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New Year’s Resolutions
My life feels so far removed from the person I was twelve months ago; I can barely stand to look at those hopeful resolutions of last year. Where would I be now if Oscar and I had fallen pregnant on our first or second attempt? Pushing a stroller around Brussels? Would I have been happy? It feels too far away from the reality of my life to visualize.
Anyway, enough looking back. It’s time to look forward.
1) I need to sort out my living accommodation. I’m thirty this summer – too old to be renting someone’s spare room.
2) Work. I don’t mind my job, but it feels stale. It covers the bills, just, but I don’t think that’s enough any more. I’m treading water. In fact, that’s how I’d sum up my whole life right now. It’s strange – you’d think that in the upheaval of separation, the stability of work would be welcome. It’s actually had the opposite effect; it’s made me want to throw all my cards up in the air and see where they land. I’m treading water, but what I want is to swim.
There. That’s my resolution for the year ahead in one word.
Martique (I know, it’s a stage name; she won’t answer to her actual name, which is Tara – I saw her passport) has just strolled into my apartment on heels higher than some people’s kneecaps, and now she’s unbuttoning her dress.
‘I didn’t know what to get you, so I bought myself some new underwear instead.’
Her dress pools around her ankles and she dips one knee, her hand on her hip. She’s filthy hot and she knows it. She reminds me of a young Sophia Loren; all delicious curves and smoky eyes. ‘Well?’ she pouts. ‘Do you like it, Jack?’
No red-blooded man could resist. She’s a temptress; I wouldn’t be surprised if she produced an apple out of nowhere and asked me if I’d like a bite.
‘I like it,’ I say, crossing the room.
‘Then show me.’
Her perfume is pure bordello, sending a message straight to my groin, and her mouth tastes of lipstick and one of the ten million cigarettes she smokes a day. Her teeth are tugging on my bottom lip, her hands working my jeans open. We’ve been doing this on and off for a few weeks now. It’s an arrangement that suits us both. She’s on the way up, one of the many starlet singers who pass through the radio station. I’m her ideal man, she told me when we first met. By that, I know she means I’m her ideal step up on the route to stardom, someone slightly less good-looking than her who she can shag without any emotional complications and no fear of exposure.
I don’t think we even like each other very much; my personal life has hit the buffers. Even as she steps out of her underwear, I’m thinking that this is going to be the last time.
We sink on to the sofa, her astride me, and as we fuck I admire the way even the mess of smeared lipstick somehow looks sexy on her. She leans in, saying all the right words in the right order, and I close my eyes and try not to feel bad.
‘Happy birthday,’ she murmurs when we’re done, biting my earlobe before she climbs off me and checks her phone. ‘There’s somewhere I need to be.’
I watch her get dressed, my jeans round my ankles. I rub my ear, checking if she’s drawn blood. I’m not sorry she’s leaving.
Later, at the station, I pick up a text from Sarah and Luke, who bizarrely has turned out to be one of my favourite Aussies – not that I know that many. He likes a beer and he loves Sarah in a clear and uncomplicated way that he doesn’t even try to hide. They’ve sent me a picture of them holding up a ‘Happy Birthday Jack’ sign, both of them pissing about laughing. They’re on a beach and the words have come out backwards, which only seems to have amused them more. It amuses me too, and I send them back a quick Thank you, you pair of idiots.
Laurie has texted too. All her message says is Happy Birthday x. It’s so brief that there’s nothing to read into it. All the same, I study it, wondering if she puts a kiss at the end of every text she sends.
That’s when I decide. I don’t want to be the type of person who shags the type of person like Martique. I want what Sarah and Luke have. I may not be worthy of someone as good as Laurie, but I want to try to be that person.
I read her message over one last time, and then reply.
‘You live in paradise.’
Sarah and I are sitting outside a cafe overlooking the impossibly white sands of Cottesloe beach. It’s winter here, but still a million times sunnier than the grey skies I left behind a couple of weeks ago. We’ve spent a gorgeous two weeks catching up; Skype is all well and good but it’s not a patch on being in the same room or on the same beach or laughing over a movie together. We ceremonially recreated our Delancey Street signature sandwich a few days ago; Luke declared it disgusting, but we put our feet up and savoured the moment. I don’t think either of us would make that sandwich without the other one being there; the fact that it’s ours is the whole point of it. We’re refilling our friendship with new memories, and I’m loving every minute of being here.
‘Come and live out here. We can be neighbours.’
I laugh softly. She’s said the same thing a dozen times or more since I arrived. ‘Okay. I’ll ring work and tell them I’m never coming back.’
‘Fancy us getting to thirty,’ Sarah says. She’s sitting in the shade sipping some health-juice thing on account of the fact that she’s four months pregnant; she and Luke have put their wedding plans on ice for a while in favour of welcoming the baby. It’s all just so easy between them; they live in each other’s pockets in their gorgeous beach house with their windows and doors flung open to the world.
There was always a part of me that used to envy her, but I know life hasn’t just dropped good things in her lap; she made all of this happen for herself. She was brave enough to take chances – she always has been.
‘I know you think I’m kidding, but what’s holding you there?’
I sip the champagne Sarah insisted I have. ‘It’s her birthday,’ she told the waitress as soon as we arrived. ‘Bring her the good stuff.’
‘Imagine what my mum would say if I told her I was leaving England?’
She nods, her face turned towards the ocean. ‘She’d adjust though. Everyone does. And she’s got your brother and his family.’ She sucks more of the green gunk up the straw and pulls a face. ‘What else is holding you there?’
‘Well, my job, for starters,’ I say.
‘Which you could do from anywhere,’ she counters. I moved on from the health desk a couple of months ago; ironically enough I’ve returned to my old stomping ground as an agony aunt. This time, though, it’s troubled adults who write to me rather than teenage girls; clearly I’m qualified to dish out advice on the stuff that matters these days. Divorce, grief, love, loss. I’ve been there, and I have the drawer full of T-shirts to prove it. I’ve turned out to be so much of a hit with readers that I’ve been asked to do something similar for one of the magazines in a Sunday paper. I’m as surprised as anyone. I’ve returned to studying recently too; a psychology degree to deepen my understanding of the human condition – at least, that’s how I described it when I was convincing my boss to help fund it shortly after I started there. I’m quietly loving it; the industry of study, the organization, the stationery even. It’s not a direction I’d ever imagined I’d go in, but that’s okay. Life does that, doesn’t it? Reroutes you as it goes along. But Sarah’s right, I could work and study from anywhere – as long as I have my laptop and a Wi-Fi connection, I’m good.
Could I live here? I look at Sarah in her wide-brimmed red sun hat and glamorous sunglasses, and I can see the advantages.
‘This place is beautiful, Sar, but it’s your place in the world, not mine.’
‘Where’s yours?’ she says. ‘Because I’ll tell you what I think. Your place isn’t somewhere. It’s someone. I’m here because it’s where Luke is. You’d have gone to Brussels if Oscar was your place.’