by Rebecca Clark
She is hungover. Not badly so, not like she was when she first woke up, but last night’s eight-hour steady stream of New Year’s Eve prosecco is still tainting her bloodstream, and the tea and toast earlier that afternoon have only taken the edge off slightly. When they enter through the gate though, into Winter Wonderland itself, the thrill of being here overrides that.
She has always loved a fairground, the G-force-stomach-lurch feeling of the rides, the way candy floss melts on the tongue into sweet nothingness, the unadulterated joy that shines through the faces of everyone, young and old. And she’s happy to be in his company again, after a few weeks of not seeing him over the Christmas period, happy that they can talk, crack jokes and simply soak up each other’s presence. They sit side by side on the rides, clutch hands in fear, step off wobbly and elated, adrenaline pumping, cheeks pink with cold. She buys beers for him and his brother, lemonade for his niece and nephew and they all listen to a jovial singer in the entertainment tent for a while, before retreating to a mock alpine chalet to eat sausage and potatoes with mustard and sauerkraut. At some point his family leaves, and it is just the two of them left talking, cradling their beers. She is warm and happy, with a faint buzz from the rides still, the knowledge of another day off work tomorrow. The year stretches out before her, a fresh start, and she feels buoyant, hopeful. More hopeful than she has done in months. So, it is not without a flutter of excitement that she hears his question.
‘There’s something I have to ask you. Are you happy being just friends or…?’ He tails off, looks at her questioningly.
They’ve known each other for almost a year now, though have been friends for only the last few months. Early on, they watched England lose in the World Cup semi-final on a big screen erected outside Brixton Market with a few others. Went for food afterwards, commiserated about both the football and their respective recent break ups. In October, he’d come to dinner at her house. A big group of people, tacos and margaritas, informal. He’d helped her in the kitchen with dessert while the rest of the group remained in the other room, and afterwards her friend commented: ‘He totally has a thing for you.’ She wasn’t thinking in those terms yet, but she flushed, was secretly pleased. Another night they went to a folk gig in some south London community greenhouses, drank wine from plastic tumblers amongst the leggy end of season tomato plants and twinkling fairy lights. That turned into drinks in the pub afterwards, the others melting away, more drinks in Hootenanny and then a walk through the misty backstreets of Brixton to his place for cups of camomile tea and more conversation. One Saturday morning in December they went to Brockwell Lido, almost gave themselves hypothermia swimming in the icy water. Sat for hours talking on his sofa afterwards, feeling cold to their very bones. On the last day before the Christmas holidays they went for post work pub drinks. They left together, and at the steps to the tube she wished him a restful holiday, thanked him for all he had done for her that year, told him that the year had had its ups and downs, but that he had definitely been one of the ups. He thanked her, told her she’d been pretty great herself. They didn’t text at all over Christmas, not even to wish each other a happy one on the day, but he got in touch when he was back in London, invited her to New Year’s Day Winter Wonderland.
And now they are here. She is sat across the table from him, but gets up and goes to sit beside him, stomach butterflying.
‘Well, I think you are wonderful. And you have been such an important part of my life these past months. So, if you wanted something more then I’d… I really like you… What I’m trying to say is… that yes, I’d be…’
He cuts her off.
‘No, I don’t want anything more. I also think you’re wonderful. I love hanging out with you. But I think you’re still not over your ex, and I’m also not thinking about anyone else just yet. But we have been spending a lot of time together, and I wasn’t sure if that was clear. So I thought this was an important conversation to have, even if a difficult one.’ He takes a sip of his drink then adds, ‘But I’d like to stay friends, if you do.’
‘Oh. Yes. Okay.’ The breath has gone out of her. ‘You’re probably right. Maybe I am not fully over things, and perhaps you are too neat a solution.’ She pauses. ‘Thank you, though. For being clear. I have a lot of respect for that. I’d like to stay friends too.’
“She counsels herself in how silly it is to feel rejected over something she wasn’t even sure she wanted, to be teary over something that never existed.”
They finish their drinks, gather their things. Walking out of the park, the flashing lights seem suddenly garish. People’s screams from the rides circling overhead have a wild, animal quality to them. The smell of caramelised nuts permeating the air is sickly, overpowering. All of it is now too much. Too much colour, noise, brightness. An unwanted assault on the senses. Where a few hours earlier she had felt excitement and wonder, now she feels a little bit foolish, and very deflated. The fatigue from a solid month of festivities and socialising and drinking is kicking in. The hopeful feeling has dissipated. She pulls her scarf tighter around her neck, makes half-hearted small talk with him as they weave their way through the crowds to the exit.
Shuffling through the bottlenecked crowds near the gate, hands stuffed deep into pockets, she feels her ring finger with her thumb, with a jolt discovers that there is nothing there, where earlier there had been the thin, gold knot ring bought in a vintage store in New York a few years ago. She rubs the bare skin, wonders whether to say anything, whether to ask him to retrace their steps and search. She loved that ring. It wasn’t particularly expensive, but she picked it out and bought it herself, and its absence suddenly feels hugely significant. But to go back and look for it brings a needle in a haystack to mind and the day has already been more draining than expected, she can’t summon the energy. Just another thing in the day to write off.
They part at Green Park station, and on the tube home she thinks about what he said, tries not to cry. Counsels herself in how silly it is to feel rejected over something she wasn’t even sure she wanted, to be teary over something that never existed.
When she gets home, the ring is lying on the wooden bathroom counter, exactly where she left it, deciding earlier that she wouldn’t want it to catch on something on a ride.
It is only two days later, trying on a jumper in the January sales and wearing the ring, solid on her finger, that it comes to her, like the dial being adjusted on a pair of binoculars bringing everything into focus. The realisation that on New Year’s Day she didn’t, in fact, lose anything at all.
Rebecca Clark | @beckyteacups | teacupscupcakes.blogspot.com
Rebecca has a 9-5 desk job but often wishes that she were a full time writer with a shed at the bottom of her (imagined) garden where she could write all day. She is a born, raised and currently-residing north Londoner, who remains fiercely loyal to that side of the river. She is a sporadic blogger and a prolific Instagrammer, documenting with photos and words her London life, things she cooks, places she visits, bodies of water she swims in, and books she has read.