Chapter Twenty-One: “Why is he dressed like thin Fat Elvis?”

Noel invited Jemima to go to the Santa Claus parade with him and his friends on Sunday. Jemima, of course, jumped at the chance to spend more time with him, especially outside of work. Besides which, she had been expressly told that his friends would be there this time, which meant that she was fully prepared for it not to be a date. She still got dressed up as nicely as was acceptable for a small city parade, though.

“You realize you’ll be wearing a coat, yes?” Sybil asked her, one eyebrow raised as she looked over Jemima’s outfit. She was wearing a purple peter pan-collared dress. It was very cute, but also rather short. Sybil made a fair point as well. Jemima would definitely be wearing her winter parka the entire time, given that it was roughly three degrees outside and there was snow on the ground. Regardless, Jemima ignored her and adjusted her tights.

Jemima met Noel downtown at the spot he’d specified. Apparently, it was where he and his friends sat every year. Jemima, because she’d known it wasn’t a date, had forced Sybil, Priscilla, and Tallulah to come along. She’d been aiming to drag Bernie as well, but she was finally making the time to break up with her boyfriend. As Priscilla had said, it would undoubtedly end poorly and probably with Callum wiping his tears on his scarf, so she was happy to be away from the apartment while it was happening.

“He’s very emotional,” Priscilla explained as they walked toward Noel and his friends. “Apparently that’s what makes a good actor.”

“What’s his excuse then?” Sybil asked, snorting.

As they were chatting, Jemima waved to Noel. He had set up folding chairs with his friends behind a row of families. Noel was wearing his black feather jacket again. It made him look like a campy Bond villain or an oversized raven, but in a cool way. She was fairly certain that Noel was the only person in the world, apart from Mick Jagger, who could pull off a feather jacket.

“Doesn’t he look so cool?” Jemima whispered to her friends, interrupting their conversation about Callum’s disastrous acting career, or lack thereof.

“He looks like Liza Minelli,” Tallulah returned in answer.

“Oh my God, yes,” Priscilla said, nodding along. “I was trying to place it. Thank you.”

“Is he wearing a jumpsuit?” Sybil asked, squinting into the distance so she could see Noel’s outfit more clearly.

“Probably,” Jemima shrugged, not bothered. She was fully aware that Noel had a somewhat eccentric sense of style.

“Why is he dressed like thin Fat Elvis?” Sybil continued. Jemima didn’t bother answering. Instead, she continued walking over to Noel and his friends and set down her own lawn chair. After introductions, Noel pulled a flask out of his coat and held it out for Jemima, grinning.

“I suppose it’s noon somewhere,” Sybil remarked, rolling her eyes as Jemima took a swig and then handed it on to Tallulah. She had no idea what she’d just drank, but it burned all the way down and it tasted like the way wood varnish smelled.

Jemima hadn’t been to the Santa Claus parade since she was a child. Her mother asked her to go every single year, but Jemima had lost interest the minute she’d been forced to wear headgear in grade six. At that point, she’d pretty much avoided going out in public whenever possible. Her mother would probably actually be pretty angry that she had gone to the parade without her. On the other hand, it was likely that her mother would be more upset that she was getting considerably drunk at the parade. People had begun to stare at them, but she couldn’t tell if it was because they were being rowdy, because they had been caught drinking, or simply because they were seven grown adults at a Santa Claus parade.

“People are staring,” she hissed to Tallulah, who was sitting next to her right, Noel to her left. “It’s possible that drinking in public at the Santa Claus parade wasn’t a great idea. Or do you think they’re staring at us because we’re old?”

“I think they’re staring at us because Noel here looks like he murdered a a thousand crows to make that coat,” Tallulah answered, raising her voice so that Noel could hear her. Jemima had a moment of panic, concerned that he’d be offended, but he only laughed, throwing his head back. More people stared.

