And so I watch him walk away. A smile and a wave, hide behind a mask, donít let him see that Iím embarrassed, humiliated, by him. I like the idea of hiding behind a mask. Masks can be anything: they can be playful, normal, teasing, seductiveÖ and they always disguise you. Always be disguised, never show my real feelings, my real emotions. Smile at Jess as she comes in, crack a joke. ďAbsolutely gorgeous, I know. Makes him think he can do anything.Ē And she laughs, she can laugh because Iím treating it as a joke. Better that she laughs with me than laughs at me.
Itís the golden rule of my life. Never let on that youíre anything less than perfectly happy. Because if you tell people how youíre feeling, then they have the power to humiliate you, to hurt you. To take your heart, tear it out, stamp on it, and throw it back at you when theyíre done.
So I canít let on that Iím hurt. I sit at the bar with Jess and chat with her, inane mindless comments, flowing from my mouth without even going through my mind. I hear what she says rather than feel it. She gets drunk and starts talking about my relationship with her father, and I tell her that sheís had too much to drink. Then I get the hell out of there.
Why does everything seem determined to remind me of him tonight? Why, why, why? Iím trying to move on with my life. How can I possibly move on, grow up, if everyone, everything, is trying to make me be the same person I was five years ago? So much has changed since then.
I stand in the pale glow of a streetlight and fumble in my bag for my car keys. Iím not drunk, not like Jess. I can drive. Iíve only had one, maybe two, glasses of wine. One with Peter and one with Jess. I wish, wish, wish, that I had never gone out with Peter. So stupid. Just me being me, wanting to be something Iím not. Itís never going to happen to me, Iím not the sort of person who meets someone and falls in love with them, fairytale romances donít happen in real life.
The car doesnít start at first, and I have a moment of insane panic, absolutely flooded with fear, that itís broken down. A ridiculous worry, but right now, I just want to go home. If itís broken down, then I donít know what Iíll do. I canít go back in there, I absolutely canít. And Iím almost in a state; I feel my heart pounding in my chest so hard that itís almost hurting, and Iím thinking how ridiculous this is, to get so worked up over a car. And then I try again and it works. And I shake my head because I canít believe how silly that was, and I drive off, turning the radio up as loud as I can to try and block out my thoughts.
And I glare at the radio as it starts playing that song. That stupid song that was playing earlier in the bar, when I was trying desperately to forget about him, about Ric, and trying to concentrate on Peter. It wouldnít have been so bad if Ric hadnít put that song on when he was driving me home the other day, when I was crying. It would all have been fine, I could have tried to forget about him. But no, Fate isnít that kind. Not to me, oh no.
So I lied, I lied about being in serious relationships. Iíve had a few in my time, two, maybe three. Iím not sure what exactly constitutes serious, but Ric and IÖ that was serious. He was prepared to marry me. And if Iíd trusted myself a bit more, I would have married him. I would have married him because he loved me and I loved him. Madly in love, I suppose. He was head over heels for me, and I was pretty much besotted with him. He wasnít my first love, oh no. My first love was a long time ago, long before I knew Ric.
I was fourteen, maybe fifteen. He was a lot older, Iím not sure how much exactly. He told me he was thirty, and he said that the age gap didnít matter. I told him that I was sixteen. With heels and make-up, I looked sixteen. I thought I did, anyway. But then I also thought he loved me. So my judgement was slightly off.
My parents were scandalised, of course. Their little Diane having a boyfriendÖ let alone an older one. My mother nearly threw me out on the spot, especially when she found out that Iíd been sleeping with him. Theyíd expected me to be a lot different Ė a quiet, studious little girl, perhaps bringing home a shy teenage boy one day, not a moody cow of a teenager who ended up sleeping with a thirty-year-old man. That was my first rebellion. Before that, Iíd always been the quiet daughter that theyíd wanted. Iíd worked hard and been polite and never skipped schoolÖ and then it all changed when I met him.
He paid my bus fare one day; Iíd seen him around occasionally before then, but it was that day when he first spoke to me. He was gorgeous, or at least I thought so. None of my friends did. I thought they were all jealous. Turns out they were the sensible ones. He left me eventually. NoÖ left isnít the right word. He stayed away after my parents found out. I stayed in my bedroom and cried.
He caught up with me on the way to school about a week later. He hurt me. I still canít bear to think of what he did to me; if I donít give it a name then itís not real. It wasnít real then and it isnít real now. If I keep telling myself that, I might believe it one day.
I shouldnít let myself get hurt so easily. I seem to be attracted to guys who will hurt me, itís like magnetism. Guys who arenít remotely interested, guys who get bored of me, guys who cheat on me and hurt me and humiliate me. Iíve only ever dated two guys who havenít hurt meÖ and Iíve hurt them instead.
I hurt Ric, I know I did. And I proved everyone right, everyone who thought that weíd never make it, that the age gap was too much, that a young girl like me shouldnít be dating her consultantÖ but it wasnít that, it truly wasnít. If I cared about what people thought that much, then I would never have fallen in love with him in the first place. I was just scared. Maybe it was all down toÖ what happened, when I was younger, maybe I thought that he would hurt me. Maybe I used that as an excuse. Maybe it just didnít work out. Sometimes relationships donít.
It will work out though. One day. Maybe it didnít work out that time, but next time it will. Next time? It will happen, definitely. Iím not head over heels in love with him or anything, and Iíve never believed much in Fate, but for some reason, I know that one day weíll be back together. In which case, why am I wasting my time searching for a new guy? Because when I give up searching and go for Ric, then Iíll finally be settling down, and Iíll be making a commitment, and I donít think Iím ready for that yet. One day I will be.
It wonít be knights-in-shining-armour, sailing-off-into-the-sunset, amazing happiness. I donít think I believe in that sort of love. I believe in security, in relationships you have to work hard at but that are worth the effort when you have them. I think it changes your life, not amazingly, but to a certain degree. And one day, itís going to happen to me.
As I pull up outside my flat, I take my phone out of my bag. I search through the address book and find the number Iím looking for. Peter. I smile to myself. I delete his number.†