Number 26 – Tears

She had been prepared for heartache since she was a child. Music was the only constant in her life, wrapping around her ears and slinking into her mind, tunes and lyrics burying themselves in her brain, squeezing in and finding a home nestled among all the rest.

Don't promise your heart forever; Meatloaf had taught her that, in the kitchen when she was six years old, sitting on a counter and scooping out the rest of the Angel Delight from the bowl.

Love was complicated. The lesson had come from a number of different teachers, not all whom she could remember or name, playing in the living room while her parents danced and taught her to dance, where she laughed and cried. Songs sung by her mother when she scraped her knee and was scooped up onto the woman's lap, the only things that stopped her crying were words of pain.

Love hurt. Another one that came from different sources; her bedroom, her parent's bedroom, the kitchen, living room, study, dining room. Queen, Abba, Doctor Hook, Driver 67.

It didn't end well.

But it was a joy while it lasted. The purest, happiest joy; that much, at least, the fairy tales got right. But she learnt as a child that truth could only be found in music.

It was a shame, really, that she had absolutely no talent for it.

Still, that didn't matter. Music taught her that there was no Prince Charming, that happy ever after never arrived and that frogs did not, in fact, turn into princes. But it also taught her not to give up hope, not to let everything else cloud the happiness that could – and would – one day arrive.

So it was really no surprise when she found herself in love for the first time.

Julie couldn't help but smile when she listened to cheesy love songs, grew giddy at the thought of him, and thought of him the moment she first woke up every day.

But, because of her teachers and her lessons, it was even less of a surprise when, exactly one year and three months after they had first met – one year, two months and two weeks since they went on their first date – she found herself listening to the words coming out of his mouth and feeling little more than a numb shock deep in her chest.

"You saying it's over?" she asked, tapping her nails against the table. A half full glass of rose wine sat in front of her, and as she waited for his answer she grabbed the glass and sipped at the drink. The alcohol emitted a sharp taste from her tongue, stung ever so slightly as it went down her throat, but tasted oh so very good.

"I'm sorry, Jules."

His eyes darted nervously around, and she wondered if he thought she was going to cause a scene. If he did, then he didn't know her very well.

"Okay." She nodded her head, slowly, thinking over his words.

"Okay?" he muttered, frowning as his eyes locked on her. "Just…okay?"

"Will crying or begging or, really, saying anything else at all change your mind?"

"Well, no, but…"

"Then there we go. Okay. Just okay. No point saying anything else, is there?" She sipped again at her drink, watching as his fingers wrapped around his pint glass. He lifted it to his lips, took a long gulp of Stella, and lowered it, studying her.

"I love you, Jules. I'm just not in love with you."

"You don't have to justify yourself." He hadn't invited her here to dump her. She knew that; he had looked as surprised as her when the words had tumbled from his mouth. But he had to have been thinking of it for a while. It had to have been stewing in his mind, nagging at the back of his head, pushing its way forward until she said something that had made it come bursting out.

That something had been asking him if he had thought about what he was going to wear for her brother's wedding.

It was like something had just snapped. The look in his eyes had changed as they walked from the bar to the table. Almost as soon as they sat down, he had started with, "Listen…" And she had, because never before had he started a conversation like that with her.

Other people had, and it had always been bad news.

Listen, Julie, you know we took Choco to the vet…

Listen, Julie, you know how granddad was very, very ill…

Listen, Julie, if you don't start doing better in school…

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Just listen, because when people had bad news to deliver, they never wanted you to talk.

Julie forced herself to smile at him. "So, we're breaking up. Here's what's going to happen next. I'm going to finish this wine, I'm going to head home, and I'm going to get on with my life. Yeah?"

She couldn't quite read the expression on his face.

"And as for you, well, right now, I don't know what you're going to do. I have absolutely no idea. But in a weird way, for the first time in a year, I don't think I care what you're going to be doing. I need to think about me."

"Jules, look, we could still…"

"Be friends? Maybe. One day. Not right now, okay? I need some time for myself." She grabbed the wine glass, finished it in one gulp and stood, swinging her back over her arm as she smiled down at him. "See you later." She turned and walked, glad she had worn the heels that made her seem just a tad taller, that made her walk straighter and made her legs seem longer.

