Reading the submissions to the magazine had already started to bore me. I felt like my interest in the whole business was far too casual. Kate carried on coming around, seducing Alan and Nick with her conversation. She always sounded like she knew exactly what she was talking about and the worst thing was that she spoke about the things that I should have known more about myself. I felt stupid for saying what I had when I’d met her. I wanted to know why I always behaved like I was completely crippled by my passion for what we did, when I was so ignorant in comparison to the others.
Alan and Nick finally stopped seeming so perfect as well. I knew that if they weren’t enough for me then no one would ever be. It felt as though the longest connection I could ever hope for with another person would literally only last enough to cross the gap between the two of us and then would disappear as though nothing had ever happened.
I stuck to them though. I wouldn’t drop out of the group. I tagged along when the three of them went out to a grotty late night café. The place had awful lighting that made Kate’s make-up look too vivid, as though it were stage make-up. She kept on rubbing her lips together and chewing on them, so they were chapped and mottled red.
Alan and Nick both looked a mess in their over-washed second-hand jumpers. Alan yawned persistently. He didn’t want to be there. He wanted to go home with Kate, I could tell. His arm hung around the back of her chair, touching her back. They were acting like they wanted to be a couple. They shared the same mood; tired and grumpy together.
Nobody wanted to talk, so I did. All I wanted was for her to look at me in some new way, to really acknowledge me for just a moment. I kept on looking at her. I kept on talking to her, using her name as much as I could.
‘Do you dye your hair, Kate?’ I asked her.
‘Just wondering,’ I said. I searched her face for something else to comment on. ‘What lipstick is that, Kate?’
‘I don’t know. I can’t remember.’
I thought that if I asked her about things like that, she would have to accept that we had at least something in common.
‘What perfume have you got on?’ I asked, just to push it as far as I could.
She frowned and twisted her arms around each other, resting her chin in her hand. Her skin was yellow and dirty in the light. She didn’t answer me.
She watched me as though I was only there to distract her from her boredom. It was like I was looking at the real person, staring out from behind the mask and it made me feel strange inside.
I stirred my cold coffee around with a spoon.
Nick placed his palms down on the table and sighed loudly. ‘I’m going to be off now then,’ he said.
I was depending on him to help me keep us all there.
‘Yeah, let’s all get off,’ said Alan.
We all stood up and put on our coats. I felt sick. The light was giving me a headache.
I wanted to find something that I was good at and that I could care about, but the world outside of this one seemed even emptier. I walked out of the office and stood in the corridor. Alan came out and I grabbed onto his sleeve so that he turned to face me.
‘Alan, I’m thinking of leaving,’ I said.
I looked down at the floor. My eyes were full of tears. I blinked and they ran down my face. I waited before I looked back up at him, asking myself what Alan’s expression would be like. He wasn’t used to comforting people.
His face was pale and blank when I glanced at him.
‘Do you really want me to be here?’ I asked. ‘I know you must think I’m an idiot.’
‘I don’t think that. Why would you say that?’ He seemed nervous. He seemed afraid of me.
I looked up straight into his eyes. ‘I don’t always feel a part of things,’ I said.
It felt like I was forcing out sentences. I was forcing this to be a scene. I wanted this to be happening the same way in his head as it was mine.
‘You’re just a bit different,’ he said. ‘We know that. Go and sit in the office and I’ll get you a drink.’ He put his hand flat on my back.
‘But Kate’s in there,’ I said.
This wasn’t what I wanted him to say. Everything felt damp and stupid.
I walked back through into the office and sat down at Kate’s side. I sat right next to her so that our hips touched. I wanted to be absorbed into her body.
She leant forward and turned her face around to mine. ‘What’s wrong?’
I was shaking. I felt pathetic.
‘What’s wrong? Talk to me.’
I wouldn’t speak. She got up and I gasped for air.
‘I’m going to go and get Alan,’ she said, talking to herself more than me. She went out into the corridor.
I was left alone in the office, just waiting for her to bring Alan back. I felt like I had admitted that I was completely empty inside.
I walked back out into the corridor. They were talking about me in the kitchen. I didn’t want to go in there and just have them tell me that everything was fine. I didn’t understand why nobody had done or said anything more. Any one of those three people had the power to make me better, to make me the person that I should have been, but none of them had. None of them had. So I walked straight out. Down the stairs, through the door, into the street.