Authors: Jenny Colgan
âAngus!' I yelled after him.
I caught a glimpse of his neon orange trim bobbing up and down towards the tube, then just in time he turned round.
âThanks,' I shouted. âThanks for last night. Fran was really appreciative.'
He grinned again, infectiously. âAt your lady's service, ma'am,' he said, bowing low in the middle of Piccadilly Circus.
Alex had left a message saying he'd gone to the football, so I looked almost as mournful as Linda when we came face to face in the hall. Then I remembered my niceness campaign.
âHey, Linda, how's it going? Off out?'
God, could I say nothing right?
âNo, eh â¦' she hesitated, âI was going to watch
The English Patient
This girl was so weird. But, what the hey, there was more to life than drinking, uncommitted men and falling out with all your mates, so I joined her and slumped down with a large glass of white wine (it doesn't count as drinking if you're in watching TV).
I spent most of the film trying to figure out why Kristin Scott Thomas got to be Kristin Scott Thomas and I had to be me, until I happened to glance at Linda. Her whole face was overflowing â tears, snot, the works.
âAre you OK?'
âIt's so saaad!' she snortled.
âBut you've seen it like two hundred times. What, are you thinking, “Hey, maybe he's going to make it to the cave this time”?'
âShut up. It's my film and you don't care. Nobody does.' She stared down at her toes, her face looking like it was melting. I had noticed a Kit Kat wrapper in the bin earlier, which didn't seem excessive, but who knew?
Oh God, situation. If Fran were here she'd say something smart and buck-upish, but it was only me. Someone once said that only the young can afford to be selfish, which gave me about two and a half more years. I didn't want to cope with this now.
âAre you OK?' I asked again. âDo you do this every time you watch this film?'
She sniffed loudly. âMaybe. Where's Alex?'
That put me off a bit. âEhm, he's at the football with the boys. He's moving in with Charlie, in Fulham.' That ought to cheer her up.
âOh.' She looked at me through her thick spectacles, all steamed up from crying. âOh â¦ you'll miss him.'
âYes, yes, I will.'
Good Lord, we were bonding.
âWe're still seeing each other â¦ It's just till we find somewhere for both of us, know what I mean?'
She nodded her head vaguely. Oh no, I hoped she didn't find anyone else to move in, that would be rubbish. But when I looked at her I realized she
wasn't listening at all; she had re-immersed herself in the drama. Which part was she playing in there, I wondered, behind the thick specs and the psoriasis. How much didn't I know about this totally rotund person whom I live with? Then I thought, sod it, and â having (correctly) ascertained that there was no possibility of further Ralph Fiennes butt shots â lost interest in direct proportion, made myself some tea and had an early night for once. Well, it had been a big day.
The following morning I awoke with the realization that: (1) for once, I didn't have a hangover, which felt weird, and (2) bugger it, today I had to go to work in marketing. And (3) Fran was pissed off with me, and (4) I would have to pretend to Alex that everything was FINE, and I'd never pressure him again, and (5) Alex wasn't lying there beside me, begging me not to get up, holding me to him, smelling good. Where the hell was he?
Was it raining? Oh, good.
I trudged into the office, almost but not quite late, in an insolent fashion. There were already strange men around my desk fiddling with my dead pot plant. Barney, wisely, was nowhere to be seen.
âSo I'm moving already, am I?' I remarked to the builders (wryly, I thought).
âDon't worry, love.' The bigger of the two chaps looked at me with pity, as if they cleared out people's desks every day, which they probably did. God, they must be human misery experts. I thought he was about to say, âWorse things happen at sea,' but he didn't.
âWe'll have you out of here in no time.'
If only. Suddenly I realized that his mate with the funny ears and what looked like Copydex stuck to his chin was reaching towards my emergency didn't-get-home-but-had-to-go-to-work-drawer, the contents of which included knickers, tampons and the numbers of several reputable clinics.
âErrm, I'll get that,' I screeched, in what was patently not a casually helpful tone of voice.
The first guy gave the ear guy a âseen it all before' look.
âActually, love, we don't need to open the drawers to move the cabinet.'
âRight, OK, right.' Bugger it. I looked around for something else I could pretend to be helping with, but decided to settle for the âI've just remembered something incredibly important' look and dashed off.
On the way downstairs to the marketing department, I paused to say goodbye to all my friends in the publishing unit, then I remembered I didn't have any.
âOff so soon?' I heard from Shirley.
âI thought she was part-time anyway,' said someone else and I made a face at her (to myself, obviously; I had no intention of getting my eyes clawed out with long fake fingernails with jewellery in
them), and disappeared down to the bowels of the building.
The marketing department had been painted again â mmm, lime green and turquoise, how wacky. Somebody here wanted you to think of your job as fun â or else. Already I was scared.
âHi there â you must be Melanie!' gushed someone who sounded so pleased to see me I assumed she must be a long-lost relative who thought I was rich. âI'm Flavi!'
This was Flavi, prize bitch, with whom I'd been having a voice mail argument for nearly a year? Well, there you go. She looked like an over-made-up perfume counter assistant.
âBrilliant to see you! Are Tony and Elvis bringing your things?'
How does she know their names? I wondered nastily.
âYes, I think so. I saw them upstairs â¦'
âGreat, great, we have a space for you over here.'
Stop being so nice to me! What was this, first day at Malory Towers?
