Authors: Adele Parks
‘What the hell was all that about?’ asks Adam, the moment the door slams behind him. Our entire flat shakes.
‘I’m going to bed,’ says Jess. She scrambles off the sofa. ‘Night, happy birthday.’
Adam stands in the door frame to our pokey sitting-room and glares at me.
‘What?’ I ask, mock innocent. I know what he is talking about. Nothing else has been on my mind for the last four hours. It’s all Jess and I have discussed. Scott Taylor sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me, in front of ninety thousand people tonight. He called me ‘really lovely’. He blew me a kiss. How exciting is that!
For me at least; maybe not so great for Adam, I suppose.
‘How did Scottie Taylor know it was your birthday?’ demands Adam. It’s nearly three in the morning. He had to stay and work on some light sequencing or something after the gig, so Jess, Lisa and I left without him. Lisa had to go straight home and get to bed, the kids will be up before six tomorrow, but Jess and I have been drinking ever since. We’ve sunk a bottle of champagne that Lisa gave me for my birthday and a bottle of white wine; this is on top of drinking a few beers each at the gig. It’s a good thing Adam came home when he did, otherwise we’d probably have started on the cooking sherry next. We’ve had a marvellous, giggly, excited night. We talked nonsense; lovely, lovely nonsense.
Adam looks tired and drawn. He needs to take better care of himself. Maybe get a haircut or go to the gym. He looked so splendid this morning, but Scott’s perfection and the alcohol I’ve consumed have somehow left Adam looking a bit blurry; I can’t get him into focus.
‘I met him backstage before the gig. Didn’t I mention it?’ I ask as casually as I can.
‘No, you bloody didn’t.’
‘Didn’t I? Well, it was just a fleeting meet.’ Whoops. I’ve just slipped from being evasive to being a downright liar. The alcohol spins through my body and the fact that I told Adam a teeny tiny lie doesn’t seem like a big deal. I hope that it still doesn’t seem like a big deal in the morning; it’s so hard to judge it after so much to drink. Anyway, it’s my birthday, there’s probably a custom somewhere that states you don’t have to be a hundred per cent honest on your birthday. If not, there should be.
‘Fleeting?’ demands Adam sceptically. ‘You must have made quite an impression for him to sing to you in the middle of his biggest ever gig. Quite an impression.’
Oh I hope so! Is that a terrible thing to think? It doesn’t feel terrible but looking at Adam, all startled and anxious, I consider it might be. I swallow my excitement and try to appear calm as I comment, ‘Scottie Taylor is a showman. He probably sings “Happy Birthday” to some woman every night of the gig. It was probably part of the show.’ I say this to placate Adam but at the same time I cross my fingers and hope to hell this isn’t the case.
‘No, it isn’t part of the gig,’ insists Adam irritably. ‘I know the exact run of his show. The impromptu “Happy Birthday” was a surprise to everyone; the sound and light technicians were all having a fit.’
‘Oh.’ I try to sound neutral – not bothered either way. Inside I’m dancing a jig.
‘How long, exactly, did you spend with him?’ he snaps.
My good humour begins to wane a fraction; I don’t want to row with Adam but I do resent his tone. If Adam cared so much how I spent my thirtieth birthday then he should have made more of an effort. ‘I don’t know, some minutes,’ I reply evasively. One hundred and ninety-eight minutes to be exact, although this probably isn’t the time to share that fact with Adam.
‘And that was enough time for you to mention it was your birthday?’ asks Adam doubtfully.
‘It’s been the first thing I’ve told everyone all day.’
I’m getting into this lying thing – one does seem to come quite fluently after another. I never knew that. I’ve never had to know it. Honesty has always been my policy. But I tell myself that my lies are only little lies. I don’t want to hurt Adam, not deliberately, and I suppose I know that what I’ve done today would hurt and anger him. I have to think this through. It’s all a bit of fun, isn’t it? No one should get hurt by a bit of fun. That’s daft.
And if it’s more than a bit of fun?
Well, it isn’t, is it? Least it can’t be to Scott; impossible. But he did sing to me. Oh God, my head is spinning, this isn’t the time to try to think about this.
‘He was flirting with you,’ says Adam in a tone that sounds rudely like disbelief.
His tone causes me to be icier than I planned. ‘People occasionally do,’ I reply, defiantly folding my arms across my chest. I’ve spent this evening hugging myself with excitement but that’s not a casual pose; I’m likely to arouse Adam’s suspicions further.
‘Who does?’ demands Adam with a surprising slosh of jealousy. Hah! That’s got his attention. I revel in the novelty. He’s never jealous. Until today, I hadn’t realized just how neglectful Adam has always been. I’d thought his relaxed attitude was a tribute to our relationship, proof that we trusted and respected one another, but now I’m beginning to think that he’s simply indifferent towards me and that he’s only, finally, been stung to jealousy because he’s been publicly embarrassed at work.
‘Occasionally, men who come into the shop to buy flowers flirt with me.’
‘Dirtbags! Men buying their girlfriends flowers have the cheek to hit on my girlfriend? What sort of blokes are they?’
