“What did you do that for?” I complained, pulling myself out from under Owen’s arm.
“What did I do?” He asked innocently.
“Come over and act all protective and possessive. We were getting on well until you showed up.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I was interrupting anything,’ Owen said defensively. “In fact, from where I was standing he was looking confrontational, I didn’t like the way he was looking at you so I thought I should come over and make sure he knew you weren’t alone.”
“You’re not my brother, Owen,” I said, getting far angrier than I thought I would, the alcohol clearly beginning to have an effect on me after only a few sips. “I don’t need you to protect me.”
“I’m sorry, I thought I was doing the right thing. Maybe next time I’ll leave you to fend for yourself.” Owen retorted, sweeping away from me in a huff. I forced myself to go against my natural instinct to go after him and apologize for being so rude to him. He has to know that you’re not interestedI heard Alex’s voice tell me in my head. It’s not fair otherwise.
I wasn’t usually one to listen to voices in my head but this time I knew the voice was right. I liked Owen but no more than as a friend, whereas he clearly had other ideas. Wrapping his arm around me when I was talking to Lloyd seemed to be a very possessive gesture, telling Lloyd to back off because I was Owen’s. I didn’t like that. I was no one’s property and I didn’t wish to be treated as such, to be fought over like a toy two children want to play with at the same time. For once, I wanted to make that choice.
I took an angry swig from the bottle in my hand in an attempt to numb the urge to hit something that was bubbling up inside me. It seemed to work as I felt the tension drain from me and inner calm was restored. I didn’t even know where my anger was coming from, I wasn’t naturally an angry person so why had Owen’s actions prompted such a strong reaction from me? I didn’t think I wanted to know the answer.
Trying to shake the encounter off, I left the kitchen in search of Aislinn or Lily, they would be able to put me back to my normal self. When I couldn’t see Lily I assumed she was surrounded by a group of her guests or busy doing hosty-type things. Aislinn on the other hand was much easier to find, nervously looking around the room at the sea of people, slightly bewildered by it all.
“You alright?” I asked as I approached. “You’re looking a bit lost.”
“I feel it,” Aislinn replied. “I thought you weren’t drinking.” She nodded at the bottle in my hand.
“I’m only having the one, Lily insisted and she’s not really in the mood to take no for an answer. And anyway, I think I’m going to need it.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing that bad,” I reassured Aislinn when I saw the worried look on her face. “Just Owen taking a step more than necessary.”
“Should I ask what happened?”
“I was talking to this guy, Lloyd, and we were getting on well until Owen turned up. He put his arm around me like he was telling Lloyd to back off and I was already taken.”
“He just wants to make sure you’re alright, that’s all.”
“I wish he would warn me beforehand that he’s going to act like a possessive boyfriend every time a guy so much as glances in my direction. It’s not his job.”
“That’s the alcohol talking,” Aislinn said disapprovingly, making a grab for the bottle in my hand. “Give it to me.”
“Don’t you start as well, Aislinn,” I protested, holding the bottle out of her reach. “I thought university was a place where you learnt how to be independent and find yourself. This is me finding myself.”
“What has gotten into you, Nessie?” Aislinn asked, stunned by my behaviour. “You’re acting really strangely.”
“How do you know?” I asked confrontationally, my mouth now working independently from my brain. “What if this is the real me and the person you’ve known for the last week isn’t actually real?”
“Stop it, Nessie, you’re being stupid now.” Aislinn’s tone held no hint of humour and even through the slight haze of alcohol that was blurring my mind I could tell I’d gone far enough and it was time to stop.
“I’m sorry,” I said, putting the bottle down. “I don’t understand why I’m acting like this. Maybe talking to Alex has opened up something I would have preferred to stay hidden.”
“You need to stop letting Luke dominate your life.”
“How did you know this is about him?”
“Every time I see you looking up at the board at his picture your eyes are tearing up.”
“I didn’t realise it was so obvious,” I said, looking down into my lap and feeling strangely ashamed of myself. “What do you think I should do, Aislinn?”
“Honestly? I don’t think you’ll like what I want to tell you.”
“I think I need to hear it, even if it’s going to hurt,” I said, bracing myself for what Aislinn was going to say.
“In my opinion, you need him out of your life. Not forever,” she hastily added after seeing the shock on my face, “but just for a while. Just until you’ve moved on and can bare to look at him without bursting into tears.”
“Am I really that bad?” I asked, cringing at the thought of Aislinn seeing me staring at Luke’s photo.
“I don’t mean to offend you,” Aislinn began, “but you did look very puppy-eyed and forlorn.” I could see she was fighting to hold back a smile and one small elbow in the ribs from me sent her into hysterics. “I’m sorry,” she spluttered, aware that I was now laughing at her.
“It’s alright,” I replied. “I probably needed you to tell me that anyway.”
“So you’re not going to be all angry and confrontational again?”
“I’ll try not to be.”
“In that case, tell me about this Lloyd. Is he in this room?”
“I don’t think so,” I said as I looked at the bodies crammed into the centre of the room, dancing to the steady pulse of the bass.
“Then you’ll just have to describe him to me. So, what does he look like?”
“He’s very tall,” was my first comment, “at least by my standards. He’s at least six foot three, if not taller. He has quite a handsome face, very open and engaging. I think his hair was a sort of dark blonde, it was hard to tell because the lights were down low.”
“He sounds very dreamy,” Aislinn said, but there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm behind the words or any sort of envy that I had seen him first. But a glint appeared in her eyes that unsettled me. “In fact, I think we should go find him for you.” In one swift movement she had risen from her position against the wall, grabbed my free hand as was dragging me into the crowd of people.