This is my version of what happened between Amy and me, and I’m going to tell you the complete truth, no matter how horrible some of it is.
We first met when we worked together at Ikigai, or ‘K’ as most of us referred to it, a marketing company in the small town in the Midlands, England. To put it mildly, it was not a good time in my life, yet I must have done something right to warrant the attention of Amy Bales...
Everyone in the amphitheatre-style meeting room looked at me with either disdain or dislike. Everyone apart from Amy.
Arriving at a company-wide meeting ten minutes late didn’t make me uncomfortable as it perhaps should have done. Instead, I raised my coffee cup at our CEO in a mock greeting - he didn’t know me - and slid into the back row next to Amy. She, unlike everyone else that turned to look at me, actually smiled. A genuine smile showing teeth and sparkly eyes. I was used to women looking at me like that outside of work; not in work where I had a reputation for being an arse.
I balanced my cup in the small space between us and pulled off my jumper. “What’d I miss?”
Amy shook her head, her grin fading. “Not good. Not hitting targets. Probably a restructure. I’m guessing redundancies.”
I nodded. I’d no doubt be first in line for the chopping block.
Amy leant forward, away from me, to listen more closely, her long dark hair falling over her shoulders. Her body language prevented further chat, signalling the end to our first ever conversation.
My mind wandered from the dismal company outlook being presented at the front of the room to my new friend, Amy. I’d seen her around the office plenty of times before, our paths never crossing, yet she possessed a quiet confidence that drew me to her like an invisible cord.
I wanted her to know me and, after our first real encounter in the amphitheatre, I set out to achieve exactly that. But she wouldn’t take my bullshit. When I was being adorable, I could see a twinkle in her brown eyes that said, ‘Yes, Jude, I know you’re trying to be charming and I’ll go along with it, but don’t think I’m falling for it.’ Frustration and excitement collided.
I quickly deduced she had a boyfriend; anyone I mentioned Amy Bales to was quick to inform me of this detail, as if my reputation preceded me. Irrelevant information at first, but as my connection with her grew, it did become important. She mentioned him all the time. John this, John that. It shouldn’t have mattered. My wife, Liz, had been dead less than six months at that point; I was hardly able for anything new.
Being widowed at thirty-six was something I hadn’t quite figured out. I kept this particular piece of information to myself and separate from my job and social life. I didn’t live close to the office, so my private life was easy to put in a box, and flirting with Amy was a nice distraction from everything. For a few moments each day, I could talk to her and forget about what a mess my life had descended into. I knew a few people thought she could be quite elusive - even superior sometimes - but she was perfectly open with me. I guess I made her comfortable. I think she secretly had a crush on me. All the women at work did.
As K began to struggle with declining profit margins, it became clear that I didn’t fit in. The company was very set in its ways and had little interest in my ideas or how I wished to manage my team. I often had run-ins with the board, even when I knew I was right. I ultimately had to leave, and with the threat of redundancies growing each week, I hadn’t worked there long enough to make it worth my while holding out for a good payoff.
“I guessed wrong,” I greeted Amy one day at the coffee bar. I’d uncovered her coffee schedule and regularly arranged it so that I would accidentally bump into her. She must have noticed but she didn’t change her routine. I took that to mean she liked our brief encounters. And why wouldn’t she?
“Oh?” She didn’t look up from stirring her coffee.
“I guessed black today, but you’ve gone with blue.”
Amy’s cheeks flushed but then she burst out laughing. “Oh, right, my nails.” She turned to me then and held out her hand, spreading her fingers to show off her latest set.
Every week her nails changed from one dark colour to another. Purple, green, red, black. I didn’t think I had a thing for painted fingernails, but there was something sexy about them. Today they were cut short and a navy blue to match her blouse.
“What did you think I was talking about?” I said, deadpan. “Anyway, I’ve quit. Handed in my notice this morning.”
“Oh no, Jude. Really?” Real disappointment laced her words. “What will you do instead?”
“Well, I DJ a lot so I can make enough money doing that for a while if I don’t find another job right away. Then, who knows.”
We ended up making small-talk about our career aspirations and how we’d first gotten into marketing. It appeared both of us had fallen into it rather than having a true passion. I’d always thought I’d be a diplomat: travelling and giving my opinions on stuff.
