I’ve deliberately gone effort-light with my appearance; I’ve aimed for a ‘making a bit of an effort to be sociable’ look without obviously looking any different to normal. I’m dressed in leaving-the-house clothes, which definitely isn’t a given for a night in front of the TV. Jeans, soft, dove-grey sloppy jumper, slick of lip gloss and a flick of eyeliner. I’m not proud of the fact that I put more than a few minutes’ thought into my outfit, but I’m trying to be reasonable with myself about this too. I don’t actually own sackcloth and ashes, and I don’t want to let Sarah down. Besides, she added her own silver daisy hairslide to my fringe earlier because it kept flopping in my eyes and she knows I covet it, so I reckon she’s pleased that I look presentable.
‘Which movie are we watching?’ I ask, leaning forward to grab a slice of pizza from the box flipped open on the coffee table.
‘Twilight,’ Sarah says, at the exact same time as Jack says, ‘Iron Man.’
I look from one to the other, sensing that once again I’m about to be asked to play adjudicator.
‘Remember which team you’re on, Lu,’ Sarah says, her lips twitching. Seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up. I haven’t read the books or seen the films yet, but I know enough to know that Twilight is about a doomed love triangle.
Jack looks pained, then bats his eyelashes at me like a seven-year-old asking for money for the ice-cream man. Jesus, he’s lovely. I want to say Iron Man. I want to say kiss me.
Everything about this evening screams of awkward. And now we’re watching one of the most cringe-worthy films of all time, about some moody-mouthed girl who can’t choose between two guys with superpowers. Sarah leans into me, and I kiss the top of her head and train my eyes on the screen, not allowing myself to slide even an occasional glance towards Laurie on the armchair unless she speaks directly to me.
I don’t want things between me and Laurie to feel awkward, but they do, and I know it’s my fault. She probably thinks I’m some kind of exceptionally dull weirdo, because my conversational skills dry up around her. It’s just that I’m trying to establish her place in my head as Sarah’s friend rather than the girl I saw once and have thought of often since. All of Christmas – which was terrible, by the way, my mum was so sad, and as usual I didn’t know what to do, so I just got drunk – I kept seeing Laurie in her pyjamas in the kitchen, gazing at me with that strange look on her face. Jesus, what a twat I am. I take solace from the fact that it’s just the way my blokeish brain stores away a pretty face, and from the fact that she doesn’t have a blokeish brain and so hopefully has no awkward memory of me gawking at her from a bus stop. So far I’ve managed quite successfully by just avoiding spending any time with her, but Sarah came straight out with it yesterday and asked me if I didn’t like Laurie, because I seemed to say no every time she invited me over. What the fuck was I supposed to say to that? Sorry, Sarah, I’m currently trying to reprocess your best friend from fantasy sex partner to platonic new friend-in-law? Is that even a phrase? If it isn’t, it should be, because if Sarah and I ever split up, she’ll spirit Laurie away with her. The thought makes my gut churn.
Of losing Sarah, I mean.
Who was St Valentine anyway and what made him such an expert on romance? I’m willing to bet his full name is St Smugbastard-three’s-a-crowd Valentine, and he probably lives on a candle-lit island where everything comes in pairs, even bouts of thrush.
Can you tell that 14 February isn’t my favourite date in the calendar? It doesn’t help that Sarah is a fully paid-up member of the hearts and balloons brigade this year. To my shame I realize I’d been hoping she’d get bored of Jack or something, but it’s quite the opposite. She’s already bought three different cards for him because she keeps seeing a new one that sums up how happy he makes her or how ridiculously hot he is, and every time she shows me the latest one my heart shrivels like a dried prune and it takes a good couple of hours for it to plump up again.
Thankfully they’re going to the local Italian, where they’ll no doubt eat heart-shaped steaks and then lick chocolate mousse off each other’s faces, but at least it means I get to commandeer the living room tonight for a pity party for one. Bridget Jones has nothing on me. I’m planning on lying flat out on the sofa, inhaling ice cream and wine at the same time.
‘Lu, have you got a sec?’
I close my laptop – yet another job application – lay the reading glasses I don’t really need but wear to concentrate on the table, and wander into Sarah’s room with my coffee mug. ‘What’s up?’
She’s standing in her jeans and bra, her hands on her hips. ‘I’m trying to decide what to wear.’ She pauses and picks up the Coca-Cola red chiffon blouse she bought for Christmas dinner with her olds. It’s pretty and surprisingly demure until Sarah lays it on the bed beside a black micro-skirt. ‘These?’
She looks at me and I nod, because she’ll look undeniably fabulous in the outfit.
‘Or this?’ She pulls her killer LBD out of the wardrobe and holds it against her body.
I glance from one to the other. ‘I like both.’
She sighs. ‘Me too. Which one says “hot Valentine” more?’
‘Has Jack seen the red?’
She shakes her head. ‘Not yet.’
‘There you go then. Nothing shouts Valentine louder than lipstick red.’
Sartorial decision made, she hangs the dress back in the wardrobe. ‘Are you sure you’ll be all right on your own tonight?’
I roll my eyes. ‘No. Take me with you.’ I lean on the door frame and knock back a gulp of too-hot coffee. ‘Because that wouldn’t look weird at all, would it?’
‘Jack’d probably like it,’ she laughs. ‘Make him look like a stud.’
‘You know what, on second thoughts I’ll have to take a rain check. I’ve got a double date tonight with Ben and Jerry. They’re sweet.’ I wink as I back out into the hallway. ‘We’re going to work our way through the Karamel Sutra. It’s going to be a thrill a minute.’
Of all the ice creams in all the world, I happen to know that B&J’s Karamel Sutra is Sarah’s favourite.
‘I’m actually jealous, you know,’ she calls after me, unbraiding her hair in readiness for the shower.
Me too, I think, miserable as I drop down heavily into the armchair and flip my laptop open again.
Whoever the hell is in charge of TV scheduling needs a bullet between their eyes. Surely they could work out that anyone who needs to resort to watching TV on Valentine’s night is single and potentially bitter, so why they thought The Notebook would make suitable viewing is beyond me. There’s romantic rowing on the lake and there’s Ryan Gosling, all wringing wet and shouty and in love. There’s even swans, for God’s sake. Hang on, I’ll just pour some salt in my wounds while I’m at it, shall I? Thank God they’ve had the good sense to schedule Con Air to follow it; I’m going to need a good dose of Nicolas Cage saving the day in a dirty vest to recover from this.
I’ve made my way through two-thirds of Ryan Gosling, half the tub of ice cream and three-quarters of a bottle of Chardonnay when I hear Sarah’s keys in the lock. It’s only half past ten; I expected my party for one to still be going strong at midnight, so frankly, this is something of an interruption.
Sitting cross-legged in the corner of the sofa, I look towards the door expectantly, my wine glass in my hand. Have they fallen out and she’s left him to eat his tiramisu alone? I try not to hope so as I call out, ‘Grab a glass, Sar, there’s enough wine left in the bottle if you’re quick.’
She appears swaying in the doorway, but she’s not alone. My party for one has segued swiftly into a ménage à trois. That’s a thought I don’t want to process, so I abandon it in favour of wishing I was wearing something other than black yoga pants and a mint-green vest. I’d optimistically dressed for the Davina workout I knew I wasn’t really going to do. It could be worse; I could have gone for the checked flannel PJs my mum gave me because she worries the Delancey Street flat gets too draughty.