Stranger (The Rebound List 3) Chapter 1

Disclaimer: This is a rough draft, it has not been edited or revised yet so I apologise in advance for mistakes and typos.

I’m having one of those evenings. The ones that stretch on forever. Can’t sleep but can’t face sitting around on my own for much longer either. I know it’s because I’m troubled by everything that’s happened lately, which I’ve been unwilling to deal with. But if I keep bottling it up, I’ll never get to sleep…

A dejected sigh later, I find my diary and decide to expose all and confess my sins, even if nobody will see them but me.

“Dear Diary,

Today was my last day at work. And with it, perhaps the last time I see Craig, ever. Ever since our crazy hook-up at the Christmas party a couple of weeks ago, he’s been acting weird. That’s actually not even a fair assessment. Ever since I quit the Monday after the Friday that we hooked up, he’s been cold and indifferent. I hadn’t handled it well, not at all. Not only did I have the worst timing ever, I’d been way too blunt. Sal later wondered if he was about to ask me out a mere moment before I told him, so perhaps he was hoping for more as well. Could that even be? I’d made it abundantly clear beforehand that it was going to be just sex. Not that that plan had gone well the first time around.

Meanwhile, my first list-based lay, the ex-virgin, has been posting a lot about his latest tragic love interest. Apparently she’s great, and perfect, and cute, and god knows what else. And taken.

We’ve talked off and on, but I’ve taken care not to broach the subject of his crush in conversation. I’m curious, but I’m also still pissed off about it, but realise I have no right to feel that way.”

I put the diary and pen down again and take a deep breath. None of this is helping, rather than having a calming effect, my rant is just getting me more and more upset. I hate how things have ended with Craig. And I hate even more how the ex-virgin has seemingly breezed past our night together as if it meant nothing to him.

“Sally meanwhile has set the wheels in motion for item 3 on my list. I am to pick up a stranger at a New Year’s party, with her support (in case I get the urge to fuck it up with my now-legendary bluntness). God knows why I ever decided I’d wanted to do a stranger, it’s a scary prospect. But Sally’s idea of doing it at a party seems solid. Yet the plan does not excite me. Perhaps I should try internet dating and just act normal. Boring.”

I don’t know how you’re meant to feel after a breakup, but it’s been a big, stinking river of shit so far. And I’m not sure the occasional list-inspired highlight has made up for any of it.”

Snapping the diary shut and throwing it away from me onto the coffee table, I rest my head in my hands. There’s no option but to try and stick to the plan. I’ve crossed out two items on my list, meaning I’m halfway through. It doesn’t feel like halfway, it feels like the easy part is over and the real struggle will begin now. A stranger and a threesome. So first I need to find one random guy to sleep with and then two of them?! What was I thinking?

A stranger. It seemed like a good idea back when I wrote the list. Now it seems stupid. But I’d set these tasks for myself and would hate it if I gave up now. Sally will be there with me. She even joked that if a particularly cute guy comes along, we might end up killing two birds with one stone. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was after a threesome with two men, not just one and her.

So indeed today was my – our – last day. It was also the last day before the Christmas holidays start for most people, so the new job doesn’t begin until the new year. Which reminds me of another thing I’d been dreading. Christmas.

Christmas by myself. No family, no boyfriend and no turkey. The dreariness never ends.

The only positive that’s come out of the entire previous week was bittersweet as well. Our departure at work opened up a vacancy in the internal system, the details of which I was able to send to the ex-virgin. I haven’t heard back from him yet, but I assumed he’s still hunting for work. I’d recommend him to Craig myself, but at this point, that might have the opposite effect.

A glance at the clock reveals it’s 3am and I still can’t sleep. Wonder what’s on TV.

***

Ding. What a strange noise he just made. Ding.

Ding ding ding.

From there his gorgeous face morphs into Craig, but not the one I remember working with before. Rather he looks like the version of Craig that I’d just quit on with a stare that cuts right through me and chills me to my core. His tense lips hardly move as he continues to make the weird sound. Ding, ding.

I blink a few times, trying to shake that overwhelming lethargy you experience when you’re woken at the wrong time. Within seconds, I’d gone from being bedded by the guy this whole list debacle had started with to being bombarded by strange noises and seeing guilt impersonated in front of me. Where’s that godawful noise coming from?

