention to the excited giggles of that couple.  I lean over the balcony to catch a better view, but it's too dark.  So I watch their silhouettes as they masquerade in the darkness, making up a story in my head as how these two met and fell in love.
    "We should probably go back in," the male silhouette speaks and I recognise it immediately.  It's the CEO - it is definitely the CEO.  He must be catching a few minutes alone with his wife.  My heart swells at the thought that even after all these years of marriage, they're still madly in love.  I hope to be like that one day.
    "Just a few more minutes," the wife says.  But hang on, that's not her voice.  I've talked to her on the phone and she's definitely Irish.  This woman has no sign of a lilt.
    I lean out a little more to get a better glimpse and watch as the shimmery, blue dress collides with the light.  I can't quite make it out...
    The couple enter the spotlight.
    I freeze.
    Oh my gosh, is that Hannah??

Thursday 24 March 2011

Basket Case

I have a strike system when it comes to dates and relationships.  I'm a tolerant girl.  I don't pick arguments over the slightest wrong words, I don't focus too much on what's said about exes, and I don't react too harshly when the guy is quite clearly being a hypocrite.  But, that doesn't mean it's all forgotten.  It's as if my mind has a basket, and one by one these 'wrong-doings' are thrown in until one day the handle becomes too weak and the entire thing falls to the ground with a loud thud, and everything is out in the open.

    "I've never brought someone like you here before," Jimmy says as he pulls the chair out for me when we enter this gorgeous, Italian restaurant in Guildford.  I reluctantly sit down, calculating in my head how exactly to take his words.  But, I decide to say nothing.  Perhaps he meant "I've never taken someone as beautiful as you here before" or "this place has never seen a more intelligent woman than you..." or ..."you've dressed as a prostitute today...are you one?"
    But, I keep quiet and store this information away in my mental basket as I unwrap the napkin from its elegant clip and place it on my lap, occasionally playing with the edge.
    I glance up at my date, who, despite his words, seems to be in good spirits.  His green eyes dazzle like peridot in the dim, candlelit lighting, and his blond hair - scruffy yet fashionable, is the exact shade I once naively dyed my hair back in my second year of university.  I wonder if perhaps he uses L'Oreal Casting Creme Gloss in Sweet Honey as well.
    "Are you OK?" he asks, piercing the word association my mind is playing.
    "Yes, of course," I smile angelically.
    "Then, why are you staring at my hair?"
    "I was just admiring your hair colour," I cautiously say.
    "Oh, thanks," he replies as he calls over a waiter.  "I've been dying it for a couple of years.  An ex-girlfriend convinced me to use her hair dye once and I've never looked back since,"
    L'Oreal Casting Creme Gloss in Sweet Honey it is then.
    "Actually, the girls I go for are always blonde.  You're a funny change,"
    And there goes basket item number 2, practically cannonballed in.  A funny change?!  And yet, I still say nothing.  It just sits there in my brain, niggling away at me until some point I won't be able to ignore it.
    The waiter comes over with a broad smile - that attractive, flirtatious smile that Italian men seem to have down to a T.
    "You'll like the Mediterranean salad," Jimmy points out.  "Delicious and not very fattening," and he eyes my slim figure up and down as if I should be signing up to Weight Watchers.
    Err...thanks for basket component number 3!
    "I'll have the steak," he says, and my mind desperately attempts for a comeback.  Hmm, perhaps something about his belly, which on closer inspection could do with a few sit ups.  Or the deep wrinkles that are forming around his eyes...
    A bit too far.  He'll probably cry.  This is a man who dyes his hair in a shade called 'Honey Blonde' for goodness sake.
