Chase was in a bad mood when he wandered into work on the seventh of March. He was known as a bit of a reclusive mystery at work. He didn’t like to draw attention to himself and kept mainly to his private cubicle. However, due to a few incidents involving “after work” drinks, in which Chase had let his hair down, so to speak, he had slowly developed a reputation for being the highly amusing dark horse of his company. At these rare events Chase seemed to radically transform from quiet worker bee to the witty life of the party. As such he attempted to avoid as many ‘work’ functions as possible, much to the disappointment of his highly bored colleagues.
Today, however, was an exception. It was Chase’s thirty-first birthday, and his colleagues had somehow got wind of it. Intending to do as little work as possible, Chase immediately logged on to facebook to check for birthday messages of which he was certain there should be at least sixty, maybe seventy. Of course he didn’t care about most of the people that proudly sat in his list of ‘friends’, but that was beside the point. At least the existence of such a hearty list of ‘friends’, all lined up in a neat long row, made one feel significant. He read through all fifty two of his birthday messages, and wondered why he felt empty when the last one had been devoured.
However, what he was most interested in was who had presented the most appealing offer for his attention that evening. It had, as usual, come from Macca – one of the only people Chase was remotely close to. Drinks with a few friends at the Belgian Beer Café … excellent.
Dressed in a white loose-fitted top, skinny jeans, and fabulous high red shoes, Hope sat drinking a cointreau, lime and soda, with her best friend Ally. They had known one another for over four years now, which in the grand scheme of things wasn’t that long, but they had experienced one of those instant connections. They worked together at a hairdressing salon in Claremont. For such great friends they were really not alike at all. Hope was quiet, introverted and somewhat of a homebody. Ally, on the other hand, was impulsive, daring and spontaneous. Maybe that was why they got along so well – Ally brought out the adventurous, quirky, wild side of Hope, whereas Hope calmed Ally down and grounded her. Ally had an interesting life and was always looking for the next adventure. Her every moment was directed towards her next trip. At the moment she was planning a long trip to India and Nepal with her close friend, Damo, who Hope was adamant was secretly in love with Ally.
‘So how are things with Dean?’ Ally asked as she vigorously sucked at her vodka.
She was very beautiful – short, slender and unusual – sort of Egyptian looking. Hope grimaced slightly at the question. ‘That bad?’ Ally could read her like a book.
Hope pensively stirred her drink with her straw. ‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s really weird. It’s like, all of a sudden something’s not right, and I don’t know what it is. I can’t put my finger on it. I mean … I love him sure, we’ve been together for over four years now, and it would be really strange not being together … but, I think I’m coming to the realisation that there’s heaps of things I just don’t like about him. Things are bothering me that didn’t before.’
Ally cocked her head to the side. ‘Like what?’
Hope looked up in thought and sighed. ‘Like his friends – if you can call them that. They’re acquaintances really, that’s what they are. And these late hours and the fact that he always wants to go out after work at midnight. He’s so … not settled. But, you know, what really bothers me the most is that he’s just the same all the time. He never gets even remotely emotional about anything.’
‘Well, he is a guy Hope’ Ally snorted.
‘Yeah, I know, but he’s so fucking festive and energetic all the time, honestly it’s exhausting. It sounds stupid I know, but it’s really getting to me all of a sudden. I mean he’s never even home! He’s at work during the week until the early hours of the morning, and then on the weekends he’s out all night. I never see him! I may as well be living alone.’
‘So break up with him,’ Ally said very matter-of-factly as she sucked the last of her vodka. Everything was black and white with Ally.
‘I can’t, I mean, I don’t want to really … do I? Oh, I don’t know!’ She threw her head back in exasperation and ran her hands down her face.
Ally looked intently at Hope. ‘You know what you need?’
‘Four more double drinks and then a good hearty dance.’
Tanner was quick and methodical as he scrubbed the dishes. He could hear the din from the restaurant echoing through to the confines of the white kitchen. The chef bustled around the stove, emphatically waving his hands at the wait-staff, who scurried back and forth wishing they were somewhere else.
