(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.
"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.
Umm...is he about to hug me?
Oh, he's hugging me.
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?"
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.
"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.
"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.
Oh my gosh, is that Hannah??