3. Georgia

“So I mentioned to Lucy about your birthday coming up and she’s decided you have to have it here. She’s even started planning.”
         “You’re like an evil genius.”
         “You think I’m evil?”
         “No, you’re the evil genius without the evil part.”
         “So I’m a genius then?”
         “Actually I just meant you were sneaky, I don’t think I’d get that carried away and call you a genius,” Georgia laughed, “It would only give you a big ego.”
         “But I thought you loved my big ego?” whined the voice on the other end of the phone line, mockingly.
         “That’s not why I love you, silly. That’s what I put up with because of it.” replied Georgia. She was met with a silence which she knew was intended to make her uneasy. “You know I hate it when you do that.” she said.
         “That’s why I do it.”
         “I love you, Georgia.”
         “Much better. Now tell me about my party.”
         “I can’t, I promised Lucy that I’d keep it a secret if I spoke to you. Not that she knows I talk to you this much, but that’s only because she doesn’t know about us being together. Well, because nobody does, I suppose. We’ve actually kept it quite a good secret, it’s going really well, don’t you think?”
         “She needs to know, Neil. I’ve decided to tell her and I’m not changing my mind this time no matter what you say.” Georgia sat up straight and puffed her chest out, trying to sound as assertive as possible and knowing that good posture would make her sound as defiant as she was aiming to be. Another silence reached her ears and she could imagine to herself what Neil was thinking. Neil wanted their relationship to stay a secret for as long as possible. He had been told too many stories about fights between the girls in high school when they had all gone through a phase of essentially swapping boyfriends every few months. Even now, after having had it all explained to him so many times, he couldn’t remember who had dated whom and who had kissed or swapped or the order in which any of it had happened. He was eager to avoid being the cause of any repeat of any of those falling outs.
         “Gee, I get that you don’t want this to be a secret anymore but maybe now isn’t the best time.”
         “You never think it’s the best time. Actually, my birthday would be the perfect time. She’ll be happy because it’s a party with all her friends and her new boyfriend.”
         “She’ll be stressed out because she’s organising the party and Steve and Claire will both be there, and so will Jill and several other difficult people,” countered Neil, “Not the best time.”
         “So Joe can be in charge of peacemaking and Carter can be in charge of distracting her from the organising stress.” Georgia reasoned. Neil sighed.
         “You’re really set on telling her aren’t you, babe?”
         “Nothing you can say will change my mind. I’ve thought about it.” There was a silence from Neil on the other side. “Come on,” Georgia prodded, “you know and I know that she needs to know. It’s not like she’ll make a big fuss over it, it’s Lucy for goodness’ sake.”
         “If there’s really no way to change your mind then fine, but if this all goes tits-up then you can’t stop me from saying ‘I told you so’.” Neil warned. Georgia breathed a sigh of relief. She had been worried that this would have been a lot more difficult. Neil was used to getting his own way and could be the most stubborn person if he thought he wasn’t going to get it. For some reason, though, Georgia seemed to be the only person who was able to get away with whatever she wanted. In the three months that they’d been secretly dating, they hadn’t seen each other all that often, but every couple of weeks Neil would stop in Nottingham to see her when he was on his way to or from his parents’ houses in Yorkshire. His parents put him in a bad mood and Georgia was the best and the only way he could cheer himself up, or so he told her. She pretended to believe him.
       The truth was, Georgia was afraid that Lucy had always done a better job of cheering him up. In fact, Georgia was afraid that Lucy had done a better job of everything when she was with Neil, and she was just as hesitant as Neil to come clean about their relationship. What if Lucy’s reaction was angrier than Georgia expected? What if it wasn’t even anger, but smugness because Lucy was the longest relationship that Neil had ever had. Everyone had thought that Lucy and Neil had the perfect relationship. Georgia rarely had relationships, she always fell for the wrong people. Guys who already had girlfriends or had no interest in her or a relationship in general. Danger and rule-breaking were what attracted Georgia. Neil wasn’t even her type; he was clean-cut, well groomed and had a rower’s body and discipline, he was nice and polite and he loved her. He wasn’t afraid of commitment and he always shared his feelings when she asked. But every so often, he would say or do something that made Georgia afraid that he was comparing her to Lucy and in her mind, she never won.

