Isobel Morgan is a romance novelist with a drinking habit and an imaginary boyfriend. Nothing strange here.
I blame Jane Austen. Her notions of unrestrained romance taught me to hope that I too would get everything I desired in a man. He would bound into my bedchamber, incandescently handsome and aloof, and chastise me for setting his previously lukewarm heart alight. He would tell me he could not do without me, and I must certainly be his wife. But my youth is running away from me, and the dawning reality seems to have destined me to a quixotic end of chain smoking and hideous pastel cardigans. The hope of my own fairy tale ending is fast becoming a terribly tragic piece of fiction, left on an ugly chipboard bookshelf, gathering dust. She never lied about this, we and our mothers were all aware but happy to think otherwise. Today, the ideas I had about a future so desirous are wanton at best. Today of all days, it seems I am more pathetic than usual. Perhaps, I am only destined to put my love of love into fantasy to fool others, as a settlement for the cruel disservice which has been done to me. And then, on one uneventful day, some unfortunate person accidentally discovers the truth – that I, a lonely destroyer, did not die of a broken heart like all the heroines before my pen, but a heart that nobody broke at all.
“You're procrastinating, aren't you?” He speaks.
“Now is really not the best time” I say, pounding away at the keyboard. I really feel like I'm onto something, like in twenty cigarettes and a bottle of wine's time I could reach enlightenment.
“You'll be late.” Sigh. If it wasn't for me you wouldn't exist. I butt out and swallow the last of my liquid courage, and dare to take one last look in the mirror before heading to the apocalypse. I doubt my choice of outfit, but then again I doubt that it will matter.
Ripley State High welcomes you, Senior class of 1999, to your ten year reunion!Kill me, just kill me. The ugly banner looms above the much uglier beige doors. I remember this place all too well. Glancing around the car park I am disgusted by the flood of four wheel drives and the trophy wives parking them. People are scampering towards the trap door like the rat runners they were destined to turn into. And my lighter just ran out of gas. Fucking fantastic.
“Need a light, Morgan?” Oh holy Jesus. I have no chance to speak before William “Flasher” Norton fires up the cigarette hanging out of my mouth. He smiles that annoying, wicked smile of his, and shuffles up the stairs with the rest of them, only stopping for a second to give me a patronising wink.
“He seems nice.” He speaks again.
“Don't start” I say. He gives me a conceding nod and we ascend to my certain doom. The music pounds through the foundations, trying to repel the tacky decorations from the walls they have been so clumsily stuck to. Maybe the building has more taste than I thought?
“Isobel?!” she squeals. Fuck me. “Isobel Morgan, I knew that was you!” she exclaims. Who are you again, wench? “Tracey, Tracey Porter! Well it's Tracey Cassel now...” she practically shoves her wedding ring up my nose. “And who are you here with?” My date is easily the most handsome in the room. He's tall, dark and magnificent, with brown eyes and a thousand yard stare. Too bad I'm the only one who can see him. Tracey looks around the room for a man she knows isn't there. Tracey. Tracey. I've always hated that name.
“I came alone” I mumble. She gives me a forced look of pity. I don't sport with my intelligence by continuing the impending conversation, and make the standard bathroom excuse my reason for leaving. I swear I can see Flasher in my peripherals, smirking. I beeline for the bar.
“You shouldn't have let her speak to you like that.”
“And what was I supposed to do?” I spit. “Introduce her to my imaginary boyfriend from the nineteenth fucking century?” The bartender looks slightly surprised at my animated conversation with no one, but in his line of work I'd imagine this is perfectly normal. I motion for a glass of anything alcoholic and he obliges.
“You haven't changed.” That condescending tone leaves me in no doubt as to who it is. Begrudgingly, I turn around and accept my fate.
“Flasher” I say, sarcastically. “Who let you grow up?” He smiles, and notions for another drink.
“So I hear you're a writer, Morgan.” He carefully takes a sip, while keeping his laughing gaze fixed on my abhorrent one. I nod. I swallow. I tap my glass for a refill. “You write romance novels, is that right Morgan?” He smiles again, with the anticipation of my answer.
“Right.” I manage to say through my drink. “I write under a pseudonym though, so I can't imagine how you'd know that, unless of course you have a burning desire to read about quivering members” I say. Flasher is just one of those people who can pierce you with his tone; every word he speaks drips with causticity, but his eyes speak otherwise. He smiles at me and my cheeks start burning. I take a gulp and then he's gone.
“We're leaving” I say, slamming down my empty glass. The bartender looks confused. “I... I'm leaving. Er... goodbye” I stammer, and practically throw myself towards the door.
“Are you just going to leave without introducing me to anyone?” he says. Tonight, my imaginary friend has a sense of humour.
I wipe the steam from the mirror and stare at my blurred reflection. Ever since my seven minutes of reunion which shall now be referred to as hell, I've felt like a stupid analogy. My perfect man stands behind me, admiring the reflection I deem disgusting.
