‘And then, I told them all to go fuck themselves!’ Jenny chewed her lip as she relayed the story to Amber a few days later. There was a moment of shocked silence on the other end of the line.
‘Are you serious?’ Amber shrieked. ‘You actually told the whole lot of them to go fuck themselves? I mean, Bridgette I can totally understand. But your mum and Dad as well?’
‘Ah yes, yes I did.’
Amber started laughing. ‘Oh. My. God. What I would have given to be a fly on the wall. Unbelievable Jen.’
‘I shouldn’t have said it.’
‘Jen,’ Amber stopped laughing, ‘don’t you dare feel bad about it. Of course you should have said it, you should have said it ten years ago. They’ve always been a bunch of wankers, your parents included, stepping all over you. I’m proud of you hun.’
‘Yeah, maybe you’re right. They probably deserved it, but I still feel guilty.’
‘What did your mum do? I bet your Dad hid his face under the tablecloth?’
‘Actually, I don’t know. I just sort of said it, and then walked out. I didn’t even turn around to see their faces. They tried to follow me out of the house but I was already driving away.’
Amber whistled. ‘Jen, you are full of surprises these days. Whatever this group you’re going to is doing, it’s definitely working.’
Jenny walked over to her fridge and took out a yoghurt. Peeling off the top, she licked the yoghurt off the underside – something she hadn’t done since she was a child – and then caught herself in surprise. ‘I know, right?!’
‘So, have you heard from your parents since then?’
Jenny took a spoon out of the drawer and sat down at her breakfast bar, cradling the phone on one shoulder. ‘Mum’s tried calling a few times, and even Dad left a message, but I haven’t felt up to talking to them yet. I suppose I should call them back.’
‘Or maybe give them a few more days to think about why you lost it?’
Jenny considered this, and nodded to herself. ‘So, anyway, I have some other news.’
’Seriously? More news? I don’t think I can take any more.’
Jenny laughed, choking slightly on a mouthful of yoghurt. ‘You’ll like this. I’m, um, I’m on Tinder.’
‘Shut the front door!’ Amber shouted down the phone. ‘Since when?’
‘Ellen came around on Saturday, and helped me set up a profile.’
‘Wow. So, how’s it going so far? Have you found any matches?’
‘No. Well, one - but that was by accident.’
‘His profile picture showed him sitting on a toilet. With no toilet paper. And a ciggie in his hand.’
‘Ewwww, that’s so gross. And you swiped his picture the wrong way I’m guessing?’
‘And, he sent me another picture,’ Jenny paused for dramatic effect and then snorted with laughter, ‘of his balls.’
Amber started laughing down the other end of the line, and it was a few minutes before they both regained their composure. Jenny wiped her eyes, which were streaming, and cleared her throat. Amber did the same.
‘So, Jen, speaking of dating. I spoke to Jack about the double date, and he spoke to his mate, and it’s all go.’
‘Oh, okay.’ Jenny scraped the last of the yoghurt out of the pot, and stood up to throw it in the recycling bin. ‘I was kind of hoping you’d forgotten about that. When are we going to, er, do this thing?’
‘A couple of weeks – Saturday night. We’ll go out for dinner.’
Jenny bit her lip and frowned. ‘Dinner? Whereabouts?’
‘Don’t worry hun,’ Amber’s voice was soft, ‘we’ll confirm the restaurant closer to the time, and you and I can go and scope it out beforehand. Okay?’
‘Right, okay. Let’s not talk about it anymore or I’ll chicken out. And that’s enough about me anyway, what’s new with you?’
Jenny walked into her lounge, lying down on the couch and getting comfortable while Amber updated her on the latest in her romantic and work developments. It was at least fifteen minutes later by the time she had hung up. Checking her watch, she turned on the TV to catch the last few minutes of The Bachelor, and lay there absently thinking about what the rest of her group might be doing.
It’s Thursday night, so Ellen will probably be at an AA meeting with Jonty. I wonder if Petra’s with them. Suzanne’s probably online shopping. Or maybe she’s out at a club, shopping for men. Anthony’s probably showing someone around one of his listings, swiping lace doilies and toilet rolls every time his client turns their back. Jenny giggled to herself. Grayson’s probably having sex with that scary AF beauty queen he’s married to, watching the racing on TV over her shoulder. And, Phil, what’s Phil doing. Maybe he’s just been out for a run, got himself all hot and sweaty, and he’s jumping into a hot shower to soap himself all over… Jenny felt something tingle, somewhere down low in her body, and blinked her eyes in surprise. Yikes. She turned the TV up, and tried to concentrate on the latest bitch fight over the extremely handsome, wealthy, successful and funny Bachelor who, for some unknown reason, is unable to find himself a girlfriend out in the real world and has to go on a TV show to hook up.
Jenny was just starting to close her eyes and doze off, when she heard her mobile beep in her pocket. Shaking her head to chase away the fogginess, Jenny pulled it out. It wasn’t like her to fall asleep on the couch.
Checking the screen, Jenny saw a Whatsapp message from Phil. It was addressed to Jenny only, and not to the rest of the group.
Hi Jen. How r u? Hvng a good wk?
Hi Phil. I’m good, just watching a bit of TV. How are you?
Ps - I think you made a mistake, your message hasn’t gone to the rest of the group?
Jenny only had to wait a brief moment, before her mobile beeped again.
Msg meant just 4 u. Um, wanted 2 ask u smthng.
Well, ask away.
