𝐈. It’s Christmas, and ghosts come home
𝐖𝐎𝐑𝐃 𝐂𝐎𝐔𝐍𝐓: 8k
𝐂𝐇𝐀𝐏𝐓𝐄𝐑 𝐍𝐎𝐓𝐄𝐒: 𝐒𝐌𝐎𝐊𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐀𝐍𝐃 𝐀𝐋𝐂𝐎𝐇𝐎𝐋 𝐂𝐎𝐍𝐒𝐔𝐌𝐏𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍
outfits and inspo
First thing that comes to Talulah’s attention when she leaves the station is the cold, icy wind chafing her equally cold skin, mixed with the smell of wet cement and mud. There’s a hustling of cars, pedestrians with big coats and colourful bags– varying from plastic to paper, rushing to get to their destinations. Christmas lights are adorning the streets, big and bright, from one end to the other, causing not only the tourists but also the locals to point their phones up in the direction of the gleaming lights every few steps as they snap photo after photo in hopes of immortalising the picture-perfect Christmas time in London.
As she crosses the narrow road, it starts raining, tiny droplets falling one by one, and she wishes she’d just worn her contacts instead of her glasses for she knows the rain will make the glasses a blurry mess, and combined with carbon dioxide, her vision will become not only blurry but also foggy in a matter of time. It’s fine, she thinks, it’s Monday and she’s tired and she decides if the glasses bother her too much, she could just take them off and well, not see the world– most of it. She makes note of calling and booking an eye test since the last time she visited her optician was when she was with Dan and she reckons it would be good to pay another visit to get her eyes tested since a lot can change in eight months.
Her boots tap quickly over the pavement as she walks past all kinds of people, couples, smokers, hungover folks… and once she makes out the crisp, fancy logo of Jo Malone at the end of the street, she lets out a breath, excited for the first stop of her Christmas shopping marathon for the evening. The distinct, all too familiar smell of the shop hits her in the face followed by a warm puff of air as soon as she steps in.
It’s lovely, the smell, perhaps bittersweet more than lovely, even nostalgic, and the sudden warmth she feels on her cheeks, the sharp, expensive smell reminds her of her mother. Adjusting her bag on her shoulder, she squints her eyes as she tries to remember the exact name of the fragrance she’d been smelling, and only a few pops up to her head; english pear and freesia, or vanilla and anise.
Her curious gaze, very much exhilarating, shifts from one candle to another, most of which displayed securely behind a glass while fancy glass bottles, some short and some tall, crowd the centre of the store. She reaches for one and lets a spray of fragrance coat her wrist. It’s cold, and she watches in awe as the store lights, silver and gold, hit her damp wrist and create a shiny, but beautiful mess on the delicate skin. She doesn’t even recall checking the name of the fragrance, and judging by the smell, there’s vanilla, maybe a hint of citrus and some ginger even. It’s spicy, yet hot and it feels like winter– an expensive winter getaway, if you will.
“Hi there! I’m Caroline. Is there anything specific you’re looking for?”
The shrill voice makes her breath hitch, having been in her own little world for a while before Caroline had burst the bubble.
She turns to the voice, finding a tall woman with piercing blue eyes with what she knows to be a fake, retail smile on her face since the grin fails to reach her big, round eyes.
“Oh,” Talulah starts, briefly wondering how awful it would be if she just put the bottle down and left. “No, thank you. I’m just looking.”
She tilts her head, clearly not trained to leave the field to Talulah. “No worries. Anything specific you’re looking for this evening?”
“Nope… not really.”
“We actually just unpacked a lot of new goodies last night, perfect for stockings since Christmas is coming up. We also have these cute goodie bags if you’re not sure of what to get since… you know, everyone likes different things,” she exclaims with a newfound joy while waving her hands around and every time she does so, Talulah’s eyes follow the movement of her bracelet with full of tiny charms.
She doesn’t want a goodie bag. Truth be told, considering the situation she’s in at the moment, she doesn’t even think she will have any stockings to fill this year.
The divorce of her parents didn’t come as a surprise. What did come as a surprise though, was the double life Jeanette, Talulah’s mother, had seemed to live for over a year. See, Talulah wasn’t bothered about the divorce. Far from it. Having not lived with her parents for over five years, it would be safe to say that Talulah’s relationship with Jeanette and Mak has been fading out ever since she left Framlingham, almost like an echo. She can’t ever recall the time or pinpoint the exact moment when Jeanette stopped being Mum, and started being Jeanette and with that, Talulah stopped bringing home weird rocks she loved collecting and making extra special birthday cards for her.
So, it would be safe to say that she wasn’t sad about the divorce. She was mad, livid even, for her mother failed to mention the existence of a brother whom she later learned was called Niam. Or Niall. Though, she’s certain it started with an ‘N’. Hence the Amazon order she’d put in last night of a 7ft Christmas tree in hopes of making her lonely Christmas better.
Without much thought, she puts the bottle down and gives the lady a nod before walking out, and the evening breeze hits her warm cheeks like a slap in the face which makes her walk faster towards North. It’s not long until she finds a bench and she sits down, the damp, cold concrete making her let out a hiss as soon as her bum comes in contact with it. She knows if she sits there long enough, she’ll catch a cold, but still, she remains seated.
