the good the bad and the basic

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Chapter Five

My phone buzzed while I was in the que for my breakfast ice latte, unknown number. On my phone? Strange. Usually that would be my work phone. Nina gave me an on-its-last-legs iphone 5, that barely worked, to talk to anyone that I needed to for work stuff.

Unknown number: It’s Matt. Felt a bit weird to just never say anything about the other night. I don’t know what to do I feel fucking awful. You alright?

What? You alright? No I’m not. I had the worst paranoid hangover of my life after the night of the dinner party, after what happened under the streetlights. The paranoia wasn’t just paranoia though, I had actually done something really terrible. Now with Matt contacting me the very real, very terrible thing I did was becoming even more real and even more terrible.

I actually did something awful that I was planning on pushing out of my mind. The plan was to replace it with more trivial problems. Like my rejection from the posh boy at work. To have normal problems, not try it on with my best friend and boss’s husband kind of problems.

It was like people could sense I was a horrible slutty piece of shit even if they didn’t actually know what I did like I had a fucking aura about me of shame.

I usually enjoy being sexual, if I see someone giving me the eye it would give me a buzz. Not now.

I had to go into work and talk to Nina as if nothing happened. I had little fantasies in my mind about just saying it and coping with the fallout.

I couldn’t, I was mute.

Matt said he felt a bit weird? Well I feel like I’m going to implode every time I thought about it, so fuck off.

I wanted to type back. I feel fucking awful too, can you come and see me so we can feel awful together?

That was the worst thing to think.

I only felt guilt when I thought of him and Nina together, as if him and the fact he’s with Nina are two completely separate things.

What did he want me to say?

I had dark thoughts swirling around my mind of meeting him in a backstreet and having a secret kiss with our bodies pressed tightly together and then resting my head on his big chest. It felt amazing to let my mind fantasise, then I felt guilty afterwards.

“Hello?” It was my turn in the coffee shop que and I was spaced out.

“Sorry! Was in my own world.” In my own world. In my own world thinking of how when I was in Matt’s tight, warm, hold I could feel his harness pressing into my stomach. I felt a wash pull through my insides, then a pang of guilt.

“Large skinny iced latte please,” I said, trying to get back to reality.

“Anything else?”

“No thank you,” food was the last thing on my mind.

I went back to the office with the text right at the forefront of my mind. I was itching to reply, to say anything to let him know I’m here and thinking of him.

I thought of Matt in his jouranslist mode. I pictured him out interviewing, stopping people in the high street, maybe he would secretly hoping that I would be walking down. Then I thought of him at his desk looking at his phone waiting for my reply.

“Janey? You look a bit stressed?” Keira asked after I’d sat down in the office. I realised I had been looking at a wall in a silent trance for far too long.

“Too much caffeine and stuck on a subject for this week’s episode.” I lied but shit yes must do some work.

“Can I be on it?” she asked excitedly.

“You ever been texting a bloke and you have no idea what he really wants? Been… ghosted, catfished or had a lad obsessively texting?”

“I am a woman, so yes.”

I posed a question on instagram asking listeners for the weirdest texts they got and me and Keria could try to figure them out.

It would be stupid fluff, but hopefully a funny easy listen.

“When I first met Derek, I thought he was not interested. He’s older and of the mindset that texting is for organising and nothing else. He would message me asking if I’m free, arrange to meet and seven or whatever and that would be it. But I would always try and chat. In the evenings we were apart, and when I went away somewhere, I would ask how he is doing all that kind of stuff. I would get no answer or something one worded and final, so if I went away for a week I would be convinced he didn’t like me and wanted nothing to do with me or was cheating on me. I confronted him after months of this, and it turned out he just didn’t like texting; he thought it was a waste of time. Now I know him I know that he doesn’t look at his phone on the sofa watching a film, and if he wants to talk to someone he waits until he sees them in person or calls them. So I was torturing myself thinking, why, why, why did he not reply to ‘Making steak for our dinner, missed you this week can’t wait to see you hurry home!’.”