3. Claire

“Seriously,” Michael was saying, “I am not even joking. All the way in, except for one foot just sticking out the door!” on the other end of the phone, Claire, Clive, Jill and Margaret were in hysterics.
         “So I came into the room and I was like ‘Susan Brown, what are you doing?’ and she was so wasted that she had no idea who I even was!” the foursome broke out into raucous laughter once more.
         “How does she deal with that much drinking? Isn’t it a miracle she’s still alive?” Clive asked.
         “I don’t know how she made it past year ten. And she always says that she isn’t going to drink a lot, every time we go out! She’s-”
         “Oh I know!” Jill interjected, “When I used to see her at parties and stuff she was always, like, instantly drunk!”
         “How would you know? You’re always more drunk than everyone else anyway!” laughed Margaret. Jill looked at her menacingly and snarled, “Well if we’re talking about drunk people here, what about you? You were the one who nearly fell out of that tree the other night after two cocktails!” The others ignored her tone and continued laughing.
         “Ooh what about that one time that Michael nearly went home with the bartender? The male bartender!” Claire squealed. Michael’s voice came through the speakerphone.
         “He said his name was Alex and he had a ponytail! He was very skinny!”
         “He wasn’t even as skinny as you, Mike. And he had stubble!”
         “It was dark, I couldn’t see the stubble from where I was. Besides, the eyeliner threw me off and he was very flirty!” At this, the group exploded in laughter once more. Suddenly, there was a piercing, electronic-sounding wail. Everybody turned to Clive, who shamefully reached for his pocket and pulled out his phone.
         “I’ll change the tone later, I promise.”
         “That’s what you say every time it goes off,” pointed out Margaret, “and it doesn’t make it any less maddening.”
         “Maddening?” snickered Jill.
         “I have a word-of-the-day calendar, that was on it last week.” Explained Margaret proudly. Claire could see Jill’s grin was turning bitchy and she didn’t want her to make fun of Margaret’s new vocabulary, when Margaret herself was so proud of it. She decided to cut in before anything was said.
         “Clive, don’t you have to go, then?” Clive looked upset, he was always waiting for anything he could turn into a catfight.
         “It’s fine, I have my car.”
         “Ooh, aren’t you fancy?” said Michael’s voice.
         “Just admit you’re jealous.” retorted Clive.
         “Clive, you’re such a lazy fatso! You can walk to your class from here!” said Margaret. Jill saw an opportunity and seized it.
         “Is ‘lazy fatso’ on your word calendar, Marge?” she said mockingly. Claire sighed inwardly. Jill was forever trying to attack Margaret. Instead of getting upset as usual, though, Margaret just looked at Jill and said, “Yes, actually.” In the time it took for Jill to figure out whether or not this was a lie, the rest of the group had burst out laughing again, this time at her. Not wanting to appear like she wasn’t a part of the group, Jill laughed along, pretending she knew what was happening. Clive’s phone went off again, prompting the rest of the group to practically force him out of the door to his class. After he had left, Margaret announced that she had to leave as well, since she needed to get ready for a date she was going on later with someone she had met at Jill’s last show. When it was just Jill and Claire left with Michael on the phone, talk turned to the next birthday: Georgia’s.
         “Last year her party was so, like, depressing,” said Jill, “It would have been ok but, like, everyone was away so it was just a few of us.”
         “Yeah I know what you mean,” agreed Michael, “Plus there was that massive fight that a certain couple had. Cough.”
         “We said we were sorry about that!” protested Claire, “And besides, we aren’t the only couple who have ever had a fight at a birthday party. Jill.”
         “What are you talking about?” asked Jill, confused.
         “I’m talking about you and Bob, or Rob, or whatever his name was.”
         “Oh him,” Jill said, “His name was John, though.”
         “Oh I remember John!” put in Michael, “He had weird hair, right?”
         “Yeah that was him.” said Claire.
         “We weren’t a couple though,” Jill said, “he was just my date. I didn’t realise what a dick he was when I asked him to come with me.”
         “But that doesn’t make you ruining Joe’s birthday party any better.” pointed out Claire. Michael agreed.
         “I thought we were talking about Georgia’s party?” asked Jill, trying to move the subject away from her actions that night with Bob/Rob/John.
         “Yeah okay. Well Lucy said we could rent out Tillie’s if we wanted, she can get an extra discount if she picks up a few more shifts for like a week.” said Claire. Jill was unenthusiastic, and questioned whether Georgia would want to go all the way to Cambridge from Nottingham for her own birthday party.
       “Actually, I think she’s going to Cambridge then anyway,” explained Claire with a knowing grin, “something about seeing someone important.”

