Matt went to Brussels to cover some EU talks. For over a week I let my guilt settle. I worked as many hours as my body would let me, avoiding Nina as much as I could. I had my earphones in, a book open or the tv on wherever possible. I could not stop in the moment and think, because then I would think about Matt. I never knew how long a week could feel.
I had gotten a call from Matt just after he landed.
“I wanted to call you.” He said. I could hear the noise of traffic in the background.
“Where are you?” I asked, I had just gotten through the door from work, hauling huge bags of shopping, my balcony plants and houseplants had been delivered. I wanted to breathe a bit of life into my flat.
“Got a few hours, gone for a walk. You sound out of breath?”
“Yeah, I’ve been shopping so that I don’t think of sex. I’m moving a jungle, up the stairs because I decided I need plants, I was jealous all yours.” Why would I even mention this.
“If only I could buy a good atmosphere for my house.” Oh shit.
“I also have enough wine and food to feed a few small families,” I said, changing the subject.
“Yes. Tacos for dinner tonight”
“I would much rather be having tacos with you, rather than chain hotel room service.” Hmm, he likes me, lovely. I pictured us strolling through european cities and eating outdoors on hot cobbles. Romantic long weekends away.
I had tried to travel on my own. I couldn’t afford anything too crazy so I stuck to Ryan Air and europe. It was good, I have been to in the past few years. I met groups of people, went on nights out and day trips and had a few short lived holiday romances. But, I always fantasize about having a partner on those trips with me. Someone that could sit in comfortable silences, someone I knew would bail me out if I lost a bank card or was pickpocketed or something. Someone I could adventure with and we could tell funny stories about that time we got lost or whatever it was we got ourselves into.
“How is it over there?” I asked.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about you?”
“I can’t help myself, I want to see you when I get back?”
“You want to use me?” I held my breath after I said it, regretting getting into it.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I was doing that.”
“You’re married. I really want to not think about that, and I really want to live in a pretend world where I think this can be a thing, and that you won’t hurt me.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I know it sounds dramatic, we’ve only slept together a few times. But. You’ve been in my head for a long time, so this probably means a lot more to me than you think.”
“It means more to me than you think. Obviously I want to sleep with you, it was amazing. But I want to see where this goes, I like you.”
“What about your wife?”
“I honestly don’t want her to be my wife for long. I want to leave.”
“God I want to believe you so bad. I’ll see you, it’s driving me mad.”
Agreeing to an affair just like that, like it was easy. It seemed easier to do it than to stop.
Nina seemed to know something was off, but she was busy arguing with Matt over the phone. I could hear loud swearing and shouting from her office. I was still her friend that she confided in as well, I would have to hear about this. I would have to lie to her face while she told me all about her marital problems.
“What the fuck is wrong with men?” Nina asked me as we stood side by side in the womens toilets. Her washing her hands and me brushing my long dark blonde hair aggressively with the thought of them together. I slammed my brush into the sink.
“Fucking men.” I grumbled back Then I realised what I was doing. Shit.
“What’s he done?” I was suddenly desperate to know what was going on between them. The end? I tried to fantasise of a happy outcome with all of this, a selfish one in which I got to keep Nina and my job, and keep Matt, but, clearly, there was no way that could be an outcome, not even in my fantasies
Nina gripped the sink and looked at me through the mirror.
“He thinks we don’t pay any attention to each other, so he says he doesn’t see the need to call when he’s away,” she was visibly upset.
My heart sank and I had butterflies in my stomach.
“I just thought he wanted his own space. I was trying to play it cool, the last time I tried to pull him in closer. It only pushed him away. It made me desperate and unattractive.”
“Thats unfair. What does he expect.” It felt like bile as I said it. Lying through my teeth.
I considered he might be manipulating her and me. He acted as if it was Nina that was always pulling away, that she was the one that was cold and over it all. This is it. No more.
“Can we go out tonight? I can’t face being alone?” She asked, I felt a pang of sympathy and guilt all at once. I couldn’t though, not today.
She was looking to me for an answer. Shit.
“Yeah, course.” Fuck.
She smiled at me, eyes full of tears and left.
I had hurt in my gut, I had no idea Matt was manipulating Nina. He asked her for space and pushed her away when she tried to get close, and then turned it around on her calling her cold. Bastard.
Ollie was staring at me as I got back to my desk. Shit. I forgot about him. He seemed so boyish compared to Matt. I needed something, a friend or something that was outside the crazy circle of guilt I got myself into. I remembered Ollie text me asking how I was and I ignored it.
“Hey.” I said, leaning flirtatiously on the desk. “I’m sorry I didn’t message you back. I was a bit overwhelmed and I wanted to wait until I wouldn’t be shit company. Wanna go out tomorrow? I wont’t be offended if you shoot me down.”
“Right,” he looked at me with an eyebrow raised. “And why have you been overwhelmed?”