Jenny, assuming that Phil was going to ask something related to the group, hopped off the couch and strolled out to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Phil’s next message took a while to come through, and Jenny was about to have a shower when her mobile beeped again.
Do u want 2 go out 4 a drink? With me? Theres a comedy show on Sat 27 Aug, we could go, 2gether. Like, a d8 I guess.
Jenny stared at her mobile in surprise. Shit! What am I going to say? She was about to call Amber for advice, when she remembered Amber saying she was heading round to Jack’s after their earlier phone call. Jenny sat stood leaning against her fridge, mobile in hand, staring at the screen. What am I going to say? I mean, I just imagined him in the shower – but the real life guy, he’s REALLY sweaty. Oh my God, this is so awkward. She then realised the date Phil had suggested was the same night that she was going out on the dreaded double date. So, she couldn’t say yes, even if she wanted to. Phew, rock solid excuse, she thought to herself in relief.
Before she could reply, another message came through from Phil.
Sorry, Jen. That prob unxpcted 4 u. No pressure. Jst if u want 2.
So sorry Phil, but I’m actually busy that night. And, I’m not sure if we should go out, you know, outside of the support group. I don’t think it would be allowed. Plus, we’ve both got, you know, issues to deal with…
Jenny sent her message, and then sent another one straight afterwards.
I really appreciate the offer though Phil, I really do. Sorry that I can’t, you know, go out with you. I hope we’re still ok?
A few minutes passed, and when her mobile finally beeped again, Jenny just about dropped it on her floor her hands were so shaky.
Thats fine Jen. Dont b sorry. Dnt no wot I was thnkng. C u at the mtg nxt wk.
Jenny felt mortified, for both herself and for Phil. And for the first time in months, she was suddenly dreading the next support group meeting.
A few days later, on Saturday morning, Jenny had just left her house and was walking down the road when her mobile rang. She stopped to take it out of her bag and looked at the screen. Bridgette. Jenny considered sending her straight to voicemail, but decided she’d have to face the music at some point and hit the talk button.
‘Mon, er... Jen? It’s me.’
‘I know, Bridge.’ Jenny rolled her eyes.
‘How are you?’
Jenny, who had been expecting a tirade or a stream of expletives, was momentarily stumped by the question.
‘I’m fine. You?’
’Jen, Mum’s going mental. Why aren’t you returning any of her calls?”
Jenny thought this over briefly, and started walking as she replied. ‘Actually, Bridge, I need a break.’
‘A break? What from? From Mum? I mean, I know she can be nosy…’
‘Actually, Bridge,’ Jenny interrupted her, ‘I need a break from all of you. I’m tired of the way you treat me, and I don’t feel like seeing you at the moment.’
‘Are you joking? Have you gone even more spaz or something? Should we be calling a psychiatrist or a doctor or something?’
‘Bridge, I’m fine. Better than I have been in ages, actually. And I just can’t be bothered with family shit right now.’
‘Jen, this is so unlike you.’ There was the sound of whispering in the background. ‘Ah, so, I think we’re going to call your support group coordinator.’
‘Bridge, is Mum there with you?’
Bridgette was silent for a minute. ‘Maybe. Why? You want to talk to her?’
‘No,’ Jenny sighed heavily, ‘I don’t want to talk to her.’
‘Oh, okay. This is weird. How long are you having a break from us then?’
‘I don’t know Bridge. A while, I guess.’
‘Right.’ More whispering in the background. ‘So, will you be at family dinner tomorrow night?’
Jenny shook her head in disbelief and punched the hang up button on her mobile. Placing her mobile back in her bag, she realised she had reached her destination and was standing outside Cheep Liquor. The shop was open, but there weren’t many people around at this hour of the day. Jenny checked her watch, 11.30am, and then looked down at the plastic carrier bag in her hand. What will I do with this if he’s not here?
A man’s voice interrupted her thoughts. ‘Hi… Jenny. Bit early in the day to see you.’
Jenny looked up, and smiled at the raggedy figure in front of her. ‘Hi Neil. How are you?’
Neil smiled in return, and Jenny winced inwardly again at the sight of his teeth. They really were disgusting. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Okay, I guess. Been a bit of a cold one this winter.’
Jenny looked down at his bare feet, and back at his face. ‘So, that’s why I came here actually. I bought you something.’
Neil raised his eyebrows, and eyed her suspiciously. ‘What is it?’
Jenny held out the carrier bag, ensuring Neil could only grab one handle of it and she wouldn’t have to touch his fingers. ‘I hope you don’t mind. It’s just, I noticed you had no shoes on the other day, and it’s really cold. And…’
Jenny watched as Neil opened the bag and pulled out the contents. A pair of sneakers, and a pair of woolly socks. He stood staring at them for a minute, and Jenny suddenly wondered if she had done the wrong thing.
‘They’re um, not new or anything. I got them second-hand, online actually. And the socks were my dad’s. I just guessed your size. I hope they’re okay, that they fit. If they don’t, you know, I could return them or something.’
Neil looked up at her, his chin wobbling. ‘Why? Why did you buy these for me?’
‘Um, I just thought you could use them. Is that okay?’
Neil nodded, and sat down on the cold concrete footpath. Jenny felt awkward, watching as he pulled the socks on with shaking hands, and she started to walk away.
‘Bye Neil,’ she said over her shoulder.
‘Bye Jenny. Thank you!’ He called back.
Reaching the end of the road, Jenny turned to briefly look behind her. Neil was standing, lifting each foot up in turn to examine his newly shod feet. Jenny smiled to herself, before crossing the road and heading home.