Sunday, 24 November 2013

76. "I was just texting you."

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Lunch break is nearly over. I've been walking round the shops, buying lace stockings, eyeliner and macaron. I visited the market for lunch: half a lobster in a white polystyrene tray and a soft white bread roll with a crackly golden crust.

It's a bright, clear, cold spring day. It rained last night and puddles mirror the pale sky all along the pavement. As I approach work I see a girl standing on the steps outside, a slim figure in a black coat. Long butter-blonde hair trailing over a fake fur collar. I realise it's Jena. She is texting and when she realises I'm standing next to her she looks startled and then strangely guilty.

"Alice!" she says. "I was just texting you."

"You were?" I say. I haven't seen Jena for a little while, our paths haven't crossed.

"I need to talk to you about something," she says. She flips her hair over one shoulder, and looks away.

"Okay," I say. "What is it?"

"You dated Chris for a while. How would you feel if - I mean, he asked me out - " she says."I like him. But I don't want to tread on your toes."

I'm nearly knocked over by a wave of feelings. There are a lot of them. It will take me a while to disentangle and sort them all out. I'm not happy, in fact I am distressed by this news on a number of levels, and what I want to say is "No, you can't!"

But Jena is waiting, her eyes worried, hoping I won't flip out or be upset with her. It is clear there is only one thing I can say.

"That's fine," I say. "We had a thing for a little while, but it's well and truly over."

"Are you sure?"

I shrug. "It was just a thing. It was never serious."

It was.

"He's a nice guy."

He isn't.

Jena gives me a hug and thanks me, and we promise to meet up soon, and she heads off in the direction of the post room and I trudge back up to my office. I dump my shopping. I pretend I have a meeting and head off to the empty office where I sometimes meet Martin. I stare out of the window at the seagulls circling through the white sky and try and calm myself.

The first feeling that clearly emerges out of the mess of emotion is jealousy. Jena is younger, sexier and prettier than me. I thought Chris was emotionally involved with me; even after our breakup, I interpreted the way he reacted - the anger - as a sign he had felt something for me. It's clear that even if he did he has moved on, and that's upsetting. Why can't I find anyone? Why do men queue up for Jena and not for me? Is that fair? I'm not asking to be the hottest of them all, just for one nice guy -

Okay, enough. I put the self pity to one side as it's meaningless, unhelpful, and I've thought all these things before anyway. It's also wrong. The truth is I would rather be single than be with someone like Chris again. And he didn't like me. He just didn't like someone he saw as his possession walking away from him.

With that, another thought emerges and this one is more important.

I'm worried about Jena. I'm not sure Chris is going to be a good partner for her. I'm not sure he'd be a good partner for anyone. And Jena - as I just thought - is young. She's clever enough to get by, but not experienced enough to be astute about people. She's capable of playing the ice queen with men she doesn't care about, but I've seen her with the ones she likes. She reminds me of a golden retriever, a silly loving dog, jumping up, tail wagging frantically: please love me!

And she likes Chris. Yes, I can see why. For the same reasons I liked him. Because he is physically attractive, and emotionally aloof. Makes you want to crack the facade open, see what he looks like when he lets go. 

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