'Oh, we're just going home,' Dee lied, fishing her lip gloss out of her handbag. 'How about I get your number and we catch up for a drink another time?' It was the line Dee always used to discourage guys from hanging around without actually having to reject them.
'I'd rather not give you my number.' Tom made an apologetic face and shrugged his shoulders. 'I've had a couple of stalkers lately. I know, it's weird.'
'Oh okay, probably for the best then.' Dee gazed back at him with a deadpan expression. 'I do have a couple of restraining orders out against me already, so...'
Tom looked confused before he decided to laugh. It was a small relief to know he wasn't too self-deluded to not figure out Dee was making a joke. Dee steered me back inside the pub and out the front exit, barely giving me time to put my wine down on one of the bar tables. Someone shot me a look as I did so, as if he owned the table. I wanted to remind him that just because he and his mate happened to find an empty table to prop their elbows and drinks on didn't make it their table. Dee dragged me away before I could say anything and who was I kidding anyway? As if I would actually say anything. It was just a fantasy I had, like how I imagined yelling at slow walkers in front of me in the street.
'Oh my gawd Beth, that was excruciating,' Dee exclaimed, dabbing her lips with gloss then promptly lighting a cigarette. She was an expert at multitasking when she was drunk. She could roll a joint while finding her keys and unlocking her front door. One time, at a bar, she'd managed to carry two wine glasses back to our table and spray herself with perfume, returning to our group in a cloud of Issy Miyake.
She'd performed her wine and perfume trick back when we first met in Sydney. I was visiting a friend and she was the woman who'd arrived at Opera Bar, as if on cue, after said friend had gushed, 'You've got to meet Dee, she's a scream! Bethy, you'd love her.'
She was right. Dee had breezed in, all jangling bracelets and long dark hair, kissed everyone hello and offered to buy a round. She laughed a lot and, as laughing was my favourite thing to do - it was even better than drinking wine, having sex or eating Nutella straight from the jar - we hit it off. We also bonded over a mutual love of Kath & Kim, The Bachelor and Alexander McQueen, which she could afford and I could not. The bank where she worked as a marketing director transferred her to London a couple of years ago and, when she heard I was moving over, she got in contact immediately to ask what I was doing on the Friday night after I landed.
As she weaved her way through the street crowds ahead of me, I wondered where we were heading. It could be anywhere. Dee was like that. She could have fun at the local pub, an exclusive club in Chelsea or a Goth bar in Camden.
'Where are you taking me?' I asked when I caught up to her at the lights.
'A seedy meat market.' She looked at me with a mix of mischief and sheepishness. 'You up for it?'
'Hell yeah.' Given the right amount of alcohol, I loved a good dodgy bar with sticky floors and a DJ that took requests. I'd had over half a bottle of wine already, so I was definitely 'up for it.'
'It's only because I can't be arsed getting a taxi anywhere,' she explained as I craned my neck to look out over the street. I couldn't even make out the pavement under the bobbing sea of beanies and umbrellas.
If I'd stayed in Perth, I'd have been walking along Sorrento beach at precisely this moment, worrying if I'd applied enough sunscreen. It would be Saturday morning over there, so I would've waved at our neighbour Deborah laying down her towel and said hello to Kevin from the next street walking his golden retriever, Sammy. Technically, it was against the rules to walk a dog on that particular beach, but Kevin and Sammy had been walking the same stretch of sand every day for at least the last decade and no one ever said anything. Those friendly faces would ask how uni was going and occasionally they'd brave asking if I'd met 'a fella'.
It was that way everywhere I went in Perth, from the chintzy little beachside coffee shop I liked to go to with my sister to city bars on Friday nights. You couldn't swing a bottle of West Australian wine without hitting at least three people you'd been to school with or at least knew you when you were going through your awkward teenage years.
I would sit in my room surrounded by TV Hits posters during those teenage years and fantasise about moving to a bigger city. But 'bigger' than Perth wasn't really enough - it had to be one of the biggest cities in the world. The plan, conceived in flowery handwriting in my sun and moon diary, took years to come to fruition. It was almost unbelievable when, over ten years later, it became a reality in the form of a visa approval and a flight confirmation in my inbox. London promised exciting jobs at companies with worldwide recognition and the possibility of meeting Hugh Grant or Robbie Williams.
On my second day in London, I'd sat at a window seat in a café off Oxford Circus and thought about how there was no chance anyone I knew would approach to ask what I was going to do now that I'd graduated. That's when I truly felt that anything was possible. I was a blank canvas - just a woman sipping her coffee. I could have been anyone to the passers-by.
I looked at some of the faces coming towards me now through the drizzle, illuminated by the dim glow of the streetlights. I daydreamed about what they did with their lives as they swooshed and jostled past. He's a writer; she's in PR; he's a banker. She's having an affair with a Greek shipping magnate. It thrilled me to think that I was one of those anonymous faces.
I relinquished this anonymity on entry to the bar when the bouncer asked to see my ID. Dee and I, both 25, felt a sense of satisfaction at being asked for our IDs, despite the fact that they were checking everyone. Wrists freshly stamped, we tottered in and experienced the familiar heat and smell of alcohol and sweaty bodies. Nudging through the crowd balancing vodka sodas ahead of us and mouthing the words to Rihanna's 'Disturbia,' we decided to head to the smoking area before we hit the dance floor. We stood near one of the heaters under the big blue tarpaulin set up for those wanting respite from the hot, loud mess inside.
I shuffled away from a pair of huge high heels zig-zagging sloppily backwards in my direction. This girl could poke someone's eye out with the corners of her stiff, synthetic veil. The bride-to-be laughed maniacally with her friends, her bright pink lips pausing occasionally to sip her cocktail from a fluoro green straw.
'This is a bad spot,' said Dee. I nodded and took a step forwards before I felt a sharp pinch on my arm.
'Ouch!' I whipped my head around expecting to see a grinning and confused hen who thought I was one of her friends. Instead, I saw a man's face that caused me to grab at Dee's arm and forget I was holding an almost full glass of vodka soda. Said vodka soda went flying across Dee's chest, soaking her white tank top. At that moment, she must have regretted taking off her coat.
'What the hell?!' she cried, looking down in mild shock at fabric clinging to a quite obviously lacy bra.
'Wow, sorry,' said the man. His face made me feel like the last ten years had just been splashed away across Dee's chest. It was as if the plane I'd taken from Perth just nosedived down to this moment and place in time - to a dodgy London club on a drizzly night in 2010. What the hell indeed.
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