At five past five, Sam and Pam appear at Hayley Jackson’s desk. The smell of freshly applied perfume comes rolling off the two girls in thick waves.
“Coming to the Crown?” Pam asks.
Hayley Jackson will not be drinking this evening. “I can’t,” she says.
Sam makes a huffing noise. “It’s Friday,” she says. “You can. You should.”
“You must,” Pam says. “It’s Friday! And it’s Bev’s birthday.”
Hayley will not be tempted. “Who’s Bev?” she says.
Sam shrugs, says, “Woman in Accounts. The one with the cardigans.”
Hayley will not be talked into this. She frowns. “She’s going to the Crown?”
Sam and Pam looked confused. “Dunno,” they say, shrugging at each other.
Hayley will not let herself forget how this works. She will not say, “Okay – but just the one drink, okay?” She will not still be in the pub at ten. She will not drink six large glasses of Chardonnay and eat nothing but half a bowl of chips and a handful of peanuts. She shakes her head. “I really can’t,” she says.
“C’mon, Hay-Jay,” Pam whines. “It won’t be the same without you.”
Hayley will not stagger into the road to flag down a taxi for the three of them. They will not end up going to Relapse. She will not spend half the night locked in a toilet cubicle with Pam throwing up or Sam sobbing about how Jason looks at other girls. She will not linger at the edge of the dance floor, incapacitated by how much younger, slimmer and more attractive than her everybody else seems. She will not wonder what happened to all her confidence. She will not feel loneliness stamped on her like a Best Before date. She will not seek out Gareth the barman and ask how he’s getting on since they broke up. She will not feel upset or hurt when it’s obvious he’s absolutely fine, better than ever, in fact. She will not sit with the free drink he gives her, seething in silence as he flirts with all the female customers. She will not become mortally afraid of what it means to go home on her own. “I’m not really in the mood,” she says, gathering some loose papers into a pile.
Sam rolls her eyes. “That’s exactly why you should come out with us.” She gestures around them. “It’s this place – you need to get it out of your system.”
“It’s the weekend!” Pam squeals, waving her hands.
Hayley will not wait by Gareth’s car at half past two in the morning. She will not try to disguise how pleased she is when he finally appears at the end of his shift. She will not accept his offer of a lift home. In the car, she will not make innocuous small-talk, all the time imagining how things between them might now be if she’d tried a bit harder, if she’d been more forgiving. She will not surreptitiously check the car for evidence of another woman. She definitely will not invite Gareth in for coffee.
Hayley will not abandon all pretence of offering coffee as soon as they’re through the door. She will not surrender to her fear that there might never be another time, another man. She will not do everything in her power to make him stay. She will not kiss him. She will not let him kiss her, nor guide his hands to her breasts, nor lead him to the bedroom. She will not let herself be impressed by his body, or fooled by his attentiveness, or flattered by his enthusiasm. She will not let him do that thing he always does, even though it creeps her out – doubly so now she has to consider the possibility he’s been doing it to somebody else.
Sam and Pam are waiting. Hayley worries that if she doesn’t agree to join them, they’ll never go away.
Hayley will not accept that she has allowed her life to get locked into this cycle. She will not play along with it; will not start down the path that leads from a drink after work to waking up alone the next morning, sick and sore and utterly wretched. She will not justify it all on the strength of the moment before she falls asleep, when his breath tickles the back of her neck and his arm around her feels like a shield against every bad thing that could ever happen. The moment when there seems a real chance the two of them might just drift gently away from the rest of the world. Because as magical as that time is, it isn’t worth the emptiness she’ll have to carry with her until it all happens again next week. She will not forget this.
She shuts down her computer and stands up. Sam and Pam grin expectantly.
Hayley will not lie still in Gareth’s arms and imagine herself to be desirable, attractive, and wanted. She will not savour the glimpse of what it might feel like to be loved.
She pauses, looks again at her two colleagues. She picks up her handbag and takes a breath.
About the author:
Dan Purdue lives near Birmingham in the UK. His short stories have been published in various places online and in print, including Writers’ Forum magazine, Every Day Fiction, Defenestration, and The Waterhouse Review. He blogs at lies-ink.blogspot.com and tweets as @DanPurdue.Photo Credit: Jean-Phillipe Rebuffet via Flickr