Alice’s body straightened.
‘Fuck! You scared the shit out of me, Izzy,’ Alice didn’t turn around, instead she remained focused on the job at hand, neatly folding a pile of clothes and putting it carefully into her large suitcase.
Tentative footsteps entered the bedroom, coming to a stop behind Alice. She imagined Izzy’s forlorn expression as she took in what Alice assumed was her pathetic looking figure hunched over her suitcase on the bed.
Although Izzy had broken Alice’s heart into a zillion pieces and more, she didn’t want to label Izzy a bitch. A self-centred one who only cared about her own happiness. The simple truth was that they both wanted different things out of life. Alice totally got that. Better to tell the truth than live a lie. Wasn’t it?
And the truth that Izzy had to get off her chest? That she had fallen in love with another woman. A co-worker. How cliched is that! Shit happened. Alice knew that. But she hadn’t expected it to happen in their relationship.
Izzy’s footsteps started again as she moved around her and sat on the edge of the king-sized bed, her fingers twisting around one another in her lap.
‘Sorry about that. I seem to have a habit of unnerving you, don’t I?’
Alice saw Izzy bow her head in her peripheral vision. Alice was trying her best not to make eye contact because she knew if she did, she might just break down into the tears she didn’t want Izzy to see her shed.
I’m in love with someone else. The words refused to cease looping in Alice’s mind. Her Izzy, her soulmate, had found love with another woman. She was still reeling from the shock, still trying to come to terms with her life being turned upside down in a matter of seconds.
Life could change as quick as a flick of a switch, as Alice was now witness to. One minute she’d been in what she’d thought was a long-term committed relationship, the next, she’d been summoned to sit down at the dining table in the kitchen as Izzy wanted to ‘talk’. Izzy’s declaration of love for her colleague had come out of the blue.
The once comforting vison she’d held in her mind of them growing old together, tending their small garden while the other looked on, was now a distant dream. Obliterated back into the unknown void from where it manifested.
‘Well, it’ll be the last time,’ Alice said, trying her utmost to sound light-hearted.
‘Yes, it will.’
A few moments of silence passed between them before Alice spoke again.
‘So is…’ Alice paused momentarily, unable to complete the sentence, her heart not wanting to know the answer.
‘Is?’ Izzy pressed after a few seconds.
‘Is she going to move in with you?’
Izzy laughed spontaneously, though it quickly faded upon realising its inappropriateness.
‘No, we want to take our time, you know, considering the circumstances.’
‘How nice for you both.’ Alice let the sarcasm drip from each word.
‘Come on, Alice, try and understand… it wasn’t my fault. Things just kind of… happened.’
‘If not now, when?’ Alice said, closing the lid of her case with a sense of finality.
‘It’s a Buddhist saying. It just seemed apt for the occasion. If you didn’t cheat on me now, when would you have? Next week? Next year?’
‘This is why I can’t talk to you.’ Izzy’s eyes narrowed, her taut expression scolding her.
‘So this is my fault is it? You fuck another woman and I’m the one that should be silenced?’ The words were out before she could stop herself.
‘You know I’m just as upset as you are, Al.’
‘Yeah, I’m sure you are. But hey, you get to move on to a nice new shiny toy, now don’t you? I wonder how long it’ll take before you get bored with her.’
‘Look, Alice, we’ve been together four years now and we’re no further on than we were when we first met…’
A red-hot dagger pushed through Alice’s heart would have been less hurtful than the words Izzy so carelessly spoke. Yes, their relationship was in the midst of a storm, but it was one that Alice thought they would eventually pass through and emerge into bluer skies, like they always had. But to say they hadn’t moved on in all that time? Had Izzy been living under a rock the whole of their relationship?
It seemed when it came to picking women, sound judgement and good sense abandoned Alice.
‘Not moved on?’ Alice asked, dumbfounded. ‘What exactly should our relationship look like right about now?’
‘No, you don’t ’cause you know you’re talking crap! You just want out and that’s fine, but for fuck’s sake spare me any more lies.’
Izzy quickly backtracked.
‘OK… so what I mean is that we’ve grown apart. Do you at least agree with that?’
Alice bit her tongue. Izzy’s absences for increasing lengths of time had been an issue between them for a while. She hated to admit that her own absence because of her long hours, and the stress-loaded aftermath, might also have been a contributing factor.
‘It’s irrelevant now anyway,’ Alice shrugged, ‘it is what it is.’
‘You know there’s no rush for you to leave today. I’m on a long-haul week so I’ll barely be here. Find somewhere nice first, huh?’
‘I can’t be here, Izzy.’
As Izzy lowered herself onto the bed, Alice continued to pack.
‘Any idea where you’ll be staying?’
‘I spoke to Emily. She said I can crash there until I get myself sorted.’
Izzy frowned. ‘I thought she’d be the last person you’d want to be around, especially now.’
Alice shrugged nonchalantly, but Izzy was right. Contacting her big sister after such a long period of time had been a tough call to make, but given her present circumstances, there wasn’t an appealing alternative. Unless of course, Alice considered holing up in a hotel, where she’d spend her nights alone, giving her ample time to dwell on the fact that yet another relationship had been cursed.
While she was skilled at presenting an image of a well put together person, the sad fact was that she wasn’t and hadn’t been for a long time. Forever even. The failure to be happy and experience a sense of contentment was rampant in her family genes. As was the inability to feel whole. Complete. Maybe she was destined to be single forever.
