You can tell a lot about someone by the state of their bathroom. Or so my mother always likes to say and she would know as she works as a social worker. Take ours for instance. My stuff lies everywhere in a colourful, cheap, untidy jumble of missing lids and leaky bottles whereas Lydia’s things are all expensive, beautiful and tidy. I think it all comes from Space NK and sometimes when I am in the bath I surreptitiously look at the labels and take a sniff of the Ren rose bath oils and Frédéric Fekkai shampoos but never, ever use anything because I know that if she found out there would be hell to pay.
Actually, it is really unfair of me to try and make things more interesting by painting her as an Evil Flatmate From Hell as Lydia is lovely. Really and truly. And she is beautiful. Sickening isn’t it? We are cousins, which seems bizarre and on the maternal side as well which apparently means that we share DNA although you wouldn’t think it to look at us. I am on the almost squat side of short for a start and have wiry red hair but importantly I have dark eyebrows and eyelashes so there is hope for me yet. Lydia, however, is tall, willowy and blonde. If I didn’t know her, if I wasn’t related to her then I would most probably hate her guts. Actually, no, I wouldn’t because she is just too damn nice. The bitch.
Anyway, here we are in the bathroom and I am lying in a rapidly cooling bath full of Lush products and Lydia is perched on the edge of the bath with one foot up on the loo seat as she paints her nails with deep crimson Chanel (of course) varnish. She has just told me all about her upcoming date with some guy who works in the City and I am about to launch into a scathing personal attack on Justin at work, who smells funny and has the face and mannerisms of a sexual pervert.
Lydia laughs at this. ‘Oh, Millie, don’t be so silly! You can’t decide something like that just because of how someone looks!’ She screws up her face as she solemnly studies her toenails. I never bother painting mine because, duh, effort.
I shift about a bit in the tub and then idly start fishing the miniature glittery (and rather scratchy) stars that exploded out of the bath bomb out with my finger and then sticking them to the tiles. ‘I think that you are just too trusting, Lydia,’ I say eventually in mock reproving tones, although secretly I feel a little ashamed of myself. ‘And one day Horrid Justin will appear before you in a dark alley way somewhere and then you will be sorry!’
She laughs again. ‘A dark alley way in Whitechapel no doubt?’ She sticks her tongue out at me and leaps away as I splash water at her. ‘Ha ha, does he know all about your obsessions with serial killers, Little Miss Deviant?’
‘Shut up,’ I mutter, hiding my smile behind the bubbles. ‘I am only interested in one serial killer and so are lots of people so it is hardly unusual is it?’
She arches one elegant eyebrow. ‘Well, if other people like it then presumably that must make it almost normal.’ She lobs a sponge at my head. ‘Even if all of those people are sexual deviants and smelly, comic book reading little geeks.’ Geek, of course, being the worst possible insult in Lydia’s world. God help us all.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ I shake my head and grin. ‘Now fuck off while I get out of this thing.’
She smiles and opens the door, preparing to flounce out. ‘Well, seeing as you asked so nicely.’
I clamber out and pull the plug before wrapping a towel around myself and padding out to the sitting room, where Lydia is now lying on the sofa watching America’s Next Top Model. I laugh scornfully at this, which is massively hypocritical as I love it too but will never admit to it.
‘Oh shut up, Millie!’ Lydia says with a laugh and a shrug. ‘Look, Tyra has done something really weird to her hair again! Do you think I would look nice like that?’ She rolls up her long hair and sucks in her cheeks as she poses. ‘Do you think that I could be a top model?’
‘Ooh, definitely! Work it girl! You look fierce!’ We giggle at this for a bit and then I go to the kitchen to make some toast. I am on another one of my diets; one of my own devising which appears to involve eating nothing all day and then binging on toast and pizza late at night.
‘Lets go out somewhere!’ Lydia calls after me. ‘Come on! It’s been ages since we went out properly!’
My ears prick up at this and I pop my head out of the kitchen. ‘Can I choose where we go?’ I ask with an air of mock innocence.
She sighs and rolls her eyes, knowing precisely what she is letting herself in for. ‘Sure, why not.’ I ought to point out that despite the way she talks, which can border very much on the Valley Girl side, Lydia is not actually American at all but actually hails, like myself from the rather less glamorous Bristol. Which would explain why we both have a mammoth tolerance for the heroin of the South West – cheap cider.