See, she didn’t even know why she bothered coming down here considering how she preferred ordering Christmas presents online for the most part, not wanting to deal with jolly shoppers and crowded shops with too much scent and sweat. Sure, Christmas was Talulah’s favourite, even though her dad was Muslim and Christmas was just an ordinary day for him, he was more than happy to make his daughter and wife happy and decorate their house and the tree together, participate in family secret santa and even cook the chicken himself every Christmas.
She lights the cigarette between her lips and breathes a greeting, letting the smoke poison her insides before she exhales, watching the grey smoke paint the sky in mellow swirls before it disappears through the air. Despite the commotion in the main street, she feels quiet and at peace with pigeons cooing at each other at her feet, and a maple tree looking down at her from above, all tucked away and safe, away from the crowd. One hand hidden in her pocket in search of warmth, the hand hosting the cigarette between her fingers suddenly feels very stiff with the way it’s been exposed to the cold without any movement. For that reason, she gets up and stubs out her cigarette on the litter box before she turns around and walks towards the main street.
With boots tapping over the pavement, she feels all kinds of smells chafing the air, hitting her in the face as she keeps walking. Never had she seen London look this enchanting and inviting, on a cold December evening, full of different faces and different voices, languages, smells… never had she felt this way; a sense of feeling home yet that sore, ugly, bitter feeling deep inside of her which felt like it was choking all the goodness, all the positivity out of her.
Being Talulah, she thinks, meant a sense of unknowing, being stuck in a limbo, crisis, chaos and waves of emotions. On the other hand, being Talulah also meant believing in Christmas miracles for despite all the misery, she still felt hopeful. Hopeful for love, for happiness no matter how long they would last: Talulah still felt hopeful.
She passes Hamley’s with a smile on her face, muttering a quiet apology when she hits someone with her bag, and the smile is back once she sees buckets of colourful flowers, varying from blush pink roses and hydrangeas all perched on the sidewalk looking much like a postcard. Without thinking too much, she finds herself walking inside the tiny door of Wild at Heart and welcomes the smell of plastic, green, the sound of snip snip as the staff try to make something beautiful out of their flowers.
She turns to the cheerful voice and finds a petite woman, pink hair sitting atop her head effortlessly with a few loose strands falling over her chocolate brown eyes. The name tag reads Jo and Talulah thinks it’s the perfect name for her.
“Hey,” she gives her a shy smile and Jo returns it, walking closer to where Talulah is standing near the entrance, surrounded by big, grey buckets of flowers.
“It’s freezing, isn’t it? How are you this evening?”
“Good, thanks. Smells lovely in here,” she sniffs again and looks around as Jo copies the movement.
“It’s vanilla! Anything specific you’re looking for? If you’ve a few minutes, we’re bringing out a few different ones from the back. I think you’d like them, they’re gorgeous.”
“Oh, sure. I’m just looking anyway. It’s very nice in here.”
“All right hun, I’m going to bring the babies out in a minute, feel free to let us know if you need anything.”
Her eyes follow the trail of buckets, all filled with all sorts of colours, and she can’t help but reach her hand to touch the white roses, their petals soft and silky to the touch, and it fills Talulah with so much joy knowing despite whatever misery she’d been feeling, there’s still softness to whatever sharpness and sadness she’d been harbouring inside.
When she retracts her hand, she feels someone’s presence behind her and it distracts her as she flinches, and she turns to see who’s in her space. There he stands, a man dressed in brown flare corduroys and, as much as the Wild at Heart apron covers half of his torso, she can make out a striped cardigan that looks like it would be just as soft and silky as the roses she was touching a minute ago. He takes his beanie off and ruffles his hair while she stands there, still confused as to why he was standing there in the first place.
With his arms joined behind him, he keeps looking at her with a furrowed eyebrow and it makes Talulah uneasy, as if she’d been caught doing something so very awful. She tries looking him up and down, thinking it would seem intimidating… as intimidating as him.
“This is a gentle reminder not to touch the flowers, ma’am.” he says, beating Talulah to it right before she opens her mouth to ask what the matter was.
She feels her cheeks warm up at the sudden outburst because, how dare he? She was gentle, she wasn’t even grabbing the flowers she was gentle. The audacity this man has makes her blood boil, and her eyebrows mimic his, furrowing slightly, stance dominant and mouth parted.
“Excuse me?” It leaves her mouth before she can think of something better, something witty, clever.
“I am. Excusing you. I would appreciate it if you didn’t touch my flowers, they’re very fragile, you see, the white roses behind you,” the man tilts his head towards the roses behind her as if Talulah needed his help to notice the beautiful flowers she was admiring a moment ago.
“I’m sorry, your flowers? Did you birth them?”
An annoying snort leaves his big mouth. “Hah. Not really. But the daisies next to you on the other hand…”
Someone mutters an apology and the man steps closer to Talulah, letting the customer pass, and her eyes detect a tiny, silver hoop on his nose. He crosses his arms and a smirk appears on his face, and it’s infuriating really, so infuriating that it makes her palms itch and her eyes hurt at the way he’s standing all proudly before her.
