Tess had always hated Tuesday afternoons. There was always this strange, unfathomable calm about them that suggested something bad was going to happen. She wondered if everyone else felt this. Was this the reason that it appeared in the sunscreen song? Maybe there was a good reason for it, maybe after the rush of the beginning of the week everything simply calmed down. Still, though, it was an eerie calm. One day something terrible was going to happen, she was sure of it. Today, though, was different. Her short life in the graphics company was going swimmingly. She felt kind of like she did as a teenager when she was sent to a similar place on work experience. Everything was interesting. Even standing over the printers, seeing how they worked, was kind of fun.
She knew her time there wasn’t going to last forever, but at least now she was enjoying her work a little. She even doodled on the endless discarded paper, which was a nice release. And then there was Sam. She was trying her best not to like him, really trying. But he was kind of lovely, and kind of there. They had a lot in common. They were artists, she tended towards old school illustration, he moved towards modern graphic design, but they both appreciated each other’s domain. In fact, they couldn’t stop talking about any of it. Talk of art had quickly moved into movies and books, and eventually their own personal stories. After only two days together she felt gripped by him, he buzzed through her brain. But still those red flags stood their ground.
Guys like this, who you get along with really well, she told herself, always end up liking someone else. You’re his mate, his confidant. She knew it was terrible to undercut herself like this, but she knew Sam, she’d seen him before. A number of men in her life had been Sams, and whenever she met a new one she stepped back a little and found her ground. Like the way boxers adjust their stance before they throw a punch. She was ready for a fall. But still, even when she was ready, she still fell flat on her face.
She was thinking all this that Tuesday afternoon, as she stood over the printers, waiting for Sam to return from the storeroom. They’d been joking about dating. ‘I think I scare men’ she’d said. ‘That’s ridiculous, you don’t scare me’ he’d responded. ‘While maybe you’re special’ Tess had retorted with a smile. Sam had looked up and locked on her eyes for a moment, he’d smiled at her. Then the moment was over. ‘I’ll be back in a second’ he’d said cheerily, ‘gonna get another roll before this all runs out’. The minute he’d left her brain starting doing somersaults; did that mean something? Did it mean nothing? Was he just being nice? She stared down at the floor and let out a loud sigh. ‘You okay?’, Sam walked in carrying a large roll of paper. ‘Yeah’ Tess said quietly, ‘just, stuff on my mind’. ‘You think too much’ he said while re-loading the machine. ‘Or maybe just the right amount’ she’d said slowly. He dropped the printer top back down, turned to her and gave her a thoughtful grin. He began pushing buttons, to start the printer back up. And then everything had turned deathly silent.
You could accuse Tess of taking this all too seriously, and over thinking things, but she knew she was right. Protecting herself was paramount right now. Too much had passed through her head, too many thoughts went through her head on a moment by moment basis. She knew that Sam, and the inevitable emotions that would follow – and oh, would they follow quickly – would mean her certain downfall. Yes, Tess was kind of dramatic, but she had good reason. She’d meet a guy, almost certainly immediately become attached, then weeks from now when she was in a grip of her infatuation it would all come crashing down. Did the guys always know she liked them? Not always. Did she ever make a move? Not really. Was it all her own fault? No, it wasn’t.
There would be a time for working through her intimacy issues, her fear, her misunderstanding, of men. But she was just about getting out of bed in the morning, eating, functioning. This was just too much for now. Even if it could just be a cup of coffee with a guy she liked, all the emotion that came with it was just more than her brain or body could handle. So right now she’d just settle for what she’d settled for before, loneliness over fear and rejection. She was thinking all this as she walked towards the tube after work. It was lighter in the evening now. And as the crowd pulled her towards the tube entrance her mind wandered, then her eyes did. She saw the Thames in the distance. She wandered out of the crowd, and down a side street, to just sit and watch the water roll by.
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