Reads: 20

Cici strolls along behind the others, laughing as she waits for the opportune moment to repeat the verse. Her attempt coincides with some overly made up girls in too short skirts walking past, making them jump out of their skin but still the stadium stays intact. The group seems to calm and normal chatter resumes as they near the exit of the park. Felicity’s mind wandering, she glances down when she feels someone grab her hand. Her heart skips as she realises that it’s Brendan who's interlinked their hands. Great, now she’s walking through the park holding hands with her best friend. She sighs a little. She wants to separate them, but it feels too right and she just can’t do it. His grip relaxing when he’s sure she’s not letting go. A quick glance across to him and she sees that familiar shy smile play across his lips. She allows herself a smile too, sinking into the warmth, thankful that they’re at the back of the group and not drawing attention to their position.

Kassie’s voice brings Felicity’s focus back to the group in front of them. “You know Nico has got the highest voice out of you guys. I reckon if you twisted his balls he’d hit that high E.”

“Hey, we aren’t going to investigate through right.” Nico jokingly protects his genitalia from being manhandled.

Elizabeth holds her chin, pretending to think. “Hmm, I don’t know. I think I’ve heard Jacob and Gio go high pitched when they want. I reckon you could do the same to them.”

The two men’s reaction making Cici laugh. She loves these guys. Laughter comes so easily when she’s around them. To Felicity’s dismay, her laughter brings the group’s attention back to her and B. The group pauses by the gates as they catch up the few steps to them.

Jacob calling out to B and Cici, “Hey Cici you’ve twisted B’s balls. How high does his voice go?”

Cici stops dead, looking at the floor. She tries to make the witty comeback leave her mouth, but it gets lodged in her throat. The attention she revelled in earlier now scares the shit out of her. Panic flows through her and she freezes, Brendan’s hand tightening on hers the only thing she can feel. You fucking idiot. After what feels like a lifetime, she breaks herself free of Brendan’s grip, turning on her heel and rushing away.

Desperate for solitude, she heads back into the park, sinking down behind a large tree and leaning back on the trunk. The dry grass itching her bare legs, a physical symptom of her feelings. Awkward. Uncomfortable, cursing herself for how she reacted. Instinctively raising her legs, hugging them to her, desperate to resist that burn of tears. Heavy footsteps bring her round a little and she adjusts her stance, rubbing her face and settling back as a shadow falls over her. She looks up and watches Jacob sit down next to her. “I’m sorry Cici, I didn’t mean to upset you, or make it awkward. I thought things were going well between you. I was expecting a sharp comeback.”

“It’s not your fault Jacob, I’m an idiot.” She sighs and folds her arms, eyes fixed on her hands. “You guys go on ahead. I can find my own way back.”

Jacob’s stare bores into her, but she stays strong, determined not to move. “Well, okay if you're sure, but I expect B will come and find you, you know what he’s like, just as stubborn as you.”

Felicity nods, taking her book from her bag, attempting to show Jacob she’s intending to read. He says bye, and she gives him a wave. As predicted, just a few minutes pass, filled with her staring unseeing at the page, before she realises B is sitting down next to her. Cici wishes she could take back the next few minutes. The argument, the blame all on her, its too much to take and she gets up walking away, knowing she's hurting him but unable to stop. Tears falling, hating herself for hurting his feelings, despising the yearning she has for B to ignore her words and grab her. Pull her close, kiss away her tears and tell her it’s alright. Weeks crawl by, unwarranted rejection hanging heavily over her, cutting the connection between her and B. The plutonic turn their relationship takes gives her the push to make new friends, something her doctor advised her to do. She clicks with Lucy and Emma, runners on the show, discovering a shared love for obscure European art-house films. Proud of herself that she’s tackling her fear of making friends, helping her self-confidence grow. Lucy’s invitation to join her birthday celebrations in Manhattan test Cici’s nerve, pushing her out of her comfort zone. She um’s and err’s about going before finally accepting. After all, what harm could it do?