‘Excellent.’ I say, buttering my toast lavishly and then sauntering back through the sitting room. ‘I will just go and get dressed and then be right with you.’
I wander into my room and kick the door closed behind me. I may be a whore in the bathroom but my bedroom is immaculate. Yes, I am well aware that people expect all sorts of single girl horror but no, there is none of that. Yes there is clutter and posters and books everywhere and clothes draped over the bed and all manner of Catholic kitsch but it is organised chaos not, y’know, squalor. You don’t believe me do you?
Anyway, I go to the stereo and put on a cd by my favourite band ever, New Order, and then turn to the wardrobe which, and I will be honest here, is dominated by a lot of black. The thing is though that black isn’t the lazy option that some claim it to be because there is more than one shade of black, would you believe? There is pure black, rusty black, charcoal black, blue black and so on. It isn’t quite so simple as just pulling on a black top and a black skirt and assuming that they will go together because, my friends, that just isn’t the case. And this is why it takes me a good hour to get dressed right now in an ankle length black skirt, a rather pretty teal silk top and a black crochet cardigan. I consider tying a red ribbon around my neck but fear Lydia’s derisive laughter and instead pick up the pretty angel wing necklace that I got in the Urban Outfitters sale. Then MAC Russian Red lipstick of course and some black eye liner. Nice make up is probably my biggest feminine indulgence. I try to tell myself that the expensive stuff is more cost effective because it lasts longer and has better pigmentation but really I am just a make up snob.
‘You look like a goth,’ Lydia observes as I stalk into the sitting room. ‘Seriously, Millie, it doesn’t matter how much you deny it. You are totally still into that whole goth thing.’ She walks over and fingers my cardigan and casts a wry look down at my long skirt and neat little boots. ‘You look like a Victorian prostitute!’
‘Oh shut up!’ I flush a little bit. I have only ever made her watch From Hell twice, okay maybe five, times so I don’t know what her problem is, frankly. And I am not a fucking goth. ‘Are we going out then?’
Lydia reaches out and touches my arm. ‘Oh, Millie, I was only joking! You always look lovely and I know you aren’t into that sort of thing really.’ She really is a convincing liar, which is lucky because she is an actress and if she couldn’t lie convincingly then she would be fucked, basically, wouldn’t she? And yes she is a real actress and gets to be in films and on television and stuff, which is why we can rent nice flat by the river in Wapping and how come she can afford stuff from Space NK and is currently dressed up in a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress underneath the most gorgeous coat from Burberry while all my clothes come from Warehouse and Oasis.
We briskly walk through the chilly winter gloom to Wapping tube station and it makes me smile that she doesn’t even ask where we are going but just automatically buys a ticket to Whitechapel. As usual she has to hold my hand in the lift down to the platforms because I am terrified of enclosed spaces and I love her for this. ‘Aww, Millie, try not to worry!’ she says with a smile when she realises that I have my eyes closed and am praying. ‘Have we ever got stuck in here?’
‘No,’ I mutter darkly. ‘But there is always a first time for everything.’
Whitechapel is reached without incident and we half walk, half run to Brick Lane which is gaudily lit up as usual and filled with noise and revelry. We avoid a couple of curry house touts who wave fliers and menus in our faces and head straight to our favourite, which has an excellent muttar paneer and staff who don’t mind when I get really drunk and cover the table with rice and mango chutney.
We sit down and order two Tigers and a mountain of poppadoms. Lydia usually tries to play safe by ordering just one but today she decides to rebel and orders four, which is realistic but unprecedented. ‘What?’ she says, noticing my incredulous expression. ‘I am hungry!’
I shrug and go back to looking through the menu, even though I know exactly what I am going to have. The poppadoms arrive and Lydia picks one up and snaps it neatly into small pieces whereas I pick up a whole one, place it on my plate and smash it with my hand so that sharp little shards fly everywhere. I pick up a piece and dip it into the mango chutney, ignoring as usual the fact that Lydia is actually using the little spoons that come with the dips.
Actually, no, I can’t ignore it. ‘God, Lyds, you are such a fucking control freak,’ I say, cramming poppadom into my mouth and grinning.
