As always, thanks to Hubby for the edit.
"One night. Just one night is all I'm asking." I was in the breakroom with Kelly, Chloe, and Maria, trying to convince my friends to ditch their guys and have a girlie night with me. "We haven't all hung out together for ages."
"You came out with me and Rich the other night," Maria said.
"Yes, because you tried to arrange a double date with me and Mike. I already told you, he's seeing someone." Maria shrugged and I went on. "Besides, I want to hang out with my friends, not my friends and their boyfriends."
Kelly flung her arm around my shoulder. "Jade is right, we need a girlie night. Carl can cope without me for one night."
Chloe grinned. "Okay, I'm in. Me and Jon aren't serious anyway. He won't care if we don't see each other later."
"You looked pretty serious yesterday, with your tongues down each other's throats," Kelly said with a raised eyebrow.
We all looked expectantly at Maria, and a smile slowly spread across her face. "Well, who am I to refuse?"
"Excellent. I'll buy some food and wine, and we can all meet at mine after work later, yeah?" I said, suddenly stuck by a source of inspiration. "And as we're all on late shifts tomorrow, we can make a night of it and have a sleep over."
With break time over, I returned to the beauty department and readied myself for the second half of my shift. The afternoon passed at an agonisingly slow rate. Even though I had plenty of clients, now the breakfast show had ended, many of them were people I wasn't overly friendly with, so there was little chatter between each person as they rushed off to film their respective shows. The only bright spot was the fact The Company was filming a special on location, meaning Courtney wasn't at the studio. I'd thankfully avoided her since our last run-in, whether by choice or coincidence, she'd always been with Charlotte in recent weeks.
Later that evening, me, Kelly, Chloe, and Maria gathered in my living room, all wearing our pyjamas and with face masks on. Kelly lay on the floor, propped up against the side of the couch, and sipping her wine through a straw so she didn't need to move. Me and Maria were on either end of the sofa, guarding the bowl of popcorn that was resting in the space between us. Chloe sat in the arm chair, her face covered with a charcoal mask.
"See? This is more like it." I scooped up a handful of popcorn and started munching.
"Okay, so you had a point. I've missed hanging out like this," Maria said, sipping her wine.
"We're sorry we've been neglecting you," Kelly added.
I shrugged. "It's cool. I get it. You've all got boyfriends now-"
Chloe sat up straight in her seat, and her face mask cracked slightly. "Jon is not my boyfriend."
"Okay, Chloe has a fuckbuddy or whatever, and Maria and Kelly have boyfriends." The way I saw it, they spent enough time together that they might as well be a couple, but any time one of us said that, Chloe instantly shot us down. "My point is, I get it. You want to spend time with your men, and mostly I don't mind. But, well, it sucks only seeing you for a few minutes here and there at work. I miss my girls."
"Then let's promise, we'll try to get together, just the four of us, at least once a month," Kelly said. She kneeled up and shuffled over to me and Maria, extending her hands.
"Promise." Maria took one of Kelly's hands, and I grabbed the other.
"Promise," I said.
"And me." Chloe jumped up off the seat, and threw herself into us. We crashed into the sofa in a heap, knocking popcorn everywhere, and all started laughing.
Once we'd all calmed down, tided up the mess and settled back into our places, Maria looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, "But it would be cool if you had someone-"
"Oh my god. If the next words out of your mouth are about Mike, I'm going to empty this bowl on your head," I said, sitting up and grabbing the popcorn. "How many times do I have to tell you? He's seeing someone. And even if he wasn't, I'm not interested. I don't like him like that, and besides…" I stopped myself from going there.
An image of Seth flicked into my mind.
After the poker game, and the subsequent meet up for coffee and cake the following day, I'd finally admitted to myself that perhaps I had more than just a little crush on him. But, I wasn't about to share that fact with my friends. I was still working out what my feelings were, I wasn't ready to have them analysed.
But I'd said too much. Three pairs of eyes focused in on me.