Those beautiful bitches, she thought, are going to be the last shoes he sees me in. With that thought, she found herself turning the walk into a straight out strut. And why the hell not?

Being in love had been amazing, she couldn't deny that. But she knew at some point it would hurt like hell, knew it would come crashing down around her and perhaps bring her whole world with it. But she didn't know when she was going to see him again, and she was going to make him think that she couldn't give a damn. She was going to look damn good as he watched her walk out of his life.

Her house, which would about now contain her housemates, wasn't too far. She headed down the quiet road, keeping her head down and preferring to stare at the pavement than at the deserted street. Turning left, she glanced up quickly, just enough time to register there was no one out here, either.

A right turn, and she was walking towards Spar. She would have to pass it anyway, so she figured it was worth popping in and picking up some necessities for the house.

Were they out of milk? Probably; the way the girls drank their coffee, it was more dairy than caffeine. Did she need bread? She didn't think so, but it was one of the things she ate the most so she figured it would be best to pick some up.

Julie darted around the shop. When she planted her purchases on the till, the man behind looked at with wide, frightened eyes. She just smiled widely, ignoring the way her hand was shaking as she handed the money over and the man dropped her items into a plastic bag.

It wasn't until she was almost at the house that she realised the bag contained nothing of what she needed. Instead, it held a bottle of rosé wine and a various mix of chocolates. No bread, tea or milk. But it was too late. She was on her doorstep, taking out her keys and sliding one into the lock, trying to keep the plastic bag in the crook of her arm.

As soon as she was inside, she lowered the bag to the floor, shut the door, and fell against it. The keys fell from her hand, forgotten, as she raised her hands to cover her face. The sobs wracked her body, catching in her throat before tumbling out. Her face was quickly wet, as she sank to the floor.

She heard a door open from somewhere in the house, footsteps almost racing, and then someone was drawing her hands away from her face. She found herself staring through blurred eyes at her housemate Cary. Cary's light brown hair was yanked back from her face in a ponytail, and through the tears Julie could see her sorrow reflected in her friend's eyes.

"Come on," Cary whispered, helping Julie up. She looped an arm around her waist, gently pulling her towards the living room. "Come on, Jules."

Cary scooped the bag as they went, bringing it into the living room with them. She led Julie to the sofa, where the girl just seemed to fall. Cary opened the bag, took out the wine and chocolates and put them on the coffee table.

"Want a glass, Jules?"

Julie just nodded, sniffing as the tears began to dry up. "Please."

She headed to the kitchen and was back within moments, two wine glasses in hand. Cary placed them on the table before taking out her mobile and spending a few seconds composing and sending a quick text. That done, she put the phone on the table face down, poured out two glasses and turned to Julie, handing her one glass.

"What happened, Jules?"

"He doesn't love me," she whimpered, feeling the tears spring up again as she spoke. "Well, he does, but he's not in love with me." She laughed, as Cary just blinked at her. "I didn't think I'd be so God damn upset."

Cary squeezed her shoulder, as Julie wrapped her hands around the glass and raised it to her lips, sipping at the drink. "It's okay to be sad, Jules."

"It was always going to happen though," she muttered. "Nothing lasts forever, right?" She sank back into the sofa, closing her eyes for just a few seconds.

Cary shuffled closer. "He's a prick, Julie. Not worth it."

"He's not," she sniffed. "He's not, Car. You know that. I know that. He's too damn nice to ever really be a prick." She reached forward, grabbed the large bar of galaxy and opened it, popping a few squares into her mouth. Cary remained silent as she ate, and once the chocolate had gone, Jules spoke again. "Not far, is it? Loving someone who doesn't love you back."

"You'll find someone," Cary replied, shrugging. "You're too damn stubborn not to."

Julie rolled her eyes. "You have to say that. You're my friend."

"True, but I don't have to mean it."

They fell into silence. Not uncomfortable, but the relaxed kind of silence that could only take place between close friends. Neither of them had anything to say, and neither felt the need to fill the air with meaningless crap that would serve no purpose except to make some noise.

After a while, Julie spoke. "What now?"

Cary shrugged. "Moping, I reckon. Films, wine, chocolate. Curled up in bed for as long as you need, a nice hot bath."