“I can’t believe they hired someone as rude and… and annoying as you,” she spits out, feeling herself get hot all over with anger.
“Hey, daisies are not your cup of tea, I get it. How about…” the man, without a name tag, walks towards a bucket of gardenias, “How about these?”
“This is unbelievable. I want to speak to your supervisor.”
Talulah is about to lose it.
“Oh my god, you’re– you… I want to speak to your supervisor, now. What’s your name?”
“I’m just doing my job!”
“If your job entails being a tit and making customers feel like crap, then you’re doing a brilliant job. You either let me speak to a supervisor or I’ll find them myself,” she looks around the shop but there’s not many people around. She tries to spot the pink haired woman from earlier, but there’s only one of them working the tills.
“This is unbelievable. You just lost a customer. Have a shit evening you twat.”
“Woah, look who’s being rude now.”
“Piss off. Oh, by the way, your zipper’s wide open, arsehole.”
Talulah walks past the river with assured steps, hands bearing two large shopping bags while puffs of breaths leave her mouth in harmony with each step making it sound almost like a melody, a song, a creation of infuriation. The lights stretch from one end to the other throughout the bridge looking like tiny, colourful fairies welcoming any and everyone who’s passing through. But even the gleaming lights couldn’t put out the fire inside Talulah. She was fuming.
How dare this… this weirdo talk to her in such a manner? This rude, grumpy fart! How could he, an employee, treat Talulah, a customer, like horse shit. Fuck him. Fuck his flowers. Fuck his ugly mug. And certainly, fuck whoever is up there that gave him a set of beautiful, cold, green eyes.
She walks down the station’s stairs and follows an elderly gentleman down the escalators where he goes right and she goes left, mixing in with the joyful crowd, some dressed in Christmas jumpers but most bundled up in big overcoats, and she waits for that cold wind followed by the familiar red and blue hunk of metal that is her ride home.
72 hours until Christmas.
Two more sleeps until it’s finally time to down the Paco & Lola stored securely in one of her kitchen cupboards. Until then, Talulah keeps working and working, until not only her eyes and brain hurt, but the pain also reaches her fingers, leaving a sore, aching feeling behind from typing on her laptop.
Her heavy bag on her shoulder, mouth covered with her scarf, Talulah enters the North reception, passing Nancy at her usual spot as she walks towards the lift. Once on her floor, she exits the lift with a sigh, her boots tapping against the marble floors, the noise harmonising with the various telephones ringing. She hears someone, presumably Olive considering the distinct, shrill voice, answer one of them finally, and the last thing she hears before disappearing into the small kitchen is, Morning, Another Man.
Talulah loved her job. She loved telling stories through her camera lens; whether it be a tear or two rolling down somebody’s cheek, or the crinkles that appeared with a wide smile, or lines on a forehead when they’re in deep thought. She felt she was decent at her job, decent enough that she’d bagged a permanent spot at Another Man after two years of interning and assisting various big names.
Working behind the lens, she was lucky enough not to spend 24/7 at the office. Instead, you would usually find her travelling from place to place for photoshoots, spending days, weeks even planning a shooting location which included things like figuring out what the weather would be like, ‘plan B’ if the weather plotted against them which wouldn’t be too surprising considering most, if not all their shoots happened in England, and then, she would brainstorm with the fashion editors, the person –mostly a celebrity they would be working with and their team– in order to come up with a plan that would work for both parties.
Fridays though, if she didn’t have any shoots planned, were Talulah’s admin day. She would spend a chunk of her day at the office doing tasks such as responding to emails and arranging meetings or double checking her previous arrangements regarding locations, managing her budgets, checking her equipment which mostly consisted of ordering new parts or equipment if necessary, and do some last minute editing if she had the time.
So, standing in the cramped kitchen as she stirs her tea, probably longer than necessary, Talulah thinks back to last night’s events and the rude man who, surprisingly, chose to work at a flower shop. He seemed like such a grumpy, awful person to be around; he was rude, ignorant, and had no manners. Which was why he, at one of her favourite flower shops, came as a surprise and she wondered where he’d been all this time when Talulah visited the shop. It was a good thing, his absence when she visited, for she would hate to come face to face with such an annoying person while she enjoyed her time inside the little shop surrounded by lively colours and lovely people.
Fingers clutching the spoon a little too tightly, Talulah turns around at the deep, familiar voice.
There stands Zayn, one of Talulah’s favourite faces to see in the mornings, and the fashion market editor of Another Man. His jet black hair is styled in a quiff atop his head effortlessly, and a single strand falls over his beautiful, chocolate brown eyes. The fitted beige turtleneck only accentuates his long neck more and she notices how it goes perfectly with his yet-another-expensive-suit adorned with white, thin stripes. She finds herself surprised when she takes notice of his squeaky clean, white Converses despite the muddy weather outside as she ponders for a second whether Zayn floated in the air which, wouldn’t come as a surprise seeing how unreal he always looked, or if he actually changed his shoes as soon as he stepped foot at the office.
