55: “Oi, Falcon! Where’d you get that cape?”

Once again, Jemima went to the Santa Claus parade with Noel and, yet again, she brought some of her friends. This year, however, she was under no delusions that she and Noel were anything more than friends. This year, she was going purely to enjoy the floats and the marching bands and the super creepy mascots that were included inexplicably. She had dressed warmly and everything. The year before, she had worn a short dress that she thought Noel would like because of its whimsical collar. But now she didn’t care what he thought of her clothes so she was wearing long underwear underneath her jeans and four pairs of socks. She was wearing a sweater underneath her monkey sweater vest, which she had secretly kept after Priscilla told her to throw it out or donate to a zoo-enthused child in need.

Yet again, Jemima brought some of her own friends to the parade. Noel had invited her at work earlier in the week, but hadn’t mentioned anything about who else he’d invited. She’d had enough experience with him by that point to know, however, that there would be a large crowd with him and they would probably already be drunk, even though the parade was taking place on a Sunday at noon. Jemima asked Jacklyn at work moments after Noel had invited her. Jacklyn laughed in her face.

“Not in a million years,” she told Jemima, who took that as a firm maybe and moved on to invite Bobby and Mo. Later, she invited her other friends to mostly tepid responses, with the notable exception of Sybil, who agreed immediately, though as far as Jemima could tell, that was mostly down to the fact that Suze wanted to go as well.

Jemima showed up at Noel’s usual parade spot with a fairly decent group. Both Bobby and Mo had come with travel mugs full of mulled wine. Jemima had smelled it by accident earlier and they were going to be in rough shape by the end of the parade. She had also come with Sybil, Suze, Wes, or Kanye Wes as Chris was insisting on calling him, and Chris himself, who brought his cousin Harry and his band mate Conor along as well. Harry and Conor were causing quite a stir as the lot of them made their way through the crowds. Jemima couldn’t imagine that would decrease any, especially since all of them were planning on day drinking. It was bound to be a bad combination.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t have brought your superstar cousin to get day-drunk at a Santa Claus parade,” Sybil remarked to Chris as they approached Noel in his folding chair and his black feather jacket. “A couple of those mothers look more than a little concerned.”

“Yeah, but is that because Harry Everett’s here or because Noel looks like he’s wearing a cape made from dead seagulls?” Chris returned shrewdly, one eyebrow raised. Then he addressed Noel. “Oi, Falcon! Where’d you get that cape?”

Noel threw his head back and laughed. It was at that point that Jemima realized he had come on his own. And then she began to question everything.

“Oh my God, did he ask me out?” She hissed to Sybil frantically as they set up their chairs. Sybil looked over discreetly at Noel.

“It’s possible,” she replied eventually, which was not actually all that comforting.

“And I brought four hundred people?” She demanded rhetorically, furious with herself.

“Okay, I mean, there’s like ten of us,” Sybil returned, as if Jemima was being outrageous.

“I don’t think the quantity is the issue,” Suze cut in, rolling her eyes.

“Oh. Right,” Sybil nodded.

“I don’t know what’s going on!” Jemima hissed, frustrated beyond belief.

“Well that much at least is clear,” Sybil agreed.

Once they were all settled, Jemima found herself sandwiched between Noel and Chris. Sybil had gone to sit beside her, but then seemed to think better of it, probably recalling the time Noel had kissed her in a bar, as Jemima was. She ended up moving her chair to the opposite end of the row so that she was between Wes and Suze. That left Harry and Conor in the middle of their line with Bobby and Mo, all blissfully unaware of the inner turmoil Jemima was experiencing. She couldn’t tell if Chris knew what was going on inside her head, but if he did, he didn’t seem concerned.

Jemima found it unbelievably nerve-racking being beside Noel, so unsure of their relationship status. Her palms were sweating furiously inside her mittens. She could barely focus on the dance troupe of preteens dancing to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”. She ended up focusing a lot of her attention on Harry and Conor. She figured that would seem normal as well. They were famous. They were fascinating. It wasn’t at all weird that she was asking Conor about his entire romantic history in such immense detail. In her defense, he was the one who’d brought it up. She said as much to Chris.

