A work in progress, currently at 60K words.
If Imogen was being honest, which wasn’t her preferred approach, she would have to confess that things were a bit fucked. Not as fucked as they had been, for sure, but she wasn’t handling things well. Standard. Good. As expected.
She wanted to blame Chris. She really really wanted to, all beard and big dick and sexual appetite. He could cook too, which was a bit lethal. He could make curry from scratch.
She wasn’t interested in him, really, the same way he wasn’t interested in her. What they were doing for each other was gap-filling, caulking emotional fuck-ups, making do. Which was maybe a bit unfair, since he was strong and funny and had a big sexy scar down his abdomen – she’d always wanted to have sex with someone with a big scar – but she did a lot of comparing. Andre. Chris. Taller, fatter, lasted longer in bed, paid her more compliments.
She didn’t know what his fiancee had looked like. Her name was Sophie, she worked as an accountant, she liked oranges a lot and always had bits in her teeth. The bits in the teeth thing sounded disgusting, but he said it with this smile, like it was a charming quirk. That’s how she knew he had to still be in love with her. The orange bits. There was no other explanation.
The whole being in love with other people hadn’t stopped them from falling into each other’s lives, hard. It didn’t hurt that Imogen’s life had been made up of work, gym, Shane and home. That was her routine, that was her schedule. And it meant it was easy for him to slot in.
He worked contracts so he was busy most weekends, but free in the evenings. He’d taken to meeting her outside work, standing with his back pressed against the hot concrete. At first it had freaked her out – too much, too soon, too stalkery – but she decided it was better than being alone. And it was, much better, better than getting home at 6:30 and eating toast for dinner and going to bed at 9:30.
He’d even met Nancy. She hadn’t been sure. There’s a big difference between telling your tenant that she can have people to stay and it actually happening, and Imogen could see her stiffening up like a cat, all curled and taut. He was so easy though, and then it transpired that he’d heard of her, his mother liked her books, and that calmed her down, like being patted. She backed off, smiled at him a lot.
The books had moved, recently, the dust shifted around, drifted to the floor. She’d been reading again, and touching her own books. Imogen knew better than to ask.
He’d cooked them both curry, which must have been a bit weird for him. The kitchen wasn’t a mess exactly, but it wasn’t the kitchen of someone who cooked. Nancy would have sporadic cooking binges, where she made four things, a pie and homemade pasta and a cake and something else, then froze most of it and tried to make Imogen eat the rest. And Imogen ate avocado on toast, which she liked.
It had been like playing houses. He even put on an apron, which barely went over his big head, and they’d all laughed. And he’d cooked for two hours while they sat in the lounge and drank beer and watched television, like some sort of functional family with too many cats.
The food was delicious. Imogen didn’t know what Sophie could have been thinking.
Nancy went upstairs before the dishes were done, avoiding, Imogen thought, the question of whether he would stay or not. He could, she was an adult, but there was something in the decision of it that was better made just between the two of them.
He was a relationship guy, she knew. She was just a necessary half, it didn’t really matter what she was made up of, as long as she was content to exist next to him. This was the pushing away moment, this was the time at which she should have shoved. But she was too damn tired. And besides, when he was there, the little Andre voices that moved inside her skull at all times shut up a little bit. She assumed he was doing the same.
“I love you,” he said that night, turning to her in her bed and throwing a warm heavy arm over her. “I love you Imogen.”
She pretended to be asleep, holding still, keeping her breaths even. What a fucking idiot. His skin smelled of curry, and she could feel his breath on her face as he waited for an answer, waited a bit longer, then rolled over and fell asleep.
There was no excuse for that if he wasn’t drunk. She’d rather he called her Sophie when they had sex, which they did a lot, because the talking thing wasn’t as good between them as the sex thing was.
A little bit boring, that’s what it was. Maybe that’s why Sophie had done it.
She hadn’t told Shane about him, because Shane was way too sensible. “You’ll get yourself hurt,” Imogen could hear her saying, in that slightly judgmental voice. “Why don’t you just be alone for a bit?”
The thing was, she still felt alone when she was with him, because he wasn’t inside her head yet.