 

The evenings getting started and Felicity’s perched on a stool between Lucy and Emma in a bustling bar, waiting for Ash’s DJ act to be announced. Felicity, already buzzed thanks to pre-drinking with Lucy and Emma at their flat is taking in the surrounding commotion with a relaxed air. Until the group’s attention shifts to her, a direct question from a young intern has Felicity blushing, irked by the intrusion into her private life. Whose business is it if B and her are dating? The local noise subsides, everyone eager to hear her answer over the din of the bar. Cici’s embarrassment, matched only by the intern’s visible horror. Cici watching the realisation dawn on the girl’s face, worry about her job security and general favour of the stars. Of course, this type of drama is what makes evenings like this and Cici normally avoids being at the epicentre. Usually it’s her drink paused on route to mouth hanging off the action. Cici feeling Lucy and Emma vibrating with contained laughter at her predicament. Her stumbling attempt to make amends, “Uh um, I’m not with B its not like that, um, I mean, we’re just friends.” Makes her look like a complete idiot.

“Oh.” The intern stirs her drink, staring at Cici across the table, before shrugging. Maybe she’s not as innocent as Cici first thought. “Its just, you seem really into each other. That’s all.” The whole table’s transfixed by the exchange, following it as closely as meerkats watching tennis.

“Oh yeah, we’re close, but we’re friends, that’s it.” A snigger from her left causes her face to flame again. This is exactly what Emma and Lucy were talking about earlier. Which Felicity vehemently denied as they caked her in a thick layer of make-up.

Lucy raises her glass adorned in a look of triumph while Felicity nudges Emma into silence. Felicity’s stomach drops. She knows what’s coming. “So if you're not with B, you’re young, free and single in New York on a girls’ night out, why not find yourself a piece of New York hunk to spend your evening with?” Yep, there it is, her constant fascination with getting Felicity laid.

“Ha.” Felicity takes a swig from her cocktail, needing the buzz of sugar and alcohol. “You know I’m not that kind of girl.”

“Oh, but a dance wouldn’t hurt, would it?” She throws her arm around Cici, who notices the intern whispering to a friend. Clearly Cici’s going to be the talk of the office tomorrow.

Cici shakes her head. “No, I can’t deny that.”

“So if the offer comes along, you wouldn’t turn them down?” Emma clarifies.

“Well, I doubt I’ll get an offer. So sure why not.” Felicity stands signalling for another round, the enthusiastic nods giving her a reason to escape the scrutiny.

With Ash’s set halfway through, Felicity takes a bathroom break, and a much needed breather from the centre of the dance floor. She takes a moment, pausing on the peripheries to watch the crowds around her moving to the music. She’s drunk. Can feel the fuzziness creeping in, the barriers of insecurity and anxiety, washed away by a steady flow of brightly coloured, bankruptingly expensive drinks. No one’s slowing down. They can all drink Cici under the table. At least she’s drunk water too, leaving her with enough wits about her to react appropriately to a hand on her waist. It belongs to, through Felicity’s blurred vision, a cute guy with dark hair and wonderful green eyes twinkling behind his thick-rimmed glasses.

He leans close, speaking over the volume of the music. “Do you mind if I dance? I’ve been watching you for a while.” He pauses, fiddling with his glasses. Felicity waits, unsure of what to do in this situation. “I know that sounds creepy, god this is so awkward. That’s not what I meant...”

“Its fine.” She puts her hand between them, needing the rambling to stop, throwing caution to the wind, before she chickens out. The only reason Cici’s doing this is alcohol. “I’d love a dance.”

A dance becomes them entwined in the middle of the dance floor, Felicity finding out some basic facts aside his eye colour. His name’s Rhyan, and he works in media in Manhattan. That should’ve sent alarm bells ringing, but the words flow over her, not registering. She introduces herself as Felicity. At least she didn’t use her stage name, telling him she works for a TV company. Felicity basks in his attention, chatting and dancing, feeling almost normal. The first kiss catches her off guard, but the rest she’s more than ready for and during one particularly heated kiss, she feels warmth spread from the base of her stomach. Which begs the question. Could she be that kind of girl, just for one night? The others decide it’s time to move on not long after that and in some ways Cici’s relieved. She can feel her resistance crumbling. Not that Rhyan had made any suggestions. In fact, he’s been the complete gentleman. Maybe that’s why she warmed to him, how he gained her trust enough for her to swap numbers with him before saying goodbye.

The evening gets extremely hazy after that until everything goes black when she makes contact with a soft surface. The following morning, after being jostled awake by her friends, Felicity’s delighted to find herself on her bed, not wrapped round a random toilet. “Be gentle with me, girls.” She pleads as Kassie and Elizabeth prod and poke her, encouraging her out of bed.