Zayn is now standing close to Talulah, a glass KeepCup in hand and brows furrowed, and when he notices her staring at him from head to toe, he lets out a snort. “Stop staring at my feet, your enemies look at your feet before your face.”
“Don’t believe in that nonsense.”
“So,” he places the KeepCup on the grey, lifeless counter next to Talulah’s red mug, hand immediately going up to his hair, fixing that single strand. “What’s goin’ on with yah? You looked deep in thought.”
Having met Zayn only a few years ago, they’d bonded over many things like fashion, photography, and their job, of course, and she would like to think that she and Zayn knew each other fairly well now. They weren’t together 24/7, but they made an effort to meet up once or twice– or even thrice a month just her and Zayn, and sometimes his fiancé too.
Thus, more often than not, Zayn could tell when Talulah wasn’t feeling her best.
She sighs and brings the mug up to her lips, blowing once out of habit before she takes a tiny sip. “It’s nothing really, I’m just overthinking as per. Was out last night-”
Zayn wiggles his bushy eyebrows.
“Not out out. Wanted to do some Christmas shopping, didn’t I. Went in Wild at Heart and I now wish I never did.”
“Why’s tha’?” He empties his cup and licks his thumb as if to devour the last drops of his coffee.
“I literally got told off by this weirdo for touching the flowers. So fucking rude for no reason.”
“Maybe he was having a nervous breakdown.”
“Can you not?”
“What?” He adjusts his suit jacket, seemingly getting ready to walk out the kitchen. “Why are you even bothered about some twat? It’s not like you’ll be seein’ his face again.”
Talulah nods, lips pursing in thought. While it was undoubtedly absurd that their paths haven’t crossed before during her visits to the shop, she was now hesitant about going back just in case she ran into him again. Fuck that, she thinks. Either she would face him again or shop somewhere else. It wasn’t that deep.
“Bloody hell, you should make that tea Irish,” he takes his phone out of his pocket, “I had the weirdest conversation with Alex Turner’s manager. Did you know he was allergic to SPF and chiffon?”
She looks at him, puzzled and raised eyebrows, “Uh? Alex Turner is covering Another Man?” She looks up at him. “Brilliant. Just brilliant. Who got him?”
Zayn clears his throat but there’s a tiny smile forming on his face. He clearly knows they’re just joking around. “McKinley. It’s next month, and then I’m driving to Barking for your shoot,” his phone chimes in his large hand and he looks at it with pursed lips.
Zayn looks up, opens his mouth to say something, but their heads turn to the door as Isabelle from marketing walks in, white knee-high boots making noise as she struts towards them. She has her favourite, ancient looking planner and an iPad in her arms, her other hand holding two empty mugs by their handles. They both greet her as she tries to wave with two fingers whilst the rest is clasped tightly around the handles, so Talulah makes way for her to put them in the sink.
Isabelle turns to them and a beaming smile appears on her freckled face. “Hiya girls,” she muses, and Talulah wishes she could have the ounce of Isabelle’ enthusiasm at eight o’clock in the morning.
Isabelle. Tall, natural blonde, perfect teeth. She had the bluest eyes Talulah had ever seen and long eyelashes that looked like they were falsies. She was the type of girl that would intimidate Talulah in the past. They both started working here at the same time, two weeks apart, and as soon as Talulah saw the amount of photo frames filled with numerous fluffy cats, she knew they’d get along. She was sweet, loved complimenting people no matter what and had an obsession with pottery and Talulah remembers getting so emotional when she gifted her a cute plant pot, one she’d made specially for Talulah on her birthday last year.
“Am I supposed to laugh,” Zayn huffs, ring-clad fingers typing what Talulah presumes to be a long email from how swiftly his fingers are moving on the screen.
“I’ll make you laugh one day, you’ll see.”
“Why are you guys so obsessed with making me laugh?”
“Bloody hell. I can’t believe someone’s decided to spend a lifetime with you, Zayn. One can only imagine the wedding photos,” Talulah snorts when Isabelle copies Zayn’s signature pout before turning her back to the both of them to wash the mugs.
“I’m leaving. Fuck both of you.”
“See you in a bit, my sweet dove,” the blonde chuckles. “Lulah, can I knick some of your bulldog clips? I promise I’ll give them back once I buy my own.”
The clock on Talulah’s desk keeps ticking frustratingly slow but she reckons it’s because she’s bored to death and there’s still a hundred and fifty pictures to edit before she can finally send them to the editor by Sunday. Her fingers move across the trackpad as she adjusts the colours of one image in particular, sighing when she realises the adjustments aren’t cooperating with her. Before she can lean back on her chair to have another breakdown over it, her phone goes off and she has to rub her eyes a few times until her vision is clear enough to see her cracked screen.
A gruff hello comes out of her mouth and she has to clear her throat before repeating herself.
“Ben! How are you?”
“Good… you’re not busy, are you?”
“Well,” she glances back at the dimly lit screen briefly. “Not exactly. What’s up?”
