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Gabby is dancing by herself when I arrive at the club. ‘Fiiiiinaaaaally.’ She’s a massive fan of the vowel. ‘Yooooouuu tooooook aaaageeeees.’
‘Work, you know?’ I say, motioning to the Peter Pan dress I’ve been wearing since eight this morning with the crusty armpits and bean stain. I lift up my arms and punch the air with her as another T-U-N-E comes on- the DJ is a wizard on the decks, a magician of the dancefloor—but I don’t smell very good and so I lower my arms. But it’s okay. I realise that nobody smells nice in here; I fit right in.
‘Mooooreee voooodkaaaaa,’ she goes, tugging my hand so sharply that my arm loosens in my socket. The last thing I need after a long day at work is a missing limb.
‘Ouch,’ I say and pull it away.
She stumbles and falls into the lithe boy next to us. He catches her in his skinny arms, a tiny knight in tightly tucked in tartan. The top of his shirt is open revealing his enhanced clavicle, and he wears a studded earring and gold chain giving the illusion he’s a Very Cool Dude, but his poppin’ eyes let him down. He’s a shy wee thing, doesn’t know where to look and so he chooses to focus on Gabby’s shoulder. I mean, it’s a fine enough shoulder if you appreciate delicate bone structure, but her face is far more appealing.
‘Ooooh, my heeeroooo,’ Gabby goes in her slow drawn-out drawl.
He looks down at her and she looks up at him and they are caught in the bass-pounding-sweat-induced-booze-fuelled-famous-fairy-tale called Love At First Sight With Beer Goggles On A Drunken Night Out.
He attaches himself to us for the rest of the night, seemingly alone anyway.
‘I’m a shockin’ dancer!’ Gabby says but he doesn’t even care. Really, Gabby can’t dance when she’s sober so now that she’s inebriated, her body juts around erratically with her limbs loose like elastic. She stabs the air with her claw-like fingers. She’s enjoying herself even though she’s recently split with her fiancé who was a terrible man with terrible breath and hair and teeth and morals, but sure, you can never see the truth when you’re in love.
We three scream along to banger after banger after banger like one singular being with three heads and six arms and six legs. It’s a grand set up. He’s a super edition to our night out.
We link arms and he treats us to a cone of chips and gravy as we stumble along the slick cobbled streets lit by orange lights, taking it in turns to feed each other. My lips sting with salt and steam and smiles.
‘My fiancé left me,’ Gabby tells him, gripping his non-existent biceps for support. She goes over her tiny ankle in her large heels all the same. ‘He left me for a girl two years younger with bigger tits and a prettier face.’ This is disputable. I mean, sure, you can’t argue with the tits- nobody can when they’re so obviously there- but she’s not better looking than Gabby.
Our Boy stops dead in the middle of the pavement as a couple crash into our backs and swear very loudly, then overtake us.
Our Boy gives Gabby a concentrated look for a few seconds, then goes, ‘Christ. What a dick.’
Gabby looks at him, her blue eyes pooling with tears, until her face cracks and her mouth smiles and her teeth gleam in the moonlight, and she laughs and laughs and laughs.
‘Aye!’ she says. ‘Aye! What a dick.’
He comes back to our flat and I make us a pot of tea, because sure, who doesn’t want tea at three AM? I pull my old hoodie through my arms and over my head and hug myself. He flops on the sofa like he belongs and starts humming along to a song although the radio is off and there’s no music.
‘I love this song,’ he goes, tapping his tiny fingers on his narrow thighs to the imaginary beat. He closes his eyes and bobs his head as his curls dance along with him. Gabby digs her elbows into her legs and rests her chin on her hands. Watches him with big wide eyes like he’s a rare species that needs studying.
‘You’re pretty,’ she goes, and he makes his movements more exaggerated, performing specially for her.
I leave them to it, feeling dizzy and silly and strange. I’ve drank more than I think I have and the low lights in our kitchen have turned the walls yellow like urine. I wonder, as I wait for the kettle to boil, why I have never noticed this before. If the walls just need a new lick of white paint or if somebody has literally relieved themselves against them without our knowledge. There’s no obvious smell, so sure, who can even tell?
I present a mug to Our Boy and he takes it, goes, ‘Mm. Tea.’
Gabby is sleeping on the sofa; her soft mouth catching flies as her eyelashes tickle her cheekbones. Her skin is translucent, and her pores are airbrushed. She is a living doll, a fragile, delicate creature who needs her beauty sleep to heal.
‘She’s sleeping,’ Our Boy says, as though my eyes no longer work. Look at me, I tell him. I’m awake. I’m literally right here.
‘She is,’ I say, and I wonder if he’s disappointed.
I’m not entirely sure what to say to Our Boy. I am not a girl of very many words. Many thoughts: yes, words: no. Gabby takes so long to get a sentence out, she speaks for the both of us.
‘She’s been very sad,’ I tell him, sitting next to him. ‘For four very long weeks. Very, very sad.’
I drape my arm across the back of the sofa.
He nods and blows on his tea. ‘That makes me sad. She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.’
I wince then nod overly enthusiastically, go: ‘Oh my god, you’re totally right!’
‘I am,’ he says, deadpan.
He leaves a short while later, when it’s clear Gabby won’t be wakening for the next six hours, at the very least.
I worry we’ll never see him again.
Gabby spends the following morning flopped over the toilet like a spineless ragdoll. ‘Iiiii’m neeeeeveeer driiiinkiiiing aaagaaaiiin.’
Showering with her vomiting is unpleasant but it happens frequently. She can’t hold her drink; it irritates her bowels. Worse when it’s from the other end. The smell. Christ.
