Amanda, Freddy, Alex and I are downstairs in a bar. We are waiting for the first gig from Gin's new band. Alex has her arm around Amanda's neck.
I have finished my drink. I go upstairs to get another.
The bar is along the right hand side wall, and at the front there is a large window which looks across the street at a restaurant lit by candles on the tables. The tables are full of couples on Saturday night dates. I watch one couple, who look to be in their mid to late 20s. The woman is slim, dark-haired, wearing black trousers and a black mesh halter top, laced across her back. She has nude lipstick on. Sexy, but not too sexy.
The man has a blond beard and black-framed glasses. He's wearing pointed boots and skinny jeans, with a t-shirt which probably cost my entire week's food budget.
I imagine who they are. The guy has a smell of graphic designer about him. Maybe IT. She looks like marketing. As I watch she takes a good swig of her red wine, and then nearly spits it out when the guy says something funny. She puts her hand to her mouth, swallows, laughs uproariously, so loudly people nearby are looking. He's laughing too. He puts his hand across the table and on to hers. First date? Second date? Three months in? They're having a good time.
That little gesture - the guy putting his hand out to her - makes my throat constrict. I want someone to value me like that. To want to touch me in front of other people, like I'm his girlfriend.
Yeah, well, you can't make that happen. All I can do is live my own life, stay open to meeting people, and deal with my own feelings. I'll meet someone who feels like that about me; or I won't. I can ask for it, but I can't demand. It's not within my remit to control.
AND YOU DON'T EXACTLY HELP YOURSELF, says Matthew in my head. GUYS DON'T LIKE GIRLS WITH TATTOOS WHO SMOKE WEED ALL THE TIME AND HAVE ANGER ISSUES. IF YOU WANT A NICE BOYFRIEND YOU NEED TO DIET, STOP WATCHING SERIAL KILLER FILMS, READ MORE COSMOPOLITAN AND SHUT UP WHEN HE'S TALKING.
How would you know what men like? I say silently to him. You're not exactly representative. According to you, what men like is pre-pubescents. What do you mean, Cosmopolitan, anyway?
Looks like my personal paedophile has merged with my internalised cultural misogyny. Fucking great. I'm excited to be working with that combination.
I move on and study the other tables. At the next table a blonde woman is sitting by herself. She's pretty, but dressed badly. Her hair's pulled back in a way which doesn't suit her. I initially thought she was in her 50s, but she's at least 10 years younger than that. She looks sad, as if she's given up on something.
She's looking out of the window, drinking white wine. Derek walks up to the table and sits down opposite her.
I blink. I look away. I look back. He's still there. He has taken the chair opposite the window and next to her, so he's looking directly at this bar. I am suddenly aware that the lights in this bar are bright. I must be framed in this window. I think I see a faint smile on his face.
How would he know I was here? Don't be silly. Facebook. The band has a facebook page which I have liked. I've even written on the wall to say I'm going to be here.
I close my eyes. I can feel myself fragmenting. I am hyper-aware and at the same time not here. I'm frozen in space, unable to move or speak.
The music around me is Dirty Laundry by Don Henley. I'm remotely surprised by this. Is Don Henley cool now? Was Don Henley always cool and I just didn't know that? Or is this just one of those hipster irony things that I never get?
Personally, I don't think it matters. I like this song in a non-ironic way. It is, yes indeed, interesting when people die.
No, you can't. Don't disassociate. Don't you dare. I am here. I am Alice.
I force myself back into reality. Derek is still there. He looks straight at the bar - at me - for a second. With an effort, I turn and go down the stairs to rejoin my friends.