Note from the author: Her Anonymous Face will be taking a break over the festive season, and will return in 2017. Thank you for your support this year!
Stuart doesn’t know that I know, he doesn’t know that I’ve found out, and I don’t know how to tell him that I’ve found out. He does know about my job though, I did tell him that, and I’m glad of it for many reasons, but mostly because when my feet are under the table it will give me comfort, escape and some sort of security.
This certainly isn’t the Christmas that I imagined, but the lights twinkle on regardless and the smile is firmly fixed in place for the weekend ahead.
We make assumptions all the time. The gentleman on the train reading a classic novel who must like his own company, the person who looks upset leaving the doctors surgery so must have had bad news, the lady in the park playing with children who must be a mother. The thing is, so often we are wrong, especially if you think you know someone well.
I’ve mentioned before that I met Stuart in a nightclub and that he fed me a line about him being a pilot, or some such rubbish, when instead he worked, and works, in sales. What I failed to mention was that when he met, he was married. That is, separated, but still married and not close to the finale of his divorce.
We didn’t get together immediately. We did exchange numbers because he was bold and I was flattered, but the first few exchanges over text message were brief and platonic. In fact the first time we met and sat down in a sober state was entirely by accident during our lunch break when we ran into each other buying sandwiches. The second date was planned but it wasn’t until the fourth that he told me about his wife. So he has form for keeping rather large secrets and being very smooth about it.
Some say that flattery will get you nowhere, but in Stuart’s case it seems to get him everywhere.
I told Jessica. I spilled out all the details after our wonderful shopping trip. The dinners out, the late nights at work, the unusual behaviour. The thing is, Jessica can be an extraordinarily good detective, and you don’t always find the answers that you expect.
Today, right now, I am sitting by the door. The chimes outside are cursing the wind. The day is overcast. I’m staring at the dregs of cold tea at the bottom of my mug. Staring through them, actually. My thoughts are of another day, another time. My father holding the seat of my bicycle as I pedalled furiously down the road, not knowing anxiety until I realised that he had let go moments before.
I know anxiety now. The phone is strangely balanced on the edge of the work-surface as though I was (I am?) willing my emotions to transfer over to the inanimate. Willing the anxiety onto it, to allow myself, just for one moment, to feel nothing.
I love baking, even though I’m almost certain that baking, or perhaps our oven, doesn’t love me. Nonetheless, this time of year sees me dusting off baking trays and checking the dates on various baking ingredients in our cupboard. I scour the Internet for new and simple ideas for teacher gifts, Christmas buffets and presents for family.
This year the key ingredient across all of the recipes that have caught my eye is chocolate. That says a lot about my year I’m sure, perhaps emphasised more by the consumption of around half of the key ingredients before they have even met the oven…oops…
Anyway, chocolate fudge, chocolate pastries, chocolate shortbread…here I come.
Is it me, or are shopping trips extraordinarily difficult at this time of year? You go to buy so much as a toothbrush and there’s a queue wrapped around the shop twice over already. You can forget finding decent birthday cards (although presents are much easier) and prices for little luxuries like a new pair of slippers seem to creep up day by day. It makes me laugh to think that all the wares will be reduced again in a matter of weeks, then replaced by beachwear in preparation for the busy holiday booking period.
So yesterday, after a somewhat frustrating start to our shopping trip, Jessica and I sat in a cafe, dining on homemade cake and perusing the Internet for bargains. Perhaps the idea that high street stores will all be online only in a few years isn’t so barmy after all.
I was right. Jessica was pleased for me. Very pleased. Perhaps a little for herself too, after all getting me back into office work shoes and clothes is an easy project for her, and distracting against a background of forced happiness that the season can bring, that never sits easily with her.
True friends really are amazing. The support that is turned on in an instant. You can go weeks, sometimes months without much contact, then boom! You need them, they need you, and you’re there, facing challenges and adventures together. I think that’s the true test of friendship. If you need to have an important conversation, can you do that with someone? Can you trust them to be honest and not to use your dilemma as fodder for gossip at a later date, and most likely behind your back? As I get older I realise more acutely than ever before that I would rather have one or two Jessicas in my life, people who might drive me crazy with their foibles (don’t we all have those!) but who equally I treasure, than to spend time with people I can’t trust. When you learn a new language, at some stage, you will most likely spend a little time on ‘false friends’. That term can be applied just as easily to real life relationships as linguistic ones.
Anyway, I digress! Jessica was thrilled and Stuart still doesn’t know. But I’m happy, and I have a shopping trip with Jessica planned in tomorrow to celebrate.
After a near miss of a major melt down last night, I decided not to go to Stuart’s Christmas party this year. His excuses ranged from the random to the ridiculous, and as I sat there listening to them and batting them away I realised: I don’t want to go. I have no interest in being made into a laughing stock, of spending the evening speculating why it was that he didn’t want me there. He visibly relaxed when I said that I would stay at home. I’m sure, in actual fact, I will have more fun putting on Christmas songs and making a start on wrapping up all the presents that I have organised for our little people.
Today, feeling in a determined and possibly slightly spiteful mood, I accepted an office job which starts in January. Whilst I love the sense of community and care that comes with my work in the cafe, I miss the buzz and the easy confidence that you gain with office colleagues. Stuart won’t like it though. Not one bit. He acts all supportive and “you take a break, you deserve it” but I think that he just likes to rule the roost and be looked after. Oh well, perhaps I’ll wrap my signed contract up for him for Christmas.
I must phone Jessica and tell her. She will be pleased for me.