    "The Mediterranean salad sounds like a good choice.  I'll go for that," I confirm.
    "Wise girl!" Jimmy tells the waiter.
    See...that's a sort of compliment...isn't it?
    "How long have you been in advertising?" he asks me when the waiter leaves to tend another table.
    I look around the room pondering over the three months that I've been working there.  "A year," I lie.
    "Still, you'll probably have to look for another job soon. I mean, you can't be making that much," he sips his wine and intently looks into my eyes, which I'm sure are like saucers over the shock of what he's said.
    "Moving to law was the best decision I ever made.  The money's brilliant,"
    Good for you.  Tosser.
    "Success is a really attractive quality in a woman, and well, you are... you know,"
    No, I don't know.  Please go on!
    "I'm used to girls who I can show off career wise,"
    And I'm used to smart, attractive guys who adore me, but I'm not sharing that little gem with you.
    "My ex was amazing.  A real hard-worker.  She'll go incredibly far, you know.  Maybe I can introduce you to her so she can give you a few career tips,"
    Tosser! Tosser! Tosser!
    "I love my job.  I'm really happy there," I tell him, as if I even have to justify.
    "Well, I'm glad," he says in a patronising tone.  And there goes another basket item.
I tuck into my meal when it finally arrives, and luckily the conversation has swerved away from my insignificant career, and Jimmy is telling me about his family who live in the north of Italy.  He's a lot nicer when he talks about himself and stays out of my life, so these ten minutes are rather enjoyable.
    But it doesn't last.
    "It's so strange that I'm on a date with you," he weirdly informs me.  "You're just not my type at all,"
    Do you even like me???
    "I prefer blonde, petite girls," the genius continues, "and, well, you're not,"
    Yeah, how dare I be a tall brunette.  Gosh, it's every guy's nightmare!!!  Is this basket item number 100 or 150?  I've lost count.
    "Where do you buy your clothes, because they don't look that expensive?"
    Right! That's it!
    Question my looks and my career all you want, but say anything about my fashion sense and I will ruin you, darling!!
    "You're an arsehole, so I'm leaving," I announce standing up.
    "What?" he answers back, genuinely confused.
    "Did you honestly think this was going well?" I sit back down again to tell him everything I'm thinking.  "We've been here for forty-five minutes and for 70% of the time you've been talking about your short exes.  You've told me my career is going nowhere and how well you're doing.  I mean, have some composure.  You've explained how I'm a 'funny change' to your usual type, well, let me tell you something, you're no God's gift to women! You're getting a pot belly, you've sunbathed so much you look like leather, and you've got a bald patch,"
    He quickly raises his right hand to cover the back of his head.
    "Probably from all the hair dye, which by the way, doesn't even suit you! Oh, and you think your career is going well?  You seem to forget that my best friend is your assistant, and I hear from her that the company is losing money.  So let's see who's where in a years' time, shall we?"
    He's about to pipe up, but I don't let him.
    "On the way here you told me you had a problem with hearing about my ex-boyfriend from three years ago, so why must I sit here and let you compare me to your past blondes?  And you have the audacity to get me in contact with one of them! You have issues, mate!"
    I rise up from my seat again, but then I remember another point.
    "Oh! And you think this dress isn't expensive?  It's not like you'd be able to tell anyway, judging by the way you're dressed.  Pale green and navy don't go together! So I'm sure you and your Asda tie will have a lovely dinner together.  Enjoy your evening,"
    Basket's empty.
    And I feel so much better.