Ben sighs from the other end and she’s almost certain he’s doing that thing with his lips whenever he’s frustrated and in deep thought.
“It’s Luke’s mum’s birthday tomorrow so we’re driving up there first thing in the morning. Luke and I already got her a present, but I sort of wanted to get her a special card and maybe some flowers, yeah?”
“A special card? Why do you sound so nervous, she’s your boyfriend’s mother, you’ve known her for years.”
“I’m always nervous,” she hears him clear his throat, “I was wondering if you’d like to come with. Plus, I miss your ugly mug.”
See, the thing was, Talulah would do anything for that man. He was her best friend, her brother, her family. She’d known Ben for over six years, lived together for three of those before Ben met his boyfriend Luke, a Polish beer extraordinaire as he liked to call himself, and whenever they were together, Talulah felt a sense of home she’d never felt before.
Ben was there for her first heartbreak– well, her first official heartbreak. He was there whenever she had a screaming match with her mother and needed a shoulder to cry on or just someone who could drive around with her, when she decided to drink more alcohol than she could possibly take and got sick all over the carpet at their shared flat, but more importantly, he was there whenever and wherever. With both of them working full time, they could go days, even weeks without talking. But when one of them reached out, the other would be there in a heartbeat whether it be virtually or in person.
She glances back at her laptop and tries picturing her schedule before her eyes and the things she’d written in her planner. “What time? I don’t think I can leave before four, babe,” her hand reaches for the trackpad, undoing some of the adjustments she’d made previously.
“That’s fine,” there’s a shuffling on the other hand and a voice calling his name before he continues, “Meet at Paperchase, the one close to you? Then we can just walk around and stuff. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds great. I’ll text when I’m about to leave.”
From there, most of Talulah’s day is made up of editing, more editing, nervous lip biting about the outcome of said editing, then ordering a replacement for her broken camera lens before responding to more emails. Whilst checking her planner –clearly avoiding most things written in purple ink for they were her important reminders–, she finds a hidden note, from herself, something about a dinner party and she quickly rubs her eyes, knowing full well she’s making her vision worse with her choosing to wear her contacts today, and brings the notebook closer for inspection.
Much to her dismay, the note is written in purple ink, but before she can throw the notebook on her desk face down, a sudden epiphany washes over her as she purses her lips while her eyes go over the reminder of some sort of Christmas dinner party. She reckons there's not much to do other than typing the same note into her notes app before exiting and locking the phone.
It’s quarter past four when she finally leaves the building and walks towards East, where the closest bus stop is located, her leftover lunch packed haphazardly in a tiny bag for life while her shoulder keeps throbbing in pain due to the heavy weight of her bag.
It’s surprisingly sunny, the sunshine caressing her cold cheeks whenever it creeps in between walking pedestrians or tall buildings. The air smells of exhaust and there’s a hint of vape– candy floss she thinks, and she looks up, her vision filling with floating heads and her ears with various footsteps; some sharp and hard, thumping on the pavement as some of them are low, soft in a way, and without thinking, she finds herself matching her own to theirs.
Once under the shade of the bus stop, the sunshine hides away yet again, leaving behind a breeze, and grey, dull streets and buildings. Her eyes follow the cars passing by, wheels going round and round, so smoothly, effortlessly. It makes her wonder how it would feel like, living and not just existing, having everything figured out, knowing where to stop and where or how to start again.
There’s a shuffling and the double-decker makes a shrill sound when the engine stops, causing a queue form as Talulah slips her free hand into her coat pocket to get her phone ready. It’s a smooth process, considering all the fluff pieces, a pair of tangled earphones and possibly quite a few receipts in there.
It takes her about half an hour to get to where Ben is waiting. When she gets off, he’s already there, one foot against the wall behind him as he takes a hefty drag from his vape. It makes her smile, seeing her best friend after a long time, and his face is just so familiar it makes her insides feel all warm and giddy. He’s now rocking a buzz cut, dyed a pastel pink, and he’s all bundled up in a long black coat his yellow Doc Martens look so vibrant under the gloomy London weather.
From there, it’s all hugs and kisses, and ‘I miss you’s as Ben cries into Talulah’s neck. She takes a few seconds just to admire the street lights, all adorned with reds and blues and greens, and a gigantic Christmas tree stands proudly in the middle of the street. There’s a faint murmur of a Christmas carol coming from at the end of the street and it begins blending in with the obnoxiously loud music coming from the shop, ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ as bright, glittery ornaments and Christmas cards take Talulah’s breath away. The only thing she can hear now is how it’s going to take Chris Rae ‘some time to get home’ when Ben takes her from the wrist, and leads the both of them towards a shelf displaying various birthday cards.
“So,” Ben glances at her briefly, two pink cards in his hands. “Any good dick recently? I feel like we haven’t talked about dicks in a while.”
Talulah looks around nervously. “Are we talking about the organ, or the adjective?” She shuffles through some of the cards, “No, I’ve been busy. Where am I supposed to meet them? And, no– put that down. I doubt Luke’s mum would appreciate an octopus with his willy out on her card.”
