One of Jemima’s best friends from high school, Amanda, was getting married. She had asked their entire high school friend group to be in her bridal party because, as she had written in the text message, they were best friends forever. Jemima found this incredibly debatable, considering she hadn’t spoken to Amanda in at least eight months. They had drifted since Jemima had moved to Roehampton and Amanda had stayed behind in the town they’d grown up in. It didn’t help that Amanda was the kind of person who ditched all of her friends the minute she got into a serious relationship. Compounded with the fact that Amanda was the type of person who was always in a serious relationship, Amanda didn’t really make the time to see any of her so-called best friends for life.
Jermima’s high school friend group consisted of five women, including herself. There was Ruby Chan, the only Chinese person in a school full of white, Christian farm kids. Then there was, of course, Amanda. There was Lauren Berkowitz, who was already married with a two year old son named Alistair. And rounding it out was Erin Lyons. In high school, Jemima had been closest with Lauren because they shared a love for One Tree Hill and America’s Next Top Model. She used to go to Lauren’s house to watch both shows because Lauren’s family had three enormous TVs and her mother never ran out of snacks. At this point in her life, Jemima wished she had the most in common with Ruby, who was a successful fashion magazine editor and was dating a player on the Roehampton Panthers basketball team, like a character in a romantic comedy. But she actually had the most in common with Erin, who shared a small apartment with two deadbeat roommates she’d found online after graduating from university and finding herself both poor and largely unemployable. Erin had a job she didn’t like, she was perpetually single and mostly okay with it, and she had once drunkenly barfed on a stranger in a bar.
Lauren organized a celebration dinner for Amanda in the city. For Lauren and Amanda, this was an exciting night out on the town. They had booked a hotel room to share and they were leaving their significant others at home. For Lauren, it was also a night away from her son. She told them she was going to get wild and order two glasses of wine with dinner. Jemima, who had drank gin made in the bathtub of someone’s rented apartment, had a hard time wrapping her head around how two glasses of wine was considered wild. Amanda, however, tittered and called Lauren “so bad”. Jemima made sure to sit next to Erin.
Amanda talked about her wedding at every possible opportunity. Jemima understood why; it was a very significant thing happening in Amanda’s life at that precise moment in time. She was mostly okay with talking about it as well, but she also wanted to hear about Lauren’s son and Ruby’s pro baller boyfriend. Besides, hearing about Amanda’s wedding plans was kind of depressing and not for any of the stereotypical reasons, like Jemima’s innate singleness. Mostly it was because Amanda had decided that the bridesmaids were going to be wearing magenta dresses made of satin.
“For fuck’s sake,” Erin grumbled beside Jemima. “I’m going to look like a beluga whale.”
Erin was a very thin woman. Nevertheless, Jemima also had some concerns. Satin was not a very forgiving fabric. Across the table, Ruby, who worked in fashion, looked scandalized. Lauren was nodding politely because she was senselessly kind, even in the face of magenta satin bridesmaid dresses.
“I’ve picked out a few options, all things you can wear again,” Amanda continued, citing the biggest lie about bridesmaid dresses ever. Erin snorted quietly.
“One of the options is floor-length,” she whispered to Jemima. “She thinks a magenta satin, floor-length gown is wearable again? Yeah, sure. Maybe if Donna Summer invited me to a house party.”
After dinner and Lauren’s two glasses of wine, Amanda decided that they should go dancing. She hadn’t gone to university after high school, instead working at her mother’s antiques store in the rural homestead of Birchwood, where there was only one bar. It was called The Rusty Spoon, which wasn’t nearly as charming a name as Jemima assumed the owner thought it was. The beer on tap was somehow always warm and there were peanut shells on the floor. All this meant that Amanda was beyond excited to be going to a real club in the city. She wanted the full experience. She wanted to have drinks beforehand and get dolled up with her friends and then have strangers buy her drinks all night while she tottered around in five-inch heels. Jemima offered her place for pre-drinking and to get ready. She even offered to lend some of her clothes. Lauren, tipsy as she was, was also ecstatic.
When they got to Jemima’s apartment, however, it was not to find it empty as had been expected, but to find Priscilla and Tallulah sitting in her living room, watching Netflix on Jemima’s TV.
“What are you doing?” Jemima asked them, tossing her keys on the end table next to her front door and stepping inside to let her high school friends in.
“Our wi-fi stopped working,” Tallulah answered, like that explained why they’d broken into her apartment and were currently wrapped in her throw blankets. Priscilla was wearing her slippers.
“You couldn’t find anything else to do?” Jemima returned.
“Well, I’m sure we could’ve, but we didn’t try very hard,” Tallulah replied. Priscilla was engrossed in the television. They were watching Murdoch Mysteries.
“Do you guys want to come out with us?” Lauren asked, interrupting. She was grinning. She was so trusting. Jemima made a mental note to talk to her about the dangers of inviting strangers to party in the city. Admittedly, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Priscilla and Tallulah were not just two freakishly similar-looking burglars who had stopped for a quick TV break and that Jemima did in fact know them.