"Besides what?" Maria asked, leaning towards me. "Is there someone you do like?"
Heat blazed across my face. "Maybe, but it's complicated. I'm not even sure what I feel, and there's all these other factors. And, I dunno …" I trailed off and shrugged.
"Seth," said Chloe and Kelly in unison.
My throat went dry. "What?" I squeaked out.
"It's kind of obvious. You two are pretty inseparable at work these days, and when you're not together, he's all you talk about." Kelly nodded wisely, as though she'd just solved an especially hard puzzle.
Maria looked at Kelly and Chloe, who nodded, then gazed back at me. Her eyes bugged out of her head. "You like him, like him?"
I put down the bowl of popcorn I was still holding, and grabbed a pillow, burring my face it in.
"Oh my god!" squealed Maria. "It all makes so much sense now."
I looked up, trying to maintain eye contact with her, but my face felt like it was on fire. "It's stupid. He's like twice my age, and he probably doesn't even think of me like that."
"Age doesn't matter. My stepdad is almost twenty years older than my mum, and they've been happily married for fifteen years," Kelly said.
"That's different. They're both much older than me, and they knew each other for years before getting together."
"Okay, it's not exactly the same," she agreed, looking at Maria and Chloe for support. "But you're obviously into him."
"It's just a thing, it'll pass." I buried my head again, and even as I closed my eyes, I knew it wasn't true. When it was 'just a thing' your heart didn't flip-flop inside your chest when the person smiled at you, and the days they weren't around didn't suck just because they weren't there. This was way more than just a thing.
Maria tugged the pillow away from me, forcing me to look up. "What was it you said when I admitted I liked Rich? You'll only regret it if you don't."
"Oh my god, Maria. This isn't like you and Rich. Seth's fifty years old, and I'm bloody twenty-five for Christ's sake. How do I even tackle something like that? I can hardly just go up to him and say 'So, I know you're old enough to be my dad, but we get on pretty well. Fancy going out?'"
Maria scowled at me. "I'm not saying you should do that. But you can't just pretend you don't like him."
"Sure I can. Like I said, it's just a thing. It'll blow over."
"And if he meets someone and starts seeing them?" Kelly asked cautiously, still laying on the floor, so I couldn't see her face properly. "You'd be okay with that?"
My stomach hardened. Seth hadn't really shown any interest in dating, and I always assumed he was still getting over his divorce. But there'd come a day when he was ready to move on, and then what?
I swallowed the lump in my throat. "If he meets someone and starts seeing them, they'll be a proper woman his age, not some dumb girl half his age with a silly crush."
"Jade, you're selling yourself short," Chloe said. "I'm sure he doesn't see you like that. If he did, he wouldn't spend so much time with you."
"He spends so much time with me because we like the same TV shows and comics, and want to discuss them. Plus, I don't hassle him about Stryfe."
Kelly sat up again, and looked at me directly. "Exactly. You have things in common, and you're not into him just because he's famous."
I let out a long breath. "Okay, okay. Say he does see me as something more than just a girl he works with … then what? Like I said, I can hardly ask him out for coffee like Maria did with Rich."
"Why not?" Maria said, but even as she spoke, a grin spread across her face, and I knew she'd had an idea. "Rich wants to organize another get together in a few weeks. It's his birthday, and he thought it'd be cool if we all went to a club or something. Ask Seth to come?"
I sighed. "That won't work. He only went out because everyone hassled him into going out for welcome drinks. He said he's over clubbing and stuff. Didn't you guys notice, he spent all night sitting at the bar."
"Sitting at the bar chatting to you," Kelly said, her grin now matching Maria's. "Get him out of the studio, and get a few drinks in him, who knows what might happen?"
"That's insane. You're all insane. I'm not getting him drunk and making a move."
"So what, you're just going to do nothing, and wait for him to meet someone else?"