“Interesting, you still coming over tonight?” I needed something to do otherwise I would spend all evening staring at my phone.

I looked at my phone again, no more messages just a promotional text from the bank and the message from Matt that was left on read. I was itching to reply but I had no idea what to say, what if we were on opposite pages. It must be him wanting to make sure I wont tell Nina. That would be all it is.

I should copy Derek, Keira’s husband, and just give him something short and vague, Matt would probably want me to elaborate a little bit if I do. God I hoped so anyway. I could already feel the shame of telling him I feel weird about our secret too, I feel fucking awful too what do we do?! And then getting no reply, or a ‘lets just never mention it’.

That’s what I should be hoping for, that he says let’s never mention it. We both mentally block it out until it’s just a fantasy or a dream or something not real. And then we go on with normal life. Thats what should happen, could I try to forget? Could I hold it in?

I couldn’t tell anyone outside of this. I have learned from experience that would just make the circle of worry of the secret spreading.

So all I could do is tell myself Matt can’t tell anyone, he keeps it away from Nina for life, while I block it out and tell no one.

Fuck, I would have to see Matt again, in thier house, and the pub or at work. I would have to find a way to forget this. Have a conversation with him, and then leave it alone.

I read through his texts again.

Matt. Felt a bit weird to just never say anything about the other night. I don’t know what to do I feel fucking awful. You alright?

I tapped in a reply.

Me. I’m confused and worried.

Sent, shit, nice and vague though so that I can see where he stands.

I put my phone face down on my desk and edited my web post. This week I was doing a long piece on money targeted towards single women in their twenties. I was to talk to a lot of single women in their twenties and compare their finances and lifestyle.

Speaking on how they spend, their backgrounds, their careers and diversity. I was really enjoying this piece, it seemed like a small category on the face of it but the answers to my questions were so broad it was really interesting.

I enjoyed it so much I was planning on doing another for couples in their twenties, families and single parents. Nina liked it.

“Janey,” Nina addressed me. She was right above my desk, fuck.

“Hiya.”

“How are you getting on with the money stuff?”

“Yes good, can I send you it on?” be normal, be normal, be normal.

“Amazing, love the idea. A lot of people don’t speak openly about money with their friends, so I think it will have a lot of interest among your kind.” Nina raised her eyebrows on the ‘your kind’. It wasn’t a dig, it was an inside joke when she accidentally categories young single women to this one night by accident, and I never let it go. I laughed, hopefully naturally.

“There’s some good comparisons, one girls goal is to travel, another to buy a house and one lives for online shopping and nights out. All that stuff”

“You got something included about their living situations?”

“I’ve done a mini breakdown in each one next to the photo, how much they spend on bills, transport, food, social life, clothes, hobbies, miculenious treats you get like wine, weed or whatever. Then the talk is where they live, who they live with, how they save as in how much, what its for, their families and friends finances and their goals. It’s a lot but broken down and comparing a group of different single women, with different backgrounds of a similar age is really interesting.” My stomach fluttered with guilt as I spoke.

“No, I like it. I think we should keep it to the interviews and not comment on their lifestyles. It could be in danger of seeming judgmental so we should keep it very black and white and just ask the group the questions individually. Strong focus on layout.” She rested her hand on my shoulder. “Webs on the up and up, you’re doing a really good job.”

I automatically smiled and thanked her.

All day I worked without letting my eyes leave the computer screen and typed and typed. I wrote a really terrible opinion piece on how I was deleting my dating apps. I read it back to cringing and deleted it.

When my half hour lunch came round I felt glued to my office chair, I was scared that if I moved someone would ask me a question, I would freeze, and let my secret come tumbling out.

I was really hungry, but I tried to ignore it and write something else. Trying so hard not to look at my messages.

My phone pinged. I picked it up and locked myself in a toilet stall.

It was a reply to my ‘I’m confused and worried.’ text.

Matt: I am so sorry, do you want to talk today? Can you meet me here at half five?