‘Oh shut up,’ she says with a smile. ‘If you are very good tonight then I might, might, let you follow one of the Jack the Ripper tours about for a bit.’
‘Oh excellent,’ I say with glee as this is an immense treat. Lydia doesn’t usually like to involve herself in my interests but I absolutely love it when she does. I am of course ignoring the fact that I am being humoured like a slightly backward uncle.
‘But only if you promise absolutely and faithfully not to jump out and scare them this time.’ Drat, I was hoping that she had forgotten about that.
‘Maybe I should get a job in the London Dungeons,’ I muse, absent mindedly dipping poppadom in the lime chutney and then instantly regretting it when it burns my lips as usual. ‘I think I am excellent at scaring tourists. It is my special skill in fact. You could put a word in for me, couldn’t you?’
Lydia rolls her eyes. ‘Millie, do you remember what happened the last time I took you there?’
I stifle a snigger. ‘I got into a rather undignified fight with one of the actor people when he jumped out on me at the end of the boat ride.’ I grin ruefully remembering how Lydia had had to stop me punching him. ‘Such fun.’
She sighs. ‘Millie, you are hopeless.’
‘Yeah, but you love me anyway don’t you, Lyds?’ I flutter my eyelashes at her absurdly until she laughs and agrees before instantly becoming serious again.
‘No, but seriously, Millie, you have to grow up a bit.’ She smiles up at the waiter as he places her curry and rice in front of her; arranging the silver platters on a hot burner in between us. ‘You can’t behave like a student forever. I mean, you are twenty seven now!’
‘Oh God,’ I mutter, digging into my muttar paneer and getting mushroom rice all over the table as usual. I notice that Lydia is eyeing up my glass of Tiger. ‘I am not drunk, okay?’ I snarl. ‘And I am grown up, thank you very much!’ I sigh and, immediately contrite, awkwardly reach across to take her hand. ‘Look, I am sorry, Lyds. I didn’t mean to snap at you but for fucks sake, would you stop talking like my mother?’
She laughs at that and the awkward moment passes. ‘Oh look, forget I spoke,’ she says, rather ruefully. ‘I am probably just jealous about all the fun that you seem to be having.’
I bristle a bit at this. ‘I always invite you to come out as well,’ I say, tearing off a piece of cheese naan and swirling it around in my sauce. ‘You could come and have fun too. My friends all like you and you claim to like them as well.’
‘Yes, but I am always so busy,’ Lydia points out patiently and almost wearily, because she has to say this so often to me, to her parents and to everyone else. ‘I have just finished filming and have another project starting up next week.’
‘Yeah but all of those Hollywood actresses seem to be out all of the time!’ I protest. ‘Seriously, they spend so much time pouting on red carpets that I am amazed that they ever have time to actually act in anything!’
‘Oh, Hollywood,’ Lydia says dismissively. ‘I am not quite in the same league.’ The way that she says it makes it clear that she thinks that they are not in quite same league as her. Not that she is into all of that serious thespian stuff either, I hasten to add. If you look at her IMDB profile, and really you should because it makes for hilarious reading thanks to the fawning write up by one of her fans, then you will see that my cousin is a veteran of such great British staples as The Bill (playing a heroin addict), Casualty (playing a heroin addict’s devoted girlfriend), Midsomer Murders (playing a rather slutty barmaid who is found bludgeoned to death in a vintage car), Miss Marple (playing a society hostess) and various successful romantic comedies about fully functioning borderline alcoholic thirty somethings looking for a husband before their ovaries start to decay. I think she wants to branch out into something a bit more serious now though as I have spotted scripts for worthy Shakespeare adaptations about the place lately. Not the jolly comedy Branagh ones but the scary, dark ones with lots of blood, uniforms and people serving other people up in pies.
And on that cheerful note, we finish our curries, pay (and tip heavily as usual because I have made a mess of the tablecloth) and then go outside. ‘I love Brick Lane,’ I say, pulling on my gloves because there is a definite snap of winter in the air. ‘One day I am going to live here.’
‘Yes, and be burgled on a weekly basis,’ Lydia remarks sagely, wrinkling her nose. ‘It always amazes me how somewhere as scummy as Whitechapel can be so expensive.’