Our Boy comes over at noon with flowers and a card saying: I’d like to treat you to dinner and make you smile again xxx
I know this, because Gabby thrusts the supermarket bouquet into my chest, and gives me a silent look which says urghhhhh why is he here? He was only interesting when I was drunk, then flops onto the sofa.
Our Boy has bags under his eyes and yawns but apart from that, he’s very smiley. He sits on our sofa and looks at Gabby with large eyes, like he’s come home. Gabby looks like death. Her skin’s tinged with yellow and her shoulders keep rising every few moments but then fall as she swallows bile. Our Boy doesn’t notice. He’s just happy to be here.
‘I brought over some doughnuts,’ he says.
Gabby shoots me another look, with pleading, desperate eyes. The beer googles from the previous night have long since gone.
‘She’s not well,’ I tell him.
‘Oh, oh dear. I’m so sorry. I’ll head off, then,’ he says.
Gabby gives him a small wave and closes the door in his smiling face.
‘IIII waaaas druuuuunk. Chriiiist. Meeen, pfft,’ she says, heading for the bathroom. ‘Iiiii ooooonly liiiikeeeed hiiiim wheeeen Iiiii waaaas druuuunk.’
Knew it. Told you. Gold star for me.
‘I’ll have him if you don’t want him,’ I call, trimming the stems off the flowers with blunt scissors. In between retching, she just laughs loudly. It would be pleasing if she chokes, I think, before shaking my head at such a wild thought.
I spend the rest of my afternoon shoving doughnuts into my open mouth and licking my fingers. I feel the dull, fuzzy numbness of my hangover, and quench my relentless drouth with Irn Bru, then scroll social media for something to do—which makes me feel worse. I look out the window; it’s somehow night.
Gabby’s meant to be meeting Our Boy in Marcos, the wee Italian restaurant on the corner of Belmont Street the following evening, and I spend the whole day at work chewing my fingernails and being foul to anyone who dares look my way or has the audacity to ask me a question. ‘Figure it out for yourself,’ I bark, basking in my unpleasantness.
She texts me at five when I’m getting ready to head home. In my head, I’m planning which takeaway pizza toppings I’ll choose, and what I’ll watch on Netflix; all really riveting stuff.
Will u go instead plz? CBA LMAO.
She is a terrible person; I am delighted. I text back immediately saying of course I’ll unburden her of the date she didn’t want to go in the first place.
When Our Boy sees it is in fact me and not Gabby, he gives me a look like he’s solving a tricky murder mystery with his forehead crinkled. He must have been raised as a Good Boy Our Boy because, despite his obvious disappointment, he pulls out my seat, passes me the menu and tells me I look nice. I think he’s perhaps being sarcastic, but I take his compliment all the same.
‘She’s just too sad to come,’ I tell him, and he nods and looks very sad himself.
We order expensive wine that makes us silly and two main courses to share. The tiny waiter lights a candle and puts it in the middle of our table. The same waiter- God bless his soul- dims the lights and puts on some romantic song I don’t know the name of.
‘It has suddenly got darker,’ Our Boy states.
We go back to his house after dinner. I undo the button on my work trousers and breathe. I wonder if he has invited me back for sex. It’s been a while. I try to organise myself on his sofa in a way that is desirable. He steps over my feet and slumps next to me. He puts a glass of water on the table. He must not own a kettle.
‘Water,’ he says.
I put my hand on his knobbly knee, just to see what it feels like, and his whole body stiffens like a plank beneath my palm. I tell myself I am the girl who can make Our Boy hard. I am the girl he wants.
‘Um…’ he goes. ‘Um…’
I am clearly not that girl.
We sit like this for a long while. I stroke the contours of his kneecap with my thumb. I like it, but he just sits there mannequin still.
In comes a text notification and so I check my phone, cursing whoever has interrupted our Terribly Romantic Moment.
‘Ah. That’s Gabby,’ I say, putting my phone down and my hand back on him. This time I’m bold and go for his thigh.
‘Oh?’ he says, his face brightening with the mention of her name. ‘Is she feeling better?’
‘I’d say,’ I say.
‘Great. That’s great news.’ I stroke his thigh, feel the bone beneath the fabric of his jeans.
‘Sure. She’s back with her ex.’
A strange noise comes from Our Boy, a whimper. ‘Oh. Oh, I see. That’s nice for her.’
He blinks heavily and swallows, then removes my hand, scurries out of the living room, and locks himself in the bathroom. His flat is silent for a few seconds and then he starts crying, blubbering, properly sobbing. I sit very still and stare directly ahead at the clock on his mantlepiece until it jumps off the polished oak when the long hand strikes twelve with every passing minute. It’s mocking me.
‘You bastard,’ I tell the clock and it stops.
I text Gabby: Very pleased for you both. Although I’m not. Her fiancé is still a terrible man with terrible breath and hair and teeth and morals but sure, telling lies is sometimes better than telling the truth.
Sometimes the truth just sucks.
When it’s clear Our Boy is not returning, I leave his flat. It should be raining to reflect my dulling mood, but the air is calm and perfect, and I have to unzip my coat to stop myself from overheating.
‘Lovely evening, lass,’ some bloke says as he passes. ‘Enjoy!’
I stand on the side of the pavement with my thumb sticking out at an angle, waiting for any taxi driver to take pity on me and take me home, where I’ll listen to Gabby and her ex-fiancé making up and out. I’m a sad Cinderella in my very own late-night-disappointing-pasta-bloated-non-existent-fairy-tale with Our Boy.
Really, I should have asked his name, but that didn’t seem at all important at the time.