“Just been a bit of a miserable bitch,” meh, half true. “Will you let me buy you a beer tomorrow?”
“Hmmm,” he contemplated me. “I would leave you hanging, but, why not?”
In the bar with Nina that evening, I let my mind push away the image of me and Matt together and I just let myself dislike him deeply. The hurt was making my throat close up slightly, but I just tried to push it all out of my mind.
“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with him. Hardly talks to me in the house.” She was stirring her cocktail round and round. She must be upset, she would never go for a sugary cocktail. She was all fine wines and slimline gin and tonics.
“Do you talk to him?” I asked.
“No. Only really when we have people over, we just skirt around each other like housemates. We don’t really have sex. I never want to. He never wants to. I’ve been trying to get my sex drive back but nothing works.”
“Do you miss sex?”
“I did for a while, now not so much. I have an expensive female directed porn subscription and that’s enough for me, lately.” She paused. “Too much information?”
“You’re talking to a single woman, I know what youre talking about, not having real life to draw on you need it sometimes. Though the free stuff I watch is probably not as classy, always something with a taxi and a woman just never remembering her purse to pay the fare..”
Nina threw her head back laughing, I felt like a friend again. I felt the familiarity and closeness I was craving so badly.
We joked and laughed for hours while I let the dark secret put itself in a box and away from my real life. It was a lovely night.
After a few strong sugary cocktails, the forever on a diet nina was feeling understandably a little tipsy. Nina wouldn’t let me pay for any of the drinks which made me feel really guilty and the shame tucked away inside its box was starting to creep into my mind. She didn’t seem to notice.
“You know what,” she said, lifting her drink high and changing the subject. “Fuck it, I shouldnt tell you but I will. Keira is doing my head in. She’s shit, I have no real reason to sack her though because fashions objective and some do like what she does. How can I say I just don’t agree with her taste? One thing I don’t need, I am stressed enough to be worrying about what overpaid, untalented people are doing to my publication. And other people don’t deserve to take up the slack”
She widened her eyes at me, hoping that I would indulge her and bitch about Keria, but I really couldn’t. I thought Keria was a good person, and I really liked her sense of fashion and taste. I didn’t really understand why Nina was so instant on being against her on everything, the only real reason that would fit would be that she was jealous of Keria. I couldn’t understand why she would be jealous though. Thankfully she continued.
“That’s not my main stress though. Clearly, the main problem I have though that’s stressing me out at work comes from home, obviously is Matt manipulating me.”
“I know you said he can be hot and cold? Maybe he just doesn’t know what he wants?” I had a shiver down my spine. She looked hurt.
“Well,” she took a deep sip. “He acts as if I neglect him and then brushes me off when I give him attention. He says I work too much and dont spend time with him, but when I back off work or suggest we go on holiday, he accuses me of not having the commitment to work that he does. When I’m friendly with other men, I flirt with them, apparently, which is according to him emotional cheating. When I stay quiet, trying not to seem as if I’m flirting, I’m cold and bitc hy. I cant fucking win honeslty. I try too hard and he calls me needy, and when I’m not, I don’t care.”
Fucking hell, was she exaggerating? I couldn’t picture it.
“I don’t know what to say.” An awkward silence hung between us. “Why do you put up with him being so mean towards you?”
“Because he used to be so nice,” Nina said without a beat. I felt my chest tighten and tears prick my eyes.
“And you think he will go back to treating you how he did?” I asked tentatively, guilt swirling around in my stomach.
“Probably not, but I would regret it forever if I didn’t wait it out until I was one hundred percent sure. If there’s even a small chance of us going back to how we were when we met I have to take it.”
Tears ran down her face as she spoke. I had never seen her cry , she put on such a tough facade that I assumed nothing hurt her. I put her in the stereotype for a strong work driven woman. Forgetting that she’s a human. Just because she can be a bit bossy, it doesn’t stop her being multidimensional, with problems outside of her stressful job. I always assumed she went home to the perfect house and gorgeous husband, because that’s what it looks like. I didnt think.
“I always thought you had everything so perfect,” I admitted.
“I’m stressed all the fucking time. I have money though so I can never complain about anything. I don’t even have to work. When I first married Matt I spent six months not working, I would go to the gym, lunch and parties. I was fucking miserable I had nothing interesting to say at parties, I didn’t fit in with the housewives that are fully invested in mummy liestyle. I spent a lot of time in the house on my own by the end of it.”
“And that’s why you started Appropriate?” I asked.
“After my father died, I spent a lot of time getting fucked up. After a while, I decided I needed to do something with the inheritance other than buy a fucking villa we never got to go to. So, I hired consultants and put my degree to use. I had the funds, hired well to get some content for women thats a little more interesting than fucking celbrity gossip. Creators like you have made it, I cant thank you enough.” We were both crying at this point, I had a mixture of pride from my friend and the woman that decided I had potential. Obviously guilt as well, a lot of guilt.