He sent me a pin location. I opened up the location, a pub on the other side of town. Was he mad what if someone saw us? Why did he want to talk to me? I was expecting a ‘do not say anything and forget about me’ message.

Me: What if we get seen together?

I kicked myself for losing my power and replying straight away.

Matt: I wanted to say your flat but I didn’t want to be presumptuous.

Me: Okay but six

Matt: Yeah

What was going on? How was this happening? Imagine if Nina knew what I did and then found out about a secret meeting at my flat to keep it from her?

This couldn’t happen.

Me: This is a bad idea, can we just agree to keep what happened to ourselves? Delete these messages and forget about me.

I didn’t press send. I stared at the typed up message and I couldn’t bring myself to send it. Fuck. I wanted him to come round so badly.

To see his face, alone, me and him in my house, then I could tell him I always liked him sober.

Get it off my chest, get it spoken out loud.

Then I can tell him that it was my fault I knew I was flirting. That even though it’s obviously not all on me, I initiated it and I am sorry.

I will tell him it’s embarrassing and I will ask if he can never mention it to Nina. I’ll tell him I can forget all about it and he can do the same and then it will be over.

I will get out and meet someone else. I preach so much to other people that there’s a lot of men in the world.

If someone likes someone else, you can’t stop them and make them like you. You have to find someone that does like you and you are not everyone’s cup of tea because no one is. I told myself. Meet people and not take any less than you deserve.

I’m not Matts cup of tea, he is married. I am not Ollies cup of tea, I failed his date interview because I’m not what he wants, and that is okay.

I needed to follow my own advice, focus on myself and it could happen that I meet a nice single man I like and see if they like me. If they don’t, fine. Find another, and if they do like me then, great.

I would just meet Matt and get some closure over the fantasy in my head, then I cant lay it all to rest.

It makes sense. If we were to discuss anything over phone and text, we could see each other in person for the first time down the line, most likely in the presence of Nina and give it all away.

He will leave and I will open a bottle of wine with Keira after, get the podcast done and focus on myself.

I messaged Keira to ask her to come over half seven, giving me enough time to talk to him. No that’s too long I don’t trust myself, I changed the message to seven.

I worked through my hunger for another hour before nipping off to get a hot latte and a slice of cake.

Grateful for the sugar I worked quickly and efficiently for the rest of the afternoon and did a phone interview with an author for the websites online book club, I had it typed up along with my personal review and the reviews of others around the office I recorded with my phone.

Just Nina’s review, I had to speak to her. Shit.

I sat with her in her office, the phone on record, and asked her the list of questions I made for the book.

I blocked away thoughts of Matt and just played a game in my head that I’d gone back in time to when things were normal. She gave me very educated answers and added some questions to my list that should have been obvious.

“That’s a lot better than what I had.”

“I studied English for six years and I am an editor. You’re doing so good with the online book club. Be proud of yourself.” Oh god. I’m not fishing please stop.

Ollie was hovering over my desk now.

“Drinks after work?” Shit. And why, you don’t like me.

“I’m sorry, Kerias coming over tonight?”

“Tomorrow?” Jesus Christ, he wants to be best buddies now.. I don’t have the capacity to tiptoe around him.

“Yeah, why not?” I smiled up at him, hopefully convincingly. I wondered after why I agreed to it, maybe he wanted to be friends, that would be fine.

I couldn’t concentrate on this, my mind was on Matt coming to my flat. I really didn’t believe it or could picture this tall lovely tall man in my little living room/kitchen.

I walked home as quickly as I could, earphones in to try and take my mind off it, but really the music was winding me up and making me more emotional.

I flew up the stairs to my 1st floor victorian conversion, what would have been a master bedroom, is my living room and kitchen. I painted it all white to brighten it up, I made it a little cosier with big vintage style area rugs and fluffy cushions and cosy blankets covering the old leather sofa.

The room was big and the kitchen was just a few oak cabinets, a mini dishwasher, fridge, oven and hob with a little belfast sink. I painted the cabinets a baby blue and got shiny new appliances when I moved in, I got quartz fitted on the worktop.