“Tinder, babe!” Ben mutters, completely ignoring her teasing.
“Oh, hell no. I refuse. Besides, I’m doing just fine…dickless. Don’t need no man.”
Ben rolls his eyes and brings his hand to his hair to ruffle his hair, an old habit, but he sighs at the lack of hair.
“That’s so outdated. You can be a boss lady and have sex at the same time.”
“How about that one, I think she would like that one,” she points to a random card, making him sigh.
It wasn’t like Talulah was against relationships, or random hook-ups here and there. But she was– at least she thought herself to be, lazy when it came to actively searching for guys. She was working full time, and as much as being a photographer, at least taking photos as most people liked to call it wasn’t full time purely on its own, behind the scenes of photoshoots and editing filled her Monday through Friday. Perhaps, this was all an excuse, and that she was nervous about stepping out of her comfort zone. But either way, Talulah would live. A man wasn’t a priority for Talulah, at least for now.
Once Ben finds an appropriate birthday card for Luke’s mother, and Talulah gets more of her favourite ballpoint pens –a set of Christmas and soft-touch ones–, they exit the shop, and Talulah tries to keep up with Ben as he desperately searches for a Costa nearby.
“You know, Ariel?” Ben asks when they leave the coffee shop with tall cups in both their hands.
“The– why the bloody hell would I ask you about the mermaid? Ariel, Dan’s sister.”
Talulah visibly cringes at the mention of Dan. It makes sense, she thinks, Ben mentioning Ariel since both of them knew Ariel way before Talulah started dating Dan. They all grew up in the same small town and both Ben and Talulah knew pretty much everyone, at least people their age. Ariel, too, moved to London right after Talulah to pursue a culinary career and through her, Talulah would meet Dan.
They’d hit it off then and there, with Dan being such a charming man, and it helped when he took an interest in Talulah’s career since he loved taking photos in his free time. After two months of hanging out, they made it official and when they hit the eight month mark, Dan did the stupidest thing he could ever do, after cheating of course, and proposed to her. She loved him, of course she did. But did she want to get married? They’d never talked about marriage during their relationship nor mention anything of the sort, thus, it was bizarre when Dan got on one knee one night and asked her to marry him.
She said no. She got one knee in front of Dan, held him by his cheeks, and said no. It took them months to get into their old routine and leave the proposal fiasco behind –Dan’s words–, and a week before their one year anniversary, Talulah caught him cheating, and that chapter was closed. Except, Ariel and Talulah remained on speaking terms considering how they ran in the same circle.
“What happened to Ariel?”
“Christmas dinner? You promised we would go together.”
Talulah raises her eyebrows and brings the cup to her lips. “Did I?” The mocha tastes rather sweet, just how she likes it, and she has to swallow a few times when the hot drink burns the tip of her tongue.
“Yes, babes. You, Luke, and yours truly,” he flips his non-existent hair and raises his cup. “And before you say anything, no, he won’t be there. Otherwise, she wouldn’t invite you. I think he’s–”
“I really don’t care what he’s doing or where he will be on Christmas… I don’t know, Ben. I don’t feel like getting dressed. I just want a quiet Christmas this year.”
“Babe,” he rolls his eyes, taking the cup in his other hand, he places his arm around her shoulder and brings her into a side hug. “We’re going, full stop. It’s the only night we can wear our red thongs and be unapologetically slutty,” he exclaims, making her chuckle at his enthusiasm. “Might fuck around and wear a matching set.”
On the 25th, Talulah doesn’t wake up to laughter or the smell of her mother’s Christmas brekkie special. Instead, she wakes up to pigeons cooing outside her window and two missed calls from her dad, and a text from Jeanette. She aligns the phone as much as she can with jelly arms and sleepy eyes as the phone unlocks, and the text comes into her view.
Merry Christmas, Lullah. Love, Mum. Miss you.
She doesn’t text her back, though. Instead, she calls her dad back, and declines his invite as she tells him about her plans for tonight. From there, her morning is probably the least Christmassy she’s felt in a long, long time. She makes herself a cuppa in her favourite mug, figures it’s the least she can do for today, and sits in front of her laptop, just like she does every morning.
She doesn’t know when she got this bitter about holidays, or life in general. Maybe it had something to do with her mother leaving, or the brother she’s refusing to meet, or maybe she was just getting old. She lets out a forced laugh at that because no, twenty-five wasn’t old. Pity, she thinks, she feels old.
She does some editing and writes a few emails that she saves as drafts and closes the lid, then walks towards the window. It’s grey, as per, but she can see the yellow ball of light hiding behind a few grey clouds, looking almost like an illusion due to how faint and dull it is. Looking at it, she thinks she can empathise with the dull ball of light behind the grey clouds. Having the potential to shine brighter but instead, hiding behind gloom and doom. Just before she walks away from the window, the sun comes out from behind the clouds and the beams hit Talulah’s eye, almost blinding her, and as she feels the sunlight warm her cheeks, there appears a tiny smile on her face.