Tanner blocked out the boring sounds of the kitchen and focused his ears on the whispers of banter emanating from the dining room. Lovers, friends, and colleagues – all meeting, talking, laughing, exchanging stories and anecdotes. Of course Tanner could not hear precisely what it was that they were conversing about. But it didn’t matter. He found something interesting and beautiful about the sound of unified chatter, and he let his imagination make up stories about the lives behind those voices. He wondered what they would do when they went home, where they had come from, what they longed for, what they hid closest to their hearts.
As Tanner contentedly scrubbed the never ceasing pile of dishes, he considered which of the diners were aware of their true selves, and which sat bickering in blind ignorance. Tanner naively hoped that none present fell into the latter category.
Chase stood swaying ever so slightly, beer in hand, as he negotiated what he considered to be a very important conversation with a girl he had just met at the bar. It was quite late in the evening by this stage, and after many free birthday pints, Chase was naturally, and very satisfactorily, pissed.
‘You’re telling me that you’ve never been overseas?’ he asked, incredulous.
The pretty young girl smiled warmly at him. ‘That’s right.’
Chase furrowed his brow and thought about this information. ‘But, you obviously want to go?’
The girl bit her lip and looked away, starting to feel a little uncomfortable. ‘No, not really I’ve gotta say.’
Chase stared at her in disbelief as he tried to process her ridiculous attitude. She, on the other hand, seemed completely undeterred and not even slightly embarrassed or ashamed of such an admission.
‘You’re telling me, you are telling me … that you have absolutely no desire to ever go and see any part of the world?’ No that couldn’t possibly be right, he thought – clearly she was confused by the question.
But she was adamant. ‘That’s right.’
Still she showed no embarrassment or dramatic change in stance. Outrageous! Chase leant in, swaying with suppressed indignation along with drunkenness, and jutted his beer at her. ‘That’s madness. The world is amazing, you’ve gotta go see some of it, you just have to, I can’t – and won’t – take no for an answer! At least one place, come on. I’ve been places and let me tell you, you wanna to go places, places are good.’
By now the girl was getting very annoyed at his pressing attitude. Standing up straighter she firmly said, ‘Look, I’m just not one of those people who needs to travel. End of story.’
With that she walked off, leaving Chase pointing his beer at nothing while he swayed in mild shock and confusion.
At that point Macca came over and put his arm around Chase. ‘Chase man, try not to frighten off the ladies will you? With each one gone you’re lessening your chances of a birthday root.’
Chase sipped his beer and raised his eyebrows. ‘Point taken.’
The thud of music pounded through Hope’s being as she sat cross legged at the bar. Dean was immersed in a sea of haunted bodies on the dance floor, mad iridescent lights playing upon his form. Hope watched him from what felt like miles away. She was detached. Dancing wasn’t her thing – at least not to this kind of music. She was quite used to keeping to the sidelines as Dean worked out the day’s frustration.
Catching sight of her watching him, he beamed happily and danced over to her. Sweat lined his overly cheerful brow. ‘Want another drink baby doll?’ He had an infectious smile.
She smiled back at him. ‘Please.’
He ordered her another Chardonnay as she inquisitively gazed at him. Dean handed her the glass, and taking his own, took a vigorous swig as he turned to lean against the bar. His sandy blonde hair was perfectly sculpted in a messy disguise. Dressed in jeans and an open, white, striped collared shirt with the first few buttons suggestively and deliberately left undone, he looked hot, as always. His face had a glow of delight and optimism as he happily surveyed the crowd.
Hope found herself staring at him with unusual perceptiveness. He seemed so happy. So why did that bother her so much all of a sudden? It didn’t make any sense. Then she realised that the problem truly was that Dean was always happy – always happy, always cheery, always optimistic, always the same. At first she had found it remarkable and admirable that Dean managed to maintain such a happy attitude to life. Now, in this moment, she realised that she wanted more from him, more of him. She was no longer convinced of the permanence of his fun-loving persona. There had to be more to him. She wanted to reach out to him and touch him. She wanted to look inside him and discover things that nobody else had seen.
Both touched and disturbed by this line of thought, Hope wanted to be alone with Dean. She gently clasped his arm. ‘Hey, do you think we could go?’
