Leaning into a mirror, I apply the last of my make-up – red lipstick. Drawing it across my lips and then sucking them in, I now look ready. Well, ready enough to host what is going to be the best Christmas-Birthday party ever.
“Taylor! You have your first visitor!” My Mum calls out from downstairs, just as I’m clipping up my hair.
Damn. I slip into my red high heels; swing a cardigan over my elegant, navy blue dress and head downstairs to greet the first of many.
It’s Hayley - one of Ryan’s best mates. Her blonde curls cascade down her back showing off her sparkling red dress, short as ever, and she’s holding out a bottle of champagne for me. I take it, thanking her, and usher her into the living room. Without even looking back, I can feel my Mum’s disapproving glare. But I ignore it, shaking it off my mind.
“So, am I really the first guest?” Hayley questions, perching on the end of the sofa, “I thought Ryan would be here already.”
Ryan. Yes. My boyfriend.
“Yeah, he isn’t here yet.” I try to cover up my disappointment by examining the wine glass.
“You like? I chose it out especially.”
I look up, confused, before realising she’s talking about the champagne. I don’t drink. Not at all. So why do I feel like I have to lie?
“Oh yes, great choice.” I reply, faking the best possible smile.
And saving me from getting caught, the doorbell rings.
Next thing I know the lounge is full of bodies, moving amongst one another to the beat of the music, thumping out the speakers. Slipping out of the lounge, I head to the kitchen to find my Mum leaning up against the side, talking to some guy Ryan knows. I stalk up to her and eventually the other guy slinks away.
“Mum, you don’t have to stay here, you know.”
“Oh I like it, really,” She exclaims, hugging me from the side, “Champagne’s heavenly.”
“Taylor, I’m not leaving you here alone.” Her voice is stern, but I know she’ll give in - she has to.
“Mum, I’m fine. Everything’s good. Now please will you go entertain yourself for a few hours?” I try to pull off puppy dog eyes on her.
“Promise to behave?”
A smile stretches across my face. “Everything will be absolutely fine.”
“I hope you’re right,” she mutters, grabbing her purse and heading out.
As she walks off a group of guys enter, bantering amongst themselves. I peer over the crowd to see if any of them are him. He’s got to have turned up by now. But it isn’t - just a load of guys from my school.
Scanning the crowd once more, I head into the garden to check there. The chilly wind curls itself around me and I huddle by myself on the swinging chair, arms wrapped across my chest. It’s only a few minutes before someone slumps down beside me.
“He hasn’t showed up, has he?” Liana’s voice echoes through my system. She’s meant to be my best friend, yet she hasn’t spoken to me all evening. Now that she has, all she has to tell me is the clear obvious fact that’s killing me right now.
“He will. I know he will.” I reply confidently.
“Yeah,” she says softly, twiddling with a piece of her hair, “I’m guess when he’s here, everything will be perfect.”
And it will be. I imagine him bursting through the door with that ‘baby I’m right here smile’, and all the stars in my mind will connect, like a constellation completed. Nothing before will matter because in that moment I’ll just be so happy. Beyond happy.
I jump awake at the sound of a hoot from a guy that’s probably drunk too much. Looking to my left, Liana’s gone. I must have zoned out when I was imagining the scene with Ryan. Hopelessly, I get up and trail through the string of people, the trail of Christmas lights glistening. I’ve got my eye on the door, just waiting for him to walk in.
And then I stop. Because I’m staring at the clock, time ticking away, and it’s been two hours since the party started. Two hours since he was meant to show up. But he hasn’t.
“Still hasn’t turned up? No need to wait by the door, sweetie,” Someone calls out to me as they walk by, laughing.
“Really? No sign of him?” Another asks an hour later.
“C’mon, he was never going to show up anyway.”
Comments strike me as I begin to rush through the house. Dress flailing out behind me, I begin to run, wanting nothing but time alone. But Ryan’s friend’s always seem to know when something’s wrong. As I shut the bathroom door behind me, I hear footsteps clatter down the hallway and the door is yanked open before I’ve had a chance to lock it.
And I hate myself in this moment. Heartbroken tears stream down my face, mascara sliding down my blotchy, red cheeks, and everyone’s watching. People gather to look at what’s happened; people gather to laugh at how Ryan never showed up to see me, but he doesn’t burst through the door in this moment and save me, rescue me from this like he would in a movie.
“He said he’d be here,” I choke out, the arms of someone flinging themselves around my neck.
But it’s hopeless. I’m hopeless. And even when I’m pulled out from the bathroom and gathered amongst everyone singing the words of ‘Happy Birthday’, I still can’t push away that feeling of betrayal; that hurt stabbing me in the heart.
He said he’d be here.
When we sat across from one another at the seaside Café…
He said he’d be here.
When I left his house and reminded him of today…
He said he’d be here.
So why couldn’t he just show up?
And as I look around at everyone, couples bodies entwined - a mixture of hugs, kisses, love - it’s the moment I realise.
Maybe he was never meant to be here.
So as time goes on, as familiar bodies dance around amongst the night sky, the music deafens to my ears, the laughter and friendly talk muted out of my system. And in my mind, he’s there in front of me, arms outstretched, telling me he’s sorry.
But I shake my head, and just as I do so, my phone rings. People begin to make their way home, calling for taxis and pulling each other out into the cold, misty, winter air. But I just wave them off, staring down at the caller.
Before I pick up, I rush upstairs to my bedroom and slam the door. My room lies in the dark, just a mixture of colours merged into one, but I leave it like that. Somehow the pitch black darkness is more comforting.
“Hello?” I murmur a second later.
“I’m sorry I didn’t make it.” His voice is so small, so delicate, yet in my mind it’s the loudest voice of all.
“I’m sorry too.” I whisper, wiping away the tears already filling up my eyes, before they can even stain my cheeks.
But I’m already stained; I’m already hurt; I’m already bruised. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
Silence fills the phone line between us, voices surrounding my head. I feel hurt pumping its way through me, surging its way through my body until there’s nothing left to do but say it.
“You said you would be here.”
I feel myself hissing down the phone at him, pouring out my emotions. “You promised me you’d be here, Ryan. It’s my Birthday and the least you can do is actually turn up. So why didn’t you?”
But in this moment, I already know it. I don’t need his confirmation because I know it’s over; I know everything’s ruined. So as he starts to explain, there is no option but to click the red button, slowly dropping the phone to my knees. The cold plastic sends a flash of anger through my body, but falling back onto my bed, I give up.
As I lie here, stood up by the one guy I thought I loved, it’s the moment I realise.
But when I first went out with him months earlier, he’d let me down and say he was going out with his mates; he’d back out of a call saying he was ‘busy’.
That was the moment I knew, but never did anything about it.
That was the moment I knew, but couldn’t afford to give up.
That was the moment I knew.
But this is the moment where I have to realise what’s right, and no matter how much it hurts me, no matter how much it kills me…