Julie nodded, before grabbing the wine bottle and topping up their glasses. "I should have got more."

"I texted Mel. She should be picking some up on the way home."

"Okay. So, after the moping?"

"After the moping, we all get dolled up. We go out, dance, and make every girl in that place wish she was us. More importantly, we make sure every guy is staring right at you."

Jules laughed. "What if it's too soon?"

"They'll be staring, I didn't say you'd have to hook up with any of them. And that night will be about being with friends, anyway. It's about time we had a screw men night."

"Okay. Okay." She ate another few blocks of the chocolate, eyes roaming around the room until they landed on the shelf containing the collection of DVDs built up by all three girls.

"So, film tonight?" Cary suggested, seeing where Jules' eyes had landed. She climbed to her feet, ignoring the slight dizziness in her head from the wine, and headed to the shelf. She ran her fingers alone the spines, shouting out names to Julie over her shoulder.

When she glanced at her, Julie was smiling softly, through the threat of tears was still in her eyes.

They heard a key in the lock, heard the door swing open then close and footsteps down the hall. The footsteps went into the kitchen, stopping there and followed by the rustling of bags and the sound of very bad singing.

"Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men…"

Whatever she lacked in talent, she made up for in eagerness. She blurted the words out, and Julie and Cary heard her feet against the floor as she undoubtedly began to dance around the kitchen. When Mel appeared, she clutched two bottles of wine in one hand and a glass in the other. She flashed them a wide smile.

"I got us shit loads of food for the next week. All the things we need, and wine, as requested. You girls are damn lucky I got a car, I tell you. Oh, and before you ask, yes, I did go see it, again. We should go next week! I can't believe you haven't seen it yet." She dropped the wine on the table and fell onto the sofa as she spoke, only really looking at Julie when she turned to her. Instantly, the smile on her face dropped, she put the glass down and crawled across the sofa, throwing her arms around her friend and hugging her tight.

Julie began to cry again.

"I don't even have to ask," Mel muttered, shaking her head as Cary mouthed broke up. "Aw, honey, it's okay. They're not worth your time, honest. Just ask my mum. She'll tell you. All useless dicks who do nothing but make us laugh and cry."

"And your friends can make you do the first," Cary finished, nodding as she repeated a phrase they had often heard from Mel's mum.

"Exactly!"

Through the sobs, Julie laughed. Mel pulled gently away, giving her a gentle smile. "I did wonder why Cary wanted the wine. I thought we were just having an impromptu girl's night."

"We are." Cary said, grabbing a bunch of DVDs and bringing them over to the sofa. The girls poured over them, trying to decide if they wanted to go for something cheesy with a hot guy (usually found in Cary's collection), something scary maybe with a bit of gore or a group of teenagers being chased by a psycho (most of Julie's DVDs) or something flat out funny (taken from Mel's shelf). In the end, they settled on a classic comedy, Julie stating she didn't want something where the girl's whole aim was to end with a guy, thereby dismissing Cary's collection.

It was Mel who happily moved around the coffee table to put Airplane! on.

They all knew the film well enough that they could talk happily through it, as they drank the wine and nibbled at the chocolate. Near the end, the talking drifted off, but it wasn't until the plane was close to landing that Cary and Mel realised Jules wasn't laughing. Cary glanced at the girl in the middle, shaking her head when she saw Julie had fallen asleep, the tears on her face still drying.

The film finished, and the girls turned off the TV. Mel darted out of the room as Cary gently moved Jules across the sofa. When Mel returned, she had a duvet and a pillow with her. Cary flashed her a quick smile and gestured her over.

"You think she'll be okay?" Mel asked, as Cary put the pillow under their heartbroken friend's head, and Mel put the duvet across her.

"Sure," Cary muttered, as they crept out of the room. "Eventually. We just got to be there for her, yeah? Until the tears stop."

Mel nodded, glancing over her shoulder one more time at the sleeping girl, before flicking the light off.

A/N: As always, a huge thank you for reading. Any feedback or comments are very much appreciated. Anything you liked about it, anything you didn't, or anything you think could do with some improvement? And, if you have a moment, please have a look at the poll on my profile page – it would be a huge help in deciding what to write next. Thanks very much.