‘Sometimes they are buying flowers for their mums or sisters,’ I point out. ‘Anyway I’m just saying a bit of flirting – if that was what Scott was doing – means nothing. People do it. You should be flattered.’
‘Flattered that my boss hits on my girl in front of ninety thousand people?’ Adam is spluttering with indignation. I’m not sure when he metamorphosed into a caveman but I’m already beginning to be irritated by this macho act. It strikes me as too little, too late. My tolerance is soused; pickled in 13.7 per cent proof wine. My irritation is being cranked up. How dare Adam be so moody about Scott singing to me? Why is he ruining my special moment? If it wasn’t for Scott my birthday would have been a big letdown. I mean, OK, Adam got me the tickets for the gig but I was expecting an engagement ring! The tickets were free, and as great as the gig was it would just have been a free show if Scott hadn’t singled me out and sung to me.
Which he did because I played strip poker with him unbeknown to my boyfriend. Ouch! My conscience stings for several moments. Even the copious amounts I’ve had to drink can’t soften the blow. Huffily, I push Jiminy Cricket aside.
Adam’s contribution to my birthday was minimal. He hardly spent any time with me. He didn’t buy me anything; he didn’t so much as send me a card. He should be grovelling not yelling.
‘It was just a bit of fun. It made my birthday special. Really special actually, but he meant nothing by it.’
I’m torn. Part of me wants to diffuse this situation. I want to calm Adam down so that we can put this incident away, perhaps in a beautifully carved wooden box somewhere deep in my mind; a box that, occasionally when I am alone, I will sneak open. I’ll revel in this wonderful, terrifically exciting memory but the flirtation will be compartmentalized. It won’t affect any other part of our lives. Adam won’t become angry and jealous, I won’t become deceitful and secretive, I won’t be consumed by longing for something other, something more. If this incident is immediately parcelled up and boxed off, then we will be able to sit down and talk about our futures – sensibly without ultimatums.
‘Can’t you be pleased for me?’ I ask, hoping that Adam will understand my need of and delight in this shiny, wondrous occasion. Adam glares at me and then turns and kicks the wall. Very mature. I watch the small flakes of plaster from around the socket scatter and I think, lucky them – I’d like to scatter.
Because, truth is part of me wishes that Scott did mean something by the flirtation. Part of me longs to be given a swift exit from my increasingly overwhelming sense of disappointment. As Adam surreptitiously rubs his sore toe on the back of his calf I acknowledge that it’s quite a large part of me that wants the latter. I rub my eyes with the balls of my hands. I really am too tired and drunk to think clearly; I need to sleep now.
I walk into our bedroom and start to get ready for bed. I undress and then put on pyjamas; something I only ever do if I’m in a mood with Adam. Normally we like to sleep naked with our bodies squashed into one another. Adam follows me into the bedroom; he’s carrying a glass of water. I wonder if he’s going to offer it to me as a sign of peace. He glugs it back. Sod him. I know I’m going to have a stonker of a hangover tomorrow but I don’t get out of bed to get my own water, it would give him too much satisfaction.
Our bedroom is tiny; it was an unbelievable struggle to get the double bed in here when we moved in, so Adam has to sit on the bed to take his clothes off as there’s nowhere else for him to go. I find his nearness unwelcome. He starts to undress. He flings his leather jacket, jeans, T-shirt, socks and boxers in a heap in the corner of our bedroom; the corner is so close that I can smell his clothes. They smell of summer evening and faint sweat, mostly masked by deodorant. This is Adam’s usual (and not altogether unpleasant) smell. Tonight I don’t like it. I sigh and wonder does he really believe they walk to the washing machine all by themselves? I’m bored of being the laundry fairy and the shopping fairy and the cleaning fairy; there’s no magic in it for me.
Adam gets into bed and lies staring at the ceiling. He mumbles, ‘The man’s a slut, Fern. A dangerous, ruthless slut.’
‘It’s good to know you think so highly of the person who is at the very pinnacle of your industry,’ I mutter back sarcastically, and then I turn away from Adam, ensuring I take a huge share of the duvet with me.
I don’t care if Adam is sulking, or wounded or angry. He’s being silly. He should be pleased for me. It’s my birthday, for goodness sake. And Scott singing to me was the most wonderful present. The most exciting thing that has ever happened to me, ever. It doesn’t mean a thing. Not to Scott. I was just part of his show. He’s impulsive. And the fact that I really, really, really wish it did mean something to Scott doesn’t mean anything either. Does it? Scott is just a fantasy figure, as he is to millions of women. I know couples who have jokes between them about which A-lister they would bed, given the chance, and those jokes often extend to a tongue-in-cheek free pass to do just that, if the occasion ever arises.
Everyone knows those occasions don’t ever crop up.
