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I had a dream of a girl who was waiting for a partner who never came home.
-:- Sunshine -:-
“Amy?” I called. “Amy, are you here?”
The flat was silent.
She wasn’t home.
And given how badly we’d screamed at one another before she’d left, I doubted she’d be back any time soon.
I sighed miserably.
Such a stupid thing in retrospect – a bickering over time not spent together that had become a bitching over our diverging interests and lives that had escalated far more quickly than I ever could have believed possible into full on shouting, name calling and accusations of infidelity by both of us.
I’d said some utterly unfair things.
To be fair, so had she.
And then she’d stormed out, in tears, leaving me to cry and mope alone without her.
I hoped she wouldn’t be too late. I didn’t want to go to sleep without her beside me.
I was too tired, too emotional, and too stressed about work to cope alone, and I wanted to at least be able to hold her and beg her forgiveness before I fell asleep, hopefully in her arms if she was feeling charitable enough, or at least in the same building if not…
I checked my phone again.
No messages or calls from her, and just the usual memes and spam from my friends back home.
No hugs, no kisses.
I sat on my tattered couch and dialled her, but as I’d expected it went directly to voicemail.
She never answered her phone when she was angry with me.
“Amy? It’s me. Please. I’m sorry. Please don’t be too late. I want… I need to say sorry to you. Please.”
And then I curled my arms around myself, broken.
The evening slowly darkened to full night.
I ate something bland to stave off the hunger pangs.
I put on her music to try to pretend that she was just in the next room.
Time crawled slowly by.
I added the noise of something vacuous on the telly to try to inject some life into the flat.
And I picked up my phone and tried once more to reach her.
“Amy? Please. Please, call me. I’m sorry. Please. Come home.”
I went to our room, changed out of my crumpled work clothes and into a vest and some of her soft grey fleece trousers. Then, chilled and upset, I pulled on the old, worn hoodie that my elder brother had handed down to me.
My phone remained stubbornly silent.
I began to feel a cloying sense of dread.
Seamus, I thought. Seamus would know where she was. She told him everything. He was her big, tall, flamboyant BFF. He’d know that we’d fought, but as loyal as he might want to remain to her he’d still tell me where she was…
I found him in my contact list, and sent him a brief Have you heard from Amy? Do you know where she is?
I sat, staring at the TV, mind spinning like a cocaine-fueled hamster as I tried to think about what her schedule would be like today. She’d go to classes in the morning and be busy until mid-afternoon. Then she’d go help her father and aunt with the rush-hour madness at their deli. Then, given how she’d left, she’d probably go and meet friends before catching the bus home…
She should be on the bus home by now.
She should have been home by now…
I don’t know where she is, sorry came Seamus’ response, after some time.
My panic began to metastasise. I started to fiddle, to fret, to pace.
I texted Paul and Shannon, but neither had seen her. Neither had her study partner James, who was drunk already as I’d expected he would be, and neither did her flatmate Anne, who said she hadn’t seen her for a week or more.
Amy’s father didn’t respond to my text, but then he never did, he’d always laugh and wave his hands and say that he was too old and busy to learn how to work his phone.
Icy tendrils twined and laced around me.
I phoned her again, and again reached only her voicemail.
“Amelie? Where the fuck are you. I’m getting scared. Please, if this is a joke, it’s not funny. Please. Phone me.”
But she didn’t phone, and none of my remaining friends had seen her, and none of the hospitals near her route were answering my increasingly-desperate phone calls…
So in the end I curled up on the couch, staring at the door like a neglected dog waiting for her owner.
But time crawled inexorably by, and she didn’t come home.
I was on thin ice at work and I couldn’t afford to show up looking short of sleep.
And I eventually had no choice but to go to bed and hope she’d be there when I woke up in the morning.
But of course I couldn’t sleep, and when I eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion she was still not home.
She hadn’t been home by the time I left for work, and I felt exhausted and utterly alone as I caught a bus to the tube station.
Then my fear turned to full-blown panic as we hit traffic, and I started to swear as I realised I would be late for work.
“I’m not happy, Melissa. Let me be quite clear about that fact.”
I stared up at my manager as istanbul travesti my stomach sank further, if that was possible.
“We’ve already had a discussion about your attention to detail. Do we need to have yet another one about your timekeeping too?”
“No, it’s just…”
He stared down at me. “Are you really going to attempt more excuses?”