She was lying to her mother, too, of course. She’d rung a few times recently, just wanting to talk, for whatever reason. About the church, about the house, about her Dad. He was sick with the flu and not coping well, man flu made 1000 times worse by the fact he was always convinced he was dying when he got ill.
“How’s Andre?” she’d asked, every time, her voice warm with affection for the man she’d only met once. “Hope you’re cooking for him.”
“I’m not, Mum, but he’s good,” she’d replied, wondering, like she always did, whether someone else was cooking for him.
“You two should come back up soon. Come see your father. He’d like that.”
Her father had almost certainly forgotten that Andre existed, that they’d ever met. “Sure Mum, that sounds nice. We’re pretty busy at work at the moment, but as soon as we’ve got a few days.
“What about the end of August?” she’d pressed. “Bank holiday, you could come for a couple of nights. We could show him the sights! He doesn’t know Manchester, does he?”
“No, he doesn’t”, she’d said, wondering what excuse she could come up with.
“We’ll show him round then!”
“That sounds nice,” she’d repeated. It did sound nice. She tried to substitute Chris in instead, whether he’d manage her parents like Andre had. Probably, she thought. Everyone was good with them except for her.
He never invited her to his house, which was good, since he lived in Clapham, and she didn’t know how she’d manage it. He liked the cats, he said, he liked being away from his flatmates. He liked Nancy too, even though she was offbeat. He’d told his mother and she’d been ecstatic, like her son had met a real celebrity.
Imogen had been interested in that, and taken one of the books up to her room to read. She didn’t read much but the novel was easy-going, the tale of a man and wife raising their three children, a novel of family intimacy, and it was light and soft and good, until the mother got cancer and then the father too, and then the father died.
It was one of those stories, Imogen realised too late, which made you care and sucked you in and then spat you out. Books that made you cry. She didn’t finish it. She didn’t need to cry.
She’d told Rose about Chris, since she’d spotted him outside the building once, and asked about him. She didn’t know about Andre, so it was easier. She’d been pleased for Imogen, touchingly so. “Didn’t know you had any mates until I met that Shane. And now a man too. Doing alright, aren’t ya?”
Rose’s personal life was everywhere right now, splashed across the Daily Mail and The Sun. She’d been snapped with one of her directors, a married man with a filthy rep. At least two of the pictures appeared to show her receiving oral sex from him in a car. Imogen wished she could ask about it, wanted to go out and get drunk with her so she was brave enough to ask the question. But Rose had just signed on for a movie to play an anorexic and had dropped the booze to lose some weight for the part, though Imogen didn’t know where it would come off her. It made her sharper than usual, and ruder.
“What’s he like in bed?” she asked, during one of their bi-weekly catch up sessions. “He looks like he’d be rough”.
He wasn’t rough, hadn’t been since the first few goes, where he’d been getting something out of his system. Now it was loving sex, girlfriend sex, the kind of sex you have when you’re knocked up and don’t want to hurt the baby.
“I’m not telling,” Imogen said. Rose didn’t like it when she didn’t open up to her.
“That means it’s bad,” she said coolly, lighting up a cigarette. She wasn’t allowed to smoke in the firm, obviously, but it didn’t stop her.
The shine had gone off her a bit in recent weeks, Imogen noticed. Maybe because she was getting to know her so well, see underneath the Hollywood face. She was knackered all the time, and catty, and unwilling to agree to small changes to her contract. Now, she was refusing to cut or dye her hair for a role. Because she could.
“Jennifer Lawrence does it,” she said.
In private, Imogen had gone to Chris (too many Chris’, in her life, now – Christopher), requesting a meeting. He sat behind her desk, tall and wide, while she told him she’d been considering quitting her job as paralegal, and trying again for her training contract.
“Why’d you stop the first time?” he asked, half interested.
“Personal reasons,” she said, fudging.
“Well,” he said, “it’s something to consider. But we wouldn’t be able to take you on at the moment, so you’d have to go elsewhere. And of course, we’d have to find someone to replace you with Rose.”
She nodded, too tired to fight. She stood to go. “Maybe in a few years?” he suggested.
At least she’d tried.