‘Oh, Lyds, you can take the girl out of the provinces…’ I laugh and take her arm, leading her down past eerie Christ Church and to the Ten Bells on the corner, which is my third favourite pub in all the world. It is rammed as usual and raucous laughter floats above the overly loud jazz. I love the Ten Bells but there is something about it that I find oppressive and I can never stay in there for very long. We fight our way to the bar and order two gin and tonics, shouting to be heard over the din.
‘Let’s have these and then go to the Princess Alice!’ I yell, sloshing my gin and tonic about. ‘It is too noisy in here!’
Lydia laughs. ‘You always say that and yet you always insist that we come in here!’ She sips her drink and looks around. I watch as she does so, laughing at all the people who catch her eye and give a start of recognition before realising that they don’t actually really know her at all but just recognise her from a film or something. I shouldn’t laugh though as I have fallen prey to this myself in the past – most notably when I was in a bank queue behind whoever played the grumpy Scottish chef in Crossroads and actually said hello to him before I realised my shameful error. Yeah, yeah I know. Look, I never pretended to be cool did I?
And then I see him. He isn’t handsome and he is staring at my cousin, which are both points against him obviously but even so I just can’t drag my eyes away and I catch myself simultaneously praying that he will look at me and hoping that he doesn’t because I know that I will get all flustered if he does and he will think that I am a complete idiot. I compose myself and turn away. I am hardly a man magnet at the best of times, and right now standing next to my beautiful cousin, with red cheeks and curry splashed down my top I am certainly not liable to attract anything more than pitying glances. I finish my drink. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’
We are just pushing our way through the crowd when he appears in front of us and I am forced to stop. ‘Hi, Lydia isn’t it?’ He smiles at her, completely ignoring me of course, which is typical but nonetheless annoying. ‘We met at a party in Islington last week.’ I look up at her and see that although she still looks a bit blank, she is smiling as though seeing him again is the most delightful thing possible.
‘Oh, hello again!’ she says brightly. ‘Um…’
‘Jake,’ he says, grinning back at her and briefly allowing his gaze to drop momentarily to my level. Really for someone who isn’t even remotely handsome, he is incredibly arrogant. I scowl at him and he looks hastily away and back at Lydia again who is now nodding enthusiastically. ‘Oh yes, I remember now! Jake! Of course!’ She smiles. ‘Well, it is nice to see you again.’ Clearly he isn’t her type because she is already moving towards the door and smiling over her shoulder at him. ‘You should call me sometime,’ she shouts over the jazz, even though we all know that he almost certainly has not got her phone number.
On an impulse I turn around at the door and smile at him. ‘We are going to the Princess Alice,’ I say as Lydia stares at me in confused horror. ‘Want to come with us?’ Okay, so I will probably have to sit there and watch him flirting with my cousin, but it is better than not watching him at all. Maybe.
He looks at me again and I am instantly, horribly aware of the curry splashed on my top, my smeared lipstick and the bit of mint that is lodged between my teeth. Oh why can’t I be glamorous and groomed to within an inch of my life? Why must I always be so scruffy? ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’ He smiles at me but I know that he doesn’t really see me at all. ‘I will just let my friends know.’
‘Why did you do that?’ Lydia hisses at me, annoyed that I am letting some total stranger tag along with us. ‘Do you fancy him or something?’ She stares at me closely and I blush, which makes her laugh and give me a quick hug. ‘Oh for fucks sake, Millie!’ She watches him as he weaves through the crowd and momentarily vanishes from view. ‘Still, he is more your sort than mine isn’t he?’
I glare at her. ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ I demand, knowing exactly what it is supposed to mean. He has long hair, he isn’t good looking and he is wearing a Rammstein t shirt (an excellent choice as I am a big fan) and a long black leather trench coat. All of which makes him ‘my sort’ and not Lydia’s. Thank fuck. Although I suspect that he would disagree with this because who wouldn’t rather be Lydia’s ‘sort’ than mine?
We wait outside, hopping up and down in the cold and after a couple of minutes he joins us and we walk down the road to the Princess Alice, which is my absolute favourite pub in all of the world. It isn’t anything special and is a bit of an old fashioned ‘locals’ pub but there is something about it that I really love and I find it impossible to have a bad night in there, which is, I think you will agree, truly something. It is half empty as usual so we go for our favourite table at the back, away from the pool tables. Lydia goes to the bar and comes back with two Pimms for us and a pint of Stella for Jake, who grins his thanks.