I lie staring at the wall and instead of counting sheep I wonder if I could have played things differently today. Perhaps I could have called Adam when I was in Scott’s dressing-room and asked him to join us in the card game. Not strip poker, obviously, that would have been a bit tricky, but the earlier games. Scott and Adam might have got on, they might have become good buddies and that would have been exciting – that would have lifted us out and above our normal humdrum existence. They might be interested in each other’s record collection, they both have guitars. And Adam only described Scott as ‘a dangerous, ruthless slut’ because he’s in a mood. We could get round that.
In the moment I let the thought into my head I boot it out again. Who am I trying to kid? I don’t want Scott, Adam and me to be friends. My feelings for Scott haven’t dilly-dallied around the platonic, they fast-tracked straight to something bigger and more overwhelming. What I feel for Scott isn’t friendship. It’s more than that.
And right now, what I feel for Adam is less.
The next day I call Ben from my bed and beg him for another day off.
‘It’s Saturday, darling, I can’t do without you,’ he sing-songs down the phone. I realize I’m asking a lot of him. Saturday is our busiest day and he’d have to manage basically on his own (as our dopey Saturday girl is often as much of a hindrance as she’s a help – we only keep her on because her mum is one of our best clients).
‘Oh please, please, please,’ I beg.
‘I’m guessing you had loads of hot birthday sex yesterday and now you want a repeat performance. You’re just being a greedy girl.’
‘Actually, things didn’t pan out as I expected yesterday,’ I admit glumly. ‘Adam didn’t produce a ring.’
‘But he did have a surprise for you,’ Ben interrupts excitedly.
‘Free tickets to a Scottie Taylor gig. Not what I was expecting.’ There’s a silence. Neither of us knows what to say next. No doubt Ben is trying to think of something to say to comfort me – but what can?
Well, Scott singing to me did. Scott flirting with me did. Scott saying I was lovely really did!
Briefly, I wonder how much detail I should give to Ben over the phone. I’m aware that Adam is sleeping right next to me and I decide to save all the fun bits until we can talk face to face.
‘Really? That’s it? Just the tickets?’ asks Ben eventually. He sounds disappointed, almost as disappointed as I was. Not one to stay downcast for long, he quickly jumps to the assumption that Adam will have arranged a compensatory treat for today. ‘I see, so you’re planning to do something special today and that’s why you need another day off?’ he asks encouragingly.
‘Yes,’ I say cautiously. I am planning on doing something special but not with Adam. I feel bad that Ben is under a different impression but I’ll explain everything when I see him. ‘I have tickets for tonight’s gig too. We can meet there. I’ll get Jess to bring over one of the tickets for you. Freebies,’ I say by way of persuasion.
‘Oh well, in that case, I can hardly refuse, can I? It would be too ungracious. Take good care of your hangover, try fizzy elderflower and greasy chips. I’ll see you tonight and you can tell me all about your gorgeous gifts.’
‘Thank you, you’re a superstar.’
I don’t bother to tell Ben that, surprisingly, I am not hungover – despite the enormous amounts Jess and I drank last night. In fact I feel wonderful.
You see, the first thing that hit me this morning when I woke up from my Scott Taylor dream-filled sleep was not the disappointment of Adam failing to propose but the excitement that Scott Taylor singled me out and sang to me! Me! That’s monumental.
I jump out of bed, drag on a tracksuit and dash to the corner 7–11 store. We need milk and I need papers. When I get back to the flat clutching a bunch of tabloids Adam has emerged from the shower and is stood in the kitchen hurriedly eating a slice of dry toast (we’re out of butter and I forgot to pick up any). Our flat is so tiny I practically jump on his knee just by stepping through the door. He shrinks away from me, shooting me a cross look.
‘Morning,’ I smile breezily.
He grunts but doesn’t go as far as returning my greeting. Really, he’s going to have to try harder than that to ruin my day. Not only did I spend yesterday playing cards with Scott Taylor but the truth is Scott Taylor sang to me! Have I mentioned that? It’s impossible to be anything other than thrilled with life. As Adam puts the kettle on to make mugs of tea, I start to read the tabloids. Scott’s comeback gig is emblazoned all over the front pages. The reviews are great, which is excellent news. Britain’s pop prince has a tempestuous relationship with the tabloids. Sometimes he’s golden boy and other times he’s public enemy number one. I imagine he’ll love this coverage. He’s described as ‘dizzyingly vibrant’, ‘class entertainer’, ‘the show of his life’. I work my way through the Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Express and then the Sun. They are uniform in their praise.
‘Look at this,’ I squeal. ‘The Mirror has mentioned Scott singing to me.’
‘Fucking great,’ says Adam. He’s drinking from a carton of milk which he slams down with unnecessary violence; some splashes on the floor. I’m pretty certain it will stay there until it changes to cheese. ‘Not only do ninety thousand people witness Scottie Taylor hitting on my girl but now a further several million get to read about it.’
I start to read from the newspaper. ‘It says he sang to an “elegant, mystery girl and everyone wants to know who is this lovely ”.’ I don’t think Adam hears me because he reaches for his jacket and then charges out of the kitchen and the flat (this takes about four steps). The door slams behind him so I go to Jess’s room. I think it’s more reasonable to assume she’ll be pleased for me.