I wrote this story of booze, heartbreak, gorgeous, gorgeous London and terrible office Christmas parties for Literary Death Match a couple of years ago. Hope you enjoy it – happy Christmas!
On reflection, Adie thought, Simon could probably have chosen a better place than their holiday train’s platform to tell her that he didn’t want her to come away with him.
‘I’m just not, you know, feeling it,’ he said, keeping his eyes fixed on the clock above Adie’s stunned head. She wanted to say something back, something important, and it wasn’t until the train had left – with Simon on it – that she realised she hadn’t said anything at all.
Her eye make-up pooling around her chin, Adie sleepwalked back to south London and the flat she shared with her friend, John. She was in the kitchen before she realised she had left her bag, with Simon’s carefully chosen, now useless, Christmas presents, on the platform at King’s Cross.
‘Fuck you,’ she said and took a brick of cheese out of the fridge.
After three hours spent mindlessly eating cheddar and checking Simon’s Twitter feed, she read, ‘Free! Time for a beer, LOL’, and burst into tears.
The night continued thus.
Adie had planned on spending her Friday having lots of sex and doing festive things with Simon. Instead, she spent it checking for text messages that never came and miserably finishing off the cheese. John had crashed in at 6 a.m. and immediately passed out, so she was at least spared awkward questions. At teatime, her friend Becca called, angling to borrow Adie’s best skirt for her office party, which Adie was too spaced to say no to.
‘I don’t care if this party is hell. I am going to drink everything and kiss the rest of it,’ Becca said, arriving in a fog of perfume and helping herself to Adie’s biscuits. ‘What’s wrong with you? Are you all right?’ Adie, remembering a particularly humiliating moment with Simon earlier on, decided she was sick of that question and muttered a response into the kettle.
John yawned through the door and kissed Becca hello. ‘Tormenting my flatmate, B for bitch?’
‘I’m fine,’ Adie muttered crossly. ‘Stop eating my Hobnobs, Becca.’
John dropped four Nurofen into a carton of orange juice and eyed her critically.
‘You look like crap and you’ve been crashing around all day, so that’s not true,’ he said. ‘Oh, God.’ His eyebrows disappeared into his hairline and Becca said, ‘What? What?’
‘Edinburgh,’ said John. ‘Shit. You’re not there.’
Adie turned red. ‘Simon called off our holiday. And me, I think. But look, it’s completely, I’m completely—’
‘If you say fine, I will cut you,’ Becca said, abandoning the biscuits and giving Adie a hug that made her smell quite overpoweringly of Becca for the next hour. ‘What a total fuckhead. Look. Come to the idiot party with me. A bunch of marketing managers high on shit coke is better than sitting here staring at Twitter. Let’s get you into something a little less … pyjamas.’
Confronted with John and Becca, two of Stockwell’s biggest America’s Next Top Model fans, Adie’s protests were useless. They strong-armed her into the bathroom, painted her face and curled her hair, then persuaded her into the dress she’d been saving for New Year’s Eve.
‘You look really good,’ said John, by now thoroughly overexcited and covered in bronzer. ‘That man is an idiot, disguised as a cunt.’
The party was indeed as terrible as Becca had predicted; held in an underground rabbit hutch in Ludgate Circus which existed as a conveyor belt for all the City’s worst Christmas parties. Glazed middle managers buzzed around a beige buffet, and Becca was absorbed almost immediately by a cloud of sequins and novelty jumpers. Adie took a
glass of festively disgusting red wine and was swept into conversation by a group who spoke only in buzzwords.
‘Of course, Julian made a complete fist of that pitch,’ a red-faced man said to Adie, who had drunk two more glasses of wine and was starting to feel sick. ‘We needed further imagineering before taking it forward, but he wouldn’t have it.’
‘Mmm,’ said Adie. She had no idea who Julian was, or indeed if imagineering was a real word, but this didn’t seem to matter as long as she made noises at suitable intervals.
‘And here’s a man who knows all about it,’ Red Face said, gesturing at a dishevelled man in tweed who was rummaging through a beer bucket. Adie recognised him, with no small measure of relief, as Becca’s flatmate, David.
‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Want to get shit-faced?’
‘Oh God, yes please,’ said Adie.
David deflected Red Face from his rant and sent him off in pursuit of the buffet. Adie, who had been getting depressed by both the wine and the fact that she hadn’t heard from Simon, soon found herself playing drinking games with David and a group of accountants in matching sweaters. After one forfeit resulted in an accountant tap-dancing off a table and thus, an end to the free bar, the group decided to flee the party and pubcrawl up Fleet Street.
Adie found Becca wrapped up in one of the less glazed middle managers.
‘Babe,’ Becca said, flapping an arm towards Adie. ’This is Mark.’
‘Mike,’ said the middle manager, automatically.
‘Mike. Oh, and David!’ She hugged the tweed. ‘Adie’s had her heart broken by a total fool so you must look after her and make sure she doesn’t spend all her time looking at her phone.’
‘Will do,’ David said. ‘Call me if you forget where we live.’
They set off up Fleet Street, drinking and hiding glasses under their coats. The crawl came to an abrupt end after the accountants were thrown out of a pub for trying to fiddle the quiz machine. Giggling hysterically, they left Adie and David behind and fled towards Holborn, the fallen tap-dancer hopping behind.
On the pavement, Adie checked her phone. The stab of disappointment at having no messages had become increasingly stabby the more she drank, and she was secretly quite relieved when David whisked the thing away and into his inside pocket.
They tottered unsteadily down the Strand and across Waterloo Bridge. All along the South Bank trees twinkled blue, and the Christmas market gleamed with a health-and-safety-defying amount of fairy lights. Dreamily, Adie whispered, ‘I love you.’
Absent-mindedly, David tried to kiss the top of her head, but missed and did a sort of swipe down her right ear.
‘Not you, silly David,’ Adie said. ‘This.’ She swept out her arm as if to indicate the entire city, but really just taking in a nearby bus stop. She could almost forget the horrible feeling that had followed her since King’s Cross. Slight tinnitus promised to develop into a monstrous hangover, but for now Adie felt invincibly full of contentment and drinks.
David swung her round until they were facing over the river.
‘Three cheers for London,’ he said. ‘And no cheers for your boyfriend. Hip hip – fuck off.’
‘Hip hip fuck off!’ Adie chorused. They high-fived, and David kept hold of her hand, until they were just smiling and looking at each other in the uncertain fashion of two people about to kiss, but not entirely sure why. Later Adie would reason that it’s actually very difficult not to kiss someone that close to the South Bank at Christmas.
In David’s pocket, Adie’s phone flashed up a message. It went unnoticed for quite some time.