Elizabeth steps forward, grabbing her hand. “Nope, no mercy. Shouldn’t have gone and got bladdered on a school night. Come on. Up! You didn’t even get undressed. That’s disgusting.” The playful nagging from the girls intended to help get her brain functioning.

“Yeah. If you go out, get hammered, don’t get home till 3am, waking the entire household in the process before spending an hour throwing up. Don’t expect any sympathy from us.” Kassie shoves Cici towards the bathroom. “Now get your behind in that shower.”

Cici showers and dresses, thanking God that the hair and makeup team can work magic as she appraises the disaster in the mirror and tries to bludgeon her brain into thinking about work. Through the fog of the hangover, a warning sign flashes. Shit, she’s paired with B today. Bollocks. He’s giving them a lift to set this morning. Despite understanding Brendan’s worries, Felicity’s in no mood for his overbearing concern or his high horsed hypocritical morality. Somehow he can turn up to set with a hangover without anyone batting an eyelid. However, if Felicity does it, she’s some scarlet woman. Her minds still on Brendan as Kassie shoves a bottle of water and some paracetamol into her hand and bundles her out the door. Cici’s head’s banging, the sunlight’s way too bright. Her sunnies protect her eyes along with one of B’s baseball caps, that’s magically made it into her possession, pulled down low on her head. As they stand waiting for B, Felicity relishes the cool water on her throat that washes the painkillers down, while trying to ignore the tormenting from her friends who are deliberately wafting pastries and coffees under her nose. The cold bottle on her forehead and neck helping ease the pain.

B pulls up, and as he climbs out Felicity makes a split decision, marching past him to climb in the opposite side. She’s expecting a wise arse comment thanks to her unusual behaviour. When all she gets is silence, her mind mulls over the reason for his hostility. I know my hangover’s obvious. I’d explained my plans for the evening, so why’s he this pissed at me for drinking on a school night? She doesn’t even get, ‘no puking in the Jeep,’ instead a mumbled, “Hi.” As he slams his car door. The car journey isn’t its usual jovial time. Felicity’s attempting to hold on to the remains of her stomach. B appears to be in an epic bad mood. The onus falling to Lizzie and Kassie, who make valiant attempts to break the tense atmosphere, giving up after spectacular failures, the jeep falling silent, which suits Felicity just fine. Once they arrive, Elizabeth and Kassie speed into the building. Felicity’s hot on their heels, but B grabs her wrist just as she’s about to step over the threshold. She’s over balanced, catching herself on the wall as B grunts at her. “Have fun last night?” His gruff manner not what Felicity’s expecting.

“Yes, and yes. I’m hanging today, no different from you, some days.” She smiles at him, trying to lighten the mood, hanging her head in defeat when it backfires. “Look, I’m good all right? I’m not slipping backwards. I was trying to keep up with the other girls. Stupid I know, but it won’t get in the way today, I promise.” She attempts another smile, willing a change of heart.

She’s bitterly disappointed when instead of backing down, he steps closer, removing his hat off her head, followed by her glasses, leaving her squinting at the brightness. He looks into her eyes, voice demanding. “Anything you want to share with me about the evening?”

She feels her heels hit the brick wall behind her as she backs away from his anger. “No.” She looks up at him as his hands encase her head, palms pressed flat on the wall on either side of her, leaning down towards her. Deliberately intimidating and it takes all her willpower to stand defiant, to stare right back at him as he searches her face. God only knows what he’s trying to find. She can’t understand what has caused this hostility, confusion furrowing her brows as she waits him out.

Finally he steps back and hands her back her sunglasses, “Fine.” He turns on his heel, sticking the cap on his for once bare head and walking into the building without a backwards glance.

As Cici follows him in, Gio walks up to her. “Trouble in paradise?” He asks as he matches her pace through the corridors.

“I’m not sure. There shouldn’t be, but obviously I’ve pissed him off. Fuck knows how. I’ll speak to him later, when my head doesn’t feel like it’s about to explode.”

“Oh dear, you didn’t try to keep up. Did you?” Cici nods but very gently, Gio laughs at her. “Elizabeth and Kassie messaged me earlier. I’m under strict instructions to limit my sympathy to a single 'there, there'. As is everyone else.” He chuckles as he walks away.

 


Submitted: January 24, 2023

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