Amy leant against the coffee bar, those large brown eyes watching me pour packets of sugar into the frothy milk of my second coffee - our chat lasting longer than usual. “When’s your last day?”
“A few weeks away yet. I’m having some leaving drinks - I’ll send you the invite. You have to come.” I winced, bringing my cup to my mouth to avoid further begging.
Her face lit up. “Yes, of course I will. I don’t live around here so can’t stay late, but I’ll come out for one. I can bring John, yes?”
Not really. “Sure.”
On the day of my leaving drinks, a group of us headed out straight from work to a bar in DM, leaving Amy at her desk; she had an important report to get out. By 8 p.m. she still hadn’t arrived, somewhat tainting my enjoyment as I kept an eye on the entrance.
I had almost given up on her coming at all when at 9 p.m. she floated through the door like an angel. She looked amazing, even though she wore what she’d had on all day. There was something about seeing her outside of work that seemed different and exciting. Her dress clung to her hips, drawing my eyes down her body. Her outfit just the right material to aid my overactive imagination.
I began to rise from my chair when I spotted the man following her in. Someone who didn’t work for K. He looked like a rugby player, twice the size of a normal human being. John played rugby - Amy had told me. This must be him.
Boyfriends didn’t often intimidate me, but I was drunk and John didn’t look like a guy you wanted to get on the wrong side of. Flirting with his girlfriend probably wasn’t a good idea. Instead, I sank back down and returned my attention to the large collection of soon-to-be-ex-colleagues who were taking over an entire area of the bar, spread across several tables, empty pint glasses piling up around us.
At least another hour passed before I ended up face-to-face with Amy. She had come over to me and perched on a vacated stool by my side. A large glass of wine in one hand, she positioned herself so close we were almost touching as we spoke, occasionally putting her free hand on my arm when I said something she agreed with, as if subconsciously presenting her purple nails to me.
I told her more about my job hunt and filled her in on some of the problems I’d had at K. We spent a good deal of time bitching about people - although she was much more light-hearted about it, whereas I was deadly serious. She fancied me; I could tell.
After a while, she called John over to introduce us to each other. I suppose she had to, but I wasn’t in the mood to be polite. I stood anyway and shook his hand, muttering something nice. In response, he simply reminded Amy they had a train to catch.
She hugged me in front of him and, in my shock, I almost missed the opportunity to breathe in the glorious scent of her hair and wrap an arm around her shoulders. We’d never embraced like that before and I hoped the momentous event had not gone unnoticed by her either.
It lasted a second, maybe two, then she was gone. I stood where she left me, watching her back that now had a protective tree-trunk of an arm around it, until she disappeared. I looked around at the pub full of people, all there to see me off, but a ripple of disappointment ran through me, knowing the only person I particularly wanted to say goodbye to had left. What reason would we ever have to see each other again?
I checked my watch. At only 11 p.m., the night was young and I hadn’t drunk anywhere near enough. Things were about to get messy...
Six hours later I woke up in some random girl’s bed, not remembering how I got there or what had happened. I slipped out from under the covers and quietly located my jeans and shirt in the dimly lit room. The girl was lying face down so I couldn’t even tell what she looked like, and I had no recollection of the events leading up to our rendezvous. Thankfully, a used condom lay on the floor. I couldn’t have been that drunk.
I crept out of the apartment, desperately trying to remember who I might have hooked up with and where I was. This was becoming a habit. Since Liz’s death, sex served as a great way to unburden myself from the load I seemed to be constantly carrying around with me. I’d go out every weekend and end up in a different bed each time, usually having drunk so much I had no idea who I had just had sex with or where I was.
Often, the girl didn’t know who I was either or wasn’t able, or perhaps willing, to track me down, so I would usually hear nothing more of it. On occasion, because DM was so small, I inevitably ended up with someone from work. She would then make things awkward. Apparently, not many girls appreciate it if you sleep with them, disappear before morning, and then forget about it without so much as a text.
Part of me knew I had to stop, but even though I often couldn’t remember details, it made me feel good. Women wanted me; they wanted to sleep with me. That was what defined me even before I lost Liz: the guy all the girls wanted to shag. It was great for my ego. Hopefully, I showed them a good time.