Standing there with her world crashing down around her, it certainly felt like it.
‘I’ll just have to suck it up for a while,’ Alice said quietly.
‘Do you need a lift?’
Alice pulled the final zip closed on her last suitcase.
‘I have a cab coming,’ Alice picked up her phone and turned on the screen, ‘five minutes.’
Izzy reached for the suitcase handle. ‘I’ll help you—’
‘No! I can manage.’ Alice didn’t mean it to be as sharp as it sounded.
Izzy held her hands up in surrender.
‘OK, well, I guess this is goodbye then?’ Izzy rose from the bed, this time making the two cases bounce just a little.
‘Yep. I guess it is. I’ll come back for the rest of my stuff when I find a place of my own.’
Alice gazed into Izzy’s eyes, wondering if she might see regret there, but all she could see was relief that reignited the fiery stabbing in Alice’s belly that had eased a little overnight but hadn’t completely vanished.
Did she expect me to kick up a fuss or make a scene?
Izzy nodded. ‘I’ll box it all up ready for you.’
Alice grabbed her case, dropped it onto its wheels, and headed out the door without looking back.
Alice was wrong in thinking Emily would at least give her time to unpack before the questioning started. She’d been in the house barely five minutes before there was a knock on the bedroom door.
The door opened, but Emily made no attempt to enter, instead, she opted to linger in the doorway, moving from foot to foot under her weight.
‘So are you going to tell me what’s happened?’ Her pale blue eyes bored into Alice’s.
‘Can we not do this now Lee Lee? Any other time, just not now.’
No matter how disconnected their relationship was, Alice still called her sister Lee Lee, a nickname from childhood, a time when Emily was her hero. It still disturbed her to think how quickly Emily had turned into a villain in her eyes.
‘You’re just like Dad.’
‘And you’re like a broken record.’
‘So it’s going to be like this, is it?’
‘Do you know what? Forget it. I’ll talk to you in the morning when you can be civil.’
With that, Emily pulled the door closed and her footsteps sounded down the hallway until they finally disappeared.
Jesus Christ! If I’m like Dad, she’s definitely like Mum.
How many times throughout their childhood had she heard their mother make the same complaint to their dad because he’d just got home from work and wanted peace. Arguing over trivial matters was the last thing on his mind.
Too tired to unpack, Alice undressed and slipped into bed. Her last thought before she descended into the unknown void, was telling.
Staying in a hotel actually sounds like fun compared to this.
Alice groaned when her alarm went off at five a.m. She knew better than to ignore it. Hitting the snooze button for another ten minutes would only lead to a continuous cycle and she’d never get up. Throwing back the cover, she climbed out of bed and made her way along the hallway to the bathroom. The wooden floor beneath her feet was rough against her skin, causing her to tiptoe the short distance to the tiled floor of the bathroom. Upon entering, she soon regretted foregoing slippers as the cold surface soon caused her toes to constrict.
Not surprisingly, when she slid out her of night shirt and stood naked as she turned on the shower, her nipples immediately hardened, and her arms prickled with goose pimples when the frigid air made contact. Alice stepped into the shower, tilting her head upwards, the full force of hot water pelted down onto her face, gradually descending over her body.
After running to the bathroom, then back again only dressed in a towel, she leant back against her new bedroom door and looked at how far she had fallen. The room was about as minimalist as you could get. A bed, wardrobe and bedside table, all which lent to a feeling of not being lived in. Emily hadn’t been joking when she had stated in their younger years that her own home would never be filled with tat, the way their family home had been growing up.
Alice wouldn’t label their mother a hoarder as such. She just had difficulty letting go of things that reminded her of happier times. It wasn’t exactly a crime to hold on to memories was it?
Dressing in a tailored black suit and white shirt, Alice tied her hair up in her trademark top knot—easy and, she liked to think at least a little stylish—and checked herself over. Thirty-four. Where had all those years gone?
She ran her fingers gently over the lines at the corner of her eyes. Laughter lines, although when she thought back, there hadn’t been a lot of laughter for a while, in any aspect of her life. She’d plucked the first couple of grey hairs from her head a couple of weeks before but now she looked again, she could see at least a handful of them shining brightly in the light.
A quick layer of makeup applied, she wandered down the stairs. She only had time for a quick coffee before she set off. The only saving grace about Emily’s home was its proximity to a tube station.
After what seemed an interminable journey, combined with a quick stop off for another strong coffee from her favourite café close to the office, she stepped inside the elegant reception area of Travis & Elliott’s Trades, and made her way to her office on the tenth floor. Ten minutes early. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Then she opened her e-mails.
Fifteen minutes later, she was in the plush office of her boss.
Twenty minutes later, she had been fired.
She couldn’t remember more than a few words he’d said to her, but it amounted to that she was underperforming and had been for months. She’d lost her hunger. There were hundreds of keen hungry, younger people who would kill for her job. She’d had a final warning a month before and nothing had changed so…
She walked out of the building an hour after she’d walked in, with a cardboard box containing the meagre possessions she’d kept in the top drawers of her desk.
As she sat in the café, sipping on a cappuccino, the feeling that her life was slipping away, collapsing around her ears, washed over her like a tidal wave and try as she might, tucked away in the darkest furthest corner of the café, she couldn’t stop the tears streaming down her cheeks.