I moved to the space and looked at it, not quite sure what to do. The bloke to my right in the cheap suit and chains gave me a cheery Cockney nod. I recognized his face from various indistinct but possibly naughty photographs that got pinned up on the noticeboard after the annual Christmas party. No doubt I would recognize other parts of him as well.
He was about twenty-one, skinny as a whippet, with plastered forward hair, shiny and heavy with gel.
On the other side, a sweet-faced chubby girl gave me a half-smile half-grimace, and I realized she was probably reflecting my own expression. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a run in her tights and warmed to her.
âHello there!' I said heartily, putting a brave face on it, like I did in the majorettes when they picked Amanda to lead the marching band. Cheery Cockney lad gave me a smirk.
âAlwight, dorlin? Wot you in for then?'
âFive to ten, unless I behave myself.'
âRoit,' he said, with an odd little sidelong glance. He was obviously wondering if I was trying to be a smart arse and, if so, what I was doing trying to usurp his position.
I turned to the left, but the girl with the ladder in her tights was obviously having a deeply personal conversation on the phone. Huh. I busied around tidying things up â like that was something I usually did â so Flavi wouldn't come over to see how I was doing. When lunch time came,
, I went out to find a payphone. Well, I didn't want to look too bad on my first day.
As I walked out into the freezing afternoon, I didn't even want to think about where Alex had spent the night. Last time I'd phoned Charlie's house, he'd been six thousand miles away.
And he hadn't even called me, the bastard. I was ready to get deeply upset when I remembered that Elvis and Tony had had the phone disconnected all morning, so he couldn't have got in touch even if he had wanted to.
he'd tried, I thought grimly. But I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, and tried my house first. Surprisingly, Linda answered the phone. I really didn't want to talk to her. After a quick mental battle with myself as to whether to just say âSorry â¦ long number' in a dreadful Chinese accent and hang up, I asked for Alex, without identifying myself.
âNo, he's moved his stuff out. Melanie, is that you?' she asked wonderingly.
âNo! Sorry! Bye,' I said, and put the phone down, slumping against the wall. He'd moved his stuff out. Another fucking moonlight flit. Where had he gone this time? I wondered to myself. China? Tibet? He could stick that North Pole up his arse, see if he could find himself with that. Fuck! How could he?! Again?
I noticed a particularly virulent prostitute's card stuck up in the phonebox. A woman was bent over with her wrists tied to her ankles. Above a childishly written phone number it said: âMelanie, new to the area, submissive â loves punishment. Will service your every need.' It was a sign. Definitely a sign. But what could it mean?
I had a disconsolate sandwich and wandered back to my new home, where the rat-faced man to my right was vigorously enjoying a ridiculously stinky
hamburger. Small pieces of lettuce and indescribable goo were dripping on to my â¦ what looked like my â¦ well, anyway, an enormous bunch of flowers dumped straight on to my desk. My mind went through the options: David Duchovny; the cast of
; Alex, from the North Pole â¦
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the girl with the ladder in her tights trying to weep inconspicuously.
Very carefully, I picked up the bouquet. âHey, pumpkin,' it said on the card. Terse as ever. I relaxed.
âSending flowers to yourself again?' coughed Ratto, mildly spewing me with burger phlegm.
âNo, actually, they're for you. Oh, have you got a boyfriend called Alex as well? What a coincidence!'
âThink you're funny?' muttered Ratto, and returned to his mastication.
I turned to the girl.
âAre you OK?'
âYes, I'm fine,' she whimpered, clearly not fine. âIt's my contact lenses.'
The man with Copydex stuck to his chin eventually came downstairs with my phone sorted out. The voice mail appeared to have been switched off, and when I looked up Charlie's number in the phone book it had been scrubbed out furiously â although whether by me or Fran I couldn't say â so I was stuck sitting there, still vainly tidying, till it rang.
âHey there.' Alex spoke softly. The tone of his voice made me soften.
âYou've moved your stuff,' I said.
âWell, there didn't seem to be any point in hanging about. That flatmate of yours was giving me the evil eye.'
âReally, she's cross-eyed. She was really giving me the evil eye.'
There was a pause.
âDid you â¦'
âI got â¦'
We spoke simultaneously.
âI got the flowers. Thank you. They're gorgeous.'
âI wanted to apologize. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, and I should have phoned you when I stayed at Charlie's last night. I just don't want to take anything too fast. But, you know, we've got so much time. To get back together. For everything.'
âI know.' I sighed. âIt would have been daft. Far too quick. Etcetera.'
There was a silence, then he spoke tentatively.
âOh no. And will you come and visit me in Fulham?'
âNot even if I beg?'
âNo, but you can try a bit of begging if you like.'
âPlease!' he yelled. âMy darling Melanie, pearl and pumpkin of my life, take the immortal trip on the District Line and enter my realm of joy.'
âSo I'll see you around six?'
âExcellent. See you later then. Bring wine.'
He put the phone down and I smiled to myself.
â'Oo's that, your lesbian lover?' said Cockney Boy.
âYeah. Actually, it's your mum.'
There was still Fran to deal with. I caught her at her house, or rather her bedsit. She lived sparsely, not far away from me in Kennington.
âYou've got your ingratiating tone on. Let me see: you want me to sponsor you on a round-the-world bike ride for badgers? You need me to donate some bone marrow? Or has Alex moved in with that creep Charlie and you haven't done anything about it?'