The wide open space is where Lucia feels safe. In a crowded room, however, she is terrified. Too many people, too much noise. She wants to disappear. Her feelings are fugacious; Lucia knows once she leaves the party, she’ll feel normal again.
Just as she reaches for a cracker and sinks it into a bowl of hommus, she hears her name called. Turning, she stares straight into the chest of man. She looks up and up further.
‘Jeremy, how are you?’ she asks, when her eyes finally lock onto his. Her fingers tightly grip her glass, the other hand holds the cracker. She doesn’t know what to do—pop it in her mouth and then have to chew in front of him, or hold onto it. Either option will exacerbate her inferiority complex.
‘Great. Yeah really great.’ Jeremy rubs his hand over his head, tousling his hair. ‘It’s been years. Wow. How many? Six? Do you know?’
Seven years, three months, one week and four days. ‘No idea,’ she responds. ‘I think probably about six. Yeah, sounds right.’
She’s aware of how stilted their conversation is. She feels ridiculous holding the bloody cracker. She opens her mouth and places the whole cracker on her tongue.
‘God, you look great,’ Jeremy whispers.
Lucia doubts him immediately. She’s gained roughly a kilo each year since they broke up, and now, she’s munching on a cracker. No one ever looks good chewing. Fact. But still, she glows from the inside, warmth from his compliment seeps from her core to her toes, up to the tip of her head. She flicks her hair over her shoulder and hates herself for enjoying his attention.
‘It’s got quite long,’ Jeremy says.
‘Oh, right.’ Lucia absentmindedly runs her fingers through her wavy locks. ‘I decided to grow it about a year ago.’
Silence. Of the most awkward variety. Lucia’s mind scrambles for something to say.
‘Still at Harper and Co.?’ she asks.
‘Yep. Although not sure how much longer I’ll be there,’ Jeremy begins. She nods, and he takes it as licence to continue. He unleashes his experience over the last three years: being overlooked for promotions, an unwise workplace dalliance, an ongoing inquiry into insider trading. All this, she does not want to know.
Her mind wanders. She thinks of her country property with those green fields, trees, the dam and her animals. The rolling hill on the way to the dam, the rustic table and chairs she put under the tree for breakfast with a view. The comfort of home is a warm hug and she settles into it while Jeremy rambles on with his first-world problems.
‘Lucia?’ Jeremy prompts. ‘What do you think?’
Christ, he asked her something. She has to admit she wasn’t listening. It’s familiar…he bored her. She got cranky, he became sullen. Fights, snarled words, and crockery destroyed. Even a door broken off its hinge before they finally called it quits.
‘Sorry, you mumbled that last bit. Didn’t hear you properly.’
‘I asked if you wanted to have a drink with me. For old times sake?’
She looks up into his eyes again. Bright, big, hopeful, like a puppy. She’s about to euthanise that puppy. And she doesn’t have any guilt over it.
‘Jeremy, that’s nice of you. But no. We’re done.’
His entire body sags in disappointment. Her sense of inferiority is quelled by the power within femaleness. Lucia touches his arm lightly as she walks away. She finds the host, excuses herself and makes her way home. And she was right earlier, once she leaves the party, she feels normal, safe again.