She’s wearing the same shirt I wore yesterday. I wonder if all his girlfriends dress the same.
Ploughing into my circle with a delighted shriek, she almost bowls over Elisha. She hugs Rachel and Simone, a pair of gossips I call “the gigglers”, and then freezes when she sees me. Her mouth twists. ‘Hi.’
‘Hi,’ I say, as she drapes an arm over my shoulder. After hugging the others it would seem rude to exclude me. As she steps back, squeezing next to Elisha, I force a smile, and say, ‘Nice shirt. Love the Beatles.’
Glancing at the Abbey Road print across her chest, she says, ‘Oh, right. I just have a lot of shirts; I don’t really like them.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Well, I do.’ I don’t know what to make of her. Is she bragging about the sheer volume of her wardrobe? Does she like the Beatles, but feel reluctant to have anything in common with me?
I’m thinner than her. My legs are longer. This knowledge brings me no comfort. It’s easier to lose weight or wear heels than change your personality.
Elisha links arms with her, and says, ‘So, how long have you been with Tim?’
She avoids my gaze. ‘A month.’
The gigglers live up to their nickname. I don’t contradict her, although I’m almost certain she was seeing Tim while I was.
‘Wow,’ Elisha says, ‘you’re so cool.’
So being Tim’s girl equals coolness, does it? Do you have to currently be dating Tim? If the past counts, then I must be bloody brilliant. Can we create a chart to measure the flow of cool points?
‘Excuse me,’ I say, ‘I’m going to get a drink.’
‘Megan, can you get me one too?’ Elisha asks.
Returning to you all would defeat the purpose of leaving. Get your own.
‘Hey,’ Elisha says, ‘Earth to Megan. I’ll have punch, if there’s any left. Oooh, and some of those lollies – the strawberry fields kind.’
Turning wordlessly, I weave through people to reach the kitchen. I’ll pretend I forgot her stupid drink, because I was deep in conversation with–
‘Hey, Jude!’ Neil yells to his friend as he jostles past, and Tim appears in front of me. It’s impossible to pretend we didn’t see each other. It would be polite to say hello. I only manage to wave.
Tim looks stunned, as though the possibility of encountering me never occurred to him. Even though we know all the same people, and I knew most of them first. In fact, I introduced him to Neil. The anger I’ve suppressed all night burns up my throat.
‘Are you going to pretend to be interested in my life, and offer a greeting, and ask how I am, or keep pretending I don’t exist?’
‘Hadn’t decided yet,’ I finish.
He grimaces, and glances over my shoulder, where I left Elisha, the gigglers, and her. ‘How are you?’
Miserable. Frustrated. Ashamed. ‘Dehydrated,’ I say. Snatching a plastic cup off the table, I take a gulp of something that coats my teeth in sugar. I don’t like lemonade. So maybe I should get a shirt with a Schweppes logo on it.
Tim runs his eyes over the floor, like he always does when he’s nervous. ‘Tim,’ I say, after a moment, ‘I’m going to head off.’
I don’t know whether I’m hearing his relief or guilt. ‘I think so.’
‘Don’t go because of me. I can leave.’ After an instant, his grimace becomes a half-smile. ‘You know me and parties. We’re not a good mix.’
I know. I remember Neil’s last birthday party. Tim felt suffocated by the loud conversation and music and led me outside, where he could “breathe again”. On the road outside Neil’s house in the cold night wind, Tim wrapped his arms around my back, kissed me, and said, ‘This is all I need.’
‘Why her, Tim?’ I can’t believe I asked the question that has plagued me. He scrutinises the floor. There’s nothing down there, Tim. Nothing but old beer stains and plastic cups that people were too lazy to bin. Look at me.
He swallows. ‘We weren’t meant to be, Megan. We drove each other crazy.’
‘I know,’ I say. ‘But sometimes that was a good thing.’
‘And sometimes it wasn’t,’ he says quietly. ‘I didn’t want to argue with you. Not forever.’
I bite the rim of my plastic cup. I’d wanted him to try harder, but did I want the kind of arguments we had to stretch on, maybe over years? Eventually, I tell him, ‘I feel like we’re still fighting.’
He nods. ‘I wish we weren’t.’
‘You didn’t treat me well.’
When he looks at me, his eyes are bright with tears. ‘I know. I can’t change that.’
Tim has hurt me repeatedly. He has stolen half my friends, and made parties take on a nightmarish quality. His girlfriend has the audacity to wear a shirt she’s not worthy of.
He gave me time, attention and care, and then stopped.
‘Do you want to…go outside for a minute?’
I’m surprised enough to agree. The gigglers are so loud and silly that no one looks up as I follow Tim out the front door. The night air is cool and fresh.
‘Nicer out here,’ he murmurs.
I have no interest in discussing how pleasant the temperature or quiet is, so I don’t. ‘I don’t think things are going to work out with her, Tim. I mean, she’s not even sure whether she likes the Beatles.’
He breathes a startled laugh. ‘Megan!’
‘What? It’s true. Ask her. She’s very conflicted about her shirt.’
‘Her shirt? Oh, right. I like that one.’
‘I know. It’s mine, remember?’
A sad smile flits across Tim’s face, and then he turns his gaze to the driveway. I don’t know how to feel about his presence. I’m tempted to dredge up every biting comment I’ve kept to myself since our break-up. I could find a thousand ways to make him feel some of the hurt I’ve carried.
But now that Tim is here, I don’t want to.
And I don’t want to stay on this driveway anymore. ‘Well, goodnight.’
Turning from Tim, I walk along the street. The night is a patchwork of grey and black shadows. I pass a row of lampposts; they cast splashes of yellow light onto the pavement, and I step into each miniature sun between the darkness. I don’t look back to see if Tim is watching me. I continue down the winding street, and then take the crossing to the other side.