“… no.” I said, in a small voice, mentally kicking myself for giving him further ammunition against me.
“That’s something you’ve learned at least. Run the reports, you’re late with them, and this time check that they’re correct before you bring them to me.”
“Yes,” I said, not trusting myself to say anything more, and hating how weak and pathetic I must appear to be.
He seemed mollified, as he stalked off to find someone else to crap on.
I took a shaky breath, surreptitiously wiped my eyes, and caught Eva’s sympathetic glance from the next desk over. Then I buried myself in my work, trying to be good, trying to be attentive…
But I had no idea where Amy was, and my heart was ice in my chest.
The email from HR arrived just before I’d planned to get myself a cup of tea.
Formal notice – Melissa Stevenson – Performance Improvement Plan
I stared at the unfair line of searing, belittling words.
“Oh Christ…” I whispered.
“Mia? What is it?”
“I think… I just got put on a PIP.”
“Shit,” Eva breathed.
I slumped forward, face in with my hands as I desperately tried to keep it together.
“Mia?” she said, softly.
“I’m screwed, aren’t I.”
“No. Not yet. Come, let’s get tea. You can fix this.”
“OK,” I whispered. I sniffed, wiped my eyes, and followed her to the small kitchen.
And my phone remained silent.
I didn’t tell Eva anything important despite her digging.
I just said that I was having some problems at home, and that I hadn’t slept well. She was my age, but tall, and pretty, and efficient, and utterly brilliant at any task given to her.
She’d never got shouted at, never got belittled, never made mistakes that I’d seen or heard about in our incestuous, gossip-driven department.
I wished I could be more like her.
Or, failing that, that I could just fly under the radar and be a happy average.
But it seemed to be my lot in life to be noticed for all the wrong reasons.
I didn’t dare be away from my desk too long, so I stupidly took my tea back with me.
And, of course, I’d chosen the weak cup, and of course the handle broke just as I lifted it, and of course hot tea flooded over my keyboard and case files and desk and thighs and the carpet below.
I did what I could, but it was too little, and far too late.
I’d wanted to make a good impression.
I’d worked so hard, tried so hard.
And yet I was just a fuckup, who fucked up constantly and always needed help.
Not good enough.
And my phone remained silent.
A sympathetic Tech brought me a new keyboard, but there was nothing I could do about the files.
So I dried myself as best I could, and swallowed, and drew myself up as tall as I could, which wasn’t very, and went to break the news to my boss, and endure the extended, horrible belittling he felt it necessary to give me before telling me to go home and sort my attitude out..
I kept my head haughty and high as I walked to the lockers and took my handbag, looking neither left nor right as I took my leave of that place for what I felt sure would be one of the final times.
I exited the building and turned for the Old Street station.
Half a mile.
Just half a mile to manage…
I’d barely managed two months. My first real job in over a year, and I’d barely scratched the surface.
No good to man or beast.
I was done for.
And the tears of rage and shame finally burst through.
I stumbled, turned aside from the few other pedestrians who were abroad, and somehow found a section of railing to cling to as the gasping sobs racked me.
Fear for and fury with Amelie. Fear for my job. Self-hatred for my weakness. Self-pity…
I could not longer tell which was which any more as I slumped against the cold, hard, grimy, uncaring steel.
And London continued to move around me; full of people with places to be, and no charity to spare for one more broken girl.
I fought for breath, held it as long as I could.
I took another.
Nobody would help me.
I only had me.
God help me…
I stared at the cracked pots on the far side of the railings, at the parched azaleas and their dessicated flowers that someone had thought would soften the otherwise bare, cold stone…
Neglected now, and dying… unless someone watered them soon…
A gentle touch on my shoulder.
I flinched, curled in on myself, praying that I hadn’t acquired a nutter…
“Hey, hey there… are you OK?”
A girl’s voice, lilting and melodic, and I nearly sobbed in relief istanbul travestileri as I unwound.
No.” I whispered. “No. I’m not…”
I scrubbed at my eyes.
“Here, wait,” the voice said. “I’ve got some tissues. Here. Take them.”
“Thank you,” I gasped, blindly groping for them. I dabbed at my eyes. “Christ, what a day,” I added.
“I guessed as much. That’s why I stopped. You looked… lost.”
“I… am,” I whispered.
“And now you aren’t. I’m not lost, and I’ve found you. So you can’t be. That’s sensible, right?”