By the end of the parade, Jemima was fairly drunk. Noel and his friends were singing along to all the Christmas music, even the drum bands. The family in front of them kept turning to look over their shoulders at them with increasingly panicked looks. The mother kept glaring at Noel in particular, not that Jemima really blamed her. He looked shady almost all of the time, but especially while he was singing along to Mariah Carey Christmas songs at the top of his lungs in a coat made of feathers.

“He looks like he’s part of a motorcycle gang,” Tallulah whispered to Jemima near the end of the parade. “But, like, for birds.”

“He’s so good-looking,” was Jemima’s response. Sybil frowned at her slightly.

“I mean, I guess so,” she agreed. “But he still looks like Liza Minelli. Other people still think he looks like Liza Minelli right? It’s not just me?”

“It’s not just you,” Priscilla returned.

“Liza Minelli was a good-looking lady back in the day,” Tallulah interjected. “Looked very nice in sequins.”

“And so does Noel,” Priscilla said, nodding.

They spent the rest of the afternoon with Noel and his friends, drinking steadily even after the parade had ended. They wound up at Noel’s apartment because it was closest to the parade route and he, it seemed, had a never-ending supply of alcohol, which he gave freely to anybody who asked. It was not good alcohol. Jemima thought she may have overheard one of the guys say something about Noel distilling it himself in his bathtub, which was a horrifying thought, but not all that surprising. Regardless of whether or not it was gin made in the bathtub of a rented apartment, Jemima continued to drink it to the point where finding her way home again at ten o’clock at night was quite a challenge. Fortunately, she had Priscilla and Tallulah with her to help guide the way. They only stopped four times to sit on park benches and laugh like idiots. Jemima was counting it a success.

On Monday morning the next day, Jemima turned up for work feeling beyond wretched. She supposed eleven straight hours of day drinking could do that to a person. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but that likely had something to do with the influence of bathtub gin. In the cold, stark light of the morning, it was retrospectively a decidedly bad idea. She kept tasting bathtub gin, despite the fact that she had brushed her teeth three times before leaving for work. It made her feel extremely gross in more than one way. It was like a constant reminder that she was not enough of a responsible adult to forgo getting horrendously day-drunk on a Sunday afternoon at what was essentially a children’s parade.

“You look awful,” Jacklyn told Jemima when she stopped by Jemima’s desk to visit first thing in the morning. Jemima couldn’t argue. She looked like she’d been dragged out of a sewer by her hair. She’d woken up with twigs in her ponytail. She blamed Priscilla and Tallulah, but only ostensibly. In reality, she knew she had no one to blame but herself.

“Thank you, you’re very kind,” was Jemima’s response. It was an attempt to save face and admittedly not a very good one.

“Why do you look like you slept in a ditch last night?” Jacklyn asked, basically ignoring Jemima’s comment entirely.

“I may or may not have spent a large portion of yesterday drinking gin that may or may not have been made in a bathtub,” Jemima answered, holding her head high. Jacklyn stared at her for a moment.

“Who with?” She asked after a moment, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Noel,” Jemima replied somewhat sheepishly.

“Ah, so you definitely did get day-drunk yesterday and the gin definitely had been made in a bathtub,” Jacklyn concluded. “Probably by someone in sequin-covered moccasins.”

“Sequin-covered moccasins,” Jemima scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Who would wear sequin-covered moccasins?”

Jacklyn raised an eyebrow at her and then very slowly and pointedly looked over to where Noel was already sitting at his desk. He’d kicked his left foot out into the aisle beyond his desk and he was absolutely wearing sequin-covered moccasins. Jemima blatantly refused to say anything else until Jacklyn finally gave up staring judgementally at her and walked away.

At lunch, Jemima had a lovely conversation with Noel, who didn’t seem to be suffering from any similar kind of hangover. Jemima felt like she was one stiff breeze away from falling over and just never getting back up. She would live the rest of her life lying face-down on the beige office carpeting, trying to avoid the smell and willing away her unbelievable headache. People would have to step over her mostly lifeless body until she finally succumbed to starvation or dehydration and finally became one with the carpet for the rest of eternity. On the plus side, her slowly decaying corpse probably wouldn’t make it smell any worse.

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