‘Millie usually drinks Stella but she is being ladylike tonight,’ Lydia says with a smile. It is a curious conversation starter but I can’t fault her subject matter. ‘They always make decent Pimms in here though.’
He nods. ‘I saw you on television the other night,’ he says with a smile. ‘Well, it was on one of my flatmate’s girlfriend’s dvds actually.’
‘Oh, really?’ Lydia laughs and flicks her hair. ‘I suppose that I ought to apologise. Was it one of those dreadful romantic comedies?’
‘Yeah,’ he leans back in his chair, ‘I can’t remember what it was called though.’
‘Oh, that’s okay. They are all much the same as each other, ‘ Lydia replies, sipping her Pimms. ‘I don’t remember what most of them are called either.’ Lies. I look at her narrowly to see if she is flirting with him, but she is perfectly straight faced and isn’t giving off any kittenish vibes. ‘So, Jake, sorry if you have already told me but what do you do?’
He fakes a yawn. ‘Oh it is all very boring.’ He takes a sip of Stella and we wait for him to go on, but he doesn’t. Oh, maybe it really is very boring then. I am just trying to imagine him behind a reception desk or cleaning up a park when he starts to speak again. ‘I design websites.’ He has a nice voice with an accent that I don’t immediately place but which I later learn is called ‘Estuary’. Yeah, whatever that is supposed to mean.
‘Oh, I.T,’ Lydia says with a wrinkle of her nose. ‘You are a geek! Millie likes geeks, don’t you Millie?’ She pokes me in the arm and I roll my eyes in disdain. Honestly, is this her idea of setting me up with him? I try to catch his eye and compose my features into an expression of extreme mortification.
‘Hey, I am not a geek!’ he protests, still looking at Lydia because clearly placating her is more important than appealing to me. ‘I just happen to work with computers and the internet.’
‘Oh, isn’t that a bit geeky then?’ I frown at her because if I didn’t know Lydia better, I would say that she was beginning to sound positively flirtatious. Or perhaps it is only in my world that insulting someone’s career choices passes as flirtation. ‘Millie is always on websites and she is always claiming not to be a geek as well.’
‘You mean that you don’t go on the internet at all?’ He is leaning forward now as though studying a particularly curious specimen. ‘Not even just to look yourself up on IMDB?’
I laugh at this and finish off my Pimms before standing up. ‘Same again?’ I don’t wait for a reply but stumble off to the bar where I nod my head miserably to Moloko and buy three Pimms (two for Lydia and one for me), four gin and tonics (two each), four pints of Stella (two for Jake and two for me), three tequilas (one for each of us) and a packet of cheese and onion crisps, which I instantly regret as I stagger back to the table with them fetchingly held between my teeth.
Lydia stares in horror at the tray that I place on the table. ‘Are you perhaps drowning all of our collective sorrows, Millie?’ she enquires with a frown. ‘I can’t possibly drink all of this.’ She glares at me. ‘Presuming that all of this isn’t just for you, of course.’
‘Ha ha.’ I hand her a Pimms. ‘Look, we would drink all of this lot anyway so I thought that I might as well just buy it all in one go.’
Jake laughs and for the first time I have all of his attention. ‘Well, we can’t fault your logic anyway,’ he says taking one of the pints while I scowl at his use of the collective ‘we’. Am guessing he didn’t mean it in a royal way but rather as a way of linking himself to Lydia. The bastard. He sees my scowl. ‘Hey, did I do something wrong?’
‘No,’ I mutter, embarrassed before pinning a cheery smile to my face. ‘Come on, drink up you two!’ I grab my bag and head off into the loos, where I stare at myself miserably in the mirror for a bit before setting to work on my face. A bit of powder, some blusher, more eyeliner and another slash of red lipstick later and I am almost ready to face anything. Almost. I remain crippled with fear in the loos, dreading what might be lying in wait for me outside. Have I left them alone for two long? Maybe they got bored and started snogging? Perhaps they drank everything in sight and are having drunken sex under the table? Are they even still there? I hear Lydia laugh. Ah, okay, they haven’t run off and left me then. I push the door and step out. ‘Sorry,’ I say with a smile. ‘My face had fallen off.’ Good, they aren’t snogging.