When Nina went to the toilet I got my phone out to text Matt with a drunken determination.
Me: I can’t do this anymore. You should be kinder to your wife and so should I.
Matt: You really don’t understand, I can guarantee whatever she’s said isn’t true.
Nope, not falling for it.
Me: Fuck off you don’t deserve her and neither do I.
Matt: You do not understand, don’t take one side of the story. I want to see you again.
I tried so hard and I succeeded in restraining myself. I would not text him back, no fucking way.
It was friday night and early when I got home. Me and Nina clocked off early to the bar and she was slamming cocktails so hard that it wasn’t long before she needed to go home. I had only had a little wine in comparison. I felt tipsy and emotional in the warm bar with her, but after a slow cold walk home with my earphones in trying to figure out what the fuck I was doing. I was stone cold sober and miserable.
I ran a deep bubble bath and lit some candles pouring myself a large glass of red. I was playing over and over how it all would end.
I could see it. Matt being a prick and manipulating Nina. Nina, finally breaking and kicking off at him. Him, telling her what we did just to hurt her in the heat of the moment. Then that would be it, I would be jobless and alone.
I was stressing.
I havent smoked weed in years. Keria does though, I always said no but she left me a joint for if ever I fancied it. I kept it in an old leather sunglasses case I had in a drawer.
Wrapped in my kimono, wine in hand I dug it out and lit it up with a candle lighter. I lay in the bath with the wine and the joint, music playing over the speaker. I pulled my phone out and decided I needed to take the mind off the world and break my budget with some treats for myself.
I bought some white trainers with the determination that I would get up early every morning and go for walks around the city with audiobooks on. I bought black leather heeled ankle boots and high waisted jeans with the determination that I was going to put myself out there and meet people.
Internet shopping didn’t make me feel that much better, and I knew that I shouldn’t be buying things I don’t 100% need, if I’m going to have any money to make any choices once my life implodes. I still hoped that the arrival of everything would cheer me up a bit.
The bath did make me feel better if not a little light headed, I dried myself off in a fluffy towel and put on my cosiest pyjamas and pulled blankets over me on the sofa. I put on some mind numbing reality tv and put my phone face down on the coffee table. I realised I kept picking it up. I got up and put the phone up on top of the fridge, switching it on silent. Out of sight out of mind. I got another glass of wine and a bowl of cheese and olives and had a cosy night on the sofa. I went to bed and fell into a deep sleep.
Saturday I had a lay in. I got up and showered, tidied and cleaned up the flat. I spent a few hours flipping with old issues of the magazine. Reading things I’ve read before in a new light. My phone was still on the fridge, switched on silent. It was killing me to leave it up there and not look through my messages.
I put on some makeup and then sat on the sofa with the horrible thought that I had nothing to do today, no one to see. Keria was on a romantic night away, probably in a hot tub. Nina had Matt back and who knows what was going on with those two. It’s not my business, I just made a mistake.
I pulled my phone from the top of the fridge, put my airpods in and some rock music on. I headed out and walked to the closest coffee shop. I got an iced latte and walked through the parks trying to space out a bit.
I pulled my phone out of my bag and found no messages from Matt but ten missed calls from him. When? The times were all between one and three in the morning. He must have been drunk. I just wanted to forget now.
Keria: See you monday baby girl have a good weekend x
Ollie: We still on for tonight?
Shit, I forgot all about Ollie.
I told keria to enjoy her night away and confirmed my plans with Ollie.
Excited to have plans I walked through town with my coffee and music, cheered up with having plans. I was feeling a little guilty that I forgot all about Ollie.
I started running through rom com style scenarios that could happen between me and him. The one where the woman doesn’t see that her friend or co worker that’s charming and good looking, was right for her all along.
Then there’s a big romantic realisation that me and Ollie could be together.
Almost as likely as actually meeting someone in a park or a bar or at the gym. Never ever happens. Can only try, I’ve had blinkers on with my obsession. I can get outside my obsession with Matt and maybe I will see ollie in a different light. I thought back to when Ollie came over and rejected me, maybe just forget about that. Maybe he rejected me because he wanted something more serious and not casual sex.
Me: Where are we going tonight?
Ollie: Irish bar?
Me: My kind of place.
I was excited about finding an outfit.
At home, with a soundtrack of cheesy old girl band songs I found some boyfriend jeans, they made me look a little shorter and bigger than what I am. I put them in the bin in frustration.
I found some black skinny jeans and a navy blue tight t-shirt. I tied it at the waist. I put on a black blazer I had for work and then took it back off again. Leather jacket instead, casual. I put on a few rings and a necklace and perfume, I re-powered my face and applied some eyeliner.
I slipped on my high heel sequin ankle boots reserved specifically for nights out.
I was usually nervous to go meet blokes I like, I felt fine. I didn’t even have a glass of wine while I was getting ready to calm my nerves, I was so chilled out that I forgot all about it. This must be a good sign.