3. Lucy

At 1:30 the next day, Lucy’s phone rang. As “Pocket Full of Sunshine” filled the room, three groans emanated from the bed, the floor and – unusually – the wardrobe. Lucy resisted the urge to kick the large pile of blankets on the floor that was concealing Steve as she made her way out of the room. Fully dressed, having already been awake for a while, and without the colossal hangover that she knew her friends were suffering from, Lucy answered the phone and went downstairs to seek out a quiet spot.
         “That depends on who this is.”
         “It’s Carter. Remember, from yesterday?”
         “Carter! Hi there, how was your Friday night?”
         “Good thanks, how was yours? Did your friend get drunk?”
         “Which one?” Lucy laughed, “They all got absolutely smashed! I was the one serving them, so I know exactly how much they all drank!”
         “You’re a bartender? Where?” Carter sounded impressed.
         “Tipsy Tillie’s, down on the bridge on Mill Lane.” Carter now sounded even more impressed, which Lucy didn’t begrudge him. Tillie’s was a feat of engineering, built by extending the bridge across the river so wide that it could fit the road, a pathway and a bar. Strategically placed, near the university sports and social club and the Mill pub. The second pathway was on the other side meaning that there were two queues for entry. Parts of the floor were glass, so that you could see the water below. It was one of the most popular bars in town, especially since it was near more colleges than any other. What some bars struggled to make in a month, Tillie’s made in a weekend.
         “Wow, that place is incredible! My friends and I tried to get in there last week but the queue went all the way up Mill Lane and it would have been shut by the time we got to the front.”
         “I work alternate Fridays and Saturdays there. I’m not working tonight, so Neil will probably drag us to Revolution on Downing Street. What it is about chilli-flavoured vodka that excites him, I will never know.” Lucy poured herself a glass of milk and sat down on the sofa, taking advantage of the sitting room while all  her housemates and friends were in drunken stupors.
         “Well if you don’t want to go to Revolution, you could do something else.” Carter ventured, and Lucy hoped she knew what he was hinting at.
         “What else could I do that is worth my time and attention?” she probed.
         “Me, perhaps?”
         Lucy spluttered and nearly spat out her milk in surprise.
         “I mean, not literally, just as in you could come out with me instead. If you wanted to, I mean. It’s up to you. You probably don’t want to now. That came out completely wrong, I’m so sorry!” Carter was rambling. Lucy collected herself and laughed, “Carter, calm down! I know what you meant.” Carter breathed a sigh of relief and began to apologise again.
         “Sorry, usually I’m a lot more aware than that,” he explained.
         “Don’t worry about it,” Lucy chuckled.
         “I realise you probably don’t want to go out with me now. I’ll hang up and leave you alone forever. Sorry again.”
         “Carter, wait! If I hadn’t wanted you to ask me out, why would I have given you my number yesterday?”
         “Were you looking for a pen-pal, maybe?” Carter suggested.
         “Well as much as I’m sure you’d be an excellent pen-pal, I’d rather go on a date with you,” Lucy giggled, “I think that sounds like more fun, don’t you?”
         “Definitely.” Carter responded immediately, “I’ll pick you up at 6, then?”
         “Sounds brilliant,” Lucy said.
         “I’ll see you then, um, then! Bye!” and with that, he rang off.
Just then, Lucy heard movement and turned to see Steve making a beeline – albeit a rather slow, pained beeline – for the kettle. Lucy sprang up and headed over to him. Having been put in a good mood by Carter’s call, and being slightly stir-crazy (She’d been up since 11:30, amusing herself on Facebook while her friends remained comatose), she decided to speak rather more loudly to Steve than she needed to. She was still slightly angry at him for his antics at the bar last night, anyway.
         “How’s the hangover?” she inquired.
         “Sh,” Steve grunted, “coffee first.”
         “I was thinking about making a fry-up to celebrate my sobriety,” Lucy informed him, “feel like some lovely, greasy, fried bacon and gooey eggs? Think of the lovely smell.” Steve groaned and looked at her in what she assumed was his version of a malevolent glare. Funnily enough, it looked nothing like his sober glare. Her phone rang again and Steve moaned more loudly than possibly he needed to at the ringtone.
         “I don’t have your address.” Carter’s voice explained apologetically, “I was in such a rush to hang up because I thought you might change your mind after my accidental outburst.” Lucy giggled, Steve looked up from where he was staring at the kettle, willing it to boil faster and silently cursing whoever had last gone shopping for buying rubbish instant coffee.
         “Why on earth would I have changed my mind? I’m sure you’ll find a way to make up for your slip-up later,” she flirted. The kettle boiled, Steve poured himself a mug and gulped the first sip of the drink that had saved his life (and his 2-1 average) more times than he could count while listening to Lucy flirt and give her address to the caller.
         “See you later, then?” Lucy was saying by Steve’s second gulp. The other person replied and Lucy hung up. Steve grumbled his way to the sofa, feeling slightly better but acting slightly worse. Lucy sat beside him and looked at him expectantly. He said nothing and reached for the remote.
         “Don’t you want to know who that was?” she asked after a while.
         “Probably not.” Steve replied, “Was it your pimp?”
         “Yes, actually. He was asking where your mum had got to; she’s been skipping clients again,” Lucy countered. Steve looked at her sarcastically.
         “Go on then, tell me who it really was.”
         “It was Carter. He rang up and we’re going out tonight” Lucy burst out, clearly excited. Steve sipped his coffee, cringing at the poor quality.
         “Who?” he asked.
         “Carter!” Lucy repeated. Steve stared at her blankly. She sighed. “The rower from yesterday. The one who knew Neil. He’s picking me up at 6.”
       “Oh, him. Good for you, then.” Steve was unenthused. Lucy sighed again. Steve was hopeless when she wanted a reaction. Especially when he was hung-over. She would have to wait for Joe to wake up. Ironic, really, that he was still sleeping in her wardrobe.