‘Nice.’ Jake has finished his Stella and pushes tequila slammers in front of us. ‘Shall we? I haven’t had one of these for ages!’ I wish that I could say the same thing.
Lydia knocks hers back and winces. ‘Urgh, why do I do this to myself?’ she asks from between gritted teeth. ‘Or rather, why do I let you do this to me, Millie?’ She laughs. ‘I only ever drink when I am with you.’ More lies. Clearly she forgotten all of the times that she has rolled back from some premiere or other, completely off her face on champagne and warbling on about how she followed Johnny Depp around all night but was too scared to say hello to him when they ended up standing next to each other at the bar.
‘Maybe it is to obscure the horror of my company,’ I say, rather more sourly than I had intended but I am still thinking about Johnny Depp and what I would say if I found myself standing next to him. Lydia is such a lucky cow really. ‘I drive you to drink.’
‘Oh don’t be silly, Millie!’ She grins at Jake. ‘She is such a joker.’ She may be an extremely talented actress, but my cousin is no matchmaker. I simmer furiously and sip my gin and tonic. ‘Awww, am I embarrassing you?’ She doesn’t sound very sorry at all.
Jake laughs. ‘So how do you two know each other then?’ See? No sane person would ever assume that Lydia and I are related. ‘Are you sisters?’ Oh. Hm, well he has been drinking after all which amounts to much the same thing as insanity.
Lydia smiles. ‘No, we are cousins,’ she says, putting an arm around my shoulders. I oblige her with a cheesy grin and for a moment, with our heads together and silly smiles on our faces it is just like all those old photographs of us together as little girls. ‘Of course Millie was always the pretty one.’ I groan inwardly because this is such a blatant, shameless lie. Lydia was born blonde and beautiful, whereas I, born almost two years later was a red head from the start and as such a source of some mortification to my poor parents. I look at Jake and wait for him to disagree with her, he looks rude enough to do so but instead he doesn’t say anything but instead sips his drink.
‘I wish that I had your hair,’ Lydia says for the millionth time and I can tell that she is now rather tipsy. ‘It is so much more interesting than boring old blonde. I was so annoyed with you when you used to dye it all those silly colours.’ She looks at Jake, guessing that he might appreciate this. ‘She had a pink mohican for a while, would you believe it?’
‘I do,’ he says gravely, sipping his pint and looking rather bored.
Lydia ignores him. ‘She has had it pink, blue, green, orange, bright red, purple, blonde, black…’ she counts the colours off on her fingers. ‘The blonde looked nice actually. Very Courtney Love.’
‘That was the general idea,’ I mutter with a glower. ‘I was a student at the time,’ I add somewhat unnecessarily.
‘Oh?’ He looks marginally more interested by this snippet of trivial information. ‘What did you study?’ I can’t believe that people still ask this. I mean, hello, I am twenty seven years old! Does it really matter what I did at university any more?
‘History of Art,’ I mutter after a long pause. ‘At Nottingham,’ I add as an afterthought. I watch him carefully for his reaction because I have known people to get quite hostile before when I tell them what my degree is in. ‘Middle class, entitled, wastrel fucktard’ being the usual response.
Jake just laughs. ‘Isn’t that a bit of a waste of time?’ he asks. ‘I mean, really?’
I shrug. ‘Define waste,’ I say with a hauteur that I do not entirely feel. ‘Look, it was harder work than you might think and I did learn a lot from it and anyway it doesn’t matter what you actually did at university so long as you went.’
‘Hard work?’ Lydia snorts. ‘You never went to any lectures! Your exams involved a slide show! They sent you to Paris to research your dissertation!’ Any second now she will remind me that I wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes on her English course at Manchester. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes at Manchester!’ Bingo.
‘And what do you do now?’ Jake asks, finishing his pint and smirking slightly. Or possibly my shame makes me imagine this.
‘I work as an administrator for a counselling service,’ I say, not looking at either of them. ‘A relationship counselling service.’ As if that makes it somehow better. I hate my job and I resent feeling like I have to apologise for it on top of everything else.
‘Wow, that sounds fascinating!’ Jake looks like he means it. ‘Are there, like, battered wives and stuff?’