I swallowed, and looked up at her for the first time.
An angel stood before me, a divinity of pale skin and deep green eyes, and faint, gorgeous freckles, and waves of rich walnut-dark hair that she’d left free to do as they liked. A little taller than me, a bit more angular than me… and completely breathtaking in every possible sense of the word.
“Hey there,” she repeated softly. She ventured a small smile.
I realised I was staring, and I flushed as I looked hurriedly away from her, ashamed and embarrassed and intimidated by this heavenly apparition who’d deigned to stop to check on me.
“Sorry,” I said, when I’d recovered the slimmest sliver of composure. “Just… it’s not even noon and I’ve… I’ve just about had enough of today.”
I dabbed at my eyes again.
“Thanks for stopping,” I added, softly. “I’ll be okay now. I’ll be fine.”
“You are a really terrible liar.”
“I know. But… it’s OK. Thanks. I need to… to get moving.”
“Wait… but… where are you going? Wait, please. Tell me where…” she added as she gently tugged my arm.
“Anywhere but here,” I replied, bitterly. “I’m probably going to be fired tomorrow, so it hardly matters now. Maybe Tower Bridge so I fling myself into the Thames for… for the amusement of the masses.”
“That sounds dire and way too theatrical. I’ve got a better idea. I have nothing chasing me. Do you feel like… walking a little, and maybe talking a little – instead of trying for a finale that’s so needlessly… dramatic?”
“I’m sure you have better things to do than waste time on me,” I whispered.
“Not really, no. And you look like you need a… a friend. Of convenience, perhaps, I’ll admit. But I’m a good listener, and I have more tissues in my handbag. Come on. It will do you good. I’m Natasha by the way, but you can call me Tash… if you’d like to.”
“I’m… Mia,” I managed.
“Mia. Mm, that’s a pretty name. I like it. Is that short for anything?”
“Melissa,” I admitted. I sniffed and wiped my eyes again. “Sorry. Shit, I’m a mess. Tea stains, scalds, tears, snot nose…”
“Well, Mia, I think you look just fine. Come on. I was going to St Luke’s Gardens; it’s just a bit this way, and it’s perfect at this time of day. Lots of dogs to befriend, not too many dodgy men…”
She took my hand.
“Come on,” she wheedled. “Come walk with me, Mia. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.”
So I did gave in and followed, surprising myself with my readiness to be dragged away by this glorious stranger. I settled into a slow rhythm beside her, still bitter and broken but at least, for now… not alone.
It felt so good to be able to simply hold someone’s hand….
I sniffed, and wiped my eyes once more.
“So tell me why your day has been so… terrible?”
I swallowed, acutely conscious of the gentle pressure of her fingers on mine, and of the way she’d adjusted her stride to match me.
“I fucked… oh, fuck, sorry… oh God…”
“Don’t worry,” she laughed. “Fuck is a perfectly acceptable word. Depending on the context,” she added, with an amused sidelong glance at me.
I flushed hot, ashamed of my mouth, and she squeezed my hand.
“Start again?” she suggested. “From the top. Smile, breathe… and go.”
“I… messed up at work. A lot. So much that… that I don’t think it can be fixed. I think… I’m going to be fired tomorrow. At best, they’re going to extend my probation…”
“Did anyone die?” she said.
“Is anyone going to die?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Any casual disembowelings, maimings, blood or ancillary drama?”
“Then it sounds… unimportant. Certainly not important enough for someone like you to have to cry over. Certainly not the sort of crying you were doing back there. That was full on my-entire-family-just-died territory.”
“But it’s… they’re… it’s important things. I fucked up… critical… things…”
Her eyes were profoundly mesmerising, and I got hopelessly lost in them for a breath, for two.
“To someone, perhaps they are,” she said. She reached out with her free hand, brushing her fingers through some flowers as we passed through the park gate. “But nobody died. Nobody was maimed. So it’s nothing to lose sleep over.”
“I… need the work.”
“You’ll find other work, if you need to,” she countered. “I suspect, though, that this was just a blip. We all have our… days.”
“I’m… not so confident.”
“Well, then you’ll just have travesti istanbul to find me again and tell me how tomorrow went,” she said softly. Then, louder, “So tell me… what else? There’s something else, isn’t there? You give out vibes like… like you’re just holding it together. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just… wait, no. don’t tell me. A sick child?” she guessed. “No. You’re too young, and you don’t give out mum vibes. So, not a sick child. Thank God, that’s a horrible one.”
