The next morning everything seemed quiet. I guessed Jak. Ali and Liam were still sleeping off the night so I got up and padded down stairs. I stepped in to the kitchen intent on making a hot chocolate and found Liam sitting at the table, staring round at the remainders of the party.
"You're up early." I whispered, tip toe-ing across the floor since the kitchen was partially under Jak and Ali's room. "Or haven't you slept?"
"I've slept." He replied. "I just kept waking up thinking I could hear a baby crying so I gave up."
"Dreaming about Blip's arrival already?"
"I think it's just sunk in how big of a hell it's going to be."
"Trust me, we'll get through it."
"Kid's going to have Jak and Ali as parents, and us as aunties and uncles. Of course it'll be okay."
"Aunty Liam has a nice ring to it." I chuckled quietly as the kettle boiled.
"Better than Uncle Cara."
"Hey! Uncle Cara sounds awesome."
"You're such a weirdo."
"Takes one to know one."
"And a child apparently."He snorted.
"Look brother Liam..."
"Yes sister Cara?"
"... okay even I have to admit we sound like we're monks and nuns now."
"That's my halloween costume sorted. All the girls love a monk."
"Sure... because monks and pulling on a night out really go together."
"You're forgetting the tradition of making everything sexy. Sexy cop, sexy nurse... this year it's going to be sexy monk."
"You've been a sexy nurse before? I'd pay for that photo." Liam went to throw a plastic cup at me but I shushed him and pointed to the ceiling. "Let them sleep!"
"I'll reserve your punishment until later then."
"Don't forget I have a photo of you in a makeshift skirt from last night."
"Were you born evil?"
"Evil isn't born, it's made." I replied winking.
"You just went and quoted Regina didn't you?"
"That woman owns the show. Seriously."
"She did have a rather impressive attitude."
"Speaking of impressive, you and Kay were doing some impressive dance moves last night."
"What can I say? I've got skills."
"You know he has the biggest crush on you in the history of ever?"
"I had gathered."
"And you... do you...?" I paused and looked at him. He smirked and stood up, yawning.
"Well since there's a lot of tidying to do and you have work at eleven, I suggest we get tidying."
"You're an ass."
We spent an hour tidying everything and laughing as quietly as possible together before I had to go and get ready to leave. When I returned downstairs, showered and dressed for work, Liam wolf whistled.
"I knew you'd look good!"
"Why? They're awake. They're trying to be quiet but they're definitely awake." He chuckled. I laughed and glanced up at the ceiling. I hadn't heard anything but then I had been in the shower...
"Right. Well it's just a uniform."
"Everyone loves someone in a uniform."
"Sure sure. Go have a drink with Kay or something."
"Go serve customers wench."
"It's a high end restaurant, not a brothel."
"Sure sure... just make sure that if anyone tries anything on you make them tip you." He winked.
"Not. A. Brothel." I smacked his arm and grabbed my coat, shrugging it on and fastening the belt around my waist. "See you later."
"Cool. Reckon you could pick up some shopping?"
"Sure. Text me a list, I'll see what I can do."
"Great. Have a good day at work!"
"Yes darling." I scoffed and waved goodbye. I walked to work, fiddling nervously with the belt of my coat. My uniform, the white shirt with elbow length sleeves tucked in to black high waisted skirt and coupled with black tights and shoes, was neat under it and I felt like it represented nothing inside me. It was organised and together and after last night I felt nothing like that. I could feel the tension in my chest that had only eased slightly after the tears; a weight I felt would never leave. It had stayed, and probably would continue to stay, because I had made a mistake.
"Cara?" I looked up in to the eyes of my manager. Somehow I had wandered in to the building without even realising it.
"Oh... Maria... hi sorry. I was just thinking."
"Are you alright?"
"Yes. Yes I'm fine. Excited for my first proper shift."
"Good. Well hang your coat and bag in the staff room and then find me again. I'm starting you seating people just to break you in, and then we'll have you do your first table waiting shift tomorrow. I want you to know everything so that we can get you on evenings for when you get back to University."
"Alright." I went in to the back, hung up my coat and bag like I'd been told and went out to the front again. Maria gave me a quick run through on where the book of reservations was and how to great customers, and then disappeared as people started arriving. I soon got in to the swing of things; asking everyone if they had a reservation and finding their seats for them if they had, directing people to the bar so I could find a free table if they hadn't.