Saturday 12 March 2011

The Bunny Boiler - Chapter 7

    "Did you hear what I said?"
    "Aha," I look down at the half eaten fishcakes on my plate and push them around with my fork.
    "I thought you'd have more to say, that's all,"
    Oh, darling! I have plenty to say, trust me. This is just the calm before the storm.
    "I want you to come with me,"
    "Are you even listening to me?"
    "Of course,"
    "Then say something," Jamie's hand reaches out across the table and faintly touches mine.  He furrows his dark eyebrows, and with a look of worry asks, "What are you thinking?"
    My eyes fling about the room for some form of inspiration, because he's not ready yet for what I'm actually thinking.  I spot a woman with nautical shoes. 
    "I want a boat,"
    "Nothing big.  Just something to go up and down the Thames in on a Sunday morning,"
    "Not a barge though.  I don't like crouching,"
    He starts looking around the tables next to us as if checking if anyone else has spotted my abrupt insanity.
    "And they're always a funny green colour,"
    "Yes.  But let's go back to what we were originally talking ab-"
    "Maybe a yacht.  I quite like the idea of over-sized sunglasses and a beach hat whilst sunbathing.  They did a few fashion pages of that look in last month's Elle,"
    "You want a yacht?"
    "Where would you put it?"
    "I live near the Thames,"
    "I can see a bit of the river from my bedroom window.  I'll just keep an eye on the yacht every now and again,"
    "OK," he takes another mouthful of his food, and I wonder whether now is the best time for my wrath to show. 
    No, I'll let it simmer for a bit longer. 
    I look up at him from my swig of Diet Coke and throw him a bitterly sweet smile. 
    I knew he was going to drop a bombshell on me as soon as he mentioned going out to a nice restaurant.  Jamie was hardly that guy when we were first dating - let alone now that it's been six months.  But I let all these negative thoughts sit at the back of my mind, ignoring the niggling feeling, desperately hoping that I'd be wrong and tonight would just be a regular night out. 
    "When are you buying this boat then?" he asks. 
    I see him nod slowly with a faint smile on his face.
    "From where?"
    "I see.  And with what money?"
    "My money," I say really quickly, sensing the mocking tone in his voice. 
    "You're being silly,"
    "It's not like I'm buying a cruise ship!"
    "Yes, you're right.  It all makes perfect sense now," he raises an eyebrow at me and turns his head away.
    I think it's time to let it all out, don't you!
    "So, you've decided to go to uni in Edinburgh?" I cross my arms and legs and lean back on the chair, waiting for him to answer.
    "Isn't that also where Kate is going?" I ask, averting my eyes away from him.  I hear a loud sigh as he leans on the table. 
    "That shouldn't matter," he says softly. "I've asked you to come with me,"
    "Firstly, it matters greatly.  And secondly, I can't just drop the life I've planned just because you've changed your plan so last minute,"
    "I only found out recently I'd been accepted.  I can't turn down that opportunity.  And this has nothing to do with Kate.  She's over me now.  She's with Giles, remember?"
    Of course I remember.  That relationship was all part of me and Mikey's plan, but unfortunately it never really worked.  Despite the fact that Kate is no longer single, you'd be a fool not to realise that she's still madly in love with Jamie.  Those longing looks as he walks past are still apparent, and even though she smiles at me now when I see her, I can tell that inside she's thinking, "Why don't you just spontaneously combust?"
    "Would you be comfortable if my ex went to the same university as me?" I ask him, trying to make my point.
    He sneers a little as he thinks about this, "I don't think I'd care,"
    "Really?" I begin.  "You'd be comfortable with the fact that on nights out drinking, he'll always be around?  That he'd be the one comforting me when I'm missing you, or the one I go to when I don't do so well in an exam?"
    Jamie looks at the floor before flicking his eyes at me.  "I'd be absolutely fine with that," he forces through gritted teeth.
    "You'd be absolutely fine knowing this guy is still in love with your girlfriend and would do anything to get her back?"
    "OK!" he says a little too loudly.  We pause the argument for a bit until all the heads of strangers avert back to minding their own business.  "I hate that thought.  It makes me physically sick," he says, throwing down his napkin as if he's about to storm out.  "But I love you, Ella.  I trust you completely.  And I like to think you trust me too,"
    "Of course I trust you," I say.  "But I don't trust her!"
    He nods his head as if understanding.  It's that thing all guys do - they pretend to sympathise with your feelings, but in reality they won't change their plans, no matter how much it hurts you. 
    "We talked about this, Jamie.  You were supposed to go to Royal Holloway so you'd be near Surrey uni," I tell him as if pleading for him to change his mind.  "And I've seen maps.  Scotland is like another country,"
    He lets his head hang and rubs the back of his neck.  "I've asked you to come with me," he finally says.
    "NO!" I snap.  "I won't re-route my life to suit you!"
    "Well, you still have time to think about it," he says, leaning back on his chair.
    "I'm not coming to Edinburgh, Jamie,"
    "FINE!" I snap again and get up to leave the restaurant, furiously searching my phone for Mikey's number.

The blue Ford Focus pulls up along the pavement, one wheel on the kerb.
    "Get in," Mikey mouths from the car, so I rise from the edge of the wall I'm sitting on and wipe the tears from my cheeks.  I climb in, throwing the fluffy cushion sitting comfortably in the front seat, in the back.
    "What on earth is this?" I say, looking at the lilac fluff with confusion.
    "My mum put it in here," he defends.
    "OK," I say, unconvinced. 
    "So you just walked out without paying?" he asks me as the car starts moving.
    "Yes, but I don't feel guilty because I need the money,"
    "What for?"
    "I'm buying a boat tomorrow,"
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