The only time I nearly screwed up was when the person sleeping next to me wasn’t a girl after all, but a guy. I was sure he must have been good, but I just didn’t think I fancied men. Maybe I did and my thirty-six years of heterosexuality was a lie. Or maybe only fifty per cent of the population wanting to sleep with me was no longer enough. It took me two weeks before I went out drinking again while I contemplated my sexuality.
About three months later, once I had enjoyed living off my savings and sleeping with nearly the entire female population of DM, I decided I should pull myself together. It had been a year since Liz had died by that point. It was about time I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
I found myself a new job, doing almost the same as I had done at K but at a much less dynamic company. I also swore I would stop drinking so much and abstain from sex for twelve months. Then I changed it to six. And then I promised myself if I did sleep with anyone in that time, I would at the very least know her name, and remember having done it. I added that particular caveat on the off-chance that Amy popped up in my life again.
It felt good having a clean slate at work and making the decision to get my act together. I had to do something. I was sleeping badly, and I knew my weekend drinking was not helping. Yes, I slept well once I had eight pints inside me and god knows how many chasers, but the rest of the week I didn’t. I told Craig, one of my very few friends left from my time at K, to hopefully help make me accountable.
“If I’m out with you on a weekend, please don’t let me go home with anyone,” I said as I stretched out on his sofa in front of a football match we were only half watching.
Craig sat across from me on an oversized beanbag, his legs crossed at the ankle. He sighed heavily, running both hands through his curly hair. “I try not to let you already, mate. Trust me. But you won’t ever listen.”
“I know. But it’ll be different now; I’m not going to drink so much.” A hollow promise given, right then, I had a near-empty beer bottle in my hand.
Craig leant forward, passing me another from the box by his side. “Whatever Jude.”
Time to change the subject. “I’ve been asked to do a gig in Ibiza this summer.”
“Is that a good idea?” Craig asked, tossing me the bottle opener.
“Yes. I really need it.”
“I can’t see that going well. Caterina will be out there for one. And you always drink and take drugs when you’re DJing. I don’t think you’re up for it.”
“It’s still a few months away,” I argued. “I’ll make myself up for it. I’ll start playing football again. Running. I’ll stop drinking. I haven’t taken drugs for years.” Only a small lie.
“You haven’t DJ’d properly for years,” Craig pointed out. “Not in Ibiza.”
I huffed like a spoilt teenager. “I need this gig. I need to do something that reminds me of who I am. I can’t say no.”
“What about Cat?”
“What about her?”
“Have you been in touch with her recently?”
I thought back. I wanted to be honest with Craig. “No. I don’t even know if she still lives out there. She always had plans to move away.” And that much was true. I’d broken all ties with her a long time ago. She had been a very unhealthy habit.
Craig shrugged. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I just think you need to sort your life out before you put yourself in these situations.”
“Sort my life out?” At barely thirty, Craig was far too young to be giving me life advice. I didn’t like his suggestion, even if he was right.
My friend put his hands up in surrender. “Alright, sorry. I’m just looking out for you. Everything with you is always so… chaotic. You don’t have a single healthy relationship. You used to be cool, Jude, now you’re just a mess. I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
“Wow, thanks mate.” I pushed the new beer away from me along the glass coffee table. It came to a juddering stop millimetres from the edge.
Craig was so fucking perfect.
As much as I hated to admit it, he was totally right. Everything about my life was chaotic. I liked to pretend that I was free to leave my job, jump on a flight to Ibiza, fuck whoever I wanted. But part of me would love the kind of freedom that didn’t involve sabotaging my life. I decided I would go to Ibiza anyway, despite the well-intentioned warning. And, on my return, I would look for some stability in my life.
First, I needed to run it past my new boss. He was getting married that same week, also in Ibiza, and given I was brand new to the role, I wasn’t sure he’d be keen for me to take time off. I left it a few weeks until I settled in before I raised it.
Kevin, the boss, seemed like a decent - if boring - chap, and it turned out to be true. He granted my request without hesitation. Perhaps he had more important things to worry about with his upcoming wedding. I chose to believe that his easy acceptance meant I had made the right decision to go.
Ibiza, here I come. What could go wrong?