Dean stopped swaying to the music and looked at her perplexed. ‘We just got here.’
Hope felt the need to get out of there and talk to him, really talk, burn up inside her. ‘I know, but I really want to go. Can we please go somewhere else, just the two of us, and talk?’ Her eyes pleaded with him.
He sighed and cocked his head to the side. ‘Come on babe, I only just got off work and I told Phil we’d be here. We can talk tomorrow.’ Catching sight of Phil in the crowd Dean cut himself short as he yelled, ‘Speak of the devil! I’ll be back.’ And with that he sprang off excitedly.
Hope felt her heart sink into her stomach. As she watched Dean welcome his group of ‘friends’ and meld into the seething crowd she suddenly felt inescapably alone. A hot rush of icy faintness leapt to her head. Her body began to tingle as the music thumped through it ruthlessly.
‘You look like you’re having a good time.’
It took a moment for Hope to realise that someone was talking to her. She turned and saw an older guy a couple of seats down at the bar, looking at her.
‘Sorry?’ she said faintly.
He moved closer to her, but stayed a respectful distance away. ‘I said – you look like you’re having a great time. I’m being sarcastic of course … Would another drink cheer you up?’
Hope sighed and automatically drew out her usual response to such a question. ‘Thankyou, but I have a boyfriend. He’s over there, dancing.’
The guy glanced over and raised his eyebrows. ‘Why aren’t you dancing?’
‘I don’t really like dancing. Well, not to this kind of music anyway. Actually I really hate this kind of music to be honest.’ She chuckled nervously.
He cocked his head to the side and studied her. ‘Then what are you doing here? The music’s never going to change.’
There was quite a strange and startling honesty to the question. Hope sensed that this guy was asking her out of genuine curiosity, without any hidden male agenda. ‘I honestly don’t know. I’ve been asking myself that same thing for a while now.’
The guy took a sip of his drink. ‘I’ll tell you a secret cause I’ve been around a bit longer than you.’ He drew in closer to her. ‘You can waste you’re whole life in a place like this. People do that you know. It’s sad. If you don’t like it, then leave. It’s never going to change, and you’re not going to either as long as you keep coming back.’
Hope considered this. ‘I can’t just leave my boyfriend.’ She looked over at him. He was dancing madly with a huge group of hideously trendy fools, and a strange girl was gyrating suggestively up against him. He was loving it. She felt sick.
‘On second thought, I will have that drink. And make it a double.’
Tanner serenely hummed a tune as he walked home in the middle of the night. Taking the shortcut through the park, he stopped on the oval and threw his backpack to the ground. He looked up at the stars. It was a magnificent, clear night. The stars sparkled with white brilliance. The moon was a shimmering crescent of purity. Tanner lay out flat on the grass and stared up at the ethereal sky, intoxicated by the presence of such overwhelming beauty all around him.
He wasn’t sure quite how it happened, but later that night Chase found himself dancing manically on the dance floor of a completely different establishment from the one he’d started out at. In fact he wasn’t sure where he was, but he could see his friends close by so he wasn’t concerned.
He bopped up to Macca and screeched, ‘Fishing line!’
Both men simultaneously broke into a very bad and embarrassing repetitive dance move that involved the miming of a line being thrown out emphatically and then being reeled in. The appearance of the Fishing Line manoeuvre inevitably led to a series of private dances that managed to attract the attention of a small gaggle of women who were dancing suggestively nearby.
Thud thud thud. The beat ripped through Chase’s body, making it vibrate. Blurry lights. Vivid patterns. His past splattered on the walls. Not now. He didn’t want to think about her now. Not here. She had no place here. Thud thud thud. Dance, just dance. Beat the energy out of you. Rid yourself of the chambers of deceit. Denial was so sweet. The beer tasted good. The women were hot. All was good. Still, Chase didn’t know how much longer he could fool himself. The drink just exacerbated it really. Sure you were happy for a few hours of ignorant bliss. But it always came back. The haunting stab of reality, made more agonisingly real by the effects of the drugs. Fuck it. Just dance man.
When Chase woke up with a thundering headache, he had to think extremely hard before he was able to recall the name of the woman lying next to him. Emily – he was about 88% certain that was it.