‘What?’ I stare at him. ‘No, well, yes, but they don’t talk to me about it.’ I don’t really want to talk about this but do anyway. ‘One of the worst things about my job, amongst the myriad of other soul destroying things, is that I have to work on the reception sometimes and it can be hard to look someone in the face when they have a black eye and at the same time not, y’know, seem to see it.’
‘I can imagine.’ Jake nods. ‘You must get to hear some interesting stuff as well.’
I shrug, pleased to have his attention at last but annoyed that it is thanks to my crap job. ‘I suppose so but I am not allowed to repeat any of it elsewhere.’
‘How boring.’ His attention has gone and he is standing up. ‘Same again or shall we just have the one drink this time?’
I wait until he has turned away and then put my head on the table. ‘I am so crap at this sort of thing,’ I groan. ‘Why can’t I be more like you, Lydia?’ I am feeling rather drunk and this makes me feel rather more woeful than I would do ordinarily. ‘No man will ever love me.’
Lydia laughs and puts her head down on the table next to mine. I want to tell her that her hair is trailing in some spilled beer but the words just won’t form and anyway I don’t want her to move away. ‘I think he really likes you, Millie,’ she says with a giggle. ‘Really. I absolutely do. He keeps giving you looks.’
‘Bollocks!’ I shout, and he turns around to look at us. I lower my voice. ‘He likes you, Lyds. I am just the big fat gooseberry getting in the way of your big romance. I am such an idiot! I should never have invited him to come with us.’
‘Hah, there isn’t going to be any big romance,’ she scoffs. ‘Not with him anyway.’
‘I love you, Lyds,’ I slur, kissing her. ‘I really, really do.’
‘Aw, shut up.’ She kisses me back. ‘Seriously, just go for it.’
Jake returns with our drinks and sits back down. ‘What are you two whispering about?’ he asks with a grin. ‘Should I go away again?’
‘It was nothing,’ I say, sitting up and reaching out for my drink. Stella again. ‘Ooh, are you trying to get me drunk?’ Argh. Shut up Millie.
‘No.’ He looks at Lydia. ‘So how did you get into acting?’ Yawn. Seriously she would save herself a lot of hassle if she just printed out a set of cards with ‘Oh, well, I always sort of wanted to do it but then realised that it was my vocation when I was in the university drama society and it just sort of snowballed from there!’ and then handed them out to people.
‘Oh, well, I always sort of wanted to do it but then realised that it was my vocation when I was in the university drama society and it just sort of snowballed from there,’ she is saying and I can hear the weariness in her voice. ‘I have been very fortunate,’ she adds demurely, with a flutter of her long eyelashes. I kick her underneath the table and Jake yelps. Damn.
‘I always thought that I would be really good at acting but the opportunity just never arose,’ he says, reaching down to rub his shin as I stare fixedly at my pint. ‘I keep thinking that maybe I should join a theatre group or something.’ Yeah, right and any second now he will be asking her if she is too busy to have a boyfriend. I have seen it all before. Twat.
I finish my drink and abruptly stand up. ‘I think I would like to go now,’ I say with as much dignity as I can muster, picking up my bag. ‘It is late and I have to be in work early tomorrow morning.’
Lydia looks surprised but nods and picks up her bag as well. ‘Sorry, Jake, she is right. We had better go.’ I am annoyed that she is being more polite about this than me and can tell that she is making some sort of point. There will probably be some sort of lecture about my appalling manners later on and how I don’t ‘help myself’ and blah blah blah.
Jake smiles and stands up. ‘Okay, well, it was nice to meet you both.’ He drains his glass and we all stumble to the door. As usual I don’t realise quite how drunk I am until I try to stand up and I have to hold on to his arm for support, which he doesn’t seem to mind at all. ‘Sorry,’ I grin up at him, giggling.
It starts to snow as we step outside and suddenly Commercial Road is like a winter fairyland with white flakes flying through the air like confetti. We all stop and gasp with excitement and emboldened by the moment and thrilled by the romance of it all, I reach up and kiss Jake and to my amazement he kisses me back.
I wrote this a few years ago and just stumbled across it while looking for something else. As I am slightly drunk on wine and repeated listening to ‘Everything I made’ by Mesh, I thought I might post it. It’s very slightly autobiographical.