“What's the matter?” He speaks.
“Do you think romance is stupid?” I ask.
“I think a writer should be able to come up with a better word than stupid.” he replies.
“Don't overestimate me” I smirk. It seems my social engagements as of late bear a consistently daunting theme. Tonight, I meet with my editor for the first time. I've never met with an editor, face to face. They've always been mysterious entities locked away in ivory towers, communicating via email with frustrated CAPITALS.
I get to the restaurant with no minutes to spare. My expectations of this night are even lower than before. A waitress with an unnecessarily high pitched voice seats me, but I wave her away before she can get me as excited about the soup of the day as she is. My hands are cold and clammy, and I shove them under my jeans to avoid fidgeting with the condiments.
“Relax” he says.
“I don't mean to be rude, my darlinghallucination,” I whisper through clenched teeth. “But if you could just remain silent for one evening while I try desperately to hold on to some sort of professional integrity, well, that would just be lovely”.
“Morgan.” My interior monologue is interrupted by a familiar voice. Flasher is standing by my table, grinning like an idiot. “Who are you talking to?” he asks inquisitively.
“The menu” I stutter. Real good answer, psycho.
“Mind if I take a seat?” he asks, moving into the booth without waiting for my answer.
“Actually, I'm waiting for someone” I say.
“You got a hot date, Morgan?” He's grinning wider now.
“Yeah” I say casually, like it's a regular occurrence. Flasher looks at me for too long, smiling that smile of his. I glance around the table for a blunt object, but before I have found my weapon he adds, “Well we'll just get right down to it, before your hot date arrives.” He plops my manuscript on the table. You have got to be kidding me.
“You're my editor” I say, not quite believing this universal joke.
“Yep” He opens up the manuscript. This cannot end well.
“Would you excuse me, for just a moment?” I say, as politely as my insanity will allow. Flasher obliges with a casual wave. In five seconds flat, I'm in the ladies toilet, preparing myself for a trip to the panic station.
“What are you doing?” He speaks. Okay, so I should probably have explained this before. Flasher and I, we sort of have a history, albeit an over-dramatised teenage one. Long story short, he wrote me a letter in senior year, along the lines of feelings and intentions of my accompanying him to our school formal. His words stood alone on a page with no inflection to influence them, and without his physical performance of double meanings, I almost thought it was a nice gesture.
“But I didn't believe him,” I stammer. “I thought it was a joke. I ignored him. He took somebody else. End of story.” And I'm twenty-seven years old, sitting in a crummy public toilet cubicle, having a cry about a boy I stood up in high school. Get a grip.
“Sorry about that” I say, taking my seat. Flasher gives me an odd look before replying.
“No problem,” he smiles. We share an awkward look, before finding the table a far more suitable object to stare at. Flasher clears his throat. “The first thing I want to discuss are your characters,” he says. “Namely, your perfect man, Henry.” I exchange glances with my imagination. Flasher could have no idea that Henry was sitting opposite him. “Who is he, really?”
“What do you mean” I ask.
“Is he anything more than a thinly veiled version of Mr. Darcy?” he says, smirking.
“He's dignified, intelligent, generous...” I am cut off by a scoff. “Charming and gallant,” I continue. “Qualities in a man youwould probably know not of” I say in defence.
“That was below the belt” he smirks.
“Look, I don't feel I need to justify him to you” I say, slightly miffed.
“I just need you to consider the fact that a) this character has been done to death, and b) he doesn't exist.”
“He has a point.” Henry says.
“He does not have a point!” I exclaim. I am too worked up to realise that I just openly spoke to thin air. Flasher eyes widen to the size of saucers.
“Who are you talking to?” he leans forward, with an almost frightened tone.
“What?” I look around, quickly coming to the conclusion that I should probably think of an escape plan, before Flasher dials the white-coats. “No one, what?” I'm stuttering. “Sorry, I'm just, I'm just...” Think, Morgan, think! “I'm just a bit drunk that's all.” I blurt out.
“I'm going to go” he says, and reaches for his coat. I swear he almost looks upset.
“No, wait! Please,” I grab his arm, and speaking in a hurried but low voice, I do the best to convince my editor to a) not leave thinking I'm an alcoholic deadbeat novelist with my head so far up Austen's arse I can't tell where she ends and I begin and b)... I don't have one. But I know I don't want him to leave. “Please just, sit, sit down, let me explain.” He crosses his arms, and looks at me like I'm back in the principals office. I look into those expectant eyes and wish for that smile of his to return. His eyes are moving right through me and my cheeks are officially nuclear. I can do nothing but smile like an idiot. Flasher smirks a little, and I see him take a gulp of air. I liken this feeling of mutual breathlessness to potential heart failure or the flirtation between the salt and pepper shakers.
“Do you like my cardigan?” I say, rather dumbly. There's that smile. Shit, just what I need.