Her day is filled with laundry, washing up and tidying around the flat until she feels it’s finally time to get in the shower. She takes about twenty-five minutes in there, then another twenty-five trying to find an appropriate outfit for the night. At first, though, she almost calls Ben to tell him she wouldn’t make it, but she can’t bear the thought of staying home tonight, alone, all by herself when she has friends begging to be there for her.
At around 7:45PM, Ben phones and lets her know they’re downstairs as Talulah rushes to get everything she might need tonight: lip gloss, powder, perfume, keys, cigarettes. Throw them all haphazardly in the bag. Check the oven is off despite having not used it today. Boots. Lock the door, then voila, she’s good to go.
The map on Luke’s car shows they’re twenty-seven minutes away from their destination. However, Luke is determined to beat the robot lady and arrive earlier which ends in heartbreak when they end up arriving later than usual due to traffic. As Ben keeps yelling from the passenger seat, ‘check the mirrors you bloody idiot!’, Talulah enjoys her freedom in the backseat, fingers alternating between the Instagram app and her messages as she finds it appropriate to send a few ‘Merry Christmas’ texts of her own.
Ariel greets them with enthusiasm and a huge smile when they arrive, hugging Talulah longer than the rest as she ushers them inside, muttering something about the cold weather as they make their way to her spacious dining room. She notices the crowd, maybe eight or nine people already mingling with champagne flutes in their hands, and she gets closer to her friends, trying to follow them inside as Ariel hands the trio a glass of their own.
“I’m so glad you guys are here,” Ariel smiles, fixing her hair before she turns her full attention to Talulah. “It’s been a while, how have you been?”
“I’ve been good. Working. How are you, how have you been?”
“Oh, same, really. Still working at Flat Iron in Soho,” she turns to Ben and Luke, “You guys should visit soon, I’d love to have you there.”
They talk about Ariel’s husband, Lewis, the kids –who were spending the night at their grandparents according to her–, and she asks about their life, jobs and whatnot. Then, on her second glass, Talulah feels herself getting more comfortable with the small crowd around her, and she finds herself talking to a girl about… Zoology. It is indeed interesting, she finds herself thinking, how there seems to be more chickens in the world than humans. But before she can learn more, Ariel lets everyone know they can finally start eating, and Talulah swears she heard a few people mumble a collective ‘finally’ as everyone walks towards the long, grandiose mahogany table to find their assigned seats. As the three sit next to each other, she notices an empty seat while handing the person on her left a bowl of peas, but she doesn’t think much of it.
Once everyone’s plate is full, they begin eating, talking, and cracking jokes in between, and just as Talulah brings her fork full of mash into her mouth, the doorbell rings, making Ariel’s husband excuse himself to get the door.
“The one in the red shirt is hot, what d’ya think of him?” Ben whispers into her ear and she flinches at the warm breath, then looks around for a red shirt.
“No, thank you, he’s literally with her wife. Look at their rings, Ben. You’re gonna get me in trouble.”
“Oh… well, I’m gay. Most of us don’t know which finger means what.”
Ben giggles when she rolls her eyes before reaching for her water this time instead of more alcohol, and Ariel’s husband walks back in, followed by none other than the obnoxious, rude man from the flower shop. Her eyes widen at the unpleasant surprise, and she looks down at her plate immediately, not wanting to make eye contact with the curly man.
“Sorry, everyone, I should’ve considered the traffic,” she hears him say with the same, deep voice she remembers him using at the shop, and she sees Ariel stand up from the corner of her eye.
“Don’t worry, Harry, you didn’t miss much,” Ariel gives kisses to Harry’s both cheeks and, much to her dismay, he’s seated at the opposite side of her and she knows full well that sooner or later, he will notice her.
Though, she’s not exactly sure he will remember her. She thinks, since he seems like the most obnoxious person in the world, he acts that way with everyone so there’s a chance he won’t remember Talulah at all– which makes her feel a lot better as she proceeds to cut her gammon. It’s a nice gammon, she notes, but she really wishes she had some more gravy. She tries skimming through the table without lifting her gaze too much, but the gravy boat is nowhere to be seen. She turns to Ben, then Luke, but alas, no gravy.
“Are you looking for this?” A voice cuts through her thoughts, and she knows it’s him.
She thinks about acting as though she didn’t hear a pip, wishes she could just ignore him and keep her gaze on her plate, but he doesn’t give up until the white gravy boat comes into her view.
She looks up and their eyes meet, Harry’s lips turning upwards in a tiny smile. She notices his hair, free of that god awful beanie he was wearing that day, and she notes how it’s longer than she’d anticipated. It’s curly at the ends and some of it falls perfectly over his eyebrows. He’s dressed in a white, expensive looking suit, paired with a black shirt that allows him to showcase a tattoo, two more like, and a cross necklace lays proudly against his chest between them.
She reaches for the gravy and their hands don’t touch like they do in films. There’s no spark, nor their eyes meet lovingly. Instead, she grabs it and, in a way, yanks it from his hands, but not before glancing at his ring-clad fingers. It’s quite crowded, she thinks, not one, not two, but three giant rings wrapped around his long fingers.
She doesn’t say thank you; she thinks the glare sent his way does enough.
