Jenny sat in her car, quietly assessing the Fairside Community Hall across the road. It looked normal. Pleasant even. Not at all what she’d been expecting. If someone had asked, she probably would’ve said it’d be a grungy old place with a bunch of winos and druggies lolling about on the cigarette-covered ground outside. That there’d definitely be tagging all over the walls, and at least a broken window. And maybe a couple of rusty old supermarket trolleys laying around. But no-one had actually asked, especially not Bridgette or her parents. She guessed they had either forgotten or were too embarrassed to mention it. Sweep it (as in, her) under the carpet – that was their motto. Jenny shuddered involuntarily, picturing the sorts of bugs and germs which live under most people’s carpets.
The hall was bigger than she had expected, with freshly painted white walls and a bright cobalt-blue door. There were nicely clipped hedges bordering a generous sized lawn, which was completely wino-free. There wasn’t even a single empty whisky bottle, or crushed up can of Mother to litter the nicely swept pathway to the entrance. Jenny craned her head to see what might be lurking down the side of the building, surely there would be something sinister and terrifying taking place. Nope, not even a dodgy guy in a dirty hoodie, selling crumpled up tin foil rolls of weed.
A sign in one corner of the section bore the hall’s name in the same cobalt-blue as the front door, underneath which was a list of the community groups who used it:
Knitters and Natters Mon, Wed & Fri 10am-12pm
Girl Guides Tues & Thursday 5pm-6.30pm
Salsa Dancing Mon & Friday 7.30pm-9pm
Zumba Classes Tuesday 9am-10am
Mums & Bubs Thurs & Saturday 9.30am-11.30am
Addiction Support Group Tuesday (fortnightly) 7pm-9pm
Jenny grimaced as she read the last group on the list. The group that she was here to join. I do not belong here. I do not belong here. I do NOT belong here.
Screwing up her nose, Jenny checked her watch for the fourth time since she had parked the car. 6.35pm. Twenty-five minutes to wait. Earlier that day she had calculated her travel time to the hall to ensure that she would get there early enough to check out the seating arrangements and toilet situation inside the hall before anyone else arrived. As an added precaution, she had limited her fluid intake all afternoon, with the aim of not needing to use the toilet in the first place. She definitely did not intend to share a toilet seat with a bunch of druggies and alcoholics, or any other sort of addicts for that matter.
The sound of the hall doors being flung open with a crash drew Jenny’s attention away from her thoughts and back across the road. A group of giggling tweens in Girl Guide uniforms spilled down the steps and out onto the pavement. Not long after, they were followed by two harassed-looking middle aged women carrying boxes. Jenny took a deep breath, and reluctantly turned off her car engine. Time for a quick pep talk.
It’s okay, you’re okay. Nothing to worry about. It’ll just be a roomful of complete strangers, addicts, talking about their feelings and stuff. It’s fine, you’re fine… They’re just addicts, not murderers. Unless of course they’re addicted to murder? Could that happen? No, no it can’t. Surely not. They’d be in jail. Wouldn’t they? Jenny watched two of the tweens who had been running down the hall steps as they stood waiting to cross the road, giggling at something one of them had said. Jenny nodded to herself with satisfaction – murderers wouldn’t be allowed to use a community hall straight after a Girl Guides’ meeting. That’s a fact. Actually, it’s probably a law. She returned to her pep talk.
You’ll just walk in, casually sit down, keep to yourself and then you’ll leave. That’s all. You’ll be home before you know it. But…what if I get so nervous that I vomit all over the floor? Oh God, imagine if I vomited all over everyone. Or I vomited all over myself. Or worse, someone else vomited on me… And THEN I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and I shouted something horrendous. Like, like… titties.
Shaking her head to stop the freight train of crazy running through her mind, Jenny checked in her rear vision mirror to ensure there was no oncoming traffic. Briefly glancing at her reflection, she wondered whether she should have made more of an effort with her appearance. She shook her head – she was joining a group of addicts, surely no-one would care – and then looked down at her jeans and hoodie. They were immaculately clean and a fairly expensive brand, according to the online shop she bought them from, but jeans and a hoodie nevertheless. It suddenly occurred to her that she was the one who would look like a druggie.
Oh, crap it to hell, why did I wear a hoodie anyway? I may as well have worn some grills in my teeth and one of those giant baseball caps. Shit! Jenny looked at the backseat of her car in desperation. It was, of course, pristine clean and completely empty. Not a single crumb, empty water bottle or, more helpfully, a change of clothes. Why couldn’t I be like every other normal person, with a stack of spare clothes thrown around the backseat of my car? Jenny sighed to herself. I guess that’s why I’m here in the first place. Mind you, they’ll probably all be wearing hoodies themselves. And at least if they think I’m a druggie, I might not have to tell them why I’m really there, and it might not be quite so embarrassing.
Jenny resolutely grabbed her handbag and stepped out of her car before she had a chance to stop herself. Shutting the door behind her, she grabbed a bottle of disinfectant out of her bag and sprayed her hands and the car door handle liberally, before skittering across the road towards the hall.
This was it. Time to find out what she was in for.