My phone lights up, presumably for the tenth time at least and dings again. Argh, my head. Facebook Messenger is merciless.

“Hey, where the fuck are you?” Sal writes. “I’ve got something to run past you, wake up, sleepyhead!”

Stretching my arms fails to loosen my shoulders which are suffering the consequences of sleeping on the couch.

“What?” I type.

Sally appears to be writing furiously on the other end and I decide to make myself a cup of tea. This morning has started all wrong. That dream. I won’t forgive her for interrupting that dream. It had felt like the guy wasn’t just doing me, but rather we were making love. The way he was looking at me… I’m still on edge because of it. But now that glorious moment has passed.

Ding.

Goddamnit, I’m coming, woman!

The kettle starts bubbling in the background and I check the message that’s just arrived.

“Change of plans for xmas, you still around on the 25th?”

“Yep.”

“OK, awesome. Looks like I’ll be as well. Let’s do something.”

Sal to the rescue, to save me from a lonely Christmas without even any roasted poultry to look forward to? Why not.

“Call me in 10.” I hit send and slump down at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, rubbing my forehead with the palm of my hand. Caffeine. Need caffeine.

A few sips of tea and a biscuit later, the phone rings.

“Morning,” Sally cheers at the other end.

“Meh.”

“Oh you’re such a grouch, you know that? It’s fucking 11 in the morning, not like I’m calling you at an ungodly hour or anything.” She chuckles. Her cheeriness is making me even grumpier.

“I slept at like 5. Or 7. God, I don’t know. Had someone else been around, I’d be accusing them of bashing me over the head with something after I finally did fall asleep. Bloody headache.”

“You’ve got to go easy on the wine,”

“I wasn’t dr-”

“Anyway, stop changing the subject. Christmas Day. You, me, turkey, roasties and all that stuff. What do you say?”

“Alright.”

“I may ask around if anyone else is free as well, for those of us not visiting family that day, we might as well make our own fun.”

“Fine.”

“Since you’re the only one I know who can actually cook, you’ll be in charge of the food. We’ll pool together to buy everything, but it’d be nice if it was actually edible.”

“OK.”

“Awesome. Talk later.” With that, she hangs up and I’m left wondering what exactly I just agreed to.

I’m in charge of the food. Suddenly I wonder if sitting at home by myself without the hassle would have been preferable to this new plan. Still, she had a point. We might as well have something edible on the table that day and I know what her cooking is like. Finding a notepad and pen in a nearby drawer, I make a quick list of ingredients I’ll need to hunt for. Five days to find a suitable bird, that ought to be doable.

***

Turns out, time flies when you’re planning a feast. Sally’s main contribution, beyond the initial idea, came in the form of a few more attendees, and a ridiculous email inviting us all to her place for her proposed “Christmas Day for sad, lonely fucks”. You simply can’t make it up.

I’ve accumulated more food than the average household would eat in a month without even noticing, while leaving her in charge of the booze. The kitchen is covered with a mountain of dishes I thought I’d need, just in case. I need to give her one credit, a big one. I haven’t had time to feel guilty about anything that was bothering me last week.

Hearing Craig’s voice greeting Sal at the door and thanking her for the invite comes as quite a shock. Even so, I don’t have time for a meltdown, instead I nod at him once he enters and continue to try and not burn any of the food.

When we finally sit down at the table; Craig, Sally’s two school friends and a neighbour, her and me, I notice everyone is in much better spirits than I’ve allowed myself to be. But the food is ready, and I think I’ve managed reasonably well, despite the constant interruptions earlier. Everyone agrees, even Craig, who seems a lot less cold and horrible than I’d remembered him.

By the end of the evening, which drags on a lot later than just lunch, apparently all is forgiven. A huge weight falls off my shoulders. He had indeed wondered whether to ask me out the day I quit, but more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. In the meantime, he’s been on a first date with Sarah from HR and found they have a lot more in common than expected.

Despite the herculean task of putting together a meal for all of us on my own without much in the way of previous experience, the day leaves me content. It has been a success, and someone I’d worried about turning into an enemy, ends up still being a friend.

Thanks for reading. Stranger (The Rebound List #3) comes out sometime in April. If you’d like to find out when exactly, please sign up for my newsletter, and you could even get your copy as a free welcome gift!


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