“Thank you for the flowers and the whole arrangement, Harry,” Ariel says from the end of the table, one hand coming to cover her mouth as she chews.
As Talulah covers everything on her plate with gravy, she looks up for a moment to see Harry in conversation with Ariel as they talk about flowers. It makes her, for the first time tonight, glance around the table, her eyes darting from flower to flower that decorate the long table.
“Harry owns Wild at Heart. You guys have probably heard of it or been there, it gets quite the attention, doesn’t it?” Ariel addresses the whole table and a few hums and ‘oh’s leave people’s mouths.
Goodness’ sake, Talulah sighs, he owns what now?
“Thank you, Ariel, that’s certainly very kind of you,” Harry smiles, at least she thinks he does from the way the words sound coming from his annoying mouth.
Talulah can’t believe what she’s hearing. This knobhead owns a business. Not only that, he works with what she thinks are the most beautiful creations in the world: flowers. Not only he works with flowers, but he has the audacity to be infuriatingly rude and arrogant to his customers. If he can make it work, if he can own a business as reputable and good as his, Talulah thinks she can achieve the greatest in life.
Wild at heart? More like arse at heart.
“You want my potatoes?”
“Where’d you go? You’ve been eyeing my potatoes for a while,” Luke chuckles from where he’s sitting next to Ben, fork still pointed at Talulah.
“Oh… no, I’m good, thank you. Just daydreaming, I guess.”
“You sure? You can have them,” the fork is pointed at one of the potatoes covered in gravy this time and Talulah wants to scream, ‘I don’t want your bloody potatoes’.
“Yes, Luke, I’m good with my own.”
While everyone eats and drinks in peace, Ariel gets up to fetch the dessert, her own take on Christmas pudding and various other sweet treats. Once everyone is served their puddings, Talulah can’t help but let her eyes wander to where Harry’s sitting, finding him quietly eating his pudding. She notices how he sticks his tongue out first, then puts the spoon in his mouth, and she wants to reach and rip it out when she remembers the nasty things he’d spat out at her the first time they met. Instead, she looks down at her own pudding and starts poking it left and right, fiddling with the top before she grabs a spoonful and takes it into her mouth, cringing at the savoury taste of it.
Surprisingly, no one, especially Ben comments on her lack of appetite so she gets away with it until they leave the table one by one and walk towards the spacious living room. There’s a white, suede ‘L’ shaped sofa in the corner and there stands a giant Christmas tree right next to said sofa. Certainly bigger than the one Talulah had ordered but failed to collect, so she would hopefully get a refund shortly, she finds herself thinking. The glamorous tree is decorated with equally glamorous and expensive ornaments, glass balls and lots of lights, and there sits a few leftover presents presumably from this morning, all wrapped perfectly and each completed with a red, sparkly bow.
As some of the guests continue their conversation standing, Talulah takes her place on the sofa, next to Luke as Ben is seated on the side, chatting with Ariel.
She turns to her left when she notices the movement and her eyes meet with Harry’s, noticing how green and dull they look, despite all the beaming lights around them. She doesn’t want this man near him; he gives her strange feelings, especially when she remembers how humiliated and small he made her feel. And perhaps, for the first time, she realises why it stung that much, a stranger being rude to her, and why it had been bothering her immensely for the past couple of weeks. She realises how all her life, she’d been humiliated and made to feel small, so small it felt like she was a tiny dot in her mother’s world. It was indeed her mother’s world she lived in until Talulah decided to up and leave.
She realises he’s gotten closer to her, just so he can make his voice heard, and he now has a glass of champagne in hand.
She looks him over, trying to make her disdain known.
“Yes?” She says curtly, and she wants to laugh because she feels proud of herself, of the certainty and condescension in her voice.
“I don’t think we’ve met,” he swallows, “Let me put it this way… I don’t think I’ve introduced myself, at least, properly,” he takes the glass in his left hand and sticks out the right one for a handshake. “I’m Harry.”
NEXT CHAPTER – 22 MAY 2021 8PM GMT
THERE WE HAVE IT! 𝙁𝙄𝙍𝙎𝙏 𝘾𝙃𝘼𝙋𝙏𝙀𝙍 𝙊𝙁 𝙏𝙄𝙊𝙇𝙏 ! 🥺 it’s been a while since i last posted on here and i think it’s safe to say that this is my favourite thing i’ve ever written– well, i’ve been writing: it is definitely not complete, so i will keep working on it as i publish the chapters but i have a few chapters ready already so don’t fret!!! please please please consider 𝙍𝙀𝘽𝙇𝙊𝙂𝙂𝙄𝙉𝙂 this story: it helps TONS because it means by reblogging a fic, you’re spreading it around for others to see!!! it’s my favourite thing ever and i’m so proud of it :-) i really hope you guys enjoyed the first chappy and if you did, PLEASE come bite my ear off about it in my inbox!! tell me your favourite character or your least fave character!!! as always, open to constructive criticism as well as feeeeeedback!!! ta!!! love youse!!! 𝙡𝙪𝙗 x (ps. click the chapter title above for the series masterlist as well as pinterest board and more)
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