“No. No sick child.”
“But there’s something to do with a partner. I saw the way you hesitated. Mm.”
She took a breath, exhaled slowly. “I’m far too curious for my own good, and you’re far too… interesting… for my own good as well. But I’m not going to pry where you don’t want to let me.”
“My partner… didn’t come home last night.”
“Ah,” she sighed. “That old, tired game. Has he let you know where he is, and that he’s safe?”
“No.” I managed a bitter smile at her innocent error. “No. She hasn’t.”
“Oh… she, is it? Wow. She should know better. What a bitch,” she said, and for some reason I felt none of my usual automatic urge to leap to Amy’s defence.
Instead I just took a long, slow breath, and wondered why I felt so free to talk to this stranger where I’d usually just clam up, silent as the grave.
“It’s been a pretty horrid twenty four hours. More, really. Much more… the… last few months have been… bad. Constant fights, constant escalation… feeling like I couldn’t breathe…”
“Strife sucks but it happens. Not coming home is forgivable, probably. But not letting you know that she’s at least safe? That’s… heartless.”
“I don’t know where she is, or if she is even safe.”
“It’s London, not Freetown,” she answered. “Odds are she’s safe and sound and warm and…”
I suppose that out of sympathy she didn’t finish her line of thought, but I suspected I knew what she meant.
And… I had to admit that… that there was a growing chance that she was right.
Amy and I were not OK.
And we hadn’t been OK for a while…
Was it really such a stretch…
I squeezed my eyes closed for a moment, and groaned.
Stupid. Of course there was someone else…
She tightened her grip as I stumbled.
“I’m sure she’s fine. Silly, but fine. You aren’t, though. Are you?”
“I just… wish I knew for sure,” I whispered.
“Have faith,” she said. “Everything will be… puppy!” she exclaimed suddenly, in a high pitched, breathy squeal, and she dropped to her knees to embrace a golden ball of fluff that came wriggling and stumbling up to her.
I watched, smiling despite the ache in my heart, as Tash and the puppy cavorted together. The puppy’s owner came scurrying up to apologise and beg forgiveness, but Tash was too busy giving the whimpering, wriggling little ball of ambulant tongue attention to care. She extricated herself at last, pink and laughing, and even the bystanders around us were grinning at us by the time we eventually walked on.
“God, I love dogs,” she said wistfully. “They’re so uncomplicated.”
She pulled some hand sanitiser wipes out of her bag, and cleaned her hands, then dried them on more tissues. “Allergies,” she explained, with a sigh. “I’ll be a ball of mucus and regret by dusk if I don’t clean the slobber off. Plus it means I can take your hand again.”
And she did just that.
I swallowed, and shot a hesitant glance at her, awed by the confidence that she radiated as she walked beside me in her worn boots and bright blue dress and black lace stockings that flashed out beneath the hem, so different to my drab city girl garb and my cheap heels and my crushing lack of self-esteem…
And I watched, captivated, as she smiled to herself and reached up and tucked her hair back behind her ear in a gesture that I knew, knew in my heart, was playful and teasing and coquettish and intended to cause the exact reaction that it was…
I think that she knew that I knew, because the glance she gave me was strangely shy and self-conscious.
“So… I’m going to tell you something, and you can make of it what you will” she said softly. “A… confession of sorts. I don’t like secrets.”
“What is it?”
“Technically… I wasn’t free today.”
“Oh. Um… where were you supposed to be?”
“Oh. Er. Shouldn’t you…”
“Probably,” she said softly. She glanced at me, then away again. “But I’m… enjoying this too much. Being naughty, not doing what I’m supposed to. Meeting wonderful new people. Wasting time,” she added, rolling her eyes ironically and grinning to give the lie to her words.
“But… but… why waste it on… me?”
“Because I can,” she said. “And because I choose to. I’m enjoying walking with you. You’re easy to talk to. Nobody will die because I chose to be with you right now. I’ll make up for it… later.”
A few steps of shared silence.
“Tell me about your… partner,” she said softly.
I sighed, stared at my feet.
“Why didn’t she come home to you?”
“We… fought again,” I whispered. “Sometimes it feels like that’s all we do any more. Fighting…”
“Jealousy. Mine, supposedly. And… and hers. But mostly… mine.”
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