“He was talking about the girlfriend he’d had in kindergarten,” Chris pointed out. They had made their way through all his high school girlfriends and were well into the many groupies who’d been alarmingly interested in him on the road. It was possible they’d covered too much ground.

“So you’re single now then?” Jemima asked despite the tiny voice in the back of her head telling her to stop before it became weird. Actually, it was already weird. Now it was beginning to cross over into some kind of freaky and stalkerish territory that she was afraid she’d never be able to leave.

“I’m dating one of the Jefferson sisters,” Conor answered nonchalantly. The Jefferson sisters were world-famous for being beautiful. Their mother was a famous model from the 1970s and their father was a music legend. They had their own reality show, in which the Jeffersons bought very expensive things and lived their glamourous lives in excessive wealth. Conor brought it up like it was normal. To him, it likely was.

“Which one?” Mo asked, interest piqued.

“I’ve no idea,” was Conor’s rather shockingly candid answer. No one said anything for a long time.

“Pardon?” Jemima eventually asked, mostly to break the silence so that Noel wouldn’t use it as an opportunity to speak to her. She had no idea what she was so afraid he’d say, but she did know that she never wanted to find out.

“They all look the same,” Conor said in explanation, shrugging.

“You don’t know her name?” Bobby cut in, clearly outraged, not that Jemima blamed her.

“Lauren,” Conor said then seemed to think it over. “No, that’s not it. Lisa? Ella? Charlene? Give me a minute…Chelsea! It’s definitely Chelsea.”

“Then you’re not dating one of the Jefferson sisters because none of them are named Chelsea,” Bobby told him flatly.

“Are you sure?” Conor asked thoughtfully.

“I’m surer than you are,” Bobby retorted dryly.

“I swear her name is Chelsea,” Conor said. Harry patted him on the head consolingly.

“It isn’t,” Bobby said.

“Then who the hell is Chelsea?” Conor asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine, which means that we’ll never know,” Chris interjected.

“We can just look it up,” Jemima announced, pulling out her phone and googling images of the Jefferson sisters. There were a lot of selfies and a lot of bikini shots. She managed to find a recent family photo and began zooming in on each sister’s face to show to Conor until he finally pointed to one in clear recognition.

“It’s that one!” He declared proudly.

“Monica,” Mo said flatly. “Her name is Monica.”

“Christ, really?” Conor returned. “I never would’ve guessed that.”

“Yes, it sounds nothing like Chelsea,” Bobby said dryly, rolling her eyes.

“I can’t believe he’s in Five Party,” Chris said, turning to Harry. “They hide him well.”

“For the record, the Jefferson sisters don’t look that much alike,” Mo interjected. “One of them was adopted.”

Just as the parade began to end and Santa was coming into view, Noel turned to Jemima and asked if she wanted to go for drinks after. But what he actually said was “would you like to go for drinks or something?” was generally quite unspecific and she couldn’t tell if he meant her and her alone or all of them. She froze, panicked. Was it a continuation of their date? Was it not even a date at all? She didn’t think she could just ask. That would be incredibly hurtful if it was in fact a date. Although, surely showing up with ten of her friends was already pretty hurtful. Then again, maybe he hadn’t intended any of it to be a date.

“Uhh…,” she stalled. “Sure.”

Then she turned to Chris with what he would later describe as pure terror in her eyes, clutched onto the sleeve of his winter coat, and demanded that he also come for drinks. Slowly, the aggressive invitation made its way down the line of people until they were all going for drinks together. Noel looked neither delighted or upset by this so Jemima still had no idea what he’d originally meant when he’d invited her out for the parade.

“I just don’t know what’s going on,” she moaned to Sybil as they packed up their lawn chairs and headed off to Noel’s apartment. He had promised them all spiked hot chocolate.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I also have no idea what’s going on,” Sybil replied.

“It doesn’t,” Jemima answered bluntly.

“It really could be worse,” Chris offered, joining in. “You could think his name is Chelsea.”

It was a very pointed dig at Conor, who, though he had no idea what they were talking about, overheard and flipped Chris the bird. None of it made Jemima feel any better. She was beginning to think she was doomed to a life of relationship ambiguity hell with Noel. At least her life would be filled with flare.

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