‘I can’t do this. I have to let you go.’
‘You have to stop talking bollocks. We bought two return tickets. We’re going together. To China. Tomorrow.’
‘You’re going without me.’ This six-foot, ginger-haired, blue-eyed Welsh man, who I thought I’d be with forever, even looks me right in the eyes as he squeezes our life out of my heart. ‘I’m sorry, Celeste, I just can’t do it. I do love -’
I have no intention of hearing those words from him right now.
I turn away, wobble on my wedges, yet remain upright, and, frankly strop like I’ve just missed out on the last on-sale Marc Jacobs bag, through the bland coffee shop (this wasn’t my meeting place of choice, I’d have gone to Starbucks), weave past slow afternoon shoppers in the department store, stumble down four flights of escalators, continue to strop along cobles, past Kings Road boutiques, emerging along the side of Albert Square, to enter the main artery of My Favourite City in the World: Oxford Road, Manchester.
He loves me, but he’s going to Bolivia while I go to China?
Instincts tell me to reach for the nearest double chocolate chip muffins but as I started the day finishing yesterday’s Caffe Nero almond croissants, I really shouldn’t touch more carbs in my current state. There’s no telling where the carnage would stop. I ding-ding Lauren instead, and she returns my emergency call immediately.
‘You took your time.’ I snap.
‘Hello Mrs Mack-intosh, erm how can I help you?’ She hates it when I call her in work, thinks her boss won’t know it’s me on t’other end of the line if she slightly alters my surname.
‘The bastard’s not coming to China,’ I deliver.
‘And does that mean you’ll be cancelling your order, too?’
‘Yes. No. Yes.’ A little thumping begins at my forehead. ‘Is it too early for cocktail hour?’
‘I think it would be a little difficult, how about a later time? Say 6 o’clock?’
‘Who am I supposed to be today?’
‘That’s marvellous. So, to confirm, you’d like the Azalea Blue Divine dining range and you’re able to receive at six this evening? Will our delivery team know where to find the office?’
‘You should tell your shit of a boss that you’re far too creative for their crappy company. And that you’re entitled to the odd personal call. Especially when I’m in a crisis. Another crisis. Oh hell.’
‘It’s not every day that we make such a happy customer, Mrs Mackintosh.’
‘Oh stop talking in code; I’ll be in the usual. At six o’clock, you say?’
‘That’s perfect.’ Then she whispers closer to the phone, her boss clearly out of earshot now ‘I love you, Celeste Mackenzie’ then hangs up.
Lauren is one of my closest friends and a slave, sorry PA and Purchasing Executive Something or Other, for one of the shittiest interior design companies in Manchester. But she loves the home-glamour surroundings, designing for people too lazy to conjure up the perfect home themselves.
I shove the Nokia inside my bag and a giant splodge of rain smacks me on the head. Manchester. Rainiest city in Britain and my home for the last twenty-six years; my home for the next two hours, to either get pissed upon or to get pissed.
I can’t distract myself with some shopping; that would make everything okay, but if I start shopping in the state I’m in then I won’t actually be able to afford to go to the airport never mind China.
I duck into the doorway of a recruitment agency and contemplate the next few hours. It’s no fun ranting when you’re solo in a bar. Wonder if Sebastian’s working today? I put my best foot forward in the direction of his bar, Prague 5. If he‘s not working then there are plenty of other bars on Canal Street. Getting pissed it would appear to be.
For a Wednesday afternoon, the bar is pretty bloody dead. But Seb is working so drinks are at least on him. And I can rant to a fresh pair of ears.
‘Aida!’ he exclaims when I dump my sorry self onto a high stool, grasping me in his hug, stroking my wet hair. Ai-ee-da: he loves it because he thinks it sounds Chinese and because he once heard some tenor singing Celeste Aida and fell in love. Think he fell in love with the word, not the tenor, for a change.
‘Not long now, love. This time next week, eh?’ He checks his watch, a la the Peter Kay joke, as if next week’s date resides on his wrist, and heads back behind the bar, reaching for a triangle glass.
I force out my Vaseline-on-the-teeth grin and rest my chin on the bar.
But no words come out.
What will he think? What will everyone think? Am I dumped? I know I’m not sodding going to Bolivia; that’s miles away from Hong Kong, or even New York for that matter.
Oh god, I don’t want to do this.
Eventually I sigh and tell him, ‘You choose; it’s my last mid-week piss up.’
‘And you’re solo?’
He mixes something red with something blue and I find myself nodding. So Low. Absofeckinlutely.
‘Yeah, Madoc’s packing.’ I fib. I have no idea what he’s doing right now, but hopefully it involves agonising pain too.
‘Never mind, cock, you’ll have a whole eleven months together of living and shagging. Sometimes you’ll even be shagging each other!’
‘That I will, Seb. That we will. Tell you what, why don’t you make that concoction a large one, eh?’