“It’s a big night out,” Erin explained. “Lauren and Amanda still live in the town we’re from. Roehampton is still exciting to them and not crushingly depressing like it is to the rest of us.”
Ruby laughed at that and Jemima fought the urge to point out that Ruby was very successful and also dating a literal baller so the sentiment didn’t extend to her nearly at all.
“I’m from a town that only had five stores and three of them were antique shops,” Jemima added instead.
“That’s a pretty tough market for people trying to sell old shit,” Tallulah remarked, eyebrows raised.
“How do they all stay in business?” Priscilla asked. “I have never once felt a burning desire to own a decorative oil lamp.”
“Hah, burning desire,” Tallulah repeated, laughing at her sister’s unintentional pun. Jemima shook her head and ushered her high school friends to her bedroom so they could start getting ready to go out. Priscilla and Tallulah ended up staying in, but Tallulah did play DJ for them while they got ready. She claimed she was being helpful. She played “Fight for Your Right” eighteen times in a row. Erin counted.
Amanda chose the club they went to, which was pretty much par for the course at that point. She chose a very dimly lit, packed club that only served imported beer and cocktails that Jemima had never even heard of. Fortunately, it was a bit of an older crowd so none of them were hit on by nineteen year olds. For the most part, everybody else there appeared to be a similar kind of person. More precisely, they were the kind of people that Amanda most definitely would’ve turned out to be if she had moved to the city as well. There were a lot of business-casual clothes turned just a little racy. Most of the women were wearing ballet flats. Fifty per cent of the men had goatees.
And then Jemima saw him: Noel. He was standing at the bar in a pair of incredibly tight black jeans and a black, short-sleeved button-down that was patterned with neon pink flamingos. He’d left it mostly unbuttoned, almost to his navel. Jacklyn would’ve tutted and rolled her eyes. Jemima didn’t know what to do. Any other time, she would’ve been delighted to see him outside of work. She would’ve taken the opportunity to spend more time with him and work on what she was sure was their, albeit slowly, budding romance. But it wasn’t any other time, it was that specific time and she was with her high school friends. She was certain Erin would do nothing but encourage her, but she couldn’t see Amanda being nearly as accepting. Her fiancé owned a pickup truck and played softball in a men’s league on the weekends. He drank light beer because he was watching his weight for the wedding and his favourite band was Blink 182, even in 2016.
Before Jemima even had a chance to come to a decision about whether or not to approach Noel, he had spotted her from his place by the bar. He waved at her enthusiastically, grinning. Jemima waved back and began praying that would be the end of it. It wasn’t, of course. He began making his way over to her and her friends the second he had his drink in his hand. It was something fluorescent blue. He stopped in front of them and Amanda, horror of horrors, asked him to leave, clearly under the impression that he was some random dude come to hit on one of them unwanted.
“Sorry, we’re not interested,” she said, which was just about the most arrogant thing she could’ve chosen to say. Noel raised an eyebrow at her bemusedly.
“You make it sound like I’m trying to tell you about the wonders of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour,” he remarked casually. She was not impressed, glowering at him angrily. Jemima promptly lost the will to live. She prayed for something large and heavy to fall on her head from above and crush her to death. It would be a fitting end. All she had to be thankful for was the fact that Noel wasn’t wearing his crow feather jacket.
“Are you trying to be funny?” Amanda demanded. Jemima admired her tenacity. And really, in any other instance of genuinely unwanted male attention, Jemima would’ve been pleased to have her there. But even if she hadn’t had a massive crush on Noel, he was still her co-worker and this was gearing up to make for a truly awkward Monday morning.
“Oh, Amanda, this is my co-worker Noel,” Jemima stepped in before anything else alarmingly hurtful could be said. Noel, not looking the least bit bothered, grinned at Amanda, who blushed so furiously that Jemima could see it in the dark club.
“Nice to meet you,” he said to her, sounding like he genuinely meant it. He probably did. He was such a weirdo.
“That is one hell of a shirt,” Erin told him.
“Thanks!” He returned, though it wasn’t clearly a compliment. “I got it for free!”
“I should fucking hope so,” was Erin’s response. Noel laughed so hard he spilled some of his drink.
He stayed with them for the rest of the evening because Erin had apparently won him over with her astoundingly brutal honesty. Plus he said that the people he had come with were boring. Jemima kind of assumed that everybody was boring compared to Noel, but she kept that to herself. He bought them drinks, encouraged them to buy many drinks of their own, and danced with all of them individually at least four times each. Lauren was delighted. Her husband didn’t like dancing because he said it made him look stupid. Jemima had seen him dance and could confirm that was one hundred per cent true. Noel, on the other hand, had a surprising amount of grace and rhythm for a man in what was essentially a Hawaiian shirt.
By the time they were all leaving the bar, prepared to start the drunken stumble back to Jemima’s apartment, Amanda had invited Noel to her wedding six times.
“You have to come,” she slurred at him as they began to walk away from him on the sidewalk outside the bar.
“I would love nothing more!” Noel called to her.
“He’s so great,” Amanda said as they continued their trek, punching Jemima in the arm. “You should have his babies.”
Jemima was probably going to work on simply dating him first, but it was a nice sentiment.