"Yeah… no. I don't know. This is stupid. We don't even know that he feels the same. And even if he does, perhaps he won't act on it. Why are we even talking about this?" My muscles tensed up and I clenched my jaw. "Can we change the subject, please?"
I was sat in the breakroom, with my usual coffee, having just finished my lunch, waiting for Seth as was customary when we had shifts together. In fact, I wasn't sure exactly what his schedule was now, as he seemed to spend even more time at the studio than I did, and I worked twelve-hour shifts!
The metal doors swung open, and he came striding across the canteen looking pissed off.
"Everything okay?" I asked as he sat down.
He raked his hands through his hair, closed his eyes for a moment, and then when he opened them the darkness seemed to lift. "No, but it will be. Just had a call from my ex."
A knot formed in my stomach. "Wanna talk about it?"
"Not really." He paused, took a breath, then smiled. "I'd prefer to talk about what happened in the season finale of Zombie Town. Did you see it?"
A grin spread over my lips. "Oh my god. When they found out Pete was a zombie in disguise! I can't believe we're gonna have to wait a whole year to find out what happens."
He laughed, and started telling me his theory on how everyone was already a zombie, and it would be revealed in the next season.
We were deep in discussion when the canteen door opened. I heard laughter, and looked over to see Maria and Kelly. They caught sight of me and Seth together, exchanged a glance, and then crossed the room to us.
"Hey," I said, as Maria sat down on the couch next to me, and Kelly sat down by Seth.
I gazed at both my friends, mentally willing them not to say or do anything to embarrass me.
"So, Rich has finalised the details for his birthday. We're all going to Riley's next Friday." Don't do it. Don't do it. Ignoring my mental pleases, Maria looked directly at Seth and asked, "You're coming, right? He's inviting everyone from the studio."
Seth's eyes flicked to me for an instant, then he looked at Maria and grinned. "Sure, I'll come."
"Sweet." Maria grinned back and then turned to me with an 'I told you so' expression on her face. "So, what's new?"
Subtle, real subtle.
I shrugged. "We were just talking about the season finale of Zombie Town."
"Ohhh, is that the one with Will West in? I loved him in Song Bird."
The four of us chatted for a little while longer until Seth said he had to go check in with Keith about something.
"I'll see you later, Jade," He winked at me, then nodded towards my friends. "Ladies."
The second he left the canteen, I turned to Maria with narrowed eyes. "What was that?"
Maria, unfazed, simply smiled like she'd bought me a new puppy. "Just a little helping hand."
"A little helping hand my arse. You might as well have just said, 'Jade fancies you.'"
"Oh come on," Kelly said. "She didn't mention you, she made out like it's all Rich's idea. And now he's coming-"
"And what? That's magically going to change the fact he's fifty and I'm twenty-five? That's not something you're going to solve with a few drinks. I can't ply him with alcohol in the hope he conveniently forgets I'm young enough to be his daughter."
"What if he doesn't care? What if he's well aware of the age gap, but it doesn't matter to him, because at the end of the day, people are just people. Not a set of digits," Maria said.
For a brief moment, I allowed myself to imagine it. I let myself picture what it would be like if I told Seth I was interested in him. In my mind, I could see him grinning, that smile that always made my knees weak.
My body felt lighter, like there was a helium balloon in my stomach that was slowly rising, and pulling my up with it.
What if? I asked myself, going through my memory for every interaction Seth and I had ever had, for any sign that he might feel something more than friendship for me.
I remembered the night of Mike's poker tournament, when we'd stood, inches apart, in the dark carpark and how for an instant I felt sure he was going to kiss me.
"Just see what happens when we go out for Rich's birthday," Kelly said, cutting through my thoughts. "Don't worry about all the complications now. Just go out, have a good time, and see where the night takes you."
Could it be that simple? It could if I wanted it to be. If I stopped stressing, and let fate, or whatever, run its course.
"Okay. I'm not going to make a move, or act any differently than I would normally, but I'm willing to let the night play out."