At the office, there was that palpable sense of Friday joy, everyone colluding with the lie that somehow the weekend would be amazing and that, next week, work would be different, better. They never learn. For me, though, things had changed. I had not slept well, but despite that, I was feeling good, better, best. People say that when you come across "the one," you just know. Everything about this was true, even the fact that fate had thrown him into my path on a Thursday night, and so now the weekend stretched ahead invitingly,
full of time and promise.
One of the designers was finishing up today—as usual, we'd be marking the occasion with cheap wine and expensive beer, crisps dumped in cereal bowls. With any luck, it would start early, so I could show my face and still leave on time. I simply had to get to the shops before they closed. I pushed open the door, the chill of the air-con making me shudder, even though I was wearing my jerkin. Billy was holding court. He had his back to me, and the others were too engrossed to notice me slip in.
"She's mental," he said.
"Well, we know she's mental," Janey said, "that was never in doubt. The question is, what did she do this time?"
Billy snorted. "You know she won those tickets and asked me to go to that stupid gig with her?"
Janey smiled. "Bob's annual raffle of crap client freebies. First prize, two free tickets. Second prize, four free tickets..."
Billy sighed. "Exactly. Total embarrassment of a Thursday night out—a charity gig in a pub, starring the marketing team of our biggest client, plus various cringeworthy party pieces from all their friends and family? And, to make it worse, with her?"
Everyone laughed. I couldn't disagree with his assessment; it was hardly a Gatsby-esque night of glamour and excess.
"There was one band in the first half—Johnnie something and the Pilgrim Pioneers—who weren't actually that bad," he said. "They mostly played their own stuff, some covers too, classic oldies."
"I know him—Johnnie Lomond!" Bernadette said. "He was in the same year as my big brother. Came to our house for a party one night when Mum and Dad were in Tenerife, him and some of my brother's other mates from Sixth Year. Ended up blocking the bathroom sink, if I remember right . . ."
I turned away, not wishing to hear about his youthful indiscretions.
"Anyway," said Billy—he did not like being interrupted, I'd noticed—"she absolutely hated that band. She just sat there frozen; didn't move, didn't clap, anything. Soon as they finished, she said she needed to go home. So she didn't even make it to the interval, and I had to sit there on my own for the rest of the gig, like,
literally, Billy No-Mates."
"That's a shame, Billy; I know you were wanting to take her for a drink afterward, maybe go dancing," Loretta said, nudging him.
"You're so funny, Loretta. No, she was off like a shot. She'd have been tucked up in bed with a cup of cocoa and a copy of Reader's Digest before the band had even finished their set."
"Oh," said Janey, "I don't see her as a Reader's Digest reader, somehow. It'd be something much weirder, much more random. Angling Times? What Caravan?"
"Horse and Hound," said Billy firmly, "and she's got a subscription." They all sniggered.
I laughed myself at that one, actually.