I always feel the first effects of alcohol in my thighs. They get warmer, feel almost liquid. When I smoke weed, I know I'm starting to get stoned when my thighs go numb.
How strange it is. Why do people always say “That drink went to my head”? I look around the table. Jena, Suzy, Michelle.
“That drink went to my thighs,” I say.
“You what?” says Michelle.
It's shaping up to be a strange evening, full of awkward silences and jokes going flat. I'm tired. I don't want to be here, but I want to connect with Jena. I haven't seen her for a little while. After the incident with Chris, I'm concerned about her.
You should have told her the truth when she first asked you about him, Alice, I think.
Yes. I should have done. I let her down. She wouldn't have listened, but that's not the point.
I look at Jena. She's cut her hair. It's gone from elbow-length blonde curls to a chin-length wavy bob.
She's lost weight. She's wearing a beautiful burgundy lace dress, but it's not something I would have thought she'd buy; the high neckline and knee-length skirt is not to her usual taste. She's wearing less makeup, but the colours are much better on her skin.
She's changed her style, I realise, from sexy to elegant. It's an unnervingly quick transformation. A matter of weeks.
But she really does look amazing. She's always been a pretty woman, but her sense of style was basic; she dressed and did her hair like everyone else in the bar. Now she's genuinely striking. A proper blonde femme fatale. When she went to the bathroom I noticed people – both men and women - staring after her as she walked across the room.
“You look great,” I say. “I love this whole new look,”
“Thanks,” she says, and gives me a quick smile.
“What brought on the change?” I ask.
She shrugs. “I don't know. Bored with myself, I guess.”
There's something...some imperceptible change in her manner to me that I don't like. There's a chill on her friendliness. She's being polite, rather than pleased to see me. No “I haven't seen you for ages! It's been too long! How are you?”
I remember that Michelle texted me about tonight, not Jena. Jena hasn't texted me for weeks. There was a time I couldn't get her off my phone.
It's nothing I can put my finger on, but it's there. She's closed off to me. And she hasn't mentioned Chris once. Suzy asked how it was going with him and she said: “It's great,” without any detail. That is not Jena. I knew everything about her last boyfriend, from his habit of eating Pop Tarts at 3am to the “weird” bend in his penis. I knew when he took her out to dinner and what they had to eat. I knew his brand of shower gel.
I have a sudden thought. I feel my stomach drop. If I was Chris....I might not want us talking so much. After all, I could tell Jena about our relationship, such as it was, and I have – or had – some influence with her. If I was Chris, I might tell Jena some things about me. Get in first, so to speak. It would be a win on several levels; she would end up more isolated and under his thumb, he'd discredit anything I said to her about him, and he'd have the pleasure of destroying one of my close relationships into the bargain. It's the obvious move for the up-to-date modern abuser. Of course it is.
OR MAYBE SHE HAS JUST FINALLY WORKED OUT YOU ARE AN IRRITATING ASSHOLE, offers Matthew. This is unhelpful.
There is no way of knowing for sure that Chris has said something to Jena. Could have done. Or, as Matthew has just observed, she could be pissed off with me about something else. But either way I don't think this new Jena likes me any more. I can feel the chill rolling off her in waves.
My body rebels when I'm in a situation I find emotionally stressful. I get severe stomach cramps and sometimes diarrhoea. I can feel the nausea beginning now as I look at the way Jena's eyes are not meeting mine. This is not conducive to relaxation, nor to thinking about how I can possibly resolve this with her. “Are you pissed off with me?” sounds whiny. “Has Chris said something about me?” is obviously completely fucking impossible.
“You all right?” I ask. It's a feeble opening, but I'm hoping she'll take it and talk to me.
“Fine,” she says. “I'm absolutely fine.”