"Cara?" I glanced up and came face to face with Myra. Oh crap.
"Myra... hi. Erm..." I glanced behind her and saw no one I knew. I breathed a sigh of relief. "Do you have a reservation?"
"Yes I'm meeting with the owner of a gallery. It should be under his name; Grant." She stared at me for a moment; I could feel her eyes on me as I looked for the name.
"Table for two, Grant. Got it. Would you like to wait at the bar until he arrives or be shown to the table?"
"Table please." I nodded and grabbed the menus, hurrying to show her the table so I could leave her be as fast as possible. "How are you?" She asked from behind me.
"Uh... I'm... I'm okay. How are you?"
"I'm fine." As I turned to show her the table I could see she knew I wasn't really asking about her. "Sam's a little better. She's away at the moment though."
I nodded and tried to slow my breathing.
"So you're meeting with someone else from the gallery."
"Actually no. Another gallery. I have an exhibition that I can't show at Sam's gallery."
"Oh, why...? Sorry, none of my business. I'll leave you to your... um sorry did you want a drink?"
"Yes. Glass of dry white wine." I nodded and headed to the bar to get her order. When I returned and settled it down I had to stop myself from bolting. "Can I get you anything else?"
"No thank you."
"Alright your waitress will be out to see you shortly."
"Yes?" I stopped mid turn.
"It's you. The exhibition. It's the pictures and the painting of you. That's why I'm showing them somewhere else."
"Oh." I gulped.
"I am sorry... for what it's worth. I was an idiot and Sam deserved so much better-"
"-Maybe. We all make mistakes. My friend is waiting." She pointed to my station where a man in his sixties was waiting wearing a very expensive looking suit and leaning on a cane.
"Sorry. I'll fetch him."
I headed over, flushed with embarrassment at my idiocy and Myra's calm attitude. Her indifference had been something I'd seen before but it felt different now. She wasn't indifferent; it was like she was hurt but she wasn't hating me. If anything she just seemed sad.
"Hello sir, you must be Mr. Grant?"
"Yes, I am."
"Let me show you to your table. Your friend is waiting."
"Thank you young lady." He followed me to the table and greeted Myra warmly. She had laid a portfolio on the table that I had been too flustered to notice before. "You brought the pictures! Excellent. Young lady I would like a scotch." He said to me before turning back to Myra. I got his order and returned to them, repeating that their waitress would be with them shortly. Then I returned thankfully to my station and breathed a sigh of relief. Now all I wanted was the shift to end. I hadn't thought that this might be a place people I had met through Sam would go. I froze. What if one day Sam came here?
An hour later I had shoved my fears aside for when I got home and been working hard. I'd seen no one else I knew, although Myra and her friend were still at the table. No one had come in for a while and I had just finished writing down a reservation for the evening when Myra appeared, followed by Mr. Grant.
"So it is her then!" Mr. Grant exclaimed, peering at me. "Young lady the pictures have come out a treat. I'd start saving up now if you want one; I'm going to make them sell like hot cakes!" He chuckled and then disappeared to find his and Myra's coats. Myra looked at me thoughtfully.
"You know, you should come to the show."
"I- I couldn't."
"Cara I don't hate you, you know. You made a mistake and you hurt my friend. But you do deserve to see these pictures, even if we never talk afterwards. So come. Give me your address and I'll send you an invite. Plus one so you don't have to come alone."
"But what if... will she...?"
"There's a reason it's not at Sam's gallery Cara. She won't be there. Come on, write down your address."
I relented and wrote the address down, thinking I could always refuse to go when the invites came.
"Thank you, Myra." I said, handing it to her. "And congratulations on getting them shown."
"Congratulations to you too young lady!" Mr. Grant had reappeared. "I hope you gave Myra your address?" I nodded. "Good! Then I will see you at the show!"
They both disappeared out of the door and I took a deep breath, glancing at the wall. Three more hours. Then I could go and hug someone.
When I finally got out of work I sent Anna a text asking if she was free to talk, and then headed to the shops with the list Liam had sent me. Weighed down with toilet roll, bags of pasta and washing up liquid I wandered home with aching feet, hoping Anna would soon text me back so I could tell her and the others everything that had happened.