The hallway was open to this. The front of the room had huge bay windows, I hung sheer curtains and glittery blue curtains.

I got myself an ikea kitchen table and chairs. I had found a nice large white wood coffee table, for in front of the sofa, to sit on the colourful rug.

I found a purple velvet armchair that I was in love with. I bought candles and books for the painted white shelves either side of the chimney breast.

I put a large vintage mirror to reflect even more of the light and make it even brighter, placing it above the fireplace and a tall mirror on the back wall.

I saved and worked extra shifts and sacrificed nights out to get my flat finished. A Lot of it was second hand but it was all good quality and now it’s exactly how I wanted it and I loved it.

If things are going a bit shit, getting some fresh flowers, lighting a candle and sitting down with a strong coffee to read or write always made me feel as if someone pushed a reset button.

When I got in the door I tidied everything that was left out, cups, books, lipsticks and blankets. I wiped down the surfaces with lemon cleaner, ran the hoover round and lit a few scented candles. I contemplated blowing them out thinking it looked like I set a mood. I then decided to leave them, I always lit candles and so I shouldn’t change anything for him.

I was nervous, stomach fluttering. I felt weird though, like I should eat. I opened out a packet of olives and put together a board of cheeses, cured meats and chutney, a few crackers and a box of chocolates. I put out two glasses and a bottle of red.

I always put on nibbles for people coming over to help me out with recording. It was a thank you for their time, and I always got a bottle of champagne delivered to them if it was a big success after it was put up onto the streaming platforms. They weren’t being paid and were giving me an hour or two of their time, and I got money from the advertising so it only seemed fair. I didn’t know what I was doing really, Nina told me that people shouldnt be paid to be interviewed because they get publicity in return. But they don’t get much publicity from me, I am not exactly a celebrity.

The podcast was Nina’s idea. The web stuff was doing well, but she told me this was the trendy thing to do and it could turn listeners to the magazine.

I argued that no one will listen. She told me I should try anyway. I hated it at first, I felt like I was putting a personal diary out into the world and oh god the sound of my own voices was horrendous.

What got me though was having someone do it will me, other people’s confidence gave me mine. And the followers grew and grew, and are growing. The comments mostly positive. I had no theme, people wrote in, I had interesting people I knew come to talk to me and I talked about my life.

What if Matt thinks that this spread is for him? Should I put it away? It did look nicely arranged on my table. Hmm could I tell him it’s not for him, that I’m not desperate enough to put out snacks for our let’s forget about our snog and grope chat?

Still not here and I couldn’t sit still. I organised by the bookshelf and gave the floors a quick clean not knowing what to do with myself. I kept re arranging the flowers, cushions and threw tha blanket in the tv stand cupboard because I couldn’t find a way to make it look artfully draped. I wandered around the front room pulling out perfumes and lipsticks and applying my favourites in a way that would seem as if I had already been wearing them for a few hours and wasn’t desperate enough to put them on for our meeting.

God. I swigged some white wine from the bottle in the fridge thinking about how much I wouldn’t mind a fag. I swilled some mouthwash after just in case Matt got close enough to smell my all day coffee breath. So minging.

The door went, he was ten minutes early. I stopped to wonder if he was the kind of man that was always five or ten minutes early, I had a mini fantasy of us as a couple arm in arm telling people in the pub how he’s always ten minutes early and I’m always ten minutes late!

God, I was nervous.

I answered the door. He was standing with a thin scarf half covering his face even though it wasn’t cold. He had black jeans, crisp white shirt and an expensive looking tan leather jacket. His dark sand hair was messy from the wind and even though I couldn’t see his mouth his blue eyes smiled.

He seemed large, tanned and intimidating in my flat doorway. I stepped back and let him in.

I had changed into a cotton white t-shirt that was too tight and loose boyfriend style jeans earlier. I had let my hair down and brushed it through, It was messy and in waves.

He was looking me up and down.

“Jesus christ.” He said.

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